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Monday, August 1, 2011

July 29, 2011: A Very Bad Day for the Anti-Nuclear Crowd (If Nothing is Left, Attack the Model)

The Union of Concerned Scientists has every reason to be concerned. On July 29, the New York Times, no less, featured two pieces that raised their hackles. The first – “NRC Lowers Estimate of How Many Would Die in Meltdown” – announced a radical revision of the effects of a nuclear power plant core meltdown.

In past studies, NRC researchers estimated that 60 percent of a reactor core’s cesium inventory could escape. The NRC’s the new estimate is only 1 to 2 percent. The chance of a death from acute radiation exposure within 10 miles is near zero, although some one in five thousand might receive doses high enough to cause fatal cancers later in life. Earlier estimates had this at one in 167.

The second blow came in an op ed in the same edition by the CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, entitled “Why We Still Need Nuclear.” In his piece, he concluded: “We believe that nuclear power, developed properly, is not only a promising option, but the best available. Our forecasts for the region’s energy demands by the end of the decade show we will need more base-load electricity — or continuous minimum power — something nuclear plants excel at providing.” In other words: If our customers want reliable electricity, we must use have nuclear power.

With the TVA as a corporation owned by the U.S. government, the Union of Concerned Scientists could scarcely launch their usual epithets of corporate greed and capitalist recklessness. After all, government-private partnerships are supposed to be our salvation from  unfettered capitalism.

The Union of Concerned Scientists was left with only one defense: to attack the scientific merit of the NRC’s six year study. They countered that when dealing with estimates based on so many variables — including more than 100 reactors of different designs and vintage, in areas with disparate population densities — a difference of a factor of three is not important. 

Although differences in the new study are actually thirty to one or higher, the concerned scientists come to the bizarre conclusion that “the study reconfirms that reactors pose serious risks.”

Such a conclusion strongly suggests that the Union of Concerned Scientists” should remove “Scientists” from their organization’s title.

The computer models of climate change, which the Union of Concerned Scientists endorses, contain more variables and model much greater complexities than the NRC’s.  They yield predictions of very small and gradual temperature changes, which likely fall well within the margin of error. This fact does not concern the Union of Concerned Scientists. The climate models give them what they want to hear. The NRC’s does not.

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