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(Immediate Disclaimer:  The title could easily be construed as misleading. If you are looking for someone to tell you all about why we should ban nuclear power, I advise you not to read this diary entry - you won't find such an argument made here.)

Ignoring the noble gases, helium, neon and argon, which do not generally participate in chemical reactions, of the first 30 elements in the periodic table only a few have almost no role in biology.   Those elements are lithium, beryllium, boron, aluminum, fluorine, scandium, and titanium.

By contrast, only two of the next 80 or so elements are known to play key roles in living systems, molybdenum and iodine.

There are some reasons, I think, for this, mostly having to do with cosmic abundance, and to a lesser extent, chemistry.  

Most moderately well educated people are aware that the origin of all of the elements except for those created in the "big bang" involves formation in a star from nuclear reactions.   (Hydrogen represented the vast bulk of the elements formed in the "big bang," but a little helium and lithium is believed to have formed as well in this primordial event.)

Elements heavier than lithium, including the carbon which makes up a significant fraction of you were mostly ejected by stellar explosions from stars that exhausted their fuel, collapsed and then, in a kind of rebound, blew up as supernovae.   These explosions distributed heavy elements, up to and including uranium, throughout the universe.

It happens though, that this process does not account for the existence of three light elements.   Neither lithium, nor beryllium, nor boron are stable elements in stars.   All three elements are consumed in stars, and rather rapidly at that.   If lithium, either from the big bang or from elsewhere, falls into a star, it is rapidly destroyed, not formed.

Still all of these elements exist here on earth.   Lithium is found in batteries that many people use all the time.   Beryllium is somewhat more esoteric, but it is widely known.   Boron is common enough, it's been used as a laundry detergent, one that was hawked by Ronald Reagan as "20 Mule Team Borax" in his "movie star" days.   Even so, out in space, in terms of "cosmological" abundance, these three elements are relatively rare and indeed they are not common elements even on this planet.   It is my guess that when life first formed on this planet, there wasn't much of these elements around to play with, so life developed its chemistry without them.   (Although fluorine and aluminum are both relatively common elements on earth, they form lots of insoluble immobile compounds, and so life did without them too).  

As it happens, it is believed that all of the lithium, beryllium and boron that exist were formed not in stars but in cold interstellar clouds when very energetic particles - cosmic rays - ran into heavier elements causing little pieces - the light elements themselves - to be "chinked off."   This process, which is rare and esoteric, is called "spallation."   The universe is so vast that spallation can make appreciable quantities of these elements.  Still, on earth as well in space, they are relatively rare.   Life avoided their use.

The nuclear properties of the elements - nuclear synthesis of the elements in stars - manifests itself in the chemistry of life in other ways as well.   If one plots the "binding energy" of the elements - the glue that sticks the bundles of protons and neutrons that make up their nuclei - against atomic number, one finds that iron is the most stable element there is.   If one is making iron from lighter elements, one can take energy out.   If on the other hand, one is trying to make elements that are heavier than iron, one must put energy in.   In normal stars there is something of a tendency to overshoot this limit, but once one gets much past zinc, an element that plays a fairly important role in living systems, the cosmic abundance of the heavy elements is somewhat limited and so the biochemistry of these elements is limited.  Only a few elements are more common than iron, and all are light.

This interesting fact accounts almost certainly for the fact that there are no proteins or other molecules that are important to life that depend on the chemistry of rhodium, even though rhodium is a very cool element that can catalyze lots of very interesting chemical reactions.   Rhodium is just too rare to be essential.

All of the above makes it very difficult to account for the fact that iodine, element 53, far removed from iron (element 26), is essential to life, but it is.  Iodine is a big exception to this rule. Iodine is far less abundant in earth's crust than either uranium or thorium, but thorium and uranium, though found in living tissue, have no known physiological role in any living organism.   On the other hand, many types of organisms depend on access to iodine to live, from humans to insects to various kinds of plants.  Some plants, like ocean kelp, greedily scoop up all of the iodine they can, and they expend considerable energy doing so.  The proteins and the genes for concentrating and storing iodine from very dilute sources of the element are widely distributed and the genes responsible for them are thought, in evolutionary terms, to be very old, hundreds of millions of years old, maybe even billions of years old.   Iodine is a diffuse element.  It is widely distributed.  It gets around the planet pretty easily and it is somewhat problematic to get it to stay in one place.

It is almost always true that DKos diary entries written by NNadir are about energy, most often about nuclear energy, and this one is too.   The reason is that iodine, for all of its other interesting properties, is a very common fission product.   When, in a nuclear reactor, an atom of uranium or plutonium or other actinide element is split, releasing energy, it is very common for iodine to be formed.    Sometimes the iodine that is formed is the isotope that is the only stable non-radioactive isotope of iodine, I-127, but more often the iodine that is formed is radioactive.   In fact, when one looks at the majority of long term complications of the manufacture, use and testing of nuclear weapons, as well as the effects of the famous nuclear accident at Chernobyl, a huge fraction of the injuries involve the fact that iodine is a fission product.

For instance, if one fissions an atom of uranium-235 with a "thermal" neutron, an atom of the extremely radioactive isotope I-131 will result about 2.88% of the time.   If one fissions plutonium-239 with a "thermal" neutron, one will get an atom of I-131 about 3.84% of the time.

Happily, the half-life of I-131 is relatively short, about 8.02 days.   This means that while I-131 is present when a nuclear reactor is operating, eventually it will reach an equilibrium concentration in the reactor where it is decaying about as fast as it is being formed.   Once the reactor is shut down, all of the I-131 will rapidly decay, disappearing more or less completely within a few months.    However if something happens - as happened at Chernobyl and as happened every time a nuclear weapon was detonated in the atmosphere (and even when nuclear weapons were detonated underground) - to release this iodine to the environment before it decays, then living things will pick it up and concentrate it at certain places in their flesh.   It can be shown that a large fraction of the deaths connected to nuclear technology, both military and civilian, are related to I-131.  In fact, in one of the ironies of the whole situation, it will be concentrated in such a way as to find itself about as close to DNA molecules as you can get.

Now that's unhappy news.

As was the case when I recently discussed another product made in nuclear reactors, where I showed that people were exposed to tritium contamination mostly by nuclear testing.   Many people who were then children were exposed to radioisotopes as the result of this very questionable arms race.   I was one of them.   Probably I had measurable quantities of I-131 - not that anyone checked - in my thyroid because of the Soviet-American-English-French arms race.   More than 40 years have passed since I ingested my last glass of milk containing I-131 released by an American or Soviet open air nuclear weapons test, but the die is cast.   I was eleven years old, and there is not a damn thing I could have done about it.    I may still get thyroid cancer or some other cancer from it yet, you never know.

Thankfully, all of the iodine-131 released in 1963 has decayed.   I doubt that even one atom of iodine-131 formed back then exists on the planet.   All of the iodine-131 is now atoms non-radioactive gas Xenon-131, and it is almost certain at some point during the day you will breathe one of these atoms at least one or two of these atoms.   (If one wishes to see an interesting calculation of this type, see problem 2.30 of Gilbert Castellan's Physical Chemistry, 3rd Edition Addison Wesley, wherein one is lead to calculate how many breaths one must take in order, on average to breath in an Argon atom from Ceasar's last breath:   The answer is 53.)

Let me tell you something else.   Irrespective of the fate of the iodine-131 from the nuclear testing era I am in no ways done with eating radioactive iodine, even though nuclear weapons testing has happily been cut back around the world.

Of the iodine atoms produced by human induced nuclear fission, only one is not radioactive, iodine-127, (0.12%) the only stable isotope of iodine.   Other iodine isotopes, besides I-131, that are formed in appreciable amounts in nuclear fission reactions include I-129 (0.7%), I-132 (4.2%), I-133 (6.0%),  I-134 (7.7%), I-135 (6.3%), I-136 (2.5%), and I-137 (3.2%).    The numbers in parentheses refer to the percentage of fissions of U-235 induced by thermal neutrons that result in the formation of one of these isotopes.    Except for I-129, all of these isotopes have half-lives of less than a few hours.   Equilibrium is quickly established in operating nuclear reactors and when the reactors are shut down and the fuel removed, almost all of the iodine rapidly decays to isotopes of xenon or cesium, most of which are not radioactive at all.  

The only exception is I-129.

I-129 has a half life of 15,700,000 years.   Almost all of the iodine-129 released in the international pissing match between Nikita Khrushchev and John Kennedy (and before him Dwight Eisenhower) is still out and about and it is still radioactive.   Unquestionably, you have radioactive iodine in your body right now that comes from this source.   Nuclear weapons testing materials is in your flesh right now and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, you can do about it.

How much radioactive iodine-129?

Before I answer that question, let's turn for a minute to the title of this diary entry.   I have deliberately chosen the title of this entry to be phrased in the inflammatory way that almost all nuclear news is reported by the media.    That said, the title is accurate.   There is radioactive iodine in the Mississippi River, and it can be shown that the source of this radioiodine is French nuclear reactors.    The reason it is there because the French - who are the most advanced nuclear power nation on earth - do what I think every nation should do:   They reprocess their spent nuclear fuel.

Either before or after suggesting that I am either a paid nuclear lobbyist or Patrick Moore's Sockpuppet, a subject I have discussed in my diary already several times, people will start to talk about how "radiation causes cancer," and a whole bunch of other things.    Of course, in making these assertions they will ignore the reality that particulate matter released from burning fossil fuels also causes cancer.    In short they will insist, as always, that nuclear energy must be risk free, and pretend that everything else is already risk free.    This state of affairs repeats itself in all of my repetitive diary entries.

Why repeat it then?   Because it's important, that's why.

Implicit in a lot of thinking these days is the assumption that if industry spokesmen say one thing or another - and I would love to be paid as a nuclear industry spokesman by the way and would be proud of doing so - they are lying.    This is, however, nonsense.   Some industries do tell lies about their products, minizing their risks.   The cigarette industry famously claimed that cigarettes do not cause cancer, but cigarettes do cause cancer.   Exxon-Mobil spends a lot of money trying to prop up desperate scientific arguments about fossil fuel induced climate change, but climate change is real and it is caused by the burning of fossil fuels.   All of that said, I spend a fair amount of time over at nuclear industry funded websites.  I agree with almost everything that is written on them.    They are saying the right things and telling, in fact, truths that many people find inconvenient.

Screw that.  

Climate change is a very serious matter and our options are limited.

So what about that French reactor waste in the Mississippi River?   The matter is discussed in the scientific literature.    A discussion of French I-129 in the Mississippi River is the topic of a paper written by scientists at Texas A&M, Purdue and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  The reference is Santschi et al, Environ. Sci. Technol. 2001, 35, 4470-4476.    Here is an excerpt that pretty much reproduces everything I have said in this entry and then some:

Iodine is a biophilic element, occurring in the environment primarily as 127I (natural abundance nearly 100%) with several radioisotopes of which the only long-lived isotope is 129I (half life) 5.6 X 10^6 years). 129I is produced by cosmic ray-induced spallation of Xe in the atmosphere, by spontaneous fission of 238U in the earth’s crust, and by human activities, such as nuclear bomb testing and nuclear fuel reprocessing (1). The amount of natural 129I in the surface environment is approximately 100 kg (2-4), while atmospheric bomb testing has contributed an additional 150 kg, equivalent to about 27.3 Ci (5), and the Chernobyl reactor accident 1.3 kg (6). The dominant sources of 129I in recent years are fuel reprocessing plants located at Cap de La Hague, France, and Sellafield (formerly Windscale), England. These plants have contributed about 2360 kg or 420 Ci of 129I between 1966 and 1997 (4). Their atmospheric releases have increased in the past decade, providing the largest point source for 129I in the surface environment. These releases have completely overwhelmed the natural background ratios of 129I/127I.

The bold is mine.

Wow.

Those sound like some very dangerous plants, no?

Let's read further:

Even relatively small amounts of atmospherically delivered 129I transported from the Sellafield/La Hague region can drastically change 129I/127I ratios in surface waters, soils, and biota in the U.S. 8, 9). Elevated 129I/127I ratios in surface environments of the U.S. have recently been reported (8-14). Moran et al. (8, 9) found higher 129I/127I ratios in meteoric water and epiphytes in the continental U.S. as compared to coastal seawater, indicating that atmospheric transport is an important distributor for surface 129I.

If I were a paid lobbyist for the middle and upper class "environmental" circus stunt performing group Greenpeace - something I would never agree to do on ethical grounds - I could sure get some mileage out of these remarks, couldn't I?

Now there's a lot of other remarks in this scientific report that I could take out of context and spin to make this all seem absolutely horrible.   But let's cut to the chase.   What exactly is the ratio of I-129/I-127?  

Well it turns out that the ratios fluctuate with the flow rate.   Here is the results:

During base flow, 129I and 127I are being similarly concentrated by ET, with only small amounts of 127I removed to soils, as 129I/127I ratios are close to the average ratio in rainwater (3.8 +/1 X 10^-9) calculated from individual ratios, 2.4 +/1 0.65 X 10^-9 from individual average concentrations of 129I and 127I (8)). During times of higher flow rates (i.e., spring time), extra inputs of 127I from soil weathering reactions and sediment resuspension cause a decrease in the 129I/127I ratio.

(I have edited this text to render the scientific notation into a form that makes sense in the DKos editor.)

In other words, between one in every 200 million and one in every 500 million atoms of iodine found in the Mississippi river is radioactive I-129, probably derived from a French (or English) nuclear fuel reprocessing plant.

What does this mean?

The rest of the calculations found here are mine.   Anyone who feels competent to challenge them is invited to do so.

According to the periodic table I referenced above, even though iodine is an essential element, one doesn't require a great deal of it.  The human body is about 200 parts per billion iodine by weight.   This means that a 70 kg human being contains about 14 milligrams of iodine.   According to the paper referenced, if a person obtained all of their iodine by drinking water from the Mississippi River, on the worst day with the highest concentration of I-129 relative to non-radioactive I-127, one in every two hundred million atoms of iodine would be radioactive I-129 from the French or English nuclear reprocessing plants.

This means that the average 70 kg person contains (at worst) 72 trillionths of a gram of radioactive I-129.

The specific activity of I-129 is 6.52 million decays per gram.   This means that a 70 kg person would need to wait 35 minutes to have even a single nuclear decay from iodine.   For comparison purposes every 70 kg person on the planet experiences more than 4000 such decays each second from natural potassium.   Moreover, the radioactive potassium-40 found in all water on earth, releases far more energy per atom than does an atom of I-129.

I am about to hear all sorts of happy horseshit about renewable energy, but I don't buy any of it.   The real risk of nuclear energy is that it won't be used in the immediate climate change crisis because people despise rationality.   Nevertheless the climate change crisis remains extremely urgent.   People want to believe all sorts of appeals to irrational nonsense, including the nonsense that there is such a thing as risk free energy and renewable energy is an example of it.   But even if renewable energy were risk free, and it's not, there is not enough of it to make even a dent in the crisis.    There is no such thing as risk free energy, not renewable, not nuclear.   There is only risk minimized energy.   That energy is nuclear energy.

One might ask why those nasty French don't stop releasing radioiodine or whether they could do so if they wished.    The answer probably is that they could probably capture all of their iodine, but to do so might be expensive.   "Pay any expense!" you say, "It's radioactive!

Bullshit.   I contend that if the number of people who have died from French radioiodine is not zero, it is very, very, very, very close to zero.    Suppose that to prevent the release of radioiodine we required those nasty French to spend 100 million dollars to capture and contain all of their iodine.   How many lives would be saved?   One, maybe two, if that.    Now ask yourself how many lives could be saved by donating 100 million dollars to an AIDs prevention program in Zimbabwe.   I am morally averse to putting a 100 million dollar price tag on one life just because that life might be injured by a nuclear related event.

Originally posted to NNadir on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 12:21 PM PST.

Poll

So how much should we pay to prevent a death from radioiodine?

5%4 votes
4%3 votes
1%1 votes
10%8 votes
58%43 votes
2%2 votes
0%0 votes
1%1 votes
5%4 votes
2%2 votes
5%4 votes

| 73 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

    •  You don't need to be rude. (4+ / 0-)

      Yes, you're quite clear on why the amount of I-129 emitted is not a serious danger, and I agree.

      Your total dismissal of renewable energy makes you appear both biased and ignorant, however.  Furthermore, your repeated dismissal of the dangers of incompetently run nuclear programs has the same effect.

      A number of posters have said outright "If the US ran its nuclear power plants the way the French did, we would support nuclear power".  You basically dismissed them.

      -5.63, -8.10 | Libertarian Liberal

      by neroden on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 01:56:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Just for your information (4+ / 0-)

      The biggest backers of renewable energy in France are the main (nuclear) utilitiy EDF (via its renewable energy subsidiary, EDF, EN, recently floated on the stock exchange) and the nuclear construction group Areva (which has taken a stake in Repower, the German wind turbine manufacturer).

      It's possible to do both nuclear and renewables, and we should go for (after focusing on conservation and energy efficiency) as much renewable energy as we can - and the rest with nuclear before hydrocarbon fired.

      your points on nuclear are well taken, but I don't understand your hostility to renewables.

      •  About my "hostility." (0+ / 0-)

        For the last twenty years, since Chernobyl, whenever I say "nuclear" someone tells me all about wind and solar and so on.

        I have never opposed a wind plant, never demanded an end to solar power production, and indeed have fantasied about some of the expansion of renewable opportunities.

        I do hate the Glen Canyon dam though.

        Let me be clear:  The world is collapsing, I am heartily disgusted with the notion that renewable energy is enough.   Let's be clear on this too:  People rationalize opposing nuclear energy with evocations of all sorts of magic about renewables.   It is that to which I am hostile, not the two or three exajoules produced by wind and solar themselves.  If someone could produce ten exajoules of renewable energy rather than two, I would not object in any way.

        For the record, long before posting a single fact about nuclear energy, I wrote this post over at Democratic Underground:

        A crazy idea about the Salton Sea.

        It is hardly a clarion call to ban renewable energy.

        •  Fair enough (0+ / 0-)

          Saying that renwable energy is not enough is not, in my view, an argument against renewable energy, but it is used as one by many people, and it disappoints me to see it often used by proponents of nuclear.

          All sane partisans of renewables say that we should do as much of it as we can, but recognize that it will not be enough, and I'm personally happy to say that the rest (again, after conservation, which should come first) should be nuclear in priority to any other baseload technology.

          The enemy of nuclear is not wind, it's coal - and it (coal) is the biggest enemy of our health and the main cause of climate change.

          •  I have been saying what you say about coal (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Jerome a Paris

            for quite some time.   If fossil fuels, especially coal, didn't exist as an energy source, I would feel no compulsion to write posts on this website about nuclear power.

            France has banned coal, and nobody is trying to prevent France from using renewable energy.   Regrettably, France does burn some natural gas.   I wish it didn't, but it does.

            The problem is that fossil fuels do exist, and very little is being done to phase them out.   On the contrary, their use is increasing, even as they strangle every living thing on the planet.   Meanwhile there are lots of people running around saying nuclear energy is dangerous.   That is insane.

            I have called for the banning of coal repeatedly, and will do so again right here.   I also call for the banning of oil, and the banning of natural gas.

            I have also stated many times that you cannot be opposed to coal and nuclear at the same time because they are the two largest sources of energy providing continuous baseload power.   I insist on the equation procoal = antinuclear and have yet to see any rational evidence that contradicts that equation.

            If...and here's a big if...fossil fuels are replaced, I will very happy to discuss the relative merits of what has replaced them.  Until they are replaced I will continue to write and explode the myths that constitute "nuclear exceptionalism," the view that only nuclear energy must be risk free to be allowed.   "Nuclear exceptionalism" is the cause of completely horrible (from an environmental standpoint) nuclear phase-outs across Europe.   One may be relieved that Sweden has discarded "nuclear exceptionalism" and its "nuclear phase out," until one recognizes that that the original creation of the phase out is precisely why Sweden gets much less, in percentage terms, less of its electricity from nuclear than does France.   Twenty years were lost.

            The French had political courage that has paid off.   The Swedes could have been as successful as the French, but they aren't.

            Norway just built its first fossil fuel plant.   Norway says nuclear is too dangerous.

            Everybody carries on and on about Danish wind power.   But the Danes generate most of their electrical energy from fossil fuels - and they have refused to consider nuclear energy.

            Italy had nuclear reactors and shut them.   Almost all of the energy generated in Italy is generated from fossil fuels - although they have agreed very recently to partnership in Flameville.  (How NIMBY is that?)

            I am freaking out that Germany is building vast new coal capacity, and I lay that solely at the feet of people who have shouted "wind, solar, biofuels" without checking to see if they were being remotely realistic.    It would have been great if someone produced the alleged renewable energy before creating conditions that lead to more coal.  

            The world cannot afford more coal.  It can't afford the coal it already has.

            I know you are a prominent thinker about energy here at DKos - if not the most prominent thinker - and I know you know far more about France than I do, obviously.   I cannot recall you making a single comment here with which I disagree except for the one I am to note below.  

            I obviously respect you.   But I am tired of mysticism and you can bet your sweet ass that I am angry and more than a little hostile.  That's not your style, maybe, but it is mine.  (It is exactly why this diary entry is titled as it is.)  I am not passive about this subject in any way.   I regard this as the single most important issue facing humanity.  

            This diary entry was not easy to write.   It took time and it took critical thinking, and it is something I did - even as many as would like to suggest otherwise - simply because I care about the future of the world.   I don't get paid for this, and I often take abuse for my views.  I've been called everything from "Dick Cheney" to a "shill."  I just don't give a fuck.   It is what it is.  

            Of course I hand out abuse as well, but it is my view we need to shake things up.   If we are to succeed, we must ask questions.   The first question we should ask in this emergency is "Are we doing something that is working?"   The answer is "no," whether the question refers to either the use of renewable energy or fossil energy.

            Neither is demonizing nuclear energy working.

            Now for my potential source disagreement with you.  You write:  

            "All sane partisans of renewables say that we should do as much of it as we can, but recognize that it will not be enough..."

            Whether I disagree with you would depend entirely on whether one is inclined to regard the members of Greenpeace (and similar organizations) as sane.  I, for one, don't.  

  •  Phew! It took me the best of half an hour (5+ / 0-)

    to read your (very interesting) diary. I gasped for a micro-second when I read the name Sellafield. I live in the West of Ireland and we are somewhat concerned about the safety levels at that particular plant.

    The essence of Liberalism is an attempt to secure a social order not based on irrational dogma. Bertrand Russell

    by Asinus Asinum Fricat on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 12:32:39 PM PST

    •  Ireland? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Asinus Asinum Fricat

      How is it over there?  Socially, economically, politically?  Is it a very tolerant country with respect to other cultures, minorities?

      Really silly and broad question(s) of course, but I'm in the US and considering moving out in a couple of years and the British Isles and Down Under seem to be the best choices (i.e. what America used to be).  I've read all the wiki entries, but the best option seems to ask someone who's already there.

      Feel free to tell me to shove off if you don't feel like answering.  I understand that I've asked ridiculously vague questions.

      The greed of men destroys the wealth of nations.

      by ivorytower on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 01:02:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I would go to Australia or NZ. I'm not dissing (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        means are the ends, ivorytower

        this country but being from an entirely different culture (French) I have difficulties adapting to an inherent lack of social gatherings (I'm not crazy about pubs and that's all there is in terms of socialising here though if you like hillwalking it's a God given place) Having said that it's a wonderful place to be if you are raising children (I have three young daughters) as it is as safe as can be. Taxes are ok, government not too nosey and work is plentiful in IT. My downfall is that I lived in Sydney for the best part of 20 years and it has spoilt me. The sun, the sand, the Aussie's unquenchable thirst for parties, the Opera House....
        However it is a lenghty wait for paperwork & visas but certainly worth the effort. NZ is also a great country, lovely, friendly people, and house prices are still reasonable (unlike here where an average abode costs over 350,000 euros (over 400 grands in your dollars). So there you go, rain (plentiful here) or sun ( in spades over there!)

        The essence of Liberalism is an attempt to secure a social order not based on irrational dogma. Bertrand Russell

        by Asinus Asinum Fricat on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 01:23:01 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          madgranny

          for the honest reply.  Appreciate it.  Merci beaucoup I suppose.  My french is rusty.

          The greed of men destroys the wealth of nations.

          by ivorytower on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 01:34:13 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Re Sellafield, lots of info in briefings (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          badger

          here.

          One of interest notes that

          Lobsters, cockles and scallops are so contaminated by Sellafield's plutonium sea discharges that they will breach limits due to be introduced by the United Nations in 2005. The UN's 'Codex Alimentarius Commission' - which brings together the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organisation - is proposing a safety limit for plutonium in food of one becquerel per kilogram (1Bq/kg). The aim is to reduce the long-term risk of getting cancer from eating these foods to below one in a million.

          I wonder if that is counted in the price of nuclear power?

          And I agree; there are trade-offs wherever you live. Quiet hills and privacy sound nice, but perhaps only to an introvert like me!

    •  You ought to be (a bit) worried ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badger, count, means are the ends

      Sellafield doesn't just leak I-131 or tritium from its normal operation. Those releases are indeed not a big deal.

      The issues with Sellafield are the ghosts from the past. It leaks other things than I-131. Things such as ... little bits of corroded magnox fuel elements washing on the beaches nearby. There are also a handful of very puzzling "discharge" pits and areas where stuff and things have been discarded over the years, mainly from the 50s to the 70s and no one, strictly no one, has the foggiest idea of what’s in there. I also believe that reading of plutonium levels in kids' teeth in Ireland are ... interesting. We're talking picograms per kilograms, really not much and very probably not a health concern. Yet, where the fuck is this stuff coming from ? No one knows for sure.

      The UK nuclear program is an awful mess, not as bad the Russian one, but still. Sellafield is a very entertaining place, if you have the right kind of sense of humor ...

      Hey, little wingnut drummer, you should always remember they also hanged Julius Streicher...

      by Farugia on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 02:18:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Happy horseshit? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Turkana, means are the ends

    This is a well written diary, and I agree that much of the hype about nuclear danger is just that, hype.  But you seem to have gone just as far the other direction when you "don't buy" anything about renewable energy sources.

    Compare the worst potential dangers of solar, wind and wave farms with the worst potential dangers of nuclear power and your statement:

    There is no such thing as risk free energy though.   There is only risk minimized energy.   That energy is nuclear energy.

    ...is simply not accurate enough to be credible.  I am confused as to how you can make such an assertion amidst an otherwise balanced presentation of information.  

    •  I make this assertion because it is true. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ed in Montana, redstar

      The external costs of energy have been evaluated and compared.

      A caveat:  I should have excluded hydroelectricity from this statement.   Although the largest energy disaster of all time was the Baqiao dam failure in China, hydroelectricity is generally safer than nuclear energy.   On the other hand, there are real limits to how scalable hydroelectricity is.

      It is not true that the chemistry of silicon - for solar power - is risk free.   Neither is it true that the chemistry of steel - for making windmills is risk free.

      Nuclear energy is very dense on a mass/energy balance and this makes all the difference.

      The real risk of renewable energy is that people will use its existence to feel relaxed about doing nothing.   Windpower is much safer than natural gas, but that isn't saying much.   However, unless energy storage systems are made risk free - and they're not even close - windpower will prevent the elimination of natural gas as a fuel.

      •  You didn't factor in my primary point. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        badger, toys, means are the ends

        I said:

        Compare the worst potential dangers of solar, wind and wave farms with the worst potential dangers of nuclear power...

        Are you going to argue that results of the (however small) risk of nuclear catastrophe, via negligence, technical breakdown, terrorism or whatever, are less dangerous than risks of more benign forms of energy generation?

        All it takes is for one reactor to go wrong to out scale the dangers of the renewables.  No wind farm is going to kill a million people.

        In other words, even if I agree that nuclear power is the most "risk minimized", it is the results of the even minimal risk that are worrisome, and that puts the risk itself into a completely different category in which the word "minimized" doesn't do it justice.

        •  You are looking for reason from a guy who (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          badger, neroden, BalanceSeeker

          wrote:

          the anti-nuclear position is, in my view, really intellectual, scientific, and moral laziness of the first order.

          He can certainly throw the happy nuclear horshit around, right down to making fun of the intellect of anyone who disagrees with them. And just because he says that he isn't a paid nuclear shill doesn't mean that he isn't.  

          •  Well it is a rational statement about laziness. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            BalanceSeeker

            I think I've given excellent support to my claims about laziness.

            Almost always, people attack me rather than address my arguments.    That is pretty lazy.

            So, can you prove that I-129 has called lots of fatalities or not?   Are you prepared to produce any evidence for that claim, or is it enough to simply say what kind of guy I am?

            •  To give you credit... (0+ / 0-)

              Almost always, people attack me rather than address my arguments.

              Alas, it was ever thus.  

              I still don't buy all of your argument, but I respect your attempt.  My main criticism would be that you do tend to over-reach in the opposite direction as some anti-nuclear folks.  Calling their position "happy horseshit" that you "don't buy at all", sounds just like what they might say in return.  The truth is closer to the middle, and the debate is not well served by too much rhetoric at the extremes.

            •  Who said anything about I-129 causing (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              badger

              lots of fatalities? As far as I can see, you are setting up nonsense straw men and not attending to the many excellent, researched and factual arguments against your statements about nuclear power.

              Your article is not simply about I-129.

              It is about nuclear power being a magic bullet, renewables being environmentally unfriendly and unreliable, and about anyone who disagrees with your premise as being intellectually, scientifically and morally lazy, if I read correctly.

              •  Really? There are factual, researched excellent (0+ / 0-)

                arguments opposed to nuclear power?

                Would you care to produce one, or just tell me that you know these arguments exist and they meet the criteria of being "excellent, researched, and factual?"   I think I have seen all such "excellent, researched, and factual" arguments, except in most cases I do not agree that they are "excellent, researched and factual."  Mostly what they do is to isolate nuclear energy from its alternatives.   This is only "excellent" if one uses selective attention to validate one's own biases and then applauds oneself for doing so.

                For the record, I have not said that renewables are "environmentally unfriendly."   What I have said is that the compared to some options some of them are less environmentally acceptable than others.   You will never hear from me that any form of renewable energy is worse than any fossil fuel.

                The subject of solar PV energy and its cost to the environment per unit of energy is something of a mystery.  One hears all sorts of numbers, and some of them are fanciful.   Some say that solar energy causes less destruction than nuclear energy, some say more.     This is because solar is trivial, and as such, it is impossible to really know what it's environmental impact will be.   It is relatively easy to evaluate the environmental impact of a form of energy that produces 5 or 10 exajoules of energy.   However, it is more difficult to evaluate a source of energy that produces less than 0.01% of the world's energy, as solar PV energy does.  Thus the evaluation is speculative.    

                Neither industry, nuclear nor solar, however is even close to being as dangerous as the natural gas industry, never mind the coal industry.

                I suspect that solar energy will - should it ever become a significant form of energy - will produce a waste profile like that of the computer industry, since both industries are based on a mix of metals and silicon.   Although the computer industry represents a significant waste problem, it is perfectly reasonable to ask whether the computer waste problem is as bad as the automotive waste problem.   If not, one can argue that the computer industry is environmentally desirable since it allows people to telecommute, thus preventing the use of cars.

                The question is somewhat irrelevant, though, because solar energy is suited to replace natural gas and not nuclear.    To the extent that solar energy replaces natural gas, it is to be desired.  

                Mostly however solar energy does not serve the needs of a broad cross section of humanity.   As best I can tell, the most prominent function of solar electrical energy is to assuage liberal guilt over a consumerist lifestyle.   People love to say "solar" and then operate energetically expensive websites saying how wonderful solar is.   I am quite sure that the energy spent promoting solar power is more impressive than the energy produced by it.   The average cost of a solar system is higher than the world per capita income.   Mostly people who own solar systems are very well off.   They are not, in general, people who live in the inner city in one bedroom hovels with the ceiling falling down or, for that matter, members of the underclass in a third world nation.

                I am far more optimistic about wind power, although I am fully aware that wind power has real limits, both environmentally and technically.

                For the record, I regard the nuclear industry as being as close to being a "magic bullet" as we are ever likely to see.   However, I don't really believe that there is a magic bullet, nuclear or otherwise.   Nuclear energy is not necessarily a "great" shot, but it is the "best" shot.

          •  Well... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            means are the ends

            ...he did say "in his view".  Maybe his view is limited to some of the more reactionary responses, which do exist in a vacuum of scientific knowledge about the industry.

            I'm staunchly anti-nuclear, but my position certainly doesn't come from laziness.  I've researched for years, and I know there are very strong arguments on the other side, I just don't think they outweigh the arguments on my side.  For example, at least in the US, conservation alone could save more power than nuclear reactors provide.  Conservation helps the planet, where uranium mining, nuclear waste and potential nuclear disasters can seriously hurt the planet.  Now, if that kind of thinking is First Order Moral Laziness, then maybe laziness is underrated.

            •  Exactly. Nuclear industry propaganda currently (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              badger, BalanceSeeker

              focuses on discounting environmental and anti-nuclear concerns as silly, uneducated, old-fashioned crunchy-granola, and worthy of laughter and scorn, and a bunch of medieval dimwits with their heads stuck in the sand. Have I left anything out?

              Oh, and Greenpeace sucks.

              They really, really hate Greenpeace. Except when they get a new shill who is a "co-founder" of same to give nukes some environmental cachet/cred. After that, they snicker, point fingers, and laugh sarcastically at it.

              So it's not you. You just got caught in the catapulted propaganda, IMHO. I get called stupid all the time by nuclear shills. Doesn't bother me, I don't take it seriously, and it doesn't do a thing to my degrees.

      •  And how comforting it is to know that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        badger

        we needn't be concerned with toxic nuclear wastes that remain radioactive for 100,000's of years. Obviously, there's no risk involved! snark.

        •  It is relatively easy to show that one can reduce (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ormondotvos

          the radioactivity of the planet with respect to uranium ores by the use of nuclear power.   The time required to do so depends intimately on the choice of fuel cycle, but several will reduce the radioactivity in less than 500 years.

          Every uranium atom that is fissioned prevents several nuclear decays.   The least trivial of these decays is the decay of radon gas.   Naturally occuring Radon causes most of the lung cancer deaths not caused by cigarrettes.

          By the way, are you claiming here that coal slag left over from making steel will not remain toxic forever?

          How about carbon dioxide?   When do you expect carbon dioxide to go away?  100,000 years? 1,000,000 years? 1,000,000,000 years?

          •  Reducing the radioactivity of the planet is not (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            badger, neroden

            the same as reducing the radioactive risk, as you well know. (Just as looking at "average" US income doesn't mean that everyone's doing well.) Using uranium  requires mining and exposing those ores, which are currently sequestered under the surface, which logically looks to be increasing our potential exposure.

            And nuclear products vary in their toxicity and half-lives. It is the toxic nuclear waste with an extremely long half-life that is of concern.

            And what does mentioning radon have to do with anything? Yeah it's naturally occuring; so what? Does that make other radioactive stuff OK?

            As you know, I wouldn't claim that steel-production was without environmental consequences. Radioactive waste just isn't one of them. Each particular substance has its own makeup, and must be treated in appropriate ways. For instance, CO2 sequestration is being looked at, in order to reduce carbon emissions. It is important to look at the many current problems, and their solutions, rather than either deny, diminish, or look for the "magic bullet".

        •  Good point, but (0+ / 0-)

          CO2 is a toxic waste at the levels we are producing it to generate energy and will remain so for thousands of years in both the atmosphere and the the oceans.

          Repeat after me: SENATOR-ELECT JON TESTER!

          by Ed in Montana on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 01:41:07 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Huh? (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        badger, count, neroden, BalanceSeeker

        The real risk of renewable energy is that people will use its existence to feel relaxed about doing nothing.

        I hadn't noticed this terrible risk among those advocating for renewables. I am completely horrified! My God, the risk!!

  •  The next time someone gives you a hassle... (4+ / 0-)

    Ask them: have you had your house tested for Radon? If not, then politely ask them to STFU. Now that is an unacceptable radioactive source.

    I spent a couple years studying radioactivity (my high school had a peanut butter jar full of uranium 235 for me to play with). I even had a lovely tour of the cobalt-60 at Penn State. Good stuff.

    This is a great diary, one which I proudly recommend. There is too much ignorance around here regarding the myths of the past that is easily debunked with some research & reading, nuclear power being one of them. Thank you very much.

    "I'm not an actor, but I play one on TV."

    by zeitshabba on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 12:37:42 PM PST

    •  I live in an environment rich in Radon. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      zeitshabba, ormondotvos

      In fact there are unacceptable levels of Radon near the town of Tralee and Castleisland. Keep the windows open as often as you can, is the answer we are given.

      The essence of Liberalism is an attempt to secure a social order not based on irrational dogma. Bertrand Russell

      by Asinus Asinum Fricat on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 12:40:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Seal the basement as best as possible, too. (3+ / 0-)

        You can't stop Radon in any real manner except to limit the paths it has to enter your home. The more you can seal the lowest depths of your house (and any part that is in direct contact w/ the earth), the better.

        Good luck & be careful - my high school had (and still has) incredibly high Radon levels, with 20 hours in the weightroom equal to roughly a carton of cigarettes a week. I learned this back in 1992, and the principal ignored me. In the 3 years following, 3 different teachers had heart attacks - the principal (worked out often), the gym teacher (worked out often), and the chemistry teacher (see above comment). Radon is not to be taken lightly, I must say.

        "I'm not an actor, but I play one on TV."

        by zeitshabba on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 12:45:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  It is my pleasure. Thank you for your comments. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      zeitshabba, ormondotvos
  •  Literally just sold my Areva stock this afternoon (0+ / 0-)

    to finance a move to Iowa Feb. 1 to volunteer in the Dem caucus, pet issues energy and healthcare, while founding a nonprofit to combat climate change.  Thanks for this diary.  The more I read, the less I wanted to hold that position to its expected peak in 2009.  

    Noticed JRE is calling for publically-funded elections.  That would go a long way towards debating energy based on truths derived from empiric evidence.

  •  Well, snarky putdowns galore! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    badger, Turkana, neroden, bikerider

    I vote for Energize America which accepts the need for multiple approaches, instead of shilling (paid or not) for nuclear interests. Maybe the nukies'll see your opus here and give you some green stuff.

    Obviously anyone who disagrees with you is too dumb to put a syllogism together, much less breathe.

    Although CA has extended its moratorium on building nuclear plants for economic reasons. So much for that. And the CEO of Exelon says that unless waste storage solutions are found, the nuclear industry isn't viable in the US. See Meet Mr. Nuke

    "Nuclear is not a cause; it is a business," he told shareholders recently. It is precisely for that reason that Rowe says he does not want to build another nuclear plant until the nation's spent-fuel disposal problem is solved. Opponents have stalled the Energy Department's plan to entomb nuclear waste more than 1,000 feet below Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Solving the waste problem is "essential" for good business, says Rowe. "We have to be able to look the public in the eye and say, 'If we build a plant, here's where the waste will go.' If we can't answer that question honestly to our neighbors, then we're playing politics too high for us to be playing."

    So, wind, solar, wind, solar.

    nah nah nah nah, hey hey, goodbye.

    •  Hmmm.. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      means are the ends

      can't we shoot that stuff into space?

      /snark.

      The greed of men destroys the wealth of nations.

      by ivorytower on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 12:56:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It would be nice if the Nukes gave me (0+ / 0-)

      green stuff.   I'd accept the money and tell you all about it right here.

      I note rather than respond to any of my comments, you choose to employ the logical fallacies of "guilt by association," or "appeal to authority," the authority in question being the head of Exelon.

      Irrespective of your comments about Rowe and Exelon, nuclear power is still safer than burning coal, gas and oil while appealing to daydreams about renewable energy.   This is a matter of physics, chemistry and biology and not a matter of business.  

      As it happens the number of nuclear power plants planned around the world is vastly greater in countries that are not the United States.   Exelon owns only a tiny fraction of the world's nuclear power plants.   Mr. Rowe, of course, has a direct interest in having Yucca Mountain built - and I oppose Yucca Mountain - but I guarantee you that he will not shut his companies nuclear power plants unless forced to do so.

      Americans are among the worst informed people in the world when it comes to energy whether they can put a syllogism together or not.   For the record, just so we're clear, I do in fact think that people who disagree with me on this issue are being stupid.

      As for renewable energy, one can wait for Godot as long as one wishes, but if one kills people while waiting, expect some one to object.

      If renewable energy was really as good as advertised, 50 years of yapping about it would have produced 5 exajoules of energy (not counting hydroelectricity, which produces about 10 exajoules of the 470 exajoules humanity consumes).

      Regrettably that hasn't happened.

      Talking all night about "Energize America" won't change a damn thing about that.

  •  Love your characterization of Greenpeace, 100% (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Farugia, ormondotvos

    in agreement.

    Great stuff.

    Freedom is merely privilege extended unless enjoyed by one and all -9.50, -5.74

    by redstar on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 12:54:10 PM PST

  •  from the nrdc white paper on nuclear power (4+ / 0-)

    For nuclear power to have any appreciable impact on global warming, nuclear capacity globally—now about 440 plants—would have to be increased severalfold over the next few decades. This would mean adding a dozen or so new uranium enrichment plants worldwide, a similar number of Yucca Mountain–type geologic repositories for spent nuclear fuel, and a significant expansion of uranium mining. Current international arrangements are insufficient to prevent a non-weapon state, such as Iran, from suddenly changing course and using "peaceful"
    uranium enrichment or spent-fuel reprocessing plants to separate nuclear material for weapons. Finally, there is not one single long-term geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel in operation anywhere in the world.

    but...

    Large-scale nuclear plants remain uneconomic to build. And while the nuclear fuel cycle emits little global warming pollution, nuclear power still poses globally significant risks that need to be further reduced, including:
    • Diversion of "peaceful" nuclear facilities and materials to secret nuclear weapons programs;
    • Theft and terrorist use of nuclear materials;
    • Accidental releases of radioactivity, ranging from locally harmful to potentially catastrophic;
    • The vulnerability of some spent nuclear fuel storage pools to terrorist attack;
    • Occupational and public health risks associated with uranium mining and milling; and
    • Long-term leakage from underground repositories intended to isolate high-level radioactive waste and
    spent fuel from the human and natural environment for tens to hundreds of thousands of years.

    http://www.nrdc.org/...

    © 2006 "certain thoughts are prayers. there are moments when, whatever the attitude of the body may be, the soul is on its knees." -victor hugo

    by Laurence Lewis on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 01:04:07 PM PST

  •  Don't forget another benefit of atmospheric (0+ / 0-)

    testing of nuclear weapons - it allows you to figure out how old your cells are!

    Defining the life span of specific human cell populations is limited by our inability to mark the exact time when cells are born in a way that can be detected over many years. this issue of Cell, Spalding et al. (2005) describe a clever strategy for retrospectively birth dating human cells in vivo, based on their incorporation of 14C during a peak in atmospheric levels of this isotope resulting from above-ground nuclear arms testing in the 1950s.

    Results . . .

    We next birth dated cells in different adult organs. We selected intestine, skeletal muscle, and two brain regions, based on the assumption that these tissues have different rates of cell turnover. Intestinal epithelial cells have an average life span of about 5 days (Marshman et al., 2002), whereas many nonepithelial cells in the gut are likely to be long lived. There is thought to be very little cell replacement in the cerebral cortex and cerebellum. All tissues contain blood, but nucleated cells only account for about 1/1000 of cells in peripheral blood, and their effect on the average age of cells in an organ will be negligible. 14C birth dating revealed that the average age of cells in the intestine (jejunum) is 10.7 ± 3.6 years (mean ± SD from three individuals of average age 34.8 years; Figure 3). We quantified the proportion of epithelial cells to other cells in histological sections of jejunum and found that in average 42% ± 3% (n = 5 individuals) of all cells in the specimen were epithelial. Assuming that all epithelial cells are contemporary, the average age of the nonepithelial cells is 15.9 years. Measurement of the level of 14C in DNA from intercostal skeletal muscle from two individuals (37 and 38 years old) indicated an average age of 15.1 years.

    The average age of cells in the gray matter of the cerebellum was almost as old as the individual (born at the age of 2.9 ± 1.2 years, Table 1), whereas cells from the occipital-cortex gray matter were substantially younger (Figure 3), indicating more cell turnover in the cerebral cortex than in the cerebellum. Analysis of multiple samples from the same individuals revealed a precision of ±2 years (1 SD) for the dating procedure and a high degree of reproducibility between individuals (Table 1).

  •  I sympathize with where you're going (4+ / 0-)

    with these diaries, but maybe diaries just like this one are irrelevant. Perhaps a different approach would be more productive, although I have no constructive suggestions to offer.

    The thing is, whatever the limitations and drawbacks of wind power, I think even Republicans are capable of regulating them as effectively as society requires or desires. Ditto for solar. Ditto for some other power sources.

    A great many people aren't comfortable with the vision of a nuclear power industry being regulated by people who don't believe in regulation, don't believe in reality, are motivated by maximun short-term greed. I wouldn't have much minded living near a plant owned and operated by Jimmy Carter. I don't want to live anywhere near a power plant owned and operated by C-student businesss school grads like George W. Bush.

    •  I am very much in favor of regulation. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      redstar

      The nuclear regulatory structure that has operated in various places around the world - the Ukraine excepted - have been enormously successful.   Very few people have died from nuclear operations over 50 years.

      I note that nobody regulates carbon dioxide seriously.   This is a matter of regret.   Real regulation of carbon dioxide would lead to  immediate banning of fossil fuels - which, by the way, I support.

      I don't think my diaries are irrelevant at all.   They may be controversial, but they are very relevant.

      I have waited a long time for the Democrats to come to power.   Now that they have power, I want them to give humanity the best shot they can possibly have.   Having a real effect will not involve repeating platitudes.

      Wind power is nowhere near as safe as advertised inasmuch as it is not continuous and must be backed up by fossil fuels, at least for the foreseeable future.  I don't oppose wind power, but I do oppose complacency based on wind power.   Wind has yet to produce a single exajoule of energy.

    •  If we can't even do simple win-win stuff... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badger, count, means are the ends

      here in the US, how are we going to run nuclear power plants without making a mess of it?

      By "simple win-win stuff", I would include:
      (1) plug-in hybrid cars.  Last estimate (James Woolsey, WSJ) was that 84% of the US passenger fleet could be run off of the wasted nighttime electricity already in the grid.  The danger?  Have to manufacture lots of batteries, and batteries have very well-known and fairly well-controlled dangers.  I think we can do that.
      (2) Burn off all waste methane for energy.  Natural gas burning is very well-developed, and methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  Yet huge amounts of methane are still vented directly from landfills and coal fields, and large amounts more are "flared" with the energy uncaptured.
      (3) Fund trains properly.  One of the worst train systems in the world == most transportation emissions per capita in the world.

      Nuclear power plants are fantastically expensive endeavors -- and must be done in one giant shot -- compared to these easy, incremental, cheap changes, but we can't even get the easy stuff right here.

      -5.63, -8.10 | Libertarian Liberal

      by neroden on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 02:09:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Somewhat off the diary topic, but (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ormondotvos, means are the ends

        Fund trains properly.  One of the worst train systems in the world == most transportation emissions per capita in the world.

        Just for kicks, look up a map of Baltimore, Maryland. Find I-83 as it runs from the northern edge of the beltway into the center of Baltimore. Imagine the vehicles that traverse this road in and out of town during rush hours.

        Occasionally, if I'm feelling really masochistic, I stand on one of the overpassing roadways and watch all of those vehicles, 98-99% bearing exactly one occupant, the driver. It is absolutely mind-blowing that we don't think it's worthwhile to do anything to minimize this folly.

        Well, it's not exactly true that we don't do anything. There is a grossly inadequate light rail line, but our main response has been to build an ever-increasing number of downtown parking garages.

  •  science is funny (0+ / 0-)
    radiation causes cancer, but it also plays an important role in treating cancer

    in fact there are some studies using intravenous I-131-labeled monoclonal antibodies for treating some lymphomas

    they don't get trace amounts either -- the patients have to go into radiation isolation (a hospital room with lead walls) for several days after treatment so they don't irradiate other people around them

    "Which is more musical: a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?" --John Cage

    by rtfm on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 01:34:38 PM PST

  •  Rational diary beset by antirationalists. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    count

    You're right. People are afraid of their own thought processes.

    I find that your diaries are impeccable, practically typo-free, and built on a base of easily checkable facts.

    Peoples' fears are addressed rationally.

    Ooops! Maybe it's time, NNadir, to study some psychology, especially cognitive science, and get a handle on how to approach people in a non-scary manner that intrigues their curiosity.

    Your comments, like mine, merely trigger fear reactions and rejection.

    Welcome to the uphill struggle to introduce the human race to the modification of mental instincts.

    It's worked marginally with things like barfights, and driving too fast, and beating up wives and children, all simple status drives that spring up automatically.

    Maybe you can successfully research this problem, because reality is not your problem. Denial and fear are, and they are being played righteously by Greenpeace and No Nukes, etc.

    So that is the field you have to play on. Otherwise, you'll just be dismissed as an academician, unable to communicate in a world of bullshit. Like this blog.

    Listen Before You Talk.

    by ormondotvos on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 02:42:27 PM PST

  •  Why are you against Yucca Mtn? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    count

    A rational explanation is fine. I speak some nuke fizziks.

    Listen Before You Talk.

    by ormondotvos on Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 02:50:56 PM PST

  •  I-129 and Hanford (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NNadir

    Your arguments concerning French I-129 releases in the US are no doubt valid as the radioisotope is diluted effectively on its trip around the world.  But, your analysis should consider I-129 releases and their concentration in the environment closer to the release point.

    The Washington state Hanford Project has a reported I-129 inventory of 50-100 curies from reprocessing reactor fuels for defense plutonium.  Hanford ground water currently has ground water with I-129 concentrations that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Maximun Contaminant Level (MCL) for I-129.  

    The Department of Energy (DOE) has released two versions of Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for the disposal of solid wastes at Hanford including the wastes produced by retrieval and treatment of the 177 underground High-Level Waste (HLW) storage tanks.

    After extensive coments from many agencies and individuals, DOE agreed the first Solid Waste EIS version was inadequate in a number of areas and issued a second version.  The Washington State Department of Ecology challanged the second version of the Solid Waste EIS in Federal Court.  In the court discovery process it was revealed that calulations made for future releases of I-129 to the ground water as being below the required MCL were in fact made with numerical assumptions different than the assumptions stated in the EIS (in favor of lower calculated values, of course).  At this point, DOE agreed to develop a third version of the EIS in return for terminating the current court case.  This was about 1.5 years ago and the current projection of the new revised EIS is always 2 years in the future.  It is my opinion that they can not get the politically correct answer; the technically correct answer always exceeds the I-129 MCL.  Federal Law prohibits building or operating a facility that exceeds the Federal Regulations (EPA MCL).

    At Hanford the limiting radionuclides for site disposal are I-129, Tc-99, and uranium by their appearance in the groundwater and travel over 50 or so square miles for tens of tousands of years while they ultimately bleed out into the Columbia River.  The limiting chemicals (MCL) are nitrite, nitrate, and chromium.

    The currently selected Hanford waste vitrification technology vitrifies (and fixes for disposal approximately 25% of the I-129).  Technology modifications to the vitrification facilities that would eliminate the I-129 issue have been pointed out to DOE.  DOE apparently has refused to incorporate the design and process changes because they have existing contracts with the architech engineer for design and construction.  A "change in scope" contract change would result in a contract price increase and would be unacceptable for DOE individual's job security.

    Thus, we continue building a $15 billion white elephant that will treat 25% of the waste.  DOE has not admitted to Congress that additional facilies will be required to treat the residual 75% of the waste that has been handed off to an existing downstream waste water treatment facility that was not designed for I-129 and Tc-99 in the feed stream.  DOE has reportably stated to the Washington state Department of Ecology that the vitrification facilities are not designed to vitrify I-129 (this is true but they could be modified).

    The obscuration of the I-129 issue has resulted in only a few people being aware of the issue.  It may be that DOE is working to have Congress declare Hanford a "National Sacrifice Zone" and exempt from environmental regulations.  Billions of dollars cheaper to walk away from their responsibilities.

    If DOE cannot treat for disposal the limited Hanford HLW, how can the nation go ahead and justify a future nuclear program.  I suspect that the I-129 release and groundwater travel at the poposed Yucca Mt disposal of irradiated fuel has issues also.

    Pacific Northwest Laboratories issues annual environmental reports for tha area around the Hanford Project.  Past annual reports have acknowledged a measurable difference of I-129 concentrations in commercial dairy milk between daries upwind and downwind (prevailing wind direction) of the Hanford site.  I found this incredible as the I-129 and I-131 releases were 40-60 years ago and I did not believe that the I-129 would remain availabe at the surface for incorporation into feed/fodder for the dairy cows over that length of time.

    In summary, Hanford has found that I-129 is the limiting and most difficult radioisotope to treat and confine for long term disposal in the nuclear fuel cycle.  Resolution of the I-129 disposal issue must be made before committing to a nuclear future.

    •  Let's turn this well informed post on its head. (0+ / 0-)

      Hanford is a weapons plant, where the vast majority of the wastes were made in secret.   Let us suppose for a minute that I-129 is the "worst" problem at Hanford and in fact, there is no possibility whatsover of ever confining 10% or 5% or 1% of the I-129 contamination there.

      You write that it is over 100 curies and that it is "found in milk."   You also write "in summary Hanford has found that I-129 is the limiting and most difficult radioisotope to treat and confine in the long term for the nuclear fuel cycle."

      This is all well and good in isolation.   I agree readily that the chemistry of iodine makes it, with the possible exception of cesium, the most difficult fission product to confine to a limited area.   Moreover I am well aware that the Hanford tanks are in fact leaching vast amounts of radioactivity and that this radioactivity is detectable in the Columbia River.  

      However I must insist that none of these facts have any implications whatsoever on whether nuclear energy is preferable to coal.   It does not follow that any negative impact connected to nuclear energy immediately erases the impact of alternatives.   If I can show that my son has mercury contamination from coal, or that he has polynuclear aromatics from the combustion of coal waste depositing in his lungs and that the fulvenes in question are carcinogenic, this doesn't suddenly invalidate any concern about I-129 or any other fission product, even Cs-137.

      Of course "iodine-129 can be detected."   It can be detected in the Mississippi River.   It can be detected in Antarctica.   It can be detected in Zimbabwe, I'm sure too.   This is why people label compounds with radioiodine to see where they go.  It is detectable.

      Suppose the iodine concentration outside of Hanford locally can be shown to be 10,000 times as great as the concentration in the Mississippi River that results from Sellafield.    Can you demonstrate that this is, in fact, a health risk?   If you can demonstrate this, can you also demonstrate the risk is greater than the risk of particulates from coal combustion in Ohio?

      The supposition about Hanford has always been that somehow the radioisotopes in question are going to magically concentrate in the flesh of anyone.   It happens though that the 100 Curies you write about as they leach, are becoming more dilute, not more concentrated.   The same is true of the pertechnate.

      Later I will write about pertechnate from Sellafield and La Hague.   Unlike the case with iodine, where I argue that containing the iodine would be silly and wasteful, I will argue that the pertechnate should not be allowed to escape, but for a different reason that one might suppose.

      I oppose all nuclear weapons and all nuclear weapons plants, under all circumstances, but irrespective of that case I would argue that the situation at Hanford, very much like the situation at Oklo more than 2 billion years ago, tends to support rather than disprove the notion that nuclear energy "is too dangerous."

      Not everyone in Richland is dead.

      To match the activity associated with potassium-40 in their bodies, a 70 kg person would have to ingest 0.6 mg of pure I-129 and require that all of the I-127 from other sources was somehow replaced.   Do you propose a mechanism for this happening near Hanford?

      By my calculation 100 curies of I-129 is about 0.5 tons.   Assuming that people do not drink every drop of water that flows through the area, how can you prove that some of this iodine will not be washed away before people can drink it?  If the iodine is in fact showing up in the Columbia River, is that the same as demonstrating that every drop of it will be captured and transported to someone's thyroid?

      I think it would be purely absurd to spend 15 billion dollars to contain I-129 at Hanford, even if it were 100% of it.  Doing so would likely not save any lives whatsoever and certainly not match the lives that would be saved by building 5 nuclear plants to replace 5 coal plants.   Now I'm sure that there are people who would love to get their hands on 15 billion dollars to contain 25% of Hanford's I-129, but are they being honest when they propose this?

      People are always asserting that the demonstration of any health risk from any nuclear process demonstrates that the nuclear process is unacceptable.   I concede that some nuclear processes have proved harmful, not one of them, including the explosion of the reactor at Chernobyl - which actually killed people - has proved as dangerous as the use of fossil fuels.

      •  Lets turn this rebuttal on its head (0+ / 0-)

        You are confusing the whole body inventory of potassium-40 with the thryoid inventory of I-129.  The regulatory limit is 4 mrem/yr whole body OR organ.

        Some points:

        1.  The EPA determines/sets the health risks and corresponding environmental concentrations for pollutants (40 CFR Part 141, including radionulides and coal plant emissions).  The EPA MCL for I-129 is 1 picocurie per liter.
        1.  The Federal courts have ruled that RCRA regulations/laws apply to DOE.
        1.  DOE is willfully building a HLW vitrification system that will not meet EPA disposal limits.
        1.  Spending $15 billion at Hanford for treatment of the tank waste is not "future tense".  $2.743 billion was spent through September 2005.  The total should be approximately $3.3 billion by now.
        1.  If the federal govt agencies can not/will not meet applicable regulations now, why should I trust them to meet them in the future?

        It appears that you feel the existing regulatory limits for coal emissions are too high and for nuclear emissions are too low to support your arguments and conclusions.  You should petition the EPA to make appropriate changes based on your technical analysis and input.

        •  You've hit it on the head! (0+ / 0-)

          I don't think that the EPA limits are at all rational.   Radiation has a special case informed by public paranoia, and chemical toxins and dangerous substances - including carbon dioxide - are not regulated at all because of public indifference and complacency.

          My main goal is to see the EPA regulate carbon dioxide emissions, which would, by the way, immediately shut the coal, oil and gas industry if the regulations considered the impact on human health relative to nuclear fuel - or any other fuels.

          If you are asking whether I support the way our government spends money, or whether I think it is remotely involved with the best outcome for Americans and the world, the answer is a resounding "no!"   That said, I'm not convinced that building a HLW facility that does not meet EPA standards will actually lead to loss of life.

          My arguments are technical, and not regulatory, however.   I contend that regulations - which I regard as necessary by the way - should be based on technical evaluations.  Clearly they are not.   Placing an entry in the CFR about the way asteroids enter the atmosphere will have no bearing whatsoever on how asteroids behave.

          It is frankly insane to have a regulation for I-129 that runs at one picocurie per liter.   How many liters of water does the EPA think people will drink?   For the record, I have had significant counts of radioiodide in my thyroid in my career, though of the I-125 isotope, not the I-129 isotope, considerably more than picocuries.   I assure you my thyroid, and the thyroids of millions of people around the world have considerably more radioiodine than I have had without any health implications at all.

          There are lots of nasty things in the Hanford tanks, and I don't think it is appropriate to do nothing about them.   I-129 is not the most dangerous item in the tanks by any stretch, but that doesn't mean that the neptunium-237 is perfectly OK.   It is perfectly reasonable to ask whether it is safe to leave the materials in the tanks because existing regulations cannot be met, or whether it is better to change the regulations to conform to the reality.

          I didn't put the Hanford tanks there and presumably you didn't either.   But that has no bearing on whether it is necessary to build similar tanks to handle nuclear fuels in modern times.

          The real question is whether the situation there, which arose because of technology going back to the 1940's has any bearing on the future of nuclear power.

          •  Yes (0+ / 0-)

            My view on the issue is:

            DOE is not above the law.  DOE must meet the existing regulations until DOE can convince the EPA to revise the applicable regulations.

            (The trouble is, the technology exists to meet the regulations.  Political, financial, and/or job security considerations have stood in the way.)

            •  Well laws are meant to be obeyed. (0+ / 0-)

              If you're asking me whether government agencies should have the right to disregard the law, I only need note that I am a Democrat and as such, am demonstrably committed to the rule of law.  

              I believe that the last six years of members of our "government" disregarding the rule of law is criminal and is worthy of being addressed by application of criminal law.

              That said - with no deference to the Bush administration's obvious and shallow attempt to distort and abuse historical precedent - it has happened in the past that appeals to both moral and practical law law have outweighed concerns about civil law.    Famously in the latter case, Abraham Lincoln refused to obey a Supreme Court decision in Merryman with respect to the right of Habaeus Corpus.   He asked whether all laws should be violated in order that one law be enforced.   On the moral side of interpretation of law, as opposed to the practical side, for a long time there was an enforced law requiring citizens to return escaped slaves to people identified (then) as the slave's "owners."   One person, who was not even a radical abolitionist, William Seward, got in big trouble with his contemporaries for saying that there was a "higher law," than Federal Law.

              My view is that the EPA is charged with protecting the environment.   To the extent that a legalistic approach to CFR delays resolution of an environmental problem, it is a question in which the letter of the law interferes with the spirit of the law.  

              I am certainly not sanguine about any member of the Bush administration deciding the "spirit of the law" since clearly they are self-serving and, in fact, criminally so, both in a legal and moral sense, in making such "interpretations."   Again, they have seriously abused Lincoln's precedent.   But simply because the Bush administration consists of civil and moral criminals does not mean that the Democrats should abandon all hope of rationality in either the construction or application of law.  

              Now the matter of regulations about I-129 are in no way comparable to the matter of the American Civil War, just as the matter of the attack on the World Trade Center is comparable to the matter of the American Civil War.  However we will fail to govern responsibly as Democrats if our interpretation of law is wholly reactive to the Bush administration and not realistic about the needs of citizens of our country and the world.  

              Maybe it is technically feasible to meet a standard of 1 picocurie per liter for I-129.   But it is also reasonable to ask, "at what cost?"   If the cost is so large and the risk is so low that other priorities with far greater risks - like health care for children for instance - are comprimised, than we need evaluate the situation and adjust the laws accordingly.

              It is, to repeat, my view that a CFR regulation requiring a one picocurie limit per liter on any radioisotope is probably absurd, irrespective of whether that nuclide is plutonium or iodine or americium.  I could easily, in the last case, violate such a regulation in my home by soaking my smoke detectors in water.

              I also note, after Lincoln, that if the atmosphere of this planet collapses, no elements of the CFR will be enforced.     All of the laws and regulations will collapse not only at the EPA, but in every other agency in every country on the planet.   It is almost certainly the case that the lack of laws concerning carbon dioxide are a vastly more serious issue than the enforcement of laws about I-129 at Hanford.

  •  Original Tags: (0+ / 0-)

    nuclear, nuclear waste, iodine, nuclear power, energy, radioactivity, I-129, beryllium, boron, lithium, periodic table, elements, stars, origins

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