Tonight I attended a presentation by Richard Broinowski, who was promoting his book to be released this year on the Fukushima nuclear power incident and its implications for Japan. It is as yet untitled. He is looking for suggestions. I have one or two…
Come question time, I did not know where to begin. People like this know as well as climate deniers that when they have the floor, they will always be able to propagate more FUD than fact, and no Q and A effort will ever catch them up.
That’s probably where I went wrong. This tale begins with an apology to my absent supporters, but I did not perform as well as I would have liked. I made errors that did not serve the important purpose of a real strategy for decarbonisation. Firstly the grave error of misunderstanding where I was and what was happening. The event was attended mostly by staunch anti-nuclear folk, and this was pretty apparent throughout. I was never going to get a positive hearing whatever the delivery, and I misjudged significantly.
There were probably only two correct approaches:
- Very succinct question
- No question at all
I made the mistake of trying to build to a question and failed in the delivery. Emotion got the better of me on this occasion, no doubt.
In my defence I was subject to abuse and pressure almost upon opening my mouth. Upon realising that I was not with his argument Broinowski became highly defensive, spoke over the top of me and saw fit to belittle me. I was almost instantly subject to abuse from members of the audience. I was (correctly) told to get to the point and ask my question. Upon doing so and not relinquishing the microphone, another audience member walked from the front of the room and (seriously) physically ripped it from my hands. This person was not censured by the moderator, which I think is pretty poor form. It was, you could say, unfriendly.
I have received messages of both attack and really strong support for my efforts, both of which I think have merit.
On balance though, I probably got it wrong. No point carrying on about others. I will make sure I learn from it and put a better face forward next time (or just take my notes and leave!!!).
I must thank those who vocally rose to my defence and suggested I should be heard; I hope I can take that to mean that I had some grounds to tackle the speaker as forcefully as I did and to object to the treatment I received in return. One gentleman later asked a question himself on the radiation hazard. He introduced himself as a doctor, and stated that the session was full of misinformation about radiation hazard. Broinowski asked (in what I found to be a very pompus tone) “Are you a physician sir?”.
Turns out the questioner was one Madhava Baht, Chief Physicist of the Adelaide Radiotherapy Centre. Good enough I presume? It did not stop Broinowski from responding to the charge of misinformation with “You are wrong” and that’s all (just a reminder, Broinowski’s is an academic at the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Sydney. I know who of these two men I would listen to about radiation and health). I have received Madhava’s his recent editorial from the Australasian Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine Journal, which I will reproduce at DSA.
Richard was deeply, deeply uncomfortable with being challenged and seemed very surprised that anyone would. In a well moderated debate and discussion he would fall very hard.
With distance from a very hostile room (and my own sabotage), I will repeat my unanswered question, and pose nine more. I should imagine a credible voice would have little concern in responding.
Q1: You quoted fatality estimates from Chernobyl as ranging from a low of 8,000 to a high of 1 million. Are you:
a) Ignorant of the finding of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, the peak body for investigating this accident, of 28 direct fatalities, 15 latent fatalities, and “no other significant radiological impact”?
b) Aware of this, but preferring to ignore it when presenting to groups?
Q2 You quote a high of 1 million fatalities from Chernobyl. Are you:
a) Completely ignorant of just how shoddy this work is, including attributing deaths such as cirrhosis of the liver, which has no radiological cause, to the death toll?
b) Aware, but prefer to ignore this?
Q3 Your quote of the low estimate of 8,000 was from World Health Organisation. Are you:
a) Ignorant of how cautious WHO is in making even this estimate, stating in detail the inherent uncertainties (apologies, long quote to follow, but there is no other way to do this justice)
b) Aware, but choosing not to present WHO’s position accurately when in a position to influence an audience of those less informed?
An increased number of cancer deaths can be expected during the lifetime of persons exposed to radiation from the accident. Since it is currently impossible to determine which individual cancers were caused by radiation, the number of such deaths can only be estimated statistically using information and projections from the studies of atomic bomb survivors and other highly exposed populations. It should be noted that the atomic bomb survivors received high radiation doses in a short time period, while Chernobyl caused low doses over a long time. This and other factors, such as trying to estimate doses people received some time after the accident, as well as differences in lifestyle and nutrition, cause very large uncertainties when making projections about future cancer deaths. In addition, a significant non-radiation related reduction in the average lifespan in the three countries over the past 15 years caused by overuse of alcohol and tobacco, and reduced health care, have significantly increased the difficulties in detecting any effect of radiation on cancer mortality.
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. (Author’s note: you will find in the WHO link that the exposure for residents of the most contaminated areas is listed as “>50mSv”, over 20 years, with natural background being 48 mSv over 20 years)
The Expert Group 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.Projections concerning cancer deaths among the five million residents of areas with radioactive caesium deposition of 37 kBq/m2 in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine are much less certain because they are exposed to doses slightly above natural background radiation levels. Predictions, generally based on the LNT model, suggest that up to 5 000 additional cancer deaths may occur in this population from radiation exposure, or about 0.6% of the cancer deaths expected in this population due to other causes. Again, these numbers only provide an indication of the likely impact of the accident because of the important uncertainties listed above.
Q4 You claimed that
The nuclear power industry points to Daiichi reactor and says “That’s a very old reactor. We don’t build them like this anymore”. This is nonsense.
You supported this remark by stating that most of the US fleet are Boiling Water Reactors and hence, the same.
c) Aware of just how early Fukushima Daiichi was in nuclear power development?
b) Aware that Daini, just slightly more modern, withstood the same event precisely because of better design?
Q5 The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just approved the Westinghouse AP 1000 for construction in the United States, stating:
The design provides enhanced safety margins through use of simplified, inherent, passive, or other innovative safety and security functions, and also has been assessed to ensure it could withstand damage from an aircraft impact without significant release of radioactive materials.
a) Ignorant of this development and the technology underpinning these designs?
b) Aware of it, but choosing to ignore it since it seems inconvenient to a message based on fear of Fukushima to limit support for further nuclear power?
Q6 When queried by an audience member on your statement that new reactors are no safer, using pebble bed reactors as an example of how this is demonstrably not so, you failed to contest the point and fell back on the notion that “all reactors have the same problem of be unable to isolate the waste material from the biosphere”.
Do you still stand behind your original statement that suggesting reactors are no longer built like Daiichi is “nonesense”?
Q7 On the basis of Q4-Q7 would you agree with the following statement?:
By virtue of over 40 years of design and technological improvement, the design of the Fukushima Daiichi plant is largely irrelevant to any decision making process for new nuclear build today.
Q8 To support your assertion of a large radiological hazard from Fukushima compared to the A-bombs of the Second World War, you stated that the explosions of hydrogen gas “blew the top off the reactors”.
The Special Report on the Nuclear Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station states the following:
Hydrogen generated from the damaged fuel in the reactors accumulated in the reactor buildings either during venting operations or from other leaks and ignited, producing explosions in the Unit 1 and Unit 3 reactor buildings and significantly complicating the response.
a) Ignorant of the difference between the reactor building (an outer shell with no containment function to speak of) and the reactor itself (a reactor within containment which is housed in the reactor building)? or;
b) Well aware of the difference, but happy to tell a room full of people that “the tops blew off the reactor”, a far, far more serious proposition, to support your assertions of large radiological hazard?
Q9 In response to the notion that nuclear power is a climate change solution you stated that electricity accounts for 18% of global emissions, so even if all fossil fuels were replaced this would “not make much of a dent” and that the real challenges lay in transport and deforestation.
Please refer to the figure below taken from the IPCC 4th Assessment Synthesis Report. You will note that globally, carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use accounts for 56.6% of emissions, divided among energy supply, transport, residential and commercial buildings and some industrial attribution. Please consider the following:
- The generally accepted way forward to decarbonisation is removal of fossil from electricity generation, and increased electrification overall to displace fossil fuel wherever possible, including transport
- Nuclear power is, along with run-of-river hydro, is easily the major contributor to zero carbon electricity globally
- Global energy demand is expected to double to 2050
Do you truly consider it justifiable to dismiss the role of nuclear power in responding to this incredible challenge?
Q10 You dismissed the importance of Australia’s $1bn uranium export industry, pointing to “$400 bn in coal exports from Queensland” alone.
The 10,000 tons of uranium that make up the $1bn in exports:
- directly displaces approximately 400 million tons of carbon dioxide every year according to the recent Draft Energy White Paper.
- That is equivalent to 74% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors for 2009 as reported in our National Greenhouse Accounts.
The 115.3 million tons of black coal Australian exported to Japan (39.3% of the total black coal export) would have produced 276 million tCO2-e (based on the NGA Factors). The total black coal export is responsible for more emissions than Australia’s whole domestic total.
a) Ignorant of the important contribution of uranium to meeting the challenge of climate change by displacing coal and gas?
b) Ignorant of how damaging our coal exports are the global efforts to control climate change?
b) Aware of these points, but prefer not to disclose them when opining on the merits of the uranium industry to a group of people?
With any luck, a few of those who attended will take the time to read this post and think these issues through when making a determination of Broinowski’s credibility… and when deciding whether to part with cash for his book.
Title suggestions anyone?