Linear No Threshold − an idea which should be retired?
Dr Ian Fairlie writes:
Last year I wrote a post  expressing regret that ill-informed journalists and others often wrote nonsense articles about radiation risks. Sadly, it's happened again. Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue, has recently stated that the Linear No Threshold theory of radiation's effects should be retired because it "... is based on no knowledge whatever." In fact, much powerful evidence backs the LNT. Some of this is discussed at www.ianfairlie.org/news/the-linear-no-threshold-theory-of-radiation-risks.
Brand also states: "Below 100 millisieverts per year, however, no increased cancer incidence has been detected ..." Well again he's plain wrong. At least ten studies show effects below 100 mSv: they are listed at www.ianfairlie.org/news/a-100-msv-threshold-for-radiation-effects.
Mr Brand is an American so he should be aware of the US government's premier body on radiation risks – the US National Academy of Sciences's BEIR committee. Its 2005 report, BEIR VII, strongly supported LNT with a great deal of scientific evidence. (BEIR stands for Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation). It gave a very clear account of why LNT should be used down to very low doses: Mr Brand would be able to understand it.
The problem for Mr Brand and others like him is that radiation's cancer and genetic risks are anonymous and remote in time so can be difficult to grasp. Here's a good way to understand them. If 100,000 US adults were each exposed to one mSv of radiation, 10 to 15 would die of radiation-induced cancer several years even decades later. Such exposures act like a reverse lottery: each exposed person would get a reverse ticket and some unlucky people would later die.
For example, after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, tens of millions of Europeans were exposed to low levels of radioactive fallout. They received reverse lottery tickets and many will ultimately die from cancers from the fallout's radiation. The same occurred to Japanese people after Fukushima.
Environmentalists urge Hansen to rethink nuclear
Over 300 U.S. and international environmental and clean energy groups say in a joint letter released on January 8 that, while they respect the climate change work of Dr James Hansen and three of his academic colleagues, they take exception to the notion that nuclear power is the solution to global warming.
The statement was organised by US organisations the Civil Society Institute and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, in response to a November 2013 statement by James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel, and Tom Wigley.
Caldeira said on Fox News in early January that "Fukushima shows us that the current generation and our current way of operating nuclear power plants is dangerous" but added that "just because something is error-prone today doesn't mean we can't make it better."
Joint NGO statement: www.nirs.org/climate/background/hansenletter1614.pdf
Caldeira interview: www.youtube.com/watch?v=in9qugXsc7U
BP Energy Outlook 2035
BP released the fourth edition of its Energy Outlook 2035 publication on January 15. BP predicts that world energy consumption will grow by 41% between 2012 and 2035, with 95% of that growth in demand coming from emerging economies. Global carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise by 29% to 2035, or 1.1% annually.[1,2,3]
Oil, natural gas and coal are each expected to make up around 27% of the total energy mix by 2035 with the remaining 18% coming from nuclear, hydro and renewables.
Renewable energy will see the fastest growth − 6.4% per year. The share of renewables (including biofuels but excluding hydropower) in primary demand will grow from 2% today to about 7% in 2035, BP predicts. In OECD countries renewables will make "big inroads". The share of renewables in global electricity production is expected to rise from 5% today to 14% by 2035 (greater than nuclear). In the EU, the share of renewables in electricity production is expected to increase from 13% in 2012 to 32% in 2035.
The annual growth in hydro is expected to be 1.8% to 2035, with nearly half of the growth coming from China, India and Brazil. Hydro's share of the energy mix is expected to remain flat at about 7%, equal to (other) renewables.
Nuclear is expected to grow at around 1.9% a year, with its share in total energy supply remaining flat at around 5-6%. China, India and Russia will account for 96% of the global growth in nuclear power. In the OECD, nuclear generation is projected to decline by 0.2% annually as ageing plants are gradually retired. Global growth is expected to be driven by non-OECD countries (with an annual growth rate of 5.9%).
Meanwhile, investment house Deutsche Bank has dramatically lifted its forecasts for the global solar industry, predicting that 46 gigawatts (GW) of solar PV will be installed around the world in 2014, and 56 GW in 2015. Credit Suisse estimates that in the US, about 85% of power growth to 2025 will be met by the installation of over 100 GW of renewable energy capacity. By 2025, Credit Suisse projects that renewables will account for about 12% of US electricity generation. Spain's grid operator Red Electrica De Espana has revealed that the country's main energy source is now wind with a 21.1% share in 2012, just exceeding nuclear's 21% share.
Transport accidents in UK and France
A driver was lucky to escape with his life on January 14 when he abandoned his stricken car at a level crossing at Silverdale – moments before it was dragged down a railway track by a train. The train is used to take spent nuclear fuel to Sellafield but, as it was returning to the Oldbury nuclear power station, was empty.[1,2]
Nuclear transport trains routinely leave the Sellafield site on a number of days each week, returning empty spent fuel flasks to nuclear power stations around the UK where they are subsequently refilled and returned to Sellafield for the spent nuclear fuel to be reprocessed.
Marianne Birkby, the founder of Radiation Free Lakeland, said: "Radioactive waste should not be shunted around on trains through our towns and villages." Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, Dr Richard Dixon, said: "I think people are right to be concerned. There are a couple of things to be worried about – one is the fact that a train full of nuclear waste is a good terrorist target. The other thing is the possibility of accidents. These trains are well constructed and rigorously tested, but nothing is infallible."
The January 14 accident came just three months after a rail accident outside Barrow docks involving three nuclear transport wagons. With each wagon carrying an empty high level waste flask being returned from Japan, two of the wagons derailed causing a partial blockage of the main railway line serving Barrow and the cancellation of some main line services for several days. Whilst a Network Rail investigation has yet to be published, an in-house investigation by Direct Rail Services concluded that the derailment occurred as a result of an error by train crew.
Meanwhile, a debate is unfolding over plans to train 26 tonnes of "exotic fuel", which includes plutonium and highly-enriched uranium, from Dounreay in Scotland through densely populated areas to Sellafield in Cumbria.
In France, a rail freight wagon carrying nuclear waste derailed at a depot in Drancy, 3 kms from Paris, on December 23. There was no spillage of nuclear waste, according to Drancy mayor Jean-Christophe Lagarde. About 4,000 freight wagons carrying radioactive or chemical waste pass through the station each year, Lagarde said, calling the incident "intolerable". France's 'Europe Ecologie Les Verts' (EELV) Green party called for an end to the transportation of radioactive waste through urban areas and busy stations following the incident.
Nuclear 'Doomsday Clock' remains at five minutes to midnight
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has opted to leave its "Doomsday Clock" fixed at five minutes to midnight for the third year in a row.
The Bulletin recognised "limited strides" made last year in moving away from nuclear annihilation − some limited progress with the Iran situation, significant progress in seven countries to reduce stockpiles of weapons-usable material, and improved nuclear security measures in some countries (though "much nuclear material remains unsecured").
"Overall, however, in 2013 the international community dealt with the continuing, potentially civilization-ending threat of nuclear weapons in a business-as-usual manner."
The Bulletin criticised Russia and the US for maintaining their "outsized nuclear arsenals" and noted with concern that China, India and Pakistan all seem to be adding to their own nuclear weapons stockpiles.
The Bulletin expressed concern about the spread of nuclear power and "unlearned lessons" such as the need for independent, open regulation, without which "the world is likely to see more catastrophic accidents."
The Bulletin goes on to say: "Beyond plant safety and security lies a more general danger: Civilian nuclear power can contribute to new nuclear weapons programs, as illustrated by the complexity of ongoing discussions with Iran. Also, the continued development of laser-based fuel enrichment is not encouraging from the proliferation perspective. This technology promises to provide a route to uranium enrichment that is less expensive and harder-to-constrain than the centrifuge enrichment pursued by Iran and North Korea."
The Bulletin urges the United Nations to: demand that US and Russian leaders return to the nuclear disarmament negotiating table; support international discussions about the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons (most of the nuclear weapons states boycotted the Oslo conference in March 2013); exercise political leadership on climate change (by supporting "energy technologies − including wind, solar, and geothermal power generation and vigorous energy efficiency measures"); and create new rules and institutions to manage emerging technology.
Deutsche Bank talks with buyers for its uranium business
Deutsche Bank AG is holding preliminary talks with potential buyers of its uranium trading business, according to news reports in December. The bank's uranium desk is one of the biggest third-party traders in the market, holding uranium stockpiles worth about US$200 million and with numerous long-term deals with nuclear power plants. The bank expects to start a formal sales process early this year. Goldman Sachs, the other major bank active in uranium trading, is also selling its nuclear fuel arm. Trading firms like Deutsche and Goldman buy and hold uranium stockpiles in warehouses specially licensed to hold the fuel. Uranium prices languish at their lowest since 2005.
Nuclear war, nuclear famine
In April 2012, Physicians for Social Responsibility released the report 'Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk', which examined the climatic and agricultural consequences of a limited, regional nuclear war. The report looked specifically at the declines in US maize and Chinese rice production that would result from the predicted climate disruption and concluded that even a limited nuclear conflict would cause extensive famine, mainly in the developing world, and put more than one billion people at risk of starvation.
Since then, new research by Lili Xia and Alan Robock has shown that the climate change caused by a limited nuclear war would affect Chinese maize production as severely as rice production and it would affect wheat production much more severely than rice output. Their new findings suggest that the original report may have seriously underestimated the consequences of a limited nuclear war.
In addition to the one billion people in the developing world who would face possible starvation, 1.3 billion people in China could confront severe food insecurity. The prospect of a decade of widespread hunger and intense social and economic instability in the world's largest country has immense implications for the entire global community, as does the possibility that the huge declines in Chinese wheat production will be matched by similar declines in other wheat producing countries.
The updated version of the 'Nuclear Famine' report attempts to address these new concerns and better define the full extent of the worldwide catastrophe that would result from even a limited, regional nuclear war.
Dr Ira Helfand, Nov 2013, 'Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People At Risk?', International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War / Physicians for Social Responsibility, www.psr.org/assets/pdfs/two-billion-at-risk.pdf
See also: www.nucleardarkness.org