Can We Talk?
US Nuclear Energy Foundation
Our mission is to influence change in public opinion towards
“Our freedoms can only
Some GREAT data the links below go directly to sections of Dr. Cohen's book
A review of the educational material at the other end of the bullet links of Dr. Cohen's book above
The information on these pages is that of Dr. Bernard L. Cohen, from his 1990 Book "The Nuclear Energy Option" This link is directly to the entire book posted on the University of Pittsburgh website as is the link on the HOME page of this website. We have read and chosen particular passages within the book to post on our website that are most relative to the case we are trying to present today.
Although this publication is 15 years old, it was written as a presentation of Nuclear Science for the future. Few scientists have attempted to research and present a comprehensive analysis of the value, effects, dangers and safety of Nuclear Energy. Unfortunately our world does not recognize "superstar scientists" as they do entertainers. If we did, the world of "public understanding" about "important things" in our world would be much more enlightened about our need for Nuclear Energy. READ THE BOOK! The blue lines separate sections of extraction and placement in our website. Our hats are off to Dr. Cohen for his "superstar science"!
As we enter the 1990s, however, many things have changed. Environmental concerns have shifted dramatically into other areas like global warming due to the greenhouse effect, ecological destruction by acid rain, air pollution of all types but particularly from coal burning, and chemicals of various sorts, from insecticides to food additives. A succession of record-breaking warm years in the 1980s convinced many that the greenhouse effect was not just a scientific theory but might already be responsible for droughts and other agricultural disasters. Some scientists are predicting that these problems will get worse at an increasingly rapid rate in the years ahead. The president, Congress, and other politicians seem to be battling for positions of leadership in programs designed to stem the tide of the greenhouse effect. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is giving the matter a high priority. Nuclear plants produce no greenhouse gases, while the coal- and oil-burning plants they replace are the most important contributors.
The acid rain problem is getting increasing attention and is generating strong anti-U.S. resentment in Canada. It is also stirring up trouble in Scandinavia and Germany. Coal-burning power plants are among the worst offenders in causing acid rain, while nuclear plants avoid that problem completely.
After a decade of relative quiescence, air pollution is being reborn as a top-ranked environmental issue. The Bush Administration's Clean Air Act would require that sulfur dioxide emissions from coal burning plants be cut in half by the end of the century, but that just scratches the surface of the problem. Nuclear plants, of course, emit no sulfur dioxide or other chemical pollutants.
In some sections of the country, the pinch is already hurting. Brownouts (reductions in voltage which cause lights to dim, motors to turn slower, etc.) have already occurred in New England, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Chicago. Utilities in New York State have had to appeal to the public to reduce use of lighting and air conditioning, and to postpone use of dishwashers, clothes driers, and ovens. The Bonneville Power Administration in the Pacific Northwest has restricted its sales of power to Southern California. A lead story in Fortune Magazine (June 1989) was titled "Get Ready for Power Brownouts." A Standard and Poor publication stated "Electricity is becoming a scarce resource . . . Power shortages in the Northeast threaten to derail the region's strong economic growth." Wall Street brokers are recommending stocks of electrical equipment suppliers because they predict a big surge in new power plant construction. Clearly, our days of excess electricity-generating capacity are at an end.
There was a prime-time TV special report on how well nuclear power is serving France, where 70% of the electricity is nuclear. The rest of the world has continued to expand its nuclear power capacity, while we have been standing still. The United States, which pioneered the development of nuclear power and provided it to the world, now ranks behind more than a dozen other nations in percentage of electricity derived from that technology. Our strongest competitor, Japan, was heavily burdened by memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and hence got a very late start in nuclear power, but has now far surpassed us and continues to accelerate its development.
The nuclear industry has been developing a new generation of reactors that are cheaper and safer than those currently in use. They should make the concept of a reactor meltdown obsolete and make nuclear power substantially cheaper than electricity from any other source. US News and World Report featured an article on these reactors entitled "Nuclear Power, Act II." Other newspapers and magazines have carried similar stories.
All of these developments have not been lost on the American public. Attitudes toward nuclear power have been changing. A variety of public opinion polls has shown that the public is now ready to accept a resurgence of nuclear power, and indeed expects it. The stage truly seems to be set for "Nuclear Power: Act II."
The purpose of this book is to provide this information. Most of it is scientific, obtained from sources that are generally accepted in the scientific community. Some readers may be surprised to learn that nearly all the important facts on these issues are generally accepted (within a degree of uncertainty small enough for the differences of opinion to be of no concern to the public). In the past, the media has often given the impression that there are large and important areas of disagreement within the scientific community on these matters. Actually, in spite of such attempts to dramatize it, long-standing controversy is rather rare in science. This is not to say that different scientists don't initially have different ideas on an issue, but rather that there are universally accepted ways of settling disagreements, so they don't persist for long.
The basic instrument for scientific communication is the scientific literature, which consists principally of many hundreds of periodicals, each covering a specialized area of science. In them, scientists present research results to their colleagues in sufficient quantitative detail to allow them to be thoroughly understood and checked. They also contain critiques from researchers who may disagree with the procedures used, and replies to these critiques from the original authors, although only a few percent of the papers published are sufficiently controversial to draw such criticism. The whole system is set up to maximize exchange of information and give a full airing of the facts. On the other hand, most people would not consider the scientific literature to be interesting reading. It is written by research scientists — not usually skillful writers — to be read by other scientists in the same field. It makes extensive use of mathematics and specialized vocabulary, with little attention to techniques for holding the reader's attention. That function is provided by the scientist's professional need to obtain the information.
In addition to communication through the literature, specialists in each field frequently get together at meetings where there is ample opportunity for airing out disagreements before an audience of scientific peers. After these discussions, participants and third parties often return to their laboratories to do further measurements or calculations, developing further evidence. In most cases, controversies are thereby settled in a matter of months, leading to a consensus with which over 90% of those involved would agree. Where scientific questions have an impact on public policy, there is an additional mechanism. The National Academy of Sciences and similar national and international agencies assemble committees of distinguished scientists specializing in the field to develop and document a consensus. Only very rarely do these committees have a minority report, and then it's from a very tiny minority. The committees' conclusions are generally accepted by scientists and government agencies all over the world.
Since controversy is the rule rather than the exception in human affairs, many find it difficult to believe that science is so different in this respect. The reason for the difference is that science is based largely on quantities that can be measured and calculated, and these measurements and calculations can be repeated and checked by doubters, with a very heavy professional penalty to be paid by anyone reporting erroneous results. This ability to rapidly resolve controversy has been one of the most important elements in the great success of science, a success that during this century has increased our life expectancy by 25 years, and improved our standard of living immeasurably.
A minority of the material to be discussed in this book is nonscientific, and even political, covering areas in which I have no professional expertise. For this I depend on my reading of the general literature and attendance at lectures over many years. I cannot vouch for this material's reliability, but fortunately it is largely non-controversial.
When specialists present information to the public, they can easily convey false impressions without falsifying facts by merely selecting the facts they present. It is my pledge not to do this. I will do my utmost not only to present correct information but to present it in a way that gives the correct impression and perspective. To do otherwise would seriously damage my credibility in the scientific community and thereby depreciate the value of my research, which is largely what I live for.
Since your faith in this pledge may depend on what you know about the author, I offer the following personal information. (1990) I am a 65-year-old, long-tenured professor of physics and radiation health at the University of Pittsburgh. I have never been employed by the nuclear industry except as a very occasional consultant, and I discontinued those relationships several years ago. My job security and salary are in no way dependent on the health of the nuclear industry. I have no long-standing emotional ties to nuclear power, not having participated in its development. My professional involvement with nuclear energy began only when the 1973 oil embargo stimulated me to look into our national energy problems. I have four children and eight grandchildren; my principal concern in life is to increase the chances for them and all of our younger citizens to live healthy, prosperous lives in a peaceful world.
To those who question my selection of topics or my treatment of them in this book, I invite personal correspondence or telephone calls to discuss these questions. I feel confident that through such means I can convince any reasonable person that the viewpoints expressed are correct and sufficiently complete to give the proper impressions and perspective.
Other scientists have written books on nuclear energy painting a very different picture from the one I present. Ernest Sternglass,1 John Gofman,2 and Helen Caldicott3 are the names with which I am familiar. Their basic claim is that radiation is far more dangerous than estimates by the scientific Establishment would lead us to believe it is. This is a scientific question which will be discussed in some detail in Chapter 5, but the ultimate judgment is surely best made by the community of radiation health scientists. A poll of that community (see Chapter 5) shows that the scientific works of these three scientists have very low credibility among their colleagues. Their ideas on the dangers of radiation have been unanimously rejected by various committees of eminent scientists assembled to make judgments on those questions. These committees represent what might be called "the Establishment" in radiation health science; the poll shows that they have very high credibility within the involved scientific community. In a secret ballot, less than 1% gave these Establishment groups a credibility rating below 50 on a scale of 0-100, whereas 83% gave the three above-mentioned authors a credibility rating in that low range. The average credibility rating of these Establishment groups was 84, whereas less than 3% of respondents rated the three authors that high.
The positions presented in this book are those of the Establishment. In comparing this book with those of Sternglass, Gofman, and Caldicott, you therefore should not consider it as my word against that of those three authors, but rather as their positions versus the positions of the Establishment, strongly supported by a poll taken anonymously of the involved scientific community.
Another approach for distinguishing between this book and theirs is the degree to which the authors are actively engaged in scientific research. The Institute for Scientific Information, based in Philadelphia, keeps records on all papers in scientific journals and publishes listings periodically in its Science Citation Index — Sourcebook. The number of publications they list for the various authors, including myself, are:
It might be noted that most of the papers by Gofman were his replies to critiques of his work, and most of the entries for Sternglass were papers at meetings which are not refereed (the others were on topics unrelated to nuclear power). Only a small fraction of my papers are in these categories. Since 1982 I have been directing a large experimental project involving measurements of radon levels in 350,000 houses. This has reduced the number of papers I have produced.
What Types of Plants Should We Build?
The turbine may be driven by falling water, a takeoff on the familiar water wheel but very much larger and more highly engineered so as to convert nearly all of the energy of the falling water into electrical energy. This hydroelectric power is relatively cheap and has been important historically. Large plants harnessing the energy of Niagara Falls, the Tennessee River and its tributaries, the Columbia River and its tributaries, with its showpiece Grand Coulee Dam, and the Colorado River, including Hoover Dam, are familiar to tourists and have played very important roles in the economic development of the surrounding areas. Norway derives most of its electric power from this source, as does the Canadian province of Quebec and several other areas around the world. But sites for generating hydroelectric power must be provided by nature, and in the United States nearly all of the more favorable sites nature has provided are already being used. There have been new projects for harnessing the energy in the flow of rivers, but these give relatively little electric power and cause serious fish kills, which lead to well-justified objections by environmental groups. Hydroelectric power is therefore not an important option for the new plants that are needed.
Turbines can also be driven by wind. There has been a lot of activity in this area (see Chapter 14), but there are lots of problems. Thousands of large windmills, each the height of a 20-story building, would be needed to substitute for a single conventional power plant. There would be serious environmental effects, including noise and interference with birds. But most important, there is the very sticky question of what to do when the wind isn't blowing. Using batteries to store the electricity is far too expensive.
In the great majority of large power plants in the United States and in nearly every other nation, the turbines are driven by the pressure of expanding steam. When the steam is heated to very high temperatures (600°F or higher), it contains a lot of energy, and highly engineered turbine-generators are available for converting a large fraction of this energy into electricity. This steam is produced by boiling water and superheating the vapor, which requires a great deal of heat. The question is how will this heat be provided?
It can be produced by burning any fuel, but since coal is the cheapest fuel, most electricity in the United States is generated by coal burning. We have enough coal in the United States for hundreds of years to come, and it is relatively low in cost. The problems with the use of coal are largely environmental. They will be discussed in the next chapter.
The other major fossil fuels, oil and natural gas, are much more expensive in most parts of our country, but they are used to some extent. However, our second most prevalent way of producing this steam is with nuclear reactors, a technology referred to as nuclear power.
Nuclear power provides a quarter of all electricity in industrialized countries.2 In 1988 it provided 70% of the electricity used in France, 66% in Belgium, 49% in Hungary, 47% in Sweden and Korea, 41% in Taiwan, 37% in Switzerland, 36% in Spain, Finland, and Bulgaria, 34% in West Germany, 28% in Japan (increasing rapidly), 27% in Czechoslovakia, 19% in the United States and United Kingdom, and 16% in Canada. Nuclear power plants are now operating in 27 different countries and are under construction in 5 others. They are clearly a major contender.
While power plants utilizing steam are the preferred technology in the great majority of situations, they have one serious drawback--they require at least 4 or 5 years to construct and put into operation. If a crunch develops, requiring that new generating capacity be made available quickly, the only real option is internal combustion turbines. In them, the turbine is driven by the hot gases produced by the burning of oil or natural gas, similar to the way in which pistons are driven in an automobile engine.
Internal combustion turbines can be purchased, installed, and put into operation in 2 or 3 years. As a result of the crunch which is developing now, purchases of these machines are escalating sharply. Orders for new internal combustion turbines by U.S. utilities, in millions of kilowatts capacity, were 3.1 in 1987, 4.4 in 1988, and 5.3 in 1989. They are relatively cheap to purchase and install, which makes them attractive to utilities. Their principal drawbacks are that they are inefficient and their fuel--oil and/or natural gas--is expensive. These drawbacks are not a problem for utilities, since they have no difficulty in convincing the public utility commissions which regulate them to pass the fuel charges directly on to consumers. Internal combustion turbines are therefore easy for utilities to accept, but they increase electricity costs to consumers. They also increase our oil imports. In fact, these machines themselves are mostly imported, contributing to our balance-of-payments problems. There are many other important reasons why we should avoid expanding our use of oil.
A Sincere effort of Major importance to America-Nuclear Energy!