Monthly Archives: May 2011

Education, popular culture, and energy

By Suzy Hobbs

As an artist I have been lucky to find a place in the nuclear community, but I haven’t forgotten what it feels like to be confused about energy (there was a time when I thought that biofuels and solar panels were a viable solution). I want to describe a situation that many young Americans are facing right now, in order to offer perspective on what energy issues look like from the outside. Do your best to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment:

Let’s say you are a recent college graduate and you have just earned a liberal arts degree in psychology (the second most popular major, according to the Princeton Review). Getting this degree required lots of core curriculum. Political science, biology, chemistry, and maybe a few philosophy courses were tacked onto your course load to prepare you for the “real world” awaiting you.

As you start your job search, you realize that many factors are playing into your ability to build a life for yourself, and that they all seem to rest on one central theme: Energy. The economy, cost of living, food and gas prices, availability of jobs, and political conflicts from local to international seem to be intrinsically rooted to energy issues.

Psychology didn’t cover much on energy, but a semester of political science suggests that energy plays a major role in international and domestic disputes, and affects the economy. “Introduction to Biology” explained the amazing way that life forms fix carbon and become fuel sources through different processes such as photosynthesis. And , chemistry describes the way that we break those carbon bonds to release the stored energy. Philosophy brought up questions about the ethics of the how we obtain and use energy, but there seems to be more to the story. Unfortunately, there was no Energy 101 course offered to understand how all of these different aspects of energy fit together.

So, where do you find information to help gain a big picture perspective on energy, and move forward with your life and career? Government agencies, corporations, and the media all seem to have very different, even conflicting, views on the subject, as do friends and family. There really isn’t cultural consensus or a common sense perspective that you can identify with.

The worst part is that it means finding a job is going to be really tough, and there aren’t a lot of signs that things are improving.

In the face of such ambiguity, popular culture seems to fill in the gaps of knowledge. In a few hours of watching the news or scanning the Internet, one might deduct that coal is poisoning our environment, natural gas fracking is contaminating water supplies, oil is causing international warfare and raising the cost of just about everything, and Fukushima doesn’t bode well for the future of nuclear. Renewables seem like an unattainable dream for most people, since they require large personal investments or proximity to overwhelming industrial farms.

In my mind, the increasingly common situation that many Americans and especially young people are facing provides valuable clues about how we can better support members of the public in the ongoing debate about energy.

Energy education?

First of all, our educational systems are not providing basic knowledge that our citizens need to make informed decisions regarding energy. The fact that most people (including college graduates) have little understanding of what keeps the lights on is, quite frankly, disturbing.

From grade school through higher education, subjects are divided and subdivided in a way that does not contribute to big picture thinking. Energy is an overarching issue between many disciplines and deserves specific attention. Why there is not an energy course for every age is beyond me, and something I think the nuclear industry should be particularly concerned about. It is only when you lay all of the options on the table that nuclear becomes an obvious choice. Our energy policy, or lack thereof, is in my mind a direct result of our fractured education about energy.

In addition to education, we need to become skilled in directing the image of nuclear energy in popular culture. A good product deserves good brand management. Through social media, mainstream media, and advertising, the nuclear community needs to get in the game in a big way. Every other energy source engages in well-funded, well-organized, large-scale advertising and outreach. It is not sleazy or manipulative to do this; it is in fact an important part of American culture. Nuclear is widely misunderstood and we need to be proactive if we want public support.

Atom action

In a democracy, public opinion directly informs legislature. If Americans do not want growth in the nuclear sector, our government is obligated to respect that wish. If Americans demand nuclear power, our government will listen. At this point in time our biggest obstacle is not technical or legislative; it is reaching customers with information that makes them want to buy our product. No matter what fantastic scientific breakthroughs have come from the nuclear community, the public must accept those technologies if they are to become viable commercial products.

Largely, Americans just care about having jobs and taking care of their families, and think about energy most when it creates problems in our everyday lives. Rethinking how we communicate with the public, via education and popular culture, are just as important as research and development and licensing. This has been the missing link for decades, and although much of the industry talks about the need for increased communications efforts, action is more important now than ever. As more and more Americans are asking questions about energy, we must be prepared to provide answers.



Suzy Hobbs is the executive director of PopAtomic Studios, a non-profit organization dedicated to using the power of visual and liberal arts to enrich the discussion on nuclear energy.


Remembering Chernobyl and being proactive

By Howard Shaffer

A recent event in Vermont was a Chernobyl 25th anniversary gathering at Dartmouth College’s Dickey Center. The event featured a photo exhibit and a panel presentation. Former ambassador to Belarus in the 1990s, Kenneth Yalowitz, heads the center and he chaired and sat on the panel. Yalowitz was on a larger panel on Chernobyl on its 20th anniversary five years ago. This year’s event was sponsored by the Sierra Club and was widely advertised in the local press.


Prof. Bob Hargraves had asked if he could be on the panel, too, but he was not accepted. Similarly, Meredith Angwin, who also writes these View from Vermont posts for the ANS Nuclear Cafe, was asked to be in a high-school debate this month in Putney, Vt., against Duane Peterson from the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. When Meredith asked for a moderator who could strictly control the time each participant would be given to speak, Peterson backed out. Meredith and Peterson will now give presentations on successive Fridays. Peterson’s was on May 6, which Meredith attended, and Meredith’s is scheduled for May 13. Why the insistence on a moderator? Meredith and I have learned the hard way that anti-nuclear debaters will monopolize the time if given a chance.

On Easter Sunday, a march from the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York ending at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, and a demonstration at Vermont’s State House, got practically no press coverage. Yet, syndicated stories in state newspapers had been linking Chernobyl to the Fukushima event.

The Dartmouth event provides insights to the state of the anti-nuclear movement. The photo exhibit at the event was small and was displayed ahead of the panel and presentation. Bob Hargraves, Peter Roth, and I attended. As we entered the small auditorium that could hold about 120 people, a student asked us to sit in the middle so that the video recording would show all seats filled. Only about 40 people were there.


Ambassador Yalowitz introduced the panel and then sat down to become a member of it. In brief remarks, Yalowitz related difficulties with corruption in getting aid through to Chernobyl accident victims.


The other panel member was Kevin Kamps, from Beyond Nuclear, in Washington, DC. He has been in Vermont before, testifying before the legislature and at local events. He had a PowerPoint presentation, and went on for about an hour, before the Sierra Club program chair cut him off. There was little time for questions. The PowerPoint’s title was “Half Lives and Half Truths: Fukushima and Chernobyl.” The events in Japan were described by Kamps as he saw them. Then he linked the GE MK I reactor containment—used at several of the Fukushima plants and at Vermont Yankee and 22 other plants in the United States—to the accident. He repeated the quote that the MK I containment “has an 80 to 90 percent chance of failure,” but this time the quote was attributed to Harold Denton, former official at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, commenting on the WASH -1400 report. Then there was a listing of the various estimates of projected eventual deaths from the Chernobyl accident, all the way from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 40 projected deaths up to a Ukrainian’s 900,000+ projected fatalities.

The presentation then launched into an attack on Entergy, which operates Vermont Yankee, with a slide having the chief executive officer’s picture and his salary for the past two years, and a listing on the updates at Entergy’s Palisades nuclear plant, in Michigan, supposedly committed to and not yet done. Kamps included the fantastic statement that in the fire protection planning, operators will be used for some manual actions on “suicide missions!”

Those present included the “usual suspects” and only two or three students, at least one from the Ukraine that I spoke to afterward. Bob Backus, a lawyer for New Hampshire who first became involved in the opposition to the Seabrook nuclear plant in the 1980s, was there with his wife. Backus is now a board member of Beyond Nuclear. This event can be described as “preaching to and pumping up the choir.”

Of interest is the formation of new group—Pilgrim: Make Us Safe Today—in Massachusetts opposing the Pilgrim nuclear plant. Existing groups, including one from Vermont, have publicly supported it and encouraged their own members to attend the new group’s first rally.

New groups seem to form from the efforts of one or a few individuals. A group rarely heard from, the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance, staged the Vermont State House event. This group joins with others on occasion, but is not as active as the main opponent groups. It did participate in the meeting with the NRC’s chairman in Brattleboro last summer.


The nuclear industry finds itself responding to charges, most of which have been around for a long time. The charges have gained credibility with the media and many of the public because they have not been refuted. As former Sen. Alan Simpson said, “A charge unanswered is a charge believed.” President Obama made this mistake with the issue of his birth certificate. He let the charge circulate and fester. Over time, it gained credibility. The nuclear industry has been doing the same thing for years. With the industry’s response to the Fukushima accident, it looks like we are changing our ways and becoming proactive communicators. We need to continue public and media outreach to keep the nuclear renaissance growing.

What all this proves is that there are only a relatively few people driving the opposition to nuclear power. They are dedicated to this course of action as a lifetime pursuit. We can never expect to change their minds, because their decision is emotional. We have to win the center in the political debate in order to succeed.


Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach. He is coordinator for the Vermont Pilot Project.

Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

51st Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The 51st Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at NuclearGreen. The carnival features blog posts from the leading U.S. nuclear bloggers and is a roundup of featured content from them.

This week there is continuing news from Fukushima, but there are also a diverse set of posts on nuclear energy topics. If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is where to find it. Contrary to what the anti-nuclear crowd would like you to believe, the wheels have not come off the renaissance.

Past editions have been hosted at NEI Nuclear Notes, ANS Nuclear Cafe, CoolHandNuke, and, Idaho Samizdat, as well as several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog, and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brian Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation. This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support. Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your Web site or blog to support the carnival. # # #

Promising developments in Yucca Mountain lawsuit

By Robert L. Ferguson

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on March 22, 2011, for the lawsuit brought by three private citizens of Washington State challenging the president’s authority to cancel the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

The north portal at Yucca Mountain

The three-judge panel listened to Washington State assistant attorney general Andrew Fitz and attorney Barry Hartman for the private citizen petitioners Bob Ferguson, Bill Lampson, and Gary Petersen, as they attempted to lay out the merits of their cases. But less than a minute into Fitz’s presentation, Chief Judge David Sentelle interrupted to remind the parties that the court has an obligation to consider cases only if they stem from “final” agency action and are “ripe” for review, referring to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s still pending decision on the Department of Energy’s request to withdraw the Yucca Mountain license application.

Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown noted that the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), the NRC’s own judicial panel, ruled that the DOE lacked the authority to withdraw the license. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh concurred that it is not yet known whether the NRC will reject considering the Yucca license application.


The ASLB rejected the DOE’s request to withdraw its Yucca Mountain license application on June 29, 2010. The court and petitioners have waited more than 8 months for the NRC’s final decision, which hangs on NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko’s refusal to submit his vote.

Judge Kavanaugh suggested that if the petitioners believe the NRC is stalling, they could file a mandamus action—a prerogative writ that can be issued by a superior court to compel a government officer to perform ministerial duties correctly. Judge Brown added that if the NRC fails to act, this inaction could trigger final agency action.

The government’s attorney—Ellen Durkee from Department of Justice—responded that the NRC’s length of time to consider the ASLB decision had not been that unreasonable. Judge Brown reiterated that petitioners could bring a new action if NRC fails to act.

Judge Brown noted that there is a three-year deadline in the Nuclear Waste Protection Act (NWPA) for the NRC to issue a license for Yucca Mountain, and that the deadline will arrive in either June or September of this year.


Judge Kavanaugh asked attorney Durkee whether or not the DOE would comply if the NRC says it lacks the authority to withdraw the license. Durkee responded that they would seek an appeal, but after some additional aggressive probing from Judges Brown and Kavanaugh, she finally said yes, the DOE will comply with a non-appealable decision from the NRC by restarting the licensing process.

Judge Kavanaugh asked Durkee when the NRC will act. She said that the NRC’s general counsel would not tell her about the timetable and that she didn’t know.

Judge Brown criticized the Obama administration for not waiting for the NRC to act before “dismantling” the Yucca project. Durkee said that the DOE was proceeding only with a plan to abandon Yucca, which provoked Judge Kavanaugh to say that what is going on with the Yucca termination is a lot more than just a plan.

At the end of Durkee’s argument, Judge Kavanaugh remarked that “it does seem that the DOE has made a considered decision not to comply with the law passed by Congress,” acknowledging that the DOE’s decision to abandon Yucca Mountain is not in compliance with the NWPA.


Attorneys Fitz and Hartman reminded the court that the private citizens’ petition did not include the NRC, but was aimed at stopping the president and energy secretary from dismantling Yucca, stressing that their actions thus far involved substantially more than withdrawing the license application. Fitz said that the NRC could not compel the DOE to reconstruct the Yucca Mountain Project. In response, Judge Kavanaugh noted that attorney Durkee had said that the DOE would comply with the NRC. Fitz told Kavanaugh that the NRC chairman had instructed his staff to stop work on the Yucca license review, to which Judge Sentelle asked for the authorities to support this conclusion.

Fitz summed up his oral arguments by stating that the license application is only one small part of the overall case. Notwithstanding the NRC’s action or inaction on the license application, the petitioners had a right under section 119 of the NWPA to challenge the final decision of the Obama administration to cancel the Yucca Mountain Project.

Fitz reminded the judges that a final decision was made by President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu on January 29, 2010, at a press conference, where they rejected Yucca Mountain and declared it “off the table” as the site for the nation’s only high-level nuclear waste repository.

Judge Sentelle questioned whether a press release could constitute final agency action.


Fitz argued that the press release issued by President Obama and Secretary Chu stating their decision to abandon Yucca Mountain could be considered a final action that permitted the court to review the merits, citing that the case of CropLife America v. Environmental Protection Agency as on-point in establishing the precedent that a press release could be viewed as a final agency action. In that case, the D.C. Court of Appeals determined that a directive issued by the EPA in a press release was a binding regulation.

Two Important New Developments


Events since the March 22 oral arguments provided the petitioners with the authorities requested by Chief Judge Sentelle to satisfy the ripeness argument regarding the NRC’s “final agency action.” The petitioners submitted the following supplemental authorities through a letter to the court sent by the attorney general of Washington State, Rob McKenna.

First, the testimony of NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko, given on Thursday, March 31, 2011, before the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, provided an answer to the court’s question of whether matters before the NRC rendered the DOE’s decision non-final or unripe. In his testimony, Chairman Jaczko stated:

“It is not the responsibility of this body [the NRC] to require the DOE to move forward or not move forward with a particular program or a program direction. Our job is licensing. That is the function and responsibility of this body. And no more than you would expect the fire marshal to go in and tell a developer to continue developing a building so that they can conduct their fire inspections should we be expected to be in a position of demanding or requiring the Department of Energy to move forward with a program.”

The chairman has thus admitted that the NRC has no authority to compel the DOE to comply with the NWPA. That authority lies with the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. By the NRC’s own admission, there is no decision for the NRC to make regarding the two issues pending before the court; that is, whether the DOE may reject Yucca Mountain and abandon all efforts to develop it, and whether the DOE may specifically abandon the licensing process. The DOE’s decision is final and ripe. Respondents’ representations in litigation do not change this finality.

Second, on April 1, 2011, another precedent was set by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in a decision rendered by Chief Judge Sentelle regarding CSI Aviation Services v. the U.S. Department of Transportation, using the CropLife America case as precedent.

The court may reach a decision as early as the end of May.

Help from Congress…Finally


Another welcome development in the battle for Yucca Mountain is the announcement on March 31 that the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy is launching an investigation into the Obama administration’s efforts to shut down and dismantle the Yucca Mountain Project.


The Subcommittee notified Secretary Chu and Chairman Jaczko that it is investigating the decision-making process to terminate the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

After reviewing available evidence indicating that there was no scientific or technical basis for the DOE’s request to withdraw the Yucca Mountain license application, Energy and Commerce


Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R., Mich.) and Environment and the Economy Chairman John Shimkus (R., Ill.) are representing Congress in a demand for answers about the administration’s decision to halt development of the only U.S. site designated by Congress for permanent disposal of high-level nuclear waste from nuclear weapons production and retrievable storage of spent nuclear fuel.

Upton and Shimkus stated that Japan’s nuclear crisis has underscored for them the urgent need for the United States to pursue a coherent nuclear policy, stating:

“Despite the scientific community’s seal of approval, extensive bipartisan collaboration, as well as nearly three decades and billions of taxpayer dollars spent, this administration has recklessly sought to pull the plug on the Yucca repository without even the sensibility of offering a viable alternative.”



Bob Ferguson, a former Department of Energy deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy, still believes in nuclear energy’s potential to power the United States. His career in nuclear energy spans more than 50 years, from the Atomic Energy Commission to the DOE, and then private nuclear industry. He also believes that the nuclear waste issue must be resolved before the United States can embrace a nuclear energy renaissance. Therefore, on February 25, 2010, Ferguson and his two colleagues filed a lawsuit against President Barack Obama and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu challenging their authority to abandon and dismantle the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

ANS members reach out on Fukushima events

Many American Nuclear Society members and groups across the United States have been energetically involved in the media, in their communities, and on campus during the recent events at the Fukushima plant. These members and groups have provided their knowledge and expertise to improve the accuracy of public discussions about the Fukushima events during a time when it has been sorely needed. This effort continues around the country as ANS members provide accurate, scientifically-sound information in front of TV cameras, at campus symposia, on local radio, in newspapers and journals, and by many other ways.

Many of these outreach efforts are summarized under links at the top left of the ANS home page, under “ANS Outreach: Fukushima”.  Using these links, one can get an idea of the scope and breadth of these volunteer efforts by members in the media, among faculty on campus, among ANS Student Sections, and among Local Sections around the country.

As regular readers of this blog site know, for several weeks following the tsunami of March 11, this blog was “re-purposed” and dedicated exclusively to providing comprehensive, accurate, and timely information about Fukushima events. An extensive media clip service, up-to-the-minute news and status information from agencies in Japan and the United States, an ANS twitter feed and ANS Facebook page for news updates, and many sources of background information and other resources, including the Japan Relief Fund, were featured on the blog’s front page. This important service continues, and is linked under the “Fukushima” tab on the top menu of the blog. When the blog returned to a more typical format, entries concerning Fukushima and its ramifications followed.

In the days following the events unfolding, the ANS Professional Divisions developed fact sheets and a technical brief on issues arising from Fukushima. These documents can be found under “Featured Content” on the front page of the ANS website. The leadership of ANS has established a Special Commission on Fukushima Daiichi, to be chaired by ANS members Michael Corradini and Dale Klein. This commission will examine the major technical aspects of the event to help policymakers and the public better understand Fukushima’s consequences and its lessons for the U.S. nuclear industry.

ANS members will have the opportunity to discuss Fukushima in-depth during the ANS Annual Meeting, June 26-30, in Hollywood, Florida. The ANS President’s Special Session will focus on the latest update and lessons learned in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the impact on all nuclear facilities in Japan, with particular emphasis on the Fukushima Daiichi plants. A second Special Session, entitled “The Accident at Fukushima Daiichi—Preliminary Investigations,” will focus on the latest technical information available on the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. Topics expected to be addressed include the accident sequence, challenges faced by the operating staff, reactor and fuel damage mechanisms, environmental impacts, and emergency response.

50th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

The 50th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at Next Big Future. The carnival features blog posts from the leading U.S. nuclear bloggers and is a roundup of featured content from them.

This week there is continuing news from Fukushima, but there are also a diverse set of posts on nuclear energy topics. If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is where to find it. Contrary to what the anti-nuclear crowd would like you to believe, the wheels have not come off the renaissance.

Past editions have been hosted at NEI Nuclear Notes, ANS Nuclear Cafe, CoolHandNuke, and, Idaho Samizdat, as well as several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog, and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brian Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation. This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support. Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your Web site or blog to support the carnival. # # #

Don Luckey versus Helen Caldicott – Low Dose Radiation Health Effects

By Rod Adams

The New York Times recently published an op-ed by Dr. Helen Caldicott titled Unsafe at Any Dose in which she summarized her theory that even the tiniest doses of radiation cause both negative health consequences for the victim and undetectable genetic defects that will affect many generations to come. Here is an example of the language that she uses to propagate this theory:

Nuclear accidents never cease. We’re decades if not generations away from seeing the full effects of the radioactive emissions from Chernobyl.

As we know from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it takes years to get cancer. Leukemia takes only 5 to 10 years to emerge, but solid cancers take 15 to 60. Furthermore, most radiation-induced mutations are recessive; it can take many generations for two recessive genes to combine to form a child with a particular disease, like my specialty, cystic fibrosis. We can’t possibly imagine how many cancers and other diseases will be caused in the far future by the radioactive isotopes emitted by Chernobyl and Fukushima.

A few days earlier, the far less widely read St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a story about Dr. Don Luckey titled A challenge to the fear of radiation’s invisible rays. Dr. Luckey’s theory, documented by numerous peer reviewed papers and a book published in 1980 titled Hormesis With Ionizing Radiation, is that the effects of low levels of ionizing radiation are more similar to the effects of other external forces.

With World War II over, scientists finally were able to get their hands on antibiotics for research. Luckey was researching the effect of bacteria on vitamin deficiencies in animals. He injected baby chicks with tiny amounts of antibiotics, too little to actually do anything. Unexpectedly, the chicks thrived. He expanded into turkeys. Same result.

“I got the concept and could predict that high doses and low doses would have opposite effects,” he says.

In 1954, he joined the University of Missouri’s medical school as chairman of the biochemistry department. He conducted an experiment exposing crickets to diluted doses of pesticides. The crickets grew more quickly. He published the results. A flood of reprint requests came in.

“So,” he says, “I just figured that radiation should be hormetic also.”

Radiation protection professionals and nuclear operators trained under regulatory guidance to keep doses As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) have a great deal of difficulty accepting the notion that tiny amounts of radiation could have beneficial effects. Both the American Nuclear Society and the Health Physics Society, however, have issued position papers confirming the following statement about the health effects of low level radiation:

The current philosophy of radiation protection is based on the assumption that any radiation dose, no matter how small, may result in human effects, such as cancer and hereditary genetic damage. There is substantial and convincing scientific evidence for health risks at high dose. Below 10 rem (which includes occupational and environmental exposures) risks of health effects are either too small to be observed or are non-existent.”

Note: The rem is the unit of effective dose. In international units, 1 rem = 0.01 sievert (SV)

(Emphasis added.)

In terms of distance from the position statement about radiation health effects issued by two of the most interested technical societies in the United States on the subject, Dr. Luckey’s statements about the possibility of moderate beneficial health benefits seem closer to reality than Dr. Caldicott’s statements about unimaginable long-term risks to people who are alive today and those who will be born sometime in the future.

Dr. Luckey is confident enough about his research to keep a large chunk of uranium ore on his bedside table. Though anecdotes are not science and small samples are not proof, Dr. Luckey is 91 years old and in reasonably good health.

One of the real challenges associated with determining the health effects of low level radiation—either positive, negative, or zero—is the fact that it is nearly impossible to set up laboratory conditions with a zero-level control situation. The earth is a radioactive planet in a radioactive universe. There is some ongoing research on bacteria being conducted in deep salt caverns with extremely low background levels near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. So far the results are not conclusive. Here is a quote regarding the research obtained from a private email discussion forum:
Updated: (May 4, 2011 4:24 am)

Yes, we’ve been doing these at WIPP for two years now and there is no evidence that LNT is correct below 10 REM. I will see what is publishable right now and send it along.

So far all we have been able to do is use two different bacteria with different sensitivities to radiation, e.g., highly sensitive (which should show an effect at low-doses and should show any hormesis effect if there is one) and radiation resistant. These are Shewanella oneidensis (Radiation Sensitive) and Deinococcus radiodurans (Rad Resistant). Since it is so difficult to see any effect below 10 REM, we are looking at three indicators of cell growth: assaying for protein, optical density of the cultures, and cell counts. So far, the total lack of radiation causes growth stress, while some amount of radiation is necessary for optimal growth, and radiation above background but below 10 REM has no adverse affect of growth. This study is sometimes referred to as coming from the “other side of background”.

The same thing many have been saying for decades.

Source: Dr. James Conca, Director of the WSCF Labs. Dr. Conca gave me permission to extract that quote and also told me that Dr. Geof Smith from New Mexico State University and Roger Nelson from DOE are leading the research effort.
End of updated text.

This would not be recognizable as a Rod Adams post if I did not take the opportunity to try to stimulate a discussion about the ever-important question of motivation. Why has fear of radiation been so widely accepted and propagated that it is nearly impossible to have a rational discussion about the possibility that low level radiation may have beneficial health effects? Why have nuclear professionals accepted the excessive costs and restricted industry growth associated with attempting to push a natural part of our environment to a level below normal variations? Why do establishment media outlets like the New York Times continue to publish theories like Caldicott’s that are not supported by facts or peer review?

My answer is that spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt about radiation at even the low levels routinely achieved by the nuclear energy industry is part of a decades-old marketing strategy by the established energy industry. Their product offerings cannot compete in terms of energy density, affordability, or waste generation. Coal, oil, and gas, as valuable as they have been for the development of our modern society, are inferior on most objective measures for many applications requiring reliable heat input. Wind, solar, geothermal, waves, and pixie dust are simply too unreliable or too limited to serve many customer needs.

Unfortunately for the propagation of truth, the established energy industry has access to a lot of cash and the best marketing talent that money can buy. In the face of that kind of power, it is a good thing that some very smart people developed the Internet and the software that allows widespread communication with a relatively tiny investment. It is also a very good thing that I live in a country with a Constitution that includes the 1st Amendment.

Additional Reading

Observations on the Chernobyl Disaster and LNT, Zbigniew Jaworowski, Dose-Response, 2010.

Short-Term and Long-Term Health Risks of Nuclear-Power-Plant Accidents, John P. Christodouleas, M.D., M.P.H., Robert D. Forrest, C.H.P., Christopher G. Ainsley, Ph.D., Zelig Tochner, M.D., Stephen M. Hahn, M.D., and Eli Glatstein, M.D., New England Journal of Medicine, 2011.

Resolving the controversy over beneficial Resolving the controversy over beneficial effects of ionizing radiation – talk given by Jerry Cuttler, DSc, PE, to World Council of Nuclear Workers (WONUC), Versailles, France, 1999 June 16-18.

PS – I would like to dedicate this post to Jim Muckerheide, a long time ANS member who worked very hard for many years to organize sessions at annual meetings regarding the health effects of low level radiation. He convinced me with facts and research long ago.


Rod Adams is a pro-nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is founder of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc., and host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005 and is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

May issue of Nuclear News magazine

The hard-copy May issue of Nuclear News will soon be in the hands of American Nuclear Society members. It will also be available electronically to members.

The May issue features the following:

  • U.S. capacity factors: Staying around 90 percent, by E. Michael Blake
  • Warren Stern: Detecting nuclear threats, interview by Rick Michal
  • Chernobyl 25 years on: Time for a “giant” leap forward, by Dick Kovan

The Fukushima reactor complex, before March 11, 2011

Other items of note in the May issue include news about U.S. power reactors to be examined for vulnerabilities in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident; intervenor in Pilgrim’s license renewal proceeding notes similarity to Fukushima Daiichi-1; Tepco gaining control of Fukushimi Daiichi reactors, but cold shutdown still far off; IAEA’s Amano calls for high-level safety conference; Russian President Medvedev favors greater seismic siting restrictions; Italy imposes one-year moratorium on nuclear program; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission rejects UniStar Nuclear’s “negation” plan for obtaining Calvert Cliffs-3 combined operating license (COL); Levy-1 and -2 COL application advances through NRC approval process; Toshiba to seek design approval next year for 4S small modular reactor; Babcock & Wilcox and TVA provide more details on their plans for the mPower reactor; new concrete separation delays restart of Crystal River-3; updates on license renewal proceedings for South Texas-1 and -2, Hope Creek/Salem; the final site-wide environmental impact statement approved for proposed transformation of the Y-12 National Security Complex; the Department of Homeland Security conducts Securing the Cities exercise in New York City; Canada’s Bruce Power delays shipping used steam generators to Sweden for recycling; University of Saskatchewan receives funding for new research center; Sen. Diane Feinstein (D., Cal.) calls for more rapid transfer of used fuel from pools to dry cask storage; Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future reports on comments received from public; Sweden’s waste management agency submits application to build used fuel repository; Curtiss-Wright seeks licenses to export equipment for AP1000 reactors being built in China; FermiLab’s Tevetron produces possible new particle not predicted by Standard Model; Urenco USA enrichment plant passes NRC inspection; and USEC andTenex sign purchase agreement for supply of low-enriched uranium.