|The Week That Was
Nov. 27, 2004
1. New on the Web: A FAIR-MINDED INTERVIEW ON HORMESIS WITH PIONEER RESEARCHER PROF ED CALABRESE.
2. IN-FLIGHT RADIATION RISKS FOR PREGNANT WOMEN
3. NUCLEAR ENERGY NEWS
4. ONGOING DEBATE OVER YUCCA MOUNTAIN
5. MERCURY EMISSION LIMITS: DO THEY MATTER?
6. RADIATION PHYSICIST. RALPH E LAPP AND JOURNALIST REED IRVINE, R.I.P.
7. And finally, ARCTIC WARMING UN-DIDDLED
8. WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT: OUR ONCE-A-YEAR APPEAL TO OUR READERS.
The earth's atmosphere blocks most cosmic rays but exposure increases with altitude. Typical exposures are 60 µSv (microSievert) for a flight from New York to Seattle and 150 µSv for a flight from New York to Tokyo. According to an article in Obstetrics and Gynecology, June 2004, pregnant women who occasionally travel by air can be assured that the harm to their foetus from cosmic radiation is negligible. It is recommended that radiation exposure should not exceed 1 mSv over a 40-week pregnancy. This is only advisory in the US but is a legal limit in Europe. Most research has suggested no evidence of foetal harm with exposure levels below 20 mSv.
On the rare occasion of a solar-particle event or solar flare, it is possible to be exposed to a potentially harmful dose of radiation. In the US, the Space Environment Center (SEC) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintains a WebSite (www.sec.noaa.gov) with real-time data on when a solar flare is occurring. Pregnant women can check this WebSite and, if they wish, postpone their flight by a few hours until the high-dose period has passed.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the SEC have recently introduced an alert system that sends a warning to airlines at-risk, to lower their altitude to a level with less radiation exposure. This is to protect those pregnant women who are already in the air when a solar-particle event occurs.
The radiation risk for pregnant women who fly on a regular basis, such as crewmembers and frequent business travellers, requires a more detailed analysis. For these women, the FAA has created software, accessible on the Internet, which can calculate the in-flight radiation dose on a trip-by-trip basis.
SEPP Comment: The Earth's magnetic field provides a partial shield
against galactic cosmic rays as well as the short-lived (hours) episodic
solar flare high-energy particles. As a consequence, high-latitude flights
carry the greatest exposure risks, esp if flying near the geomagnetic
Swords into Plowshares: The US yearly converts 10.8 million kg of Russian weapons material into reactor fuel (since 1993). This amounts to 13.5%of world use
In 2000, US and Russia agreed each to convert 34 tons of plutonium into U-Pu mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. Since the US lacks a MOX facility, it ships the Pu to France for conversion. In France, 20 out of 58 reactors now use MOX.
German politicians call for a course change from the present Red-Green policy on nuclear energy. Belgium now questions the earlier decision to phase out nuclear reactors. Sweden now plans to raise the capacity of existing reactors to compensate for the possible shutdown of Baersebeck-2. Britain readies plans for 10 new reactors to add to the existing 20 (that supply 20% of electricity)
In Germany, wind energy has received subsidies of 5 billion Euros -acc to Prof.. Alfred Voss, Director of Institute for Energiewirtschaft und Rationelle Energieanwenundung/Univ.Stuttgart (IER). The full costs of wind electric power amount to 7.5 to 10 cts/kWh, about 3-4-times of nuclear, gas, or imported coal. Yet environment minister Trittin claims that wind energy is cheaper than nuclear.
Who is telling the truth?
Much of the problem is semantic. "Nuclear waste dump" is scary; "engineered disposal of spent fuel" is much less so. Then there is the exaggerated public fear of radioactivity, coupled with ignorance ("long-lived" means lower activity). Even if Yucca is approved, there is still the political/PR problem of transporting the casks through population centers.
The media are playing their part by whipping up fears about "dirty bombs" and terrorist attacks on spent-fuel storage facilities co-located with reactors. Yet that is where spent fuel should be stored -- for at least a few decades until most radioactivity decays and we run out of cheap uranium.
I have argued for nearly two decades that spent fuel is a resource not
waste. [See WALL STREET JOURNAL, MARCH 29, 1985] First, it yields heat;
later, it should be recycled. Environmentalists above all should be boosting
Re: Your editorial of Dec 17 ("Mercury Falling")
Greens criticize the new EPA plan for controlling mercury emission from power plants as doing less than the Clinton proposal. Some perspective is necessary here.
Mercury pollution is a global problem; China is one of the largest contributors. Measurements show a vast atmospheric reservoir to which US plants contribute approx. 1 percent. Thus the original EPA plan of 90 percent emission control would have reduced the reservoir content to about 99.10 percent; the new plan of 70 percent control reduces the atmospheric level to 99.30 percent.
But while this difference in levels is small, the cost burden - ultimately borne by US households that use electricity - is huge. Therefore, a rational cost- benefit analysis supports the new EPA plan of Michael Leavitt.
By the way, did Greens criticize Clinton's EPA for proposing only a 90 percent reduction instead of 99 percent? No need to answer this question.
S Fred Singer Prof Emeritus of Environmental Sciences, Univ of Virginia
Ralph died on 7th September in Alexandria, VA. He was 87 years old. Dr Lapp was a noted nuclear physicist, author and lecturer, and a prominent figure in the cold-war debate about civil defense.
A graduate of the University of Chicago, he began his professional career in high-energy physics research under Arthur H Compton. During World War II, Dr. Lapp worked for the Manhattan Project. He was then appointed as the Assistant Director at Argonne National Laboratory.
After the war, Dr. Lapp served as Science Advisor and Executive Director of the general staff of the Research and Development Division of the U.S. War Department. In 1949, he joined the Office of Naval Research as head of the Nuclear Physics Branch. He formed his own consulting firm, Nuclear Science Services in Washington, D.C., in 1950.
His book, The Voyage of the Lucky Dragon, recounted the story of 23 Japanese fishermen who were caught in the fallout of the U.S. hydrogen bomb test in 1954. This book was the beginning of his efforts to educate the public about fallout, and he became one of the first to expose publicly its potential dangers. He was an early opponent of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing and had a crucial influence in persuading the United States to adopt the nuclear atmospheric test ban treaty.
A prolific writer, he co-authored (with Howard L Andrews) the classic text Nuclear Radiation Physics, (1948), which is still widely used as a reference work today. He wrote 22 books on nuclear safety and radiation, some for professionals and some for laypersons. He also wrote numerous magazine articles, many on the theme that, while nuclear war is a profound threat, the dangers of radiation are often overstated. "Clearly, occupational exposure and airline exposure to radiation are very minor hazards", he wrote. "The risks for nuclear workers are over regulated."
During the 1970s and 1980s, Dr. Lapp appeared on television to debate with various people (including Ralph Nader and Jane Fonda) on the use of nuclear energy as a source of power for the production of electricity. Dr. Lapp also received the 1972 Atomic Industrial Forum Award, the 1974 American Physical Society Award for "Promoting Public Understanding of the Relation of Physics to Society" and the Alvin M. Weinberg Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Nuclear Society.
Often, they would take their cues from a few big-city newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
Most of the "mainstream media" personnel print and broadcast came from the same Ivy League institutions, and those who did not, quickly realized the path to career enhancement was linked to adopting establishment conventional wisdoms.
What irked Reed more than anything was that this resulted in news that went beyond mere bias. Even in 1969, when he launched AIM, the media¹s liberal tilt was glaringly obvious in many quarters. Bias however unintended was bad enough. Outright inaccuracy in reporting compounded the problem.
Irvine¹s AIM Report gained a wide following among all who wanted the straight story. Many of his exposes ended up in letters-to-the-editor columns around the country. Some of these were spectacularly confrontational. Longtime Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee once called Reed Irvine a "miserable carping retromingent vigilante." AIM gave Bradlee a "Miserable Carping Retromingent Vigilante Society" award in a facetious presentation at an AIM gathering.
During his final days, Reed learned about the AIM protest against Dan Rather outside CBS offices in Washington, D.C., after the anchorman got caught using bogus documents in a broadcast designed to discredit President Bush. Reed had started the campaign to "Can Dan" 16 years ago.
Mr. Irvine graduated from the University of Utah in 1942 served in the Marine Corps during World War II, where his job was to learn Japanese and translate interviews with prisoners of war. After the war, he won a Fulbright scholarship to Oxford University from 1949 to 1951, leaving with a master's degree in literature. He worked as an economist with the Federal Reserve from 1951 until 1977,
I got to know Reed soon after SEPP was founded. We would meet frequently,
but often he just phoned to check on the accuracy of a particular scientific
issue. He always wanted to be sure of accuracy. He will be missed.
We have had many inquiries from readers asking how the Arctic Climate
Impact Assessment (ACIA) report was diddled. First, though, a ChiTrib
story that appeared just before the Arctic Council met on Nov 24 to make
some momentous policy recommendations: NONE
BY MICHAEL KILIAN AND NAFTALI BENDAVID
WASHINGTON - (KRT) - The Arctic Council, a group of eight countries with Arctic territory, including the United States, is expected to issue recommendations on global warming Wednesday that will put the spotlight on a critical area where the United States is at odds with many of its allies.
The council's meeting this week in Reykjavik, Iceland, follows a stark report by the council on the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions on the Arctic, which is more vulnerable to global warming than other parts of the world. The Arctic Council's recommendations also come as some Republicans and Democrats in Congress are stepping up calls on the administration to take firmer action on global warming.
The council's 140-page report, four years in the making, warns of massive ice melts, a dramatic rise in ocean levels, the depletion of the Gulf Stream and other sea currents, wild fluctuations in weather patterns, increased ultraviolet radiation and wrenching dislocations in the food chain and habitat.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee and is a strong proponent of action on climate change, called the administration's performance on the issue "disgraceful" at a recent hearing. The administration "could do a much (better) job in telling the American people exactly the challenge we face here," he said.
Arctic Warming in Doubt-and so are Policy Prescriptions
There has been much "Sturm und Drang" recently about a putative Arctic Warming and its multifarious impacts on the people and ecologies of the Arctic regions. Concerns have been especially intense in Canada, UK, and Northern Europe, largely because the results of an intergovernmental Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) study were leaked to the media. Reuters reports that some of the participants wanted to release the study just before the US elections - for maximum political impact, no doubt.
But is the Arctic really warming - as so widely advertised? How and from where did the ACIA get its strange-looking temperature data? They show a current warming trend of about 0.5 degC per decade, with present temperatures about 0.5C higher than the 1938 peak value. [See p.23 in the 140-page ACIA Summary or click on ACIA Highlights on http://amap.no/acia No source is indicated, making it difficult to verify the graph.]
By contrast, published results in scientific journals do not show an Arctic warming -- and are not mentioned in the ACIA Summary. An analysis based on the US Climate Data Center's GHCN (Global Historic Climate Network) from latitude 64 degN to the Pole shows a strong warming in the early 20th century, with a peak temperature around 1938. This peak was followed by a cooling of about 1.5degC (nearly 3 degF) till about 1975 and a slow recovery; the trend since 1938 is essentially zero. An independent analysis of the Hadley Centre (UK) of temperature data from 70 to 85 degN shows similar results, with an even more pronounced peak around 1940. Ice-core data from Greenland actually show a cooling trend since 1940. [More references can be found on <www.CO2science.org>]
Whence this disparity between the ACIA and all other published data? When the glossy Summary of the study was finally presented at a Washington, DC press conference on November 8 (the full scientific report will appear only in 2005), we finally learned what was behind all the stories of the past weeks about disappearing ice caps and stressed-out polar bears. But neither of the two climate scientists present could supply a source (author and/or literature reference) for the ACIA temperature graph. Yet the whole Arctic Impact Assessment depends crucially on this alleged warming trend.
The most likely answer to the puzzle may reside in the imaginative ACIA definition of "Arctic." Their graph covers the region from 60 to 90 degN, whereas others use 64 degN or, more commonly, 70 degN. The ACIA thereby manages to capture an unusually strong warming trend from mid-latitude Siberia (whose cause is still disputed -- and which may even be spurious). It appears then that jiggling the southern boundary of the Arctic region can generate an alarming warming trend. Not really confidence-inspiring, is it?
This week, the intergovernmental Arctic Council, which sponsored the
ACIA, met in Iceland -- a culmination of their 4-year effort - to develop
policy recommendations. They had none - which is just as well. The eight
governments financing this exercise now need to ask some hard questions
about the underlying climate science - and so should the media that created
so much public excitement.
Scientists have agreed to discuss parts of the report ahead of full publication
-- Reuters published main conclusions in September. Some European governments
originally wanted the report issued before Tuesday's U.S. presidential
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