Nuclear Power Green Deal

Nuclear Power Green Deal — The Wall Street Journal on Feb. 26 had a great column by John Rie and Alan Emery titled “The Nuclear Option Is The Real Green Deal”.

It’s behind a paywall so to sum it up:

  • Solar and wind are not serious solutions to the problems of global energy demand.
  • Nuclear power is a stable, profit-generating 24/7 carbon-free energy source that uses the existing power grid and fully proven technology.
  • Almost all the deaths involving nuclear power come from the 1986 Chernobyl accident. The Three Mile Island incident caused neither deaths nor an increase in cancer, and the 2011 Fukushima incident caused neither death or disease from exposure to radiation. (Side note: Chernobyl was designed by socialists.)
  • Most significantly, a nuclear plant produces as much toxic waste in a year that a coal plant produces in an hour.

Rie and Emery also describe how South Korean nuclear plants are extremely profitable as they have all been built from an identical design.

We despise global warming fanatics but minimizing carbon emissions is obviously a desirable thing.

And really, are global warming fanatics worse than no-nuke ones?

Here’s an irony: If the AGW-gonna-kill-us-all-in-12-years crowd is right, Jane Fonda will literally be responsible for destroying the world.

Nuclear Power Green Deal
Nuclear Power Green Deal

Alternative Power And Nuclear Plants

Alternative Power And Nuclear Plants

By Leo Knepper

In 2017 the nuclear power industry began lobbying Pennsylvania lawmakers to institute a bailout scheme. Due to federal regulations and an abundant supply of natural gas, the electricity produced by nuclear power plants costs more than electricity generated by other sources. Lobbyists for the nuclear power industry found little appetite in the General Assembly for the kinds of bailouts enacted by other states. The nuclear power industry has been undeterred and is now attempting to convince lawmakers to support a stealth bailout of the industry via Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS).

You may not have ever heard of the AEPS, but you are paying for it every month in your electric bill. Simply put, AEPS requires an electric company to purchase a certain percentage of their electricity from solar, wind, and other “alternative energy” sources regardless of cost. Because it costs more to generate electricity from alternative energy sources, consumers pay more for their power than they would under free-market conditions.

Being included in the AEPS list has certainly given alternative energy sources an unfair advantage over traditional energy sources. The best thing for consumers would be to eliminate the AEPS list. However, the nuclear power industry has decided that they want in on the game. They and their allies argue that being included on the AEPS shouldn’t be called a bailout; they have a point, but it is something far worse.

With a bailout, taxpayers would know up front just how much we will be responsible for adding to the nuclear industry’s bottom line. By lobbying for inclusion in the AEPS, the financial commitment from consumers is open-ended and undefined. According to the Commonwealth Foundation, the cost to Pennsylvania for the current AEPS regime is estimated to be a $700 million increase in energy costs and the loss of 11,400 jobs by 2025.

Members of the General Assembly should be appalled by the suggestion to expand the AEPS. If they wanted to help the nuclear power industry compete, they should take the government’s finger off the scale entirely and eliminate the preferential treatment given to some producers over others. Let the free-market work; not only would this help the nuclear power industry, but it would also reduce the costs for consumers.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.
Alternative Power And Nuclear Plants
Alternative Power And Nuclear Plants

KYW Bias Jarred Upon Return

KYW Bias Jarred Upon Return — The Great Nor’easter of 2018 knocked out power here for 24 hours starting 2 p.m., Friday (March 2), and we resorted to the transistor radio and KYW for news.

Our return to traditional media was jarring, to say the least.

The journalism put us in despair. While there was plenty of coverage of some murder where a man shot his wife and mother-in-law, and there was sports and news about Hollywood, little was heard about the story of the day, namely one million-plus Philadelphia-area residents being without power and heat during a winter storm.

What was arguably worse was  the bias. It was always there but shone like a spotlight after a long hiatus.

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court had given another victory to the Mariner East Two Pipeline appropriately ruling that local zoning laws do not apply to it.

KWY reported it.

The pipeline, which is owned by Sunoco and Energy Transfer Partners, would move natural gas from the frack fields of Ohio and Western Pennsylvania to Sunoco’s Marcus Hook Refinery.

KYW picked an opponent of the pipeline to be interviewed. This person bemoaned the decision. This person said the pipeline endangers  the community — it doesn’t — implying the judges were motivated by cronyism and corruption rather than law.

The comments were treated sympathetically and left without rebuttal.

Nobody pointed out that the pipeline would create jobs, lower consumer costs, provide taxes and increase energy independence. Nobody pointed out that there are risks to everything — especially involving energy — and the risks concerning this project are miniscule.

Nobody pointed out that the state has supremacy over municipalities when it comes to oil and gas matters.

That some still get their information from sources like this is why the Democrat Party still wins elections.

KYW Bias Jarred Upon Return After Storm

KYW Bias Jarred Upon Return



Pennsylvania Energy Keeps America From Dependency

Pennsylvania Energy Keeps America From Dependency

By Don Schreiber

Our Commonwealth produces our own energy, helping to free the United States from the bonds of overseas oil.

We are producing more natural gas then we ever had before and that is great news for Pennsylvania and its residents.  Jobs are being created, industries are growing and revenue is increasing because of the natural gas industry.  Even all our counties receive money directly from an industry severance tax for environmental use to create park space and other quality of life activities that makes us proud to live in our communities.

And, natural gas even helps reduce pollution. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said, “Natural gas has been a game-changer with our ability to really move forward with pollution reductions that have been very hard to get our arms around for decades.”
So, let us let this industry grow and continue to lower energy consumers costs and not be used as a PA budget solution – something our current Governor is attempting – creating a new energy tax, on top of an already existing severance tax. While this tax will be paid for by the producers of natural gas, the Commonwealth’s Independent Fiscal Office found that a severance tax will ultimately be paid by royalty owners and consumers of natural gas.
For the sake of Pennsylvania’s ratepayers and taxpayers, encourage your State legislators to refuse Governor Wolf’s calls for new energy taxes.
Mr. Schreiber is a resident of Coatesville.
Pennsylvania Energy Keeps America From Dependency


Pennsylvania Energy Keeps America From Dependency

Pipelines Safe And Natural Gas Is Necessary

Pipelines Safe And Natural Gas Is Necessary

By Neo Anderson

1.6 million Americans believe in a strong and prosperous energy future for our state. American made energy plays a critical role for our families and businesses, producing energy that heats our homes, powers our cars and helps drive our economy. Natural gas development supports tens of thousands of Pennsylvania jobs and helps families to save more than $1,300 annually on electricity bills.

Pipelines Safe And Natural Gas Is Necessary

Yet, in spite of these contributions to America’s economy and quality of life, energy is under attack. Wellfunded, well-organized lobbing and special interest groups are stalling our progress by targeting critical pipeline projects in Pennsylvania and across the country. They are voicing scare tactics and misleading information on multiple platforms at the federal, state and local levels as well as here at home.

The Truth

Pipelines are one of the safest, most efficient methods to transport energy products to their intended destinations. Pipelines have a long, proven track record of safety, minimal impact on the environment, and a 99.99% rate of delivering product without incident. Experts from the industry, government, and academia have partnered to create a series of stringent standards and recommended practices to help ensure the pipelines built and operating in your communities are safe.

Pipelines are constructed with highly durable materials like steel and advanced composites with special coatings to resist corrosion. Before the pipeline carries any product, the welds are rigorously tested to ensure there are no leaks. Federal and state officials also inspect the pipelines during and after installation to certify proper construction has occurred. Advanced engineering and construction practices safeguard water and riverbanks.

Pipelines are monitored 24/7 every day of the year. Highly trained personnel are there to stop the flow or take action should an emergency arise. Computer- aided monitoring enables leaks to be rapidly detected and shut off if needed during a disaster. Trained personnel in airplanes and helicopters regularly travel the length of the pipelines looking for signs of leaks. Ongoing monitoring and inspections help detect issues so they can be addressed before leaks occur.

Pipeline operators inspect their pipelines on regular schedules to identify and guard against any potential issues and ensure the pipe remains safe. To prevent leaks, state-of-the-art technology, similar to a doctor’s ultrasound machine or MRI, is used on the inside of the pipe to scan the walls for any potential problems.

A combination of electronic, aerial, and land-based surveillance is routinely employed to detect any unusual changes in temperature, pressure, flow, and density. Sensors and gauges are installed along the pipelines’ route to send their data automatically into central control rooms where highly trained operator personnel constantly monitor operations on computer displays 24/7.

Operators monitor pipelines from central control rooms 24/7 and can quickly stop all operations if leak detection technology identifies any potential issues. Pipeline control personnel are trained to diagnose whether an alarm is showing a leak, shut down the systems immediately, and not restart until the pipeline is confirmed to operate safely.

Pipeline operators go through regular trainings to develop extensive emergency response plans. Once the federal government approves the plans, pipeline operators share these with local authorities and first responders to ensure a coordinated response to an incident. A rapid emergency response helps keep the size of a pipeline incident as small as possible. Pipeline operators work with local authorities, first responders, contractors, and other local stakeholders to practice emergency response. They will even practice deploying containment and cleanup equipment to make sure all is ready to go if needed. Many pipeline companies hold free, online training sessions for first responders to increase awareness in the community and encourage involvement at all levels.

Myths vs. Facts:

Myth: America’s energy revolution and fracking are making climate change worse.

FACT: When it comes to climate change, “Natural gas has been a game-changer with our ability to really move forward with pollution reductions.” — Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the increased availability and use of natural gas, made possible by fracking, is largely to thank for the reduction in climate-change inducing gases. For instance, last April, carbon emissions from U.S. electric power generation hit 25-year lows, primarily because of the increased use of clean-burning natural gas. In fact, the United States leads other top world economies in reducing carbon emissions from energy—largely due to our use of natural gas and market-led investment in new technologies. Carbon emissions, which are a primary driver of climate change, are the lowest they’ve been in large part because of advancements in oil and natural gas.

Myth: New pipelines are dangerous to our water supply.

Fact: Pipelines are one of the safest ways to transport energy, with products reaching their destination safely more than 99.99% of the time. Advanced materials, expert engineering, and continuous monitoring keep water safe. Control rooms for each pipeline are staffed with highly trained personnel, who monitor the pipeline 24/7 to stop the flow if there is an issue or take action to respond in case of emergency. Pipelines are constructed with highly durable materials, including steel and advanced composites. In addition, special coatings that resist corrosion and tested welds help ensure that pipelines operate without an incident. Before pipelines carry any product, they are rigorously tested at high pressure to ensure that there are no leaks. Advanced engineering and construction practices, including trenchless construction beneath waterways, leaves water and riverbanks untouched. Ongoing monitoring and inspections help detect issues before leaks occur.

Myth: Pipeline construction and operations make land unsafe for farming.

Fact: Farming can safely continue on land with buried pipelines. Farmers are compensated for the use of their land when pipelines are installed, and pipelines help keep energy affordable, which benefits American agriculture. Energy companies strive to minimize disruptions to farming during pipeline construction. Following pipeline construction, crop production and raising livestock can resume on land with underground pipelines. When a pipeline is installed, farmers are compensated for use of their land and paid for any losses resulting from any disruption to crop production or grazing. Pipelines transport natural gas and oil, which is essential to modern agriculture. Natural gas is used for fuel and grain-drying, oil fuels tractors and equipments—both are essential building blocks for manufacturing fertilizer.

Myth: Natural disasters could cause pipelines to leak and hurt the environment.

Fact: Pipelines have a strong track record of safety and have not experienced widespread leaks as a result of natural disasters. Pipelines are designed and constructed to be earthquake-resistant, and have a strong track record of safety following earthquakes. For instance, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline did not spill a single drop of oil as a result of a major 7.9-magnitude earthquake in 2002. Computer-aided pipeline monitoring enables leaks to be rapidly detected so that pipelines can be shut off if needed during a disaster. Shut-off valves are located throughout the pipe and can be closed remotely during a natural disaster to prevent an incident.

Myth: Pipeline construction will harm our natural environment.

Fact: More than 2.6 million miles of pipelines already run throughout the U.S., mostly unseen, bringing energy to homes, businesses, and utilities. Pipelines travel through neighborhoods, farmland, forests, and deserts without harming the environment. Land temporarily disturbed during pipeline construction is restored following pipeline completion. Experts from industry, government and academia have partnered to create a series of standards and recommended practices to provide guidance to companies as they construct pipelines. For construction outside of the industry, a “Call Before You Dig” program exists to enable homeowners and utility providers to easily call for markings of underground pipelines to reduce the risk of hitting a pipeline. Pipelines are inspected throughout construction by federal and state officials to ensure they are built appropriately. Pipelines have operated for decades with minimal impact on the environment. Energy products traveling through pipelines reach their destination without incident 99.99% of the time.

Natural Gas, Clear, Reliable, Affordable:

Natural gas supports nearly 3 million U.S. jobs and contributing over $300 billion to the national economy each year. Thanks to natural gas, our country has seen an energy renaissance that is creating a cleaner energy solution while bringing us reliable, affordable electricity and securing energy independence for our future.

To learn more for yourself check out – Pennsylvania Energy Citizens at EnergyCitizens.Org/States/PA

Pipelines Safe And Natural Gas Is Necessary


Naive Nuns Try To Stop Clean Energy

Naive Nuns Try To Stop Clean Energy — A group of nuns have set up an open air chapel on a piece of land they own in Lancaster County in an attempt to stop the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. The pipeline is designed to bring natural gas from wells in Northeast Pennsylvania to consumers throughout the Eastern Seaboard.

The nuns belong to the Adorers of the Blood of Christ.

So what do they want to use to power the plants that run the refigerators that keep children’s food from spoiling? That keep the lights on in hospitals? Coal? Have they ever heard of Centralia? Nuclear power? Three Mile Island isn’t that far from them.

We are sure the sisters are nice, well-meaning people but we are just as sure they haven’t thought this through.

Hat tip Bob Small

Naive Nuns Try To Stop Clean Energy

Naive Nuns Try To Stop Clean Energy

Oil Man Secretary of State

Oil Man Secretary of State — Rex Tillerson, who is chairman and CED of ExxonMobil is Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state.

Oil Man Secretary of State
Rex Tillerson gets that cheap energy is good.

ExxonMobil is the world’s largest energy company and has consistently ranked in the world’s top three of all businesses as per market capitalization.

Desperate critics are trying to paint Tillerson as being a pawn of Russia due to his company’s interest in that nation.

The twisted logic boggles the mind.

Russia’s economy is strongly tied to its oil and gas production. One of Trump’s many consistent and outspoken campaign promises has been American energy independence. This means development of domestic resources, which is something his opponent actually opposed.

Russia would obviously have wanted Hillary if petro-power was the motive. If stability, consistency and common sense in foreign dealings, maybe not, but with regard to revenue from energy President Hillary would have reaped Putin more rubles.

That Tillerson is going to be part of the cabinet is a good thing for America, not such a good thing for Russia, and a really, really bad thing for the Arabs.

Oil Man Secretary of State

Chesapeake Energy Bankruptcy Seen With Tax

Chesapeake Energy Bankruptcy Seen With TaxBy Sen. Scott Wagner: Chesapeake Energy Bankruptcy Predicted With Wolf Tax

Last Friday, Dec. 4, published a story titled “Severance Tax ‘100 percent guaranteed’ to be in next PA budget, Wolf policy secretary says”.

I have a prediction that Governor Wolf and his policy secretary, John Hanger, might find interesting.

I consider myself to be a fairly qualified and experienced investor – I regularly go on Yahoo Finance and check out financials and news of public companies.

Here is my prediction: I predict that Chesapeake Energy (NYSE Symbol – CHK) will file for bankruptcy protection within the next 12 months.

Here is my reasoning:

#1 Natural gas prices are at historic lows – natural gas companies are not able to cover their fixed costs and cover debt payments at the current price – to simplify this – if gas is selling for $2  per gallon and your fixed costs are $3  per gallon the company is losing $1 per gallon, and as a result the company will burn through massive amounts of cash quickly – in business when you run out of cash – you have a HUGE problem.

I researched Chesapeake’s most recent financials – just in the quarter ending September 30, 2015 – their third quarter revenue was $2.893 billion   – after paying ALL expenses they lost $4.695 billion  – that means just in the third quarter alone Chesapeake would have burned through $1,802 billion  of cash. They cannot continue at this rate. Chesapeake will run out of cash.

#2 Natural gas pricing is not going up for quite some time because the natural gas supply is far GREATER than demand – in addition, there are almost 1100 gas wells in PA that have been drilled, and are capped, and are not producing gas. Almost all of the 1100 wells do not have pipe lines in place to carry the gas to the main transmission line so there is still a lot of infrastructure that needs to be installed. This infrastructure costs money. Gas companies do not have the cash to install these pipe lines at the current low natural gas prices.

#3 Another large issue is that oil and natural gas companies routinely hedge their prices to protect for a price collapse – this is a type of insurance – typically these hedges only go out for two years. In simple terms, many of the natural gas companies had hedges in place when prices were a lot higher that paid them double or triple the current market rate for their gas supply. When prices are as low as they currently are, hedging is not an option.

#4 Chesapeake Energy had a class action lawsuit filed against them last week by Pennsylvania landowners because they are deducting from royalty payments the cost to transport the gas from the wellhead to the main transmission line.

Many landowners  receive zero royalty payments after Chesapeake deducts the transport costs, and some land owners have received invoices to back bill for prior years transportation costs.

The class action lawsuit will be settled for cash that Chesapeake is running out of.

#5 If you are familiar with stock market investing there is term called margin. This term means that you can buy a stock for cash and the brokerage house will lend you money to buy more stock – this is called buying stock on margin. SEC rules do not allow a stock to be purchased on margin if it is under $5  per share. Last Thursday at the close of the New York Stock Exchange, Chesapeake stock closed under $5  per share. This means that any investor who used margin or borrowed money to purchase Chesapeake stock had a margin call which is a demand to sell the stock immediately so the loan is repaid. When a stock drops under $5  per share large investors flee. Investors will shy away from Chesapeake because their future does not look good.

This morning as I am writing this  ( 10:10 a.m. Dec. 7) Chesapeake stock is trading at $4.17 per share, down almost $.40 since the open of the stock market.

Chesapeake is one of several companies in Pennsylvania that are choking financially because natural gas prices are so low – there may very well be more companies than just Chesapeake Energy that will be forced to file for bankruptcy protection.

So what is my point? It’s this:  Governor Wolf ran his campaign for Governor telling everyone that he was going to get $1 billion dollars in severance taxes from the natural gas companies. With  current natural gas prices a severance tax would yield $100 million dollars at best.

There is currently an impact fee – tax in place – so the severance tax would cost the gas companies more money, which they do not have.

The reality is that the gas companies will pass any taxes on to consumers – which means YOUR gas bill will go up if there is a severance tax imposed.

Don’t believe me?

Read York Daily Record’s latest article, “Columbia Gas Gets Smaller Rate Hike Than Sought” which talks about the gas company passing on the costs.

And by the way, this morning the price for a barrel of oil dropped under $40 – it is currently at $38.71 at 10:20 a.m..

Oil companies are facing the same challenges as the natural gas industry because the price of oil is at historic lows.

Sen. Wagner represents the 28th District in the Pennsylvania Senate.

Chesapeake Energy Bankruptcy Predicted With Wolf Tax

Centralia Shows Why Fracking Beats Coal

There are risks to everything but if one wants lights at night and food to stay cold  a source of energy is needed.  Centralia Shows Why Fracking Beats Coal. Centralia shows why we should embrace fracking.

And wind and solar are just not going to do it. The  largest wind farm in the world produces just 25 percent to 36 percent of its rated 300 MW capacity. The typical fossil-fuel,  base-load plant is rated at 1,000 MW and runs when the energy is needed rather than when the  source is available.

A decade or so ago, America was getting half it’s energy from coal. While it is still the largest source it has now fallen to 37 percent, as of 2012, with natural gas rising to 30 percent and climbing.

And a surprising thing is happening: the air is getting cleaner. Carbon dioxide measured in the first quarter of 2012 was the lowest recorded of any year since 1992 A natural gas plant pumps out about half the CO2 as a coal plant.

Fracking opponents say it releases methane which is worse for the atmosphere than CO2. The recent wells, however, are seriously mitigating the problem.

For those that still want to complain maybe they want to join the push for nuclear power.

For those that want to stop fracking to return to coal, watch this  video. Did you know that coal seam fires alone are thought to account for 3 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases?


Centralia Shows Why Fracking Beats Coal 


Radiation Fear Irrational?

Radiation Fear Irrational? This article originally titled Is your fear of radiation irrational? Comes from Mosaic and is being republished here under a Creative Commons license. Hat tip


Bad Gastein in the Austrian Alps. It’s 10am on a Wednesday in early March, cold and snowy – but not in the entrance to the main gallery of what was once a gold mine. Togged out in swimming trunks, flip-flops and a bath robe, I have just squeezed into one of the carriages of a narrow-gauge railway that’s about to carry me 2 km into the heart of the Radhausberg mountain.

Fifteen minutes later we’re there and I’m ready to enjoy what the brochures insist will be a health-enhancing environment. Enjoyment, of course, is a subjective term. The temperature inside the mountain’s dimly lit tunnels is around 40°C, and the humidity is 100 per cent. The sweat’s already begun to flow. More important, I’m breathing an atmosphere rich in radon.

Hang on… radon? That’s a radioactive gas. Yet here I am, without so much as a film badge dosimeter, never mind the protection of a lead apron, among a group of people who have paid to come to the Gasteiner Heilstollen (“healing galleries”) and willingly, even eagerly, undergo gruelling sessions in physical discomfort because of a much-contested theory that small doses of radiation are not just harmless, but act as a stimulant to good health.

Our view of radiation and its risks and benefits is complicated and mostly – the delights of the Heilstollen notwithstanding – negative. We are all aware of the effects of a nuclear weapon, the Armageddon scenario of a nuclear winter, cancers and birth defects caused by high doses of radiation and the like. Images of mushroom clouds have struck fear into our hearts since the 1940s, but it is what we can’t see in those pictures that scares us the most.

Invisible threats are always the most unnerving, and radiation is not something you can see. Nor can you control it. Many years ago, a veteran researcher told me how much he wished he could paint radiation blue. If we could see it, he said, we’d be better placed to deal with it and less nervous about it. The traditional secrecy of the biggest commercial user of radiation, the nuclear power industry, hasn’t helped. Only belatedly did it realise that doing things out of sight, behind closed doors, is the best way to fuel public suspicion. So it is perhaps understandable why many people say that (medical X-rays and CT scans aside) the only safe radiation is no radiation.

Nevertheless, I disagree. I believe that a justified fear of high and uncontrolled levels of radiation has undermined our willingness to see that the risks it poses at low levels are either acceptable or manageable. Imagine if we treated fire in the same way as all things nuclear: we would have responded to house fires by banning matches.

And I am worried that, as a result of these exaggerated fears, we are failing to make the most of radiation for our greater good.

Radiation Fear Irrational?

© Bryan Olson

To appreciate the measure of our hot-button fixation with radioactivity, recall the events of 2011 in Japan. The magnitude 9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit the country on 11 March was by any measure a disaster. 20,000 people died and more than 500 square kilometres of land were flooded. Families lost their homes, their businesses and their livelihoods.

It didn’t take long for the media to discover that one of the casualties, in pole position when the tsunami struck, was the Fukushima nuclear power station. From that moment the story ceased to be about a natural event and became, in effect, about a man-made one. It became that chilling scenario: a nuclear disaster.

Of the 20,000 deaths, some were directly due to the earthquake itself, while others were caused by drowning. How many deaths were the result of radiation from the damaged plant? None. In its section on the health consequences of the Fukushima tragedy, the report by the UN’s Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation says: “No radiation-related deaths or acute diseases have been observed among the workers and general public exposed to radiation from the accident.”

The dose to the public, the report goes on to say, was generally low or very low. “No discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants.”

This is not to play down the impact of the event. Three of the nuclear plant’s reactors suffered damage to their cores, and a large amount of radioactive material was released into the environment. Twelve workers are thought to have received doses of iodine-131 that will increase their risk of developing cancer of the thyroid gland. A further 160 workers experienced doses sufficient to increase their risk of other cancers. “However,” says the report, “any increased incidence of cancer in this group is expected to be indiscernible because of the difficulty of confirming such a small incidence against the normal statistical fluctuations in cancer incidence.”

In short, while a terrifying natural event had killed many thousands of people, the focus of attention in Japan and round the world was on one component of the tragedy that killed no one at the time. Radiation exposure may have shortened the lives of some of those directly involved, but its effects are likely to be so small that we may never know for sure whether they are related to the accident or not.

When it comes to disaster, nuclear trumps natural. Our sense of the relative importance of things is absurdly skewed.


Chernobyl, of course, was much worse. A poorly designed reactor operating under weak safety arrangements in a bureaucratic and secretive society was a recipe for disaster. On 26 April 1986 all the ingredients came together – ironically during an experimental and bungled safety check. One of the reactors overheated, caught fire, exploded and released a large quantity of radioactive material into the atmosphere. 116,000 people were evacuated; another 270,000 found themselves living in a zone described as “highly contaminated”.Is your fear of radiation irrational? (Audiobook)

It sounds bad. For 134 of the workers involved in the initial cleanup, it was very bad. The dose they received was enough to cause acute radiation sickness, and 28 of them soon died. Then, distrust of official information together with rumours of the dire consequences to be expected created a disproportionate fear. One rumour circulating during the period immediately following the accident claimed that 15,000 nuclear victims had been buried in a mass grave. Nor did such rumours die away; another in 2000 held that 300,000 people had by that time died of radiation.

The reality, though hardly inconsequential, was less catastrophic. A World Health Organization expert group was set up to examine the aftermath of the disaster and to calculate its future health consequences. On the basis of average radiation exposure for the evacuees, the people who weren’t evacuated and the many more thousands of workers later involved in the cleanup, the report concluded that cancer deaths in these three groups will increase by no more than 4 per cent. The report’s conclusions have been, and still are, contested – but the weight of orthodox opinion continues to line up behind the expert group’s calculations.

“There was certainly a rise in thyroid cancer,” says James Smith, Professor of Environmental Science at Portsmouth University and a coordinator of three multinational European Community projects on the environmental consequences of the accident. But he goes on to add a qualification: “The Soviets didn’t put in enough measures to stop people eating contaminated food and drinking contaminated milk, and this particularly affected children.” The deaths, in other words, were not all inevitable.

Any death from any cause in any industry is regrettable and, ideally, to be prevented. But is nuclear power inherently more dangerous than other forms of energy? A 2002 review issued by the International Energy Agency compared fatalities per unit of power produced from several energy sources, including coal, biomass, wind and nuclear. The figures included each stage of energy generation from the extraction of any raw materials required to the health consequences of generating and using it.

Coal came out on top while nuclear emerged as the least damaging to health. When you think of coal-fired energy generation, from the hazards of mining to atmospheric pollution, this rank order is hardly surprising. But while the choking murk over many big Asian cities on a still day is clear to see, deaths related to the coal industry don’t mobilise either fear or indignation on the same scale as a nuclear incident does. Perhaps it is radiation’s invisibility that fuels overheated reporting of relatively minor events – and then the reporting, by its extent as much as by sensationalism, confirms and heightens our fear.


Radiation Fear Irrational?

© Bryan Olson

A number of governments responded to the events in Japan in 2011. Most notable was Germany. Although unenthusiastic about nuclear power, it had recently accepted a need to prolong the period for which its existing nuclear plants would operate. Following the events at Fukushima, it changed its mind. Critics of the policy change were left trying to recall the last time Germany had experienced a really severe earthquake, never mind a tsunami.

Ironically, despite being a nation encompassing some of Europe’s most strident opponents of nuclear power, Germans make up a significant proportion of visitors to the radon-rich clinic at Bad Gastein.

The particular Gasteiner Heilstollen tunnel in which I spent my 30 radon-breathing minutes had room for 20 or so people who had signed on for its protective value or its alleged benefit in alleviating conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and sinusitis or skin conditions like psoriasis.

The doctor in charge on the day of my visit was Simon Gütl. He told me of clinical trials, of surveys testifying to the popularity of the treatment, and of patients who are able to cut down on or even abandon the drug therapies they would otherwise have been using. How much of this evidence would rate as gold standard in quality, I have no idea – but I was struck by the enthusiasm with which some people seek out the same force of nature that most others think we have to avoid at any cost. One of my fellow transient troglodytes was on her 70th visit.

The managing director of the Gasteiner Heilstollen is Christoph Köstinger, a physicist by education. Some 9,000 patients, he told me, do a full spa therapy of one session per day for 2–4 weeks, and several thousand more have shorter courses. He is well aware of people’s conflicting feelings about radiation: “I divide people into three groups,” he says. “Those who are really frightened of radiation don’t come to us. Then there are people who are not frightened of radiation and say it’s all OK. And a lot of people are a little bit frightened, but you can usually explain the balance of risk.”

Inside the radiation spaHe’s also aware of the widespread aversion to nuclear power throughout Germany. “Some patients explain it to themselves by saying that this [radon] is natural radiation,” he explains, hastening to add that as a physicist he’s aware of the meaninglessness of any distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ radiation.


Lying on my bed of discomfort in the Gastein galleries, breathing in the radon, just how much radioactivity was I taking on board? Very little. I was inside the mine for slightly over an hour. Köstinger reckons that during a three-week treatment programme, patients receive a dose of around 1.8 mSv (millisieverts), or roughly three-quarters of a full year’s background radiation – because, of course, we are all exposed to low-level radiation all the time.

First, there is cosmic radiation from the Sun and the rest of the stars in our galaxy and beyond. How much we get depends on the altitude at which we live and on fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field. And then there’s radiation from the Earth itself, including radon. Here, too, geography is a factor: in some places radon can be found leaking into the atmosphere in significantly larger amounts. Naturally radioactive solids such as uranium and thorium in rock and soil also make their contribution. The global average annual radiation dose is 2.4 mSv. To put this in perspective, that’s about the same as 120 chest X-rays.

Much of what we know about radiation’s effects on human beings comes from far higher doses following nuclear explosions – the bombs dropped in 1945 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Radiation Effects Research Foundation has studied the health of some 100,000 survivors of the two bombings, and the health of their children.

The findings from the survivors themselves came as no great surprise. For cancers other than leukaemia, an excess risk started to appear about ten years after the event. The extent of the risk depended on each individual’s distance from the site of the explosion, as well as on age and gender. As an example, anyone about 2.5 km away had a 10 per cent greater risk of developing a tumour. In the case of leukaemia, the excess number of deaths began to appear just two years after exposure and peaked four to six years later.

What hadn’t been expected were the findings from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors’ children. The assumption had been that they too would be more likely to develop malignancies of some kind – but so far this has not been the case.

“At this point we have not seen any excess of cancer or non-cancer mortality,” says Roy Shore, chief of research at the Radiation Effects Research Foundation. He goes on to point out that a large part of their disease experience will occur over the next 30 years, so he can’t entirely rule out a late effect. Nonetheless, the findings so far are a bit of a surprise. “Based on experimental data ranging from fruit flies to mice we would have expected to see some,” he adds.


Of the unresolved debates about radiation, the most contentious is the true extent of the harm (or even the benefit, if the Gasteiner Heilstollen evidence persuades you) that it causes at low levels.

There are two schools of thought. The generally accepted view derives from the known relationship between higher levels of radiation exposure and the subsequent likelihood of developing cancer. Plot one against the other, and what emerges is a more-or-less straight line. The uncertainty is over this being extrapolated to very low doses, and whether there is a threshold below which the risk vanishes.

“At really low doses – down in the range of, say, a CT examination – we don’t have strong evidence one way or another,” says Shore. “It’s a matter of interpretation.” He himself sees it as prudent to assume there isn’t a threshold: the so-called ‘linear no-threshold’ (LNT) hypothesis.

Professor Gerry Thomas has a chair in molecular pathology at Imperial College London and takes a close interest in the effects of radiation. As she points out, illnesses caused by radiation are also caused by other things, so at the lower end of the dose range you need a very large group of people to prove it either way. “Most scientific opinion is that there’s no data to say it’s dangerous until you reach about 100 mSv.”

Even so, most radiation regulatory authorities and their advisers back the LNT view. Safety limits are set accordingly low. The upper limit for exposure for a member of the UK public, for example, is 1 mSv per year – less than half the annual average background dose.

Speaking for the Bad Gastein clinic, Köstinger takes a pragmatic view. He balances the risk of low-dose radiation against what he describes as the “scientifically proven effect” of the treatment. “We have a hypothetical risk [from radiation],” he says, “but even in the worst case it is minimal compared to the risks of the drugs our patients are usually able to stop using. If there’s a risk, we can live with it. If scientific knowledge suggests there’s a threshold, that’s also OK.”

The overall conclusion of all this is that radiation is nothing like as damaging as is commonly assumed. Moreover, what often gets lost in the argument is that the difference between a very small risk and a slightly greater very small risk may be of no practical consequence. In fact, policies and decisions that become obsessed with radiation risk minimisation may, in the wider scheme of things, turn out to be counterproductive.


Radiation Fear Irrational?

© Bryan Olson

Does it matter if large numbers of people have an unwarranted dread of radiation? After all, millions of us have irrational fears about all sorts of things from spiders to flying. We cope. The world still turns.

Two instances serve to illustrate why being unduly fearful of radiation does matter. Both, in their way, are troublesome for individuals and for the community.

The first is our reluctance to exploit nuclear power. From 1970 onward, global electricity production from nuclear power stations experienced a steady rise. In the 1990s, this rise continued, but at a slower pace. From 2000, it flattened out, and then began to slip. Even as enthusiasm for carbon-free energy generation began to increase, the use of carbon-free nuclear power first faltered, then began to decline.

There are many reasons for this, not least the arguments about the cost of building nuclear power stations and of decommissioning them. But public suspicion has possibly – probably – had the key role in policy decisions. We’ve watched as nuclear power stations have begun to reach the end of their working lives. In panic at the prospect of the lights going off, we’ve extended those lives. But some countries have shied away from replacing them, judging that the perceived risk is greater than the potential role of nuclear power to significantly limit man-made climate change. From the evidence, it seems clear to me that the balance lies overwhelmingly in the other direction.

The personal consequences of an excessive fear of radiation are, in their way, even more damaging. Evidence for this can be found in the aftermath of the events at Chernobyl and Fukushima. The WHO Expert Group set up to examine the Chernobyl disaster reported that it had a serious impact on the mental health and wellbeing of the local population who were evacuated.

“There are sad stories from Chernobyl and more recently at Fukushima of people being shunned by the communities they went to because they were thought to be radioactive or in some way contaminated,” says Smith. “One conclusion of the WHO report was that the social and psychological impacts of Chernobyl had been worse than the direct radiation impacts.”

He recalls meeting a man fishing in a contaminated lake within the Chernobyl exclusion zone. “This guy said he wasn’t moving: ‘The Second World War didn’t move me out of my home, so I’m not going to go on account of a bit of radiation.’

“You can’t say for sure, because it’s all about statistics, but he probably made the right decision. He certainly faced an additional risk because he was eating local food, which was contaminated, but the risk he would have taken on if he’d been forced to move to somewhere else and live a different lifestyle would probably have meant he lived less long anyway.”

Although the Fukushima evacuees were less plagued by outlandish rumours than their counterparts at Chernobyl, they too suffered the nagging consequences of an undue fear of radiation and its unpredictable effects on health. A 2012 survey of the evacuees revealed that one in five of them showed signs of mental trauma.

Stress and consequent mental health problems are unavoidable when evacuation and relocation is indisputably necessary. But a zealous application of the precautionary principle, worst-case assumptions about the effects of radiation and wide safety margins have fostered counterproductive risk assessments. Together with unfounded rumour, sometimes boosted by secrecy on the part of officialdom and a reluctance to confront irrational suspicions, radiation has become everyone’s worst nightmare.


Radiation Fear Irrational? Radiation Fear Irrational? Radiation Fear Irrational?

© Bryan Olson

Rumbling through the train tunnel on the way out of the Gasteiner Heilstollen, I remembered the idea about painting radiation blue. Whimsically, seeking distraction from the humid heat, I wondered what it would be like if we were consciously aware of radiation. Not by painting it, but by some other means.

Imagine if our eyes could see far beyond the visible region of the spectrum and act as a radiation detector, able to signal everything to the brain as a visual sensation – or even as an auditory one. Or if our skin evolved to tingle in the presence of radiation. But radiation is everywhere, and ever-present. If we could sense it, it would be too distracting, all the time.

One man-made alternative is obvious: imagine cheap and universally available wristwatch-sized Geiger counters set to stay silent – crucial, this – below radiation levels with epidemiologically discernible consequences. Wearers predisposed to being nervous about radiation might be surprised never to hear their detector going off. Certainly not during my trip under the mountain. Not during a whole-body CT scan. Not even during a week’s camping holiday beside the cemetery at Chernobyl.

But would that be enough to reassure you?

Radiation Fear Irrational?