CLIMATE GAMBLE

Reviewed 8/15/2016

Climate Gamble, by Partanen & Korhonen
Cover art by Katariina Pekkola
CLIMATE GAMBLE
Is Anti-Nuclear Activism Endangering Our Future?
Rauli Partanen
Janne M. Korhonen
CreateSpace, August 2015

Rating:

5.0

High

ISBN-13 978-952-7139-05-9
ISBN 952-7139-05-8 99pp. SC $9.99

From two citizens of Suomi (Finland) comes a polemic about nuclear power. Its message is that nuclear power is being misleadingly portrayed as far more dangerous than it is, and that this misconception must be corrected because nuclear power is an essential part of the world's future low-carbon energy system.

"When writing this book, we asked for and received numerous studies and reports that anti-nuclear people cited to back up their arguments. After careful reading and examination, we noticed that many of the studies were either disturbingly flawed, or that their results did not actually support the arguments made. If we then countered the claims with peer-reviewed science and studies, our arguments were typically waved aside with accusations of corrupted science, or with quasi-philosophical arguments on the 'nature of factual information' or the 'changing nature of scientific information". One gets the feeling that if we just wait and study a bit more, we will eventually find ultimate proof (which, of course, will not be subject to the aforementioned changing nature of scientific information) that radiation is as dangerous as many anti-nuclear activists believe it to be, and suddenly millions, if not billions of people will die of it."

– Page 40

The authors are an independent writer and consultant on environmental issues and a researcher on energy and innovation with a master's degree in engineering.1 In the book they discuss the ways nuclear power is being misrepresented by a certain faction within the environmental movement. They provide plenty of detail and back up their arguments with citations, many of which are available online.

The crux of their argument is this: Given the huge demand for energy which must be supplied by low-carbon sources as fossil fuels are phased out, and the shortness of the time left to do the transition if harmful effects of climate change are to be minimized, we cannot afford to rule out the use of nuclear power — a reliable source of large amounts of low-carbon energy.2

Another concern is the cost of nuclear, as compared to renewables. A nuclear plant is much more expensive than a wind farm or even a large concentrating solar facility like the Ivanpah plant in California's Mojave Desert.3 The wind farm and the solar plant can also be built faster. But this is where system thinking must enter the picture. The whole problem is replacing four-fifths of the world's energy that fossil fuels now provide. Doing that with just renewables would call for lots of wind turbines and solar plants and lots of land to put them on. These facilities would also be very expensive in the aggregate. The power distribution grid would also have to be upgraded — no small task. And the permitting processes for all these facilities would be lengthy. This is why nuclear power should be included in the roster of low-carbon energy sources — especially when the power is provided by existing nuclear plants that are well managed and operating safely.

There are other considerations for nuclear plants of course: the risk of meltdown and the problem of storing the nuclear waste. The authors deal with these in detail. Their arguments are cogent and persuasive, but not definitive. No argument that there are solutions for the problems of nuclear power can be definitive until operating plants can show those solutions to actually work. But the numbers the authors provide refute the major claims made by the anti-nuclear faction. For example:

Radiation released from nuclear plants is horribly dangerous. Chernobyl killed millions. The death toll from Chernobyl is fewer than 50 people. Thyroid cancer cases are around 4,000, most of which have been cured. No one has yet died from the radiation released by the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi.4
There is no possible way to safely store nuclear waste until it becomes harmless. Nuclear waste (spent fuel rods) is being stored safely in cooling ponds all over the world, and also at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant5 in New Mexico. The authors describe the plans to store the waste from two plants being built in Finland.
Terrorists are bound to get some of the plutonium that reactors produce and use it to make a nuclear bomb. Theodore Taylor pointed out that terrorists having some fuel rods might — at great risk to themselves — make a crude nuclear bomb.6 But they'd still have to get the fuel rods, and security at nuclear plants is rather good. Sensible terrorists know chemical bombs are safer and almost as effective.

The authors make their case well in this book. The arguments are well organized and well supported by the numbers they present and the sources they cite. Several charts are provided along with the text. I think they could have done a better job with the charts, and that a list of figures should have been provided. They write clearly, but also more verbosely and repetitively than they might have. This is true of most anyone with an urgent message to impart. I think these are minor problems. The main thing is that they should get their facts straight. And they do. Recommended with full marks.

A blog and more information are found at the authors' Web site
1 Rauli Partanen is the writer. Janne M. Korhonen is the engineer, and a PhD candidate.
2 Nuclear is not completely carbon-free. Mining and refining the uranium, building the reactor facilities, making the fuel rods, and decommissioning the plants at end-of-life will use lots of fossil fuels, at least in the near term. When operating, however, a nuclear plant produces negligible amounts of carbon dioxide.
3 Built by BrightSource Energy, the Ivanpah plant has a construction budget of $1.6 billion. A conventional nuclear plant would cost roughly 8 times as much.
4 The authors write: "Because the average background radiation dose in Japan is only about two millisieverts per year, this means that two thirds of the evacuees [from the area of Fukushima Daiichi] received total doses equal to, or less than, what they would have received had they lived in Finland for a year. We hope no one mentions this to the thousands of Japanese tourists flocking to Finland each year." (Page 44) See my review of Crisis Without End for more information on claims made about Chernobyl and Fukushima by some of the people the authors mention on page 40.
5 The WIPP is described in Power to Save the World by Gwynneth Cravens.
6 See The Curve of Binding Energy by John McPhee (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974). I should point out that McPhee's book questions the strength of security around nuclear materials. I can hope it has improved since that time.
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