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Former GE VP: Japan Comparable to Three Mile Island

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

As the world follows the threat of a nuclear meltdown in Japan, Margaret Harding, a nuclear safety consultant and former Vice President of Engineering Quality at GE Nuclear Energy, discussed nuclear reactor safety today on the Brian Lehrer show.

"I have a standing policy that do not spread fear, uncertainty and doubt," Harding said.

Harding likened the radioactive releases in Japan to the scale of what happened in the partial core meltdown on Three Mile Island, an incident that looms darkly in the memories of many on the East Coast.

We're talking of numbers on the order of what you would receive getting a cat scan or getting other diagnostic x-rays done over the course of your lifetime, so you have those done without fear, I believe that there's no fear in an increase of radiation here.

Harding discussed the destruction and illness that resulted from the Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine, considered one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. The World Health Organization says as many as 4,000 people developed Thyroid cancer in the area after Chernobyl.

Thyroid cancer is one of the most treatable cancers on the planet, very few people die from it. So yes, may have happened, one of the real problems with that area of Ukraine is we don't have much data from before, so we don't know what the delta is. But let's not argue about Chernobyl. We know that was a terrible event, I am not going to argue that Chernobyl wasn't horrendously and horrifically a bad thing to happen.

Harding said that compared to the rest of the energy industry, the nuclear industry's record is at least as good, and perhaps better, even if it has at times painted dramatic images in the public imagination.

I look at the gas explosions that have occurred at operating gas plants that have killed dozens of people, I look at the effects of the coal industry and the people who die from the pollution of coal, and I look at the over all safety of the nuclear industry, even including Chernobyl, on a world-wide basis is still far safer than any other power source than we have.

Harding pleaded the case to keep the nuclear industry up and running, giving the analogy, "planes crash and we don't shut down the airline industry."

As for the nuclear plants on the east coast, she said it was "kind of silly" to worry about a disastrous earthquake affecting a plant in Georgia, because it doesn't lie on a major fault line.

General Electric declined to comment about Harding's remarks.

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Comments [5]

Larry from Honolulu

Harding is off on the CT scans. I have had too many CT scans for my health, which is to say I now have a risk of cancer. But they were necessary. In other words, I got a benefit from them which made the risk necessary.

There's no benefit from exposure to the radiation from a nuclear plant disaster. There is no benefit from getting thyroid cancer regardless of whether it is easily curable. Besides, Ms. Harding is speaking from the privileged position of having medical insurance. Someone without insurance is, well, dead.

Also, it seems logical to try to mitigate all avoidable harm and the suffering caused by power plants of all sorts. The fact that coal has harmful effects (as it does) is no reason per se to choose another harmful process (nuclear) to meet our energy needs. Looking at the whole scene, a better contrast would be with renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, and wave power, which can run our cars, homes and factories without causing cancer or lung disease. Comparing two evils overlooks the true alternatives we should be working towards.

Mar. 19 2011 12:34 AM
Robert from Arizona

Reality has shown worst case scenarios are just that worst case. She didn't point them out becuase you can here them from any number of fear mongers. This is meant to see the good, if I fall down off a bike I don't cry and say what if I fell off a cliff or into a car instead of the dirt, I go dam that hurt, access the damage, and move on. If a family member dies do you dwell on how they could have been the president or cured cancer? Those are worst case scenarios for what we lost when they died. The healthy thing is to grieve and solider on, not try and rattle the cages. Rattling the cages does nothing but transfer power, it insists people to look to others who use the fear, whether its for followers or customers.

Mar. 15 2011 06:28 PM
Robert from Arizona

Reality has shown worst case scenarios are just that worst case. She didn't point them out becuase you can here them from any number of fear mongers. This is meant to see the good, if I fall down off a bike I don't cry and say what if I fell off a cliff or into a car instead of the dirt, I go dam that hurt, access the damage, and move on. If a family member dies do you dwell on how they could have been the president or cured cancer? Those are worst case scenarios for what we lost when they died. The healthy thing is to grieve and solider on, not try and rattle the cages. Rattling the cages does nothing but transfer power, it insists people to look to others who use the fear, whether its for followers or customers.

Mar. 15 2011 06:25 PM
joan from NYC

Please look at the documentary "Three Mile Island Revisited" by EnviroVideo. There were many deaths from the radiation fallout from TMI BUT the local health officials would not recognize them as such.

Mar. 15 2011 04:38 PM
Louis from Bayside

Margaret Harding's unwillingness to describe a worst case scenario are disconcerting as reality has shown that worst case scenarios are certainly possible. Uncertainty is the nature of reality; statistics are meaningless when you are the one suffering at the hands of an improbable disaster. Her comments regarding Chernobyl were heartless. She would feel differently if it were her child born without hands and feet.

Mar. 15 2011 04:26 PM

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