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The two nuclear reactors at Indian Point, New York (40 miles from New York City) have reached the end of their approved 40 year operating life.  Entergy - the utility that now owns the reactors - naturally wants to extend their licenses.

So the public relations blitz is beginning.  Last week the above-titled puff piece appeared in the New York Observer.  The New York Observer is a weekly aimed at the upper crust of Manhattan. The Observer's circulation isn't huge, but because the paper targets the 1% it has influence.

It's appalling that they ran this story.

The story downplays risks of nuclear power; and the reporter omits the implicit externalization of potential catastrophic costs and harm. (When things are running well the utility profits, but if there is a problem surrounding communities get hurt and taxpayers foot the bill).

Indian Point should have never been built. Its licenses should not be extended.

One big problem I have with the story (and nuclear power generally) is the transfer of risk. The story doesn't discuss it. Our regulations push the risk of catastrophic failure outside the power generating network. So - as long as their aren't any problems - utilities profit; and consumers benefit from 'cheap electricity'. But if there is any problem, the health of people living nearby and the governments (and taxpayers) of affected areas bear a huge cost.

Additionally, our current utility model does not account for the handling and permanent storage of tons of spent fuel. Because the United States hasn't created a safe storage facility most spent fuel is stored near the generating reactor.  Part of the biggest problem at Fukushima was (and is) getting enough water to cool spent fuel and storing the contaminated water used to cool the fuel.

As time goes by - decades, even centuries from now the fuel will be still be toxic and somewhat volatile and somewhat radioactive. No one can honestly tell us who will monitor this waste for thousands of years.

Really, given today's government shutdown we don't really know who is monitoring the fuel today. What if "Calgary" Cruz and allied extremists permanently de-fund the NRC and the EPA?  Will we rely on 'self-policing' by the utility industry?

Regardless of the odds of catastrophe, if there is a horrible accident, who will pay for the clean up and relocation and medical expenses and deaths?  The clean up of Fukushima has now been taken over by the Japanese Government. TEPCO is presumably bankrupt.

The second problem I have with the piece is that it downplays the risk.  When discussing the magnitude of deaths from Chernobyl, he quotes only the United Nations'
Scientific Committee on the Effects of Airborne Radiation (UNSCEAR):

UNSCEAR estimates that 6,000 thyroid cancer cases have occurred post-Chernobyl because children drank milk from cows that ate iodine-contaminated grass, which the Soviet authorities didn’t warn people about. (Thyroid cancer is readily treatable, so only 15 deaths resulted.)
Additonally the author notes that
At Chernobyl, a total of 28 men died of ARS ("acute radiation syndrome"), most of them tasked with trying to smother the blazing nuclear bonfire; no cases occurred beyond the plant boundary.
This casualty list is certainly small.  The IAEA report on Chernobyl suggests as many as 4,000 deaths may be a better estimate.

But because of the sheer chaos caused by the Chernobyl disaster - millions of people moved, hundreds of thousands were sent in to clean up after the disaster, the true cost of Chernobyl may be much higher.  Greenpeace has at least said Alexei Yablokov "Chenobyl: Consequences of the Disaster" ought to be taken seriously. (Wiki article here).

Yablokov has examined medical records and studies from across Ukraine, Russia and Byelorussia. The records are incomplete, given both the collapse of the Soviet Union and the movement of so many people. Yablokov's conclusion - that Chernobyl may have caused many more deaths should be pondered.

The book presents an analysis of scientific literature and concludes that medical records between 1986, the year of the Chernobyl disaster, and 2004 reflect 985,000 premature deaths as a result of the radioactivity released.
That number is staggeringly larger than provided by UNSCEAR and IAEA or what is quoted in the article.  It should be noted that Yablokov's book has been criticized for lacking peer review and is not widely accepted.  But epidemiologists could and should  review parts of his study.

Finally the reporter (editorial writer ?) argues nuclear power is less murderous than coal and so we should prefer reactors to coal power.  This is a tricky argument; but the best I can say briefly about this 'lesser of two evils logic' is that we really don't know what the long term costs and health effects of nuclear power are. So it is hard to commit many generations to monitoring toxic waste.

If nuclear reactors really are a good stopgap idea, well they shouldn't be within 40 miles of 20 Million people.  Indian Point must be shut down.

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