Email to J Zeman
Safety Definition
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20120824                Science (Origins)                Human Rights (Freedom and Security)                Morality

From: Scott Sinnock, 5:50pm, August 24, 2012
Subject: Radiation Scare

Dr. Zeman.

I think my summary to this long winded babble that follows is to agree with you that some really BAD science is being done in the name of science.

I just reread your article "Does Fukushima radioactive fallout near Chernobyl levels". I see that, as a honest scientist and engineer, you know that nuclear generation of electricity is the safest, least environmentally damaging source of electricity (and thus transportation) available: cheapest too, by far, if safety regulations were comparable in terms of lives "sacrificed" for the entire life-cycles of all alternative energy sources (e.g. broken necks of roof-top workmen installing solar panels, etc.). Let's compare apples and apples, not cancers at Chernobyl and Fukushima to acid rain and CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. How about cancers from coal?, which averages about 1-3ppm U, and fly ash where Uranium etc. are concentrated by a factor of 10 or more. How about CO2 comparisons, I hear a lot about how natural gas is good for electricity because it only produces 50% or so the carbon that coal does. Wow. How does nuclear at < 5% (see footnote) compare to 50% for gas, which is probably closer to 70% or 80% considering life-cycle carbon use to produce the 50% to 60% reduction on perfect combustion, strictly a chemical ratio of molar carbon content to energy yield?. Don't get me wrong, I like gas, I just like nuclear better.

It is now becoming clear that a radiation releasing "accident" occurs about every 20 years or so (two data points, not a very good sample (but Bayesian logic says it's the best I have). I now know, based on your article, that, apparently Fukushima released mainly short-lived I-131, but 30 million curies in all I read somewhere, which is way more that the coal industry releases in 20 years. Perhaps you have better estimates of the total release, and, of course, the area of "contamination". So it appears we may need to temporarily abandon some very small areas for a few years after "expectable" core failures. Perhaps locals can make parks out of the "contaminated" zones. Short sporadic visits, as all parks experience, won't result in any "unsafe" exposures. Maybe if some cesium or strontium get out, the parks will need be maintained for a hundred years or so. Costs to purchase (permanent) or rent (until "safe") the land could and probably should be charged to the company producers and rate paying users of the electricity, including governments. Insurance consortiums could and of course are formed to indemnify the risks. Price Anderson in this country could be abandoned if culpability is shared by users as well as producers, which of course it should be. WE demand it, we need to pay for it. But what costs are proper for "safety"?

I put quotes around "safe" and "contamination". Your article mentions scientific wrong-headedness, either by malfeasance, passionate commitment to ideals, just plain ignorance, or, most likely, all of the above. The idea of "safe" is one such wrong-headed idea, especially in the nuclear risk field. I worked 17 years as a high-level scientist on the (for now, at least, cancelled) Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site. I wrote the site selection report and the first predictive models of groundwater flow and waste transport for the site. I was eventually promoted to chief scientist/engineer for the management contractor to the department of energy for managing the work performed by subcontractors to the main contractors, the national nuclear weapons laboratories and the US Geological Survey. Wow what a management nightmare. Anyway, I know about nuclear issues, especially nuclear risks. My job as chief scientist was to hustle more work, our company had a "cost-plus" contract, so the more we spent themore we made. So my job was to sell the "uncertainty" that could "perhaps" be reduced by a series of increasingly expensive tests. We hired experts from the leading decision analysis schools at Stanford and Harvard who led several attempts to define the "value of information" to be gained by the proposed tests. In each case the analyses, and their well-qualified leaders, solidly concluded that additional testing was of NO value, so all proposed costs of "site characterization" were a waste of money. We knew enough at the time of the analyses to make a go-no go decision, and the possible ranges of test results were extremely unlikely to change our predictions of site behavior. Those conclusions, strongly influenced by my efforts on the "elicitation" panels based on my site evaluations, were not well received by my management or the funding department. The department director once bragged he was the manager of the largest single item in the US budget, and that he wanted to build the largest tunnel boring machine ever built, and he did. I lobbied for a decision rather than more testing, citing the decision studies. I was soon fired. Those and PhD, geology, Purdue, '78 are my brief credentials.

Back to "safe": One acronym, LNTDRM, and one word, "Hormesis"

The "Linear, no threshold, dose response model" is the biggest piece of decision-making crap in the nuclear industry, a product I sometime suspect that emerged from the guilt of the Manhattan Project bomb makers who dominated the civilian nuclear program all over the world in the 1950's till today, for those still living. I suspect they wanted to atone their guilt by creating a "perfectly safe" energy source. They set the standard too high, so it failed in the public mind because it was not "perfect" as promised.

That model says it all. Each alpha or beta particle or gamma ray that interacts with a human body causes a cancer. How is that possible? Well, statistical of course: 10 Bq/s, + enough people = x cancers. 1Bq/s + more people = the same number of cancers, .01Bq/s + more people = same number of cancers ...... to the single decay + enough people = 1 cancer. That is the "no threshold" part. Now for the good part. We basically have no data in the lower ranges of doses that support the "lin ear" part. In fact, many claim that the dose response curve changes the sign of its slope and becomes good for us at dosages well above those levels considered "safe" on the LNTDRM. And how are the current "safe" levels defined? By "caring" people, of course. The absurdity of Yucca Mountain was that "safe" was defined in regulations as no more than a doubling of background radiation for one million years, not at the surface where exposure might occur, but in the water 700 meters below the surface where someone "might" drill a well, drink ALL their water from the well, irrigate ALL their own food with water from the well, take ALL their baths and showers in water from the well, wear clothes made of fibers irrigated from the well, and even then, their "dose" could only be twice what they would receive standing on the surface today, no water well, no drinking, no "contaminated" clothes. Many of the geologist working on the site were from Denver, at about 2000 meters elevation where radiation doses are abo ut twice what they are at Yucca Mountain which is only about 300 meters elevation. But for that very small increment in dose, an increment people choose to ignore all the time, we call Yucca Mountain "unsuitable" because in the words of the secretary of energy when he cancelled the project, "we can't be certain it will be safe". WOW. Statistics are invalidly used to push "health effects" to ridiculously low levels, then we reject performance evaluations that are statistically 99% certain to meet these absurdly low regulations, because "we can't be certain".

I think I am preaching to the choir. I think you already know the absurdity of the "scientific" community on this. By the way, the same people are after global warming now, based on the IPCC's report emphasizing the possibility of increased "intense" weather events, like category 5 hurricanes, tornados, floods. droughts, heat waves, cold snaps, arctic ice melting and baby polar bears drowning after valiant but futile efforts to reach the next ice flow. Makes you want to cry doesn't it. Anything "bad" about the weather is due to "climate change". However, I read the IPCC report and it is quite clear that increased intensity of weather due to global warming is a conjecture and is not based on any of the predictive models, none of which sensitive enough to model "weather". The argument, so simple, yet so invalid, is in essence "more energy in the system, more intense weather". Since I am a scientist, which means a skeptic of everything, my analysis indicates perhaps countervailing tendencies. Remember the exhausted polar bear cubs? Usually when I encounter that play on my passions, I am reminded that the "problem" is worse than I thought, because the poles, especially the arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet, by 2 to 4 degrees more than the equator, according to some measurements. Now my understanding of atmospheric physics is that the engine for the weather is the difference in temperature (Kelvin for proper ratios) between the equator and the poles. If delta T is less, potential energy is less, not more. My back of the envelope showed the increased energy due to an overall increased T is considerably less than the energy lost by a 2 to 4 degree difference in T.  More bad science which only stresses the "negative" effects.

Along that line, is it possible that a change in climate might have some "good" effects as well? OF COURSE. Any environmental change has good and bad effects, winners and losers. Climate change will be no different. Costs of the "bad" effects were just released by the IPCC, several BILLION per year. That figure is greatly exaggerated by assumptions such as "all cost of moving from additional floods are charge to climate change, not just the "increases" in moving from a baseline. BAD science. But, OK half the equation is filled out, now how about the benefit side. My simple minded conclusion is the net positive effect would be BILLIONS more than the negative effect. This is due to every model result I have seen predicts increased temperature and rainfall in the zone from about 40 to 60 degrees north latitude. What is there? Well most of the farmland in the world. What do crops like? Warmth and water. What do the models say carbon released into the atmosphere will bring? Warmth and water to the world's cropland; i.e. more, or if population stabilizes, cheaper food. We had an exceptionally warm and beautiful spring here in Chicago. Not one mention of climate change was made in the news. We also had an exceptionally warm and dry summer, a serious drought. Nearly every week another story appeared telling us that "scientists" say we can expect more of this "misery" in the future. This is politics, not science. I don't know the motive, though I guessed a possible one above. I am still not convinced global warming is a serious or even man dominated phenomena. When someone reports " the consensus of most scientists" I immediately recognize a political statement.

Consensus is not necessary when there is knowledge; the answer is obvious to all. We are not there yet on climate controls nor radiation risks. The "new" science and even new "morality" of the modern world are increasing based on one-sided arguments, point out the "bad", raise the "fear", win the power to control or at least ameliorate the "bad". But even if we are changing the climate, so what. We have changed everything else and still can support 7 billion of us. A forest once stretched across my state, now its 95% mono cultural farm fields. Seven billion is how I measure "success" or "survival"  though risk of a population crash always occurs. So far it hasn't, and maybe it won't even as we change the climate. Perhaps the changes we cause are "good" for our species and lots of others while terrible for others. Corals and everything else will migrate a few hundred miles toward the poles. Competition during changing environments is intense, some will flourish, some will die out. Maybe polar bears get pushed right off the planet, quicker. Maybe 100,000 people in the Maldives have to move or build better dikes, maybe food production increases by 10% per hectare. We too will evolve. It seems the "current" modern view is to stop evolution. A few people react negatively to a chemical that helps many others but we ban the chemical for "harm". Let it go, and some will die sooner than otherwise, but others, those that aren't effected will prosper, strengthening our adaptation to our chemical environment. But such reasoning is considered "cold" "uncaring", even "immoral". But, alas, it is true. Thank you for your thoughts.

(footnote) Carbon is the main energy source for mining, milling, refining, and transporting Uranium or Thorium products, though it doesn't have to be, it could be nuclear.