Monday, January 21, 2008
Several correspondents have taken me to task for saying that nuclear power has only killed 2 people over the last 20 years, compared with 150,000 each year from coal power. All of them mentioned Chernobyl & of the predictions of death to happen sometime from it. I do not dispute that Chernobyl was the worst possible accident, indeed worse than could even conceivably happen here since it had no containment building. [Nor do I dispute that numerous, different, predictions have been made of anything up to 500,000 deaths by various sorts of "eco" groups all of which are still predicted to start happening sometime in the next 20 or 40 years.]
Nonetheless the fact remains that only 28 people died within four months from radiation or thermal burns, 19 have subsequently died, and there have been around nine deaths from thyroid cancer apparently due to the accident: total 56 fatalities as of 2004. An authoritative UN report in 2000 concluded that there is no scientific evidence of any significant radiation-related health effects to most people exposed. This was confirmed in a very thorough 2005-06 study. The numerous predictions of disaster have failed to come true as all the other numerous predictions of disaster on other subjects from the same sources have so often failed to come true (think of the global ice age, global starvation due to overpopulation, reduction of the US average death rate to 42 because of pollution, catastrophic sea level rise, sinking of Holland by 2007, forced evacuation of all coastal towns by 1980 due to death of all sea life & the ever popular peak oil predictions for 2005, 2000, 1990s, 1980s, 1970s back to 1854).
The fact is that Chernobyl is now back to close to its original background radiation level, which makes it much lower than natural background in many places in the world including Cornwall & Aberdeenshire. There has been enormous effort to find statistically measurable rises in cancers & with the exception of thyroid cancers mentioned above there has been absolutely no detectable increase. In Britain we have sheep farms which cannot sell their produce because measurements of radiation first taken after Chernobyl have not yet fallen. This suggests they are measures of background radiation which have been like that since humans arrived here, but it is politically impossible to say so.
The UN report concluded that the major health hazard of Chernobyl was depression due to false fears. Or to put it another way, even in the worst nuclear disaster ever, the anti-nuclear movement has been considerably more damaging than the actual accident.
What the statistical results from Chernobyl, along with a wealth of other data, prove is that the theory that there is no lower limit to radiation damage, on which the predictions of mass deaths depended, is certainly wrong & the alternative, known as hormesis, that at low levels it is harmless or even beneficial, probably correct.
For political reasons the original theory survives but there is not & indeed never has been any statistical evidence to support it.
[Anti-nuclear hysteria, like the very similar "Green" attitude to virtually all new technology is based on a purely political aversion to progress & has nothing to do with the actual facts on the ground. Robin Harper MSP recently said in debate that his support for the EU bureaucracy was because it would stop the "continuous economic expansion" we are suffering from. The same clearly accounts for their opposition to nuclear, support of windmills & the increasingly threadbare attempts to smear the nuclear industry.}
Reference - Chernobyl http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/chernobyl/inf07.htmHormesis - http://www.jpands.org/vol9no1/chen.pdfHarper - GUU debate on the EU http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2007/11/reasons-for-supporting-eu-1.html
Technologies have their own bias.
They empower some people and disempower others.
Greens tend to be against technologies that centralise control, rather than decentralise power.
Nuclear power, for example, is based on centralised distribution and the grid, rather than decentralised control of power and off-grid solutions. ID cards are based on secretive and centralised control of our information.
We also tend to be against technology that externalise problems or wish them away. No one seems to have come up with a solution, in forty years of nuclear power operation, of where to store high-level waste.
However you are right about new technology empowering some & therefore, at least comparatively disempowering others. This was the compliant of the original Luddites who were weavers losing out to new factory technology. However they were worried about losing their living whereas most Luddites now are only worried about losing power & I have less sympathy for them.