The Week That Was
April 10, 2004










2. Toshiba Proposes Alaskan 'Micro-Nuke' Plant
Pacific News Service (04-06-04)

GALENA, Alaska---The Nuclear Regulatory Commission hasn't issued a permit for a new commercial nuclear powerplant in the United States for three decades. But if Japan's Toshiba Corporation has its way, the prototype for a new generation of "micro-nuclear" powerplants will be constructed on a remote stretch of the Yukon River in Alaska before the end of the decade. Last summer, representatives from Toshiba made the journey from Tokyo to Galena, a predominately Alaska Native village with a population of about 700. They met with community leaders to present their "4S" system, which stands for Super-Safe, Small and Simple.

According to Toshiba, the 4S could cut electricity costs for the village by more than 75 percent for at least 30 years. The plant would also use water from the Yukon River to create hydrogen gas to be used in fuel cells.

Galena serves as a hub for a handful of smaller villages along the Yukon and its tributaries. The region is made up of thousands of square miles of largely untouched boreal forest encompassing three National Wildlife Refuges, and includes some of the world's most renowned moose habitat. Like most communities in Western Alaska, Galena is a fly-in village; there are no highways, roads, or power lines linking it to the state's larger population centers. Large diesel generators must produce all electricity locally, using fuel delivered by a river barge during the summer months when the Yukon is ice-free.

The resulting electricity cost for local residents per kilowatt-hour is nearly three times the national average, even with assistance from a state-funded subsidy program.

Toshiba has pledged that the 4S prototype would be constructed at no cost to the village. Galena would have a cheap, clean-burning solution to all its energy needs for three decades, in exchange for becoming an international nuclear guinea pig.

In 2001, the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University released working papers that examined the 4S system and three other similar reactors. The report was co-authored by Neil Brown, a nuclear engineer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In a phone interview, Brown explained that besides being smaller than most reactors, the 4S is a liquid-sodium-cooled reactor, not a water-cooled one.

According to Brown, there are 21 sodium-cooled reactors around the world, -including Japan's MONJU reactor, which Toshiba helped construct with three other companies in 1985. After construction delays, MONJU first went critical in 1994, but was shut down after an accidental sodium leak and fire occurred in late 1995 while operating on low power. No radiation leaked out, but community concerns have kept MONJU shut down.

"MONJU has definitely not been a success," says Paul Gunter, a reactor specialist with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Washington, D.C. Gunter said that experience with sodium-cooled reactors in the United States has not been much better. "The main concern (with this type of reactor) is that sodium and water have a tremendous explosive reaction. There was another near-accident in Detroit at Fermi Unit One in 1966, resulting from loose parts."

But attorney Douglas Rosinski, of the Washington, D.C., firm Shaw Pittman, which represents Toshiba, says the 4S system is nothing like the infamous nuclear powerplants of the past. He compares the 4S to a completely self-contained, automated "nuclear battery" with no moving parts. At the heart of the 4S system is a log-sized uranium core, which would generate power for 30 years before needing to be disposed of and replaced.

Brown said the reactor is similar to the first submarine reactors, and that Toshiba's design includes inherent safety characteristics, making it "a low-pressure, self-cooling reactor."

Toshiba hopes to have a 4S system operational by the end of the decade, but the cost of testing and licensing the prototype to the satisfaction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could keep it from getting off the ground. Which is why a rural Alaska Native village with remarkably high-energy costs was chosen as an ideal site for a prototype.

Rosinski and others seek to gather enough political support to secure significant funding for the project. Alaska's senior Senator, Republican Ted Stevens, the chair of the powerful appropriations committee, has said that he supports Toshiba's proposal, but that it will have to first clear the hurdle of public opinion.

The Department of Energy plans to send staff to the region to evaluate energy production capabilities, including the 4S. They plan to complete a report by the summer.
By Eric Mack, a freelance writer based in Galena, Alaska.

3. Sweden reconsiders nuclear power

On April 4, Sweden's Liberal party (Folkpartiet), currently in opposition, announced a new nuclear policy. They now want to reverse the decision of a 1980 referendum to phase out nuclear reactors. Says Jan Björklund, vice chairman of the Liberal party: "In 1980 the voters were told sun and wind would replace nuclear power. Now we see that oil and gas are the realistic alternatives. This is not acceptable." The main reason given for the new policy is concern for global warming, as Sweden is about to increase its output of carbon dioxide with new fossil-fuel powerplants. The party also points out that more than 50% of Sweden's current population is too young to have voted in 1980.

The liberals want keep the current 11 reactors and also restart the reactor Barsebäck-1 (closed in 1999). They also want to change the Swedish nuclear-technology law to allow construction of more reactors. They envision 13-15 reactors in the future. The exact number should be decided by the market and economical realities, not by politicians, they say.

SEPP Comment: This is a first, in a country where thinking about a future for nuclear power is against the law. Political opposition to this policy will be tremendous. But it's sad they do not promote nuclear power on its own merits, without referring to the scientifically flawed theory of catastrophic global warming. However, slowly, slowly we see the negative attitude changing, which also can be seen in polls. Of course, Finland's construction of a 5th reactor helps a lot.


4. A new nuclear reactor for the US?

BY H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press, April 1, 2004 (not an April Fool's story)

WASHINGTON -- Seven companies have agreed to jointly apply for a license to build a new commercial nuclear power plant, the first new reactor application to be filed in three decades, the companies announced yesterday.

5. An imminent oil crisis?

Every year, a new scientific article professes that we are close to an oil shortage and catastrophe. This January, Caltech physics professor David Goodstein argued that the peak of world production is imminent and that "we can, all too easily, envision a dying civilization, the landscape littered with rusting hulks of SUVs." However, Ronald Bailey (Reason) states that we are facing neither an oil shortage nor an oil catastrophe.

Bailey points out that the world is nowhere close to running out of oil. For example:

o Henry Linden, professor of energy and power engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, just published an estimate of eight trillion barrels of oil, gas, and oil-sand reserves.

o U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates of worldwide conventional oil resources range from 2.248 trillion barrels to 3.896 trillion barrels. [Current consumption is approaching 30 billion/yr]

o Taking into consideration various scenarios for future energy use, the Energy Information Administration sees oil production peaking anywhere from 2030 to 2075 -- hardly an imminent crisis.

Moreover, there will not be an economic catastrophe when oil production peaks. Bailey argues that markets will create incentives that lead industry to switch from oil to other forms of energy.
Source: Ronald Bailey, "Are We Out of Gas Yet?", February 18, 2004, Reason Foundation. For article


6. The Real Gasoline Price At The Pump

Gasoline prices are relatively normal by historic terms. Sure, people are paying more for gasoline today than ever before. They're also paying more for houses, cars, lettuce, baseball cards and almost everything else than ever before. Historical comparisons of prices over the years mean absolutely nothing unless we adjust for inflation, say the Cato Institute's Jerry Taylor and Peter VanDoren..

If we adjust gasoline prices for inflation and use 2003 dollars, we find:

o During the most celebrated days of cheap fuel and gas guzzling cars -- 1955 -- gasoline actually cost $1.66 a gallon on average across the nation.

o In 1972, the year before OPEC began to flex its muscles, prices were $1.28 a gallon.

o In 1981, the real record was set -- $2.36 cents a gallon; prices are only a nickel higher now than at this time last year.

A better measure of the affordability of gasoline over time is not its inflation-adjusted price alone, but its inflation-adjusted price in comparison with our economic resources (in this case, inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) per capita). According to Taylor and VanDoren:

Even though the real price of gasoline was lower in 1972 ($1.28) than today ($1.73), per capita GDP is now $39,919 whereas it was only $20,667 (measured in 2003 dollars) in 1972.

By those measures, then, gasoline prices today are only 37 percent of what they were in 1955, 70 percent of what they were in 1972, and 45 percent of what they were relative to income in 1981, explain Taylor and VanDoren.
Source: Jerry Taylor and Peter VanDoren, "Gas Panic," The Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2004.

7: Dioxin and Tumors

Nutrition News Focus, April 7, 2004

Dioxin is a minor impurity found in a number of organic chemicals and is also formed during burning. There have been many reports over decades about how toxic it is and how it causes cancer. It is the factor in Agent Orange, the defoliant sprayed in Vietnam, which is thought to have caused a variety of diseases in American troops. Most of us are exposed to very low levels of dioxin in foods.

A new study in Finland examined 110 cancer patients with a tumor most closely linked to exposure to dioxin in other studies. They were compared to twice that number of control subjects who were treated for appendicitis. Dioxin was actually measured in the fat below the skin of the abdomen of each person. No increase in risk of cancer was found with increasing amounts of dioxin in the body. In fact, those with the highest levels of dioxin in their body had the lowest risk of cancer. The research appeared in the March 1, 2004 issue of the International Journal of Cancer. <>
Comment: Minimal media attention was given to this story. "Chemicals do not cause cancer" is simply not a headline that grabs attention. Since potential contamination of (primarily animal) foods with dioxin has been a reason to discourage eating them, this study seriously questions that advice. This study shows that simply extrapolating down from extremely high exposure of a chemical to exposure at very low levels is not based on good science.

8. Global Warming Horror Film: "Day After Tomorrow"

As we warned you in TWTW of March 6, 2004, the Global Warming horror film: "Day After Tomorrow" will be released on May 28. For a preview and a true transcendental experience, go to the Day After Tomorrow website
Clicking on the "navigate" button brings up the best survey of current alarmism we've seen.

Under "what's happening now" they have:
The European Heat Wave; Tornadoes; Floods

Under the future predictions icon they have:
A million species committed to extinction; Kilimanjaro melting; Ski industry collapsing; the Oriole becoming extinct; Glacier National Park melting; Malaria and Dengue Fever spreading; Venice sinking

Under news reports they have:
Two separate links to the Pentagon alarmist story, (see our item in TWTW of March 6); plus a story about extreme weather events

And to top it all off: a link to the Union of Concerned Scientists

Under "what you can do" they have the following quote from the director:
"The threat of global climate change is the only problem big enough to force all the countries of the world to stop fighting and work together to save the planet."

(In other words, Kyoto will usher in the golden age of world peace and do away with the terrorist threat --among others).
Courtesy: Iain Murray, CEI

9. Hubble Reprieve? NASA Administrator Says "Not On My Watch."

There was brief joy among astronomers when they heard the news that NASA had agreed to have the National Academy of Sciences consider the decision to cancel another Hubble repair mission on safety grounds. But later in the day, Sean O'Keefe, the NASA Administrator, punched a hole in their canoe. He made it clear that while he was willing to have experts look at the decision, there was nothing they could say that would change his mind. I called Ann Thropojinic, a veteran astronaut at NASA Headquarters, to help me understand this. "You scientists just don't get it, do you?" she sighed. "People don't care what's going on 13 billion light years away. They want to know how you eat spaghetti in zero gravity. You should have thought about that before you let Hubble go up without a permanent crew."
From What's New by Robert Park (March 12)


Go to the Week That Was Index