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Chernobyl's Downplayed Victims

by DoDo Sun May 7th, 2006 at 06:38:31 AM EST

...or Lies, Damned Lies, and Body Counts.

This is the initial post in a series on nuclear power by DeAnander and DoDo. The second instalment is a parallel post by DeAnander focusing less on numbers and more on people and stories. Next will be a more general diary critical of the use of nuclear power, followed by some diaries focused on specific themes, like, say, carbon emissions.

If you believe the press releases on the 2005 report on Chernobyl by the hardly impartial IAEA and assorted other UN organs, a mere 56 deaths can be directly blamed on the worst nuclear accident in history, and 4,000 more to be expected statistically.

But the study itself ignored a lot of research, and did some wizardry with numbers. Earlier this month, on the 20th anniversary of the disaster, two German professional associations of radiologists on the sceptical side released their own meta-study.

What emerges is a much worse picture, with deaths of liquidators alone estimated at 50,000-100,000. I will review some data and argumentation below the fold.


The study was issued by the German wing of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize winner International Physicians For The Prevention Of Nuclear War (IPPNW); and the Gesellschaft für Strahlenschutz (GfS) [Association for radiation protection], an organisation whose activities include a Chernobyl congress for researchers every two years, where they also facilitate the introducion of Russian-language research into the Western scientific consciousness. The study can be read on-line in full in German (pdf!). Note: mine is a abridged summary of only parts, the original 76-page report includes a lot of nuances (though I also cut in a few details from elsewhere).

Ghost town Pripyat with Chernobyl power plant in the background

Not just mortality rates in question - even the basics are contested

The study points out problems with the changing numbers for total released radioactive material, but here I will rather reference an article in the 15 April DER SPIEGEL (which was another independent review of the evidence): IAEA calculations assume 3-4% of the reactor fuel 'released', Ukrainian radiologist Victor Poyarkov suspects up to 50%, and scientists at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow who studied the sarcophagus think it must have been almost all of it.

On the Chernobyl Forum report

IPPNW-GfS states that the first serious assessment of the Chernobyl aftermath was released in 1991, which basically dismissed every statistically evidenced major health problem, while not even studying the worst affected populations (liquidators, evacuees). Then a 2000 report at least acknowledged the one issue the 1991 version received most flak for: thyroid cancer in children. Then the Chernobyl Forum umbrella group presented a new meta-study [e.g. review of studies] 6-7 September 2005 at a conference.

This meta-study is criticised by IPPNW-GfS for various omissions and the loose, improper or non-sourced handling of data, with the aggravating problem that press releases on the report (which of course are more read and quoted in public debate) downplay even what's in the study. An example they bring up for illustration is the WHO-authored meta-study on liquidators (clean-up workers) that

  • only considers a third to a fourth of all liquidators: those with data; no extrapolation for the rest;
  • doesn't quantify the effect of large uncertainties in the final numbers;
  • doesn't consider sampling error;
  • doesn't even mention the government orders to keep secret or falsify data on sick people with sub-500-mSv radiation exposure.

The last point, the old Soviet adage that if we don't look for something then it doesn't exist, is practised to this day. For example, in Belarus:

One group of Belarussian scientists who did try to accurately measure the effects of long-term radiation exposure in the population was broken up four years ago by the authorities and its leaders imprisoned. According to a report issued by Yakovenko's group, the group - experts with the nongovernmental Institute of Radiation Security in Minsk - had angered the government by publishing radiation figures for many Belarussian areas that were far above official estimates.

An example of spinning numbers: expected deaths from cancer and leukemia based on average doses:

  • The IAEA press release speaks of 4,000 - which,
  • looking at the table in the actual report, proves to be the number for only the most affected populations; the grand total is near 9,000.
  • This table also suffers from the above-mentioned constraints (fraction of liquidators considered, no error bars).
  • The actual study referenced for this table includes a footnote, which points out that the estimated cumulative radiation exposure for the less affected populations is not a lifetime projection, but only until 1996 (they say a lifetime assessment would imply a c. 50% upward correction).

An important general point they raise is that no attempt is made at establishing global numbers for victims of the various health problems -- but later spin will then tout partial numbers as if they were totals (see above examples).

They criticise that often, alternative explanations for statistical increases of health problems are just assumed (say, post-Soviet-collapse poverty), ignoring studies that used control groups to look at this -- but more detail on this later. Both this study and the SPIEGEL article also mentions the dismissal of health effects either not observed or not widely known from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It doesn't help that contributors included some controversial persons. The IPPNW-GfS study mentions L.A. Ilyn, a top Russian/Soviet biophysicist who used to work on the secret data of Soviet cases of irradiation, who is blamed for prohibiting the immediate issuing of iodine to the population, a few years later he was central to the initial playdown of thyroid cancer numbers; and also name a lesser-ranked colleague. The SPIEGEL article mentions Fred A. Mettler, a radiologist who was shown to have knowingly ignored data on thyroid cancer in children for the 1991 study (this story is also recounted by IPPNW-GfS), or Sergei Parashin, who could become the top Ukrainian bureaucrat for Chernobyl evacuees today despite having been the no-action local party secretary during the disaster.

Liquidators

Percentage of the originally 200,000, mostly young Ukrainian liquidators who were recognised to be sick: 1987-21.8%, 1991-64.2%, 1996-85%, 2002-92.7%, 2005-94%. Number of those counted as disabled: 1991-2,000, 1996-26,000, 2000-73,000, 2005-106,000. In a November 2005 study, 95% of tested liquidators had chronic eye diseases.

In a 2004 Belorussian study, rates of various types of cancer rose significantly above that of a control group in the last decade. A November 2005 study showed a nine times higher rate of cardiovascular diseases than that of a control group - potential cause discussed: radiation damage to blood vessels.

Of the 10,000 registered Usbek liquidators, in 5 years 8.3%, in 10 years 73.8% turned disabled, plus 5% dead. A 2001 study by Russian scientists with a control group showed significantly higher rates for a lot of diseases (not only cancer), again contradicting the common assumption (also in the Chernobyl Forum report) that post-1991 poverty is to blame.

Continued research by Ukrainian and Swiss scientists shows that liquidators' widespread mental problems are connected to brain damage, not a supposed psychosis, while older Soviet data of people close to nuclear tests, and even earlier in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, showed similar mental problems. Also, in a 2004 Ukrainian study, a standardised test showed rates of mental problems to be twice of that in the general population, and even worse for those who received more than 250 mSv over five years.

Belorussian liquidator Nikolai Yanchen, lost leg to cancer - from Paul Fusco's photos

A most interesting study (because looking at a subpopulation for whom the poverty argument doesn't work) came 2001 from Israel, showing seven times as many mutations in post-Chernobyl children of former liquidator immigrants relative to pre-Chernobyl siblings.

Evacuees

The much ignored second-worst-hit group is that of evacuees from the danger zone. Even the IPPNW-GfS report doesn't say much about them - though we get the rates of sick, rising from 41.3% in 1987 to 82.1% by 1996. The parallel SPIEGEL article writes more about them, mentioning the systematic falsification of their causes of death or serious diseases.

"90% of us here die fit as a fiddle." Evacuee inhabitants of quarter Darniza in Kiew

Births

Something rarely talked about is that most birth defects were probably aborted. A 1987 estimate for just Western Europe was 100-200,000 surplus aborts. In Poland, birth statistics show a significant reduction. For the worst hit areas, no official statistics exist, but there is correspondence of "systematic" abortions after the disaster.

A number of studies by German researchers found statistically significant rises in the rate of stillbirths and early child deaths, in various regions and with various control groups (time or geographic). A 2003 study for countries from Iceland to Hungary found 3,200 extra early child deaths with a two-sigma of 1,300. For one worst-hit region in Belarus, a study calculated 1,300 early child deaths caused by two different isotopes. A 1998 Ukrainian study for one region found a sharp rise (1986: 4, 1992: 33), followed by a deep (well beyond the birthrate's) decline (1996: 11).

In East Germany, the autopsy of aborted or stillborn children was obligatory, and an 1996 analysis found a four times above normal peak of serious developmental defects, with the frequency matching the geographical pattern of the fallout. 2001 and 2004 studies for Bavaria got similar results. A 1996 Belorussian study found a doubling of the rate of embryos with developmental defects (there was no post-Soviet collapse in Lukashenka-land).

A Chernobyl baby - from Paul Fusco's photos

A 2001 study found that a January 1987 spike in the birth of Down-syndrome children can't be explained with sampling effects like increased screening. A similar spike (two-five times above normal) was observed in multiple German cities, and reinforced in a number of studies checking other statistical effects - the frequency even matched the geographical pattern of the fallout.

Several more, similar studies from Scotland to Finland and Turkey are quoted, albeit with less detail.

Thyroid cancer

This is today the adverse health affect of Chernobyl most accepted by the pro-nuclear side. A sea change - the study quotes a number of pre-1991 documents blaming the usual suspects: deteriorating eating habits, psychosomatic effects, increased screening. The first whistleblower was a Belorussian radiologist in fall 1990 in Berlin, but Fred Mettler found it convenient to ignore Belorussian evidence on his desk for the UN report a year later, a fate shared by a report mailed by the Belarus health ministry.

While professor Ilyn claimed in 1989 that a mere 90 extra cases of thyroid cancer in small children are to be expected in 30 years, just in Belarus, all extra cases add up to 10,000. In the highly contaminated Gomel region of Belarus, for 1986-1998, a 58-fold increase was recorded for children - receding only since 2000. But in the last decade, the rate for older people (8-10x normal) is still rising. By extrapolation a total of more than 100,000 is to be expected. Studies in the Ukraine showed both a geographical and temporal correlation of cases with the fallout.

Update [2006-5-7 11:24:47 by DoDo]: I have to add another point: a rather cynical argument from some on the pro-nuclear side is that thyroid cancer is never non-lethal if properly treated. First, that is a big if, second, for the affected it is still very bad, third, if thyroid cancer metastases before discovery, then the metastases can very well be lethal.

Cancer, leukemia

Two independent studies from Belarus, one from 2004 the other from February 2006, show a significant increase of breast cancer, and also a 15-year decrease of typical patient age at detection, for the worst-hit region. Not only is the increase more significant than for another, less badly hit region, but the strong frequency differences and fallout patterns match even within the region. The second study explores the effect of increased screening and finds it inadequate to explain the patterns.

Of various nervous system cancer statistics, one of the strongest effects is for Ukrainian children under 3 with brain tumor, in a 2002 study. Looking at the cases of 20 years in 5-year bins, 1986-1990 and 1996-2000 again show about five-fold increases, with a peak of 7.7 in-between (don't forget both economic and birth-rate collapse came after 1990). The signal is even stronger but with much smaller samples for breastfed children.

Earlier Ukrainian (1994) and Belorussian (1996, 1998) studies showed significant increases of various types of leukemia in the region, with some geographical pattern. A 2001 Ukrainian study that followed children born in 1986 in very contaminated and barely contaminated regions found increased leukemia rates in all categories, worst for acute lymphatic leukemia in boys (3.4x). A year later, the same authors conducted case studies of people aged 0-20 in 1986, in which they calculated radiation exposures. For 1993-1997 and men, they found statistically significant correlation between acute leukemia and above-10-mSv exposure. German, Greek and Romanian studies showed a signifikant peak (more than two-fold increase) of leukemia for children born in the 1-1.5 years after the disaster, though total numbers are small (in the dozens).

Non-humans

Pine tree in the Red Forest, turned bush and disfigured by excessive branching - from Wormwood Forest

A rather ignorant argument from some nuclear proponents is that animal life is 'thriving' in the closed zone around Chernobyl. This doesn't wash because with radiation, we are talking of diseases with a probability: if every third boar dies of cancer (or is eaten by wolves before the cancer does it), you'll still see the other two "thriving". If less deaths come from radiation disease than hunting and being hit by cars, animals will multiply. Also, what seems healthy may not prove so upon close inspection. Finally, mices live shorter than men.

The report itself has some numbers on rise in livestock birth defects paralleling those in humans (for example, a more than 50% jump in the less contaminated areas of Germany), and mentions the case of radiation-contaminated sheep in Britain which was discussed on ET earlier. As for the closed zone, it mentions 1996 information that mice experienced a mutation rate 100,000 times that of the normal, but for more, read this BBC article.

Update [2006-5-7 11:24:47 by DoDo]: An epilogy: the Numbers War goes on

As I said, neither the IAEA/WHO, nor the IPPNW-GfS meta-study attempted a comprehensive estimate of all deaths due to Chernobyl. But, since the IPPNW-GfS study was released, three other groups released their estimate for the 20th anniversary. Quoting from a Guardian article by John Vidal (quoted at length in DeAnander's post):

The charge is led by the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, which last week declared that 212,000 people have now died as a direct consequence of Chernobyl. Meanwhile, a major report commissioned by Greenpeace considers the evidence of 52 scientists and estimates the deaths and illnesses to be 93,000 terminal cancers already and perhaps 100,000 deaths in time. A further report for European parliamentarians suggested 60,000 deaths.

Display:
Sorry for being late (the anniversary was 26 April), but we had to discuss some other stuff with De.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 05:50:59 AM EST
Well worth the wait.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 09:58:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Now crossposted on dKos - http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/5/7/134238/8209.

Please go recommend to give visibility to DoDo's work.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 01:49:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A well researched and deeply disturbing diary.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 06:49:32 AM EST
Whoever wants to make an even deeper research- somebody got the brilliant idea to actually organize Chernobyl cruises- please sign up here.

I've always wondered how people can think of ways to make money out of everything- even of a tragedy like this. But maybe I am too idealistic.

Anyways, I also read a lot about Chernobyl recently, but I need to say that this is a very good diary and fills many of my blanks about the case. Thanks!

I can resist anything but temptation.- Oscar Wilde

by Little L (ljolito (at) gmail (dot) com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 11:01:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, me thanks :-)

At the university (physics), when a younger guy had practical radiology class with us, he recounted how an older and famous collague excitedly invited him for a visit to Chernobyl, saying something like, "sacrificing four month's permissible radiation is worth it!", but the younger collague winked off...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 11:05:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I wouldn't sacrifice $300 for any amount of radiation I could get there, but I'd be very interested how many would.

I can resist anything but temptation.- Oscar Wilde
by Little L (ljolito (at) gmail (dot) com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 11:11:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I must add that working in a radiation laboratory, getting any amount of radiation was not his worry - it was more that that 'four month's worth of permissible radiation' is a mean with large uncertainties, and that, say, he may carry a highly radioactive dust particle unnoticed.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 12:22:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently radioactive dust gets washed off asphalt by rainfall, so that roads are relatively safe. Open soil, vegetation and buildings are not safe.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 12:32:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you guys know about Ghost Town? It's a sort of motorcycle travel diary by the daughter of a Ukrainian nuclear physicst.

DeAnander sourced the map of the "Dead Zone" and most of the other images for the paralle diary from this girl's website, but did not mention it, nor quote any text from it. Whassup with that?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 11:26:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I understand this is is a fake story, made using real pictures from the zone.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 12:42:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Care to expand that?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 12:45:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I cannot find the link again, but I remember perfectly reading it (after reading that story and disbelieving that it was untrue when the same was pointed out to me)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 01:23:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 01:30:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Somebody should alert Max Ström publishing company and Sveriges Radio [scroll down to item Tjernobyl].

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 03:34:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Look at Wikipedia Kiddofspeed Entry

The photographs' authenticity is not challenged, as far as I know.  The narrative into which they have been placed by Elena Filatova has been debunked pretty thoroughly as semi-fictional.  Thus I quote zero text from that site, but only use it as a handy archive of photographs from the Dead Zone and surrounding regions.

If anyone can convincingly debunk a specific photograph I included as faked or wrongly ascribed, then I didn't do enough homework and will have to print a retraction.  I did not include some suspect photos from partisan websites for this very reason.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 10:24:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I note that via my Wormwood Forest link (last picture in diary), you'll find another Chernobyl gallery.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon May 8th, 2006 at 04:10:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Road Injury: A Big Problem for Global Health (5 May 2006)

A major review published today in The Lancet has revealed the enormous burden of road traffic injuries in countries that can least afford to meet the health and economic costs.

The authors of the review, from the University of Auckland, the George Institute for International Health in Sydney and the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, believe that while motorisation has enhanced the lives of many individuals and societies, the benefits have come with a high price, highlighting a critical need to address road traffic injuries as a public health priority.

Associate Professor Shanthi Ameratunga, of the University of Auckland, reported that: "Although the number of lives lost in road crashes in high-income countries has decreased in recent decades, for the majority of the world's population the burden of road traffic injury is increasing dramatically in terms of societal and economic costs."

In 2002, 1.2 million people were killed and 50 million injured in road traffic crashes worldwide, costing an estimated US$518 billion. The economic costs of road crashes are estimated to exceed the total amount of development assistance low and middle income countries receive annually. "Without appropriate action, road traffic injuries are predicted to escalate from being the ninth leading contributor to the global burden of disease in 1990 to the third leading contributor by 2020," Dr Ameratunga added.

"The World Bank reports that in 20 years the global road death toll will increase by 66%, with an even greater divergence between rich and poor nations projected in the future. While a 28% reduction in fatalities is expected in high-income countries, increases in fatalities of 92% and 147% are anticipated in China and India, respectively."

I am voluntarily not bringing in the deaths of the coal industry so as not to turn this (too quickly) into that kind of brawl... Rather, my point is a combination of the following:

  • we seem to tolerate pretty outrageously high death toll to support our addictions to "mobility", "cheap energy", etc... even when such tolls could easily be massively reduced by fairly simple and well known policy prescriptions;

  • even if the exact number of deaths caused by the Chernobyl accident is unknown and/or downplayed, the perception of it as the worst industrial accident ever is firmly established, and the consequent taint of the whole nuclear industry is very real and has had very real consequences as a number of countries have given up on nuclear energy altogether. So, in effect, even if the number of deaths is in dispute, the policy consequences have happened nevertheless. In that, anti-nuclear advocates have been a lot more effective than road safety ones;

  • in such a context, how do we use the attention on the Chernobyl catastrophe and its deathly toll, even if temporary, to leverage that into action on other hecatombes? Can we mention other causes of massive death tolls (on the basis of "we are willing to do something about Chernobyl, let's do something for another, even bigger problem") or is this seen as an attempt at somehow reducing the importance of the Chernobyl toll?


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 07:39:56 AM EST
So, in effect, even if the number of deaths is in dispute, the policy consequences [of Chernobyl] have happened nevertheless. In that, anti-nuclear advocates have been a lot more effective than road safety ones;
Well, actually, there is a two-proged PR propaganda campaign by suporters of nuclear energy: a combination of "we must replace gas and coal with nuclear for Global Climate's sake" and "even Chernobyl wasn't as bad as we thought". The policy consequences can easily be reversed especially as a new generation of people who were never aware of Chernobyl become politically active (I was 10 when Chernobyl happened and aware of it, but new 18-year-old voters were not even born when it happened).

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 10:01:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, nuclear is much better than coal, especially the non RBMK variety.

The really hard debate is to get people to admit that we have to actually reduce energy consumption. Dissing nuclear does nothing to help this, it only helps stick with coal by default.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 12:47:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
we seem to tolerate pretty outrageously high death toll to support our addictions to "mobility", "cheap energy", etc... even when such tolls could easily be massively reduced by fairly simple and well known policy prescriptions;

Hear hear. Neither I nor De are advocates of cars :-)

even if the number of deaths is in dispute, the policy consequences have happened nevertheless.

Yes, but policies aren't for eternity. There is significant counter-push in both Sweden and Germany and Britain, for example. Thus how successful anti-nuclear adocates are remains to be seen. On the other side, crash tests, the spread of roundabouts outside France and Britain, the serialisation of ABS and airbags, and the consequent significant reduction in traffic deaths in European countries signal that road safety advocates have an effect, too. (If you'd protest this effect is slow to unable to percipitate into worst affected developig countries, then I have to point out that the same would be true to stringent Finnish-style nuclear safety rules would a nuclear rennaissance include a major buildup in the Third World.)

Can we mention other causes of massive death tolls (on the basis of "we are willing to do something about Chernobyl, let's do something for another, even bigger problem") or is this seen as an attempt at somehow reducing the importance of the Chernobyl toll?

If it is not posed as a false dichotomy, I at least wouldn't oppose using such rhetoric. But, would coal (in its least environmental-controlled form) be posited as 'the' alternative to nuclear, then I would of course disapprove.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 10:25:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]

would coal (in its least environmental-controlled form) be posited as 'the' alternative to nuclear, then I would of course disapprove.

Why "would"? Not only it very obviosuly IS, it's already happening. There are 2 nuclear plants being built (or decide) in the Western world, and somethign like 150 coal plants under way.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 12:48:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Huh!?

What business do you work in again?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 12:52:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wind?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 12:53:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeedy.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 01:06:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't understand your question.

I am pointing out the fact that coal-fired plants ARE being built left and right. Wind farms are also being built, but nowhere nearly enough of them to avoid the coal plants, sadly.

In the US, a number of gas-fired plants are switched to coal when it is feasible.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 01:25:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am pointing out the fact that coal-fired plants ARE being built left and right.

In response to a complaint that coal is painted 'the' alternative to nuclear by some. It's not the fact, it's the relevance.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 01:33:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, your replies could be read to make the following nonsensical argument: "Less wind is built than coal, less nuclear is built than wind, but we should build more nuclear because sadly not enough wind is built."

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 01:37:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's unfair and you know it.

As long as the debate is on "what to build" (supply-side issues rather than demande side issues) and that wind is not seen as a reliable (nor, by many, cheap) baseload source, then politicians and utilities will choose between coal and nuclear.

Coal is much less opposed than nuclear, and thus coal is being built.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 01:52:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's unfair and you know it.

Yes, that's why I didn't claim you actually made that claim, only that it can be read thus.

As long as the debate is on "what to build" (supply-side issues rather than demande side issues) and that wind is not seen as a reliable (nor, by many, cheap) baseload source, then politicians and utilities will choose between coal and nuclear.

That unnecessarily and unfairly constrains the debate to the narrowness of most politicians' views about wind power and load distribution today.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 02:00:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This sounds to me, alas, like a "lie back and like it" argument:  implicitly we're being told that conservation and sustainable practise are impossible, and therefore our only two choices are coal or nuclear -- since no other choices can accommodate the "growth cult" economic model (which is already faltering due to drawdown of resources other than energy, so why keep it on life support?), and it is tacitly assumed that we cannot possibly reduce demand except by catastrophe (which no reasonable person wants).  Jerome seems to be telling us that if we don't want nuclear, we'll get coal -- there is no third, or fourth, or fifth or sixth way -- so we'd better hold our noses and learn to love those warm and friendly isotopes.

I decry this as (a) defeatist and (b) rhetorical blackmail  :-)  I think there are plenty of practical reasons why nuke plants cannot possibly meet the imminent energy shortfall, and plenty of practical reasons why coal is a huge mistake.  Either one, to me, is a disastrous choice -- like being forced to choose Bush or Blair for World President.  But we'll have to do some more reading and reasoning together to present, and wrangle over, these points.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 10:19:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, as someone who does all he can to promote wind and conservation, I obviously agree that we shouldn't accept that dichotomy - but it IS the state of the debate for people who actually make the investment decisions, sadly, so we have to find a way to reach them or anti-nuke arguments will - as they do now - lead us to more coal.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon May 8th, 2006 at 03:21:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a fair point, but I note that the coal industry is the dirtiest and most lethal in the same places where governments don't bother about nuclear protesters either.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon May 8th, 2006 at 04:13:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Speaking of energy options, from a physics perspective, it's hard to see any fundamental reason why solar photovoltaic arrays should cost more than leaves of grass. On a global-warming time scale, it seems that we should be able to move technology a bit closer to the levels that physics allows, especially with biology sitting there, taunting us with the possibilities.

I've heard that Migeru may be looking into this :)

BTW, I ordered Fallen Dragon today, per your recommendation.


Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Mon May 8th, 2006 at 04:25:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Given that I run an entire web site critiquing the automobile transit paradigm and -- in many essays -- pointing out the skewed downplaying and/or disregard of road danger, the absurd hyping of cycling risk, etc. ... I think this criticism is a bit off target :-)  However I do plan to write something more in this series, explaining some of the reasons why people are more afraid of nuclear plants than of their cars.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 10:12:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, if one car or even one brand of car had killed 5 digits worth of people, I think there would be quite a stink :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 10:20:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would also point out that -- at least in the industrialised and organised West -- road fatality and injury statistics are fairly honestly kept and the numbers are a matter of public record.  There is not the consistent, continuing history of secrecy and coverups that has plagued the nuclear industry... well, more accurately that has helped the nuclear industry but plagued the public :-)  The FARS database in the US for example is a public resource and many road safety researchers -- including those who are vehemently anti-car -- use it to generate demographics, longitudinal studies, GIS-ref data, etc.  

I don't know of a highway or transit system in the organised, affluent West about which one could say that there was continuing great uncertainty about the number of road deaths over a 20 period in the history of any highway, intersection, or major town grid known to have higher than average lethality.

The public's indifference to the victims of the automobile transit paradigm is imho a qualitatively different thing from the cloud of obfuscation, foot-dragging, secrecy and spin control which seems to surround every nuclear accident.  In a future diary I'll be talking about this also :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 10:30:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course traffic accidents are available. But how much are they actually discussed. They are just statistics. Chernobyl victims, on the other hand, have become mythical in the public consciousness (possibly, by the way, precisely because of the obsfuscation and lies) and are "known" by everybody.

Chernobyl is a universal symbol of catastrophe and massive death. Cars are definitely NOT the symbol of a modern plague.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon May 8th, 2006 at 03:24:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My wife really hates me when I start talking about how it would be more effective for the government to allocate its money to issues where it can save the most lives for the same investment, rather than wasting it on stuff motivated by the outrage of the day. A typical example is that it makes more sense to focus safety investment in the transport sector on roads (roundabouts, restructuring of dangerous crossroads, safety ad campaigns, etc...) rather than on things like railway crossings, which cause a few deaths each year but generate tremendous amounts of outrage.

Similarly, there are health issues where smallish investments could yield statistical significant improvements. But, my wife asks, who will take care of rare diseases / orphan diseases?  And how can you justify policies that would basically mean that your son should have been left to die because his disease was rare and thus not "worth the investment"?

There's a clear argument to be made that orphan/rare diseases can only be tackled by public authorities because it is clearly not profitable for the private sector to invest in research in (what appear to be) narrow fields - and solidarity dictates that the community support such effort. So how is this compatible with the suggestion that the government focus its limited resources where it is most effective?

Not a simple question...

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 08:13:07 AM EST
  • what orphan diseases really need is fundamental research, and that is (i)usually a good investment overall, even if it is impossible to tell beforehand precisely what research will yield new breakthroughs, and thus (ii) definitely within the purview of the government, precisely for that reason that it needs to be spread over enough topics to have a chance to find the major new thing that will yield results/progress in many other sector;

  • there is a qualitative difference between investing EUR 1 billion to save a  average 50 statistical, unidentified lives (the "return" of building bridges instead of railway crossings), and investing EUR 20 million to save the life of one identified person (or doing that 50 times). One is in the realm of macro policies, and needs to be compared to other macro policies (say, investing EUR 1 billion in carbon scrubbers will save, statistically, 1,000 lives from respiratory diseases, for a net gain of 950 lives). The other is in the realm of solidarity, and public support for rare life accidents that one cannot bear on one's own;

  • limiting waste/inefficiency in macro policies will precisely free more resources for other smart macro policies AND for solidarity spending on individual, identified cases.

Does that make sense?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 08:23:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In terms of investment, Malaria is down there with the rare/orphan diseases. Maybe as Global Warming allows anopheles to migrate north into the Southern US and the Mediterranean basin the world will wake up and start investing in Malaria research proportionally to its impact.

Then again, for-profit medical research concentrates in treatment, not prevention. Malaria vaccine research is unlikely to get a lot of impetus from Big Pharma. Massive vaccination campaigns and worldwide eradication are a socialist policy. Today's world would never set out to eradicate Small Pox.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 10:06:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A typical example is that it makes more sense to focus safety investment in the transport sector on roads (roundabouts, restructuring of dangerous crossroads, safety ad campaigns, etc...) rather than on things like railway crossings, which cause a few deaths each year but generate tremendous amounts of outrage.

Two kind-of-counterpoints on this, one of more general significance, the other only for your example.

I wonder if this will make me appear even more cynical in the eyes of your wife, but there are deaths, and there is economic damage - and one accident in a railway crossing can cost more (in property damage, losses due to cancelled traffic, emergency services) than a hundred car accidents, and more than the costs to secure railway crossings. So here is the apparently cynical economics argument: it can make sense to attack a safety problem causing even very few deaths, if doing so saves money (which money, to show that this argument only appears cynical, could be spent on attacking other, less money-expensive but more deadly safety problems).

The other is that railway crossing accidents are road accidents (with the fault being that of a car driver in 95% of cases), though much of those tremendous amounts of outrage seem oblivious to that.

But, my wife asks, who will take care of rare diseases / orphan diseases?

Or indeed, who will take care of the persons behind the statistical numbers we discuss? Your wife's reaction reminds me of something De told me, but that'll wait until her next diary.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 10:40:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You have made an implicit choice to say that the loss of some number of people in one event is equivalent to the loss of the same number of people in multiple events. And you have ignored the effect of whether people perceive themselves as having control over events.

However, that's not how people think. Single events where lots of people die are much more interesting than multiple events. Furthermore, events where the victims were not in control of the situation are also interesting.

This is what causes people to get upset when a hundred people die in a single airplane accident, or a single building bombing, or a single chemical plant explosion. It doesn't matter that coal kills more people than nuclear energy, what matters is that the coal deaths happen one at a time spread out across the world, and the miners could have not gone into that line of work.

by asdf on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 05:32:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You note the two fundamental points (single event vs multiple event, and the illusion of control) that change the perceptions of these things, but they don't undermine my point, they only underline that we are poor, in general, at grasping probabilities and causality.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon May 8th, 2006 at 03:26:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Bravo!  A damn fine piece of research and writing.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot
by ATinNM on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 11:48:14 AM EST
Thanks, though for the record, I must emphasize to you and Sven that the research wasn't mine - I'm mostly just the translator/abridger :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 12:14:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you insist ...

"It's a damn fine piece of plagiarism using cut-and-paste."  :-)

Seriously, one aspect of research is combing through a mess of data looking for the nuggets of relevant information and then presenting that information in a coherent format.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 01:26:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thankyou so, so much, dodo and de anander.

this depth and professionalism in this study blow me away.

the horror of chernobyl has been swept under the media rug, just as pictures of hiroshima and nagasaki were forbidden to be shown after ww2.

we are manipulating matter in ways better left to science fiction, and the blowback is unconscionable.

the pictures slam the point home, and still we do not feel the hell those families feel, as we thought we were at a 'safe' distance...

and the numbers are royally fudged, as per.

the biggest myth of all is that in democracies, elected officials serve the interests of the people, by default.

nowhere is this discrepancy between myth and reality so painfully, glaringly obvious as it is in the behaviour of the nuclear industry, and its fiendish cousin the armament industry.

the insane numbers of missiles stockpiled from the 50's onwards should have clued us in on how fearful folly had grasped the wheel from sober reason, and in our panicky over-reach for verticality we had created a behemoth of greed and callous soul-lessness, as ugly as the skyscrapers, also symbols of similar compensatory projections.

easter island, anyone?

this delusional mentality is seen in the face and expression of hayden, the suggested replacement for goss.

rigid.....brainwashed.... possessed.

botpeople, reptilebrain-dominant walking landmines of chaos masked as its polar opposite of disciplined order, like rummy saying that of course he knew where the wmd's were: they were n. and s. and e. and w. of tikrit!

and the media faithfully stenoed down these crackhead ravings, and addlebrained voters nodded knowingly as they felt safer, at least he sounds like he knows what he's talking about....or something!

and now we're taught to believe we're backed into a corner because we didn't make enough noise in the right places these last 30 years...

and greenpeace is remiss because they don't know what to do with the waste!

should they shut up till then?

until they suss out how to undo what others had done?

how to reclose pandoras's box?

it's not about dissing nuclear power...it's about spreading the real truth about people who have hijacked the atom and made it the icon of hubris, mengelian destructiveness and deceit it has become.

bulls in a genetic china shop!

and yes conservation is the equal prong in the argument, and immediately addressable, at micro or macro levels.

indeed it's the linchpin to understanding how we may live in an ecologically respectful and appropriate manner, to avoid ending up the last chapter in j. diamond's collapse, on easter planet, starving and deformed at the feet of our stupid phallic golems and radioactive ghost towns!

what my intellectual ignorance confined me to feeling in my gut and on my 'skintuition', this diary had fleshed out and validated, along with my faith that this website will stay firmly on course for a wiser shore, where aberrant, and abhorrent nightmare scenarios like future chernobyls would never even make it onto the project table, let alone into rational, (with nuclear there is no more 'national') public or private energy policies.

and where good news about wind, tide and sun power will eventually reach and teach us.

thanks again for continuing to raise the blogbar so admirably!

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 10:22:04 PM EST
Also check Plutonium Page's diary over at dKos on the subject (I didn't knew, I only re-freshed my Kossack ID today).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon May 8th, 2006 at 03:57:37 PM EST


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