Sunday, March 29, 2009

Three Mile Island - People Died

Whooee! Well, friends an' foes, this is the 30 year anniversary of North America's worst nuclear accident: Three Mile Island. True to form for nuke incidents, we've been kept in the dark concerning the actual scope of the disaster.

Robert, over at Blast Furnace Blog, had a piece on TMI and I left a bigass comment. I'm recycling that comment here.

We're only just learning about the cover-ups at TMI.

People died.

In 1983, Metropolitan Edison was busted for falsifying documents related to the accident and reactor safety. They pled guilty to six, and no contest to one, of the 11-count indictment.

(The) thousands of people who received the same dose as an x-ray included pregnant women and children under the age of five. Pregnant women, fetuses and young children are more easily damaged by small doses of radiation. Acceptable doses are based on "reference man" -- a 20-30 YO Caucasian male.

Until we have a permanent, safe, passively secure site for storing spent fuel, we sure as hell shouldn't be adding to the stockpile.

While (Robert's) assertion that CANDUs are safer than other types is arguable, AECL has abandoned the old heavy water CANDU and is promoting the ACR 1000, a EPR (Generation 3) type reactor. All 3 of the reactor designs shortlisted for Ontario are EPR types.

In the past couple weeks, the Oxford Research Group, UK think tank, released a study for the Institute for Public Policy Research. They warn that these third generation (EPR) reactors, like the three models on OPG's shortlist for Ontario and Bruce Power's shortlist for Nanticoke, pose proliferation risks that could lead to “nuclear anarchy.” The report notes that the new type of reactor produces high grade plutonium as a by-product. Plutonium is used to make the most efficient nuclear weapons.

It's been nearly 60 years since the "Atoms for Peace" campaign started promoting nuclear electricity generation. Back then, the scientists were heady from successes like the Manhattan Project. They saw the problem of spent fuels but were understandably confident the problem would be solved quickly. After all , the world's best minds were working on a solution. After 60 years, the best they came up with was Yucca Mountain and that has just been kiboshed by Obama after 20 years work and $11 Billion thrown down the drain.

Reprocessing doesn't work either. A reprocessing plant in West Valley, NY, just across Lake Erie must be decommissioned at taxpayer expense. The operator went broke. NY State taxpayers are looking at a $27 billion estimate to decontaminate the site. Remember though, nuke projects typically come in at least 50% over budget.

Why on earth would any sensible person even consider a technology that leaves behind waste that must be guarded by paramilitary swat teams for 250,000 years?

Here's picture from Bruce Power bragging about their security team. The stuff they're guarding will need to be guarded for more than 100,000 years. Who's going to be responsible for securing the waste we're creating today? What right do we have to burden future generations and civilizations with the toxic legacy of our wasteful lifestyles?



Balbulican said...

JB, could you quote the part of the article that linked to that supports the statement "People Died"?

JimBobby said...

Hi Balbu,

Here's the Title subtitles and first sentence of the article"
30 Years and Counting
People Died at Three Mile Island


People died--and are still dying--at Three Mile Island. "

Latere in teh article:
"The federal government did nothing to track the health histories of the region's residents.

In fact, the most reliable studies were conducted by local residents like Jane Lee and Mary Osborne, who went door-to-door in neighborhoods where the fallout was thought to be worst. Their surveys showed very substantial plagues of cancer, leukemia, birth defects, respiratory problems, hair loss, rashes, lesions and much more. "

People die from leukemia and other cancers.

"Anecdotal evidence among the local human population has been devastating. Large numbers of central Pennsylvanians suffered skin sores and lesions that erupted while they were out of doors as the fallout rained down on them. Many quickly developed large, visible tumors, breathing problems, and a metallic taste in their mouths that matched that experienced by some of the men who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and who were exposed to nuclear tests in the south Pacific and Nevada."

(BTW, France is the latest country to compensate victims of south Pacific nuke tests and announced a payment plan just last week.)

"In March of 1980, I went into the region and compiled a range of interviews clearly indicating widespread health damage done by radiation from the accident. The survey led to the book KILLING OUR OWN, co-authored with Norman Solomon, Robert Alvarez and Eleanor Walters which correlated the damage done at TMI with that suffered during nuclear bomb tests, atomic weapons production, mis-use of medical x-rays, the painting of radium watch dials, uranium mining and milling, radioactive fuel production, failed attempts at waste disposal, and more."

"Some 2400 area residents have long-since filed a class action lawsuit demanding compensation for the plague of death and disease visited upon their families."

"Meanwhile, the death toll from America's worst industrial catastrophe continues to rise. More than ever, it is shrouded in official lies and desecrated by a reactor-pushing “renaissance” hell-bent on repeating the nightmare on an even larger scale."

ADHR said...


There isn't anything. It's asserted that people died, but there's no proof. The only thing close to proof is an (unreferenced) study from UNC's Stephen Wing (webpage here) which claims that the radiation levels were higher than originally reported and thus "injuries" occurred. (Which is bad reasoning, if that's really what his article says; what it should say is that injuries probably occurred.) JB's own arguments about radiation levels draw a similarly unsupported conclusion.

The rest is anecdotal and appeal to authority. The author of the piece, Harvey Wasserman, claims to have researched the issue but provides no data nor real argument beyond his own supposed authority. Given that he has no training in any relevant field, he needs to give a solid argument and one is not present in this piece.

The reference to falsifying documents simply repeats JB's own claim, without any explanation of which documents were falsified. Injury reports? Radiation levels? Nothing is said.

As far as reprocessing, as this makes clear, reprocessing is still in heavy use in France and India. What occurred at a single US-based site doesn't really prove anything about the long-term viability of reprocessing. West Valley was decommissioned 37 years ago, and constructed originally 43 years ago. A primary reason for the shut-down was escalating regulation which would require uneconomic retrofits. Newer facilities and better-funded facilities wouldn't face that problem.

Overall, this is a significantly incoherent piece of argument. The reasonable objection to nuclear power is the cost -- plants are very expensive to build and it's difficult to keep costs under control (somehow, China has figured it out, though; none of their recent plants has gone over budget or time). The rest is scaremongering.

JimBobby said...

Soi, ADHR, the question remains: Were there widespread health problems related to TMI? Since a promised official study never materialized, we must rely on unofficial and anecdotal evidence. Then, you can cast aspersions on teh authenticity or accuracy of those unofficial "proofs". It's very convenient when official reports are suppressed and official studies never happen.

That's why it's called a cover-up.

My biggest problem with nuclear energy is the issue of spent fuel and other toxic wastes. Simply keeping that material out of the hands of bad guys is going to cost future generations dearly.

Reprocessing is indeed having problems:

Also Leukemia Clusters Near La Hague and Sellafield.

I also appreciate the cost argument and ADHR probably knows that we've never even done much consideration of the cost of decommissioning facilities. The age of the West Valley plant is pertinent. Thanks for mentioning it.

Many of the existing nuclear facilities in Canada and the US are of this sort of vintage and will require decommissioning in the coming years. We really have no clear idea of what that will cost. The nuke industry's rosy estimates are legendary and cost overruns of 100%-200% are not uncommon.

OPA has a fund intended for decommissioning. I was told by a Bruce Power exec that the fund has about $10 billion. Nuke operators contribute to the fund. Of course, teh money ultimately comes from electricity consumers. $10 billion might come close to decommissioning one plant. Eventually, we will have at least 14 plants that will need decommissioning in Ontario. We cannot make these things last forever, no matter how many billions we pour into refurbishments.

We are setting ourselves up for massive future costs; both in the security of dangerous materials and the decommissioning of power plants.


JimBobby said...

The reference to falsifying documents simply repeats JB's own claim, without any explanation of which documents were falsified. Injury reports? Radiation levels? Nothing is said.

Simply clicking a link in the article I linked to gave me this info:

"Nov. 7, 1983: Metropolitan Edison is indicted for falsifying leak rate data at TMI-2 and for destroying documents before the accident.

Feb. 29, 1984: Metropolitan Edison pleads guilty to one count and no contest to six counts of the 11-count indictment. "

So, there you go. Falsifying leak rate data and destroying documents.

Wasserman does provide links and references to studies. He cannot be expected to include the entirety of outside documents and studies in his article any more than I should be expected to rpovide more than links to documentation of issues raised in my own blog piece.

As for the dismissal of anyone who is not a nuclear physicist, I call elitism and pedantism. Laypersons can and must learn all they can about an issue as important as nuclear radiation. We are the ones being asked (or forced) to fund and promote this technology. It is our great grandchildren who will live with our decisions. We cannot simply abrogate our responsibility to eggheaded nuclear physicist-apologists. Most of them are employed by the nuclear industry.


Anonymous said...

Humans are going to survive for another 100,000 years? I would give that incredibly small odds. Climate change or nuclear/biological war spun out of control, neither of which we are making particularly good progress at avoiding, are possible candidates for wiping us out in the next 1000 years.

No one can agree on the sites and methods for containing nuclear waste over the next few thousand years, so the nuclear waste we currently create sits in temporary sites. I think people prefer the temporary sites, because they feel more comfortable with the short time frames, even though the risk is so much higher. If you are a pessimist and don't think humanity has more than a hundred years, then this temporary storage may (just barely) make sense.

JimBobby said...

Whenever we disappear, it won't be for a few hundred thousand years later before our toxic legacy disappears.

Heres an interesting page:

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