]]]]]]]]]]]]]]      A SHARED NUCLEAR SECRET      [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                     By Petr Beckmann                         5/29/88
[This article is very similar to the one that appeared in the Wall 
Street Journal on December .. 1987. The reason why it differs is not 
that I disagree with the editorial changes made by the WSJ, but that I 
do not have the time to redo the original version that I sent them 
(and of which I still have the disk file.]

     There is a secret jealously guarded by both the antinukes and the 
nuclear industry: that per megawatt-hour of delivered electric energy, 
nuclear power is, by any criterion, very much safer than any other 
source of electric power. 
     To conventional wisdom such a statement sounds absurd; but that 
is only because the point is rarely discussed -- nor ever seriously 
disputed. Yet the validity of the statement does not emerge from com-
puter simulations; it emerges from physical laws and simple counts by 
the coroners. 
     The ultimate reason for the superior safety of nuclear power lies 
neither in its strict regulation nor in the cleverness of its gadgets, 
but in three of its inherent properties. 
     First, when it does get out of control, which is less likely than 
with other power sources, its threat unfolds slowly, giving time to 
countermeasures, including evacuation. (How do you evacuate when a dam 
breaks or oil storage tanks blow up?) 
     Second, its only threat is the release of radiation -- a genuine 
and lethal threat, but even if all precautions and countermeasures 
should fail, it is a threat whose consequences are still small com-
pared with the risks we take, for example, with hydroelectric power -- 
which can kill 100,000 people within minutes. 
     Third, its greater concentration of energy (some three million 
times higher than that of coal) results in far safer fuel transporta-
tion, far safer waste disposal, and in the possibility of preventive 
measures that are quite unthinkable with conventional power plants. In 
waste disposal, for example, nuclear wastes are not only some 3.5 
million times smaller than fossil wastes produced from the same ener-
gy, but unlike fossil-fuel wastes, they are toxic only temporarily: 
after 500 years they are less toxic than coal ash, some of whose in-
gredients are toxic forever, and a significant part of which is now 
"disposed of" in human lungs. 
     Even by sabotage, terrorists are quite unlikely to inflict as 
much damage on the population as they could by blowing up a hydro-
electric dam or by letting the smoke from a burning oil tank farm do 
its work. 
     But the real death and disease toll does not come from these 
dramatic incidents. It comes from the premature deaths and the dis-
eases inflicted by fossil fuels, mainly on the elderly. They are 
demonstrable statistically, but individually unattributable, and 
therefore undramatic, but they are shockingly numerous nevertheless. 
The best available study is that by the Brookhaven National Lab, which 
correlated air pollution and its results over the entire area of the 
US. The results imply some 37,000 premature deaths attributable to 
coal-fired electric power in the US every year -- with pollution con-
trol equipment in place. (The recent trend of prolonging the life of 
less strictly controlled, older coal-fired plants, which was not fore-
seen by the study, is likely to increase that number.) 
     The comparison is well illustrated by Three Mile Island and Cher-
nobyl. The dead of Three Mile Island have gone unnoticed, though more 
than 300 people died in the first 6 years after the accident: they 
died in the cycle of the SUBSTITUTE power that had to be brought in to 
replace the far safer power of the nuclear reactors -- one crippled by 
the accident, the other shut down by the politicians. As for Cherno-
byl, during its short life of 27 months, Unit IV saved more lives from 
coal than it took by radiation (or will take in the future, for coal 
has delayed deaths, too). 
     The superior safety and healthfulness of nuclear plants is well 
known to scientists working in this area quite independently of the 
nuclear industry. The issue has been discussed in books by Prof. B.L. 
Cohen of the University of Pittsburgh, Prof R. Wilson of Harvard, 
Prof. J. Fremlin of the University of Birmingham (England), and 
others. Prof. Cohen points out that even if the grossly inflated and 
unsubstantiated claims of the Union of Concerned Scientists were true, 
they would still make nuclear power many times safer than coal. 
     It is obvious why the antinuclear movement, which gains its adhe-
rents on moral grounds, is covering up this moral issue. But why does 
the nuclear industry conceal it? 
     Because its biggest clients, the utilities, use mostly fossil-
fired power, especially coal, and the nuclear industry is loath to 
offend them. There is a well-kept truce between the nuclear and coal 
lobbies. It is justified by a not very meaningful phrase about the 
desire "not to play up one form of energy against another." 
     But this policy, which has allowed the anti-nukes to masquerade 
as moralists and to induce a public phobia against the very word 
"nuclear," is one adhered to only by the Washington lobbies. In min-
ing, power production and engineering (which are less adept in getting 
media attention), it is well realized that coal and uranium stand and 
fall together, for the antinukes are not so much antinuclear as they 
are anti-energy. Moreover, there is one thing clearly more dangerous 
to life and health than coal, and that is no coal, for the biggest 
enemy of life and health, as shown by the statistics of history and 
geography, is the lack of energy. 
     The Atomic Industrial Forum used to have a strict policy of con-
cealing the nuclear-fossil comparison in matters of safety and health. 
It has recently been merged with another organization into the US 
Council of Energy Awareness. The reorganization was accompanied by 
personnel and, presumably, policy changes. 
     It is greatly to be hoped that the new organization will at long 
last let the big secret out of the bag. 

                         *   *   *   *   * 

[*****   The following "Verification aid" was not meant for publication, 
but was attached to aid the editors in checking the validity of my 
statements.  *****]

                         VERIFICATION AID 

     Consequences of a radiation release: "Potential for reduction in 
the predicted release of radioactive materials following a severe 
nuclear accident," Congr. Resrch. Service, Libr. of Congr., March 
1983; M.Rosen, M. Jankowski, "Reassessing radiation releases," Intl. 
Atomic En. Agncy. Bulletin Autumn 1985; see also IAEA Intl. Symposium 
on Source Term, Oct 1985. 

     100,000 deaths in an earthquake: Univ. of Calif. at L.A. report 
to Calif. State Legislature, 1972. More details from Prof. Thomas J. 
Connolly, Mech. Engrg. Dept., Stanford Univ., Stanford, Calif. (The 
report states that five dams in California may cause more than 100,000 
deaths on failure, and one of them up to 200,000.) 

     37,000 premature deaths/year from coal-fired plants: Report by 
the Biomedical and Environmental Assessment and Atmospheric Sciences 
Divisions of the Brookhaven National Lab, 1977-8, quoted in "The Di-
rect Use of Coal," Office of Technology Assessment Report OTA-E-86, 
April 1971. The figure forecast for the pollution control in place by 
1985 was actually 50,000; I have prorated it for the fraction of coal 
burned for electricity (not metallurgy and other). For more details, 
contact one of the Authors of the report, Dr L.D. Hamilton of Brook-
haven National Lab (Upton, Long Island, N.Y.). [*** This suggestion 
was meant for the WSJ editors, and is not extended to Fort Freedom 
visitors. P.B.  ***]
     Chernobyl saved more lives than it took: the median no. of pre-
mature deaths/year from coal-fired power is 77 per 1,000 MW, or for 
the 27 months of unit IV, some 160 deaths. This calculation is per-
formed by US standards; Soviet power plants, which often burn low-
grade coal and have far lower environmental standards (which are not 
enforced or publicly scrutinized anyway), would have an even larger 
death toll. 
     The three books mentioned are: B.L. Cohen, "Before It's Too 
Late," Plenum Press, New York, 1983; R. Wilson, "Risk/Benefit Ana-
lysis," Ballinger Publ. Co., Cambridge, Mass. 1982; and J. Fremlin, 
"Power production: What Are the Risks?" Oxford University Press, 
Oxford, 1987. 

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