just waste

toteninsel450.jpg
Die Toteninsel im Nebel”, artwork by Justin Hoffmann

This is an update post to a previous post about a nuclear dump site near San Francisco. I will discuss in this post here a possible relation to an increased risk of cancer near San Francisco.

Due to the alarming results of the IPCC study concerning the world climate the discussions about using nuclear energy got a new boost. An often heard argument is that nuclear energy is relatively safe and that nuclear fission is a fairly well tested technology.

This is not true.

First the old technology is not as safe as assumed, as pointed out e.g. in this study. And secondly and more important: future use of fissile techology would make rather new and untested (and on average more dangerous) techologies necessary, namely the technologies of BREEDER REACTORS. (please see this randform post (and the therein cited other randform posts) for details)

Why? – because with the nowadays conventional commercial use of nuclear energy the Uran sources will be finished in about 60 years.

In this post I also gave a rough outlook on how an increased demand of nuclear energy (which accounts nowadays for about 6 percent of the total worldwide energy consumption) by a factor of ten would change the world.

- One may infer that a factor ten is too big since it would mean that 60 % of nowadays worldwide energy consumption would be covered by nuclear energy, however given the general increase of energy consumption this portion will shrink very fast and will still leave us with about 4000 new nuclear power plants (instead of nowadays about 450).

And these are nuclear power plants in a rather untested technology as pointed out above.

Likewise the nuclear waste problem is accumulating over the years- means if the waste per year is ten times more than before it will be in ten years 100 times more than in the initial year.

And nuclear waste is longterm problem.

An example:

In this randform post a considerably small nuclear waste problem (an old nuclear dump site near San Francisco) was mentioned which may have affected the lives of people.

I looked into this example a bit more.

If there is an environmental cause for an increased cancer mortality rate it is not far fetched to assume that there should probably be also an increased childhood Leukemia mortality rate (especially given the above mentioned study about childhood leukemia). So I looked wether I could find something there. However there is a study carried out mainly by the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health which says:

A simple and direct analysis of the spatial distribution of childhood leukemia was performed using geographic data from a large case/control study. The data consists of cases of childhood leukemia and their corresponding birth cohort controls located in seven San Francisco Bay Area counties. Both parametric and randomization analyses show no evidence of a non-random spatial pattern of childhood leukemia among six of these counties….

So the study found no spatial pecularities, i.e. no increased risk of childhood Leukemia in Marin County. Based on geographical data using GPS:

…the latitude and longitude coordinates were mathematically transformed so that
distance is measured in kilometers; that is, a new Cartesian
coordinate system was established in kilometers relative to
the latitude and longitude point (37.5, ± 122.5). Nearest
neighbor distances were then calculated to compare
statistically the spatial patterns of cases and controls.

So with statistical methods nearest neighbour mean distances between living locations of sick children (case/case pairs) and sick/nonsick children (non-case/case) where compared where

When no spatial pattern exists, the mean nearest
neighbor distances calculated from case/case and non-
case/case pairs are expected to be equal and the frequency
of the case/case pairs is expected to be equal to a known
value that depends only on the number of cases and
controls sampled.

If I understood correctly the statistical techniques used in the study are based to a great extend to techniques listed in this article.

I currently do not have the time to look into all the details but what I find important to mention is that the study (if I understood correctly) compared a total number of 12 (case+non-case/control) observations in Marin county. (In all the counties 333 observations).

The Northern California Cancer Center has a quite well documented archive of cancer statistics, which is publicly available to some extend and I looked briefly into it. Unfortunately spatial differences in cancer occurence are only listed since the year 2000.

But to my worry: on a first glance (which is just a suspect and NO statistical analysis!) one CAN actually observe spatial pecularities for Marin county, i.e. the five year death counts of cancer for Marin county seem to be increased for : skin cancer, the already mentioned breast cancer and Leukemia (where no difference between adult/non-adult had been made). (I looked only at death counts in order to avoid errors from over-diagnostization).

This means on the other hand: If this first glance would turn out to be of statistical significance than an environmental cause is rather likely.

Looking at the statistics it is clear that the local pecularities of cancer mortality rates for e.g. liver cancer (probably due to too much drinking) or Karpozy Sarkoma (due to Aids) in San Francisco look much more dramatic than the local pecularities of Marin County – just already by the sheer size of death cases. However for the individual case this is no consolation.

Concluding: this “small” waste problem (if I understood correctly the authorities see NO problem) MAY have had already quite dramatic consequences.

This tells us what?
IF it would turn out that there is a nuclear waste problem in Marin County (I again emphasize, what I found are only loose suspects) then just extrapolate this for the to be expected nuclear waste problems (see above) and how authorities would deal with them.

But apart from this – lets put it that way: I wouldnt necessarily swim in Marin county waters anymore until this question hadn’t been thoroughly examined.

2 Responses to “just waste”

  1. Ken Says:

    Is the untested technology you speak of the use of the Thorium cycle instead of the Uranium cycle? It’s safer.

    With current methods of uranium mining it is expected to peak in 50 years. This does not mean it will run out. Uranium is freely soluble and the Japanese have developed a method of extracting it from sea water. It will cost a lot more than the current spot price but it will be inexhaustible. In addition, Thorium is the fuel cycle of the future and uranium will be used primarily to drive this, although plutonium is also a good source of neutrons from the reaction creating a market for reactor produced and weapons grade plutonium leading to its destruction.

    Childhood cancer in France is lower than in the rest of Europe. Your statistics do not link radiation from nuclear power plants to cancer. There are many cancer causing chemicals that have not been excluded which are likely to co-exist with any isotopes which you have given no evidence for actual exposure to. If these is a cause for any increased up tick in cancer rates (and not, for example increased life span, which is also a risk factor), then by supporting the quasi-religious view that nuclear power is evil you could in fact be diverting attention from a true danger that could be removed or dealt with. The example of this that pops to mind is the much touted Navajo Neuropathy story from NM. This is caused by a point mutant originating in a single individual and is recessive. The anti-nuclear people claim that it was cased by uranium mining, which started in the 1950′s. No one explains how in 50 years time this amount of inbreeding could happen to account for scores of families being affected, but that didn’t stop the LA times from linking it to uranium. I think that the people in NM would be better served by access to genetic testing and consulting, but I’m an advocate for nuclear power, so I must just be nuts and not know what I’m talking about. There was mining for uranium and there are people in poor health and they both exist in the same place, ergo…

    The burning of coal is vastly more dangerous than the small amounts of radioactive waste produced at nuclear power plants. These include tens of thousands of tons of mercury, chromium, arsenic, lead, uranium, and thorium. This is spewed into the air along with carbon dioxide, nitric and sulfuric acid and silicate particulates. This is your true alternative that you are promoting to radioactive isotopes contained within zirconium ceramic fuel pellets in intact fuel assemblies in overly engineered fuel. In around 500 years, most of the biologically dangerous isotopes are decayed to natural levels. They pulled intact wooden furniture from King Tut’s tomb, I think that we can safely sequester the small amount of waste produced from nuclear power plants until it poises no threat. The Mercury from the coal plants that you are advocating will be circulating around the environment for eons.

    Sorry dude, the future is looking to be nuclear, not your precious coal.

  2. nad Says:

    Hi Ken thanks for the comment. Please let me comment on it:

    Is the untested technology you speak of the use of the Thorium cycle instead of the Uranium cycle? It’s safer.

    I spoke of both. In this elder randform post (which I linked above) I agreed with you that the Thorium cycle seems to be safer than the U-238 – that doesnt make it safe though.

    With current methods of uranium mining it is expected to peak in 50 years. This does not mean it will run out. Uranium is freely soluble and the Japanese have developed a method of extracting it from sea water. It will cost a lot more than the current spot price but it will be inexhaustible.

    My source about the limits of Uran was the website of the World Nuclear Association – a PRO nuclear organisation, which is fairly matter of fact. At the time when I wrote the post they listed 60 years, they currently have the opinion that it may be 80 years. I cite:

    “Thus the world’s present measured resources of uranium (5.5 Mt) in the cost category somewhat below present spot prices and used only in conventional reactors, are enough to last for over 80 years.”

    On the seawater option they say:
    “…seawater (up to 4000 Mt), which would be uneconomic to extract in the foreseeable future.

    So of course in principle it is possible to extract more Uranium. However given the current use and exploitation methods the ressources will be done in about 60-80 years. Given the current development of breeder technology and what is written on their webpages you can put it
    also like this: it seems to be cheaper to built breeders than to employ more costly exploitation methods. Please take also into account that nuclear energy is on the rise. So the ressources may be
    faster finished than assumed.

    In addition, Thorium is the fuel cycle of the future and uranium will be used primarily to drive this, although plutonium is also a good source of neutrons from the reaction creating a market for reactor produced and weapons grade plutonium leading to its destruction.

    You are right that breeders may create a new market for plutonium, something I actually mentioned in another post, where it seems that the US is going to built a reactor type, which can burn MOX fuel. Why do you think this is good?

    Childhood cancer in France is lower than in the rest of Europe.

    I may believe you, but that doesnt say much.
    If childhood cancer in France is lower than in the rest of Europe, – and if
    nuclear power plants are a source for cancer- then this could mean that
    the density of nuclear power plants in France is still low enough for
    being recognizable as a risk factor on a national level.
    As a matter of fact the reactors in France are probably also fairly well maintained.

    Your statistics do not link radiation from nuclear power plants to cancer.

    Well yes, the childhood cancer study doesnt link radiation from plants
    to cancer. BUT – that was not the point of investigation of the study!
    The study says that a child is clearly more likely to get Leukemia if it lives in the
    vicinity of a nuclear power plant. The study doesnt say anything on the cause for this higher
    likelyhood! In fact I could imagine that the cause may actually be more
    due to radioactive ground water or radioactive particles in the air than to radiation.

    There are many cancer causing chemicals that have not been excluded which are likely to >co-exist with any isotopes which you have given no evidence for actual exposure to.

    yes the non-radioactive chemicals used in a nuclear power plant can also be a cause
    for a higher cancer rate. I didnt exclude this. But that would be bad enough. Wouldnt it?

    If these is a cause for any increased up tick in cancer rates (and not, for example increased life >span, which is also a risk factor), then by supporting the quasi-religious view that nuclear power is evil you could in fact be diverting attention from a true danger that could be removed or dealt with.

    I said in that above mentioned elder randform post that I actually would support research in nuclear technology, so I definitively have no quasi-religious view on nuclear power. I am just very concerned about the future commercial use of nuclear energy -especially with regard to worldwide future energy consumption. Last but not least it is the scale which makes a real difference.
    And i think especially the waste is a big, big problem.

    The example of this that pops to mind is the much touted Navajo Neuropathy story from NM. This is caused by a point mutant originating in a single individual and is recessive. The anti-nuclear people claim that it was cased by uranium mining, which started in the 1950’s. No one explains how in 50 years time this amount of inbreeding could happen to account for scores of families being affected, but that didn’t stop the LA times from linking it to uranium. I think that the people in NM would be better served by access to genetic testing and consulting, but I’m an advocate for nuclear power, so I must just be nuts and not know what I’m talking about. There was mining for uranium and there are people in poor health and they both exist in the same place, ergo…

    I dont know about this case.

    The burning of coal is vastly more dangerous than the small amounts of radioactive waste produced at nuclear power plants. These include tens of thousands of tons of mercury, chromium, arsenic, lead, uranium, and thorium. This is spewed into the air along with carbon dioxide, nitric and sulfuric acid and silicate particulates. This is your true alternative that you are promoting to radioactive isotopes contained within zirconium ceramic fuel pellets in intact fuel assemblies in overly engineered fuel.

    I am fully aware that burning carbon causes tremendous environmental problems.
    However I think one can easier deal with them than with the ones from nuclear
    energy, like for example with filters etc. At the moment I think that it is easier to deal
    with a rapid global warming due to too slow development of renewable energies
    than with a rapid expansion of nuclear energy.
    In particular I am not in favour for coal. I think the question is more how to deal with overpopulation and a rapid industrialization. As I wrote above -even breeders will provide energy for only a relatively short time period (looking at the time of existence of mankind). In short: if mankind is unable to deal with this rapid expansion it probably doesnt matter how we blow up our planet.

    The ressources let it be energy, food or place are limited. period.
    Enforcing nuclear power seems to me rather a way how to postpone and enlarge the real problems.

    If one would get a hold of this rapid expansion then by employing measures
    like energy-saving architecture etc. renewable energies will be fully sufficient in my opinion.

    In around 500 years, most of the biologically dangerous isotopes are decayed to natural levels.

    No. As an example: Uran 233 (produced in the Thorium cycle) has a half-life of 160000 years.

    They pulled intact wooden furniture from King Tut’s tomb, I think that we can safely sequester the small amount of waste produced from nuclear power plants until it poises no threat.

    I dont understand this argument.

    The Mercury from the coal plants that you are advocating will be circulating around the environment for eons.

    There are already pretty good mercury filters, they are just not everywhere installed.

    Sorry dude, the future is looking to be nuclear, not your precious coal.

    As I already pointed out, I am not in favour for coal. Concerning the nuclear power: I fear you
    may be right.

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