Nuclear Reactors 176 - Agressive Thyroid Cancers in Balarus Connected to Chernobyl Disaster

          I have often blogged about adverse health effects of radiation. One of the big problems with exposure to radiation is that there are many other factors that influence health impact. In addition, the radiation is invisible which makes it harder to know about possible exposure. And it can take years for the appearance of any symptoms from radiation poisoning.

         I have also blogged about the terrible accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine in 1986 while it was under the control of the Soviet Union. "An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over much of the western USSR and Europe." There was a recent article about wild boars in Germany with flesh too radioactive to eat. The hogs were contaminated while rooting in ground containing radioactive materials from Chernobyl from the accident that occured almost forty years ago.

         Now a medical study by members of the d has discovered that exposure to radioactive iodine released by Chernobyl was associated with an especially aggressive form of thyroid cancer. The survey was conducted on twelve thousand people who were children or adolescents in Belarus when the Chernobyl accident occured. The study was based on diagnoses of thyroid cancer in the twenty years following Chernobyl. As the estimated level of radiation exposure increased, the aggressiveness of the tumors increased. The conclusions of the study suggest that many children and adolescents in the area of the Fukushima March 2011 nuclear disaster are at risk for especially aggressive forms of thyroid cancer. There have been reports of increases in childhood thyroid disease in the vicinity of the Fukushima nuclear power plant following the disaster.


        The study also found that exposure to radioactive iodine can cause a wide spectrum of thyroid diseases from the relatively harmless to the very dangerous. In any case, the treatment for any serious thyroid illnesses is to surgically remove the thyroid and to have the patient take pills to replace the hormones produced by a healthy thyroid gland. Taking these supplement pills for a lifetime can be expensive and complicated. Thyroid cancer is usually rare among children and among adults, on average, there will be around thirteen cases per one hundred thousand people. However, there were one hundred and fifty eight thyroid cancers in the sample of almost twelve thousand people in Belarus. This is about one hundred times the normal rate of thyroid cancer. Higher radiation doses were associated with more aggressive cancers that spread to lymphatic vessels.

         I posted recently about accepted radiation release levels for operating nuclear power plants in the United States. The companies operating the power reactor report their averages emissions for the year and, as long as the average does not exceed the limit set by the NRC, the reactors were deemed to be operating safely. However, it turns out that when the reluctant companies were forced to release their hour by hour emissions, there was a huge spike in emissions when the reactor was opened for refueling. Among the radioactive materials releases in such spikes was a radioactive isotope of iodine. These is evidence of an increase in childhood leukemia and other health problems downwind of these plants but it was hard to pinpoint because the period of exposure iss brief and most dangerous to pregnant women.

       A recent metastudy of naturally occurring background radiation levels and health revealed that there is a close relationship between natural levels of background radiation and health problems related to radiation exposure. In other words, it appears that there is no "safe" level of radiation. Starting from zero background radiation, every increase in background radiation is associated with an increase in cancer, birth defects and other health problems. Bottom line, even nuclear power plants operating within acceptable parameters are not "safe" to those who live nearby.

Geiger Readings for October 30, 2014

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 116  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 101  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 110  nanosieverts per hour
Romaine lettuce from Central Market = 76  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 83  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 72 nanosieverts per hour

Nuclear Reactors 175 - China Gambles On Public Offering of Stock in State-Owned Nuclear Companies

        I have mentioned in previous blogs that the Chinese have made a major national commitment to nuclear power both for domestic consumption and for export of nuclear technology to other countries. I have also mentioned that investors are generally leery of nuclear power as a sound investment. Now these two facts have collided as Chinese nuclear companies are going public.

        CGN Power is the biggest state owned nuclear power company in China. It has almost ten gigawatts of generating capacity. CGN will probably be offering three billion dollars worth of shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in November. CGN Meiya Power, an affiliate of CGN Power raised two hundred and sixty two million dollars on the Hong Kong Exchange in September. Since raising that money, the shares in CGN Meiya Power have risen by twenty percent. China National Nuclear Power, another big state owned nuclear company is preparing for an initial public offering of stock. These companies will be joining a small group of companies which offer shares that are either mostly or entirely based on nuclear power. Exelon in the United States and EDF in France are two such companies.

         Other countries such as Germany are phasing out nuclear power and the global attitude toward nuclear power is cooling. China halted all new project approval following the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in March of 2011. However, rising demand for power and horrible pollution from coal power plants has renewed China's commitment  nuclear power. The recent and pending IPOs of Chinese nuclear companies are expect to provide funds that will be required to triple Chinese nuclear power generation to about sixty gigawatts by 2020.

         While it could be assumed that the fact that the nuclear companies going public in China are state owned would make them a good investment, state ownership may have problems that make investment less attractive. The power generated by CGN Power is sold to state-run electrical grids under regulated tariff arrangements. For nuclear power plants that went production before 2013, the tariff arrangements were supposed to provide for a "reasonable" profit but the net profits of CGN Power have fallen since 2011. For plants that began operations in 2013 or after, there is supposed to be a "fixed tariff." However, if the power from nearby coal power plants is cheaper than the nuclear generated electricity, then the tariff will be lowered to remain competitive. The odds are high that the cost of coal will be dropping and the tariff arrangement will have to lower nuclear electricity prices which will cut into profits and share prices for the nuclear power industry in China. China may also lower nuclear power prices to help heavy industries that are struggling.

        Assumptions of continuing economic growth in China suggest that there will by rising demand for electricity which should help the nuclear power companies. GCN Meiya shares are trading at a greater multiple of earning than either Exelon Shares or EDF shares. However, growth will have to be high in order for GCN Meiya to be able to deliver on its current popularity. GCN Meiya has a huge debt load and only ten percent of the IPO is allocated to paying off the debt.

       I think that China is far too optimistic about their ability to triple their nuclear generation without running into major problems such as slower growth or a major nuclear accident. A future major nuclear accident somewhere in the world is virtually certain and would heavily impact nuclear power in China. As I have said often, nuclear power is a bad investment.

Geiger Readings for October 29, 2014

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 54  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 78  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 86  nanosieverts per hour
Yellow bell pepper from Central Market = 91  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 102  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 92 nanosieverts per hour

Radioactive Waste 105 - Potential Use of Depleted Uranium Munitions in the Fight Against the Islamic State

          Sometime ago I posted an article about the use of depleted uranium in munitions that were used in Iraq during U.S. military action there. I was immediately attacked by a  troll who claimed that there was no evidence that the depleted uranium dust left behind was any threat to human health. We traded a few posts and he said derogatory things about the general accuracy of my blog. I invited him to point out any discrepancies that he found outside of our debate on depleted uranium and said that I would be glad to change anything that he could document as being false. Never heard back from him about that. When I researched him online, I found that he had connections to the U.S. Army and that he was famous for attacking anyone who dared to suggest that depleted uranium was dangerous. Defense contractors are making money from incorporating depleted uranium in munitions not to mention getting rid of low level radioactive waste. The Army has found that depleted uranium munitions are especially effective for some uses on the battlefield. There is definitely institutional resistance to public challenges on the subject of the dangers of depleted uranium dust that can be found in many places now in Iraq.

         This blog is a "Here we go again!" about depleted uranium munitions. It has been recently announced that the U.S. is sending depleted uranium munitions to the Middle East. An airplane called the A-10 Thunderbolt has 30mm Gatling guns which can be loaded with 30mm PGU-14B ammo that contains depleted uranium. This ammo is especially useful against armored vehicles such as tanks. These planes have been sent to the Middle East but have not yet been involved in attacks against Islamic State positions but they could easily be assigned such missions.

        In 2012, one hundred and fifty five United Nations members supported a resolution to ban the use of depleted uranium in munitions. Only the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Israel opposed the resolution. The United Nations First Committee is now hearing testimony from several countries including Iraq with regard to banning depleted uranium use and studying and removing depleted uranium dust from contaminated areas. A non-binding resolution will be voted on by the Committee this week requesting that nations that have used depleted uranium in munitions provide information about exactly where they were used. So far the U.S. has refused to release this information.

         The U.S. military says that it is trying to find alternatives to depleted uranium that would have the same power to penetrate armor, would be safe and would have public acceptance. They have been looking at tungsten but are concerned about possible dangers to public health.

          Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) has pointed out that there has been an increase in childhood leukemia and birth defects in Iraq since the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. He also raised the concern that depleted uranium has negatively impacted the health of soldiers who have served in Iraq. McDermott questions the further use of depleted uranium munitions until the U.S. government conducts thorough research into the health effects of depleted uranium dust.

         Depleted uranium is classed as a Group 1 Carcinogen by the World Health Organization and there is extensive documentation of health damaged caused by depleted uranium dust. The depleted uranium dust left after depleted uranium munitions are exploded is blown around by the wind, entering the soil and the water in the area. Contaminated pieces of scrap metal are used by people for cooking pots or toys for children.

        The U.S. military should immediately ban the use of depleted uranium in any munitions, research the effects of depleted uranium on human health and work to clean contaminated areas in Iraq.

 A-10 Thunderbolt:

Geiger Readings for October 28, 2014

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 97  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 51  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 63  nanosieverts per hour
Yellow bell pepper from Central Market = 92  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 90  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 76 nanosieverts per hour

Geiger Readings for October 28, 2014

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 97  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 51  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 63  nanosieverts per hour
Yellow bell pepper from Central Market = 92  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 90  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 76 nanosieverts per hour

Nuclear Reactors 174 - Some Problems with the Claim That Nuclear Power is Safe and Economical

          I understand why members of the nuclear industry are so adamant that nuclear power is the answer to our energy needs. They stand to make billions of dollars if more nuclear reactors are build. On the other hand, I am having trouble understanding why some prominent environmentalists agree that nuclear power is an important part of the future mix of energy sources. I know that nuclear power has smaller (but not zero) carbon emissions than fossil fuel sources which is attractive to environmentalists.

         I assume that the environmentalists have been talking to scientists and engineers who have assured them that nuclear power plants can safe and economical to operate. For the most part, I agree with this idea. There have been improvements in nuclear power reactor designs and tightening of regulations, especially since the Fukushima disaster in March of 2011. Considered strictly from the viewpoint of engineering design, regulations  and best practices for operation, nuclear power could be safe. The problem with that viewpoint is that there are many factors beyond reactor design and regulations that affect how safe it is to use nuclear power. Here are some other issues that must be considered when talking about how safe and economical nuclear power might be.

        Financial: There are a number of financial problems with nuclear power. Investors are not impressed with nuclear power. Seven years ago the U.S. Department of Energy allocated about twenty billion dollars to a loan pool for the construction of new reactors. In that time, they have only had a request for about eight billion in loans for the construction of two new nuclear power plants in Georgia. For years, the owners of new power reactors could sell electricity at a fixed price for up to twenty years, guaranteed by the buyers. With the turbulence in the current energy market, this type of guarantee is disappearing, making investment more risky. There are also issues with the mandatory decommissioning fund required by the NRS. Some reactor owners have not paid the required amount into the fund. Then there are issues with insurance, accident liability and so on.

        Environmental: Of course there have been many problems with the mining and processing of uranium and normal releases of radioactive gases from nuclear power plants can affect human health. And there is the problem of water supplies. Reactors require a lot of water to cool. Recently, due to climate change, bodies of water used for cooling have become too warm and reactors have had to be shut down. This problem will only get worse. And the environment can also cause problems such as floods, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes which can threaten nuclear power plants. And, of course, there is the problem of what to do about all the accumulating nuclear waste from power plant operations without a permanent geological repository in the U.S.

       Political: There are far too many stories about the failure of the NRC to adequately regulate the nuclear power plants in the United States. And far too many stories of nuclear power plant operators failing to purchase new parts, failing to train staff adequately, failing to follow engineering designs correctly, failing to respond to and report problems, openly lying about reactor operations and problems, etc. Both the government and private companies have a bad record with respect to the treatment of whistleblowers. In the event of war, such as in Ukraine, nuclear power plants might be destroyed either deliberately or accidentally.

       This recount of problems with nuclear power is only a brief and partial list of some of the additional problems beyond engineering designs and regulations on the books that make nuclear power a very bad choice for the generation of electricity.

Geiger Readings for October 27, 2014

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 105  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 88  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 94  nanosieverts per hour
Yellow bell pepper from Central Market = 86  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 74  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 66 nanosieverts per hour

Geiger Readings for October 26, 2014

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 80  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 104  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 111  nanosieverts per hour
Yellow bell pepper from Central Market = 99  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 103  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 88 nanosieverts per hour