Jim Green is a career anti-nuclear activist who attacks people who effectively challenge his position. For the most part I choose to ignore this. Today he is published in my local news outlet to whom I have previously provided articles. His article names me as holding an “indefensible” position regarding the health outcomes of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. On this occasion I choose to respond.

Green, under the banner of Friends of the Earth, maintains cheap, plainly libellous pages related to people discussed in his article including me, Barry Brook and also Flinders University Professor, Haydon Manning. Rather than seeking to meet in the middle for reasoned discussion, Green encourages readers to form negative opinions of reputable, honest and well-qualified commentators.

Green’s determination to make nuclear energy look bad led to him publish an utterly fallacious table of mortality figures for energy sources based on mathematical error and truly butchered methodologies. Along with Geoff Rusell I exposed this. After considerable delay this forced a retraction. Yet his fatally flawed work remains published in the original article and elsewhere; he never saw fit to insist that these errors and fabrications were removed.

In this article published to InDaily, Green presents himself as a reasoned, independent arbiter of the uncertainty relating to the health impacts of radiation; one who is qualified to guide readers throught this issue. Everything about that premise is patently absurd. Green applies tactic after tactic to push possible death tolls higher and higher in the mind of the reader.

Green makes the remarkable claim that epidemiology, while important, is “not much use in estimating the overall Chernobyl death toll”. As “the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events” epidemiology is in fact the primary means of determining health impacts. The problem Green has is that the epidemiology undermines his desired conclusion. So he opens by attempting to knock it out based on nothing but his say-so.

He then promptly moves on to his own, preferred approach: that of collective low-dose radiation. He crafts a paragraph with two big numbers for death: 60,000 and 30,000. Whose numbers are these? Read the paragraph carefully: they are Jim Green’s numbers. Not the IAEA, not the UN, not the WHO: Jim Green.

Green then moves to misrepresent the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. As quoted, UNSCEAR states that the Green-approach leans on “unacceptable uncertainties”. Note that first word: unacceptable. The outputs of this approach are so uncertain they cannot be accepted. UNSCEAR acknowledges the use of the linear, no-threshold approach “for the purposes of radiation protection”.  That refers to the completely different situation of planning guidelines and protections, not estimating health impacts after the fact. In case this was not clear, UNSCEAR clarified in this 2012 statement:

The major findings are: Because of the great uncertainties in risk estimates at very low doses, UNSCEAR does not recommend multiplying very low doses by large numbers of individuals to estimate numbers of radiation-induced health effects within a population exposed to incremental doses at levels equivalent to or lower than natural background levels. Those organizations performing activities related to the Fukushima accident might benefit from the findings of these reports.

 Bottom line: the globally expert committee’s most recent recommendation is: what Jim Green did? Don’t do it, because it is irresponsible and unacceptable.

Then comes the area of credible uncertainty: the possibility, based on modelled impacts, that some additional thousands of fatalities may be attributable based on the most exposed populations. Here, I am quite satisfied to permit the discussion of evidence to proceed. Green claims that my approximate position, that the modelled fatalities remain merely modelling, is indefensible.

I don’t agree. I consider that my position is both arguable and readily defensible. It is not merely held by Green’s stylised “nuclear industry supporters” but reflected by experts like Geraldine Thomas who have worked on the epidemiology. The work of UNSCEAR over the last 30 years has been exhaustive and has uncovered no compelling evidence of other health impacts beyond serious psychological harm, largely attributed to a misplaced fear of physical harm from radiation. On the other hand, earlier reports from the authoritative bodies reference the possibility of harm in the ranges of 4,000 to 9,000 people based on modelled outcomes rather than observed impacts. I don’t find that compelling; others do. Let the discussion of the evidence in this matter proceed. Let it proceed without personal attack. This is largely the position put forward in this recent, excellent article published to The Guardian

The bottom line is that even taking the most conservative possible approaches, as did the ExternE actuarial study by the European Union, nuclear power remains one of our very safest power sources. Provided it is the numbers we are interested in, Green can have his and it would not alter the iron-clad argument for nuclear on a strict safety basis.

But Green seems disinterested in helping people understand the numbers, the science, the epidemiology, the uncertainty, the impacts or the relevance on our decision-making. What he seems interested in is making a suite of commentators look like science-deniers to keep people as frightened as possible of nuclear power. The sick irony is that the biggest residual harm of Chernobyl, about which there is no uncertainty, stems from the psychological trauma wrought by this fear itself. His tool is their pain.

This, for me, is indefensible.

Featured image is creative commons, by Stefan Kasowski.

24 comments

  1. The numbers Green quotes can be found in the TORCH Report, linked below. It was commissioned by the European Greens and published in 2006. Nuclear advocates are typically dismissive of it in my experience, but I can’t speak for how robust or otherwise it is. I did provide a link to it to the Royal Commission in one of my submissions, given that they have been tasked to explore and understand the implications of nuclear accidents in their Terms of Reference.

    http://www.chernobylreport.org/?p=summary

    1. Dan, that TORCH report by Dr Fairlie and Mr Summer makes the exact same error that UNSCEAR advises that others do not do which is take the collective dose multiply it by a risk factor and conclude potential cancer deaths. See the following quote:

      “However the TORCH Report makes predictions of the numbers of excess cancer deaths from published collective doses to affected populations.”

      UNSCEAR which is a consortium of 200+ professors and doctors trained in the appropriate areas of radiation science and biology advises that, and is quoted in Bens article:

      “UNSCEAR does not recommend multiplying very low doses by large numbers of individuals to estimate numbers of radiation-induced health effects within a population exposed to incremental doses at levels equivalent to or lower than natural background levels.”

      Why go and take something written by a singular doctor who clearly has an axe to grind with the nuclear industry and ignore the large amount of work compiled and analysed by numerous professionals at UNSCEAR, WHO and IAEA.

      This isn’t even balance, it’s like taking the science done by the IPCC and saying that a report written by Anthony Watts and backed by the Koch brothers provides essential balance to the debate. It’s not, and having a report backed by the European Greens written by a singular author with an axe to grind is just an attempt at political lobbying not science. Do you accept climate science reports commissioned by the Abbott government? It’s the same method different actors.

      1. I haven’t suggested that the TORCH report has merit, merely that it exists.

        I provided it to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission for them to consider and pass their own judgement upon. Theirs is a public inquiry and the Commission is tasked to consider all evidence, as I understand it.

        On a related note, the Commission’s evaluation processes are opaque. The Commission is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act 1991 (which applies for all Royal Commissions in SA) which makes it hard to establish or verify how the Commission makes any of its internal deliberations.

        If the TORCH Report (or any other evidence for that matter) were considered and disregarded for whatever reason, it would be appropriate for the Commission, in my opinion, to acknowledge its receipt, and express reasons for its rejection.

  2. … UNSCEAR acknowledges the use of the linear, no-threshold approach “for the purposes of radiation protection” …

    A fundamental mistake by BEIR and nuclear regulators is to divorce radiation protection from evidence. Radiation protection should be based on evidence. We have enough data to do this now. BEIR’s continued support for modelled linear no-threshold in any context is irresponsible fear-mongering. It is responsible for millions of premature deaths each year due to energy scarcity. BEIR give credence to the likes of Jim Green and the anti-technology movement. Poverty and scarcity are the alternative to plentiful, cheap nuclear electricity. We see the consequences of scarcity each year with millions of people dying prematurely from air pollution, produced in their homes by having to burn dirty fuels for cooking and heating. Jim Green is probably too irresponsible and fanatical to notice. The BEIR committee should be aware of the consequences of their rulings.

    1. Indeed. What are the health consequences of not having clean reliable energy? Catastrophic and easily documentable adverse health impacts.

      The linear response model is obviously wrong. Background levels of radiation vary extensively across the Earth’s surface, and study after study ahs shown no increase in adverse health impacts between areas with high or low natural exposure. This indicates, at least within the levels of normal exposure, that the linear exposure model break apart at low doses.

  3. The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) also recommends against its use, in their 2007 Recomendations (ICRP Publication 103) they say:

    “Collective effective dose is not intended as a tool for epidemiological risk assessment, and it is inappropriate to use it in risk projections. The aggregation of very low individual doses over extended time periods is inappropriate, and in particular, the calculation of the number of cancer deaths based on collective effective doses from trivial individual doses should be avoided.”

  4. Also I think that it’s important to know where did the 4000 and 9000 figure quoted by the Chernobyl Forum come. The source is a 1996 study (Cardis et al.) where we can read:

    “In the predictions presented here, the estimates for the survivors of the atomic bombing were applied directly to the populations exposed as a result of the Chernobyl accident, on the assumption that, for a given radiation dose, the resulting cancer risk is the same, regardless of the pattern and type of exposure. It is noted that, in extrapolating the risk estimates based on high dose and high dose rate exposures to low dose and low dose rate exposures, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) has used a reduction factor(the dose and dose rate effectiveness factor (DDREF)) of two. No DDREF was used here.”

    So they were using collective dose and a direct extrapolation of LNT high dose and high dose rate exposures to low dose and low dose rate.

    In 2005 in a IAEA sponsored conference after the Chernobyl Forum report was released this study was again presented only with minor differences, among them this quote:

    “These predictions are only meant to provide an indication of the possible impact of the accident and should not be taken at face value because of the important uncertainties listed above.”

    And later there was a discussion panel where the problem with the uncertainties and the way the 4000 figure could be interpreted by media and people was raised. It’s worth reading but here are some quotes. Abel Gonzalez:

    “As regards the 4000, our knowledge is very limited. The only thing we know is that 4000 is the upper boundary of a calculation. We do not know whether the eventual number will be 4000, 2000 or even less, and it is wrong to suggest to the general public that the 4000 number is as solid a number as the 50.”

    Klaus Becker:

    “This morning I scanned some German newspapers and saw headlines such as “4000 people will die from Chernobyl.” Moreover, Ms. Cardis said that the eventual figure may be 8250, not 8260 or 8240, and that is what a normal non-scientist will assume the eventual figure is going to be.

    However, those two numbers — 4000 and 8250 — are fictitious, and in citing them we get very close to those people who say that the final number will lie somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000, numbers without any scientific meaning.”

    And Michael Repacholi:

    “Scientists like to talk in shades of grey, whereas the media like to talk in terms of black or white — did it happen or did it not happen? When scientists say something, they incorporate caveats — the uncertainties in their estimates — and that has always been a problem for scientists trying to convey a message to the public.

    The Chernobyl Forum’s Expert Group on Health was asked how many people had died and how many were likely to die in the future as a result of radiation exposure due to the Chernobyl accident. Most members of the expert group did not want to answer that question, because of the uncertainties and because the numbers could be misinterpreted. The best available risk model that we knew is based predominantly on the Japanese data relating to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where there were high acute exposures. We could not predict with any certainty by extrapolating down tothe Chernobyl experience, which was really not covered by the model. We had to make an assumption that the dose response was basically linear when going down to lower doses, where the uncertainties are much larger, and we only considered the population groups which had been most exposed. We felt that we could not make any estimates for less exposed groups.

    There have been estimates made for less exposed groups using a linear model, where the uncertainties are even larger, and the numbers have been published. What we did, however, was to say that we knew with some precision, given all the uncertainties, that in the most exposed group there would be an increase in cancer-relateddeaths in the future.

    When a person dies of cancer, we cannot say that that person died because of the Chernobyl accident, but it is probable that 4000 people in the most exposed group of 600 000 people will contract cancer due to radiation released during the accident. We tried to say that clearly, but we also said that if you extrapolate the model down to much lower dose levels you increase the number of exposed people but, given the lower doses, these people are much less likely to contract cancer, so the uncertainties are even larger.”

  5. RE: “the globally expert committee’s most recent recommendation is: what Jim Green did? Don’t do it, because it is irresponsible and unacceptable.”
    UNSCEAR aren’t the only expert group who recommend against using LNT for estimating health impact at very low doses. As you can see here, the US Health Physics Society do likewise:

    Health Physics Society comment to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission regarding the Linear No-Threshold Model (LNT) and Standards for Protection Against Radiation, November 5, 2015.

    http://hps.org/documents/hps_nrc_lnt_comments_2015-11-05.pdf

  6. Fortunately, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will consider scientific consensus, in processing this petition to: “amend its “Standards for Protection Against Radiation” regulations and change the basis of those regulations from the Linear No-Threshold (LNT) model of radiation protection to the radiation hormesis model.”

    We should all follow this process, and support the petition: https://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=NRC-2015-0057-0010, https://www.regulations.gov/#!docketBrowser;rpp=25;po=0;s=kirk%252Bgothier;dct=PS;D=NRC-2015-0057.

  7. A week to go (May 6) until the final report of the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. I wonder looking back what will have changed as a result of the inquiry.

    1. Does the announcement of Barndioota as the preferred ILW site pre-empt the Commission’s report? The report could make some other suggestion recalling at least one witness said there should be multiple interstate sites for ease of retrieval.

      However that witness was from just down the road in Adelaide. The site is just east of Lake Torrens salt pan which has uranium mines like Olympic Dam on the western side. If some of the radiation affected material traces back to OD uranium its return nearby kind of closes the loop.

  8. Without in any way seeking to downplay the human tragedy that was Chernobyl, it does seem to me that, in the context of how we find a way of preserving both our high energy lifestyle and our poor, belaboured planet, the volume of words and spleen that continue to be spewed forth on that accident is absurd. Or at the very least, purposeless.

    A bit like arguing that because BOAC lost two Comets in 1953 and 1954, we should forever turn our back on high altitude, high speed passenger jet transport.

    In terms of what we knew then and what we know now, there are very real parallels between the events.

  9. It seems to me that all we have to do is to ask jim Green why as of April 2015, 32 countries were continuing to generate 12 % of the world’s electricity in 436 reactors. Those countries and 17 others were building 70 reactors at the time, 174 had been firmly planned [China plans another 200 by 2050] and 301 had been proposed for the future. Green’s fictitious figures of the Chernobyl disaster are clearly being ignored by the rest of the world and we should do the same. I understand your need to challenge him Ben. He’s just a nasty,lying arrogant piece of work.

  10. Another deadline looms this week…the permanent closure of Pt Augusta’s 544 MW Northern coal fired power station and the 240 MW Playford coal station. The suggested closure date is tomorrow May 8
    http://indaily.com.au/business/2016/01/22/alinta-extends-port-augusta-power-station-closure-deadline/
    Given AEMO’s concern about lack of synchronous generation in SA it may be on hold. I’ve seen suggestions (in Watt Clarity) the operators may be angling for capacity payments. Not sure what happens when stockpiled coal runs out as the Leigh Ck mine is closed,

    Weirdly just a few kilometres away there is talk of a 110m tall solar tower. Presumably that is the solar thermal project alluded to in the ALP energy platform for the July 2 election. Dates come up fast but actual results are slow arriving.

  11. Big day yesterday
    – Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission final report released
    – SA’s last coal fired power station closes
    – indigenous groups oppose intermediate level waste facility

    What does it all mean?

    1. Also the Parsons Brinckerhoff report to the Commission said the LCOE for PHWR in Australia would be around $A240 per Mwh. However Bruce Power in Ontario expect new CANDU units will cost around $C77 per Mwh.

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