some of the arguments of nuclear power supporters "feel"
wrong to you, even though you have trouble pinpointing
the fallacies in them?
Then you'll be glad to read . . .
THE TOP 10 PRONUCLEAR ARGUMENTS...ANSWERED
Dr. John W. Gofman
ARGUMENT 1: We receive more radiation sitting
in our living rooms than is given off by nuclear power
plants. A brick wall puts out 3.5 millirems of radiation
per year but a nuclear power plant releases only 0.3 millirem
in the same time period. In fact you can stand right next
to a nuclear power plant and receive no radiation at all.
GOFMAN: First let me agree
that certain building materials do give off enough
radiation doses to deserve consideration. Let me also
agree that there is a very low dose of radiation emitted
at the fenceline of a nuclear power plant that is functioning
normally If this were not the case, workers couldn't park
their cars nearby or even approach such utilities at all.
However, the "no dose at fenceline"
statement doesn't consider the radiation people can receive
from the entire nuclear power fuel cycle. We need
to take into account all of the steps that make
up the atomic energy process including the production
of mountains of uranium tailings (unshielded piles that
are continuously releasing radioactive radon) . . . the
inventory of radioactive poisons--such as cesium 137 strontium
90 and iodine 131--that "leak" or "puff" into the atmosphere
when a power plant is not functioning normally
. . . the quantities of radioactive wastes being moved
in fallible vehicles that can (and do) leak . . . and
the so-called burial sites which have also been
shown to leak and spread their material into the environment
Now let's come to the claim
that a nuclear power plant itself releases only
3/10 of a millirem per year. Were that radiation dose--coupled
of course with other fuel cycle emissions--truly
always so small I would hardly waste my time concerning
myself with the hazards of nuclear power. But the proof
that advocates of this energy source have no confidence
whatsoever in their estimate of the plants' releases
lies in their behavior with respect to the legal radiation
As late as 1979, nuclear power
plants were, legally, allowed to bombard the public with
170 millirems per year. When my colleague Arthur Tamplin
and I proposed a tenfold reduction in that standard, the
nuclear industry and pronuclear government agencies fought
us tooth and nail. Now it has to be regarded as the acme
of strange behavior for an industry to say, "Look, we're
never going to give you more than 3/10 of a millirem per
year" . . . and then demand that the permissible standard
remain more than 500 times as high as that limit! So I
would say that as long as the industry fights against
reducing legal standards to a level comparable to the
3/10 millirem per year that nuclear power advocates claim
is the maximum dose per plant, any member of the public
can dismiss such ludicrously low estimates.
(The legal standard was
changed in 1979. It now permits 25 millirems per year
of ionizing radiation to be passed on to the general public,
under normal operating conditions! The Catch-22
here is that if anything occurs to make the operating
conditions "abnormal", a nuclear facility is permitted
to release an increased--and unrestricted--quantity
2: People living in high altitude cities, such as Denver,
receive twice as much natural radiation as do those living
at low altitudes . . . yet the residents of such cosmically
bombarded locales don't display double the average
incidence of cancer.
GOFMAN: The answer to this
favorite pronuclear argument is that the cosmic radiation
hitting the people in Denver probably does cause
an increase in the number of cancer cases per capita.
(One should not expect to find twice as many cases
of cancer, of course, because radiation is not the only
cause of the disease.) But to statistically demonstrate
such a reality, we would first have to know  that the
medical reporting of disease categories was equally
accurate in that city and the sea-level community to which
Denver was being compared,  that the people who are
considered "at risk" in both communities had all lived
at the same location all their lives, and  that any
other carcinogenic factors--aside from background
radiation--were identical in both areas. (Undoubtedly
they would not be identical.)
The fact is that no expert
in the field of vital statistics would be prepared
to contest the point that Denver residents may
be experiencing an increased cancer incidence rate as
a result of cosmic radiation . . . when compared with
otherwise equivalent people at sea level.
3: A chest X-ray exposes a person to 50 millirems of radiation,
and a coast-to-coast jet flight gives one a dose of 5
millirems. But the spokespersons of the antinuclear "movement"
don't complain about those hazards.
GOFMAN: An individual has
the right to choose to accept the radiation received
by flying coast to coast or by having a chest X-ray
. . . in exchange for a perceived benefit for him- or
herself. (The dose received from a variety of medical
X-rays is high enough, though, that I would not
recommend undergoing such examinations unless the procedures
are required in order to make an accurate diagnosis of
a potentially fatal disease.)
But nuclear power does not
offer a voluntary choice . . . the radiation released
by nuclear power is imposed upon people. Indeed,
atomic power represents the use of an entire population
as involuntary guinea pigs in a gigantic game of Russian
roulette . . . the results of which could be an epidemic
of cancer, leukemia, and genetic disease. And there
would be no justification for such an involuntary imposition
of risk even if the majority of the people in a country
voted in favor of nuclear power . . . because the majority
has no right to risk committing genocide against the minority.
4: The genetic dangers often cited by antinuclear activists
are obviously exaggerated, because not even the atomic
bombs dropped on Japan in World War II produced
any harmful genetic effects.
GOFMAN: I've often heard
the statement that the Hiroshima/Nagasaki data show
that no genetic damage results from radiation, so I
went out of my way to analyze, very carefully, those
particular scientific papers . . . and I was astounded
to discover that the findings in that study were exactly
the opposite of what is being claimed! The often
quoted Neel-Kato-Schull study examined dominant genetic
diseases that are expected to cause death in early life
among children under 17 years of age, and definitely
indicated that ionizing radiation increased the incidence
of such diseases.
The Neel-Kato-Schull findings
were significant at what is called the "5% level", which
means there's one chance in 20 that the findings were
the result of chance . . . and 19 chances out
of 20 that the findings were correct. Now the scientists
who did this work decided that--considering the delicacy
of the matter--they didn't want to trumpet their results
around . . . so they concluded in their paper that they
found "no clear effects" (my italics).
Well, they had indeed
found that radiation has an effect on the incidence
of genetic damage, at the 5% level of significance.
But--by twisting the words in their summary--they provided
pronuclear advocates with the opportunity to grab at
the statement that "no effect was clearly observed"
and then to jump to the fraudulent conclusion
that "no effect exists".
The Japanese evidence certainly
does not prove the absence of genetic effects
5: Antinuclear advocates exaggerate the dangers of plutonium.
After all, the substance is easily safeguarded because
it's produced in very small quantities. Furthermore,
other dangerous poisons--like lead, which has an infinite
half-life--are continually being spewed into
Plutonium has to be one of the most dangerous carcinogens
that I know of. In fact, I believe that my own
estimates of its toxicity--figures that are thousands
of times higher than those of "official" estimating
bodies--may well be understated.
And--although nuclear advocates
claim that the carcinogen is now made in relatively
small quantities--if we develop an industry involving
reprocessing fuel rods (which must surely come to pass
if we commit ourselves to the nuclear energy route),
society will be handling millions of kilograms
of plutonium. Under such circumstances, in order to
avoid a lung cancer epidemic, the containment of this
plutonium will have to be 99.9999% perfect . . . in
other words, they'll have to safely guard all but one
part in a million!
And yes, lead does have
an infinite half-life and may be injuring the brains
of many, many children . . . particularly those in urban
environments. However, pointing to the dangers of another
damaging pollutant to justify creating plutonium is
the equivalent of arguing that if others are
committing murder, then additional homicide is
The correct assessment
involves the realization that if we're letting the lead
industry get away with dangerous pollution, we should
do something about the lead industry . . . and
not promote still another dangerous violation
of human rights and health.
6: If all U.S. power were nuclear in origin, the radioactive
waste produced would amount to only the size of one aspirin
tablet per person per year.
GOFMAN: The important concern
here, of course, is not only the amount of poison,
but its toxicity. A fully developed nuclear industry
would produce more than enough hazardous substances to
kill everyone on the earth many times over. So the real
issue is not whether each citizen's "share" of such materials
occupies the size of a football field, a garage, or an
aspirin . . . but whether one hundredth, one ten-thousandth,
or one millionth of the accumulated poisons will escape.
If the cumulative amount that is released is anything
like one-thousandth of the little "aspirins" nuclear proponents
speak about, we'll have one giant "headache": a cancer
and leukemia epidemic that will make all of history's
advances in public health care seem trivial.
ARGUMENT 7: Antinuclear activists often complain that
the potential damage caused by atomic power isn't covered
by any insurance companies. But the reason such
businesses haven't insured the industry is simply that
they have no actuarial experience on which to base their
GOFMAN: Yes, the insurance
companies have said, "We don't know the safety of nuclear
power plants, so we won't insure them." For this reason,
Congress passed--and twice renewed--the Price Anderson
Act, a law that relieves the nuclear power industry of
any liability claims beyond $560 million (a small sum
in the event of a major catastrophe). Congress has also
decreed that the taxpayers would, in effect, reimburse
the nuclear industries for $460 million of that $560 million!
The insurance companies are
smart . . . they don't know the risks, so they won't insure.
Does that mean it would be a good idea for you
to "bet your life" on nuclear power?
If the utilities were sincere
about the safety claims that they make publicly, they
would agree to repeal the Price-Anderson Act and
say, "We'll put our assets on the line and insure each
other." None of the power companies has done so . . .
which should tell you what they really think about the
safety of their plants.
8: Nuclear power supplies 13% of our country's electricity
today. If Industry is denied that energy, many
jobs will surely be lost.
GOFMAN: The relationship of
employment to energy is a very complex matter. If you
simply shut off the electricity serving a specific factory
tomorrow, then of course the people working there
will be out of work. On the other hand, the longrange
increased use of electricity in factories often
results in more mechanization and a decrease in
the number of humans required to conduct the businesses'
Furthermore, there's little
reason to believe that the method of energy production
affects employment . . . though many solar advocates
claim that "their" energy source will produce more jobs
per dollar than most other power alternatives.
And as for any possible energy--not
jobs--shortage that could occur if we were to abandon
atomic power (nuclear plants do produce 13% of
our electricity, but that amounts to only 3% of our total
annual energy consumption) . . . the American Institute
of Architects has calculated, in two carefully researched
reports, that we could work up to a 26% saving in America's
projected energy use by 1990 (which would be equivalent
to the production of about 430 giant nuclear plants)
simply by putting conventional technology to work to make
our buildings energy-efficient.
9: The question of the risks of nuclear power is a deeply
technical issue that only well-informed scientists, in
that specific field, can understand . . . and the majority
of such people support nuclear power.
GOFMAN: I have several things
to say in response to that one! First, by simply using
common sense, the layman will often behave far more intelligently
than would a Ph.D. The ordinary man-in-the-street can
look at the amount of radioactivity that would be produced
in a full-scale nuclear industry and realize that containing
such toxins to 99.9999% perfection day in, day out, year
in, and year out--when one considers all the possible
human and machine fallibilities--is impossible. But the
expert who looks at a computer printout based on the perfect
execution of a string of single operations and then concludes
that the toxins can be contained to one part in
a million is, to my way of thinking, the person who's
behaving like an idiot.
Let me now address the idea
that the majority of qualified scientists support nuclear
power. When considering this statement, you should first
realize that the U.S. government funds about half of the
research in this country. And, as I can tell you from
my own personal experience, the government doesn't like
results that disagree with its policies. Therefore, many
scientists are publicly silent on nuclear power, or declare
that the issue is too controversial to take a stance on,
when privately they will admit their reservations.
Most important, though, scientific
truth is not a popularity contest. Throughout history,
almost every step forward in science was resisted by the
majority of contemporary scientists. When most people
thought that our earth was the center of the universe,
the planet was traveling through space just as it's doing
today . . . even though the "vast preponderance" of scientific
opinion was steadfastly against such an idea. So
remember: No matter how many votes a scientific committee
may cast . . . the truth of nature remains unchanged.
ARGUMENT 10: Every activity--including driving a car--is
risky. It's impossible to have a risk-free society. Consequently
the benefits of an action must be weighed against
its hazards . . . and nuclear power's benefits outweigh
GOFMAN: It is absolutely true
that we cannot have a risk-free society. And, since that's
the case, we should recognize that those who produce hazards
for others must be fully prepared to take the financial
consequences of the risks. This rule does hold
true among individuals, and a corporation or the government
should not be allowed to assume the right--which individuals
do not have--to aggress against others. Yet nuclear
power is currently absolved from the responsibilities
of its actions by the Price-Anderson Act.
Moreover, the entire concept
of a benefit vs. risk doctrine is immoral. There is no
benefit to society that can justify the forcible
imposition of risks or threats to life upon individuals.
Indeed, there is a straight path from accepting the benefit
vs. risk doctrine for society as a whole to the philosophy
we saw epitomized in Nazi Germany.
Lastly, let me sum up my replies
to all of the arguments presented here by reminding
people that the nuclear power question is fundamentally
a human rights issue. People have the right not
to be aggressed against and used as guinea pigs in a massive
human experiment. However a concern for human rights must
not be equated with a craven fear of progress or challenge!
Humanity has faced very difficult problems and perilous
situations in the past, and shown great ingenuity
in devising systems that can minimize dangers in a fashion
which results in only voluntary risks being taken.
But such things have to be done in a sensible way, without
coercion, and with each party or industry involved taking
the responsibility for his, her, or its actions.
Radiation and Human Health, by John W. Gofman,
M.D. Ph.D. R&HH is a practical book which can make
a positive contribution to the health of those who use
it, and especially to the health of their children, who
are the most sensitive to radiation injury. The book provides
necessary information for making recurring personal and
family decisions about voluntary exposures to medical,
dental, and occupational radiation. 928 pages, hardcover,
$29.95 prepaid. CNR pays for packing and shipping. Tax
on Californians: $1.80.
for Nuclear Responsibility
P.O. Box 421993, San Francisco, CA 94142
This document can always be found at http://www.ratical.org/radiation/CNR/top10args.html
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