Jim covered Congress and The White House during the George W. Bush administration for The Washington Times, and worked as a reporter, editorial writer and columnist for newspapers in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California. He has appeared on the Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, and many local and national talk radio shows to talk politics and policy.
Latest posts by Jim Lakely (see all)
Heartland’s Science Director Dr. Jay Lehr was all over TV and radio in March after the earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan and caused a crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Jay was virtually alone in tamping down panic, and got into a few verbal scrapes with worry-wort opponents bent on hurling insults. But Jay knows what he’s talking about and rolls with the punches, as displayed on Sean Hannity’s radio show earlier this year.
A good friend of Heartland — Alex Epstein, an energy specialist for the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights — is working hard, like Jay, to quell panic and bring much-needed facts to the debate over nuclear energy.
Alex had a piece at FoxNews.com this week about this issue, and he brought up Petr Beckmann’s 30-year-old book, “The Health Hazards of NOT Going Nuclear.” What Beckmann wrote three decades ago is even more true today, considering advances in the safey and efficiency of modern nuclear power plants.
The grounds for this move, and similar proposals in Switzerland, Italy, and other countries, is safety. As the Swiss energy minister put it, “Fukushima showed that the risk of nuclear power is too high.”
In fact, Fukushima showed just the opposite. How’s that? Well for starters, ask yourself what the death toll was at Fukushima. 100? 200? 10? Not true. Try zero.
That’s right. ZERO. Alex continues …
To think rationally about nuclear safety, you must identify the whole context. As the late, great energy thinker Petr Beckmann argued three decades ago in his contrarian classic “The Health Hazards of NOT Going Nuclear,” every means of generating power has dangers and risks, but nuclear power “is far safer than any other form of large-scale energy conversion yet invented.” …
The key to nuclear power’s safety, Beckmann explains, is that it uses a radioactive energy source, such as uranium. In addition to having the advantage of storing millions of times more energy per unit of volume than coal, gas, or water, the radioactive material used in power plants literally cannot explode. Ridiculing the scare tactics that a nuclear power plant poses the same dangers as a nuclear bomb, Beckmann observes: “An explosive nuclear chain reaction is no more feasible in the type of uranium used as power plant fuel than it is in chewing gum or pickled cucumbers.”
That point above in bold is something that Heartland’s Jay Lehr has been saying to everyone he chats up on this issue since March. More from Alex’s piece:
The one danger of running a nuclear plant is a large release of radiation. This is extremely unlikely, because nuclear plants contain numerous shielding and containment mechanisms (universal in the civilized world but callously foregone by the Soviets in their Chernobyl plant).
But in the most adverse circumstances, as Fukushima illustrated, the cooling system designed to moderate the uranium’s heat can fail, the backups can fail, the radioactive material can overheat to the point that the plant cannot handle the pressure, and a radiation release is necessary.
Yet, even then, it is extremely unlikely that the radiation levels will be high enough to cause radiation sickness or cancer–and radiation in modest quantities is a normal, perfectly healthy feature of life (your blood is radioactive, as is the sun). And even the worst nuclear accident gives neighbors a luxury that broken dams and exploding refineries do not: time.
While many, many things went wrong at Fukushima, as might be expected in an unprecedented natural disaster, what is more remarkable is that thanks to the fundamental integrity of the nuclear vessel and the containment building, none of the power plant’s neighbors have died, nor have any apparently been exposed to harmful levels of radiation. (The Japanese government has announced that eight of 2,400 workers have been exposed to higher-than-allowed amounts of radiation, but these amounts are often hundreds of times less than is necessary to do actual damage.)
Again, that’s a point Jay made over and over in his media appearances. Reporters and TV hosts presumed — live and on the air — that any level of elevated radiation coming from the plant meant a clear and present (and potentially) fatal danger to anyone within miles of the Fukushima plant. Science dictates that such panic is simply not warranted. And Jay kept getting puzzled looks and mindless drivel in response.
Alex Epstein’s piece is well worth reading in total. It is simply ridiculous that 30-plus years after the nothing that was the Three Mile Island incident — and the coincidentally timed movie, “The China Syndrome” — the world is still reluctant to fully embrace the cleanest and most efficient method of power generation we’ll likely ever develop.