Last week I gave this fairly lengthy interview to Stan Thomson of ABC South East in Mt Gambier ahead of my presentation that evening. We took four callers, which was great. Particular thanks to caller Geoff who gave my presentation a huge wrap, and acknowledged that he had now done a full turn around on nuclear. I think those voices are the most potent.

My interviewer on this occasion, Stan Thomson, Mornings Presenter for ABC South East

Stan and the callers were not dodging the hard issues on this occasion, which is exactly what is required in a genuine engagement on the issue. I hope I responded appropriately and usefully to the issues raised. Practice makes perfect perhaps.

The interview is around 20 mins long. I would be interested in your feedback.

01 Interview with Stan Thomson

13 comments

  1. I think that the interview was quite successful in moving the argument for nuclear power forward in the public perspective. It’s very obvious from the first caller that there is a huge amount of misinformation surrounding nuclear power, especially within Australia. The fact is, the public just doesn’t know enough about the issue. I’m working to bring the topic up for discussion with my friends and family. I think you are doing brilliantly with your part, Ben.

  2. Whoa, from a conflation of nuclear weapons and nuclear power to bogus Chernobyl death counts, you really got the lot thrown at you. I thought your responses were calm, clear and well reasoned. I admire your ability to keep a cool head.
    One suggestion (although you’ve probably already thought of this yourself), when discussing that report published by the New York Academy of Sciences (I can’t remember what it’s called) I think it’s important to make the simple point that it is not a peer reviewed paper and has never been published in a respected scientific journal. I think you need both the simple it’s-not-credible message for those one might call light listeners (i.e. radio on in the background while doing other things), as well as the more complex and-this-is-why explanation for those who have a deeper interest.

      1. I thought as much – responding on the hop like that is not easy.

        BTW, you are doing a great job answering the comments to your video.

  3. Excellent work, Ben!

    I completely agree with Marion on the NYAS report, which can be refuted due to the lack of peer review. Also, when mentioning Helen Caldicott, the situation that developed with George Monbiot just weeks after Fukushima, where yet-another environmentalist has “seen the light” could be worth mentioning. The fact that Caldicott has not been able to back any of here claims with peer-reviewed data tells it all.

    If I’d somethink like this in Italy, I am sure I will end up crucified live on the airwaves, trust me! The callers and the host have all been extremely polite, wish I could see this in my home country when talking about nuclear…

    Luca

  4. I wonder Ben, could you set up a ‘recent comments’ list somewhere under your ‘recent posts’ list? That way new comments on an old thread won’t go unnoticed and ignored.

  5. There are a few views on the amount of cancer and death due to Chernobyl:

    1. The NYAS report that Hellen Caldicott points to = 1,000,000 additional deaths
    2. 2008 UNSCEAR report: = 43 additional deaths
    3. The WHO: “Chernobyl’s Legacy” (2005) = 4,000 additional deaths

    These are absurdly large variations and only point to the need for further study. Moreover, it seems clear that #1 & #2 are, at the very least, suspect in their final conclusions. “The Chernobyl Forum”, which had much to do with the publications of #2 and #3, was made up of eight UN bodies AND the governments of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

    Of course, in general, and as with cigarettes, no given cancer can be directly attributed to Chernobyl with absolute certainty. And because additional cancers will be distributed among hundreds of millions of people, they will not be discernable among all the other cancer cases. We are, after all dealing with statistics here.

    As can be imagined, any attribution of death due to Chernobyl is going to be fiercely disputed politically. There is enough political agenda here to make ones head spin.

    The poisons from Chernobyl (both radioactive and heavy metal) will be with the world for quite some time. And there should be no doubt that these poisons (being poisons) will kill in future. But isn’t all of this besides the point and basically a distraction from the real issue? Shouldn’t the two real questions be:

    1. How safe is nuclear power TODAY and into the future (both long and short) FROM today, using CURRENT technology?
    2. What are the alternatives to nuclear, given the changes being forced upon us via the use of fossil fuels?

    1. Responding to your end questions first, EXACTLY and it’s refreshing to hear you say so. Unfortunately Chernobyl looms large over everything I do, so I need some more detailed responses. I would be shouted down if I just jumped to those conclusions everytime.

      As for the varying death attributions, it is relatively simple to do some credibility weighting here. Basically UNSCEAR gets the highest weighting as the peak body that does the most thorough and detailed work on the matter. WHO gets some weighting for being WHO. This NYAS report has all the credibility on this issue of Cookie Monster. It is non-peer reviewed, it is not actually backed or endorsed by NYAS (quite the opposite in fact), they were merely responsible for bringing it into the public domain, and as I pointed out the methodology was absurd. George Monbiot, following his weird encounter with Helen Caldicott on Democracy Now! (look up the videos), has discussed this in some length. Worth a read, I can’t do better than Monbiot http://www.monbiot.com/2011/04/04/evidence-meltdown/

      So that leaves WHO and UNSCEAR. At this point it is worth dropping in a quote from the WHO fact sheet http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs303/en/index.html : “The Expert Group [in this case, NAS BIER] concluded that there may be up to 4 000 additional cancer deaths among the three highest exposed groups over their lifetime (240 000 liquidators; 116 000 evacuees and the 270 000 residents of the SCZs). Since more than 120 000 people in these three groups may eventually die of cancer, the additional cancer deaths from radiation exposure correspond to 3-4% above the normal incidence of cancers from all causes”.

      We need to note use of the word “may” as this issue has significant uncertainty, as WHO discusses in the preceeding paragraph:

      “Although there is controversy about the magnitude of the cancer risk from exposure to low doses of radiation, the US National Academy of Sciences BEIR VII Committee, published in 2006, a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence, and concluded that the risk seems to continue in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold (this is called the “linear no-threshold” or LNT model). However, there are uncertainties concerning the magnitude of the effect, particularly at doses much lower than about 100 mSv”.

      With the exception of the highly exposed liquidators, the dose over 20 years has been less than 100mSv, and the natural background dose over 20 years is 48mSv. So, these fatalities do not have names and addresses, they are an outcome of modelling with significant uncertainty. This being the case among the most contaminated areas, I don’t accept suggestions of fatalities further afield in Europe, it starts to get downright silly.

      UNSCEAR, being aware of all of this, made the determination that the uncertainty in this work is altogether too high and will not ascribe fatalities in this way. Their major message is that people should get on with their lives. I’ve discussed this at some length in “Giving Green the Red Light” which is categorised under “Nuclear Powe and Health” if you would like to read it.

      So what’s the truth? I think it lies between UNSCEAR and WHO, in my opinion much closer to UNSCEAR, with far too much noise from natural background radiation, ciggarettes, alcohol, red meat, obesity and other profound cancer risk factors to ever know for sure.

      Which brings us back to your highly relevant closing questions. To which the answers are, in brief 1) Incredibly so, to the extent that we might expect a serious issue once every few ice ages and 2) Based on my research and reading for sometime now, wholly inadequate without nuclear in the mix given the speed at which we must respond

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