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Radiation Not As Hazardous As Once Believed 570

HeavensBlade23 sends in an article from the German site Spiegel Online about mounting evidence that nuclear radiation may not be as deadly as has been widely believed. The article cites studies by German, US, and Japanese researchers concluding, for example, that fewer than 800 deaths are attributable to the after-effects of radiation in over 86,500 survivors of the Hiroshima bombing. Other surprisingly low death rates are reported in studies of Chernobyl and of a secret Siberian town called Mayak, devoted to producing plutonium, that was abandoned after a nuclear accident in 1957.
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Radiation Not As Hazardous As Once Believed

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  • by Bombula ( 670389 ) on Monday November 26, 2007 @11:14PM (#21487681)
    It says 'only' 800 deaths resulted, but last time I checked there were plenty of fates worse than death, and severe radiation sickness is probably one of them.
  • Re:Ehhhh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SnoopJeDi ( 859765 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .idejpoons.> on Monday November 26, 2007 @11:14PM (#21487685)
    While your point is valid enough, it looks like the focus of these efforts is the effects of radiation on grown humans, who have a lot more cells. When the entire organism is derived from just 150 cells, a single messed-up cell could spawn millions down the line.

    Still, not sure I buy this.
  • No Practical Value (Score:2, Insightful)

    by explosivejared ( 1186049 ) <hagan,jared&gmail,com> on Monday November 26, 2007 @11:16PM (#21487701)
    So far 301 have died of lung cancer," says Jacob. "But only 100 cases were caused by radiation. The others were attributed to cigarettes."

    So heavy doses of radiation still have a decently high probability of causing nasty side effects. The quote I provided illustrates what I have concluded from this summary. You can downgrade radiation from supermegaultra, don't-go-near it danger to megaultra, don't-go-near it status. Radiation is still dangerous. This study was just a refinement of probability.
  • by explosivejared ( 1186049 ) <hagan,jared&gmail,com> on Monday November 26, 2007 @11:22PM (#21487759)
    I mean yeah... "only" 800 deaths is kind of callous. I'm not sure what the whole aim of that was. "Ten's of thousands died from the blast, but only a measly 800 died directly as an effect of radiation after surviving the attack."

    A lot about this study doesn't really add up. If you're using death as the only symptom of something dangerous then your observations are definitely going to be flawed. All in all these studies don't make a whole lot of sense in there conclusions.
  • Hiroshima (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wonkavader ( 605434 ) on Monday November 26, 2007 @11:24PM (#21487779)
    Ok, thousands of people were exposed at Hiroshima, and we have a breakdown of what they died of. Boy, these people are healthy. Where's the weird cancers which people die of now and then? Where's the skin cancer? Prostate? I suspect an incredible scrubbing of data. Only cancers they decide are radiation-related are listed. And they're deciding.

    There might be something to this, but I smell a grossly twisted study which eliminates complexity and debatable data by wiping it away with a sweep of a pen.
  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Monday November 26, 2007 @11:36PM (#21487871) Homepage Journal
    Nuclear radiation will produce sterility in men.

    Makes sense, the testes has some of the fastest reproducing cells in the human body - and we use radiation to treat cancer, which kills vulnerable fissioning cells much quicker than cells not undergoing mitosis.

    I know this as it happened to my uncle. Who knows what other diseases might show up that don't necessarily produce immediate death.

    True, but we've had 60 years to study the issue, and mostly the results are that some radioactive materials(like iodine encourage cancers. Still, the current assumption of a linear harm equation hasn't borne out under scientific examination. It's ended up being like many other substances. Dosage is the key - minor dosages don't cause detectable amounts of harm, while a massive dose kills. Doses in between cause varying amounts of harm/sickness.

    At least for Chernobyl, despite exposing thousands and careful tracking, with one exception cancer rates of those exposed are not statistically higher. The one exception is thyroid cancer due to the radioactive iodine which attacked a number of children. Fortunately the cancers turned out to be very treatable, so there were very few deaths from it.

    Ironically enough, the major treatment for thyroid cancer is radioactive iodine [].
  • by Cassius Corodes ( 1084513 ) on Monday November 26, 2007 @11:40PM (#21487903)
    Try reading the article instead of picking holes in research based on a 5 line summary.
  • by heroine ( 1220 ) on Monday November 26, 2007 @11:45PM (#21487939) Homepage
    Time to move to Nevada and take a mud bath. Funny how the more expensive oil is, the less dangerous radiation is.

  • by Erris ( 531066 ) on Monday November 26, 2007 @11:52PM (#21487993) Homepage Journal

    The whole tone of the article can be summed up here:

    About 4,000 children were afflicted with cancer. Less well-known, however, is the fact that only nine of those 4,000 died -- thyroid cancers are often easy to operate on.

    See there, not so bad! "Only" nine people died. The 3991 others did not mind having their thyroid glands removed at all. All is well that ends in useless pain and suffering.

    This article makes me sick.

  • by Goonie ( 8651 ) <<robert.merkel> <at> <>> on Monday November 26, 2007 @11:53PM (#21488007) Homepage
    I hate to be blunt, but do you actually have any evidence to support your contention that what happened to your family was caused by radiation? Plenty of people not exposed to fallout from nuclear accidents get eyesight problems, and autoimmune problems. I should know - I've got one (thankfully a pretty mild case, but it still put me in hospital twice).

    Scientific studies have generally failed to show is unusual rates of this kind of disease in areas affected by Chernobyl fallout. The one clear health effect has been the increase in thyroid cancer. If the Soviet government had have distributed and used the iodine tablets available to it, or stopped the distribution of contaminated milk, even that may have been avoided.

  • by JBMcB ( 73720 ) on Monday November 26, 2007 @11:58PM (#21488051)
    "Is this some kind of oblique FUD to attempt to build a stronger case for a nuclear power build-out in the US?"

    FUD towards what? Saying coal or oil powered plants are dangerous would be FUD. Saying nuclear disasters are somewhat less fatal than previously thought is not.

    "what a stunning coincidence that this oh-so-new interpretation of the data should come out right about the time the country is considering shifting to nuclear"

    This article is from a German magazine, and the research was done by the GSF under the Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft foundation, Germany's version of the NSF. Are you referring to Germany as "the country?"

    The article ends with "Still, there is no doubt that radiation poisoning remains ominous and highly dangerous."

    Wow, that's some powerful FUD being thrown around right there. (Ominous is an odd translation of a German word, which means something close to ominous/foreboding/nasty/etc...)

    Do you have any data or analysis countering their claims, or are you just making spurious arguments against their research?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26, 2007 @11:58PM (#21488057)
    ah yes, the infamous slashdot "I can't think of a fricking joke so I'll just put something ambigious and ..." non-joke joke.

    Well apparently it's working for someone, already modded funny.

    New material never killed anyone you know.
  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @12:06AM (#21488113) Homepage Journal
    First, I'm sorry for your loss, but nobody's saying that radiation isn't dangerous - just that it's not as dangerous as people make it out to be.

    It'd be like saying 'You're 200% likelier to die of lung cancer if you smoke', then researchers come out and say 'No, it's only 100%'. Keep in mind that it's still the worst nuclear power* disaster in history.

    In the ensuing decades, up to 4,000 cleanup workers and residents of the more highly contaminated areas died of the long-term consequences of radiation exposure.

    4k deaths isn't exactly small, but to put it into perspective, Bhopal [], a chemical disaster, killed just as many in a far shorter period of time, and the land involved is still contaminated, much like Chernobyl.

    Yes, there were many other illnesses. You can get the same stuff with chemical contamination as well. The trick is to be sane about dangers - IE don't let dangerous substances out into the environment.

    *Heck, the reactor was used for plutonium breeding purposes for weapons processing, so you could technically put it into the weapons category - responsible for the vast majority of radioactive pollution in the world today.
  • by BlueParrot ( 965239 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @12:22AM (#21488225)
    You see this is the problem with the anti-nuclear moment. They have become so obsessed with ending everything that contains a nucleus that they see it as acceptable to dismiss any science to the contrary as "biased". The worst offenders are of course greenpeace, who will happily outright lie about it. Even using greenpeace's massively inflated numbers for the death toll from chernobyl, it would take several chernobyl style accidents per year for nuclear to even equal the death's from airpollition associated with fossil fuels. Yet the by far biggest demon in the eyes of this organisation, is the western nuclear industry.

    I don't know if they simply don't know better, if they are too afraid to lose face should they change their policy, or if they just want to make themself look important, but in any case their claims are just out of touch with reality. It really does pain me to know that my country country (Sweden ) could have been on the road to virtually eliminate fossil fuels, but because of this nonsense we are still left with 50% of our energy coming from fossil sources, and the "green" party here wants to shut down the reactors that remain.

    What every western country with half a bit of sense ought to do is to deploy large numbers of electric trains as alternative transportation ( maglev could even compete with airplanes in speed ), and produce the electricity with nuclear. If pressent developments in battery technology hold up, we could even have electric cars affordable within a few decades. IF we can keep the electricity price down. Sadly the latter is not going to happen by pushing for renewables that have multiple times the costs of current nuclear power plants.

    Now to follow is the usual nonsense about uranium running out within 60 years, nuclear waste being impossible to deal with, and another chernobyl being just about to happen. It's all nonsense, and has been for two decades at least, yet we still burn coal rather than transmuting our nuclear waste in fast reactors ( Thank you for that one Kerry ).
  • by Crypto Gnome ( 651401 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @12:29AM (#21488287) Homepage Journal
    As observed from atomic explosions (tests as well as deployment during war) HIGH radion doses are lethal.

    But there's extensive research [] being done today [] which seems to be indicating that low-dosage radiation is not only non-lethal but can actually be beneficial [].

    I saw recently a (BBC?) documentary about ongoing research into the effects of radiation exposure. Basically we have *more than enough* evidence of the effects of short-term high-dosage (the upper/right side of the curve) but damn close to zero data regarding the lower/left side of the curve.

    The does seem to be evidence that in some cases ongoing exposure to (relatively) low-level radiation (but still higher than "generally accepted" levels/"normal background" levels) is actually beneficial.

    There was some village (Israel/Palestine/Middle-East 'ish') where the natural background radiation was something like two-hundred (200) times "normal" levels. The people there were perfectly normal, fine and healthy. In fact, researchers found the villagers were more healthy than normal/average for some diseases/conditions.

    From Memory: I think the science is currently leaning towards the theory that even with radiation (which previously we thought that *any* was bad), "a little" can be good because it basically prompts the bodies natural response to damage/injury (eg in the same conceptual way that an innoculation helps prevent disease) .

    Not that I'm pushing "radiation is good", but there's more than enough evidence to show that we clearly do not fully understand all the implications of exposure to radiation, especially when it comes to ongoing low dosage exposure over long time periods.
    • IANANP (I Am Not A Nuclear Physicist)
    • YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary)
    • TANSTAAFL (There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch)
    • GIYF (Google Is Your Friend)
  • RTFA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Agarax ( 864558 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @12:30AM (#21488299)
    Just because the article says radiation is considered less harmful than before, doesn't mean they are saying it is not harmful *at all*.

    less harmful != harmless

    Your emotional response coupled with arguments not related to the subject at hand are detrimental to a logical debate on the subject.

  • by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @12:33AM (#21488315)
    There is something you need to understand about how the Japanese use statistics.

    As an example, in Japan, to be tallied as a highway fatality, you must expire within 12 hours of the car accident that resulted in your death. If you die outside the 12 hour window, you fall into another category. 'heart failure - liver failure - kidney and lung failure'.

    Japan is always happy to show off their annual "oh so low" highway death rates (so many per 1000 of the driving public, etc.), claiming their drivers are better trained and behaved than those from other countries. The Japanese govt. also insists that their cars/trucks and roadways are more modern, more advanced and more safe than those from other countries with higher death rates. "Look at us - WE'RE BETTER!"

    I'm not at all surprised to hear that 'only' 800 died from radiation poisoning...that just means it was bad enough that it killed them before they had a chance to die from having all their skin burned off or their lungs turned to burnt toast. Or any of the other dozens of medical nightmares that are still being swept under the rug of history, even today.
  • by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @12:34AM (#21488319)
    Your comments are no better than a Godwin argument. You are actually trying to say that if the researchers don't say that Chernobyl is infinitely bad, then they must be saying it was perfectly OK? And, working in the lending industry, my wife has seen W-2 from literally thousands of teachers. They make pretty good money for a part time job.
  • by moondo ( 177508 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @12:48AM (#21488397)
    Getting leukemia and all sorts of cancers for the rest of one's life does not seem as bad as dying, but it's still pretty horrible. Many might not have died, but we've all heard the horror stories of how miserably they live with diseases, etc. Maybe we shouldn't focus on the mortality rate, but on the life quality of those alive and how they lived.
  • by Total_Wimp ( 564548 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @12:53AM (#21488429)

    This article makes me sick.

    Why? The article is not stating that they should add Plutonium to your Flintstone's Chewables. It's just saying that you should use, you know, actual science instead of imagined numbers based on something your cousin's-friends-dad(who is an X-ray tech, you know) heard from his boss.

    Radiation sucks. The article says so. It just says that it doesn't suck as much as advertised. That shouldn't make you sick, it should make you happy.

    BTW, these children and the miners got hit much harder than the rest, health-wise. Is it just me, or does it look like ingesting/inhaling radioactive particles is much worse for you than being just being in an area of elevated radiation?

  • by Gertlex ( 722812 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @01:00AM (#21488505)
    Germany does have the fact that currently the government is on track to phase out [] all of it's nuclear reactors within the next few decades. There are those who'd love to reverse that direction (and a couple of people in the US nuclear industry that I've talked to have said this reverse of policy is almost inevitable). There's certainly a source for bias. How strong? I don't personally know.
  • by GradiusCVK ( 1017360 ) <originalcvk@ g m a> on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @01:08AM (#21488557)
    As usual, the hyper-reactionary crowd here on Slashdot completely misses the point of the article and immediately pulls the same bullshit so often seen in discussions about other topics where a minority voice says something along the lines of "this isn't as bad as everyone seems to think", i.e. Global Warming.

    Yes, 4,000 children developing cancer is absolutely terrible, even if "only" 9 of them die. Yes "only" 800 deaths due to radiation after the blast is a tragedy. The 4,000 deaths of cleanup workers at Chernobyl is completely unexcusable. However, the point of the article wasn't to claim "there have not been tragedies"... it was to claim "the tragedies are magnitudes less horrible than is popularly believed". 800 deaths are objectively fewer than the 105,000 reported in Wikipedia. 4,000 deaths are objectively fewer than "the six-figure death counts that opponents of nuclear power once cited".

    Certainly, the fact that people died at all, and many more were disabled for life and suffer from other side-effects, is a tragedy. However, this article is simply stating that these tragedies are significantly less all-encompassing and absolute than is commonly thought. The conclusion, roughly, is that each of these is on the scale of a major earthquake, not a Holocaust. While it may be insensitive to subjectively compare the "level of badness" of different tragedies, it is simply a fact that there exist objective differences between them. That's what they are doing. I don't see people debating the accuracy of the numbers they use, I see people complaining that these are evil shills who are minimizing human suffering to increase corporate profits. Grow up and RTFA people.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @01:08AM (#21488565)
    What sort of thing were you looking for?

    A rigorous definition of "harm"? It's easy to say "oh, this person stubbed their toe yesterday, it must be due to hiroshima decades ago!" but it's equally trivial to say "this person died of radiation poisoning and only radiation poisoning, this looks like the only person out of a sea of cancer patients and burn survivors that was affected by the radiation".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @01:13AM (#21488601)
    > It's all nonsense, and has been for two decades at least, yet we still burn coal rather than transmuting our nuclear waste in fast reactors ( Thank you for that one Kerry ).

    Not Kerry. Carter. Same party. Same environmental policy. Different dumbass.

    Sad thing is that Kerry's stance could be excused. Carter, as a nukeE, should have known better.

    In Carter's defense, he presumably did know better -- he merely (mis)judged the proliferation risk of all nuclear-power-producing companies getting into FBRs as "worse" than the risk of relying on foreign oil. Carter was dead wrong, but at least he thought about the issue, unlike Kerry, who just pandered to the lunatic fringe of the eco-left.

  • by catmistake ( 814204 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @01:13AM (#21488605) Journal
    You ought to pay more attention to the nonsense. A nuclear acceident is only like 20 mistakes away at any particular moment. And, at least in the US, every single spent nuclear rod containment facility at every single operating plant is at capacity. So, nonsense or not, we haven't figured out what to do with the stuff. Its been like 60 years, and we just don't know where it can be safely stored for 30,000 years. Considering that nuclear power has only gotten cheap due to the massive resources poured into its development since the 1940s (for bomb fuel, remember power from fission is a side effect), if the same resources were poured into solar development, then solar would be cheap.
  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @01:27AM (#21488709)
    "Not as dangerous as previously thought" is a far cry from "safe". This is sort of like estimating the number killed in the holocaust or sentencing guidelines for pedophiles, who wants to be on the low side?
  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @01:29AM (#21488723) Journal
    We do know what to do with used nuclear fuel. Reprocess it into nuclear fuel, like France does. It's only being blocked by the stroke of a pen. That will be taken care of if we have an energy crisis.
  • by teebob21 ( 947095 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @01:30AM (#21488727) Journal

    I am aware that Browns Ferry had a fire in the 1970's, but you've made me think of an interesting point. The water used in a reactor's triple cooling loop *should* remain separated twice over from the working fluid of the core. Heat is exchanged from the liquid sodium in the reactor, creating steam to drive the turbines. The steam is cooled in the evaporating towers, aided by a separate water supply which is often circulated into a lagoon/lake. The water temperature leaving the cooling towers is around 30C (~ 90F), heating the lake.

    The lake would stay warmer, creating an artificial oasis for smaller aquatic life later into the cold months. The largest largemouth bass on record (depending on your source) was caught in Southern California or Georgia, with other monsters caught in Texas and Florida. The heat helps...maybe it's not a bad idea to start fishing near the nuke plant by me :)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @01:37AM (#21488793)
    > I was getting a very controlled "therapeutic" dosage, and it almost killed me.

    The reason your dosage was "very controlled" and "almost killed you" is because it was designed to almost kill you.

    What we do to cure cancer is very much like WW2-era carpet-bombing. For each cancer cell we kill, we kill hundreds of healthy cells. Since we have to kill every cancer cell (or it'll come back), we opt for massive overkill -- imagine 2500 WW2 bombers, dropping 100 bombs each, over a crowded city... just to hopefully get that ball-bearing factory. Sucks for anyone living in that city.

    > If these guys at GSF don't think radiation is so harmful, I'd like to see how they react if they were told that there had been dirty bomb attack in their town. How fast you think they'd move their families out of there?

    As for the dirty bomb -- shelter in place, don't panic, and buy cheap real estate when the dust settles. Shoot, even if you're not sheltered and only a block or two away, you'll get a lot lower dosage from any radiological dispersal device than what you've already taken from your radiotherapy.

    Also, don't confuse the two types of "dirty bombs".

    During the Cold War, "bomb" meant "weapon that makes most of its explosive force from nuclear reactions". A "dirty" one was designed to wipe out a city and leave a fuckton of fallout for any survivors to deal with. A "clean" one was designed to wipe out a city and leave a nice parking lot through which you could roll your tanks. (Or vice versa -- to dump a fuckton of fallout for any invading tanks to deal with, or to kill everyone in the tanks while leaving the tanks intact!)

    In post-9/11 Hysteria, it means "A pipe bomb that scatters a few pounds of stuff around a city block and causes a bunch of people in bunny suits to spend a few million bucks sweeping up the mess." It's barely worthy of the name "bomb". You know the overreaction the EPA goes into today when some kid drops a mercury thermometer in a school? Basically, not much different than that, except that the cleanup guys come from the NRC as well as the EPA, and everyone wears a better class of bunny suit. Unless it were on my block, I'd barely bother to close the window.

  • by coolmoose25 ( 1057210 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @01:39AM (#21488801)
    It is important to realize that the radiation deaths at Hiroshima were mostly caused by direct exposure to the radioactivity of the bomb blast itself, NOT from "fallout" as most people commonly believe. This is due to the fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were airbursts of the weapons - they detonated 2000 feet or more above the surface. When this happens, the atomic blast destroys more buildings and causes more destruction over a larger area than had the bomb been dropped to ground level. This was intentional, as the goal of the bombing was to inflict as much damage as possible. But the side affect of this was that very little fallout was generated. Typically fallout is created when an atomic (or thermonuclear) weapon explodes in a ground burst. In a ground burst, the soil, rocks, building materials, etc. that are not vaporized are turned into ash that becomes radioactive due to the direct exposure. The ash is then swept up in the mushroom cloud and dispersed over a wide area. Chernobyl was far and away more dangerous with respect to fallout, because the radioactive core burned and spread really bad isotopes that would not happen to such a great degree with either a ground or airburst of a nuclear weapon. But then again, as has been pointed out, Chernobyl was an example of a bad idea gone worse - a flawed design, with no pressure dome, and human operation intentionally creating a dangerous situation not fully understood. Modern, Western nuclear reactors could never have the same kind of accident...
  • by be-fan ( 61476 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @02:10AM (#21488991)
    If the cost is cutting back our consumption, is that so much to ask?

    Yes. Consumption is what drives economies forward. The cost of conservation at a level that would make a real environmental impact (not just nibble away at the problem near the edges) would severely impact quality of life in every nation that attempted such measures.
  • by slamb ( 119285 ) * on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @02:12AM (#21488997) Homepage

    The whole tone of the article can be summed up here:

    About 4,000 children were afflicted with cancer. Less well-known, however, is the fact that only nine of those 4,000 died -- thyroid cancers are often easy to operate on.

    See there, not so bad! "Only" nine people died. The 3991 others did not mind having their thyroid glands removed at all. All is well that ends in useless pain and suffering.

    This article makes me sick.

    The whole tone of your post can be summed up here: "The 3991 others did not mind having their thyroid glands removed at all." Except...they really didn't say that. I believe the most they said was that it was better than dying, and that most people do not know that those children did not die. I agree with both points.

    You haven't disputed any actual claims of the article. So why are you opposing the harmless gathering of information for scientific study and the presentation of surprising but true information? You speak as if the authors personally caused the children to have thyroid cancer just to see how many of them would die, or as if they are saying nuclear waste is totally harmless and advocating fertilizing our crops with it. I don't like the idea of censoring science because you apparently find the results to be politically inconvenient.

    Your post makes me sick.

  • by r_jensen11 ( 598210 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @02:14AM (#21489007)
    Wildlife is returning to Chernobyl and surviving due to the lack of mankind in the area. Obviously, diversity and levels are down below pre-kaboom, but the wildlife is managing. My unscientific and Business background is telling me that it's probably related to lower lifespans and less time for each individual animal to develop cancer. Long-term effects are yet unobservable, but will most-likely be pronounced.

    But don't confuse the aftermath with the immediate consequences of the meltdown. How anyone can say that those effects are not as hazardous as we believed last week had better have some damn good and robust statistics.
  • A couple points in response:

    1) You are absolutely right about bad figures. On average, coal-fired plants produce much more exposure to radiation than nuclear plants and this is generally ignored by the anti-nuclear folks (of which I still count myself one). However, I will say that if it were a choice between coal (lots of green house gases, radioactive pollution, etc) vs nuclear (waste disposal issues, etc) I would choose the latter. In short, nuclear may be bad, but coal is definitely worse.

    2) We need to understand that energy use has environmental cost. Simply throwing more power generators at a problem doesn't fix it. We need to do what we can to minimize that cost and this means a multi-level strategy. There is no magic bullet. A few nuclear power plants may be necessary but if we are smart we will pursue a number of other means first.

    3) Cost per kWhr is not the only measure of energy's real cost. I think one must factor in the total environmental cost as well. This includes carbon consumption, hazardous waste disposal, environmental cost of production and disposal of generating equipment etc. We need to start at the bottom and work our way up. This means:
            a) Conservation-oriented policies. Let us help try to get people to push for more energy efficiency in general so we don't need as many generators as we might otherwise.
            b) methane from manure composting from dairy farms which may have close to a net zero cost. (On one hand capturing/burning the methane is *good* for the environment. On the other, the equipment still has to be manufactured and disposed of.)
            c) Encouraging thermal solar energy use from areas where one would normally waste the energy is another proven area where we could come out ahead in terms of general conservation.
            d) Wind power, properly done, is something I would call low-cost.
            e) Any other ideas on agricultural waste, esp. the stuff that normally just gets burned?
            f) fish-friendly hydroelectric dams
            g) Current generation of nuclear reactors should replace coal generators.
            h) More research needs to be done on renewable energy sources, and on storage and transmission systems (I think that ultracapacitors should also be seen as a green alternative to batteries in wind generators, for example).
            h) More research needs to be done on fuel cycle issues and how to effectively eliminate waste (for example, by using the waste as fuel in other nuclear reactors)

    I don't think it is an either/or question. I am not convinced that it is practical to use renewable energy at the current generation for current or future electrical needs, but I would think that everyone should be in favor of minimizing the role of non-renewable energy (in general) and the environmental cost of energy as a whole. Nuclear almost certainly has a part to play, but let's not make it any larger a part than it needs to be.
  • by mr_mischief ( 456295 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @02:32AM (#21489117) Journal
    Yeah, part time. Let's see, 7:30 AM to 3:00 PM, then extra-curricular duties, lesson planning, grading papers, and taking the continuing education courses required of them at their own expense. Yeah, any job that takes only 70 hours a week out of 168 is definitely part-time. Then, of course, there's the three months of the year the kids are out. Only one and a half to two and a half months of which are, for teachers, typically taken up by meetings, room setup, conferences, and often teaching summer school. So they really only work that 70 hours about 45 weeks a year after you figure in breaks during the school year. Nobody else gets vacation, personal days, holidays, and sick days of course.

    Then of course there's the fact that it's wonderful to deal with disrespectful pukes in the classroom, parents who think the school should favor their kids over order and education, crony school boards selected from the parents of the students with little or no training in education as bosses, and administrations willing to sacrifice any teacher's career to keep the district from getting a bogus lawsuit filed against it.

    Hell, for $45k that's cake!


    Jay P. Greene's little yellow article [] only accounts for time spent in the classroom. Who the fuck do you think does all the work for a teacher outside the classroom? Nine months at seven hours a day is only the time the teacher spends instructing the kids. Do you really think they just show up and wing the whole thing? He also has a nice little blurb about retirement benefits being so nice. Hell, I interviewed for a teaching position, and I'm sure I'd have plenty of retirement money saved after 40 years or so considering the district requires the teachers to place 11% of their pay directly into the fund. Where he sees over $30 an hour someone who knows any teachers personally can easily see about $14-$17 an hour, which is quite competitive with managing a shift at McDonald's but not so much with the nuclear engineers he's talking about. Oh, and since when does it take a Master's to fight fires? Most school districts require one or a set amount of work towards one of beginning teachers or require one within a few years of starting.

    The nationwide average starting pay for a teacher with a Bachelor's degree is about $31k, BTW, if you can find a district that accepts a Bachelor's without at least 12 additional credit hours.

    For a little more realistic picture, try on for size any [] one [] of [] these [] pages []. This blog post at Education and Technology [] is especially nice for the comments.

    Oh, and at what point are most programmers, opticians, radiology techs, factory workers, and biologists regularly responsible for the health and safety of 30 minors (whom they often are not allowed to even discipline) at a time?
  • by KDR_11k ( 778916 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @02:37AM (#21489137)
    Reprocessing does not convert the whole thing, nuclear isn't a perpetuum mobile. You'll still have waste even if you can reduce the amount of output.
  • by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @02:40AM (#21489147)
    yes, but history seems to indicate that any "solution" that requires people to change their behavior for no immediate personal benefit will fail dismally.

    and as far as i see it, nuclear is our best option while we perfect wind/solar/geothermal/fusion/whatever. nuclear is not a permanent solution, but nothing is. even solar will only work for a few billion years and fission will work for a century or so, and even longer if we look to thorium and use integral fast reactors to burn the existing waste we have building up.
  • by shmlco ( 594907 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @02:57AM (#21489235) Homepage
    "... and we just don't know where it can be safely stored for 30,000 years."

    Oh please. Research the term "half-life", and then get back to me when you have half an education. Anything that's going to be seriously radioactive for 30,000 years is going to be an alpha emitter. Whose highly dangerous particles need massive shielding between you and the source, like that provided by, say, a piece of paper. Rule of thumb: highly energetic equals extremely short half life.

    There are two problems in the quoted fragment: The use of "we" and the use of "safely". We, because with people like you in the picture it's obvious that WE don't have a clue. Safely, because everyone who's against it defines "safe" as zero risk, when NOTHING in this world is zero risk. You're at risk from a meteorite bashing your brains out while you sleep. Are the odds against it? Yes. Is the risk zero? No.

    Last time I checked, I believe it's said that in 10,000 years all of the material of which speak so alarmingly would still be radioactive. Well, at least as radioactive as the raw ore from which it came. You know, like rocks? Which we've had buried in the ground unshielded, leaking dangerous trace amounts of radioactively into our groundwater supplies for a few billion years or so. I tell you, someone should DO something!

    Not to belittle this, but we've had two major, ultimately worst-case radiological events occur: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And yet, both of those sites are habitable today. Millions of people live there, work there, play there. Let's repeat that. Two atomic BOMBS.

    And you want to bitch about the "dangers" of a material fused into glass, tucked behind shields, and buried in a fucking mountain?

    Dude, you ought to pay LESS attention to the nonsense. You've been brainwashed by too many b-grade science-fiction movies with giant radioactively mutated spiders/scorpions/bats.
  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @03:44AM (#21489487) Homepage
    Coal is nice, it's organic and you can hold it in your hands and touch it.

    Nuclear is just plan scary. It's done by little bald guys in clinical white uniforms. We don't understand nuclear.

    However, don't you think renewables are better than both fossil fuels AND nuclear power?

    Yes of course, but the number of windmills, etc. needed to meet our energy needs is ridiculous. Plus, everybody seems to be in favor of wind power bu nobody seems to want it in their own back yards. "They're ugly, put them somewhere else" they tell us.

    The problems with clean power generation aren't technical, they're political. Keeping the status que, bad as it is, is the easy route, so that's what's happening.
  • by bmgoau ( 801508 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @04:13AM (#21489621) Homepage
    Several European towns and cities attempted to curb their consumption levels earlier this decade if i remember an article i read.

    What i mean is, they didnt try just to produce their energy and products in a cleaner way, but also used less, generated less and so on.

    I wont go into details, but by the time the local power generation was supported by renewable and distributed sources, and the cities and towns were on their third rolling blackout, the local government wasnt exactly popular with the people.

    The point of the story is, conservation and better efficiency are two different things. Not only is conservation impossible (the planets population will always be growing somewhere and will negate any gains) but people plain old dont like it. Imagine walking into your local store and finding very little on the shelves, then going home to use the electricity for only a few hours. No governement, no people will ever move forward as a society by consuming less.

    What needs to happen is we need to accept that we will eventually always use more resources as a races over time, BUT we need to use resources more efficiently per person.

    Renewables are great, they can help alot in powering towns and small cities like the one i live in. However even i, a proponent of renewable energy can face the facts. Renewables are NOT feasible at the moment for large industrial cities. Not only are places for them hard to find, but they are generally inefficent and unreliable. Plus they do not cope well with the changing demands of a city over winter and summer months, even day and night.

    Distributed electiicity generation is also a pipe dream. Look how fragile out electricity grids are, imagine adding thousands, perhaps millions of small, unpredictable loads to that grid. Chaos would ensue.

    Same with biofuels. We already comaplin that crops are responsible for so of the worst environmental impacts. Could you imagine if we had to provide the labour, fresh water and lan to produce the oil supplies for a country like the US, China, or continental Europe. Its just not possible.

    No. The fact of the matter is we live in a world where electricity generation is centralised. For civil and engeineered reasons. What we need is a hydrogen economy, where a combination of nuclear power, later possibly fusion, is supplemented by renewable sources for the production of not only electricity, but hyrdogen fuel and fresh water from desal. The world wants more more more. Thats it. Theres no escape. But we can manage how we provide it. We just have to be practical about it.
  • by verySmartApe ( 1053716 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @04:15AM (#21489639)
    I'm trying hard to understand your sense of outrage. But I can't. All the article does is review some research showing that radiation exposure leads to fewer deaths+sicknesses than previously thought. No one is saying that thyroid cancer is great, or that Chernobyl wasn't a catastrophe.

    The full quote, which you left out is

    The iodine 131 that escaped from the reactor did end up causing severe health problems in Ukraine. It settled on meadows in the form of a fine dust, passing through the food chain, from grass to cows to milk, and eventually accumulating in the thyroid glands of children. About 4,000 children were afflicted with cancer. Less well-known, however, is the fact that only nine of those 4,000 died -- thyroid cancers are often easy to operate on.
  • by Anonamused Cow-herd ( 614126 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @04:31AM (#21489705)

    See there, not so bad! "Only" nine people died.
    Wow, that's really a ridiculously uninformed thing to say. That such a major surgery could be carried out on four THOUSAND people with only nine deaths, REGARDLESS of the type of malady, is miraculous to me. You're practically that likely to get killed in US hospitals going in for the sniffles! And what's the point of your little "sickness?" Do you have a point? That we shouldn't use nuclear materials because they caused the deaths of NINE people? Hate to break it to you, more people than that died of starvation as I type this message. So you're willing to spend 10x as much and kill 10x as many because of some irrational bogeyman fear? You gotta be kidding.
  • by jsoderba ( 105512 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @06:13AM (#21490091)
    Isotopes that takes "hundreds of thousands of years" to decay are not dangerously radioactive in the first place. After a few hundred years of storage most nuclear waste is a small health risk and can handled like any other toxic waste. The reason waste dump are being specified for thousand-year lifetimes is politics, not science.
  • All that proves (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @06:33AM (#21490167)
    is that humans are more deadly to wildlife than nuclear fallout.

    I wouldn't call that reassuring.
  • by jopet ( 538074 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @07:47AM (#21490497) Journal
    No real need to worry then. And what a nice coincidence that these insights come just at the time when nuclear power is getting lobbied as a wonderful climate preserving technology for the future.

    We are looking forward to a bright nuclear powered future just like in the fifties again. Thank you Mr. Atom!
  • It's sadly true (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @08:04AM (#21490587) Homepage

    You see this is the problem with the anti-nuclear moment. They have become so obsessed with ending everything that contains a nucleus that they see it as acceptable to dismiss any science to the contrary as "biased".

    I used to do research on the biological effects of ionizing radiation and we knew decades ago that most of the commonly held views of radiation exposure stem from 1950's vintage sci-fi movies. Not helped by later movies like China Syndrome, which had all the scientific accuracy of The Matrix. The anti-nuclear movement is one actor in a parade of misinformation.

    One thing that challenges even knowledgeable people was that in population dosimetry studies the low dose groups would consistently out-live the controls. A little bit of radiation exposure was frequently better than none at all.

    I always thought it was funny the public idly tolerates 500 people dying on the nation's highways on the average weekend but would chain themselves to a fence to protest a nuclear power plant in their state. I'd live next door to a nuke plant, provided it wasn't down wind from one of the old Russian carbon-core reactors. Your lifetime exposure would present a lower risk than a single trip to grandma's over the holidays.

  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @08:04AM (#21490589)

    In Soviet Russia, radiation doesn't kill you, because the KGB shoots you first. But in Putinist Russia, the KGB irradiates you to death instead.

    It may be callous but it is also true. Soviet Russia was not a nice place, and the current one doesn't seem to be interested in self-improvement.

  • by be-fan ( 61476 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @01:49PM (#21494355)
    What actually necessitates a car?

    The fact that the vast majority of American cities are simply not built for pedestrians. I live in midtown Atlanta, and between the terrible and unreliable public transportation and the layout of the city itself, a car is almost a necessity unless you want to waste enormous amounts of time getting from place to place.

    Most of these issues are intrinsic to the design of the American landscape. Spending the better part of a century with cheap and convenient individual transportation has resulted in the physical structure of the country being hostile to other transportation paradigms. Yes, there are other places in the world that do not have these issues, but that's not very relevant. The structure we have now is something we're pretty stuck with. Reshaping it in any significant way would be unimaginably expensive, and enormously disruptive.

    Conservation is theoretically nice solution, but not one that is practically applicable. It's what I call the "gravity" problem. Yeah, it would be nice for people building airplanes and rockets if gravity didn't exist, but talking about all the cool things you could design in the absence of gravity is pointless --- the physical world is the way it is and there is no changing it. Similarly, people's behavior is what it is. There is centuries of inertia behind it, and its not changing any time soon. Indeed, all those people who are walking and biking in India and China are switching to gas-powered cars as their economies and standards of living improve! The only sensical engineering solution is to deal with the reality you're given, and try to make the best of it. In this case, it means that the solution is not using less energy, but finding more potent and plentiful sources of energy. Nuclear power certainly fits that bill.
  • by Kymri ( 1093149 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @02:12PM (#21494665)

    Everyone take the bus! Now there's a realistic solution to the energy problem.

    I'm sorry, but is that sarcasm I detect? Because I really don't see the problem here. Plenty of countries run primarily on mass transport and non-ICE vehicles (you know, 'bikes' and 'walking'). What actually necessitates a car?
    What necessitates a car? Living 40 miles from your job and not being on the (one) train route, near the (limited) light rail, and having to cross two counties' bus systems. I can drive my Toyota that get 30ish MPG (and hey, I'll be car pooling in a couple of weeks, too, when my schedule changes), or I can spend about three hours each way to use mass transit at a very minimal financial gain (and a net loss, given the time).

    The US is unlike most of Europe and a lot of Asia in a lot of ways, and not the least of it is cities that grew up with the automobile. For good or ill, working within walking distance of one's home (or even where you can use mass transit) isn't always an option. Things are far too spread out. Around 2001 I worked a relatively short 15 or so miles from my home (I did eventually move much closer). The 20 minutes of driving it took to get to and from work would have been replaced with almost two hours each way to use mass transit.

    That's because we don't have businesses and residential areas densely packed enough outside of actual cities (in other words, in our massive suburban sprawl, like most of the San Francisco Bay Area) to make mass transit a viable option for everyone (or even for half of everyone) the way the New York City subway works out.

    The United States is just not built for optimal efficiency of mass transit, and there are a lot of reasons this is so.

    That is what makes a car necessary (for some/many people - but not for everyone: I know people who live and work in the SF Bay Area without owning a car).
  • by mr_mischief ( 456295 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @05:00PM (#21509707) Journal
    My sister, cousin, and several of my friends are teachers. I know how much time they spend working outside the classroom, and you are full of it. One prep period is usually allowed a teacher. That's the length of one class, or about 50-55 minutes in a non-block schedule. They often have to eat their lunches with the kids one or two days a week and supervise them, and on the days they're not in that rotation they often get about as long as their students -- half an hour maybe -- for lunch. If an hour to an hour and a half a day worth of breaks is excessive, then a great many office people are given excessive breaks.

    If you really believe that a teacher doesn't grade papers, you're kidding yourself. A "teacher's aide" isn't typically a student, either. They're typically full or part time employees of the school who help with special needs kids or with supervision of particularly large classes. They're service personnel more than educators. If you know of a middle school or high school class that doesn't have essay questions and topic papers that need grading by a teacher, then that teacher's not doing what they should.

    Three to six credit hours is pretty common for a public school teacher to carry while working. For teachers who do not yet have a Masters, this is mandatory and at their own expense. This is typically done during the school year.

    Conventions, cleaning the rooms, organizing materials, and staff orientation typically do take a week or two. Staff meetings over changes in curricula, student discipline, extra-curricular chaperone assignments, and changes to school policy do happen before or after classes and in the summer. Did you think the students were somehow included? Many smaller schools make sponsoring or at least chaperoning some extra-curricular activities mandatory. It's highly encouraged at bigger schools, and they might get some extra money but it's certainly not $30 an hour for the time involved.

    Summer school differs from district to district. Some districts include these classes in the regular pay scale. Some pay extra, but at a rate published alongside the regular pay scale. You can bet the figures for yearly pay in the reported data include the pay in the averages, though. After all, that's part of the teacher's contracted work for which their taxes would be reported.

    Yes, lots of jobs are crappy. Most government jobs that require a Bachelor's or Master's degree are not particularly crappy.

    I don't think of kids in general as "pukes", but enough public school students are complete little anti-social twits that all the teachers have to deal with those kids in addition to the decent ones. You deal with jerks everywhere, but nowhere other than the public schools do you see the type of intimidation of adults by kids as when spoiled brats threaten to have mommy talk to the school board, which includes daddy.

    The local school board and its usual fill of students' parents is perhaps the biggest problem in the public education system. If the community is not so interested as to have people run for the board who are for all of the kids and not just because their own kids are in the schools, then perhaps the local rule school district should be a thing of the past. Perhaps ballots for school board should disclose the name, grade, and school assignment of the candidates' children. The board members should at least recuse themselves from dealing with issues involving their own children or their children's teachers directly.

    Most of the money spent per student does not go to the teachers. There is building maintenance, utilities, books, computers, legal defense funds, insurance, principals, secretaries, janitors, vice principals, guidance counselors, district superintendents, regional superintendents, state boards, bus payments and maintenance, bus fuel, and bus drivers. And that's even assuming things like sports equipment, cafeteria workers, cafeteria food, and more are covered by the modest fees involved or booster clubs.

    A large portion of the

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