Nuclear Power Slowly Gaining Acceptance


I was reminded of this subject recently when I was sent some information about the Libyan bombing on April 15, 1986 which happened when I was on a European trip which lasted through April 26, 1986 when the Chernobyl reactor exploded and killed 47 workers who were trying to put out the fire. It had no containment structure such as is common in the rest of world.

There was quite a scare in Europe when radiation began being detected in Sweden and then some other countries. We were watching the news each evening as the announcers showed maps with the latest extent of the radioactivity which was drifting west. But, after 24 years it seems to me, after scanning various reports, that the damage to humans, animals and plants has been much, much less than the original panic indicated.

Japan, WWII

Nuclear energy came to the awareness of the world through the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the first, and until now, the only atomic bombs used in war. It is understood that the use of nuclear energy started out under a terrifying cloud, literally and figuratively. And our biases, as would be expected, still tend to be negative and resistant to efforts to change them.

B-29 bombers practically obliterated 15 square miles of Tokyo on the night of March 9-10, 1945, resulting in an estimate by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police of 125,000 casualties, more than either A-bomb attack, but that information is just a footnote in history today. But over 300 B-29s flew on the night, not just the one as was over Hiroshima.

Three Mile Island

Before the Chernobyl disaster, we in the US had our scare; the partial meltdown of a reactor at Three Mile Island on March 28, 1979, which, as the Kemeny Commission, established by President Carter and chaired by John G Kemeny, President of Dartmouth College, concluded:

The danger was never — and could not have been — that of a nuclear explosion (bomb).

Fortunately, in this (TMI) case the radiation doses were so low that we conclude that the overall health effects will be minimal. There will either be no case of cancer or the number of cases will be so small that it will never be possible to detect them. The same conclusion applies to the other possible health effects.

Based on our investigation of the health effects of the accident, we conclude that in spite of serious damage to the plant, most of the radiation was contained and the actual release will have a negligible effect on the physical health of individuals. The major health effect of the accident was found to be mental stress.

Some Radiation Comparisons

After the TMI accident many people in the area began to worry about the radiation around them. Lots of Geiger counters, or equivalent, were purchased and the owners found that the readings were about 50% higher than what they had been led to believe was the expected background values. They were concerned but it soon became clear that the extra radiation was “coming from the ground”. They had been living on granite which has a small percentage of uranium and which had been emitting radon seeping out of the ground for millions of years. That part of Pennsylvania is known, now anyway, for the gas radon. So the people, already in a state of heightened concern because of TMI, had this info to digest also, and having no real understanding of how much radiation is too much, the panic level stayed high for some time. It was pointed out that radon could be countered easily just by increased air circulation that would keep the amount radon in the houses from accumulating above safe levels.

Here are some relative radiation dose numbers that may be of interest:

Living in Denver                                                63 milli-rem/year, mrem/yr

Living at Sea Level                                           26 mrem/yr

Jet Plane Travel                                                0.5 mrem/hour of flight

Chest X-Ray                                                    10 mrem per procedure

Mammogram                                                    42 mrem per procedure

CT Scans/Angiography                         500 mrem per procedure

Living within 50 Miles of Nuclear Plant  0.01 mrem/yr

Living within 50 Miles of a Coal Plant    0.02 mrem/yr

Smoking ½ pkg of Cigarettes a day                   18 mrem/yr

The average total dose per year per person is 620 mrem. The international standard for maximum allowed dosage per year for a worker in, for example, the nuclear field, power or medicine, or research is 5000 mrem.

CO2 Generated by a Nuclear Power Plant

It is commonly said that the Nuclear Plant is a zero CO2 emitting  facility. That is nearly true except most people overlook the CO2 generated in all of the supporting activities such as making the cement, steel, digging, and processing the uranium, the transportation and storage of spent fuel. These kinds of CO2 costs are also generally overlooked for wind and solar plants under consideration.

Nuclear Power Safety Record – World Wide

Of the approximately 13,500 reactor-years of operation in the world there have been just the two accidents; a very serious one, Chernobyl, and a costly scare, Three Mile Island.

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