In a new study, James Hansen pushes nuclear power as saving more lives than it has harmed

This is sure to get some enviros in a tizzy.

Fukushima I nuclear power plant before the 201...
Fukushima I nuclear power plant before the 2011 explosion. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From Chemical and Engineering News of the American Chemical Society:

Nuclear Power Prevents More Deaths Than It Causes

Climate Change: Study estimates that nuclear energy leads to substantially fewer pollution-related deaths and greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil-fuel sources

By Mark Schrope

Using nuclear power in place of fossil-fuel energy sources, such as coal, has prevented some 1.8 million air pollution-related deaths globally and could save millions of more lives in coming decades, concludes a study. The researchers also find that nuclear energy prevents emissions of huge quantities of greenhouse gases. These estimates help make the case that policymakers should continue to rely on and expand nuclear power in place of fossil fuels to mitigate climate change, the authors say (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es3051197).

In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, critics of nuclear power have questioned how heavily the world should rely on the energy source, due to possible risks it poses to the environment and human health.

“I was very disturbed by all the negative and in many cases unfounded hysteria regarding nuclear power after the Fukushima accident,” says report coauthor Pushker A. Kharecha, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in New York.

Working with Goddard’s James E. Hansen, Kharecha set out to explore the benefits of nuclear power. The pair specifically wanted to look at nuclear power’s advantages over fossil fuels in terms of reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Kharecha was surprised to find no broad studies on preventable deaths that could be attributed to nuclear power’s pollution savings. But he did find data from a 2007 study on the average number of deaths per unit of energy generated with fossil fuels and nuclear power (Lancet, DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61253-7). These estimates include deaths related to all aspects of each energy source from mining the necessary natural resources to power generation. For example, the data took into account chronic bronchitis among coal miners and air pollution-related conditions among the public, including lung cancer.

Read more here

Prevented mortality and greenhouse gas emissions from historical and projected nuclear power

Pushker A. Kharecha and James E Hansen

Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript

DOI: 10.1021/es3051197


In the aftermath of the March 2011 accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the future contribution of nuclear power to the global energy supply has become somewhat uncertain. Because nuclear power is an abundant, low-carbon source of base-load power, on balance it could make a large contribution to mitigation of global climate change and air pollution. Using historical production data, we calculate that global nuclear power has prevented about 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and 64 gigatonnes (Gt) CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would have resulted from fossil fuel burning. Based on global projection data that take into account the effects of Fukushima, we find that by mid-century, nuclear power could prevent an additional 420,000 to 7.04 million deaths and 80 to 240 GtCO2-eq emissions due to fossil fuels, depending on which fuel it replaces. By contrast, we assess that large-scale expansion of natural gas use would not mitigate the climate problem and would cause far more deaths than expansion of nuclear power.

Full paper: Hi-Res PDF

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Paul Mendez
April 2, 2013 3:57 pm

I know that this is not an original observation but it bears reprinting: No existing technology can prevent death.

April 2, 2013 4:15 pm

“In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, critics of nuclear power have questioned how heavily the world should rely on the energy source, due to possible risks it poses to the environment and human health.”
NB this is a “disaster” in which nobody suffered permanent harm :
“But he did find data from a 2007 study on the average number of deaths per unit of energy generated with fossil fuels and nuclear power (Lancet, DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61253-7). These estimates include deaths related to all aspects of each energy source from mining the necessary natural resources to power generation. For example, the data took into account chronic bronchitis among coal miners and air pollution-related conditions among the public, including lung cancer.”
i.e he accepted the usual wild over estimate stated without a reasonable estimate of errors….

Berényi Péter
April 2, 2013 4:16 pm

I agree with Hansen on that. Not necessarily on their death count, but nuclear is certainly the way to go in the long run.
Not these Cold War plutonium factories of the past of course, which may provide some energy as a by product, but advanced designs with passive cooling and next to no radioactive waste (and no raw material for bombs), sustainable until the Sun blows up.

April 2, 2013 4:21 pm

Setting aside the hallucination that anyone at all has died from CO2 emissions, let’s talk about Fukushima radiation:
In 1961 and 1962, the US and the USSR conducted hundreds of above groun nuclear tests prior to the atmospheric test ban treaty in late ’62. More anthropgenic nuclear radiation, by far, went into the atmosphere in ’61 and ’62 than in all of History’s other nuclear detonations and accidents combined. Is there any evidence of a spike in cancers or other diseases in people born between, say, 1957 and 1966, with particular focus on people who were infants, newborns, or in wombs in ’61 and ’62?

April 2, 2013 4:26 pm

Was going to read the paper, but they require registration with personal details.
And the page has messed up Chrome’s auto login or WordPress login.
I recommend you avoid the site.

April 2, 2013 4:30 pm

Oops! It’s Sabertooth, dang it.
Hacked again by my evil twin.

John R T
April 2, 2013 4:32 pm

?! What?? prolong and enrich the lives of billions of persons – maybe even our own grand-children!
April Fools’ was yesterday.

April 2, 2013 4:42 pm

Is this information new? WUWT has in the past posted up information showing more people died from the coal industry, no???
Anyway, here is another of their heroes going mad for dirty nuclear and horrid methane fracking. Methane………………a more powerful greenhouse gas than co2. Is Lovelock a fossil fuel funded shill? Does he pocket nuclear cash? I don’t know but I know that Al Gore has pocketed big oil and tobacco cash.

Dr. James Lovelock:
Nuclear power is the only green solution
“Gas is almost a give-away in the US at the moment. They’ve gone for fracking in a big way. Let’s be pragmatic and sensible and get Britain to switch everything to methane. We should be going mad on it.”

April 2, 2013 4:42 pm

The fact that the Fukashima accident harmed no one except for a few workers who had very minor injuries, plus the fact that apparently the public is unaware of this and that it led Germany to
close their nuclear plants and build new coal generating plants, proves the complete incompetence of the world’s mainstream media. Nor does anyone seem to know that fast reactors (and also Thorium reactors) can burn nuclear wastes or that the amount of energy in our current stock of nuclear wastes that can be extracted by such reactors can provide all the energy this country needs for the next 1000 years. Or that a solar farm large enough to equal a current generation nuclear plant would require 80,000 acres of land. The idea that the greenies have rejected nuclear power is an indication of their mental incompetence and bizarre logic. I might add that the costs of nuclear power became the cheapest back in 1999, when it became cheaper than coal. China plans on having 600 reactors by midcentury and 1600 by the end of the century and
can build them without any help from the West. Russia is also a very strong competitor in the nuclear build arena and matches or exceeds our technology.

April 2, 2013 5:22 pm

I’m not rich enough to pay for such ‘research papers’ but I gather that they didn’t include water vapo(u)r as a greenhouse gas. H2O is after all, the (apparently non-functioning) amplifier to produce “tipping-point” climate changes resulting in catastrophic global warming.
A nuclear power plant with cooling towers puts out about the same amount of water vapour via those towers as any other thermal power plant with cooling towers and the same generating capacity.
I gather that James Hansen still doesn’t understand psychrometrics. Adding water vapour to the air near the surface improves the ability of the air to cool the surface and it moderates the air temperature … a double-whammy because the heat transfer to the better “heat sink” is more effective the cooler the heat sink. The result is a cooler surface and cooler air above it. It’s not magic; simply the result of the water vapour’s heat capacity.
There are alas, far too many pro-nuclear enthusiasts who are using the mythical CO2 calamity as a reason to adopt nuclear power. Their credibility hangs on the myth being reality.

April 2, 2013 5:41 pm

First time I ever agreed with James Hansen. We should turn more to nuclear, but not the current high pressure system; instead lets build Thorium reactors. That is the answer. Thorium, because it makes good sense. This has nothing to do with the silliness about CO2; it is not a pollutant.

Rattus Norvegicus
April 2, 2013 5:45 pm

Hate to break it to you, but Hansen has always supported, sanely in my view, nuclear power as part of the solution.
Reply: There is nothing to “break” to us here John Sully. No contrary claims were made. Some low information econuts will find it unsettling news though. – Anthony

April 2, 2013 5:54 pm

Too much dumb to deal with. However, nuclear is inevitable. We can, and we will. Windmills will be abandoned and regretted. Solar will find its niche but never be significant on the whole. Coal will continue, and gas for a while. But nuclear is forever and will account for nearly all power generation eventually. Sooner will be better.
Coal doesn’t kill as many as lack of power. Never has and never will. We must have power. Nuclear will provide that power.

April 2, 2013 6:20 pm

Is Hansen now in the pay of “big nuclear”? Just asking. I thought he was anti-human and wanted us all back in the stone age.
If he’d made pushing nuclear a priority over trashing everything else to do with power (non-green), he might have made more friends. What does Big Al think about this?

April 2, 2013 6:31 pm

Lonnie E. Schubert at 5:54 pm
Amen to that! Well said!

April 2, 2013 6:47 pm

Kharecha was surprised to find no broad studies on preventable deaths that could be attributed to nuclear power’s pollution savings.
Scientific American published just such a study in the late 70’s showing that coal is likely to kill more people than nuclear. Probably about the time 3 Mile Island melted down which, which goes to show that timing is everything.

April 2, 2013 6:51 pm

It gets funnier – Hansen throws renewables under a bus
From the article:-
Because large-scale implementation of renewable energy options, such as wind or solar, faces significant challenges, the researchers say their results strongly support the case for nuclear as a critical energy source to help stabilize or reduce greenhouse gas concentrations.

April 2, 2013 7:20 pm

Paul Mendez says:
April 2, 2013 at 3:57 pm
No existing technology can prevent death.
good health is the slowest known way to die.

April 2, 2013 7:49 pm

This is not new. When Hansen visited Australia some years ago, he rejected the concept of clean energy and recommended Australia became nuclear, as we had a huge coastline and could utilize sea water to cool the reactors. As we are short of fresh water even subterranean (that is not renewable as people think) if sea water was a reliable source he reckoned we should adopt it.Problem is a reactor requires 200,000,000 liters of water to cool it each day. Where does the water go afterwards, is it contaminated? What push it back into the sea? I’m not an expert but one poster said nuclear ships and submarines use sea water? But they are small in comparison to the energy output of land nuclear generator. Personally I think what Sir Mark Oliphant stated years ago, he worked on the Manhatten project you will remember and was scientific adviser to the Australian government. Go Solar Thermal, as could oil countries with heaps on uninhabited areas and deserts. Problem was and still is being considered, how do they continue generating electricity at night, they were thinking of utilizing methane gas. I just feel that to have a large thermal generator (50 acres big or larger) is vulnerable to attack or accident too.
Right now they are studying and building one in Newcastle, NSW but it receives very little funding from the government of course, but even a Greens spokesman and politician spoke to us and thought solar and wind only made manufacturers rich and were doubtful as far as reliability etc. He said go solar thermal. They have ceased geo thermal in S.A. because of funding. Wave, well that is years away too. I must say I wouldn’t be happy with a nuclear station near where I live. What do other Aussies think?

April 2, 2013 8:34 pm

Ha! Hansen just jumped the shark! Oh, he’s right that nuclear power is eminently safe, but the True Believers of the Cult of Gaia will NEVER except the Heresy that he has just uttered! NO ONE is allowed off the reservation, not ever! They aren’t going to want him around, so it looks like its time for him to just slowly fade into a well deserved obscurity.
In 20 years or so, he’ll just be the answer to a trivia question on Jeopardy, topic “Great Hoaxes of the 20th century”.
btw, as I’m sure others will point out, water being run through a nuclear reactor isn’t made radioactive or “dirty” in any way. It just gets warm, so it’s not a problem to take it from the sea and return it to the sea. The biggest problem I can see with seawater is salt and other dissolved materials precipitating out in the heat exchanges and slowly clogging the entire cooling system until it was plugged. That’s why manufacturers ask you to use distilled water + antifreeze in your cars coolant system.

April 2, 2013 8:41 pm

bushbunny says: April 2, 2013 at 7:49 pm
With the vastness of our coastline I doubt that there’d be any need to site a nuclear plant near suburban concentrations or even isolated settlements. The Japanese don’t seem to have a problem of NP in their densely populated country, why should we ?
Solar thermal ? I don’t think that the applicability of the technology has been adequately thought through … just like all of these beatniks pushing wave generation, well the abandoned rusted hulk in the breakers at Newcastle is a testament to that experiment.
With the economy of coal and the advancement of modern coal fired generation technology, we are idiots to not be expanding coal fired generation … the greenie Germans don’t have a problem so why should we ?

April 2, 2013 9:14 pm

After getting trapped at a paywall, I finally managed to download the paper.
The paper pulls in estimates from a variety of sources (i.e. it’s a meta-study) and calculates statistics for “deaths prevented” (ludicrous terminology, but English seems to be a casualty of “statistics”). I’ll leave it to others to follow the references. The lack of applicable data hasn’t stopped the authors from extrapolating available estimates to regions of no data.
Similarly, the authors don’t appear to include “upgrade” analyses for coal and gas in countries where mortality rates are high. That could be a substantial oversight especially wrt China which has been upgrading it’s coal-fired fleet of power stations, closing down many small inefficient (and actually-pollution) ones with a few, large, very efficient power stations. Over the coming decades, mortality rate per TWh would tend to that of the best new stations in Western Europe.
The author’s analysis of “plausible” replacement and future development by nuclear excludes any economic factors. Their inherent assumption appears to be that it is always economically possible. Societies develop by exploiting the highest density source of energy that they can afford.
A conventional “reactor off the rack” is still 3 to 5 times more expensive than coal-fired. vis UAE’s 4 new reactors (to be built and operated by KEPCO) which have a lifecycle average cost of electricity production of about 5.5 c/kWh

April 2, 2013 9:31 pm

Sanertooth on April 2, 2013 at 4:21 pm
Or Sabertooth as you corrected. The answer to your question is “yes”. I have references on my computer but it isn’t at hand. There is fairly clear correlation claimed between atmospheric nuclear testing and increases in cancer according to a number of researchers. The old ones among us will remember the Strontium 90 in milk issue. Baby boomer dilema.

April 2, 2013 9:40 pm

What do other Aussies think?
I”d be delighted if they replace Perth’s coal fired power stations with nuclear. Cheap, clean and we have plenty of space. so it can located well away from people.
I’ve just discovered the current coal fired power stations use brackish ground water, which is then piped to the ocean. Which means nuclear power stations can be located pretty much anywhere within 100kms of the coast.

April 2, 2013 11:04 pm

A few Greens, such as Stewart Brand (in a book he wrote), have endorsed nuclear. Hansen has gone further, being very dismissive of Amory Lovins’ green energy schemes.

April 3, 2013 12:19 am

As he has always said, I think.
BTW, does anyone know how many people have actually died from nuclear accidents? I know people from Chernobyl, for example, and they can’t put a high figure on it at all, around 80 in all (at a guess from them).
Are there any actual figures? Most people I talk to about it believe it to be thousands, but most people have no idea about the facts, and get their ‘ideas’ solely from the MSM. For example, none of them (not a single one, even those with strong views) have ever known anything about the ‘banana’ unit of radiation, ie the amount of additional radiation you are exposed to by eating a single banana, let alone how that relates to actual worker and emergency personnel levels of radiation.
My view is that I know very little, but almost everybody I talk to about it obviously knows much less.

April 3, 2013 12:32 am

Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs) will, IMHO, be what powers the world’s future.
It’s really the only power source that seems to fulfill all the necessary requirements: proven technology (test LFTR at Oak Ridge Labs ran perfectly from 1964-69), safe, clean, reliable, efficient (can’t beat E=MC^2), cheap (theoretically costing $0.03/kWh), abundant (virtually inexhaustible supply of the stuff; it’s everywhere and in huge quantities), low plant construction cost (costs about the same as Natural Gas Power Plant to build), very scaleable, minimal nuclear waste (99% less than conventional solid fuel reactors), no special processing of Thorium 232 is required, etc.,
The ONLY thing holding this technology back is the lack of will from politicians to establish the regulation, standards and permit process to build these.
While the West continues to waste $100’s of Billions (if not $Trillions by now) on expensive/ low-energy density technologies like wind and solar, China has 700 PhD physicists working on building their first LFTR test reactor, which should be online in a few years.
Time is running out. If China is allowed to get a jump in implementing LFTR technology before the West gets it head out of the sand, then a gigantic second wave of production will flood to China to take advantage of the cheapest energy on the planet.
And so it goes….until it doesn’t….

April 3, 2013 2:39 am

It is really worrying when one discovers that one even slightly agrees with something that Hansen has said!

April 3, 2013 3:38 am

Jer0me says:
April 3, 2013 at 12:19 am
BTW, does anyone know how many people have actually died from nuclear accidents? I know people from Chernobyl, for example, and they can’t put a high figure on it at all, around 80 in all (at a guess from them).
There is a comprehensive report on Chernobyl here:
Well worth reading on the health impacts, (or lack of), is here, with the numbers:
The Real Chernobyl Folly by Zbigniew Jaworowski (former chairman of UNSCEAR)
Chernobyl related controls on sheep were only lifted in Wales and Cumbria last year –

Doug Huffman
April 3, 2013 4:00 am

About China’s nuclear power plans; 600 more reactors contributes significantly to their reactor-years or GWatt-years Pareto Distribution, which is to say that their accident becomes inevitable. Inexpert discussions of reactor safety is a bit like bicyclists mentioning p*nct*r*s, cyclists that go thousands of miles are reticent to brag knowing that all streaks end.
About LFTR; there is sufficient experience (some recent) with liquid metal/molten salt cooled reactors to obviate any hypothetical advantage of adding fluorine and thorium to the witches brew.
There is a plethora of inherently safe nuclear reactor designs, some are even advocated by experienced reactor engineers, how many have been built? Currently the demonstrated safest designs belong to the U.S. Navy, being light water PWR. They are not large, they are expensive and safe.
If it was easy then anyone could do it.

Doug Huffman
April 3, 2013 4:14 am

On the health effects of low level radiation exposure, the ‘nuclear shipyard worker study’ – NSWS – is the most thoroughly disappeared public document that I know. It tracked 70,000 shipyard workers program health to discover radiation hormesis.
Matanoski, G.M. (1991) Health effects of low-level radiation in shipyard workers final report, June 1991, DOE, DE-AC02-79, EV10095.

April 3, 2013 4:32 am

The problem with Fukushima is that it is on the wrong side of Japan. On the west side it would not be facing the tsunamis generated by the subduction zone earthquakes to the east. Nothing wrong with nuclear power when correctly used.

April 3, 2013 4:32 am

dennisambler says:
April 3, 2013 at 3:38 am

thanks, I’ll have a read!

Doug Huffman
April 3, 2013 5:37 am

The difficulties in siting illustrates perfectly the failure of inductive inference in forecasting. Avoiding one Black Swan exposes the site to another. Better antifragile than robust, better robust than fragile.
Someone earlier, maybe in some other thread, made a crack about chaotic complexity reduced by empiricism. That is, I believe, oxymoronic. It is connecting the dots on a epistemological mapping that must be so dimensionally reduced as to be nonsense but for the narrow path of deduction..

April 3, 2013 6:39 am

Wow! Something Hansen and I both agree on!

April 3, 2013 8:35 am

Richard A Muller (Energy for Future Presidents) has always advocated nuclear. He also wrote the famous Wall Street Journal article “The Panic Over Fukushima”:
If the Linear Hypothesis is correct, all the radiation leaked from Fukushima will result in an additional 24 cancer deaths among the 360,000 people exposed. I’m not saying that 24 deaths is not a tragedy; it’s twice as many people as died in the Aurora, Colorado shooting. But these 24 deaths will be undetectable among the 72,000 cancer deaths normally expected in a group of this size.

April 3, 2013 9:05 am

Doug Huffman–
It seems you don’t quite understand how LFTRs work, so I’d suggest you visit the following site for some basic information on LFTRs for your edification:

April 3, 2013 9:45 am

Petr Beckmann’s book, “The Health Hazards of NOT Going Nuclear”, was written in 1977.

April 3, 2013 10:33 am

Fukushima Medical University is monitoring the radiation effects of the reactor leak.
Ultrasound thyroid screening of 94,975 participants from April 2012 to January 2013 found that 18.5% had thyroid disorder, with cysts greater than 3.1mm.
By way of comparison, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists estimates that 20% of the US population may be hypothyroid.
The AACE guesstimate of 20% is obviously a total thumb-suck. I couldn’t find any large-scale studies in other countries to compare with the Fukushima Medical University survey. It’s impossible to conclude if the Fukushima thyroid disorder rate is above normal and if so by how much. (It’s also impossible to conclude that there is no variation.)
A couple of years ago I was involved in the renewable energy bidding process initiated by NERSA, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa. My client was a major Japanese manufacturer of wind turbines.
Nuclear comes in at roughly four times the cost of coal-fired power. Wind and solar are over eight times as expensive.
I’m sure that other readers will quote alternative figures showing a much smaller cost premium for “clean” energy. I’ll stick to my figures because they don’t come from theoretical studies. They were generated by commercial enterprises that need at least to break even to stay in business.

April 3, 2013 10:52 am

This is hardly a secret. Hansen has been vocal about his endorsement of breeder and thorium reactors for years. From what I’ve read, this represents the majority position among climate scientists with physics background.

Doug Huffman
April 3, 2013 11:09 am

Steve Dekker says: April 3, 2013 at 9:05 am “Doug Huffman–
It seems you don’t quite understand how LFTRs work, so I’d suggest you visit the following site for some basic information on LFTRs for your edification:”
I can’t imagine what you found, particularly in what I wrote here, that indicated my understanding, or lack of understanding, of reactor workings. I directed a number of initial criticalities, assisted more and decommissioned still more reactor plants.
For you, here is a recent article, Thorium: Not a near-term commercial nuclear fuel (doi: 10.1177/0096340212459125 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists September/October 2012 vol. 68 no. 5 33-44 ).
Bigotry and prejudice are postgraduate certificates from the School of Hard Knocks. I am fully prejudiced against thorium Pi in the sky.

April 3, 2013 11:31 am

Oldfossil– LFTRs are by far much cheaper than solid fuel reactors because: thorium is much cheaper, thorium just has one natural isotope that doesn’t require any special processing, 99% of thorium is burned in LFTRs as opposed to just 0.5% in solid fuel reactors, there is 90% less nuclear waste with LFTRs compared to LWRs, LFTR’s nuclear waste have very short half lives, transuranics in LFTRs can be removed chemically during operation, construction costs are 1/10th of liquid fuel reactors, personnel/maintenance costs are much lower, etc.
LFTRs can produce electricity for about $0.02~0.03/kWh, making the cheapest form of energy production currently available.

Laurence Clark Crossen
April 3, 2013 11:37 am

Choose green energy and you will get nuclear energy. Whether nuclear energy is a good choice or not, the decision to choose green energy is a decision to choose nuclear energy. Because nuclear energy is by far the most economical green energy, the voter will choose nuclear energy. The belief in AGW is in the process of overcoming environmental opposition to nuclear energy.

Doug Huffman
April 3, 2013 12:02 pm

@ Dekker, at which LFTR plant was this production experience earned?

April 3, 2013 1:44 pm

oldfossil says:
April 3, 2013 at 8:35 am

If the Linear Hypothesis is correct…

I discover that the Linear Hypothesis has been challenged.
Also known as the Linear No-Threshold Hypothesis (LNT), it assumes that radiation doses accumulate across whole populations.
A 25,000 milliSievert (mSv) dose of radiation is believed to create a 100% chance that you will get cancer. The LNT assumes that if 25,000 people each receive 1mSv radiation, this will induce one extra radiation death.
Although Richard A Muller supported the LNT in his 2012 essay, “The Panic Over Fukushima,” and I think that Muller is pretty damn good, the LNT could be bad science.

April 3, 2013 1:51 pm

Steve Dekker says:
April 3, 2013 at 11:31 am

Oldfossil– LFTRs are by far much cheaper than solid fuel reactors

Steve, please forgive me for appealing to the yukk-word “consensus,” but none of the articles I’ve read think that Lifters will be operational and uploading sparks to the grid before 2030.

Doug Huffman
April 3, 2013 2:36 pm

If I may quibble with my senior; LNT establishes a dose-damage response from high dose bomb survivor studies that is assumed to be harmful right down to zero. Radiation hormesis is based on the observation that life and humans evolved in a radiation field.

Doug Huffman
April 3, 2013 2:41 pm

The Matanoski study found a positive correlation between some levels of radiation exposure and general good health. My interest in it is as an extreme datum, with ~3 REM WBE occupational.

April 3, 2013 4:23 pm

I wrote a paper on the subject of health effects of radiation for the NWMO, Canada, some years ago. I preceded the main subject with primers so that those who were interested could understand what it was about. It is long, and boring for those with little interest in the subject, but it covered all of the main detail, especially in the appendices, where the major studies are summarized.
The paper is here:

April 3, 2013 5:03 pm

I don’t trust Hansen, first it was a coming ice age, then AGW, now go nuclear. I would like to know if nuclear reactors are any more safer than solar thermal, certainly more reliable, but as some posters have suggested – we in Australia would have to import nuclear technicians, and they don’t come cheap unless we import them from Japan or China. Or America, who will obviously have a financial interest to expand this industry and the safety we demand. Also in Australia our population is dispersed mainly around the coast line. But – a mixture of coal and nuclear might be the answer.

April 3, 2013 5:10 pm

I was interviewed by a snotty reporter about the expected radiation deaths from Fukushima. She nearly blew a gasket when I told her that it was unlikely that there would be any. I told her to get back to me in three years and tell me what she learned. I don’t expect to hear from her.
John K. Sutherland. (

April 3, 2013 5:27 pm

The Linear No Threshold dictum is truly bad science, but is loved by wackos who like to calculate body counts where they do not occur (eg. Greenpeace and the EPA).
As an example, using an aspirin analogy: We know that if one person takes 200 asprin at one time (an acute high dose of 200 aspirin) that the person is likely to die.
We then assume from this (at least some people do) that if 200 persons each take one aspirin (a population dose of 200 aspirin, but a low acute dose to those persons) that one of them will die, as 200 asprin to one or all is fatal; and so on (0.1 Aspirin taken by 2,000 people, or 0.01 aspirin taken by 20,000 people etc, ad nauseam). The LNT hypothesis also assumes that if one person takes 200 aspirin over the course of several years, that they will have received a fatal dose of aspirin and should be dead. (By this reasoning I have died about 50 times over) This is assumed to be the way it works with radiation too, no matter how low the dose, or the dose rate.
This is the way the EPA functions and various other scientificaly challenged groups.
If radiation were truly dangerous, we would have tens of thousands of people dropping like flies each year, after hospital radiation treatments that are thousands of times greater than maximum permissible occupational radiation doses. Radiation saves thousands of times more lives than it might place at risk.
John K. Sutherland.

April 3, 2013 10:01 pm

re: bushbunny says: April 2, 2013 at 7:49 pm
The cooling water from a nuclear power plant isn’t at all contaminated – it never runs through the core of the reactor. Heat exchangers are used to transfer heat from water that loops through the core, to the separate system that uses cooling water from whatever water source is available. Then there are very strict regulations on the temperature of the discharge water also – typically it can’t be any more than 2 degrees (or less, depending on the site) warmer than the intake water. The discharge water is also constantly monitored, just as is the air around the station, to ensure that there isn’t any radioactive discharge from a leak developing or anything along those lines.

April 3, 2013 10:05 pm

Re: Wayne Delbeke says: April 2, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Sanertooth on April 2, 2013 at 4:21 pm
Or Sabertooth as you corrected. The answer to your question is “yes”. I have references on my computer but it isn’t at hand. There is fairly clear correlation claimed between atmospheric nuclear testing and increases in cancer according to a number of researchers…

I’ve never seen a single reputable source showing any cancer spike that could be attributed to above ground nuclear tests. Wayne, if it’s not too much trouble for you to dig out the references you note, I’d be interested in seeing them. Unless they’re from well known anti-nuclear activist fanatics such as Helen Caldicott, who makes absurd specious claims all the time that no reputable expert will support.

April 3, 2013 10:32 pm

re: Jer0me says: April 3, 2013 at 12:19 am
Hi Jer0me,
It depends on what you include, and I’m assuming you mean from radiation, not common industrial type accidents that occur at any major facility. Commercial nuclear power has one of the best safety records of any industry – you are literally safer working in a USA nuclear power plant than being in your own home (darned those gutters that have to be cleaned using ladders we fall off of, kids toys to trip over, stairs to fall down…).
For commercial nuclear power, there have only been three major accidents. Chernobyl you already noted – I believe the death toll there, however, is still in the mid 50’s. Many of those wouldn’t have occurred had there been emergency planning in place like there is in the USA, and had the USSR not tried to cover up the accident. Also worth noting that it was a weapons facility that incidentally produced power too, so the deaths there aren’t attributable to commercial nuclear power.
Then of course, Fukushima; zero deaths, zero injuries from radiation. There were 6 workers exposed to far higher radiation levels than any others – those 6 have a calculated possible 1% increased lifetime risk of developing cancer. In other words because of their radiation exposure, instead of the 25% lifetime cancer risk everyone else in Japan has, they might have a 26% lifetime risk. That’s a big if, and a worst case calculation. There may be no increased risk at all.
The third major accident was Three Mile Island (TMI) of course, and there were no fatalities or injuries or even significant exposures there. Multiple massive epidemiological studies long after TMI occurred have also shown zero increase in any cancer rates. That’s actually true for any county adjacent to or downwind from any nuclear facility in the USA.
Apart from Chernobyl, there have been zero deaths from radiation exposure related to commercial nuclear power plants of any sort. That’s from over over 14,500 cumulative reactor-years of commercial nuclear power operation in 32 countries.
If you add research reactors, however, there are a handful of deaths that have occurred in over 60 years of research. All of those fatalities were researchers who were immediately involved in the research.
If you expand and include medical and industrial uses of radioactivity, the numbers are much larger.
Here’s a starter article for any who are interested:

April 3, 2013 10:40 pm

re: Steve Dekker says: April 3, 2013 at 12:32 am
Thorium as fuel for nuclear reactors has been tantalizing for many many years, but there are still some pretty major technological hurdles before it’s anywhere near ready to be used in commercial scale reactors. Frankly there’s not much impetus to wait or use it instead of Generation III conventional nuclear power reactors. There’s more than enough uranium available for fuel for hundreds of years, those systems are already fully developed and in use in large commercial facilities, they’re extremely safe, and we’ve got the technological and scientific ability to handle the spent fuel without problems.
Also note, there’s been more than just the single example you provided of thorium use in reactors. Here’s an article that lists those, and addresses both the merits and the drawbacks with thorium, along with how it could be used in many different types of reactors:

April 3, 2013 11:02 pm

re: johnmarshall says: April 3, 2013 at 4:32 am

The problem with Fukushima is that it is on the wrong side of Japan.

I have a hard time faulting Fukushima power plant siting or design – consider that those were 40 year old plants, using 50+ year old designs, which were hit by the 5th largest earthquake EVER recorded, and then a 50+ foot high tsunami. The earthquake and tsunami killed almost 20,000 people, another 27,000+ injured, 1.2 MILLION buildings damaged, demolished over 200,000 buildings, including something like 200 that were specifically built to be earthquake/tsunami shelters!
Yet while Fukushima had a terrible accident for any nuclear power plant, it essentially withstood those impacts, right on the coast with the worst effects, with only two people who happened to be in the turbine building basement drowned by the tsunami. No one else was injured or killed during the event, and I think only two or three workers have died since, one or two of heart attack while working, one with a crane accident – and none injured or killed by radiation.
It’s also worth noting that some residents fled TO a nuclear power reactor which was also on the coast only 75 miles from Fukushima for safety from the tsunami.
Frankly I think the fact that the Fukushima reactors survived as well as they did is a testament to robust design and construction (particularly considering that they were unable or unprepared to get help from outside with such a major disaster along the entire coast, until it was too late). This is even more true for the other multiple reactors along Japans western coast line that survived the massive earthquake and tsunami without any significant harm or accident. There are, after all, about 20 reactors along Japan’s western coastline, and problems only occurred with the three Fukushima reactors (3 others at the site were unaffected).

April 3, 2013 11:10 pm

re: oldfossil says: April 3, 2013 at 10:33 am

…Fukushima Medical University is monitoring the radiation effects of the reactor leak. Ultrasound thyroid screening of 94,975 participants from April 2012 to January 2013 found that 18.5% had thyroid disorder, with cysts greater than 3.1mm.

There’s a latency period of many years between exposure to radiation, and any development of detectible thyroid problems. In other words, any cysts or problems they’re discovering now, didn’t come from exposure to Fukushima radiation. It’s far too early for anything to be seen that way yet. For just one example of research showing this delay between exposure and subsequent thyroid issues, see:

April 3, 2013 11:28 pm

re: Steve Dekker says: April 3, 2013 at 11:31 am
Sorry Steve, but thorium fuel based reactors aren’t ready for prime time yet. I’ve already posted a link to an article that provides some of it’s problems and drawbacks.

April 4, 2013 12:02 am

re: oldfossil says: April 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm
Health Physics is the field of radiological safety and biological effects. Most health physicists don’t believe the Linear No Threshold theory to be correct – and that’s been true for decades. For example, see a 1998 article by Bernie Cohen:
Consider also the latest United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) report, released Dec 2012, which “states that uncertainties at low doses are such that UNSCEAR “does not recommend multiplying 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 below natural background levels.” See:
There are thousands of studies which actually support the theory of radiation hormesis – e.g., that at low levels of exposure, health is actually improved, not harmed. There are virtually none that refute hormesis, although many simply state that below certain exposure levels (around 10 rem, acute dose) even long term epidemiological studies are unable to find any negative effect. Those, however, aren’t looking for possible positive effects, they’re just trying to find negative effects, and are unable to do so. This is even more true for exposures over longer time periods rather than acute exposures (minutes to hours).

April 4, 2013 12:08 am

re: jsuther2013 says: April 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm
Well said. The aspirin analogy is a good one – recall also that huge numbers of people are now routinely ordered by their doctors to take a baby aspirin a day for heart issues. If LNT were applied, that would massively increase deaths – instead, it saves lives by reducing heart attacks. Consider all the myriad things such as vitamins too – too little, you get sick or die, too much, you get sick or die. For most things, when it comes to interaction with biological systems, LNT fails dismally – there is almost always a threshold below which the substance doesn’t harm or is even essential.

Scottish Sceptic
April 4, 2013 12:34 am


Doug Huffman
April 4, 2013 6:29 am

Rational Db8 says: April 3, 2013 at 10:01 pm “The cooling water from a nuclear power plant isn’t at all contaminated – it never runs through the core of the reactor.”
Primary cooling water is not significantly contaminated. Radiochemistry is done at high power with minimal PPE and no special precautions. The flow path is arranged to decay the significant nuclide and the internal polishers are very effective. Visual particulate contamination is usually less than detectable in units of parts-per-billion.
Back in the bad old days it was not unheard of to surreptitiously drink coolant to demonstrate its harmlessness to trainees. Of course, back then we were allowed to analogize dog-poo on a shoe to radioactivity and contamination.

April 4, 2013 9:37 am

First Hansen acknowledges that anthropogenic CO2 (and nitrate) is fertilizing plant growth and CO2 reduction, thus reducing the airborne fraction; now he makes this pro-nuclear statement. Are we seeing the beginning of a Damascus road conversion?

April 4, 2013 6:11 pm

Dear Rational and phlogiston, I appreciate your informed comments but when it comes down to it really is the expense of nuclear. I can’t see Australia moving that way for a long time. However, if the coalition government get in next September, we might see some move in that direction, but we are heavily in debt right now. Now the Swan’s admission that superannuants will be taxed 15% on their super over $100,000 when it was previously free, we might have an earlier general election than September.
Cheers to all, at least CO2 has been given some extra life.
I wonder what Al has to say? James and the late Stephen were his scientific advisers.

April 5, 2013 2:29 am

Here is a good short review on the biological fallacy of the LNT (linear no threshold) hypothesis of radiation carcinogenesis:

April 5, 2013 2:33 am

Thanks to Rational Db8, jsuther2013, Doug Huffman, bushbunny and others for some much-needed knowledge based common sense concerning nuclear technology and radiation risk.

April 5, 2013 7:30 pm

The big thing now in Oz is fracking, or gas mining and the problem with contamination of water sources. I think a lot of the flames coming from water taps, comes from a CSI episode, Fracking, shown on TV. But the worry of Gas mining is a problem if there is a risk of contaminating water sources, particularly water tables, that are not renewable as people think. Seems the same problem has been experienced in UK and USA. Any thoughts on this, I am worried the rumours could have some scientific basis. We know or think chemical fertilizers can contaminate water wells. And Oz needs all the water it can count on particularly 150 miles inland from the oceans, where droughts are common. Usually followed by floods mind you.

April 5, 2013 7:58 pm

re: bushbunny says: April 4, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Dear Rational and phlogiston, I appreciate your informed comments but when it comes down to it really is the expense of nuclear.

Hi bushbunny,
Let me preface this by saying that I’m referring to lifecycle costs per unit energy produced. Nuclear is vastly cheaper, has far less environmental impact, and is far more reliable than solar (including thermal solar) and wind. Where coal and natural gas is plentiful and cheap as it currently is in the USA, then they are cheaper than nuclear – but fuel costs can have a large effect on the price of energy produced if fuel costs rise. I don’t have any idea how costs for coal and natural gas compare in Australia, however.
Otherwise, in terms of cost per unit energy produced, nuclear is well within the running. The initial capital expense is, of course, large – but then you have 40+ years of 90%+ capacity production, with low operating and maintenance costs (assuming reasonably good management). Most of our plants that have already operated 40 years, or are approaching that, have already obtained significant license extensions – which means cost per unit energy produced drops even further. Added bonus is that even if fuel costs double for nuclear, so little is needed it has very little effect on the price of the energy produced. Consider also that while inital capital costs are large, you are also getting a power plant that sits on almost no space environmentally speaking, has almost no emissions, and produces massive amounts of power. In other words, I think you will find that if you look at lifecycle costs per unit energy that can be reasonably expected to be produced, nuclear isn’t that expensive. Remember that with wind, for example, you’re lucky if you get an average of 25% of the installed capacity in actual production, and it’s very violative which causes massive grid problems. Similar issues exist with solar – and both do huge damage to the environment with a massive footprint.
re your April 5, 2013 at 7:30 pm comment. There has been zero evidence of any water table or well contamination from fracking in the USA, other than at wells next to the drill onsite. In the USA, the video’s and claims of gas in tap water that can be set on fire are all from areas where that was occurring long before there was any fracking – those areas naturally have large amounts of methane in the water supply. It’s also well worth noting that the fracking fluids are far less worrisome now than they used to be. One CEO actually drank pure fracking fluid to prove that it is safe.
Hydro can be a great option – if you have suitable locations for it.. and typically that’s very limited. Plus, the environmentalists have a huge problem with hydro because of the effect on fish migration etc.,caused by the dam, you also have a large risk to downstream populations should the dam break, and the necessary reservoir destroys huge swaths of the environment – tho you get an awfully nice lake to play on and fish. :0)
Geothermal I’m not terribly familiar with – but suitable sites are pretty limited, and I gather they are quite expensive.
Oil, well, we’re all familiar with oil – how expensive or cheap it is for electrical production all depends on where you live, and what it’s current price is… In the next decade or two fracking may completely change that whole situation too. The USA is virtually swimming in practically recoverable, competitively priced shale oil available to fracking, in addition to a lot of conventional sources that politics have placed off limits.

April 6, 2013 8:45 am

For those who are concerned about costs, environmental effects, waste disposal etc of nuclear, I shall direct your attention to these other papers that I wrote:
This site is heavily travelled and although the papers are not peer reviewed, that does not mean that they get through unscathed as you can see by the comments (often uninformed, but many which are superbly informed) which follow them.
John K. Sutherland.

April 7, 2013 9:10 pm

I would like to see more hydro, but in Australia we have to consider the impact of dams down stream. Actually I did an essay on the affects of the Lake Nasser on the Nile and Delta fishing particularly. The fishing industry failed for a number of years because of the decrease of micro planton that fed on the annual floods silt. Malaria and that snail infestation increased at first because of the increase of stagnated water. But vaccines became available. When I was in Egypt years ago before the Aswan dam project, it wasn’t uncommon to see people squatting in the Nile and they used human pooh to fertilize their gardens. Hence the need for chemical fertilizers now, to compensate for the lack of silt. But – nature adjusts, and the micro plantons came back, and the delta fishing industry recovered, but took 30 years. We have hot spots in Australia, mainly in SA and some near Melbourne. The SA project they stopped because of lack of funding and subsidized solar and wind instead. The government ignored an electricity plant somewhere that burned sugar cane refuse and supplied 500 homes with electricity. With less greenhouse gas contamination than coal. For dispersed communities in the bush, this was a viable project, but no subsidies of course. I don’t think it is still operating I will research.

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