Why did climate activists say no to nuclear power when the Democratic Party was at the peak of its power, during the period when Waxman-Markey was hammered out? Will historians conclude that if the green lobby had said yes soon enough, before too many votes dribbled away, the Senate could have acted, hence preventing the debacle at Copenhagen?
I think one prime reason greens oppose nuclear is over a complete misunderstanding of how dangerous radiation is.
The July 31 New York Times has a story on radiation, the latest in a series, that highlights some of the risks associated with the increasing use of medical imaging devices ordered by American doctors.
The focus of the NYTimes series of articles is the risk of error during medical imaging causing massive radiation overdose. Mistakes made as imaging machines are used can cause acute radiation sickness, radiation damage to the exposed area or organ, and a dramatically increased risk of cancer.
Little is said about putting the risk from radiation into perspective.
Americans tend to accept and even demand increasing amounts of medical imaging, trusting the opinion of experts that if properly used, the benefits of medical imaging far outweigh the risks. The NYTimes focus on what happens if the machines are improperly used is understandable. Benefits can tend to seem very remote to a person who discovers they are dying because of the improper use of one of these powerful imaging devices.
That doctors can be utterly ignorant of their own role in exposing their patients to radiation and risk is apparent to readers of The Energy Collective post “Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment” This post described an organization of Canadian doctors who oppose the very existence of nuclear reactors. The doctors claim they are concerned about what the miniscule amount of radiation emitted from nuclear facilities will do to people, even as they inflict radiation hundreds and thousands of times more powerful on their patients as they go about their daily routine.
The radiation dose an average American receives from medical imaging now exceeds all other radiation sources Americans are exposed to combined. Authorities are concerned, but no one is advising that Americans start to turn down all orders from their doctors that they submit to medical imaging. Radiation authorities are trying to get through to the doctors to reduce unnecessary imaging orders, to request reduced clarity of image and hence reduced radiation exposure when acceptable for definitive diagnosis, and to increase the skill level of the machine operators, in order to improve the already good risk/benefit ratio.
The overdoses highlighted in the NYTimes series are a small part of the issue. The President of the National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP), David Schauer, gave a speech in Annapolis recently stating three main areas where radiation exposure to patients could be reduced. He said that studies show that even given strong adherence to the Hippocratic Oath, profit potential can drive the excess use of medical radiation. As well, he noted that doctors often choose to order radiation exposure for their patients rather than conduct more intense physical examinations. He also pointed to a Massachusetts Medical Society report done in 2008 which found as many as 33% of CT scans were ordered by doctors as “defensive medicine”, i.e. to protect the doctors in case of lawsuits.
Where am I going with this? Wasn’t I promising to write about green activists bearing at least some responsibility for killing the climate bill?
When it comes to nuclear power, some Americans fear the tiniest radiation dose. Although living right next door to a typical nuclear reactor exposes Americans to hundreds of times less radiation than medical imaging, we see protest movements such as the one in Vermont calling for the Vermont Yankee reactor to be shut down over almost zero exposure to anyone, from a tiny leak. But the risk/benefit ratio with nuclear power is very great. Nuclear power is as low, or a lower carbon power source than renewables, according to the IPCC. The worst case accident for American style reactors, Three Mile Island, has already happened, and the only disaster was to the pocketbooks of the investors in the company that owned it. No one was exposed to a level of radiation doctors routinely inflict on their patients at any time during the accident.
Natural gas is accepted by most climate activists as causing one half the CO2 emissions of using coal because they ignore the carbon dioxide that is vented directly to the atmosphere as some gas is produced, as well as the methane emissions that occur as all gas is produced, transported and consumed. Nuclear power is condemned although nuclear life cycle emissions are a tiny fraction of coal or gas, and less than solar PV, in part, the mantra goes, because there is no level of radiation exposure that is safe.
Few stop to think about what “safe” in this context means.
The fact is that many climate activists cheered on the anti nukes who called for the Vermont Yankee reactor to be shut down. That reactor puts out about as much electricity as the entire solar output that Germany was able to build with ten years of the most generous solar subsidy program in the world. The reason for all the fuss was a radioactive tritium leak that exposed the surrounding population to far less radiation than if they ate one banana a day. Everyone is ignoring the hundreds or thousands of times as much radiation doctors are administering to the same people for no legitimate medical reason, i.e. just to protect themselves from lawyers.
Given that civilization itself is threatened because it doesn’t have enough low carbon power available to immediately stop using fossil fuels now that the danger of continuing to use them is crystal clear, this stand is insane.
Was it worth leaving the slightest possibility open that historians might conclude greens could have had their US climate bill in time for Copenhagen to succeed had they only backed down from their “no nukes” stand in time?
Its time for climate activists to reassess their beliefs about how dangerous radiation is. The threat of climate change looms and radiation ignorance continues to hamper efforts to ramp up production of relatively carbon free nuclear power even as it dawns on everyone that it is the wastes of fossil fuel use that are the horror we were all told that nuclear waste was.
Reference: The Climate War, by Pooley. Somewhere between page 150 and page 200 there’s Carl Pope, saying NO to nuclear, at the peak of Democratic Party power in Washington this cycle, killing the slim chance pro nuke climate aware Republicans might have actually bought in.
(Aside: Pope’s Sierra Club adopted all their nuclear policy well before they even heard of climate change. Their anti nuclear stand includes a call for no research into fusion power, no more research into breeders or “fast” reactors, let’s stuff the NRC full of people who don’t know nuclear, i.e. “not committed by past experience to the nuclear industry”, no more light water reactors, phase out all existing reactors, blah, et cetera, all this and more. The last word on nuclear adopted by the Club was in 1986. The first word on climate adopted by The Club was about the “enhanced greenhouse effect” in 1988. )