Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fantasyland... LaTourrette's syndrome

March 8, 2012

Dear Readers,

I attended a one-man show tonight, a work of fiction put on by the RAND Corporation ( www.rand.org ) in Santa Monica, California.

It was titled "Nuclear Energy After Fukushima" and "starred" Dr. Tom LaTourrette, Senior Physical Scientist, RAND Corporation. Why this geologist was assigned the task of telling a couple of hundred people nuclear power is still safe is beyond me. But important people were there to listen, including representatives from Senator Feinstein's office, someone from Homeland Security, two diplomatic visitors from other countries, and former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner (and former Rand employee) Dr. Victor Gilinsky, whom I've debated on other nuclear issues and would be glad to debate again.

They were all there listening to this guy because he's from the Rand Corporation.

I found it strange that the geologist apparently hadn't heard about the water leakage problems or geological instability of Yucca Mountain, or the drip shield problems, or the vermin infestation problems, or the scientific fraud that crept into the project from time to time, or even the transportation dangers and worries -- he had only heard that Harry Reid probably stopped Yucca Mountain -- "mothballed" was the word he used. He thought it was a purely political decision.

He picked all his "facts" carefully, always trying to appear to be leaving out his pro-nuclear bias. He was lousy at it, of course. Listening to him talk to people individually afterwards, I actually heard him say "I'm pro-nuclear. I hope my bias didn't show." It showed! Dude, it glowed like the sun! (Dear reader: You can't imagine how hard it is not to write, "what an idiot that guy was!" but I'll refrain as best I can...)

I was going to talk to him, ask him where he got his "facts", ask the question I didn't get called on to ask during the Q&A. But after he actually said that about being biased right in front of me, I decided not to bother. Instead I considered going over to the new President of the Rand Corporation, who was also in the room and standing nearby, and telling him that if they really want to serve the needs of the public, as they claim, then they could start by firing that guy and never listening to him again. Somehow I held myself back.

Unfortunately, Dr. LaTourrette's audience wasn't any less ignorant than he was. One guy asked if the uranium used in artillery shells was one way that we could use up the spent fuel that's piled at some 70 different sites around the country. No, that's not where "depleted" uranium comes from, LaTourrette explained. Then he called D.U. harmless or "not radioactive" or something like that -- a gross exaggeration, of course (and he was completely ignoring its heavy-metal toxicity issues). If we reprocess spent fuel, then D.U. might come from that waste stream. Is Dr. LaTourrette aware of that?

Someone asked if the dry casks were safe. He said they're so well shielded, you could put them in the Congressional Building. This is not true. He said you could fly an airplane into them. This is not true. In the months after 9-11, the nuclear industry attempted to claim their containment domes could withstand the force of a large air strike. This is not true, and they were forced to back down from that claim. Containment domes have approximately four to eight feet of concrete, and rebar a thick as a man's forearm. Dry casks typically have about two inches of steel and a foot or two of concrete. They CANNOT withstand a rocket-propelled grenade, let alone an airplane strike!

Plus, Dr. LaTourrette ignored what will happen when one of these dry casks ruptures and catches fire and releases all its fission products: Even Dr. Frank von Hipple, who I think minimizes the dangers significantly, calculated that a dry cask fire could spread its lethality 500 miles downwind.

Someone asked if the water in the spent fuel pool is "radioactive". Dr. LaTourrette didn't know, but thought that it probably was. (It is.) He apparently also didn't know that a guy fell in the reactor water at San Onofre a few weeks ago. The temporary contract worker will just have to wonder if he swallowed any "fuel fleas" that were in the water.

Dr. LaTourrette concluded that there are four possible options for "solving" the nuclear spent fuel problem. None of them are to stop making more waste! He doesn't see that as an option.

The first option he sees is to restart Yucca Mountain or some other geological repository. Not only did he seem to be unaware of the many various real problems with Yucca Mountain, he didn't seem to realize that Yucca Mountain was the last place on Earth we could find that "might" work! No other state, not other nation, sovereign Indian, or independent, wanted it. They still don't. (In fact, recently several nations tried to get Mongolia to build a nuclear waste repository, and -- poor and "backward" though they might be -- they had the good sense to say no.)

Dr. LaTourrette mentioned two countries which he feels have solved the geological waste disposal problem, by getting the local populations involved. What actually happened is those countries made special laws that would allow very small communities to decide to take the waste and not allow the larger communities around that area to stop them! That's Dr. LaTourrette's idea of a successful siting of a nuclear waste dump, and that's what he want's to have happen here in America, too.

But if that won't work, he had three other "solutions" to the growing, glowing problem of spent nuclear fuel. His favorite is to dump the waste on Indian territory. The difference between this and the geologic repository is that this is temporary and above ground. (By the way, "temporary" might mean hundreds of years.) This way, in his mind, we would have only "three or four" sites to guard, instead of the seventy or so that we have now. He ignored the fact that as long as the plants remain operational (and for several years afterwards) we would still have all the current sites, PLUS the new "temporary" dumps. And since he thinks airplanes, RPGs, etc. can't harm the casks, he thinks of this as a perfect solution. Out in the desert somewhere. If something goes wrong, and they catch fire, you can't put it out with water, but there's no water for miles around anyway. That's his idea of a perfect solution!

Oh, he'll tell you it's not perfect, that nothing is. Windmills are expensive, he says. Solar is too. Only coal is cheap. I find it baffling (get it, that's a pun) that wind power and solar power are considered expensive, considering they're big advantage is that once installed, you don't have to bring any fuel to them, ever -- the fuel comes to them! That's a huge saving in green-house-gas-emitting fuel right there. Even nuclear can't boast that advantage because removing /storing the fuel is very energy-intensive when one considers how long it has to be stored for, or if there's an accident, or just considering the difficulties in transporting the spent fuel -- building the transportation casks, the storage casks, the next set of storage casks after the first, and the hundredth, as they each wear out and the fuel is still hazardous. It all adds up, but not for Dr. LaTourrette.

His third option is to reprocess the spent fuel. He sees it as recovering an asset -- the Uranium 235 and Plutonium 239. He did admit that the fission products are very dangerous and would have to be stored for a long time, but there again, his estimate of "10,000 years" for how long spent fuel is dangerous was way off -- try a million years, Dr. LaTourrette! He didn't mention how energy intensive reprocessing is -- he called it "recycling" the fuel, since that sounds green, of course. He didn't mention that we would have to change the laws in America to do it. And he didn't mention that it would cost many tens of billions of dollars.

His fourth option is to just keep putting it in spent fuel pools and dry storage casks on site, but he says that's not being fair to our children and grandchildren. Gosh! How he sees any of the other options as being any better for them, I don't know. What he had to say was along the lines of, "but since we're already doing it, that's not an issue."

Stopping the nuclear waste pile from growing any larger doesn't occur to him. He can't understand why the Japanese, the Swiss, the Germans, the Italians and many others want to kill nuclear power or not start using it in the first place. He's not sure what happened at Fukushima. He doesn't know how many people died because of Chernobyl but figures it's not more than 10,000. He probably never heard that there's a book out, published by the New York Academy of Sciences, that looked at thousands of studies done in the aftermath of Chernobyl and concluded, by looking at the metadata, that as many as a MILLION people have died from Chernobyl already, and the deaths have only just begun! And far, far more were harmed but not killed outright.

Dr. LaTourrette is living in a fantasyland. It was very sad to see him have the floor for an hour, knowing my government's representatives were there listening to his spiel. I felt like I was in a seance or something, where science had been tossed out the window. But there he was, being believed, and getting a nice round of applause at the end for his performance.

Disneyland is just a few miles away. At least there, the fun is real. There was simply nothing real at Rand this evening.

Sincerely,

Ace Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, CA


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3 comments:

  1. Hi Ace - Just found your blog at a friend's referral. My husband and I also attended the RAND lecture. Here's my March 10 debrief posted on the Safecast google group. Very best regards, Annette Trisler, Concerned Mom.
    p://www.rand.org/multimedia/audio/2012/03/08/nuclear-energy-after-fukushi...
    On Thursday, March 8, we attended Dr. Tom LaTourrette’s (Ph.D.
    geology) lecture at policy think tank RAND Corp's Santa Monica
    headquarters, summarizing RAND Corp.'s vision for America's nuclear
    energy future, with a focus on managing spent nuclear fuel. The link
    above directly accesses the recorded audio podcast.
    The audience included many eminent scientists and dignitaries,
    including RAND Corp.'s new CEO, consuls from Belgium and Switzerland,
    a Japanese researcher and representatives from Sen. Dianne Feinstein's
    office and DHS.
    It was downright freaky to sit amid such self-professed eminent minds
    and policy shapers as they all "yes, manned," the speaker's extremely
    superficial presentation based upon selectively incomplete
    information. This was RAND Corp research after all, and I cannot
    imagine any missing information was unintended. Although this was
    billed as a discussion of the "pros and cons of nuclear energy in a
    post-Fukushima world, (to) shed some light on lessons learned over the
    past year," it was not a balanced or complete presentation, because
    the data set and assumptions were incomplete, and the missing data
    happened to be that which evidences the dangers of nuclear power
    generation.
    RAND Corp is the preeminent think tank informing US public policy, so
    their “science” has and will determine our futures. Listen to the
    podcast and get a glimpse into the pro-nuke scientific circle's
    communication flow. The knowledge of nuclear physics, the dream, the
    hope and vision of the miracles that nuclear energy could bring...
    these were all present. What was conspicuously absent was the human
    element, that I associate with the understanding of right and wrong,
    good and bad… that ethical social structure that informs our daily
    actions. I have not utterly condemned those people for their
    apparent amorality, laughing at the odd silly quip as they discussed a
    public policy direction that holds the power of life and death/
    economic success and devastation over so many. Many of them were
    kindly and elderly and I am not able to determine if they were simply
    idealistic with much faith in the dreams of their youth; if their
    information input was so controlled (only fed information that
    supported the cause) that they could not be blamed for their
    positions; if they were consciously turning a blind eye to the huge
    flow of data contradicting the industry spin and heroically toeing the
    line; or they were simply selfish and egomaniacal, with an obstinate
    obsession on continually pushing the scientific limits of "what can
    we do," without regard to the very real health and economic toll and
    unquantifiable risks their industry is inflicting on real people by
    refusing to consider the humble and tempering, "but then, what should
    we do?"

    ... rest of post at:
    http://groups.google.com/group/safecast-japan/msg/ecc851d38ae6231c?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the additional viewpoint! BTW, Victor Gilinsky states emphatically that he was not there, despite being announced as present by his former employers. He also claims never to have debated me in email, which is possible, since when I finally went and looked (this morning) I couldn't find the correspondence... from about 15 years ago... whatever... Anyway, in 2005 I did a brief summary of the Dr. Gilinsky for someone who was praising him, and shouldn't have been:

    ------------------------------------
    Let's talk about Dr. Victor Gilinsky:

    In a 2000 report, he didn't think North Korea should receive nuclear power equipment from the U.S. until "North Korea is a trustworthy recipient." After that little matter is taken care of, why of course, it's okay.

    He stated that "the very large size" of the nukes we were proposing to sell to North Korea "makes the project both uneconomic and unsafe." Smaller nukes, however, would have been entirely OKAY with Dr. Gilinsky.

    He worked at the Atomic Energy Commission for several years starting in 1971, as assistant director for policy and program review. Nothing anti-nuke there, that's for sure. In fact, those were some of the strongest years for nuclear power development in America's history. And he obviously helped.

    From 1973 to 1975 he was head of the RAND Physical Sciences Department. The RAND corporation has always been a pro-nuclear "think tank" as you may know, and a revolving door for those with militaristic thinking and world domination on their minds.

    Then it was back to government, and a stint at the new NRC from 1975 to 1984 where he was "heavily involved in nuclear export issues" according to one brief biography. So I wonder how many of the rest of the world's ~335 nuclear power plants are courtesy Victor Gilinsky's efforts, don't you?

    He was appointed to the NRC by President Gerald Ford and re-appointed by President Jimmy "nukes are our last resort -- and we're down to our last resorts!" Carter.

    In testimony in 2002 regarding Yucca Mountain he proclaimed that onsite storage of nuclear waste allows for "ample opportunity" for the continued -- and even expanded -- use of nuclear power -- that Yucca Mountain is not needed for this reason. So we can EACH have mini-Yucca Mountains -- without the mountains -- at our nuclear power facilities.

    His view of the near disaster at Davis-Besse in 2002 due to corrosion was that "a serious accident was barely averted." This in no way impacted his support for nuclear power. To call the potential loss of the state of Ohio and an increase in worldwide radiation levels merely a potentially "serious accident" IS an understatement. It was a catastrophe that was averted, and that by pure luck.

    There ARE good people who were formerly nuclear industry insiders who have learned the truth and become whistleblowers, but Gilinsky doesn't appear to be one of them. In fact, it is an insult to those who actually have taken that extremely difficult route to suggest that Gilinsky is anything but a life-long shill for the nuclear industry.

    The most positive statement I found by him is that he thinks that nuclear reactors and their fuel, especially those in "iffy" (he has a doctorate to use that term) countries, will "always need close IAEA oversight." I refer to my previous email for comments about the IAEA's ingrained bias towards nuclear power.

    Now, you say Gilinsky is a good man, and attack me for questioning it. I say he supports nothing you've claimed to me you believe in, but if you know something about Dr. Gilinsky the rest of the world longs to hear, please share it with us.
    ---------------------------------------
    I didn't get a response, of course...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great post and great reporting....I know that surreal feeling...all the dignitaries lined up, they're wearing their business threads, everyone's serious, but not actually engaged. I'll bet none of those listening posed a single challenge.

    It's creepy and disgusting when you really consider how poisonous this stuff is to life forms of all kinds, how you can't insure it even, how it's being used throughout the country to the effect of continuously producing hot waste even as there is no way to safely dispose of it. Are these folks in denial? I mean---I cannot understand how they are allowed to blithely ignore evidence that doesn't fit their fantasy of how things are. Next time some jackass like this decides to speak hit me up and I'll come and help stare his ass down. I'll ask questions, too. What a travesty.
    thanks for the great, detailed & funny reporting.

    ReplyDelete

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