1 - After Fukushima
Bret Kugelmass: Tell me about your book, “After Fukushima”.
Andrew Daniels: There was a gap in terms of what you could read in nuclear power history and the story needed to be told. The book collects a compelling set of narratives that form their own stories, such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, nuclear economics, and pro- versus anti-nuclear debates. Andrew Daniels designed his book to be a pop history book aimed at someone who knows nothing about nuclear power and make it enticing to them. Nuclear power is the solution to air pollution. Air pollution is a straightforward enough topic that unites people no matter how they feel about climate change. Andrew Daniels spent a couple years researching for the book in order to be certain that he had good and valid information. Daniels, originally from Ottawa, also spent some time growing up in Rome and Japan. He speaks Japanese, French, and English fluently. Daniels’ current project is a book about how the world changed between 1989 and 2001. Most histories are nuclear power blind, so one of his objectives is to incorporate nuclear power and show how its adaptation, or lack thereof, has shaped the physical, social, and environmental history. Nuclear power is an uncomfortable subject for some people, so they don’t think about it and it perpetuates avoidance and denial about nuclear. Radiation had saved more lives than it had killed by the 1950’s because radiotherapy is an important tool for healing.
2 - Factors Impacting Public Perception of Nuclear
Bret Kugelmass: How were you able to put together arguments after gathering a lot of information?
Andrew Daniels: A number of authors were so driven by what they wanted to say that they ended up giving a misleading story or an unbalanced viewpoint, which Andrew Daniels has struggled not to do. However, no historical perspective is free of bias. Nuclear power is huge in France and it has high rates of public acceptance, which comes from public education campaigns. Six million French citizens have visited nuclear power plants. French people were not inherently pro-nuclear and thought that nothing grew around nuclear power plants. After visiting the plants and learning that was not the case, regional plants became a point of pride. Germany used to have higher rates of nuclear acceptance, but this changed overnight after Chernobyl and the country is now one of the most anti-nuclear countries in Europe. Radiation is so exotic that people never habituate to it and they don’t realize it is always around us. Nuclear meltdowns are so rare that people fear them and view them as exceptional, life-changing events. Fukushima was a media circus in which the worst possible scenarios were focused on instead of the current safe state of the site. Reactions to nuclear power are primarily emotional, rather than logical. Daniels zeroed in on three major things that shape the way people feel about nuclear: nuclear accidents (Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima), treatment in the media and the news, and the perceived connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
3 - Nuclear Export Competition
Bret Kugelmass: Despite the rhetoric and perceptions about the health of the nuclear industry, what nuclear work is going on around the world?
Andrew Daniels: China is not a true exporting nation yet and they intended not to buy any foreigh technology, but they now have technology from five different countries. The Koreans have a fantastic export industry and is a top competitor. Every country trying to build their own technology inhibited the export trade by creating a distorted market, which hindered the development of a more efficient industry that spans multiple countries. The U.K. tried to promote their own reactors and built each plant entirely differently with different fuel and part requirements. France kept it simple and stuck to three U.S. designs, which allowed labor and parts to be moved around more easily. Some reactors perform better in export competitions where there is a real choice. However, a fair export competition is rare. Developing the same site and using the same technology makes things cheaper. In the 1960’s, there was a limited knowledge about how safely nuclear power would perform over thirty years, but the industry has only piled on more bizarre safety requirements, even as the big spending with big accidents has not taken place. The industry is catering to fears about the nuclear industry, hoping that, if they make the reactor safe enough, people will be convinced. However, the safer you make a plant, the more people are convinced that it’s dangerous. A nuclear power plant that melts down is safer than a fossil fuel plant that operates normally.
4 - Misperceptions about Public Opinion
Bret Kugelmass: What do you do to get people convinced that nuclear power is safe?
Andrew Daniels: The modern world is information-rich that is unparalleled in its history. Just as Fukushima changed people’s opinions quickly, people’s opinions about nuclear power could change by the end of the year. To compete for people’s attention, nuclear must be compelling and the most interesting messages must be crafted to be shared. Most people are pro-nuclear most of the time, except for in the period a year after a nuclear accident. However, they imagine that most people are anti-nuclear. There is a difference between what the public thinks, what experts think the public thinks, and what politicians think the public thinks. In France, there tends to be a notion to follow technocratic government. When the government came up with a plan to cut nuclear power from 75% down to 50%, they consulted a panel of experts who rejected the government’s plans because it was not physically possible. Imagining what the public wants and catering to those wants can result in some warped results and politics can heavily interfere in nuclear’s development. Anti-nuclear activists are counterproductive and are working against their environment.
5 - Models for Radiation Damage
Bret Kugelmass: How do you decide what’s right when you come upon conflicting information in nuclear?
Andrew Daniels: Andrew Daniels used his judgment when evaluating sources for his book, “After Fukushima”. This includes the reliability of the author, where their research comes from, and whether they include anecdotal information. Chernobyl was the most difficult event to sort through many conflicting accounts to get to the root of what really happened. Daniels detailed in his book why certain resources were rejected. The linear no-threshold (LNT) model correlates a low amount of radiation damage will scale with a large amount, but this model doesn’t reflect radiation observations. At low levels of radiation, cellular defenses kick in that reduce the effects of radiation. Cells remove mutated cells more quickly. The LNT model was adopted early on, assuming there was not enough knowledge about radiation that a conservative model needed to be used. With all the data and information available now, the LNT model is no longer considered accurate. Following this model causes more harm than it helps because it overestimates the damage of radiation and brings inordinate attention to safety that’s not warranted by actual improvements. Nuclear power plants use the Low As Reasonably Achievable (LARA) is considered a marker of success, but the levels are already so low that they are not making an impact and money spent to make improvements to the metric has no real benefit. Nuclear power is held up to an unreasonable standard.