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Inside back cover

Inside front cover

THE “NUCLEAR FREE ZONE” FALLACY

Toward the latter part of last century official-


looking 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 non-
proliferation 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


2005
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

ooOoo

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


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ADVANCE AUSTRALIA WHERE ??


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.
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THE CHERNOBYL MYTHOLOGY


"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
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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.

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"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 middle-
age `rectifiers' (those conscripted into clean-up tasks). This is
simply the expected natural death rate for a similar cohort of males
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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.

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YOUR RADIATION EXPOSURE


Australian annual averages in microsieverts

Radon gas inside home 700


Local surroundings 500
Internal body radioisotopes 350
Radioactivity in food 300
Cosmic ray dose at sea level 260
Medical and dental x-rays 100
Jet travel 25
Weapons test fallout worldwide 15
TV viewing 6
Coal-fired power worldwide 5
Sleeping with partner 2
Nuclear power generation worldwide <1
Other miscellaneous sources 30

Typical total 2300

(Lethal adult dose: 5,000,000 - 6,000,000)


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"…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.

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8

"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.

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9

NUCLEAR ELECTRICITY MYTHS


“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.
10

"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.
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"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.
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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 high-
level 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
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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 high-
level 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‟.
14

“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.”

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"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.

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15

THE BIGGEST BOGEY OF THEM ALL


"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]
16

"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 hot-
particle 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.
17

"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.”

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"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.
18

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!
19

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
20

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.

ooOoo
"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.

OoOoo
21

"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.
22

"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.

LOSS OF LIFE EXPECTANCY


Losses due to various risk factors: Days

Living in poverty 3,500


Cigarette smoking 2,300
Working as a coal miner 1,100
Seven kilograms overweight 450
Motor vehicle accidents 180
Activities where drowning is possible 40
Coffee (3 cups a day) 26
Birth control pills 5
Airline crashes 1
Living near a nuclear power plant 0.4

Note: Because there are no nuclear power


reactors in Australia for comparison, the
above figures apply to the United States.
23

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.

ooOoo

SOME MORE WISHFUL THINKING


"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.
24

"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".

ooOoo
“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.
25

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 weapon-
grade 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
26

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 plutonium-
239 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.

ooOoo
IT MAY BE TOO HOT TO HANDLE
"… 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.

ooOoo
27

"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 would-
be 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.

ooOoo
"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
28

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.

ooOoo
"… 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
29

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.

OoOoo
"… 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.

ooOoo
"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.
30

"… 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.
31

“… even if we decided today to replace all fossil-


fuel-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.

ooOoo
"A core meltdown…. Would spread a health-
threatening 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
32

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.

ooOoo
"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 copper-
64 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.
33

"… 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.

COUNTRIES AND POWER REACTORS


1 United States 103
2 France 59
3 Japan 54
4 Russia 31
5 Great Britain 23
6 South Korea 20
7 Germany 18
8 Canada 17
9 Ukraine 15
10 China 15
11 India 14
12 Sweden 11
19 other countries 60
World total (in 2003) 440
34

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.

ooOoo
“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
35

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 Nuclear Coal Gas

United States 3.01 2.71 4.67


Canada 2.60 3.11 4.00
France 2.54 3.33 3.92
Germany 2.86 3.52 4.90
Russia 2.69 4.63 3.54
South Korea 2.34 2.16 4.65
Japan 4.80 4.95 5.21
China 2.54-3.08 3.18 -

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 ALL BLOWING IN THE WIND


"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
36

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 Anti-
Uranium 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.
37

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).

WE CLOSE WITH A FEW MINOR LIES


"Madame 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 anti-
nuclear 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.
38

"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.
39

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 9
China 8
Japan 6
South Korea 5
Russia 5
Others 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.
40

Acknowledgements:

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 www.uic.com.au

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.

Nuclear Common Sense - Opportunity for Prosperity


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.

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