Life-threatening Issues

We are all downwind.

Let’s imagine – I know this is far-fetched, but for purposes of discussion, we might try it anyhow – a political atmosphere dominated by fear of terrorists and their bombs. There are shoe bombs, pipe bombs, pressure cooker bombs, fertilizer bombs, tannerite bombs, suicide bomb vests, car bombs, truck bombs, improvised explosive devices, drone bombs, commercial airplanes used as bombs …

Whoa, there’s a lot to be worried about. Fear of terrorists and their bombs can be used to make an argument for lots of countermeasures. Obviously, all airplane travelers need to be searched before they board airplanes. Police need to be able to search anyone’s house when they are chasing a possible terrorist. Suspected terrorists who are caught by the police need to disappear into secret prisons forever …

Yeah, it’s an absurd scenario of people getting carried away by such single-minded focus on one issue that they think it’s the ** ONLY ** issue and they are persuaded to support measures that make no practical sense whatsoever. It’s a thought experiment, so we have to temporarily accept extreme scenarios that should never occur in real life, just to see what conclusions we can draw from it.

Let’s imagine a whole society that comes to believe that terrorist bombs are the one important issue for politics. In this context, suppose that the issue of requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets when using public highways comes up. It’s certainly possible to make the argument that no helmets should be required because, when there’s some kind of accident involving a motorcyclist, it’s very unlikely to involve a terrorist bomb or even any explosion resembling a terrorist bomb. Furthermore, a helmet would provide no significant protection against such a bomb. Therefore, there’s no good reason to require motorcyclists to wear helmets.

Clearly, in the real world, practically everyone immediately sees that such an argument makes no sense. Terrorists and bombs are completely irrelevant to the question of whether motorcyclists should be required to wear helmets on public roads. It’s only when you are pretending that terrorist bombs are the only issue worth consideration that the above argument could be made. Basically, that pretense is just silly.

The argument that nuclear power is wonderful because nuclear reactors do not produce carbon dioxide emissions and therefore do not contribute to global warming is equally silly. In this case, the argument wants us to pretend that global warming (instead of terrorist bombs) is the only issue worth considering. It’s only if we imagine an atmosphere completely dominated by fear of global warming that such an argument might seem sensible.

In the real world, nuclear power is opposed because it is dangerous, not for carbon dioxide emissions but for radioactive emissions. In normal operations, nuclear reactors leak various radioactive isotopes at levels that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says are acceptable. The rate of incidence of cancer in the vicinity of nuclear reactors indicates the radioactive emission are not acceptable, but that’s just a fact, not an official conclusion of the NRC.

Then, of course, there are the spectacularly dangerous examples of reactor catastrophe: Windscale in 1957; Fermi 1 in 1966; Three Mile Island in 1979; Chernobyl in 1986; Fukushima units 1, 2 & 3 in 2011. The least of these “merely” destroyed equipment that would cost multiple billions of dollars to build today. The worst permanently contaminated hundreds of square miles of land and unimaginable quantities of downstream water. In the case of Fukushima, some degree of contamination is measurable in the entire Pacific Ocean.

Well, that’s pretty dangerous. It is not comforting to know that there are still about 100 more reactor sites in the United States where such catastrophe is possible. Just try Google images for “map of north america reactor sites” and you will see the truth of David Suzuki’s statement, “We are all downwind.”

I am disappointed that Harvey Wasserman has chosen to write an article opposing nuclear reactors on the grounds that (to paraphrase and over-simplify) they do too contribute to global warming. It’s a weak and silly argument, especially because it accepts the premise that promoters of nuclear power currently make – that their direct effect on global warming is the only reason to support or oppose nuclear power. I do not accept that premise, and neither should anybody who lives downwind of a reactor.

There are many strong reasons to oppose nuclear reactors, and many important and even life-threatening issues besides terrorist bombs and/or global warming.

Art Myatt

2 thoughts on “Life-threatening Issues”

  1. I agree that the argument should clearly encompass more than just global warming as far as consequences of nuclear energy. I am pretty sure Harvey Wasserman just wrote that article so that the pro nuke fake environmentalists who troll the news comments would finally stop with their nonsense about nuclear being clean and carbon free. We are all on the same side here.
    Everyone who knows anyone who has suffered from a cancer diagnosis or had a miscarriage or lost a baby to “crib death” should be vehemently opposed to our nuclear energy programs. In Michigan, when you look at health studies of Monroe County, before Fermi, they had below the average U.S. rate for cancer deaths for young people. Since Fermi 2 came online, cancer deaths of young people 0-28 years old jumped to 28% above average.

    This is unacceptable! Equally disturbing are the findings for Van Buren County downwind of Palisades.

    In fact, the numbers clearly show the link between nuclear plants and cancer spikes in each and every county in the USA with a nuclear reactor or nuclear fuel facility. So when someone tells me they support nuclear energy, I ask them if they support cancer deaths for children? That is the reality of it. And to any charitable organization dedicated to raising awareness about breast cancer and asking us to donate or “race for a cure”, I can’t help but ask ” Why race for a cure while ignoring the cause?”
    I am hoping these great organizations will join us and recognize the obvious connection that exists and become outspoken anti nuclear, anti- cancer activists. Together we could shut all these dangerous nuclear plants down and do some real good in this world. Either way, I am going to keep sharing the truth until every person in the USA knows what these toxic radioactive emissions are doing to threaten public health. Thank you for all that you do in Michigan! I was born in Wyandotte, so I would love nothing more than to run the nuclear cartel out of my home state. Take Care
    Laurel Kaskurs
    Oceanside, CA

  2. I agree with Art Myatt that it is a weak argument to oppose nuclear power because it contributes to global warming. The life-cycle of a nuclear plant does emit some greenhouse gases, but the overall emissions are quite low, and the life-cycle of wind turbines and solar panels also leads to some greenhouse gas emissions. Renewables are likely a little better than nuclear in terms of life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, but both are so much better than fossil fuels that it is splitting hairs to prefer renewables based only on the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions.

    I also agree with Art that there are many reasons to oppose nuclear power independent of the climate issue.

    But, I disagree with Art that the Alliance should primarily focus on safety, radiation exposure, waste, etc and ignore global warming. That strategy will work for some people (like us!), but not for a majority of the public. The threat of global climate change, rightly in my opinion, is now viewed by a large majority of scientists and an increasing percentage of citizens as the greatest environmental challenge of the 21st century and there is now a significant citizen’s movement advocating the fundamental changes we must make in our energy and economic system to address it. Simply put, the climate issue has a much more powerful hold on the public consciousness than the nuclear issue. Art may not like it, but I think it is an undeniable fact.

    The good news is that there is a strategy by which we can be responsive to those who are most concerned about global warming. We can stipulate that global warming is a critical global issue, that nuclear reduces greenhouse emissions (during routine operation), but that it is a lousy climate strategy because 1) it is too slow (takes at least 15 and often 20-25 years to get a plant in operation), 2) is far too expensive (a dollar spent on nuclear is a dollar not spent on more cost-effective efficiency and renewables), and 3) is unsustainable (after a major accident or safety concern, an entire country’s nuclear fleet might be shut down, completely stranding the nuclear climate strategy).

    I think our best communications strategy, with the potential to convince the majority of the public, is that we are at a crossroads and have a choice on how to generate electricity in the 21st century. We can build a massive number of nuclear plants, or we can spend the money on efficiency and renewables. The latter strategy is faster, cheaper, and more sustainable. I think this argument is far more likely to succeed than to try to convince people that nuclear risks are more important than global warming.

    I would be curious to hear from other Alliance supporters.

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