The Risk and Potential of Nuclear Power

Friday, April 11, 2008

We look into how safe nuclear power really is, and how it stacks up against other energy alternatives. Dr. Richard Anderson is an expert in risk assessment and nuclear energy; Gwyneth Cravens is a science reporter and author of Power to Save the World.


Dr. Richard Anderson and Gwyneth Cravens

Comments [56]

Doug from Philadelphia

This interview is full of so many lies it is unbelievable. It is obvious that it it is nuclear power disinformation.

3 mile Island was a PARTIAL Meltdown not a meltdown as Cravens declares. It was not a Chernobylas she also states.

UN report on Chernobyl:
9 people died??????

I wonder what scientists she talked to. Good old Rip?

"They are loving it?????"
Living next to a nuclear waist dump????
Yeah I would love that!!!!

Reprocessing is so expensive!!!! France spent $6 billion on a reprocessing plant alone; it cost Japan $20 billion. The United States tried civilian reprocessing briefly in New York and North Carolina. But the plants either never opened or were shut down due to safety problems. Studies by Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the American Physical Society recommend against reprocessing until it is less expensive and less prone to spread weapons materials more widely.

This is perplexing!!!!!

Who do we believe MIT and Harvard or Rip?

Apr. 29 2008 02:35 AM
Rob from Stockholm

Great news! I think Ms. Cravens should hurry up and to Chernobyl before land prices soar!

Apr. 16 2008 05:42 AM
igmuska from

Nuclear energy needs uranium. Mining uranium has created an extreme health crises on US Indian reservations. The Navajo Nation is the prime example of this, several other tribes in South Dakota and Washington are now realizing just how dangerous uranium mining is to their health.

If they are going to use the scientific method to support their pro-nuclear stance; then they should also apply to the valid reasons why people are resisting nuclear energy.

Does the lack of scientific data mean that nuclear energy is safe? Within this country, Native American reservations haven't the resources to study their health issues using the scientific method, but they do know first hand the dangers of nuclear energy, having experienced genocide through uranium mining?

The lack of credible, unbiased, and comprehensive scientific studies of all aspects of the nuclear energy cycle doesn't mean that it is safe.

But, of course, Ms. Cravens is a nuclear shill, pretending that she was in the Chernobyl site as it exploded. Little does she know she is being used by the nuclear industry. Yet if she is receiving money from them, then that blood is on her hands, and nothing will wash our blood of her sins off.

Apr. 14 2008 12:30 PM
IPSEC (Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition) Member from Westchester, NY

Finally, uranium is not a renewable energy source. The solutions to the "energy crisis" must be multi-dimensional and should include renewables such as wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, it should include distributed generation -- that is smaller generating facilities that are closer to end users, as well as renovating the current transmission lines to make movement of electricity more efficient, and we should be educating both kids and adults in conservation and wiser use of energy

Apr. 13 2008 03:17 PM
IPSEC (Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition) Member from Westchester, NY

In addition, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report that clearly states that there is no level of ionizing radiation that can be considered harmless, that all exposure is cumulative and that all ionizing radiation is mutagenic and will result in higher incidence of cancers and birth defects. The Oscar winning short film "Chernobyl Heart" shows the horrible results of births in the Ukraine after Chernobyl. The Radiation and Public Health Project has documented increased levels of Strontium in baby teeth of children who have grown up around nuclear plants and has shown increased rates of cancers.

By law, radioactive wastes from nuclear plants must be isolated from human contact for 10,000 years. Why do you think that is? And if there is no danger, why does every nuclear plant have to have an evacuation plan in place in order to get an operating license?

Apr. 13 2008 03:16 PM
IPSEC (Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition) Member from Westchester, NY

These people are inaccurate about Indian Point. The plant sucks in over 2 billion gallons of corrosive Hudson River water every day, pulling in the water to cool its pipes and then sending it back into the Hudson at super heated levels. The thermal plume is clearly visible with infra-red photography. The New York State DEC sued the orperators over their use of the water and won the case. Indian Point is appealing, but they are currently obligated to build a new cooling system.

In addition, during the winter of 2006, radioactive steam came leaking through the soil coming up from pipes that are supposed to carry only "clean" water. Indian Point has also been leaking Strontium 90 and Cesium 137 in addition to the tritium that the author mentions. Those leaks are coming from the Indian Point 1 plant that has been shut for over two decades, but is still leaking radioactive elements into the environment.

Apr. 13 2008 03:15 PM
Monroe from New York

While I would like to consider nuclear as a potential energy source the case as presented by Dr. Richard Anderson and Gwyneth Cravens was so biased and seemingly lacking fact based assumptions that I came away less convinced that nuclear is viable.

Apr. 11 2008 04:55 PM
Charles Edwards from East Stroudsburg, Pa

I am a nuclear engineer who has specialized in radioactive waste processing and disposal for the past 35 years. The day after the accident at TMI I was sent there to help in the cleanup operation and ended up spending the next two years of my life there. In all of that time, while working out of an office trailer only a 100 yards from the reactor building, I received a total radiation dose equivalent to what an airline pilot gets from cosmic radiation on about 5 transcontinental flights. Worldwide there are now close to 500 commercial and several hundred more naval light water moderated reactors(LWRs)in operation that have a combined running time of over 15 million hours of safely generating electricity without creating environmental pollution or green house gases. Not one radiation related death or injury has occurred during all those hours of reactor operation. No other means of large scale power generation comes close to matching this incredible safety record. The known worldwide reserves of uranium and thorium could safely produce all of the world's demand for electrical power and transportation energy (via secondary generation of hydrogen) for well over a 1000 years. It is time for us to put aside the misplaced, groundless fears surrounding nuclear power and put it's incredible potential to use in providing all of mankind's energy needs well into the distant future

Apr. 11 2008 04:00 PM
Theo Koufis from Malverne, NY

I am really sorry to hear such rubbish in your show, when I expect more serious and, well. scientific assessment of nuclear power.
I would love to know if both of your guests will live within 2 miles from a nuclear power plant or in one of the cities that deals with nuclear waste.

Would they send their kids to a school that is one mile away from a nuclear power plant?

And, how come there was no debate from other side, the opponents of nuclear power?

Apr. 11 2008 02:48 PM
Bob from New York, New York

Your questioning of the guests was very disappointing. Not your finest hour. You let them make statements which were clearly the lobbying position of the nuclear industry and have little or no basis in scientific evidence or fact. One example is when you asked about toxic waste. Well they just diverted the question to compare it with gold mining and that is just ridiculous. The half life of radioactive waste from a nuclear reactor is 10,000 years. Millions of gallons of this toxic waste are in temporary storage. Maybe next time you could do more than accept the authors book publicity facts and bring someone on to challenge the industry assertions. By the way did you ask if they received any funding from the nuclear industry or any other source for researching, witing or publishing the book. Better luck next time.

Apr. 11 2008 01:55 PM

I am imagining this is a psycology experiment ..try to say the most ridiculous things you can, like the people in the village not exposed to chernobyl had a Higher rate of birth defects than the village that was(actually said) lets see if this will be broadcast and believed?

Apr. 11 2008 01:39 PM
Tom Thompson Solar Guy from Poughkeepsie Solar Factory

Toxic Sludge is Good For You! Even if all of the things they say are true, there is not enough uranium in the earth to meet the earth's energy needs. And if all the things they say are true, then it still takes 10 years to build a nuke plant, and even the nuke industry admits this. Meanwhile, Germany is installing solar panels at a rate that is the equivalent of a nuke plant a year and they get the solar resource of Juneau Alaska. Go to to learn more. thanks for 'exposing' the lies and damn lies of the nuclear PR industry.

Apr. 11 2008 01:16 PM
Chuck from Brooklyn

Maybe we should all sprinkle nuclear fallout on our corn flakes. This spot is leaving me flabbergasted.

Apr. 11 2008 01:03 PM
Graham from New York

But the people who live near the artificial lakes associated with nuclear plants really like living near the water. And the fish like the warm water effluent from the nukes as well.

Apr. 11 2008 12:58 PM
Chuck from Brooklyn

The whole segment was completely lop sided.

Not to mention sounding bonkers.

I was half expecting them to say that health effects of the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were negligible.

Apr. 11 2008 12:57 PM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

Thanks, Akilah.

Apr. 11 2008 12:55 PM
Akilah from Atlanta, GA Listening Online

This is the show Post #32 was referring to:

Apr. 11 2008 12:54 PM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

Well, look at it this way... If somebody writes a bunch of novels and they suddenly switch to writing non-fiction polemic works for a particular cause, they've either been sold on something they didn't really understand or they suddenly ran into financial troubles.

Again, I'm not opposed to nuclear power, but when somebody comes on and says there's nothing difficult or dangerous about it whatsoever and that we have as much to fear from ripe bananas, I tend to think they're lying or foolish.

Apr. 11 2008 12:52 PM
Paul from Monclair, NJ

It is nice to hear rational and informed discussion about radiation and nuclear energy--rather than emotionally biased reactions. For the longest time, I have felt that the lack of good science education--especially in areas like radiation biology--is the cause of the general population's fears.

Interestingly, even seemingly authoritative studies, like the sciencedaily study of the counties in Sweden sited above, have issues with bias and interpretation: the very event of Chernobyl caused closer scrutiny and probably more accuate reporting of cancer cases. This change in scrutiny and reporting could easily be the driver of the noted correlation.

Apr. 11 2008 12:47 PM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

Of course, the problem with having two segments is that it gives whoever goes second an unfair advantage to prep their evidence based on the concerns raised by the opposition in the first segment.

But yes, tossing two people who are totally opposed to each other's point of view in the same room doesn't necessarily lead to informative conversation as the original attempt on NPR with Ms. Cravens showed.

Apr. 11 2008 12:45 PM from Queens, NY

Very upsetting to have uncontested presentation on such an important topic, since we need to start moving away from oil for a number of reasons. Decisions need to be made, and we should not have strong advocates on a topic like this without even callers allowed. I really wonder why no callers - was that a pre-condition by the guests? There is a long history of lies by the nuclear industry. As another commenter just wrote, and others implied, you owe us all another show with a renewable energy advocate who can speak more honestly (and possibly more negatively) about nuclear energy, and share some facts about scaling up of wind, wave, photovoltaic, and other renewable sources for world energy.

Apr. 11 2008 12:44 PM

What I got out of it is dont slip on any radiactive bannana peels or you will get a full chest X-ray as well

Apr. 11 2008 12:43 PM
ek from Newark, NJ

I can not believe that you give a platform for such propaganda. I would love to hear educated people and specialists discuss for and against nuclear energy but not these people that simply claim to know the 'truth' without being able to back it up in a believable way. Gwyneth Cravens sounds like someone preaching her personal 'truth' - I have always been suspicious of people claiming the 'truth' for themselves, but it is worth when someone claims to have the 'right sources' without any serious backup of the facts.
There are many people in this world claiming this or that 'truth' for themselves without any rigorous research to back up the claims - people like Gwyneth Cravens are not rare or even surprising. What is an outrage is that WNYC gives such people a public platform.

Apr. 11 2008 12:43 PM
Chris O from New York

I just want to say that you don't always need opposing views in the same show. That paradigm is not the only one for fairness. Now he should have a future segment of people taking the contrary view of today's guests. But I find that a conversation among people who are on the same side of an issue can be very enlightening and when you have the pro and con, often that conversation can be thoroughly un-enlightening. I guess the best thing would be to have these type of segments back to back.

Apr. 11 2008 12:42 PM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

Re: Post #26

I think the reason they didn't invite an opposing person is because they tried that on Brian's show a few months ago with this woman, and it turned into a screaming match. In her defense though, it was the anti-nuclear guy doing most of the screaming.

Apr. 11 2008 12:40 PM
keith from hells kitchen

To consider a power source that is derived from a finite material that it traded on markets and mined from the ground is not the future.... That's the past.

Apr. 11 2008 12:40 PM

Seems overmatched between 2 strong advocates and no counterbalance on this nuclear discussion i.e. radiating no real information about the dangers of nuclear v.s seeming propaganda that has facile answers and spin

Apr. 11 2008 12:40 PM
Sarah from Manhattan

Why is Leonard giving these people a complete pass? Why didn't he put anyone on with a contrary view?
So the Oscar winning documentary, Chernobyl Heart, is total b.s.?I think Leonard owes us another show on nuclear power. I would also like to know who paid Cravens and her co-author Andersen. She sounds like an industry PR person. I'm willing to concede there's been some hysteria over nuclear power, but these authors are way too cavalier and ignore too much evidence of cancer clusters, etc.

Apr. 11 2008 12:39 PM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

She doesn't know much about the Iran situation... are you kidding me?

She writes a book on nuclear energy and doesn't consider the Iran situation.

"He was foolish not to accept the offer".. yeah. That's the thing about dictators... they tend to do some crazy things. Hence the reason we don't want them to have nukes.

Apr. 11 2008 12:38 PM
DP from Crooklyn

yes Leonard, it is completley unreasonable to think that anything wrong could happen in connection with nuclear power.

Apr. 11 2008 12:38 PM from Queens, NY

The way they speak tells me they are dishonest. Notice the pauses and false hesitancy in using plain English phrases. Also note that EVERYTHING about nuclear is wonderful - Chernobyl is fine, water temperatures are fine, nuclear is cheaper than coal (come ON now!) Coal is cheapest ... and happens to be terribly dirty, but it is cheap unless one does complex accounting for the environmental impact, which the guests do not mention.

Shame on Leonard and his staff for allowing full-out advocates to appear without an opposing speaker to answer these advocacy statements.

David Alexander

Apr. 11 2008 12:37 PM
antonio from park slope

All this talk of yellow cake is making me hungary, now that its so safe...

Apr. 11 2008 12:36 PM
Akilah from Atlanta, GA Listening Online

Here's a BBC report about a study that came to conflicting conclusions.

"The research is the largest to date
There is categorically no evidence that living near nuclear power stations increases the rate of childhood cancers, says a report.
The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment based its conclusions on data on 32,000 childhood cancer cases from 1969-93 in the UK.

Overall, children living within a 25km radius of a site were no more likely to get cancer than those living elsewhere.

However, there was a cluster of cases close to the Rosyth nuclear dockyard."

Apr. 11 2008 12:35 PM
Kenton from Garment District

The continuing comparison to coal is not the really conversation that we should be having.

If the same subsidies that support the nuclear industry were applied to truly clean and renewable forms of energy we would have more cost efficient and safe (from proliferation and accident) energy.

Saying that coal tailings are also radioactive shouldn't be part of the justification for creating inefficient energy that adds a huge volume of toxicity to the wastestream.

Apr. 11 2008 12:35 PM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

I think every time they say "500 times" this amount, they mean to say 500%. Or rather 500% would be the accurate number.

Apr. 11 2008 12:33 PM

"A nuclear facility in every household! It's that safe!"
– Rick and Gweneth

Apr. 11 2008 12:31 PM
hjs from 11211

is this segment an April fools joke?
2 crazy yes men. who's paying for this nuclear commercial?

Apr. 11 2008 12:31 PM
m fisher

ask the guests about the commercial fuel reprocessing plant that was in operation in west valley new york and how the acid sludges are i stainless steel tanks for about 40 years
i worked there observing the process in the 1970s

Apr. 11 2008 12:31 PM
DP from Crooklyn

everything is OK; everybody stay calm; nuclear power is good; everything is OK; all reports of anything bad about nuclear power are false; everything is OK, you are getting sleepy, you are getting sleepy . .

Apr. 11 2008 12:30 PM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

First, your guests claim that the radiation from nuclear power is nothing to get too worried about. Then they applaud U.S. nuclear plants for doing a better job of containing their radiation. If it's not that big of a deal, then so what?
Why would anybody be anti-nuclear in the first place if there was no real danger? What would we get out of it? Then ask yourself who tends to gain from the building of nuclear plants?
Regardless of its "benefits", nuclear power will be very, very expensive to build and, more importantly, to maintain. And once the committment is made and the millions or billions spent, what happens if something goes wrong? Who will take the fall and pay the piper?

Apr. 11 2008 12:29 PM
keith from hells kitchen

These people are dubious Leonard. Cancer rates in towns near nuclear facilities are much higher than average. That's a fact.. Check out Oak Ridge Tennessee. Perhaps you can use this as a transition into your states of the union segment and get these propagandists off the air.

Apr. 11 2008 12:27 PM
David from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn


This is profoundly biased and underinformed discussion:

She's right, the Chernobyl plant had a bad design which Americans and Europeans do not use. But it had nothing to do with the thickness of the walls, that's just stupid. The design is different because Russian reactors required employees to work to prevent a melt down. In the new design, employees have to work to prevent a shut down - they would have to force the reactor to meltdown.

Also, what should be part of any Nuclear Power discussion is the fact that the governement has heavily subsidized their construction to make it appear that they are most cost efficient. Without subsidies, their power is extremely expensive because of the mining of uranium, refining of the uranium, and then disposal of the waste.

I'm very dissappointed.

Apr. 11 2008 12:26 PM
Akilah from Atlanta, GA Listening Online

Here's another study, conducted by scientists at Linköping University, Örebro University, and the County Council of Västernorrland County, that concluded that there's a statistically determined correlation between radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl accident and an increase in the number of cases of cancer in the exposed areas in Sweden.

Apr. 11 2008 12:26 PM
et from here

Can you believe this??

Apr. 11 2008 12:25 PM
a woman from manhattan

Gwyneth Cravens sounds like she's been brainwashed. Maybe she hasn't, but she certainly sounds like it. She should watch how she speaks. It makes one suspicious just to hear her earnestness. It's not like earnestness is proof of anything, or as if it's a condiment she can use to flavor the so-called truths she's feeding us today.

SImple logic tells us that there's something wrong with the whole nuclear energy movement. Any human being with an ounce of common sense knows that. When we hear of the alternatives, like wind, or solar power, we know -- we KNOW, I said -- that it's safer.

Apr. 11 2008 12:25 PM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

Chernobyl's not a waste land. It's rebounded a great deal since the disaster. There's forests and animals, in some cases in greater numbers than unaffected areas. What IS hogwash though is the idea that the initial incident was no big deal which is what they're implying. A lot of organisms died in the aftermath.

Apr. 11 2008 12:23 PM
Chris O from New York

There are 2 huge even devastating issues for the prospect of nuclear power: 1) waste and 2) proliferation. We will not allow Iran its full rights under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty because we are concerned this could lead to weapons. How on earth can we have nuclear power if we only allow our "friends" to have it?

Apr. 11 2008 12:23 PM
et from here

Why not ask Helen Caldicott to debate this woman?

Apr. 11 2008 12:23 PM
Akilah from Atlanta, GA Listening Online

Here's the highlights from the report about Chernobyl Accident that Gwen is referring to:

The Chernobyl accident in 1986 was the result of a flawed reactor design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel and without proper regard for safety.
The resulting steam explosion and fire released at least five percent of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere and downwind.

28 people died within four months from radiation or thermal burns, 19 have subsequently died, and there have been around nine deaths from thyroid cancer apparently due to the accident: total 56 fatalities as of 2004.

An authoritative UN report in 2000 concluded that there is no scientific evidence of any significant radiation-related health effects to most people exposed. This was confirmed in a very thorough 2005-06 study.

Apr. 11 2008 12:21 PM
Chris O from New York

Exactly Paulo - I am not against nuclear power per se (I am concerned with disposal and proliferation - how do you get around those). I am skeptical of Cravens because she seemed to say that moving people from Chernobyl to Denver would expose them to more radiation. Maybe that is true but she also seemed to say that there were LESS birth defects in areas exposed to the cloud than in those not. And she cites our Rep to the UN on nuclear issues but he is a Bush appointee I presume - does he have the same credibility of John Bolton or many other Admin hacks?

Apr. 11 2008 12:21 PM

This is hogwash. i know hungarians who became chronicly ill because of Chernoble when they were on a mountain top in central europe when the radiation cloud passed over. Chernoble is a complete waste land. the more nuclear power plants we have the more the odds go in favor of another disaster. Cancer rates may be down 20 years later but what about the anihilating aspect of when things go wrong.

Three mile island was NOT an american Chernoble. Not even close. this woman is lying to us.

Apr. 11 2008 12:20 PM
DP from Crooklyn

Re: heat plooution: just because fish congregate there, does't mean it is good for them. Fish need to go dormant over the winter. Fish hanging around warm nuke plant water discharge is not good for them when there is no food around.

Apr. 11 2008 12:20 PM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

Ok, I support nuclear technology for power, but trying to tell me that being around for Chernobyl is no different than being around ripe bananas is just nuts!

Apr. 11 2008 12:17 PM
Hugh from Park Slope

First, where do people like Gwyneth Cravens get the notion that an advocacy group _must_ present skewed sources? Is that what her "scientific method" tells her? The mere assertion that an advocacy group's sources are skewed is grossly unscientific.

Moreover, the mere fact that a group is not obviously an advocate of one side or another doesn't mean that sources are not skewed -- witness the American media's reporting in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

Second, the issue with regard to nuclear power is _obviously_ not just one of nuclear power in itself, but also one of American business and nuclear power. The US has taken laissez faire capitalism very nearly to its illogical extreme. WHY would we trust the corporate leaders who gave us Enron, the credit crisis, the US health industry, etc etc?

Apr. 11 2008 12:15 PM
hjs from 11211

what is the true carbon footprint of nuclear energy, from mining, refining, transportation and waste disposal.
is nuclear energy really carbon neutral as some say?

Apr. 11 2008 12:14 PM
jd from nyc

i've never gotten a straight answer on this one:

how much potable/drinkable water sources in gallons get used as compared to coal and oil? and you can include a breakdown of mining for coal vs uranium, and the carbon footprint in terms of how much energy gets used in the process. yes, i want answers.

and how are the pebble nuclear technology systems more efficient? less water, potential meltdown problems? thanks!

Apr. 11 2008 12:35 AM

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