Nuclear Energy Fallacies | Radioactive Waste | Chernobyl Disaster

Inside back cover

Inside front cover

THE “NUCLEAR FREE ZONE” FALLACY Toward the latter part of last century officiallooking signs, like the one depicted on the front cover, sprouted on roadside poles in local government areas all around Australia. Their only real use was as a badge to identify the green political leanings of the governing body that erected them.
Scientifically speaking, such notices don‟t mean a darn thing. The notices are an example of post-modernist relativism, where words and phrases mean what the originators want them to mean. To an ardent greenie, nuclear free means a prohibition of anything involving radioactive materials, even banning the transport of radiopharmaceuticals for use in medical treatment. Less extreme activists take the signs as a ban on nuclear weapons and any other nuclear facility, whether military or civilian. I have some sympathy with a ban on nuclear weapons and only hope that the nuclear nonproliferation treaty succeeds in its intention, although it has been less than one hundred percent effective since it came into force. There is no such thing as a truly nuclear free zone anywhere in the known universe. Even in the near-perfect vacuum of inter-galactic space there are a few lonely atoms in every cubic kilometer. Those lonely atoms share their space with literally billions of neutrinos that are tiny elementary particles produced by nuclear reactions. Did you know that every square centimeter of your body is penetrated every second by 65 billion neutrinos from our Sun alone! Even at midnight they get you because the Earth is almost totally transparent to neutrinos. Atomic nucleii and nuclear radiation are everywhere, which is why the sign shown on the cover of this book is a sick joke. There are more than forty other sick jokes in this book. So don‟t go away. Read on and discover how much you and your fellow Australians have been shamefully misled over the years.

Nuclear Energy Fallacies
Here are the Facts That Refute Them
Second Edition

Colin Keay, PhD, DSc.

The Enlightenment Press


The author is a retired physicist and astronomer who, as an associate professor at the University of Newcastle for 24 years, taught nuclear and reactor physics to senior classes. These duties induced a deep suspicion of unsubstantiated claims on nuclear matters by persons and organisations promoting anti-nuclear agendas. In the interests of his students he began to identify and correct the disinformation, truth-twisting, false claims and plain lies that flood the media. As a scientist who has investigated phenomena governed by the inviolable laws of nature he finds it very difficult to understand why anti-nuclear activists refuse to believe the hard facts about energy, even when drawn to their attention on many occasions. In the interests of a better future for Australia it is imperative that disinformation and fallacies are dealt with accurately by presenting, as answers to them, the authentic verifiable facts surrounding nuclear electricity generation. He has no past or present connection with the nuclear industry.


Copyright ©2005 by Colin S Keay. All rights reserved. First published in Australia by The Enlightenment Press ISBN 0-9578946-5-1 Printed by Longworth & Goodwin Pty Ltd, NSW 2305


There are some countries in the world taking sound scientific advice from well-qualified experts. They are fortifying their economies - and giving themselves a future - by building safe, clean, environmentally friendly nuclear power plants. There are other countries where their decision makers have been overwhelmed by unscientific nonsense – sheer propaganda - from the self-proclaimed gurus and spin doctors of the green movement whose arguments are so weak they need to resort to lies and gross distortions to get their anti-nuclear message across. Those befuddled countries are sabotaging their own future prosperity. Would you buy a car from a salesman who you caught out lying to you? Aided by incompetent mechanics misrepresenting its condition? And further abetted by a deluge of advertising hype bulging with false claims? Surely you'd have more sense. Think about it. If nuclear electricity generation was as bad as it is made out to be, would the anti-nuclear activists need to resort to telling so many lies and half-truths to make their point? I'm writing this because I care for my five grandchildren and want them to live in a prosperous Australia with abundant energy to maintain a high standard of living and long life. When it comes to energy, the lifeblood of a healthy economy, there is no substitute in sight for non-polluting nuclear power. The sooner all fossil-fuel pollution is halted the better. The truth is that the so-called alternatives can never hope to contribute more than a fraction of the energy needs of a developed nation like Australia. To appreciate this point one must examine some of the widely publicised myths and fallacies about nuclear power, especially the prevalent scaremongering concerning safety issues. So let us start our mythbusting by exploding the many false claims about the effects of the Chernobyl disaster.


"250,000 people have so far died as a result of the Chernobyl tragedy." As claimed by the Australian Conservation Foundation on page 3 of a colour supplement titled "Australia at the Nuclear Crossroads" in their 1999 February publication "Habitat Australia".
This false assertion is quite ridiculous and totally groundless. Similar exaggerations sometimes run to seven or even eight figures, limited only by the imagination of the authors. "Fifteen million may die over the next ten years" a gullible national newspaper (The Australian) blathered on 1994 May 12. Interestingly, Peter Garrett, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, attributed 30,000 deaths to the Chernobyl disaster in an article he wrote in The Age on 2001 April 29. This is a substantial reduction from the ACF's earlier figure. If they reduce their claim three more times by a similar factor of eight they will at long last get close to the facts. The most up to date and most authoritative estimate comes from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). Following an exhaustive investigation of Chernobyl's casualties, UNSCEAR reported in June 2000 that apart from 1800 cases of thyroid cancer in children exposed at the time of the accident, there is no evidence of increased overall cancer incidence or mortality fourteen years later. Most thyroid cancers are completely curable. It is estimated that about ten children have died from this cause, bringing the total Chernobyl death toll from radiation to around forty. The thyroid cancers could have been avoided had the distribution of protective potassium iodide tablets been undertaken immediately after the accident, instead of almost a day too late. There was, however, an inexcusable loss of life first brought to notice by the Paris-based Institute for Nuclear Protection and Safety. In a review "Chernobyl - 10 Years On" they reported that "The main effect observed was an increase in voluntary abortions in several countries just after the accident." An American nuclear expert, Bertram Wolfe, calculated that in Europe 50,000 needless abortions resulted from fears induced by alarmist pronouncements and scary news reports about the Chernobyl disaster. Doing the sums reveals that his claim represents about one percent of


pregnant women being worried enough to abort during the first two trimesters. This shocking incidence is quite believable considering the totally unjustified alarm whipped up by irresponsible anti-nuclear scare campaigns. So the Chernobyl death toll stands at about 40 caused by radiation; three due to mechanical accidents at the scene; an unknowable number caused by the stresses of relocation of those forcibly (and in hindsight mostly unnecessarily) evacuated from the fallout zones; and the estimated 50,000 needless abortions. Thus the majority of deaths were due to factors only indirectly connected to the disaster. What about the long-term cancers? Studies of the Japanese atomic bomb survivors indicate that the cancers caused by the Chernobyl disaster will be practically impossible to identify amid the normal cancer mortality rate. UNSCEAR's surveys have not so far identified any, as mentioned above. Incidentally, on the very day Chernobyl hit the headlines there was also a report of a dam collapse in Sri Lanka costing over 2,000 lives. And, in 1984, 6,954 died in the Bhopal chemical disaster in India. These cost many more lives than Chernobyl, but Chernobyl still generates horror stories in the media while the other two disasters are virtually forgotten.

"Those participating in the Chernobyl clean-up slowly but surely killed themselves." Excerpt from an article "Chemical Food for Thought" by Phillip Adams in The Australian newspaper 2000 April 15.
This well-known national commentator claimed that "Almost 15,000 people involved in the Chernobyl clean-up have died from exposure to radiation." and added "As they tackled the shut-down and the clean-up they were slowly but surely killing themselves." It must be said that this was true for the workers who gave their lives in the early hours of the disaster. Those heroes were included among the initial toll of 31 fatalities. However the figure of almost 15,000 works out at close to 1,000 deaths per year for the middleage `rectifiers' (those conscripted into clean-up tasks). This is simply the expected natural death rate for a similar cohort of males


from regions of the old Soviet Union well away from Chernobyl and the fall-out zone. Again we quote the June 2000 UNSCEAR Report: "There is no scientific evidence of increases in overall cancer incidence or mortality or in non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure. The risk of leukaemia, one of the main concerns owing to its short latency time, does not appear to be elevated, not even among the recovery operation workers." When challenged, Phillip Adams candidly responded "You're right. I was wrong. I quoted a usually impeccable source …". Something that seems to happen in the media all too often.

Australian annual averages in microsieverts

Radon gas inside home Local surroundings Internal body radioisotopes Radioactivity in food Cosmic ray dose at sea level Medical and dental x-rays Jet travel Weapons test fallout worldwide TV viewing Coal-fired power worldwide Sleeping with partner Nuclear power generation worldwide Other miscellaneous sources Typical total (Lethal adult dose:

700 500 350 300 260 100 25 15 6 5 2 <1 30 2300

5,000,000 - 6,000,000)


"…on April 26, 1986, the (Chernobyl) atomic explosion and the reactor meltdown…" From the article "Pulling the plug at Chernobyl" by Ian Traynor, Sydney Morning Herald, 2000 December 14.
It is often asserted that the Chernobyl power reactor number four suffered an atomic (or nuclear) explosion. It was not a nuclear explosion. An uncontrolled surge of reactor power supplied the energy for a violent steam explosion that blew the cap off the reactor, thus exposing its core. This ignited in the reactor‟s graphite moderator a fire that burned for several days, spewing much of the resident core radioactivity into the air. That such a disaster could happen was due to two serious design flaws in Soviet-designed RBMK reactors, plus a series of violations of safe operating procedures. The design flaw that allowed such a massive release of radioactive material was lack of a containment structure. In order to be licensed, Western power reactors must be operated within containment vessels. That is why only a wisp of radioactive xenon gas escaped from the Three Mile Island unit 2 reactor when it‟s supply of cooling water was shut off and the core partially melted. The other flaw is known as a 'positive void coefficient', which can arise in a few water-cooled reactors. A power reactor with this design flaw could be licensed to operate in the West only if it had other compensatory properties. RBMK reactors are only in danger when operated under unusual conditions, that were known to the designers in Moscow but not to the operators, whose operating manuals were updated in this regard a month after the disaster! Briefly, what happens in such an event is the sudden formation of steam bubbles ('voids') which absorb fewer neutrons than liquid water, thereby causing a sudden increase in reactivity that creates further voids and the consequent runaway condition produces a steam explosion in a matter of seconds. It was not a nuclear explosion (on a time-scale of microseconds) otherwise the whole station would have been totally destroyed. As it was, the twin reactor in the same building was fairly quickly returned to duty. Six thousand staff continued to operate the three undamaged reactors at Chernobyl for many years until the last one was shut down in December 2000.



"Chernobyl released as much long-lasting radioactive poison into the Earth's environment as all the nuclear bombs ever exploded" Statement by Norman Rubin in "Energy Probe". Toronto, Canada 1986.
The release of radioactive isotopes by the Chernobyl disaster was only a fraction of the amounts produced by atmospheric bomb tests prior to the 1963 Test Ban Treaty. Of the highly active isotope cesium-137, Chernobyl released about one megacurie, while UNSCEAR reported that bomb tests produced 35 megacuries. Chernobyl also released 700 curies of plutonium-239, compared with atmospheric bomb tests that produced a total of 350,000 curies, or 500 times as much. This sounds a lot but we should not lose sight of the fact that their contribution to global radiation levels has been very low. More to the point, the contribution to global radioactivity from the nuclear power industry, even when Chernobyl is included, is only about one percent of the military burden. In the words of Sir Fred Hoyle "Married couples get more radiation by sleeping together than they get from the nuclear industry."

"The uncontrolled release of even 5 or 10 percent of (its radioactivity) could bring instantaneous death to persons up to 60-100 miles from a large fission-power reactor." From "Unacceptable Risk: the Nuclear Power Controversy" by M C Olson, Bantam Books, 1976, page 19.
The answers to the two previous claims indicate that this statement has no credibility whatever. Made prior to the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents this pronouncement was designed to scare the daylights out of anyone unaware of the facts. If nothing else, the Chernobyl experience has proved that Olson's scenario was grossly exaggerated. This ridiculous claim was later aired in relation to the much smaller Lucas Heights research reactor.



“Nuclear reactors consistently release millions of curies of radioactive isotopes into the air and water each year. These releases are unregulated.” Assertion by Dr Helen Caldicott in The Australian Higher Education Supplement, 2005 April 13.
Not true. The releases are small, thoroughly regulated and extensively documented in sources available to the public. In normal operation nuclear power plants emit very little material that is radioactive because most of it is confined within the fuel assemblies, which in turn are enclosed within the reactor vessel inside a containment structure – the typical large dome you see at a nuclear power station. The multiple layers of containment allow tight control of emissions. However there has to be a working fluid (usually referred to as the coolant) that is circulated through the containment barriers to transfer heat energy from the reactor core to the turbo-alternators that produce the electricity. In most power reactors the coolant is water that transports the heat energy in the form of super-heated steam. Gaseous fission products that leak from the reactor core are carried with the steam and are scavenged at the condensers that turn the steam back into water for return to the reactor. The details of this process differ for boiling water reactors (BWRs) compared with pressurised water reactors (PWRs). The radioactive gases may be pumped to holding tanks or stored in activated charcoal for several months to allow decay of biologically significant isotopes such as iodine-131 with a half-life of 8 days. Then the gases are passed through a high-efficiency filter and vented to the atmosphere. By then the remaining radioactive gas is krypton-85, which is a very minor hazard. If the reactor is situated in a densely populated area the gases may be condensed cryogenically and transported to a remote region for harmless release. As an indicator of the effectiveness of these provisions the UNSCEAR 2000 report states that emissions from nuclear operations give the average person a radiation dose of less than 0.2 microsieverts per year. Compare this with the average annual dose from natural background radiation of 2,000 microsieverts or more. The same report states that the radiation dose from burning coal to make electricity is between one and ten microsieverts per year.


"Nuclear power plants may present as great a threat to the survival of life on earth as does nuclear war." Statement in the book "Nuclear Madness" by Dr Helen Caldicott, Jacaranda Press, 1978, page 106.
This is pure hyperbole. How this could possibly be so has never been explained anywhere. It is purely a figment of Dr Caldicott's hyperactive imagination.

Leading Anti-Nuclear Nonsense Collector
Any award must go to Dr Helen Caldicott, whose name appears on more of the fallacies in this book than anyone else‟s. She repeatedly puts forth blatant untruths even after her attention has been drawn to the errors. Dr Caldicott is a medical practitioner qualified in pediatrics. She has no qualifications in nuclear science that we know of. Her utterances suggest that her knowledge and basic understanding of the subject is minimal. This was evident in her anti-nuclear tirade in The Australian newspaper, where she committed an error so elementary that a couple of readers‟ letters took the trouble to correct her. She had claimed that “Tritium is composed of three atoms of hydrogen”. Not so. Tritium is hydrogen having a proton and two neutrons. Dr Caldicott became an anti-nuclear activist in 1971 in reaction to the French nuclear-bomb tests in the Pacific. She is a leading critic of the new Lucas Heights non-military research reactor.


"The China Syndrome" - a reactor meltdown could burn right through the Earth. The 1979 epic Hollywood movie of that name was based on this unrealistic notion.
In the movie "The China Syndrome", starring spunky anti-nuclear activist Jane Fonda, a power reactor core meltdown was depicted as releasing enough heat to melt its way unstoppably through the Earth and tunnel all the way to China! This infantile scenario, designed expressly for its scare value, is absolutely impossible. Even if the core of a power reactor could conceivably melt its way down to the Earth's molten mantle it would then be but an infinitesimal droplet in the enormous volume of radioactive magma already there. In fact it is heat from natural radioactivity of potassium-40 and uranium-238 that has maintained the Earth's core and mantle in a molten state since the Earth was born. The China syndrome was thoroughly disproved within days of the movie's premiere when there was a substantial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. There the molten core penetrated only a fraction of an inch into the base of the reactor containment vessel, completely failing to breach its six to eight inch thickness. It is not the first time a movie has been based on make-believe.

"No nuclear reactors have been safely decommissioned, and who pays the bill?" A claim from an anonymous anti-nuclear protest pamphlet, probably published by students.
Not a problem. To date, over 70 commercial power reactors, research reactors and a number of fuel-cycle facilities have been retired from operation. Of those, many have been completely dismantled and their sites restored to green-field condition. One of the first was the American Shippingport power reactor which operated from 1957 to 1982 when it became uneconomic due to its age and limited capacity. In the space of five years its site was rehabilitated and given the all-clear for unrestricted use. In Europe the 100 MWe Niederaichbach nuclear power station was decommissioned and its site released by 1995 for agricultural use. It is usual to wait up to 30 years before dismantling a nuclear reactor so as to allow for most of the interior radioactivity to decay, after the fuel rods are removed.


Nuclear power reactors are a unique source of electricity in that the costs of decommissioning are by law factored into their operating costs in most countries outside the former eastern bloc. Therefore they do not present an impost on the public purse when the time comes for them to be decommissioned. Can the same be said for the structures of other power generating plant?

"There is no good way to dispose of nuclear waste, as every alert schoolboy knows." A throw-away line from Dava Sobel's international best-seller "Longitude", which is the story of marine chronometer development and has nothing whatever to do with nuclear matters.
The safe disposal of nuclear wastes is only a political problem. It has never been much of a physical problem. Any doubts on the issue were totally overcome thanks to the work of the late Professor Ted Ringwood of Canberra, who developed the Synroc mineralisation procedure. This Australian invention locks highlevel radioactive isotopes into an exceptionally stable matrix of selected minerals, mainly titanates. Out of the process comes a dense ceramic rock-like cylinder, which can be buried safely. Its level of radiation depends on how long the radioactive elements have had to cool from the initial high activity they had in a reactor and how much the total activity has been reduced by dilution with non-radioactive substances prior to the process. Also, if fissile materials are disposed of in Synroc their recovery would be extremely difficult at best. It is very much simpler for terrorists to steal a nuclear weapon. Nuclear weapons need guards far more than blocks of radioactive rock buried hundreds of metres underground. Another highly effective method for high-level radwaste disposal has been developed over the past 20 years in Sweden where they have selected copper as the metal to encapsulate their reactor wastes. They plan to start deep geological disposal in 2015 with casks of waste each weighing 15 tonnes containing 2 tonnes of spent fuel. The Swedes claim their method can be guaranteed safe for at least 100,000 years with an expected endurance far longer, by which time the wastes will be much less radioactive than the original uranium ore. All manner of hypothetical problems have been dreamed up concerning radioactive waste repositories. The best rebuttal is the


natural nuclear reactor complex at Oklo in Africa which, because of the presence of water as moderator, started up spontaneously in a uranium ore deposit about two billion years ago. It ran spasmodically at at least six adjacent sites for several million years. Excavation and analysis of the ore body proved that most of the high level waste remained immobilised at the reactor sites despite the running groundwater. When it comes to demonstrations, Mother Nature prefers actions to empty words and placards. Leading environmentalist, Professor James Lovelock, stated on an ABC interview (Lateline, 2004 October 18) “Whenever nuclear waste is talked about, people start rabbiting on how it will destroy the whole biosphere. This is absolute nonsense. It‟s a tiny quantity, a small lump of stuff.” Interestingly, the recent concept, by Nobel Laureate Professor Carlo Rubbia, of an accelerator-driven nuclear power reactor has the potential to make the disposal issue a non-event. His reactor design is inherently safe and has the ability to get rid of long-lived nuclear wastes (trans-uranics) by a nuclear incineration process. Furthermore, besides extending the world's supplies of fissile reactor fuel, breeder reactors are also good incinerators of highlevel radioactive wastes. Breeder reactors are so important to the future that they warrant a section to themselves later on.

“The management and disposal of high-level radioactive spent fuel from the nuclear fuel cycle is one of the most intractable problems facing the nuclear power industry throughout the world.” Summary by Jim Dawson of the MIT study of the future of nuclear power (PHYSICS TODAY, 2003
December, page 34). Six months later, the same journal published this reply by Edwin Norbeck, of the University of Iowa, who wrote “In reality, it is a problem that exists only in people‟s minds. “For the first 20 years or so of operation, a power plant stores spent fuel underwater in a small pool. When the pool becomes full, the older fuel – for which most of the radioactivity has decayed away -–is removed from the water and stored in casks on site. An area the size of a football field is adequate for storing the spent fuel from hundreds of years of a power plant‟s operation. Considering the huge number of kilowatt-hours that are produced, the problem should be regarded as insignificant, rather than „intractable‟.


“The spent fuel is valuable and should be kept in a manner that allows easy retrieval. It still holds about 97% of the original potential energy but may be even more valuable for the fission products it contains. To give one example, rhodium, a platinum metal, makes up about 2% of the fission products, and the price of rhodium fluctuates between the price of gold and ten times that. “Rhodium has many uses and would replace platinum in many applications if the price could be reduced to a more reasonable value. Fresh fission-product rhodium contains traces of isotopes with half-lives of 2.9 and 3.3 years. It is just a matter of time until these radioactivities decay to negligible levels. The material in US spent fuel is worth billions of dollars and gets more valuable every day as the shorter-lived activities die away.”

"High level nuclear waste threatens human life for 250,000 years." Statement by Giz Watson BSc (Env. Sci.), Greens MLC, WA Parliament, 1999.
This period of time is ten times the half-life of plutonium-239, by which time its radioactivity will have been reduced by a factor of a thousand except for the activity (which is low) of its radioactive daughter elements. A similar result may be obtained merely by diluting the plutonium by a factor of a thousand with a suitable non-radioactive mineral. This is the "dilute and disperse" approach that is effectively what is done now with the radioactive ash from coal-fired power stations. In fact the amounts involved from the entire nuclear power industry are small enough to make this a feasible proposition, if only it was politically acceptable. When it comes to danger from radioactivity, high-level reactor wastes, including the plutonium, will have decayed in the span of one thousand years to the level of radioactivity of the original uranium ore. By then it is only mildly radioactive and can be handled with little protection. After 100,000 years there will be more toxicity in the ground from the natural radioactivity of the rock above the waste repository than from the waste itself.



"Plutonium is one of the most toxic substances known". Statement on p224 of "Cosmos" by Carl Sagan. Paul Brown, writing in The Guardian Weekly (2000 May 18) goes further, branding plutonium as "the most toxic substance in the world", while the 1995 edition of the popular Hutchinson Encyclopedia describes it as "the most toxic substance known".
They couldn't all be wrong, could they? Well, they are definitely all wrong. Let the facts speak for themselves. As far as dangerous radioactive elements go, plutonium-239 is not even in the top ten*. In soluble form two of the isotopes of radium are 100 times more toxic than soluble forms of plutonium. By inhalation, naturally occurring actinium-227 is the most dangerous radionuclide, 16 times worse than plutonium-239. Thorium-232, in fourth place among the ten most toxic, is very common, especially in beach sand deposits. By ingestion, all compounds of radioactive lead-210 are more than twice as dangerous radiologically as the most toxic compound of plutonium. When it comes to toxic or poisonous chemical elements, plutonium is scarcely in the running. In the massive Handbook of Toxicology of Metals it does not rate a mention, except in passing within the entry for uranium. One aspect rarely mentioned is that non-radioactive elements have an infinite half-life - they never decay away to become less harmful elements. Deadly elements like thallium retain their toxicity forever. Where chemical compounds are considered, cyanides are far more to be feared. Then there are highly toxic organic chemicals, such as the organochlorides. The herbicide and pesticide sprays found in the average garden shed are more likely to cause harm than the majority of radioactive substances. And as for 'natural' chemicals, curare and hemlock will dispatch you when plutonium won't. Ask Socrates. [*See the effective dose tables given in an editorial in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry, Vol. 58, No. 2, 1995]


"Half a kilogram of plutonium, spread evenly around the world, is enough to induce lung cancer in every person on Earth." A widely publicised version of Ralph Nader's 1975 claim, at a speech at LaFayette College, that a pound of plutonium could kill 8 billion people.
This claim is totally absurd. To share that amount of plutonium among the world's population would yield a dose of less than one tenth of a microgram of plutonium per person. Then it would have to be carefully delivered to every individual. That such an idea could have any currency at all rests on the discredited "hot-particle theory" where a single speck of plutonium lodged in the lung was supposed to eventually produce a cancerous lesion. Such a cancer, if initiated, would show up later in life in competition with those caused by cigarette smoking and air pollution. A more damning rebuttal of this claim stems from the nuclear weapon tests conducted in the atmosphere prior to the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty of 1963. Before that ban came into effect the explosions of atomic and hydrogen bombs released somewhere between three and eight tonnes of plutonium into the atmosphere in the finely divided form demanded by the hotparticle theory. Noting that life expectancies across most of the globe have not fallen dramatically since 1963 suggests that ten thousand times half a kilogram of plutonium is still not enough to produce the dire effect predicted. An American expert on risk analysis, Professor Bernard Cohen, has publicly challenged anti-nuclear activist Ralph Nader that he, Cohen, will eat as much plutonium as Nader will eat pure caffeine, a substance that is comparably dangerous. The unaccepted challenge is now (2005) nearly three decades old. Cohen complains that he has written Nader and his supporter Senator Ribicoff personal letters without any reply from either of them. Another scientist outraged by the specious claims about plutonium was Dr Eric Voice, who worked at British nuclear facilities at Dounreay and Harwell. A firm believer in nuclear power generation, he determined to prove in a most dramatic way that Nader was wrong. In his seventies, Dr Voice volunteered to be a human guinea pig and was injected with plutonium-237, a more active isotope than plutonium-239. He died in 2004 at the age of 80 of motor neurone disease – not radiation induced cancer.


"Plutonium is the most carcinogenic substance in the world". This and the previous claim are variants of plutonium being described as the "world's most dangerous substance" as in the 1979 book "The Deadly Element - The Story of Uranium" by Lennard Bickel, published by Macmillan, London.
This is contradicted by the close medical observation for more than forty years of workers at American nuclear weapon facilities, hundreds of whom were in very close contact with plutonium. At the Rocky Flats plant it has been reported that enough plutonium to make a bomb was retrieved from the air-conditioning ducts! According to Cohen (1990) “There is no direct or epidemiological evidence that the toxicity of plutonium has ever caused a human death anywhere in the world.”

"A single nuclear particle may initiate a cancer or mutation." Dr Helen Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, states "… it takes only one radioactive atom, one cell, and one gene to initiate the cancer or mutation cycle." From "Nuclear Madness". Jacaranda Press, 1978, page 34.
Here the weasel word 'may' is very significant because the chances are so extremely small. Cancer induction is a complex process with, in general, at least three stages of initiation. So a single particle can only be responsible for a cancer if the predisposing events (not necessarily radiation related) have occurred at the same site. This is not surprising. The odds for exposure to a single extraneous nuclear particle causing a cancer have to be exceedingly low because every minute roughly one third of a million nuclear particles zap us internally from the decay of the radioactive constituents (mainly potassium) of our bodies. Adding to that we must also contend with exposure from external sources such as cosmic rays, radon and other normal environmental radioactivity. In fact we live out our lives in an ocean of nuclear radiation and would be blissfully unaware of it if it were not for nuclear science.


In primeval times living creatures evolved under conditions of higher nuclear radiation exposure than today and built up efficient defence mechanisms. Humans can readily deal with the effects of exposures twenty or more times greater than normal. Micrococcus radiophilus bacteria, discovered thriving in reactor cooling systems, survive nuclear radiation levels over a million times higher. Natural radiation levels might cause two or three DNA lesions per body cell per year. Compare that rate with the spontaneous DNA lesions which occur at a rate of about 70 million per cell per year. If our immune systems could not handle and repair such damage the human race would have become extinct long ago. For that reason, if no other, low level radiation exposure is not a health problem.

"There is no safe level of exposure to nuclear radiation." Dr Rosalie Bertell, in testimony given under cross-examination, Court of Ontario, Canada, 1984 April 18, stated "… they've never found a threshold. So at every level that has been tested, there has been an effect." In the same year Dr Bertell gave similar testimony to the Sizewell B Inquiry in Great Britain.
This concept is refuted by considerable evidence that there is a threshold below which exposure to nuclear radiation is harmless and actually beneficial in moderation. But over the years radiation protection authorities have acted very conservatively by adopting the LNT (Linear, No Threshold) hypothesis that, in effect, postulates no safe exposure level. It errs very much on the side of caution, as it should, but at least sensibly ignores baseless claims that low radiation doses are more harmful than even their cautious LNT approach would indicate. However in 1980 Professor T D Luckey published "Hormesis with Ionising Radiation", citing over 1,000 studies of plants and animals that demonstrated beneficial effects from low levels of radiation. An increasing number of experts in the field are accepting that moderate levels of nuclear radiation do more good than harm to human beings. Patrons of spa resorts (where radiation levels are well above normal) have realised this advantage all along!


Over the past couple of decades research at many laboratories, especially in Japan, has confirmed the health-giving properties of low-level nuclear radiation which tones up the body's immune system. The Japanese hormesis findings were summarised in 1993 by Professor S Kondo in his book "Health Effects of Low-level Radiation". If the idea of low doses of radiation being beneficial is hard to accept, consider the large number of trace elements essential to the human metabolism in small amounts but harmful in excess. For example in 1975 it was proved that arsenic, which everyone knows to be highly poisonous, is actually vital for human health in very minute quantities (Lenihan 1988). Similarly with most other essential trace elements. It seems that living organisms, as they evolved to higher forms on this planet, exploited the variety of elements available to them. This process took place in an ancient environment with higher radiation levels than now, so it is hardly surprising that our ancestral lifeforms learned to take advantage of radiation during their evolutionary development.
[See my book “Nuclear Radiation Exposed” for a full discussion of this topic]

"People living near nuclear reactors and facilities suffer increased rates of leukemias." Editorial "Leukaemia and nuclear installations" by V Beral, British Medical Journal, 1990 February 17.
This editorial was written by Sydney-trained Dr Valerie Beral, Director of a Cancer Epidemiology Unit in Oxford and discusses the conclusions of two papers in the journal. The sub-heading of the editorial is rarely cited. It reads "Occupational exposure of fathers may be the explanation (of leukemia clusters)". Note the word 'may'. Dr Beral was being cautious, and with good reason. The research referred to was undertaken by a team headed by a professor of medical statistics. Upon scrutiny, the two papers, with the professor as lead author, exemplify the old adage 'there are lies, damn lies and statistics'. The papers violate two of the cardinal principles of statistical analysis. In the first place their sampling (of nuclear installations) was incomplete, omitting many candidate facilities and inviting the suspicion that they committed the statistical sin of selecting favourable study sites. What can one expect when the authors admit that their study was triggered by a TV documentary that featured localised clusters of


leukemias found near the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing facility in England and the Dounreay fast breeder reactor in Scotland. Dr Beral rightly pointed out that "… the children of other nuclear workers need to be studied before firm conclusions can be drawn." She further indicated that "The only other relevant human data available are on the 7,400 children of Japanese men who survived the atomic bomb explosions, and these show no hint of increased risk of leukemias in the offspring." She concludes by observing that "The nuclear industry and its workers have a good record for limiting exposure and for collaborating with independent researchers in studying the health of the workers." The second cardinal statistical sin committed in the study of leukemia clusters was to completely ignore those with no nuclear facility connection. There are clusters of childhood leukemias in New Zealand, for example, where nuclear facilities are notably absent. Those non-nuclear related clusters could have been used as a control for the study. Clusters of leukemias appear to be more related to shifting populations bringing viral contagions to a region than to anything else. There has been some research conducted on this possibility but it is probably fair to say that the jury is still out for any firm verdict on the viral hypothesis.

"The Sellafield reprocessing plant is a danger to babies and pregnant women." This claim appeared in 1994 in a Greenpeace advertising campaign.
British Nuclear Fuels Limited, operators of the Sellafield plant, took Greenpeace Holland (a registered Dutch company) to court. The court ruled that the advertisements were unlawful and Greenpeace were ordered to pay damages and court costs of US$100,000. When given the choice of publishing immediate retractions or paying further damages, Greenpeace opted to pay the damages rather than advertise that its claim was false.



"Workers in nuclear power stations suffer reduced fertility." Claim quoted by reporter Ilya Gridneff in a news item in the Newcastle Herald, 1999 August 6.
When challenged by me, the professor of biology interviewed by the reporter admitted (by letter, which I have) that there is no sound evidence whatever to support the claim. He insists the reporter misunderstood what had been said. In fact the radiation exposure of workers in nuclear plants is lower than what the public receive in the granite edifice of New York's Grand Central Station.

"Nuclear power is the world's most dangerous business" Quote from an article "The nuclear winter draws near. The radiation industry is being exposed. And about time, too." by George Monbiot in The Guardian, 2000 March 30.
On the contrary, there is scarcely an industry with a better, more thoroughly documented record of safety than the nuclear electricity industry. It is subject to the most stringent scrutiny. There have been no lives lost due to radiation except for the Chernobyl disaster. The 1999 September 13 Tokaimura accident was not connected with Japan's civil power program. The three workers who died were preparing a batch of special fuel for an experimental reactor unconnected with power generation. Even if Chernobyl is included in the statistics, the nuclear power industry still ranks among the safest industries on this planet, according to professional risk analysts. And so it should be, because outside the former Soviet bloc, nuclear power production enjoys an unblemished record where radiation related deaths are concerned. In fact there have been none in more than ten thousand reactor-years of operation. Choosing Great Britain as an example because it has the most nearly equal mix of coal, gas and nuclear-fuelled stations we can get a meaningful comparison of their relative hazards. Statistics show that over a fourteen year period the death tolls that arose from non-radiation-related industrial accidents in Britain's three main electricity industries were: coal 783, gas 121 and nuclear 10. Even if the latter figure was inflated by a factor of ten the nuclear power industry would still rate as the safest.


"Not one scientist is prepared to state categorically that there is no risk of a nuclear accident." Statement (abridged) by Walter Bass, Turramurra, in the Sydney Morning Herald, 2000 March 11.
This claim is true enough, but is deliberately misleading. It takes no account of the risks associated with everyday events such as crossing the road. No serious scientist would be so foolish as to make such an assertion. There is no activity whatever known to man (even sleeping in bed!) where it could be warranted. The best that anyone can hope for is an impartial assessment of relative risk.

Losses due to various risk factors: Days

Living in poverty Cigarette smoking Working as a coal miner Seven kilograms overweight Motor vehicle accidents Activities where drowning is possible Coffee (3 cups a day) Birth control pills Airline crashes Living near a nuclear power plant

3,500 2,300 1,100 450 180 40 26 5 1 0.4

Note: Because there are no nuclear power reactors in Australia for comparison, the above figures apply to the United States.


Competent risk analysts place nuclear accidents very low on the scale of danger: below civil aircraft mortality, which we accept without humbug, and even below the very slight risk of perishing as a result of an asteroid or comet impact. Over and over again the Chernobyl disaster is cited as evidence that the risk of nuclear electricity generation is unacceptably high. Chernobyl was a totally inexcusable event, for which some of the culpable were jailed, but the sober assessment of its death toll by UNSCEAR (already mentioned) paints a very different picture. In fact risk analyses taking the Chernobyl disaster into account still show that coal-fired power stations are collectively of vastly greater danger to health.

"Uranium mining is not safe." One of the seven 'key areas' once identified in the Sustainable Energy and Anti-Uranium Service web-site.
All mining is inherently dangerous. One can only compare levels of risk. Currently the safety standards for uranium miners are the highest in the mining industry. Since the 1950's exposure to dust and radiation have been stringently controlled. The Australian Radiation Protection And Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) by law maintains lifetime statistics by processing all the radiation monitoring badges worn by all radiation workers including uranium miners. There is no evidence of ill-effects among Australian uranium miners, who tend to stay long-term in the industry because of the good working conditions. As the above table reveals, coal-mining in the United States is a highly risky occupation. In China and the Ukraine the extremely high death rate of their coal-miners is one of the many reasons they cite for strongly favoring nuclear power generation. We also note that the world‟s nuclear power generation leader, France, recently (2004) closed its last remaining coal mine. Ukraine would like to follow suit: as we go to press they have just announced a proposal to build eleven more power reactors in addition to the fifteen they have now in operation.


"The uranium for this (Hiroshima) bomb came from Radium Hill in South Australia." A statement found in a Uniting Church booklet issued by the Rev. Ian Yule, 1977 November 4, (five weeks before election day).
Prior to World War 2, minute amounts of radium were mined at Radium Hill for medical use. Uranium was first mined there in the mid-1950s. The uranium used in the Hiroshima bomb came mostly from the Belgian Congo, as recorded in Richard Rhodes' revealing book "The Making of the Atomic Bomb".

“The (uranium) enrichment facility at Paducah, Kentucky, requires the electrical output of two 1000-megawatt coal-fired plants. “… this (Paducah) facility and another at Portsmouth, Ohio, release from leaky pipes 93 percent of the chlorofluorocarbon gas emitted yearly in the US.” Assertion by Dr Helen Caldicott in the Higher Education Supplement to The Australian, 2005 April 13.
Where to begin? For a start, there is now only one enrichment plant in the United States: the one at Paducah. It obtains electricity from the Tennesee Valley Authority which delivers about 40 percent from non-emitting nuclear and hydro plants. Dr Caldicott twists the truth by implying that CFC gas emissions result from the uranium enrichment process. Paducah does not produce CFCs: they are employed as a refrigerant for safety reasons. Modern enrichment plants employing centrifuges do not require them. There is some leakage of CFCs into the environment from the facility‟s refrigerators but the amount is kept within regulatory limits set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Since Freon, the CFC involved, is no longer manufactured in the US the gas has had to be scavenged from recycled home and car air-conditioning units. However a CFC leakage reduction program will remain active until the time a license is granted for a modern centrifuge facility.


Why Enrich Uranium Anyway?
Only a few reactor designs can operate with unenriched natural uranium as fuel where only 0.7 percent is the easy fissionable uranium-235. The rest is uranium-238 which, by itself, is known as depleted uranium. Reactors that can run on natural or very low-enriched uranium need to be large. Examples include the Canadian CANDUs and the ill-fated Soviet RBMK (Chernobyl) designs. As history shows, these two are contrasting cases in terms of safety. Fuel enrichment permits smaller units for a given power output. Typical civil power reactors employ fuel enriched to four or five percent, which is classed as reactor-grade uranium. On the other hand, uranium for weapons must have at least 93 percent uranium-235, which requires more than twenty times as much enrichment as does reactor-grade fuel. Thus weapongrade enrichment of uranium is a far more demanding task.

"There is no way to separate 'peaceful' nuclear power from nuclear weaponry." From a 1984 hearing brief by Dan Heap, NDP Member, Canadian Parliament.
Not so. Any decision not to keep them completely separate is purely political. One only has to compare the large number of countries employing nuclear power for peaceful electricity generation (thirty-one) with the smaller number of countries (seven or eight) having nuclear weapons capability. To be sure weapons-grade plutonium may be produced by nuclear reactors, but only under constrained (and very uneconomic) conditions not generally met by commercial reactors in the West. For the early British power reactors (e.g., Calder Hall) electricity generation was secondary to their role in weapons-grade plutonium production, which made their electricity very costly in more ways than one. The reason for this is because the fissioning of uranium-235 produces excess neutrons, which uranium-238 nucleii absorb to


produce plutonium-239. It is the time of exposure of uranium fuel rods to neutron bombardment that is the important factor. If the fuel rods remain in the reactor for more than a few weeks an increasing amount of the initially formed bomb-grade plutonium239 becomes transformed by neutron capture into plutonium-240. It was discovered in 1944 that plutonium-240 has such a high spontaneous fission rate that its presence renders a plutonium bomb unreliable and inefficient. On the other hand the grade of plutonium is of little concern in a commercial power reactor where the fuel rods are left in for two or more years. Using the rods for as long as possible maximises their energy yield (and gets additional energy out of all isotopes of the plutonium as well as uranium fissions). In this scenario the plutonium isotope mix that results is impossible to refine into weapons-grade material. In other words, to make bomb material a reactor must be operated uneconomically with rapid fuel turnaround. The latter factor was the give-away that exposed the North Korean program for producing nuclear weapons by extracting newly formed plutonium from their nuclear research reactors.

"… terrorist groups will construct atomic bombs from stolen nuclear materials, …" Statement in the book "Nuclear Madness" by Dr Helen Caldicott, Jacaranda Press, 1978, page 23.
The terrorist threat was summarily dismissed by Mr Justice Parker, who conducted the Windscale inquiry in Great Britain in 1978. In his report, Parker J pointed out that "Although plutonium has been produced and moved both intrastate and internationally for more than 25 years, there has never been any terrorist threat." Nor has any such threat materialised in more than another quarter of a century since the Parker Report.



"Given the plutonium, a student could build an atomic bomb in a garage workshop" according to media stories based on an attempt by a Princeton University student, John Phillips, to design a nuclear weapon. His sketches were crude and did not constitute a feasible design. His professor gave him a good mark for collecting a lot of information useful for a bomb design. An unnamed MIT student also gained publicity for a similar project.
This claim is not heard so much these days because the sheer extent of the unsuccessful efforts by the Iraqis and others to build a bomb is now better known. Fabrication and quality testing of the precisely lensed explosives of two different detonation characteristics would be next to impossible in a home workshop. Then the required timing accuracy of the detonators and the production of an initiating neutron source would defeat the wouldbe terrorists unless they could obtain restricted electronic components and various scarce materials. What's more there are many other daunting problems in making a successful nuclear weapon as anyone trying would soon find out. A far easier option, and one to be much more feared, would be the theft of an existing nuclear weapon. More to the point of this discussion, using non-weapon-grade plutonium from a civil nuclear electricity reactor would be quite useless for the construction of any home-made nuclear explosive device.

"The MOX industry is heavily reliant on reprocessing to produce plutonium". From an article "British Nuclear Fools" by Jim Green in the Green Left Weekly, 2000 April 5.
This is misleading to say the least. The MOX process employs reprocessing to salvage the plutonium remaining in spent reactor fuel. Such plutonium has a mix of isotopes rendering it useless for nuclear weapons, but, being more precious than gold, it is well worth recycling as far as possible. MOX stands for Mixed OXides of


uranium and plutonium for use as reactor fuel and has been used without problems since the 1960s. The MOX process is also a sensible way to get rid of weapons-grade plutonium and the Russians plan to utilise it to reduce their military stockpile. The first MOX fuel elements incorporating US weapons plutonium are due for loading into an American power reactor in mid-2005.

"… condemnation of the transport of 230 kilograms in weapons-usable MOX fuel." From an article by Larry Schwartz in "The Age" newspaper, Melbourne, on 2001 January 28.
The MOX fuel elements being shipped for Japanese power reactors contain a few percent of fissile uranium and plutonium and over ninety percent non-fissile uranium. With such a low fissile proportion, MOX fuel is useless for making a weapon. The poor level of understanding displayed in the article is indicated by its definition of MOX fuel as "mixed oxygen plutonium" rather than a mixture of oxides of uranium and plutonium, with plutonium being a minor (up to 7 percent) component.

"We've been lucky we haven't had the marine equivalent of Chernobyl." Statement by Stephen Campbell, Greenpeace anti-nuclear campaigner, in The Australian, 2001 April 3.
The 230 kg of MOX fuel being transported by sea to Japan is not, as described in the news item, "highly volatile". In fact it is in a refractory form to withstand the high temperatures present in the core of a power-producing nuclear reactor. An extraordinarily (if not impossibly) intense fire would be needed to vaporise the uranium and plutonium content of the MOX fuel encased in zirconium alloy and shipped in robust casks designed to withstand extreme conditions. The level of radioactivity is so low that sinking the ship transporting it would create a very minor elevation of activity on the sea-bed in the immediate vicinity of the wreck. For another reason the comparison with Chernobyl is exaggerated. The six tonnes of uranium and plutonium fuel released into the atmosphere at Chernobyl contributed less than one-thousandth of


the scattered radioactivity, which was mainly from fission products. The Chernobyl fuel release was twentyfive times the amount of the MOX fuel shipment under discussion. So it is impossible for the imaginary "marine Chernobyl" scenario to rate worse than one twenty-thousandth of the actual Chernobyl accident. In all likelihood it would be harmless.

"… plutonium, a substance which has no purpose other than to be made into nuclear weapons." From a 1984 brief to the British Columbia Government by Dr Elinor Powell, of the group Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Plutonium is as useful as uranium in fuelling nuclear reactors and its energy value makes it more precious than gold. In fact as much as forty percent of the energy output from a uranium-fuelled power reactor comes from the plutonium it breeds then consumes during normal operation. Power reactors employing pure plutonium by itself could be designed and built but at present it is much more convenient to use a mixture of plutonium and partially depleted uranium in existing reactors, which is what the MOX process is all about.

"Plutonium is … impossible to dispose of." Extract from the entry for plutonium in the 1995 edition of the best-selling Hutchinson Encyclopedia.
This "impossibility" is nicely overcome by the MOX process, which makes it hard to understand why the editors of a major encyclopedia are unaware of it. Ignoring its value, plutonium is readily disposable as medium level radioactive waste. Given that the half-life of plutonium-239 is fairly long, namely 24,400 years, its activity is in consequence fairly low. It is in fact too low to be considered high-level waste.


"… breeder reactors … have performed so poorly that most nations have virtually abandoned their development programs." Statement from the book "Power Surge" by Christopher Flavin and Nicholas Lenssen, Earthscan Publications, London 1995, page 31.
The economics of fast breeder reactors are not as favourable as for thermal fission reactors so long as there is plenty of cheap uranium on the market. This was not the case in the sixties when fast breeders seemed essential to maintain adequate nuclear fuel for civil power reactors. Many civilian breeder reactors dating from that era have been shut down through old-age as well as poor economics. The French Phoenix breeder reactor started to deliver power in 1973 and proved highly successful. Not so their highly ambitious Super-Phoenix fast breeder reactor which was shut down in 1998 against the wishes of the French union movement after thirteen years of patchy operation. It was restarted in 2003 to assess its effectiveness in transmuting high-level nuclear wastes into shorter-lived elements. The French intend to shut it down permanently in 2008. In contrast to their flawed RBMK thermal reactors (like the Chernobyl model) the Soviets constructed and operated from 1972 a highly successful fast breeder reactor for electricity supply and desalination at Shevchenko on the shores the Caspian Sea. It was shut down recently due to old age but their BN600 which started up in 1980 remains in operation. The Russians plan to construct four larger BN800 models now that they have the know-how to make a success of them, but finance is the problem and at the time of writing only one is under construction. Interest elsewhere in breeder reactors is stepping up. There are 1.2 million tonnes of depleted uranium in the world almost begging to be used productively in fast breeder reactors. An international task force on inherently safe fourth-generation reactors has agreed on six new types for deployment between 2010 and 2030. Four of them are fast breeders suitable for hydrogen production. The dangers of fast neutron breeder reactors have been grossly overstated. A partial coolant blockage in an early American breeder reactor led to its shutdown with no threat to life. It also led to a sensational piece of science fiction titled "We Almost Lost Detroit" purporting to be fact and frequently quoted by anti-nuclear activists.


“… even if we decided today to replace all fossilfuel-generated electricity with nuclear power, there would only be enough economically viable uranium to fuel the reactors for three to four years.” Assertion by Dr Helen Caldicott, Higher Education Supplement in The Australian, 2005 April 13.
In energy terms uranium is a cheap fuel, which is the weak link in the above contention. Much poorer grades of uranium ore could be mined without much increase in the cost of electricity, especially when breeder reactors are employed. Breeder reactors of one type or another make good sense in the overall mix of nuclear fission reactors. It has often been pointed out that they could make full use of the depleted uranium now being in effect wasted and supply the whole world with electricity for hundreds of years. The time-scale would be even longer if the 4 billion tonnes of uranium in the oceans is extracted, a solution the Japanese plan to resort to if they are starved of the fuel they need for their expanding nuclear reactor program. The time-scale of nuclear power could stretch to thousands of years if the breeding cycle is adapted to include abundant thorium nuclear fuel. India is working on this scheme because of their large deposits of thorium.

"A core meltdown…. Would spread a healththreatening cloud of radioactive gas up to 80km from Lucas Heights." This appeared in 2000 in a brochure to residents from the Mayor of Sutherland Shire where the reactor is sited.
This implies that everyone in Sydney is in peril comparable with those near Chernobyl. They are not. Unlike the HIFAR reactor at Lucas Heights, the Chernobyl reactor was uncontained and its design was inherently unsafe. Reactors very similar to HIFAR and its replacement operate without worries near the heart of large cities like Boston and Munich. Their containment provisions and safety features make the chances of disaster exceedingly remote. A better comparison would be with the Three Mile Island reactor meltdown that posed insignificant danger beyond the station


boundary because it was comprehensively contained. Similarly, in the highly unlikely event of a core meltdown at the very much smaller Lucas Heights reactor, the damage and virtually all of the radioactive contamination would be confined to within its own containment structure. Much more harm would be done by strident news bulletins magnifying the problem. As the Three Mile Island incident made clear, increased psychosomatic trauma such as heart attacks and strokes among the local population there resulted from unjustified doomsday pronouncements by irresponsible commentators. Certainly not from the very minor release of radioactive gas dispersed by air currents to the point of harmlessness.

"Australia could import (medical) isotopes." Title of a letter from Tracie Sonda, Sutherland Shire Mayor, Sydney Morning Herald, 2000 November 11.
This and other emotive claims made by Mayor Sonda were refuted in a letter published two days later from Professor Helen Garnett, then Head of ANSTO, who argued that the claims were not true. A more persuasive response came from a former cancer sufferer, Susie Camp, (SMH letters, 2000 January 29) who was cured through the prompt delivery of radioactive isotopes from the Lucas Heights HIFAR reactor. She was understandably grateful. So what are the facts? Suitable accelerators can produce tiny quantities of those medical isotopes that are neutron deficient. The high neutron flux from a reactor is good for producing ample amounts of those isotopes that are rich in neutrons. Therefore both accelerators and reactors have a role to play in producing isotopes for both diagnosis and treatment in modern medicine. Examples of isotopes that cannot be produced by accelerators and have half lives too brief for ready importation are samarium-153 for the palliative treatment of secondary bone cancers, potassium-42 for diagnosing some problems with coronary blood flow, and copper64 for studying genetic afflictions such as Wilson's and Menke's diseases. It is hardly surprising how strong anti-nuclear views are often turned around after medical isotopes are employed for diagnosis and then radiation therapy cures the revealed condition.


"… making nuclear electricity requires massive amounts of fossil fuel." Statement by Dr Helen Caldicott in an article in The Australian newspaper, 1999 July 6, and restated in their Higher Education Supplement in 2005 April 13.
This is intended to suggest that nuclear power plants increase harmful pollution and greenhouse gas production in the world. Not so. Of all sources of electric power, nuclear is the least polluting and least damaging to the environment if one takes into account the destruction of ecosystems by hydro power. This claim is a variant of the false assertion that the energy generated by power reactors never repays the energy needed to build them. This is, of course, quite true for research and military reactors not used for electricity production. However for civilian nuclear power reactors the payback time for the energy required for their construction and the mining and processing of their fuel is only a matter of months. From the standpoint of economics the claim is patently untrue or there would be no economic advantage in constructing power reactors, as dynamic countries like China, India, Japan and South Korea are well aware.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 United States France Japan Russia Great Britain South Korea Germany Canada Ukraine China India Sweden 19 other countries World total (in 2003) 103 59 54 31 23 20 18 17 15 15 14 11 60 440


The revenue from electricity sold must amortise the capital and meet running costs of the station or a power reactor would not be commercially viable. In most countries the cost of generating nuclear electricity is competitive with the cheapest alternative. On the question of pollution, every single kilogram of nuclear fuel, from mined ore to eventual waste disposal, must by law be rigorously accounted for. That is why it is so non-polluting. Until fusion power becomes a reality there is no proven alternative to nuclear fission reactors for generating base-load power if polluting gas emission targets are to be met and fossil fuels conserved as vital feedstock for future chemical, plastic and pharmaceutical industries.

“Nuclear power is far more expensive than any other form of electricity generation.” Claim by Dr Helen Caldicott in the Higher Education Supplement of The Australian newspaper, 2005 April 13.
The claim is rubbish. Or to be more charitable, call it wishful thinking. For over half a century, the overall price of nuclear electricity to the consumer has steadily dropped. It is now the cheapest power in the world except in those markets where there is direct access to low-cost fossil fuels. This is mainly because weight for weight nuclear fuels have 20,000 times the energy content of fossil fuels. In the OECD countries nuclear fuel is typically around one third of the fuel cost for a coal-fired power station and one fifth of the cost for a gas-fired station. In 1991, the European Commission in collaboration with the US Department of Energy, launched a project “to put plausible financial figures against damage resulting from different forms of electricity production for the entire EU”. The methodology considers emissions, dispersion and ultimate impact. With nuclear energy the risk of accidents is factored in along with high estimates of radiological impacts from mine tailings (waste management and decommissioning being already within the cost to the consumer). Nuclear energy averages 0.4 euro cents/kWh, much the same as hydro, coal ranges from 4.1 to 7.3 cents, gas ranges from 1.3 to 2.3 cents and only wind shows up better than nuclear, at 0.1 to 0.2


cents/kWh average (UIC Briefing paper 8). These are external costs that don‟t include fuel. Fuel cost is zero for wind, but the cost of wind power (and solar) to the consumer is very high compared to nuclear because of its intermittency which demands expensive continuous backup, as we shall discuss shortly. As for electricity production costs, a recent UK study showed that new nuclear plants would produce electricity at about 2.3 p/kWh while coal ranges from 2.3 to 3.2 p/kWh in that country. Comparative projections from the OECD for generating electricity during the years 2005-2010 are (expressed in 1997 US cents/kWh) Country United States Canada France Germany Russia South Korea Japan China Nuclear 3.01 2.60 2.54 2.86 2.69 2.34 4.80 2.54-3.08 Coal 2.71 3.11 3.33 3.52 4.63 2.16 4.95 3.18 Gas 4.67 4.00 3.92 4.90 3.54 4.65 5.21 -

In most of the above countries nuclear power is very competitive with other options for base-load electricity generation and has the great advantage of producing no greenhouse gases or pollution during operation (remember, the wastes from nuclear power plants are contained and isolated from the environment).

"It is cheaper to produce electricity through a new wind power plant than a nuclear power plant." Assertion by the Australian Conservation Foundation on page 3 of a colour supplement "Australia at the Nuclear Crossroads" in Habitat Australia, 1999 February issue.
As of the year 2000, nuclear electricity was being generated for half the cost of wind power. In 1996 the cost of nuclear electricity fell to rival that of coal fired power (and without the greenhouse gas emissions) and has been falling ever since because nuclear fuel


costs are low and most of the higher capital cost of nuclear power has been amortised. Natural gas power generation is cheaper than nuclear only in those fortunate countries with ample natural gas reserves, and hydro-electricity likewise where there is suitably elevated water storage available. Keith Alder, former General Manager of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, in his book "Australia's Uranium Opportunities", observes that had the Jervis Bay 600 MWe power reactor project gone ahead (in the early 1970s) it would have produced the cheapest electrical power in Australia during its operating lifetime. As for wind power, the country with the greatest proportion is Germany. At nearly ten percent of their power generating capacity the unavoidable variability of wind threatens the stability of their power grid. Furthermore the running costs climb because standby generators must be kept spinning to make up for sudden shortfalls. The cost of doing so is forcing the Germans to reconsider their earlier politically-inspired plan to phase out nuclear power by 2020. It is very expensive to have power stations idling at reduced load while waiting to be cranked up to full load whenever the wind power dwindles. Or, shock horror, to be forced to import French nuclear electricity. The cost of intermittently imported electrical power is, by the law of supply and demand, so high that it makes wind power decidedly uneconomic. So much so that Denmark announced they would rely no more on wind power farms which have given them the most expensive electricity in Europe despite assistance from the Nordic power pool. They are constructing no more wind farms, either onshore or offshore, but they will continue to manufacture wind turbines for sale to whoever wants them (Jyllandsposten, Danish Newspaper, 2004 February).

"Nuclear energy is not the answer to global warming" This assertion appeared (2000) in the website of the Sustainable Energy and AntiUranium Service.
Until global warming is proved, and if true its cause understood, it is simply impossible to justify such a categorical statement. If greenhouse gas emissions are its cause then nuclear power generation, which emits no greenhouse gases, will clearly play a major role in coping with the problem. This is becoming apparent to some of the world‟s leading environmentalists.


Professor James Lovelock, author of the Gaia theory and one of the most highly respected Green thinkers, warned that the world must turn to nuclear power as the only realistic alternative to fossil fuels (Sunday Times, 2004 October 24). Bishop Hugh Montefiore, an environmentalist for over 30 years and once an opponent of nuclear power, has been kicked off the Friends of the Earth Board for publicly advocating the use of nuclear power in the fight against global warming (The Independent, 2004 October 22). And Dr Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace has berated those who lobby against “clean nuclear energy”. He said “Nuclear energy is the only non-greenhouse gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand”. (Miami Herald, 2005 January 30).


Curie and her husband both died of radiation poisoning." In October 1998 an episode of "The Simpsons" on TV channel 10 had Marge take a job at the local nuclear power plant where her husband Homer works. That evening at the dinner table Lisa (their bright daughter) observes that they will be like the Curies, "and they both died of radiation poisoning."
That popular TV series lampoons a nuclear power plant operated with scant regard for safety. The show carries a continuing antinuclear message. Usually the producers can plead dramatic licence for their distortions, but here they are peddling a straight-out lie. Madame Curie's husband Pierre died in 1906 when he was run over in Paris by a horse-drawn dray. In her work to isolate radium, Madame Curie exposed herself to dangerously high levels of radiation, but that did not prevent her from rearing a healthy daughter who won a Nobel prize in her own right. Madame Curie died in 1934 at the age of 67 from leukemia after a life of major achievement - and massive radiation exposure. So it could be seen that she was quite possibly an eventual victim of chronic radiation poisoning, but certainly not her husband.


"Plutonium was named after Pluto, god of the underworld." Statement from the book "Nuclear Madness" by Dr Helen Caldicott, Jacaranda Press, 1978, page 63.
This statement in a book by a leading anti-nuclear activist demonstrates the extent to which historical facts are falsified to make a point. The naming of the newly discovered transuranic elements neptunium and plutonium was made independently by American and British nuclear scientists to follow uranium as in the sequence of planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.

"It is not surprising that Gulf War veterans are excreting uranium-238 in their urine…" Extract from an article by Dr Helen Caldicott, Sydney Morning Herald, 2001 January 24, page 14.
While her article dealt with the depleted-uranium controversy (I do not condone weapons employing it) it might interest the lady to learn that she too excretes uranium-238 in her urine. Everyone does, simply because it reflects the natural level of uranium in our environment, which is normally from one to two parts per million. Around the whole world the annual radiation dose from inhaling uranium-238 is only one ten-thousandth of the natural radiation dose people normally receive.

"Albert Einstein, a vocal critic of the nuclear age." Statement by Peter Ormonde and Paul Shanley, Communist Party of Australia, Ecology Action Group. Newcastle Morning Herald, 1978 April 20.
By the time Einstein died in 1955 the purely peaceful use of nuclear energy in generating electricity had not yet been achieved so he had little chance to express his opinion on that development. It is morally wrong to put words into the mouth of a dead man to convey the impression that because Einstein became a vocal critic of the military nuclear era he would have necessarily condemned the civil generation of nuclear electricity. He was far too perceptive to confuse military and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.


Bright Future for Nuclear Power Abroad
Anti-nuclear activists are fond of pointing out that “... no new nuclear plant has been ordered in the US since 1978…” which is when the costly TMI accident scared away investors. However Americans have to some extent been saved through the reliability of their reactors, which have clocked up more than 3,000 reactor-years of operation free of any radiation fatalities. This exemplary performance has allowed the US to increase the output and extend the life of existing power reactors. But a change is in the air as Americans see an upsurge in nuclear power production in other countries, particularly in East Asia. About 40 reactors are under construction at present (2005) in twelve countries, and at least eight with existing nuclear power programs (Finland, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Japan and South Korea) plan further new reactors. In all, some 35 more power reactors are now in the planning stage and there are proposals for about as many again. The countries with numbers of reactors under construction, or commencing construction in 2005, are: India China Japan South Korea Russia Others 9 8 6 5 5 8

France, the undoubted world leader in nuclear electricity production, is about to start construction of the next generation of nuclear power plant called the European Pressurised-water Reactor (EPR). It is designed to provide electricity more efficiently and with even greater safety than current models.
The figures quoted above have been drawn from Nuclear Issues Briefing Paper 19, dated 2005 April, courtesy of the Uranium Information Centre.


The author wishes to thank the many friends and colleagues who provided helpful suggestions and freely gave moral support for this work. There are more pro-nuclear energy people around than one might be led to believe

Reliable reference sources:
Cohen, B L, "The Nuclear Energy Option", Plenum Press, New York NY 1990. ISBN 0-306-43567-5 Eisenbud, M and Gesell, T, "Environmental Radioactivity" Fourth edition, Academic Press, San Diego CA 1997. ISBN 0-12-235154-1 Hore-Lacy, I, "Nuclear Electricity", Seventh edition, Uranium Information Centre, Melbourne VIC 1999. ISBN 1-875551-01-8. Also consult the Centre‟s informative Briefing Papers on-line at Hoyle, Sir Fred and Hoyle, G, "Commonsense in Nuclear Energy", W H Freeman and Co., San Francisco CA 1980. ISBN 0-7617-1237-7 Lenihan, John, “The Crumbs of Creation”, Adam Hilger, Bristol and Philadelphia PA 1988. ISBN 0-85274-390-4 Lilley, John, “Nuclear Physics – Principles and Applications”, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, England 2001. ISBN 0-471-97936-8 McEwan, Andrew, “Nuclear New Zealand – Sorting Fact from Fiction”, Hazard Press, Christchurch NZ 2004. ISBN 1-877270-58-X UNSCEAR 2000 Report, "Sources and Effects of Ionising Radiation", United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, Vol. 2, Annex J. ISBN 92-1-422396 Wilson, P D (ed.), "The Nuclear Fuel Cycle - From Ore to Wastes", Oxford University Press, Oxford 1996. ISBN 0-19-856540-2

Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the material presented in this booklet. If an error is detected the author would be pleased for it to be drawn to his attention and be advised of a more authentic source. Should the error be upheld the author will be grateful and an amendment incorporated in future printings.

Inside back cover

Books in Colin Keay's Nuclear Issues Series
Nuclear Energy Fallacies – Why we should Reject Them
In this compilation, over forty anti-nuclear myths and lies are answered with the best information available. First and foremost are the grossly exaggerated claims about the radiation deaths from the Chernobyl disaster. Anti-nuclear organisations such as the ACF and Greenpeace allege deaths in the tens of thousands. The most authoritative source, UNSCEAR, cites fewer than fifty.

Nuclear Radiation Exposed - Guide to Better Understanding
The average Australian, including anyone living near Lucas Heights, has no cause to fear nuclear radiation. Elsewhere in the world people live healthy lives in regions where their radiation exposure is over fifty times more than the Australian average. In fact there is a growing body of evidence that extra radiation promotes good health and can reduce the incidence of cancer.

Nuclear Electricity Gigawatts - Supporting Alternative Energies
The dilute nature and intermittency of solar and wind power in the absence of efficient energy storage means they cannot supply more than about twenty percent of a region's electricity without severe management problems. Unless pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are accepted, nuclear power stations are the only proven clean solution.

Australia has more uranium ore and better geology for waste management than any other country. Exploiting these gifts of nature could make this country the most prosperous on the planet. Adopting a closed nuclear fuel cycle under strict control would eliminate any prospect of nuclear weapon proliferation while meeting legitimate needs for reliable energy supplies.

Nuclear Common Sense - Opportunity for Prosperity

The four booklets of this Nuclear Issues series are no longer on sale. They are now accessible on line in the form of four PDF files that may be copied in full without change or in part subject to normal copyright law.

Back cover

Enlightenment Press Nuclear Issues Series of Books
"Your nuclear issues books make interesting reading and will contribute to informed public discussion and debate on nuclear issues and energy matters." - The Hon. Peter McGauran MP Minister for Science, Parliament House, Canberra "Too often debates on important issues get tied up with political correctness and unjustified declarations. I welcome this contribution by Dr Keay to the nuclear debate. In this booklet he has provided guidance on valuable source material which ensures that facts rather than hysterics drive the discussion." - Professor John O'Connor Past President, Australian Institute of Physics "… the book on Nuclear Radiation Exposed … excellently crosses the many disciplines required for an understanding of the biological effects of ionising radiation. It should help to expose some of the hysteria associated with the 'Nuclear Debate' ..." - Emeritus Professor Peter Parsons Former Professor of Environmental Biology LaTrobe University "Nuclear Issues series - booklets aimed at the open-minded general reader who wants to know the true facts about nuclear power, nuclear radiation, uranium mining and nuclear waste disposal. Alas, these issues are beclouded in the public mind by misinformation, lies, myths and fallacies or to be kinder, confusion and ignorance. In future this state of affairs is likely to cause great harm to the environment, here and elsewhere. It will also cost Australia dearly in lost opportunities, as documented in these well written and well-researched essays …" - Emeritus Professor A G Klein School of Physics, University of Melbourne

ISBN 0-9578946-5-1

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