Monday, 17 October 2016

Irish EPA grossly overestimate fatal cancer risk from radiation.


The Irish EPA grossly overestimate fatal cancer risk caused by radiation. By up to 6000-fold for age cohort 20-24. For example, if you are aged between 20 and 24, the Irish EPA overestimate your risk of dying of a fatal cancer due to radiation by 6000 times too much. The real risk is about 1 in a million. Irish EPA estimate it at 1 in 178.

In their fact sheet on radiation[1], The Irish Environment Protection Agency say:

  1. "we can estimate that a dose of 10 µSv may increase the lifetime risk of fatal cancer by about one in 2,000,000"
  2. Their estimate is based on real world risk assessments using:
    • Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb survivor data
    • Patients exposed to external radiation for the treatment or diagnosis of certain diseases
    • Marshall Islanders exposed to severe fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests
    • Miners exposed to radon and its decay products
    • Residents exposed to radon in the home
    • Workers exposed to radium-226 in luminous paint
    • Patients exposed to radium-224 for bone disease

This EPA leaflet looks convincing. What could be more believable than a risk assessment derived from real world cancer mortalities? Produced by a government agency called the Environment Protection Agency. You would have to take that seriously, or should you?

For a risk assessment to make any sense it should give some estimate of risk within reasonable error bounds. A risk assessment which is out by an order of magnitude (ten times too high or too low) is of little help. Surely an Environmental Protection Agency should be able to get their guesses right within an order of magnitude?

Reasonable explanation proposed for the Irish EPA statement

Joris van Dorp: If 10 muSv/yr gives 1 in 2 million chance of cancer, then assuming 70 years average life, dose is 2.7mSv × 70 yrs ~ 200.000 muSv, means chance of death is 20 thousand in 2 million ~ 1%.

1% is 1/40 of normal cancer incidence of 40%.

Joris' explanation looks good to me. But there's still a problem with this EPA handout. Taken literally it implies a far greater risk than the evidence shows. Irish EPA can should say each '10 µSv per year' if that's what they mean.

My model

I took what I know of regulations and cancer to make a model, which I compared to real world cancer data. Because I live in UK and have real world UK cancer mortality data, it was easiest to model this for the UK. However I can assure you, there's nothing special about UK with regard to cancer risk. If anything UK has a bad rep for stopping deaths from cancer. This is my final model compared to the real world.

Table 1: UK cancer mortalities. Real world compared to projected data
per 100,000
real numbersderivedprojections
Age RangeMale DeathsFemale DeathsMale RatesFemale RatesAverage (MF) ratesAverage (MF) rates - radiationinceptiondeathsOverestimate
0 to 0447392.322.150.12033.667 ×
05 to 0947402. ×
10 to 1438332.11.920.1878117.52349 ×
15 to 1964473.22.52.850.11,215299.54204 ×
20 to 24877543.53.750.11,553562.35998 ×
25 to 2913115166.96.450.21,890870.35397 ×
30 to 342102949.813.611.70.32,2281,197.74095 ×
35 to 393194601622.919.450.52,5651,531.83150 ×
40 to 4467898430.643.4370.92,9031,867.72019 ×
45 to 491428176961.974.668.251.73,2402,204.71292 ×
50 to 5425572853118.9129.9124.43.13,5782,542.2817 ×
55 to 5943604076234.7214.1224.45.63,9152,879.7513 ×
60 to 6473586070422.1334.3378.29.54,2533,217.2340 ×
65 to 69110898696658.1488.2573.1514.34,5903,554.7248 ×
70 to 741259997291043.6724.8884.222.14,9283,892.2176 ×
75 to 7914330112921501.6991.61246.631.25,2654,229.7136 ×
80 to 8414127121942169.51355.91762.744.15,6034,567.2104 ×
85 to 89104551025330311732.42381.759.55,9404,904.782 ×
All Ages8566776644271.6235.2253.46.3


Table 1 shows cancers grouped by age cohort give by UK Cancer Research[2] (yellow). Two columns are derived from real world data (green). The first simply averages male and female fatal cancer rates per 100k. The second derived column divides this by 40 on the assumption that 1 in 40 cancers are caused by radiation and that there's nothing exceptional about radiation cancers compared to others. Next we move to derived data (salmon). The inception column shows the number of cancers which are expected to eventually result in fatalities. The 'deaths' column applies a calculation based on the chart below which accounts for the time taken for a cancer to kill. This shows the number of fatalities expected in that age cohort. The final column (Overestimate) shows the ratio of column 9 (deaths) to column 7 (Average (MF) rates - radiation). Rates in the table are all give as per 100,000

Chart 1 : Cancer induction time distribution[3]


This part of the blog gives a detailed derivation of the previous model.

The Irish EPA say: "we can estimate that a dose of 10 µSv may increase the lifetime risk of fatal cancer by about one in 2,000,000". Nearly all regulatory agencies in the world assume a linear no-threshold effect due to radiation. [ I think the French[4] alone are different ]. So 10 µSv = 0.01 mSv. 1 in 2 million is 0.05 in 100,000. We will compare fatal cancers per 100,000 of the population. If we expect 0.01mSv to give a rate of 0.05, we can project 2.7mSv to cause a rate of 13.5. By simply scaling.

Table 2:
dose (mSv)Projected fatalities per 100k

2.7mSv is the average annual radiation exposure found in UK. Our real world cancer data comes from UK Cancer Research is also refers to the UK. I use this Irish EPA risk assessment to project the inception time of fatal cancers. I get the table below. It increases on a linear scale. Each extra year of life, adds an extra risk of contracting a fatal cancer from background radiation. A risk corresponding to an extra 13.5 per 100,000, per year.

Table 3: Project of fatal cancer inception times.
Year of lifeFatal cancer inception / 100k


Table 3 Notes
  • the table continues, ending at 89
  • Each 5 year period will be summed to make 5-year cohorts. The first cohort has 5 years labelled 0 - 4.

How very simple. I think this is one of the reasons why Linear No-threshold, LNT, is beloved of regulators. It is so very easy to math. Ref [4], has a good explanation of LNT. We can not just go from cancer inception to predict fatalities. There is a delay between inception and mortality which can be quite long (see Chart 1 above). At this point I simplified. I have real world data in 5 year cohorts, and inception-to-mortality data in 5 year cohorts. I grouped my inception data into 5 year cohorts too. By summing the 1-year cohort projections. Because I compare this with fatalities grouped into 5 year cohorts, I sum each 5 year band. The inception time for a fatal cancer differs from the time of death, according to a distribution shown in Chart 1: This chart was used to make a table. (Table 4). The distribution for the last 2 age ranges was smoothed. ( So 1 + 1, rather than 0 + 2). 281 is the estimated sample size. The estimated fatal cancer inceptions for each 5 year cohort were now multiplied to get the estimated time of death. These are the numbers seen under the age ranges (horizontally) These numbers were summed for each age range to arrive at final estimates of actual deaths per cohort.

Table 4: Cancer induction time distribution
total0 to 0405 to 0910 to 1415 to 1920 to 2425 to 2930 to 3435 to 3940 to 4445 to 49
Table 5: How induction time was added
Per 5 yearscancer inceptiondeaths
0 to 0420343.603
05 to 09540289.60918.737
10 to 1487811715.61449.96451.886
15 to 191,21530021.61981.192138.36358.372
20 to 241,55356227.625112.420224.840155.65841.797
25 to 291,89087033.630143.648311.317252.945111.45917.295
30 to 342,2281,19839.635174.875397.794350.231181.12146.1217.927
35 to 392,5651,53245.641206.103484.270447.518250.78374.94721.1391.441
40 to 442,9031,86851.646237.331570.747544.804320.445103.77234.3513.8430.721
45 to 493,2402,20557.651268.559657.224642.091390.107132.59847.5626.2461.9220.721
50 to 543,5782,54263.657299.786743.701739.377459.769161.42360.7748.6483.1231.922
55 to 593,9152,88069.662331.014830.178836.664529.431190.24973.98611.0504.3243.123
60 to 644,2533,21775.667362.242916.655933.950599.093219.07587.19813.4525.5254.324
65 to 694,5903,55581.673393.4701003.1321031.237668.754247.900100.40915.8546.7265.525
70 to 744,9283,89287.678424.6981089.6091128.523738.416276.726113.62118.2567.9276.726
75 to 795,2654,23093.683455.9251176.0851225.810808.078305.552126.83320.6589.1287.927
80 to 845,6034,56799.689487.1531262.5621323.096877.740334.377140.04423.06010.3299.128
85 to 895,9404,905105.694518.3811349.0391420.383947.402363.203153.25625.46311.53010.329

Model derivation explained

  • The cancer inception column in table 5 is derived by summing each consecutive 5 years from Table 3.
    E.g. 203 = 13.5 + 27 + 40.5 + 54 + 67.5
  • This inception data (e.g. 203) is distributed according to the frequency shown in Chart 1 (same as Table 4).
    E.g. 203 = 3.603 + 18.737 + 51.886 + 58.372 + 41.797 + 17.295 + 7.927 + 1.441 + 0.721 + 0.721
  • The 3rd column: deaths, is got by summing the delayed mortalities to the right of it
  • Data after the 85 to 89 column is ignored. It's just displayed to show the model.
  • Columns 2 and 3 of Table 5 go to make columns 8 and 9 of Table 1


  1. The document claiming 10 µSv exposure implies 1 in 2 million mortalies was authored by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, which was established in 1992 and merged with the EPA in 2014. The EPA still use RPII fact sheets when dealing with radiation.
  2. UK Cancer Research. Download the spreadsheet data.
  3. Source: Chapter 2 - "Epidemiology Kept Simple: An Introduction to Traditional and Modern Epidemiology", by B. Burt Gerstman, Wiley, 2013, page 36
  4. Dose-effect relationship and estimation of the carcinogenic effects of low-doses of ionizing radiation, by Maurice Tubiana, André Aurengo, 2005

Thursday, 13 October 2016

All Change in Switzerland?

Switzerland has four nuclear plants supplying over a third of its electricity.

On the surface, it looks bad for nuclear power in Switzerland. In May 2011, following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, the Swiss government passed "Energy Strategy 2050" programme, promoting renewables, but banning new nuclear power. Recently Swiss utilities Axpo, Alpiq and BKW withdrew their joint request to build nuclear plants. The Swiss Green Party, supported by Greenpeace, are behind a referendum on Nov 27 to close reactors early: Beznau I & II, and Muehleberg in 2017, with two remaining stations to follow in 2024 and 2029.

One the other hand: When put to a referendum the Swiss people consistently support nuclear power (apart from one 1990 vote). A 2014 poll showed the Swiss strongly in favour of keeping existing nuclear power plants, with 64% saying existing reactors are essential. The largest political party: Swiss People's Party (SVP), who are out of office, will push for a referendum via the Swiss system of direct democracy to dump the "Energy Strategy 2050". They delayed their referendum demand because they sought support from business which was not forthcoming. Despite this setback, the right-wing party says it is launching the referendum with the support of associations and businesses, including Swissmem who represent the machine, electrical and metal industries.

History of Swiss nuclear power referendums
1979A citizens' initiative for nuclear safetyrejected
1984"for a future without further nuclear power stations"55% to 45% against.
1990"stop the construction of nuclear power stations," proposing a 10-year moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plantspassed with 54.5% to 45.5%
1990The initiative for a phase-outrejected by 53% to 47.1%
2000Green Tax for support of solar energyrejected by 67% to 31%.
2003"Electricity without Nuclear," asking for a decision on a nuclear power phase-outrejected 33.7% Yes, 66.3% No
2003"Moratorium Plus," for an extension of the earlier decided moratorium (in 1990) on the construction of new nuclear power plantsrejected 41.6% Yes, 58.4%

Swiss federal election, 2015
% vote
29.4%Swiss People's
18.8%Social Democrats
16.4%FDP (Liberals)
11.6%Christian Democrats
4.6%Green Liberals

Opinion Poll

Telephone interviews of 1,200 Swiss citizens, from Oct 3 to Oct 14, found the Swiss overwhelmingly in favour of the Greenpeace / Green Party proposal for a quick nuclear power phase out. 57% to 36%. With 7% undecided and a margin of error of 3%. Despite this, many analysts think the Swiss may reject Green Party proposals for an early nuclear power phase out on Nov 27! That's because participation in the national referendum isn't expected to be about 45%.

Notes, links

  1. Swiss utilities throw in towel over new nuclear plants
  2. SVP launch challenge to energy strategy
  3. Swiss government opposes campaign for quick nuclear exit
  4. Nuclear power in Switzerland (Wikipedia)
  5. 'Swiss want say on nuclear phase out'
  6. Telephone poll shows Swiss favour phase out by big majority.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Gerri Thomas - on real risks of radiation

Good arguments and data at youtube from Youtube: Gerri Thomas on radiation. Why Fukushima, and low radiation doses, are not such a big deal. e.g. that chart below counts radiation during a visit of French students to Fukushima. Notice 4 radiation peaks here:

  1. Going through security at Paris airport
  2. Flight to Japan (goes right off the scale)
  3. Going through security at French embassy (in Japan)
  4. Actual visit to Fukushima - town in south of exclusion zone (Tomioka)

Friday, 16 September 2016

The EPR™ Reactor : Overly Complex or a Testament to Technology?

The dialogue below was found at this live video chat: The EPR™ Reactor : Overly Complex Or A Testament To Technology? by:

  • Philippe Knoche, Senior Executive Vice-president Reactors and Services Business Group
  • Gaëlle Copienne, Journalist
The original presentation and questions seem to be lost, but there was a post-discussion chat I copied below:

  • User : what is the difference between generation 2, 3 and 4?
  • michel123 : Why fine-tune the EPR which has a lifespan of 60 years, when there are 40 years of uranium reserves? It would have been more logical to continue producing with the old reactors, with a few improvements, and bank on supergenerators without sodium if it's possible.
  • User : what is the EPR and what is the origin of its conception?
  • John Doe : Shouldn't the definition of "nuclear power plant" mean more than just the reactor itself? In terms of new markets located to a certain extent in emerging countries, aren't they doomed to fail (or encounter difficulties) if we do not expand are way of thinking? Meaning including such ideas as the establishment of an appropriate regulatory and institutional environment, supply chain and local capacities, and the availability of qualified personnel. But in this case, an equipment manufacturer like AREVA cannot provide this complex product. So, who can? Do (international) bodies really exist who are capable of providing this "intangibles" of a nuclear power plant? Finally, should we be focusing solely on the technology when "selling" an EPR?
  • User : Hi everyone
  • JK69 : The investment in an EPR and its operating costs over 30 years represent an expenditure that is higher than the same sum allocated to the renovation of old dwellings, which would cut power consumption on a scale that is roughly equivalent to the quantity of electricity generated by the EPR. But there would be no dismantling, no management of hazardous waste and no risks to be controlled. The gains are immediate. This would take less than 5 years. So why is priority given to the EPR, when renovation projects would create many more jobs?
  • user : how many are currently under construction?
  • Martin : What is the status of the Chinese plants. Are there any additional Chinese plants in the planning stage?
  • Gustavo : What is the cost of the average EPR reactor?
  • User : Do you think that you will develop a low-cost reactor to meet the needs of an emerging market that may not necessarily have the funds to invest in generation 3?
  • user : in what way is EPR safer than previous reactors and reactors developed by your competitors?
  • lion : The EPR must meet the security demands of the ASN and, above all, the demands voiced by the German Green politician, Jürgen Trittin, who made the restrictions applying to the design and build so severe that it is almost unfeasible. So I wonder whether the EPR is not “over secure” in terms of design and build, a fact that would not even mean that it is optimally secure when it comes to operations.
  • RadioactiveMan1000 : Is Areva developing Generation IV reactors like fast breeder reactors?
  • User : We hear that the reactor at Flamanville will be three years late and will be operational only in 2015. In Finland you are also reporting considerable delays... are we waiting for Godot?
  • sylvainm : Hello, AREVA has considerably improved EPR safety (double barrier, corium collector, hydrogen absorbers, etc.) in comparison to other 1,450 MW reactors. However, I think that its 1,650 MW power capacity is still weak in relation to these new improvements. The EPR is considered an innovative reactor even though it uses water pressure technology. Certainly, innovation means taking a risk, but why didn’t you construct this reactor with a power capacity of 2,000 MW? I think that the power capacity of this reactor is inappropriate vis-à-vis the major safety improvements. Currently, aren’t 1,450 MW reactors more secure and competitive than the EPR? The safety standards are certainly lower, but they have a power capacity very close to that of the EPR (Chooz B has a power capacity of 1,500 MW). In addition, confidence in these reactors is higher thanks to the experience gained through their operation. Finally, they have a lower cost. Another question. EPR safety has improved through the redundancy of electrical systems, the 4 independent security layers… but this requires a more complex installation. Why didn’t AREVA opt for passive safety devices (gravity, convection, etc.) as for the AP-1000? AREVA has developed the safest and most powerful reactors. However, when I’m at the supermarket, I don’t necessarily buy the most expensive package of Kellogg’s cereal. I might buy a product from a less expensive brand. Why have you designed this reactor with such specifications? The best products are not necessarily the ones that will sell the best. In addition, ASN is impeding AREVA a bit, because they can no longer sell the second generation of reactors (900, 1,300 and 1,450). Best regards.
  • slama : Will continue to sell Geneartion 2 rectors? Will they draw on technological advances?
  • Ecologue : The concrete in the EPR is wrought with difficulties and probably one of the causes for the delay. Could we envision reducing costs by partially or completely burying the reactor building, with basic safety protection in the pit, without anti-air constraints?
  • User : Inside AREVA were you ready and prepared for the construction launch of an EPR series?
  • normandie : I don't know whether a EPR is too complex a technological gem but I observe that the building of EPRs today is registring major delays which is causing AREVA to revue its construction costs.Moreover, EPR doesn't seem to strike a consessus within the French nuclear industry. Some people refer to a smaller size generator built in partnership with GDF Suez. Can you clarify that point for me ?
  • ludigad : In vue of EPR capital expenditure and construction lead times what is AREVA position on extending its range of reactors in emerging countries and with what safety standards. Will the range be available in European union ?
  • User : We have read in the press that the design of the EPR was too complex and therefore difficult to construct. Have you not been too ambitious by designing this "Formula 1" model?
  • User : We remember issues raised by the safety authorities with regards to the instrumentation & control systems... could you tell us what the nature of these issues was and if anything has changed since then?
  • Tom_85 : Do you really think you will finish your project in Finland? Are you afraid that EDF will finish before you?
  • RealWheel : Why are there instrumentation & control systems safety issues? What safety function was overlooked in the programming stage and was subsequently discovered by EDF? Why is this safety measure, which exists on plants that generate less power, not present on the EPR?
  • Laurence : Dear Phillipe. I am a nuclear professional from Koeberg SA. I am currently busy with my PhD research work on human-technology interface and will appreciate your reply to the following question: what are the biggest challenges facing the future operation of the new 3rd generation EPR reactor design, by the next generation of people, and yet ensuring safe operations. Merci Beaucoup.
  • User : You build reactors with the Chinese through joint ventures, which must involve transfers of technological knowledge... aren't you afraid of losing your lead?
  • zelhar : How do you protect your intelectual property and trade secretes ?
  • zelhar : Since you market the EPR in China, Don't you fear your design is going to be copied by the Chinese ?
  • blair : With a coming wave of smaller ecological distributed power sources, what is the chance that the EPR's future use is outmoded before operational?
  • kellermfk : The cost of new nuclear power plants is exceptionally high relative to alternatives, at least in the US which is blessed with natural gas as well as coal fuel resources. Construction of nuclear facilities will inevitably lead to massive rate increases. Further, the need for new power plants is not that great due to the severe recession in the US. Why should an EPR or any reactor be constructed in the US?
  • babar : Why have you decided to abandon generation 2?
  • ULTRASTAR : Don't you think that EDF let the industrial fabric come undone after shelving nuclear in France, and that today, mostly inexperienced people are constructing or modifying our power plants?
  • L. Dupin : Could the future Atmea reactor be described as a small-scaled EPR ?
  • BBMAN : With EDF buying out Constellation in the U.S., when can we reasonably expect them to ramp up the detailed design engineering for the Calvert Cliffs plant?
  • RadioactiveMan1000 : Will Areva develop a smaller, modular reactor like Babcox & Wilcox has in the USA. Do you think they are viable?
  • zelhar : Is it possible to build EPR away from big natural water source ?
  • MrNeutron : With all the effort put into the design of this new reactor, why did you go for a breeder? So now, not only do you have to spend energy on isotope separation, but you only get to use 1/200th of the available energy from the uranium.
  • Lorito : How much is the cost of an average reactor ?
  • zel : Is the design complex enough so it is protected from being copied by competitors?
  • Nanogigas : Is the EPR the missing link in the chain between the GR reactors and the future generations of reactors, commercially speaking.
  • Lucia : Do you think that licensing and construction of EPR in Italy (if one) could have same problems of US EPR?
  • User : Hi, could you please substantiate your claims of EPR being the world's safest Gen III reactor? By what standards is this claim based on? I thought that core damage frequency was the industry standard for measuring reactor safety (WNA, U.S. NRC)?
  • sarazin : Is the shutdown of the superphenix justified?
  • AMON23 : The request is still very pragmatic. AECL pursues its development through CANDU by participating in a variety of calls for tender: Energy treatment with water or Energy Tourism or even Energy on industrial development: could we not keep the EPR for European applications and develop PWR 1,000s for export to where cost consciousness is as important as safety? Can we do all this while emphasizing the value of our fuel-cycle competency, or while promoting the market exchanges: Energy versus Uranium.
  • Gym75 : What are the evidence indicating that EPR reactors can function safely?
  • ENG / Taymour alseed khalil : Egypt will tendering new nuclear power plant end of this year what about AREVA plan in this important tender in arab region ? are you have local partner in Egypt ?
  • Lorito : Are you going to install a reactor in Venezuela?
  • Nanogigas : If the EPR proves not profitable enough, could speeding up the development of generation 4 be a financially viable solution?
  • UweEichler : AREVA also designs and manufactures electrical systems and instrumentation and controls for EPR. Where are the location of the center of design and manufacture.
  • User : The way the EPR reactor works is generally the same as for current REPs: could we not have moved on to the 4th generation of reactors (super reactors), which have been studied for a long time, and have already been tested (Phenix, Superphenix for instance)?
  • tassiedevil : what temperature is the reactor running at please?
  • Estelle Gauquelin : What is the control rods' response time?
  • UweEichler : AREVA also designs and manufactures electrical systems and instrumentation and controls for EPR. Where are the location of the center of design and manufacture.
  • pfblclb : If we ask the right question now in terms of the EPR, might the Gen4 reactors give more satisfactory results?
  • sometime : How can the cleanness of electricity be measured? Where does nuclear energy stand in comparison with other forms of energy?
  • DStellfox : Is it a coincidence that you are doing this live chat now at the same time and day as the release of a report critical of the EPR by University of Greenwich Professor of Energy Studies Stephen Thomas?
  • User : I suppose that the technological difficulties encountered in the construction of the EPR were known from the outset. On the other hand, I can understand that no-one knew how long it would take to solve them. So shouldn’t the EPR be considered as an experimental project to test in situ the technological solutions, so that they can be replicated later on? The same targets cannot be set for an experimental project and for a tried and tested project.
  • CYril : Bonjour
  • Cyril : pour Vincent et Yann
  • Cyril : Re-test pour Vincent et Yann
  • Cyril : TEST

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Fukushima contaminates the Pacific with 150 tonnes of toxic waste a day? No.

Today I read in a discussion thread that 150 tonnes of toxic waste per day was dumped into the Pacific at Fukushima. The storyteller got his 150 tonnes from here, from which he changed 'contaminated water' into 'toxic waste' with typical poetic flourish. Deliberately misrepresenting the article.

Is there a risk posed by contaminated water at Fukushima?

In fact, the water is contaminated mainly with a little bit of tritium. The same tritium already present in all water. Tritium is perhaps the mildest radioactive substance I know of. It undergoes beta decay to helium-3. No gamma is emitted. The electron emitted has an average energy = 5.7 keV.

Compare that to 89% of potassium-40 decays, which are beta decays with maximum energy = 1330 keV. The ratio 5.7 : 1330 = 1:233. Potassium-40 radioactivity is up to 233 times more energetic than tritium. The cell damage inflicted by radiation is directly proportional to the energy. A typical human body internally experiences about 500 million radioactive decays per day, about half of them potassium-40.

Water contaminated with tritium is only harmful (in theory) if you drink it, and we drink sea water all the time don't we? Not quite. Unless eaten or drunk, tritium radiation will not penetrate into your body. If you were swimming in the sea you'd find water an excellent radioactive shield. Beta radiation does not penetrate air either very far, only about 2 metres. Externally all beta radiation will be stopped by your skin. So the effect of tritium beta radiation is something like strong UV sunlight, but much less intense. Because there's masses of sunlight and tiny amounts of tritium to worry about. Ooop, there's not actually any tritium to worry about.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Refutation of recent Climate Policy paper written by Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling

A recent Climate Policy paper, written by Andrew Lawrence, Benjamin Sovacool & Andrew Stirling, claimed nuclear power supporting countries do worse at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The paper is rubbish. It has many flaws enumerated below.

Some abbreviations and terms.

  • AGW: anthropic global warming, or man-made climate change.
  • CO2: Carbon dioxide - a gas made by burning wood, oil, coal, natural gas and carbon-based fuels. Just about all fuels are carbon-based.
  • GHG: Greenhouse gas. A gas causing AGW, generally by means of radiative forcing. Usually measured in CO2 equivalents.
  • EU: European Union
  • Eurostat: Primary source of data for EU countries
  • bioXXX: biomass (usually wood), bio-gas, and biofuel
  • RE: renewable energy
  • Sovacool: A report author
  • GFC: Global Financial Crash
  • NPP: Nuclear power plant

Flaws in this paper:

  1. The data they use for European emissions (% GHG emission reductions in table 2 of their paper) is not found in the reference they give page 27 of (pdf). Their reference has no data since 2012 but is based on Eurostat numbers. Eurostat themselves have emissions data for 2013 and 2014. So does EDGAR. I looked for data similar to theirs in other Eurostat data feeds but found nothing.
  2. The term renewable energy is arbitrary; a political construct. Biofuel is not renewable. Corn grown to make ethanol biofuel requires phosphate fertilizer which must be mined. Biofuels are often not even 'carbon neutral', let alone a cause of GHG emission reductions. Nuclear power is at least as 'renewable' as biofuel.
  3. Renewable energy does not always have low emissions. In many cases biofuels have higher emissions than the fossil fuel they replace. Biomass does not reduce GHG emissions. The opposite. BioXXX is also highly constrained by limited land availability. It uses land intensively and inefficiently.
  4. Most EU RE is still bioXXX and waste, which, according to Eurostat, was over 62% of all EU RE in 2014 and 71% of German RE in 2013:
    EU renewable energies by source (Eurostat)
  5. The report authors uncritically associate more RE with GHG emission reductions. This is not necessarily the case, for 2 reasons:
    1. BioXXX only came to be seen as renewable by political decree
    2. Intermittent renewables, such as: solar, wind, tidal, and wave require fossil fuel support to cover for their unreliability
  6. Their core notion that 'nuclear power phase out' countries like Germany do better at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is nonsense. Germany does worse at reducing GHG emissions. It had no GHG emission reductions from 2009 to 2015.
    German GHG emissions, CO2 eq.
  7. Germany's nuclear power phase out caused it to build masses of new coal power. At least 10.7GWe of it since 2010. Of all fossil fuel, coal produces the most CO2 per unit of energy made. It is worst for GHG emissions.
  8. For data, they reference fellow antinuclear power campaigners who wrote 'The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2015'. They should use data from unbiased authorities instead.
  9. They split European countries into 4 groups, but their split is arbitrary. For example: Slovenia could be in their group II or III because Slovenia plans a second nuclear reactor. Group II are nuclear power phase-out countries (according to the authors).
  10. They excluded Croatia from their European countries for no clear reason. They don't even say why. Yet this is crucial because Slovenia (which is included) shares ownership of a nuclear power plant with Croatia!
  11. They give no reason, nor evidence, why their group II countries are 'nuclear phase out'. All their group II countries apart from Germany are very ambivalent, to say the least, about a nuclear phase out. The other six in this 'nuclear phase out' group are:

    • Slovenia: Has not shut the reactor it jointly owns with Croatia, but instead, they intend to add more nuclear power
    • Switzerland: Public voted to continue with nuclear power
    • Sweden: Will phase out its nuclear tax in 2019. It has not banned new reactors
    • Spain: In 2011, the government lifted the 40-year limit on all reactors, allowing owners to apply for license extensions in 10-year increments
    • Belgium: When Germany tried to bully them into closing a reactor they refused
    • Netherlands: In 1994 voted to phase out their 2 NPPs. In 1997 one NPP shut. In 2003: shutdown of others was postponed till 2013. In 2006 shutdown was postponed till 2034. Seriously Holland! it's only one reactor. If you're committed to the anti-nuke cause shut it down like our report authors want you to!

    Six out of seven countries show less than 100% commitment to phaseouts and some of them had only very minor commitments to nuclear power start with (Slovenia, Netherlands). Strange how the authors made these 7 countries into a "group". I keep thinking There must be something else they have in common too!

    The French parliament recently voted to install 50% renewable energy sometime in the future. Perhaps the authors should move France from a Group III (pro nuclear) to their Group II (anti-nukes)?

  12. They ignore, or elide, history and time, for example:
    • France is nuclear powered because in the 1970s the economy was badly hurt in the oil crisis, caused by a huge oil price rise after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. France had a lot of diesel powered electricity back then. France began building nuclear power plants when GHG and global warming were not issues.
    • Sweden had plenty of renewable energy (hydro) for decades. Well before AGW became an issue. Because it's cheaper there where they have lots of land, water, and hills.
  13. They ignore geography. Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and the 3 former Soviet Baltic countries have much lower population densities and/or access to RE energies like hydro, geothermal, and or land for biomass. Unsurprisingly these countries generally have the highest renewable energy, RE, proportions in Europe. Lots of spare land and water make RE easier.
  14. They never factored in the effect of the Global Financial Crash, GFC in reducing GHG emissions in Southern Europe: Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy. Southern European countries were heavily affected by the GFC, and many still are. This caused their economies to contract, and economic contraction is a big cause of GHG emission reductions.
  15. This report has an odd list of other works cited. Many of the cited works have no link to the report, in terms of ideas or data. It looks like they are citing papers of their friends and political allies just because they are anti-nuclear. Gaming the academic system to make their anti-nuclear friends look good with cross-citations.
  16. It has not been peer reviewed. Nothing this bad could've been peer reviewed. It's not been well edited either.
  17. One author (Sovacool) references himself 10 times within his own paper!
  18. They use flowery language to make renewables sound good and nuclear power bad. That shows their clear bias from the start.

The source Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling claimed for their data does not contain the data they said they extracted from it (issue 1). Yet I'm still curious to know what effect different base years have on GHG emissions. So I took CAIT data and selected 4 different base years 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005. This is shown right at the end of this blog in the (Appendix):

The last 5 columns (in the appendix) show GHG emissions reductions. 4 were calculated by me and one copied from the Sovacool paper. Nearly every country has been reducing emissions since 2005. Yet the EU uses 1990 as a base year for emissions reductions. A negative value shows an emission fall (good) but a red number shows a rise (bad).

Let's look at how Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling Group III (nuclear friendly countries) do. The data below is just copied from the previous calculation already shown in the Appendix.

Group III% GHG emissions reduction
1990-20121995-20122000-20122005-2012Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling
Czech Republic-27.9-13.9-11.9-10.29
United Kingdom-16.7-12.0-13.2-14.4-16

Group III countries do very well indeed for nearly every range upon which emission reductions are calculated. They do best for the longest range 1990-2012, which is the one that counts in the EU w.r.t. climate policy, and targets. Except for those mysterious values provided by Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling (the last column) for which no one has been able to trace the source of. I hope this gives the reader a valuable lesson in the art of cherry-picking and obfuscation. Well done to misters: Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling.


Total CO2 Emissions Excluding Land-Use Change + Forestry (MtCO2). Source: CAIT
% GHG emissions reduction
Country199019952000200520121990-20121995-20122000-20122005-2012Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling
Czech Rep152.1127.4124.5122.1109.7-27.9-13.9-11.9-10.29
EU (15)3178.73154.23248.63363.52913.4-8.3-7.6-10.3-13.4--
EU (28)4188.43974.63975.74116.93610.5-13.8-9.2-9.2-12.3--

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Nuclear power plants cause climate change by emitting Krypton-85, not

"Nuclear news"

Is not a nuclear news site. It's a site full of junk written by keen antinuclear power activist Christina MacPherson / Noel Wanchope (They are the same person). Any lie or fabrication about nuclear power is repeated by nuclear news and sent out to her followers. The criteria for publication here is antinuclear good, pronuclear ignored. To some people nuclear news is a nutty site. To others it's a hero site. It's remarkable how similar it is in choice of story to mainstream newspapers like The Guardian: pronuclear all but banned, almost any antinuclear story published.

Let's look at one claim Christina makes on her site, for example the myth that

krypton-85 is responsible for climate change
Google gives 97 hits for this meme on Christina MacPherson's website:

Krypton-85 is a very rare radioactive gas found in earth's atmosphere and mostly originating from nuclear power. In particular it leaks out when spent fuel is reprocessed. Krypton is an inert gas, and does not react chemically with other atoms. It occurs in mono-molecular form, AKA: single atoms. Because it has made no bonds there is no polarization to speak of in the molecule and it has no radiative forcing effect.

The basis of this anti-nuke claim (Krypton-85 made by nuclear power causes climate change) originated decades ago from a speculative academic paper. The researchers said that if a lot more krypton-85 was made (tens, hundreds of times as much?), then it might have an effect. Krypton-85 decays with a ½-life = 10¾ years. When it decays it produces a positively charged ion and a negatively charged electron (beta-ray). The anti-nuke theory goes this atmospheric ionization causes climate change. Let's look at the numbers.

  1. There's a small amount of Kr-85. In 2009, the total amount of Kr-85 in the atmosphere was estimated at 5500 PBq due to human sources. This is 0.38 tonnes of Kr-85 in 5,140 trillion tonnes of air (making up all earth's atmosphere). 0.000000000074 ppm, or 0.000074 ppt (parts per trillion).
  2. The atmosphere is positively charged (overall). Earth has an overall negative charge. This is why lightning happens.
  3. An average bolt of lightning carries a negative electric current of 40 kiloamperes (kA) (although some bolts can be up to 120 kA), and transfers a charge of five coulombs and energy of 500 MJ, or enough energy to power a 100-watt lightbulb for just under two months. There are estimated to be around 2,000 lightning storms active around the globe at one time creating over 100 strikes per second. i.e. 500 coulombs discharged per second on earth.
  4. 5500 Pbq means, each second 5.5 × 1018 positive ions are made by Kr-85, and the same number of electrons. This is the number of Kr-85 decays happening. About 5.5 ÷ 6.241 coulomb. = 0.88 coulomb. This assumes all the negative ions are lost. Negative charge is not lost. All beta-rays are captured in the atmosphere. So there is no net charge contribution to the atmosphere from krypton-85. A beta ray (electron) can travel about 2 metres in air before it collides with an air molecule.
  5. Krypton-85 makes about 0.88 coulomb of positive and negative charge (per second). Each second, about 500 coulombs of charge in the atmosphere is neutralized by lightning.
  6. There has to be far more Kr-85 in the atmosphere for it to affect climate in any measurable way. Even then climate scientists dispute the effect of ionization, which is said to cause cloud formation, which either cools or warms depending on whether these are in the upper or lower atmosphere.
  7. I almost forgot. Significant buildup of Kr-85 will not happen because doubling the amount emitted (mostly by nuclear fuel reprocessing plants) will not double the amount in the atmosphere. This is because of its 10¾ year ½-life.

Alert observers may notice I already covered this once. I was completely baffled when I discovered this antinuclear power meme. It holds a kind of ghoulish fascination for me. As in: just how daft can hard-core anti-nukes get?


RationalWiki: Krypton-85 and climate change