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Serious nuclear reactor accidents

Dear Reader,

I have recently published a review article about some of the chemistry of a serious nuclear accident, this is in a new journal named “Cogent Chemistry”. For those of you who do not know what “Cogent” means, it means “Something which appeals to the intellect or one’s powers of reasoning”. I have to confess I had to use a dictionary to look it up.

Now I am waiting for some feed back on this article, I am wondering what will come to me. It is important to note that such a review article is as politically neutral as possible. The role of a review in science is not to act as propaganda for either the nuclear industry or the antinuclear sector. In some ways the antinuclear sector seems as much of an industry as the nuclear industry. Some people seem to make being “antinuclear” as much of a full time job as some of the spokespersons hired by the nuclear sector. I am aware of some “interesting” behaviours which both pro and antinuclear zealots have. I will always refuse to name the zealots from either side, so please do not ask me for a list of them.

Some of the antinuclear zealots might even harm the environmental movement, if a person appears to be a foaming at the mouth antinuclear (anti-GMO, or anti-you add the name of a technology or industrial activity) they may start to appear to be an unreasonable person with a clear axe to grind. They may lose credibility and they might also start to tell lies (be dishonest, economic with the truth call it what you like) as a result of this “crying wolf” people will start to ignore the whole of the environmental movement so when another (and genuine) issue appears people will ignore it thinking “yet another scare story”. I am aware of people making claims of effects which are impossible, I also suspect that some people make up statistics / data and I also see dishonest tricks of argument such as “appeal to authority”, and “abusive ad hominem”. The latter is when a person’s character is attacked as a method of undermining an argument. For example consider one version of “ad hominem” known as “poisoning the well”. Someone might argue their electricity bill is wrongly calculated, and that how can you trust a worker from wicked utility company when their state that  2 + 2 = 4, thus the bill is wrongly calculated.

I assume that most of my readers have a GCSE in maths or some other similar basic maths qualification so they should know that 2 +2 = 1 + 3 = 5 -1 = 6 – 2 = 7 – 3 = 8 /2 = 4

Now while I am sure that none of my readers (antinuclear, pronuclear or otherwise) would want to argue that working for a particular company renders you unable to count. But I have seen some people from both sides of the debate use these types of tricks.

One use of a related trick was an incident where a meeting regarding a renewal of a license for a nuclear forensics / research site was being discussed. At one point the subject of radioactivity levels was being discussed, one activity was smaller than that due to potassium in a normal person. One person became angry and was saying “how dare you say that you know nothing about me and my body”. I think that this is a rather silly reason to become upset and angry (example of poisoning the well) as I can tell you that if you lost most of the potassium from your body you would die of a heart attack. Hypokalemia is the term for low blood potassium which when taken to an extreme results in a heart attack.

On the other hand some of the lunatic pronuclear lobby (One man who works in a national nuclear research centre calls them “atomheads“) are likely to harm the nuclear industry (and all other sectors which use radioactivity) by overselling nuclear technology and doing questionable things to prop up the image of their favourite industry. Promises of “electricity too cheap to meter”, nuclear powered cars (like the Ford Nucleon) and other outlandish things will result in disappointment. Also some statements which were later shown to be wrong on safety issues will in the long run do a lot of harm, during the three mile island accident a series of ambiguous and contradictory statements were made which in the long run did a lot of harm to the reputation of nuclear power. In terms of the flow of information to the public the three “big” reactor accidents were very different. Three mile island had a series of statements made to the media / public by the utility / the state, the Soviet Union tried to suppress the news about Chernobyl (that failed big time when workers at a Swedish plant arriving for work were found to be contaminated) while Fukushima was the internet age nuclear accident where lots of organisations were racing to post news and updates (some of which contained or were based on bad data). But a discussion of the way in which the early information was released for these accidents will have to wait for another day and another post.

I suspect that the article will enlighten and entertain the reasonable people from both sides of the nuclear / antinuclear debate rather vexing them. However both the most hardline opponents and staunch supporters of nuclear power will find the article disagreeable. The most antinuclear zealots will hate it as it fails to paint the picture of hopeless total doom which they so want while the pronuclear zealots will hate it as it discusses some of the things which can go wrong. Those who are protruth and proenlightenment should have no problem with it.

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