Skip to main content

[I had a small hand in this letter but it was drafted and finally put together by Ben Heard and Geoff Russell.--David Walters]
Published at and and various other climate change activist sites including this one.

In their determination to attack nuclear power and those who support it, anti-nuclear activism has walked away from the scientific process. As a result, nearly the entire community of environmental organisations in Australia is currently standing behind figures that are completely mathematically incorrect. Will they correct these blatant errors and open their publications to expert external review? Or is correct maths and good science optional when you wear the colour green?

The great scientist Carl Sagan famously said that extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. So how is it that Jim Green, an anti-nuclear campaigner with no scientific journal publications, can accuse James Hansen, one of the most extraordinary scientists of the last 50 years, of junk science?

In Green's recent article "James Hansen'™s nuclear junk science" he does precisely what good scientists don't do. He cherry picks data.

For those who came in late, Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen recently calculated, in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, that the historic deployment of nuclear power had likely prevented 1.84 million air-pollution related deaths, and by mid-century would prevent a further 420,000 - 7.04 million such deaths.

In response, Green has the temerity to call Hansen a "œpolicy flake". That'™s bizarre. For his outspoken policy advocacy on climate change such as the phase out of the coal industry and the cessation of tar sands operations, together with advocacy for fee-and-dividend carbon pricing, Hansen has been rightly lionised by the left and respected almost universally. But there is another platform to his policy position: that nuclear power must be deployed to prevent further climate destabilisation. Same man, same intellect, same  background. This should give pause to those on the left who oppose nuclear power.

But according to Green, Hansen is now peddling junk science, claiming that Hansen got the mortality rates from nuclear power wrong. So the guts of Green'™s article is a table of numbers giving deaths per gigawatt year of various energy technologies, with nuclear faring just as poorly as coal. He would have us apply this table in place of the figures provided by Kharecha and Hansen.  He boldly criticises the authors for their sourcing relating to nuclear mortality, saying this:

They say: "About 25% of these deaths are due to occupational accidents and about 70% are due to air pollution-related effects (presumably fatal cancers from radiation fallout; see Table 2 of ref 16)." Ref 16 is a 2007 article in The Lancet --” which makes no effort to explain or justify its figures for nuclear power deaths.

This shows both arrogance and laziness. Firstly, The Lancet is one of the world's most highly respected medical journals. As far as sourcing goes, that's a good first step.

Furthermore, Green is just plain wrong. The Lancet says exactly what is contained in the estimate: "occupational effects (especially from mining), routine radiation during generation, decommissioning, reprocessing, low-level waste disposal, high-level waste disposal, and accidents."  They also clearly cite the estimate as a summary from the ExternE project.

ExternE is a huge actuarial project run between 1998 and 2005 involving an array of experts in Universities across Europe, under the auspices of the European Commission. The table in question is the summation of thousands of pages of methodology, assessment and reporting, all of which is publicly available. ExternE spends 250 pages justifying its nuclear power death estimates.

Kharecha and Hansen apply the expert information in this table to calculate that nuclear power had saved 1.84 million lives since 1971. But rather than relying on this work by experts, Green refers readers to an alternate table of figures, shown below.

The mortality table published by Choose Nuclear Free

Forgive the interrupted prose, but the process by which this table was developed is best explained with bullets.

  • As source for this table, Green directs the reader to a page at an anti-nuclear website Choose Nuclear Free. The page is authored by Green.
  • The page repeats the table, and references a more detailed paper. This paper is also authored by Green.
  • The paper repeats the table again, this time listing the various sources.
  • For figures on biomass, rooftop solar, and oil, Green draws on information from a non-peer reviewed webpage found through the Lifeboat Project.
  • In converting these mortality factors from terawatt hours (TWh) to gigawatt years (GWy), he butchers them by accidentally dividing the figure by 8.76 when it should have been multiplied by 8.76. All of these figures are numerically incorrect. For example, Biomass should show 105 deaths per GWy instead of 1.4. Oil should be 315 instead of 4.5. Green's coal figures are a from a mish-mash of sources, some of which measure in deaths/GWy and others in deaths/TWh. Ignoring this and just using the Lifeboat figures for simplicity, the range should be more like 131-2,435 deaths per GWy.
  • This source (Lifeboat Project) also provides a number for nuclear power (0.04 deaths per TWh which would have, erroneously, converted to 0.005 deaths per GWy by Green's maths or 0.35 using actual maths) . Green ignored it, presumably because this was too low.
  • He instead builds his own nuclear mortality factor by:
    • Firstly selecting a 1996 estimate from the IAEA for fatalities from Chernobyl (26,000) and normalising to deaths per GWy. That this 1996 expectation hasn'™t eventuated is demonstrated by later assessments of the evidence which Green ignores (see our reference below to the 2007 UNSCEAR assessment).
    • Then selecting a single, non-peer reviewed discussion from a US nuclear physicist (Garvin, 2001) for mortality from the rest of the nuclear energy chain. We have serious misgivings about this assessment itself, however that deserves its own investigation;
    • Then summing the two figures above; then finally
    • Cherry picking a single line from a 424 page 2006 report of BIER as justification to double the upper end of his own mish-mash figure.

Dear readers, we give you junk science. This isn'™t so much cherry picking as it is a half-baked cherry pie. Yet this unbelievably bad bit of work is hosted by  a site with a tag line :œAccurate information about Australia's energy options".

But this is especially concerning because Choose Nuclear Free also hosts a joint statement against nuclear energy signed by every major environmental organisation in Australia. This is why peer reviewed science matters. Environmental organisations cannot be permitted to excuse themselves from that process in undertaking their activism and get away with endorsing a non-peer reviewed, mathematically incorrect melange of cherry picked sources that is then leveraged to influence national policy. That's exactly the practice they object to when it is evident in climate change denial. By insulating themselves from review and indulging in group-think on nuclear, they are just as guilty.

Green'™s case falls apart when he tries to claim there have been "œcountless" accidents in the nuclear energy chain. Wrong. You can count them alright, and that'™s what the Energy Related Severe Accident Database does. It tells us that between 1970 and 2005, in the OECD coal incurred 81 severe accidents (defined as 5 fatalities or greater) across the energy chain resulting in 2,123 fatalities. For nuclear, the figures are zero and zero. In non-OECD nations, the figures for coal are 1,507 severe accidents for 29,816 fatalities, and the figures for nuclear are 1 and 31 (being direct fatalities from Chernobyl). ExterneE replicates these findings. This mis-step in logic by Green is extreme.

Green mentions serious hydro accidents in brackets as though they somehow don'™t quite count. The ENSAD records two hydro dam failures alone, Banqiao and Shimantan, as responsible for 26,000 fatalities, and ten further failures causing a further 4,000 deaths. These accidents counted for those victims. It is unacceptable to devalue human life when it fails to support the anti-nuclear argument.

The article is padded with discussion of the effects of low-level radiation and Chernobyl. This is an area of ongoing scientific uncertainty, and credible organisations provide differing conclusions. But Green leverages this uncertainty to the most extreme result.

His firstly distances himself from the advice of the peak body while criticising Hansen for attending to it. This is in every way akin to climate denialists dismissing the IPCC. Green remains comfortably distant from the up-to-date advice of the UN who stated, following a major review in December 2012,

"Because of the great uncertainties in risk estimates at very low doses, UNSCEAR does not recommend multiplying very low doses by large numbers of individuals to estimate numbers of radiation-induced health effects within a population exposed to incremental doses at levels equivalent to or lower than natural background levels".

Green rejects Hansen'™s upper limit estimate of 4,900 deaths from nuclear accidents, stating that credible estimates for Chernobyl range from 9,000- 93,000. The link provided to support this statement is to another non-peer reviewed article co-authored by Green himself, which itself provides no source for these figures. But the figures can only be arrived at by doing precisely what UNSCEAR cautions against: multiplying very low doses by large numbers of individuals.

Hansen is correct to quote the figure for known fatalities for Chernobyl of 43 (28 in the event and immediate aftermath plus 15 fatal cases of latent thyroid cancer). He is reasonable in offering an estimate of 4,900 addition deaths for the industry as a whole, being fatal cancers that may have occurred, but at a rate that is too small to distinguish from what is normal.  He is well-supported when he reiterates that this is a probable over-estimate due to the wealth of evidence suggesting that low-dose radiation is simply not harmful, including the 2007 observation from UNSCEAR that after 20 years of exhaustive studies of Chernobyl there was "œno persuasive evidence of any other health impact in the general population that can be attributed to radiation exposure". This is hardly going to be the end of the matter for all concerned. But it is certainly not junk science.

Of course, Green glosses over the 64 Gt of greenhouse gas emissions avoided through nuclear power deployment to date. That'™s unreal, but sadly typical. It seems anti-nuclear activism would happily cook the globe if it meant no more nuclear power.

France supplies electricity at around 80g CO2/kWh. Australia'™s National Electricity Market produces around 800g CO2/kWh

The article attacking Hansen is not a critique. It is a deliberately constructed mis-reading of a scientific paper and its reputable sources, aimed at discrediting a celebrated scientist whose work has become problematic for the author. It is clumsy, lazy, shoddy and deceptive, having failed to read and understand the source material and then accusing Hansen and The Lancet of a lack of rigour. At every turn it seeks to weight the argument against nuclear by steering away from the best sources, the best science, the multi-paper reviews, and the peak bodies. It provides instead a self-referential pastiche, cobbled together from the fruits of non-peer reviewed activism, cherry picking, merging and simply butchering select references in the process. To top it off, this error-ridden product is currently leveraged by every major environmental organisation in Australia to push their agenda and influence Australia's policy directions on energy. That'™s not science. That'™s not a critique worthy of publication in a peer reviewed scientific journal. Tha'™s an attack on the scientific process itself, and a direct analogue to the techniques of climate change denial.

Hansen is but one in a growing group of highly credible voices who have reached the same conclusions: that an effective strategy to address climate change simply must include nuclear power, and that the hazards presented by nuclear power have been greatly exaggerated and pale in comparison to the threat of climate change. If environmentalism wishes to retain any kind of moral high ground in climate change as we push past 400 ppm CO2, it must reject the junk science of non-peer reviewed anti-nuclear activism. It must evolve to a position based on the transparent application credible, expert science.

Ben Heard is Director of ThinkClimate Consulting, a climate change and sustainability advisory firm. Geoff Russell is a mathematician, computer programmer and longstanding member of Animal Liberation SA. Both authors have rescinded previous positions of strong opposition to nuclear power and have become vocal nuclear advocates.

Ben Heard ; ;

Twitter: @BenThinkClimate

Geoff Russell

Twitter: @csiroperfidy

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (16+ / 0-)

    Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

    by davidwalters on Mon May 20, 2013 at 11:01:50 AM PDT

  •  But they "Feel" Like Nuclear Power is Dangerous (3+ / 0-)

    So, the result Green got must be correct and Hanson must be wrong!

    For those who care, the conversion error pointed out in this article is factually correct.  The referenced table cites oil as having a fatality rate of 36 deaths per TW-hr.

    Conversion factors:

    1 TW = 1000 GW
    1 day = 24 hours
    1 year = 365 days

    36 x 24 x 365 / 1000 = 315 deaths per GW-year not the 4.5 identified by Green.

    So, if Green will admit to the mistake, then he would logically accept the conclusion that nuclear is safer for the world than oil or coal.

    Anyone want to bet that he will say that?  I'm going to bet the other way.

    Someday soon Republicans are going to drown Grover Norquist - in a bathtub.

    by nuketeacher on Mon May 20, 2013 at 12:33:45 PM PDT

  •  So know...Green was often invited and participated (0+ / 0-)

    in which is a climate activist site dedicated to the use of nuclear energy as a solution to climate change. It is one of Australia's premier climate sites if not the premier one.

    At some point about 2 years ago he sort of just went off the deep end and exploded and refused to come back. Unfortunately this depreciated the value of a bit since they like have well spoken anti-nukes there to explain their view.

    Oh well. He did participate in the discussion of his own position but with broad swipes without backing up his math. Oh well.

    Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

    by davidwalters on Mon May 20, 2013 at 02:24:07 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for this discussion (0+ / 0-)

    especially for the gory details.

    Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

    by 6412093 on Mon May 20, 2013 at 03:27:52 PM PDT

  •  Defense by character assassination. (0+ / 0-)

    What fun (ho, hum). As well as hypocritical, since it's obvious that your industry-derived statistics on injuries/deaths do not contain any extrapolations for adverse health effects over time for nuclear. While relying at the same time on that very thing for extrapolating to fossil fuels. We do know from a century's kept statistics (and erstwhile secrets) that latent effects and ultimate death tolls over time from nuclear technology and its ugly fuel cycle are/will be considerable. Hell, even IAEA admits that, and they exist almost solely to promote nuclear power.

    It is dishonest to count contributory and long-term effects of CO2 /volatiles /particulates from fossil sources in your dire extrapolated statistics, while ignoring contributory and long-term effects of nuclear.

    It's known as "cherry picking data." a.k.a. "99 percent of all statistics only tell 49 percent of the story." [Ron DeLegge II]

    Meh. Please proceed...

    •  Well, precedent for this type of thing *was* (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ebohlman, Deward Hastings

      set at this site by a couple of weeks of ubiquitous mocking of those Harvard researchers who couldn't use excel and thus fucked up that austerity study.

      But strangely I don't recall one accusation of "character assassination" in that situation.

    •  I think in this case Joieau, it was a case of (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      quite obvious cherry picking. Jim Green clearly finagled the data...including his own to get the conclusions he wanted. It's like Jacobson arguing that you have to include an incidence of a nuclear war every 30 years on average to get the 'real' CO2 emissions from nuclear and show it has a high GHG output. I mean...really? Yeah...really.

      Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

      by davidwalters on Tue May 21, 2013 at 08:45:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is the type of analysis that DR. Hansen (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    should stick with!

  •  Wow - plot of French path says it all (4+ / 0-)

    They went from mostly carbon to almost zero carbon in 20 years - thanks to nuclear power.  If the rest of the world embarked on a similar program we could say goodbye to coal by 2030-2040.  This is REAL, this is ACHIEVABLE because it has already been done on the scale of what's necessary.

    This debate is crazy.  The world is burning and we're still debating if nuclear should be on the table when in DECADES past it has proven capable to the task of removing carbon from electricity generation on a national scale. Coal is the largest GHG emitter and it is majority use in the electricity sector.  

    Right now in Ontario, Canada the grid is 95% carbon free because 2/3 of generation is nuclear.  

    At this point, I think it is environmental malpractice to advocate against nuclear power in this fight.  The issue is HOW to do nuclear power best, not whether or not it is necessary.  It is clearly a key tool with which to win the battle against coal in the war against greenhouse gas emissions.  

    The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

    by mojo workin on Mon May 20, 2013 at 07:35:22 PM PDT

    •  Interestingly the French did this to get (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      off of...oil after the '73 OPEN oil embargo. More interestingly...the US did the exact same thing! The rulers that be at the time wanted to get the US off of oil...and they essentially did this. US nuclear substitution for oil followed almost the exact same path. Anywhoooo....

      The attack on James Hansen was long delayed, IMO, because most climate activists who were anti-nuclear couldn't deal with their hero being actually infavor of nuclear energy. Some politely disagreed, others less Mr. Green here, but 99% simply ignored his advice and to quote James Hansen "Drank the anti-nuclear Kool-Aid!".

      Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

      by davidwalters on Tue May 21, 2013 at 08:41:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks to all including Joiaeu, for the "recs". (0+ / 0-)

    Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

    by davidwalters on Tue May 21, 2013 at 08:43:28 AM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site