The original article is here.
Image from Wikipedia. Click to view source.
Over on Facebook, my friend Mike says, “There have been 11 mishaps at American nuclear facilities, and Three Mile Island was not the only radiation leak. ELEVEN. This problem goes hand in hand with our crumbling infrastructure issue. Some of these plants are in dire need of overhauls, reinforcing, and reconstruction. Just like our bridges and aquaducts etc.”
True story, y’all. Our infrastructure, including roads, bridges, the electrical grid, water supply, nuclear reactors, oil refineries, and plenty more, are all badly in need of upgrades and improvements. We’ve let our infrastructure crumble in the last few decades, and it’s catching up with us. We need to do something about that, and I won’t be the person who argues that point, not even a little bit.
Mike also says, on a different post, “Nice article. Not so sure about the nuclear reactors though. When the oil well in the [Gulf of Mexico] dumped tons of crude into the sea, we were all a little leery of deep-sea drilling. No, this incident isn’t as bad as Chernobyl, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s the thing about nuclear power plants. They almost never go wrong, but when they do, horrible things happen. Now can we seriously look into spending real money on solar, wind, hydroelectric power? Pleease?”
I also agree that our current best methods of providing energy for the United States are not optimal, and we need to look to doing something better. The reason why I keep harping on the nuclear thing, though, has a lot more to do with media outrage and the panic it’s fueling than any actual dangers inherent in nuclear power plants.
Wikipedia says, “According to a 2010 survey of energy accidents, there have been at least 56 accidents near nuclear reactors in the United States (defined as incidents that either resulted in the loss of human life or more than US$50,000 of property damage). The most serious of these was the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant has been the source of two of the top five most dangerous nuclear incidents in the United States since 1979. Relatively few accidents have involved fatalities.”
The article goes on to point out that world-wide, there have been 99 nuclear accidents from ’52 to ’09 (57 years). If I’m reading the article right, that means that 56 of the total 99 accidents have happened in the US. Which sounds bad, but, we also have the most nuclear reactors in operation. According to EuroNuclear.org, there are 442 nuclear reactors world wide, 104 of which are in the United States (as of January 2011). For reference, France is second place with 58 reactors, and Japan is third with 54.
Here’s another stat from Wikipedia: those 56 accidents resulted in a whopping 7 deaths. That includes Three Miles Island, which had a death toll of zero. Of the lingering health effects of Three Mile Island, Wiki says, “The health effects of the Three Mile Island accident are widely, but not universally, agreed to be very low level.” (More on the health effects of Three Mile Island here.)
Comparatively, the risks of off-shore drilling, deep-water drilling, oil refineries, oil spills, the effects on human and animal health, environmental effects, and so on, and so forth, are a whole hell of a lot worse. And, as we learned from the BP oil spill, the safety violations going on in the oil industry put what’s going on in our nuclear power plants right in the shade.
The worst nuclear reactor accident in America was Three Mile Island, and the lingering health and environmental effects of that appear to have been fairly minimal. From Wiki:
On the recommendation of the Columbia team, the TMI Public Health Fund followed up its work with a longitudinal study. The 2000-3 University of Pittsburgh study compared post-TMI death rates in different parts of the local area, again using the wind direction on the morning of 28 March to assign fallout impact, even though, according to Joseph Mangano in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the areas of lowest fallout by this criterion had the highest mortality rates. In contrast to the Columbia study, which estimated exposure in 69 areas, the Pittsburgh study drew on the TMI Population Registry, compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. This was based on radiation exposure information on 93% of the population living within five miles of the nuclear plant – nearly 36,000 people, gathered in door-to-door surveys shortly after the accident. The study found slight increases in cancer and mortality rates but “no consistent evidence” of causation by TMI. Wing et al. criticized the Pittsburgh study for making the same assumption as Columbia: that the official statistics on low doses of radiation were correct – leading to a study “in which the null hypothesis cannot be rejected due to a priori assumptions.” Hatch et al. noted that their assumption had been backed up by dosimeter data, though Wing et al. noted the incompleteness of this data, particularly for releases early on.
In 2005 R. William Field, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa, who first described radioactive contamination of the wild food chain from the accident suggested that some of the increased cancer rates noted around TMI were related to the area’s very high levels of natural radon, noting that according to a 1994 EPA study, the Pennsylvania counties around TMI have the highest regional screening radon concentrations in the 38 states surveyed. The factor had also been considered by the Pittsburgh study and by the Columbia team, which had noted that “rates of childhood leukemia in the Three Mile Island area are low compared with national and regional rates.” A 2006 study on the standard mortality rate in children in 34 counties downwind of TMI found an increase in the rate (for cancers other than leukemia) from 0.83 (1979–83) to 1.17 (1984–88), meaning a rise from below the national average to above it.
A 2008 study on thyroid cancer in the region found rates as expected in the county in which the reactor is located, and significantly higher than expected rates in two neighbouring counties beginning in 1990 and 1995 respectively. The research notes that “These findings, however, do not provide a causal link to the TMI accident.” Mangano (2004) notes three large gaps in the literature: no study has focused on infant mortality data, or on data from outside the 10-mile zone, or on radioisotopes other than iodine, krypton, and xenon.
Compare that to BP oil spill. The immediate effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster were horrifying, contaminating huge swaths of the Gulf coastline, slaughtering wildlife, making residents and workers sick, and damaging the environment in ways we don’t understand and probably won’t understand for awhile yet. Granted, in 30 years, maybe we’ll look back at Deepwater Horizon and think, “Well, overall, that wasn’t so bad,” too. Maybe not. But it certainly looks to me that in all the same metrics of measurement, the immediate effects of the Deepwater Horizon were far worse than those at Three Mile Island.
Nuclear power plants are just the Panic of the Moment. This is how the media cycle works. Something happens, and the media loses it’s damn fool mind, and all we hear about for a month is how evil the Panic of the Moment is, and how it’s going to kill us all. Remember the coal mine accidents a few years ago, all the abductions of white girls a couple of years before that — this happens every time something even mildly sensational goes on. The 24-hour news cycle is a starving beast, and the media has to feed it. They do that by creating a tempest in a tea kettle out of every little thing that happens.
So, to sum up: What I am not saying is that nuclear power plants are perfectly safe and that the media should just shut the hell up about it. That is not true. There are dangers, there are safety violations, there are health issues. We should address and improve these things. What I am saying is that nuclear power plants are not the armageddon waiting to happen that the media is currently making them out to be.
So, 2011′s shaping up to be a busy year, eh? Dictators are toppling like dominoes in the Middle East, Republicans at the state and federal levels are frothing mad and whipping out crazy and/or useless legislation faster than one busy lil’ blogger can keep up with it, we’ve already had two devastating natural disasters at once and it’s still months before hurricane season, and Dr. Ann Coulter has discovered radiation is good for us after all. Honestly, I don’t know what to do about all this.
Click to view source.
Govs face budget blowback
It was supposed to be one of the clearest messages of the 2010 elections: Voters were finally fed up with government spending.
It felt like the usual rules had changed, and that Americans were worried enough about the size of government to support a new era of belt-tightening. They wanted leaders to make the tough choices – and would stick by the ones who did.
Now, a new wave of polling has challenged that consensus, raising serious questions about whether voters really are yearning for a grown-up conversation about the cost of government — or would simply rather keep punting the problem down the road, just like in the past.
This article at Politico is downright insulting. From my perspective, America is perfectly willing to discuss “grown-up” solutions to our budget woes. We just don’t think “grown-up solutions” involve cutting funding to NPR and Planned Parenthood while handing out billion-dollar tax cuts to the wealthiest one percent of our citizens and wasting the rest of our time trying to roll back the entire 20th century.
You can’t cut unemployment, health assistance for those who most need it, refuse federal funding for a project that would create tons of jobs, and more, and then try to claim that you’re proposing “grown up solutions.” When you take away the social safety net, people starve, kids die, and a vast swath of the population grows more desperate. This leads to increased crime rates, poorer levels of education, more unwanted babies, and more problems, and which we have to spend more money. In the long run, policies like these end up costing us a ton more than they saved in the short term.
If anyone’s being short-sighted, here, it’s the damn Republicans.
Six Ways Fukushima is Not Chernobyl
The crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi has already been dubbed the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, and the situation there continues to worsen.
But along with references to the “ch-word,” as one nonproliferation expert put it , experts have been quick to provide reasons why the Daiichi crisis will not be “the next Chernobyl.”
Experts have noted several key differences in the design of the reactors in question, as well as in the government’s reaction to the crisis…
Reactor meltdowns are nothing to make light of, but the level of panic over nuclear power plants I’m hearing right now is just frickin’ ridiculous, people. Is Fukushima a bad situation? Yes. Without argument. Is it reason for the all-out “OH NOES SHUT DOWN ALL TEH REACTORZ” type reactions I’m hearing on TV and in the news? No. Jesus. Unknot your panties, folks. Yes, things like this should serve as a clear warning that we might have a few safety measures we could be tending to here at home, but there’s no reason to lose your damn fool mind and decide all reactors everywhere need to be shut down. Maybe you folks ought to switch to decaf.
Reasonable professor the new scariest guy in Wisconsin politics
Mr. Cronon had the temerity to point out on his blog that the national campaign against working people has national roots — roots that his fellow Wisconsites can study and trace and understand.
And speaking of William Cronon, he’s got a new post up at his blog, showcasing a letter one loyal conservative sent to the Wisconsin GOP. It’s worth a read. I wish like hell we could get more of these reasonable folks standing up for the conservative side, and fewer of the Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin types.
Libyans Call Woman Who Claimed Gang Rape a Prostitute
The Libyan authorities on Sunday attacked the character and credibility of a Libyan woman who burst into a hotel full of foreign journalists to say that she had been abducted and raped by militia members working for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, calling her “a known prostitute and a thief.”
To absolutely no one’s surprise, the Qaddafi regime claims that a woman who spoke out about the heinous treatment she’d received at the regime’s hands was a liar, a whore, and a thief who was safe at home. Turns out, she’s more like a young law student and less like a whore and a thief, and no one seems to know where she’s disappeared to.
Top Ten Ways that Libya 2011 is Not Iraq 2003
Here are the differences between George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the current United Nations action in Libya:
1. The action in Libya was authorized by the United Nations Security Council. That in Iraq was not. By the UN Charter, military action after 1945 should either come as self-defense or with UNSC authorization. Most countries in the world are signatories to the charter and bound by its provisions.
I’ve been seriously annoyed with the coverage of Libya, and the incessant comparisons to Bush’s Iraq, so thank you, Juan Cole, for this list. I’m particularly annoyed with MSNBC, who’ve been positively FOX-like in their condemnation of the Libya action. They’ve had a steady parade of idgits on the last couple of days lambasting Obama for sending planes in to enforce the no-fly zone, including some woman who had the audacity to announce on national TV, and I quote, “Everyone knows we’re [America is] basically NATO.”
Oh really? I’ll be the rest of the countries who belong to NATO would disagree with you, there. Particularly the French, who were there holding the no-fly zone before we were. You idiot.
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We left last night, about a quarter to ten or so. The drive wasn’t too bad, all told, but the school van we took was not built for comfort. I’m starting the convention exhausted, so this should be fun. A quick peek at my calendar also revealed a work deadline on Sunday, just to spice things up, so I’ll be running around to meetings all morning and afternoon, and working all evening.
Our hotel is right across the street from Rolling Stone's LA office.
I forgot to bring my camera, and very nearly forgot to bring my cell phone charger, so you can see how organized I am. Fortunately, I’d been planning on taking most of my pictures with my phone, anyway, for tweeting and Facebooking. Would have been handy if I’d thought to charge it up before I left last night. *sigh*
At any rate, I dozed off and on through most of the night. Seemed a shame to miss all the new scenery, but we couldn’t see much, anyway. There was plenty to see this morning, particularly driving into Los Angeles. The mountains were gorgeous. Also, tons of cows and almond trees in bloom. The trees were in bloom, that is, not the cows. No pictures, I’m afraid. The phone battery had died by then.
We got to the hotel about two o’clock. We’re staying at the Renaissance Hollywood, which is basically right next door to everything. The Hollywood stars are literally around the corner. We missed the hotel drive the first time and went around the block to get back to it, so we saw the Stars. Also, a storm trooper, and Micheal Myers. And of course, no pictures, because I suck at this game.
Keep an eye on the Commuter Livefeed to see what we’re up to while we’re here. Those of us who Twitter will be keeping it updated with pictures, notes, and maybe video!
According to Tim Radford, this is the most important sentence I will ever write.
Tim Radford. Photo from the Guardian. Click image to view source.
Tim Radford is a freelance journalist who used to work for the Guardian. In January, he wrote a great little article called “A manifesto for the simple scribe – my 25 commandments for journalists.” In it, he details a set of fantastic guidelines for journalists. Radford said of his manifesto, “I realised that when stories that I had tried to write turned out wrong, it was because I’d broken one of my own rules. So I decided I might have written something quite useful, after all.”
One of the points Radford makes is that while a writer “may feel obliged to write, nobody has ever felt obliged to read.” That’s why your first sentence is the most important sentence you’ll ever write — it’s the one that draws the reader in, and makes them feel obliged to read. It’s also why the second, third, fourth, and et cetera sentences are the most important ones you’ll ever write. Those are the ones that make the reader feel obliged to keep reading.
Another great bit of advice Radford offers is, “Don’t even start writing till you have decided what the one big thing is going to be, and then say it to yourself in just one sentence.” Radford thinks that stories are often complicated and convoluted, and part of the journalist’s job is to boil at least part of the story down to its essential element, and explain it simply to the reader. That’s the “one big thing” of the story. Once you can express that “one big thing” easily, the rest of the story will practically write itself.
Radford has something to say about the goal of journalism, too. “Writers have a responsibility, not just in law. So aim for the truth. If that’s elusive, and it often is, at least aim for fairness, the awareness that there is always another side to the story.” A reporter is only as good as their reputation. No amount of writing skill in the world will make up for being a lying SOB who makes crap up. Unless you work for FOX News, in which case you get bonus points for that.
The whole article is worth printing out and tacking to the wall. A journalist could do a lot worse than to keep Radford’s advice in mind.