Chernobyl

A classroom in Pripyat, the town built to serve the power plant.Chernobyl, HBO’s taut 5-part mini-series, is excellent and it sticks  close to the facts (although one female character played by Emily Watson is clearly made up). By all accounts, the series accurately represents life in the former Soviet Union and through a variety of means from color palette to casting and dialogue it does a remarkable job at capturing the political economy. One thing I learned (so far, it hasn’t all appeared yet) is that it could have been much, much worse but the Russians avoided the worst scenario with a combination of bravery, smarts and luck.

The number of cancer deaths from Chernobyl appears to be quite low. The WHO estimated an additional 9,335 deaths with about half of those coming from workers and nearby residents and other half more distant impacts, other estimates are higher. More recent analysis, however, suggests that Chernobyl and its aftermath had relatively small but significant effects across a large number of people. Here are two recent papers:

Chernobyl’s Subclinical Legacy: Prenatal Exposure to Radioactive Fallout and School Outcomes in Sweden by Almond, Edlund and Palme.

Abstract: We use prenatal exposure to Chernobyl fallout in Sweden as a natural experiment inducing variation in cognitive ability. Students born in regions of Sweden with higher fallout performed worse in secondary school, in mathematics in particular. Damage is accentuated within families (i.e., siblings comparison) and among children born to parents with low education. In contrast, we detect no corresponding damage to health outcomes. To the extent that parents responded to the cognitive endowment, we infer that parental investments reinforced the initial Chernobyl damage. From a public health perspective, our findings suggest that cognitive ability is compromised at radiation doses currently considered harmless.

and The long-run consequences of Chernobyl: Evidence on subjective well-being, mental health and welfare by Danzer and Danzer.

Abstract: This paper assesses the long-run toll taken by a large-scale technological disaster on welfare, well-being and mental health. We estimate the causal effect of the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe after 20 years by linking geographic variation in radioactive fallout to respondents of a nationally representative survey in Ukraine according to their place of residence in 1986. We exclude individuals who were exposed to high levels of radiation—about 4% of the population. Instead, we focus on the remaining majority of Ukrainians who received subclinical radiation doses; we find large and persistent psychological effects of this nuclear disaster. Affected individuals exhibit poorer subjective well-being, higher depression rates and lower subjective survival probabilities; they rely more on governmental transfers as source of subsistence. We estimate the aggregate annual welfare loss at 2–6% of Ukraine’s GDP highlighting previously ignored externalities of large-scale catastrophes.

Hat tip: Jennifer Doleac and Wojtek Kopczuk.

Comments

"[O]ur findings suggest that cognitive ability is compromised at radiation doses currently considered harmless."

What might occur were Almond, Edlund, and Palme (and/or others) to look at data concerning "the incidence of compromised cognition resulting from WIRELESS PHONE TECHNOLOGY, which may be resulting from radiation doses currently considered harmless"?

Just to be clear, mobile phones put out non-ionizing radiation. You can expose bacteria to mobile phone output all day and they won't show an increase in mutation rate in a version of an Ames test. But expose them to ionizing radiation and they will.

Note mutation rate tends to be linear in bacteria. That is, no threshold effect is generally seen.

Thanks for the alert.

Inst. of Physics/physics.org offers this undated note of "current scientific consensus":

"Scientists therefore do not currently know of any mechanism by which using a mobile phone could cause cancer or harm you in any other way. Mobile phones have only been in widespread use for the past 15 years so it is possible that there may be other mechanisms that we are not yet aware of. In particular, the effects of mobile phone radiation on children are largely unknown as so far studies have focused on adults."

A pity that empiricism cannot always reliably inform us about what data may yet come our way one fine day.

Coal Ash Is More Radioactive Than Nuclear Waste

And cheap electricity saves lives.

I've read that basic premise before. But the article has at least some obvious errors in it that make me doubt the entire content.

This is an obvious error: "And the U.S. still draws around half of its electricity from coal. "

That hasn't been true for 15 years. And isn't close to correct now. The current percentage is around 30%.

The Obama administration waged a war on coal and combined with cheap natural gas, the coal industry has experienced a drastic decline.

Scientific American isn't what it used to be.

Whoops, my bad the article was from 2007. So, yes coal would have been close to 50% of the US electricity generation market.

"And cheap electricity saves lives."

But the US government design nuclear reactors optimizzed to produce nuclear weapons are not good at producing cheap electricity. Never have, never will.

The argument nuclear reactors designed in the 50s and 60s produce cheap electricity is based on the US government buying all the highly enriched uranium and plutonium to make bombs.

Carter shutdown reprocessing to produce bomb material. Nixon shutdown development of nuclear reactor R&D designs that generated only electric power, run by the Navy to produce water craft powered by electricity.

Reagan shutdown most energy research funding, cutting Federal spending, and eliminating tax incentives for private research, but also making profit in global trade impossible. Imagine the private sectory following through on the Naval research in small modular molten salt reactors, and then selling them globally to power cargo ships, oil tankers, container ships, cruise ships. Easily hhundreds sold per year, but not one sold to a US ship builder, nor sold to US ship owners, and not one operating under a US flag. The US got out of ocean shipping as a Reagan policy of cutting costs, paying US workers costs too much and kills jobs. Ocean shipping becomes an easy place to cut costs by eliminating US workers.

Building nuclear power plants cost too much because they required paying too many costly US workers. The hgh costs of US workers killed building nuclear power plants, plus lots of heavy industry, like steel foundries capablle of casting the reactor vessels. Those must be imported from Europe or Asia, where cutting costs by killing jobs runs counter to most politician priorities.

So, at subclinical levels, worrying about radiation exposure is more harmful than the radiation itself?

Exactly. This kind of crappy study is mostly useful for detecting motivated reasoning in left-wing researchers. File under "much of science is broken".

There are three important takeaways here:

We need to only blame the concept of nuclear power here, and make sure that Socialism is always loudly praised. Meanwhile, let's keep downplaying the fact that nuclear is a zero-carbon-emission energy source, lest we undercut our Global Warming grift opportunities.

Thank you all!

That and nuclear power provides fewer opportunities for graft.

They do not care about climate or the environment.

They want a more authoritarian society; to regulate, tax, and remove freedoms while pretending to save the planet.

Green mandates make life worse for ordinary people.

I am not a crank!

It's one of the stranger inversions of preferences that "free market conservatives" prefer a power source that can only exist with government subsidies (*) and implicit government guarantees against this level of disaster.

* - Forever. I know of no public utility generation that includes storage "forever" in its customer KwH price. It's all deficit spending.

Haven't these problems been solved technologically? Breeder reactors etc. greatly reduce necessary storage (which by the way is not hard and is not required forever) and newer designs are failsafe to the point of not requiring any guarantees. What's stopping them is not a lack of subsidies but ignorant left protest and government complicity/regulatory overburden.

Possibly. As I've mentioned before, I have my own "recency" to overcome. My power company, in my not-quite back yard, is spending $10 billion to close their nuke.

And good news, everyone! $3.3 billion of that will by covered by taxpayers.

So sure, it might be possible to reach that old "clean, safe, too cheap to meter" dream of the 60's, but not around here or lately.

If a nuclear Elon Musk thinks he can do it with private money and private insurance .. more power to him, but I'm not really seeing that.

The reason it costs so much to close their nuclear plant is because of regulatory overburden.

"Average cost per SDG&E customer: $1,495"

Yikes, that's gotta sting.

Yes, the California government shut the plant down and refused to let it reopen at lower capacity. Additionally, dozens of lawsuits were filed by environmental groups to ensure it would never be allowed to reopen. Under any circumstances, ever.

Now the consumers are on the hook for the bill.

In response, the NRDC told Edison to make up the difference with rooftop solar panels.

Now California imports coal energy from out of state. Very green.

That is not what I (a free market conservative) want, I want more reasonable regulation of nuclear power and if it is still too expensive so be it and a requirement for insurance.
I also would like a reasonable co2 tax maybe $50/ton, which would help solar, wind, geothermal etc. AND nuclear.

This exactly. Let's have rational regulation of nuclear energy and then see how well it does in a free market.

Ever wonder why the 'free market' is never actually interested in nuclear energy, though governments and various crony capitalist/military industrial complexes are?

Regulation

Let's see, countries with nuclear industries that import Australian coal... China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India... That's a lot of countries that all have regulation holding back nuclear power. You'd think at least one of them would be able to get it right, wouldn't you?

I don't know what to tell you bud, most of those countries have substantial nuclear power and have highly interventionist governments to boot.

Nuclear power will struggle to compete even in a fully deregulated free market due to the high insurance costs thanks to the previous legacy of failures, which had high externalities. Nuclear power was clearly a technology that should not have been pushed forward so early when the technology was not really ready to make it safe. It is funny, but you could actually have much less issues with CO2 emissions if the various Governments around the world had not been so engaged in energy regulation. For instance we would probably have much more natural gas fired power generation, and the high efficiency CCGTs and fracking technologies that are responsible for the huge reductions in CO2 emissions in recent times in the UK and the US would have been developed much earlier if there hadn't been the silly restrictions on gas utilisation for power generation by people like Jimmy Carter. Similarly if nuclear power had been developed by private industry it would have been later but much safer and cheaper and therefore more widely used. Of course these failures by Governments which caused high CO2 emissions never cause people to wonder if maybe the solution to high CO2 emissions isn't perhaps less Government regulation.

Great comment!
I'm not sure that it is correct but it is thought provoking.

Utility scale solar and wind projects are now going ahead in Australia for under 4 US cents per kilowatt-hour. We can supply electricity from solar, wind, pumped hydro storage, and gas for a lower cost than new coal power here and nuclear power isn't about to get cheaper than coal.

"...now going ahead ..."

But not producing now ...

If it makes you feel better, none of our nuclear reactors are currently producing power at this time either.

"* - Forever. I know of no public utility generation that includes storage "forever" in its customer KwH price. It's all deficit spending."

Long term storage is actually included in the costs.

"To cover the costs utilities have incurred in building their own dry cask storage facilities, nuclear utilities have been paying 0.1 cent per kilowatt-hour for electricity generated by nuclear plants."

However, the long term solution was derailed because of politics. That was Yucca mountain, Harry Reid and Barack Obama canceled the project as it was nearing completion. There were no technical issues, it was a political process.

"During his 2008 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama promised to abandon the Yucca Mountain project. As a result, Senator Reid moved the Nevada primary to help President Obama's campaign."

This has vastly increased the cost of storage and left the nation without a long term technical solution.

"Lawsuits brought by utilities for breach of contract when DOE did not begin accepting spent fuel from nuclear plant sites in 1998, as required by law, have further complicated the issue. If DOE does not start accepting spent fuel until 2020, the estimated liability to U.S. taxpayers could be as high as $20.8 billion (BRC, 2012). To date, taxpayers have paid $2 billion to nuclear utilities to compensate them for the costs of storing spent fuel. Thus, the overall cost, so far, for canceling the Yucca Mountain Project has been more than $12 billion, and it increases with every year of delay (BRC, 2012)."

Secondly, nuclear waste doesn't need to be stored "forever". The very idea is an admission that you don't have any idea of the science behind the process. Yucca mountain was designed to hold the waste for 10,000 years which is long enough to make it no more dangerous than any other radioactive ore.

I believe that fast breeder reactors can take nuclear waste as fuel and produce new fuel from it. The end product of this cycle is only dangerous for about 300 years and not nearly as dangerous as the waste the system consumed.

There is a little contradiction there. "nuclear utilities have been paying 0.1 cent per kilowatt-hour" on the assumption that government would create something like Yucca mountain, and manage and inspect it forever.

And while you can cherry-pick reasons for failure, I think this is a big part of it: "The project also faces strong state and regional opposition"

What's the "free market" position, big guy. "Make them take it?"

Nothing about Nuke power is free market, so you might as well just drop the football spiking.

Thank you. That is what I am trying to make clear.

"What's the "free market" position, big guy. "Make them take it?""

All of the surrounding counties in Nevada support the facility. It's Harry Reid and the state level and above politicians who thwarted it.

Directly from the link:

"The local county in which the proposed facility is located, Nye County, supports the development of the repository as do six adjoining counties."

The free market position is that if someone wants to build a (private) nuclear waste storage facility they should be allowed to do so. I.e. local and state opposition by environmental groups or whatnot ought not to allowed to stop people from using their private property as they see fit. (With above caveats that they carry liability insurance as floccina notes.)

"We need to only blame the concept of nuclear power here, and make sure that Socialism is always loudly praised"

Socialist France built the most nuclear power generating 80% off all France's electric need.

And today, only socialist China is seriously invessting un nuclear power, but its finding the costs of producing electricity, not not bomb material, is higher than wind and solar and batteries.

And nuclear power requires big investmebts in batteries. No way to put a nuclear reactor in every car. And nuclear reactors can not follow loads, so the maximum nuclear can generate is about 80% which requires cycling reactors up and down by 50% once or twice a day at even that 80% level.

But nuclear requires lots of water, which even in France with lots of flowing water most of the time, results in crisis in times of heat waves and rain deficits. The flowing water produces hydro power to follow loads faster than ramping reactors up and down.

Its conservatives and GOP since Reagan that killed nuclear power in the US.

All nuclear power plants in the US were built under the guarantee of rates set high enough to pay for building reactors, plus interest, even if cheaper alternatives are developed before the capital costs are recovered after repaying all interest on debt.

Which is lower risk to investors?

12,000 wind turbines that recover capital costs in 10 years split among 100 investors or one nuclear reactor that takes 30 years to recover capital costs shared by 3-4 investors, who bail out along the way?

My family is from eastern europe. While some (including my ancestors) had already migrated to the United States at the time of Chernobyl, many were still there and didn't migrate until after 1989.

Among the parts of my family that were still in the Soviet Bloc at the time of Chernobyl, it was fashionable to blame all of their health problems on Chernobyl. For instance, my cousin who was born a few months before Chernobyl developed chronic allergies as a child, and this was blamed on Chernobyl radiation. I am not a doctor or a nuclear engineer but I don't think radiation causes allergies.

Nuclear power remains a boogeyman in the minds of most people: east or west, left or right, doesn't seem to matter. I doubt we can ever rationally deploy nuclear power.

When discussing nuclear energy, it is helpful to delineate between fission and fusion. Unless you are politically against it, then lump them both together, make people afraid of the word, and then they'll reject fusion once it becomes economically viable.

"and then they'll reject fusion once it becomes economically viable."

Never. As President Captain Bolsonaro pointed out, nuclear fission is the future.

>I doubt we can ever rationally deploy nuclear power.

France says hi.

Counterpoint: Germany.

Well I think the operant word was "rationally". There's nothing rational about Germany's nuclear policy. It's an emotionally driven policy.

My explanation for this: After that whole Nazi thing, the Germans are trying really really hard to be "good".

Alternate explanation - the Germans have a longer term view, and really wonder how and where the end products will be kept.

They already know who will be paying for it - the German taxpayer, as the German nuclear industry has one of those sweetheart privatize the profits, and why should private companies care about the long term cost, deals.

My personal theory is that the Atomausstieg is going to demonstrate just how expensive decommissioning will actually turn out to be, which is why the nuclear industry is so desperate to avoid actually having it happen in public view, instead of kicking the can down the road as it has until now. (One of the not trivial problems at Fukushima is the vast amount of 'temporarily stored' fuel rods, which has been the nuclear industry's main answer to dealing with long term storage issues.)

Costs likely to be on par with how expensive such plants are to build currently - 'The South Carolina companies building two of the reactors canceled the project in 2017, after spending $9 billion of their customers’ money without producing a single electron of power. The construction company behind the utilities, Westinghouse, went bankrupt, almost destroying its parent company, the global conglomerate Toshiba. The other two reactors licensed while I chaired the NRC are still under construction in Georgia and years behind schedule. Their cost has ballooned from $14 billion to $28 billion and continues to grow.' https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/i-oversaw-the-us-nuclear-power-industry-now-i-think-it-should-be-banned/2019/05/16/a3b8be52-71db-11e9-9eb4-0828f5389013_story.html??noredirect=on

And Fukushima demonstrates just how accurate one of the major German concerns about nuclear power actually was - that is, it is a real unsolved problem how to deal with a meltdown, much less three.

Here is what 8 years of progress looks like - 'The company has to find the radioactive debris and figure out how to remove them, so TEPCO has been sending in a series of robots to scout out the reactors. It’s a dangerous journey that some of the robots haven’t survived. In January 2017, the TEPCO team sent a robot in to investigate Unit 2. It sent back pictures of rocky chunks at the bottom of the reactor, but the team didn’t know how those deposits felt. Were they solid enough to be picked up and removed, for example, or would they crumble at a touch?

A robot that scooted into the reactor on tank-like treads got stuck in February 2017, so the company decided to try again this week. It sent in a robot about the size of a hefty loaf of bread: a foot long, four inches wide, and a little more than two pounds in weight. It’s equipped with lights, cameras, and sensors that can measure temperature and radiation. And, most importantly, it sports “tong-like fingers” that can pinch and prod the debris, according to an informational video released by TEPCO.' https://www.theverge.com/2019/2/15/18225233/robot-nuclear-fuel-debris-fukushima-reactor-japan Impressive, right? Why, in that single reactor they have actually been able to manipulate five of six chunks. Not remove, mind - but still, at least we know what some of the melted debris in one core 'feels' like. At this rate, want to guess how many decades before the first chunk is actually removed? (Bonus question - where will it be kept?)

It is really quite fascinating to see how helpless one of the world's premier technological societies actually is when confronted with the actual conditions found inside the cores of those failed reactors. One assumes that Chernobyl shows how the Soviet Union dealt with their problem - through a massive use of resources without much concern for the individuals involved.

The Japanese (or more accurately, TEPCO) are seemingly following the normal Western approach to nuclear power - wishing hard that the problems will go away on their own, particularly if everyone just agrees to pay no attention.

>My personal theory is that the Atomausstieg is going to demonstrate just how expensive decommissioning will actually turn out to be

It would be interesting to know how much of that cost is driven by real technical concerns and how much by politics. That is, we have (and regularly use) figures for how much we're willing to pay to avoid a certain level of risk (I think there is even govn't regs that specify the amount). Are those cost/benefits roughly the same for the nuke industry, or significantly greater?

We had a post on EXACTLY this a year or two back.

About 75% or more of Nuclear costs was regulatory / political sprawl from a 1960's generating baseline, IIRC. The best evidence was the widely divergent cost per KWh across different countries with equivalent reactor designs; some had controlled the politics, others hadn't.

'It would be interesting to know how much of that cost is driven by real technical concerns'

Well, you do know how the Trojan reactor core was disposed of, right? It was buried in a desert.

Unfortunately, Germany does not have a couple of hundred square miles of already contaminated desert available.

And as these pictures show, this is not exactly a long term solution, though it is a good way to get it out of sight for a century or two. http://www.nucleartourist.com/us/trojan_disposal.htm

"The site offers more than 45 million cubic feet of unused disposal capacity sufficient to accept large quantities of waste well into the 21st century."

Seems like a fine solution, what's the problem?

Right. And that's even more true if we accept the consensus that climate change is a huge and short-term problem, that we need to radically reduce our carbon emissions (to 0, says EU) by 2050 etc. In this case, let's use a lot of nuclear fission to produce electricity now now now, in addition of more solar and wind production, and we'll worry about nuclear waste in one or two centuries, when the carbon problem is long solved and technology has improved much.

Typically, there are many potential solutions. Burying the reactor whole in the desert might be optimal in one location, not in another.

FWIW, it looks like the more common method is to just lock the doors for 30 years, then cut up the reactor and bury the pieces in a low-level disposal facility.

"Alternate explanation - the Germans have a longer term view"

Similar to The Thousand Year Reich mentality? Yes, I guess that's plausible.

Clockwork,

Don't worry; when the lights of Germany's creaking Green Energiewende goes out, they'll still have all those lovely torchlit parades to see by.

https://www.dw.com/en/eu-election-afd-surge-in-eastern-germany-sets-up-clash-of-cultures/a-48909859

'when the lights of Germany's creaking Green Energiewende goes out'

Hasn't happened yet, but with projects like this, the UK is certainly showing Germans how stupid it was to work on an Energiewende - 'The UK government’s nuclear energy policy is in disarray after the Japanese company Hitachi stopped work on a proposed plant in Wylfa last month. The move comes just months after fellow Japanese firm Toshiba shelved plans to build a nuclear power station in Cumbria.

On 17 January 2019, Horizon Nuclear Power, the Hitachi-owned subsidiary responsible for the Wylfa project, put all construction at the site on hold. The £15 billon 2.9GW nuclear power plant was to have a 60-year operational life. Hitachi also scrapped plans for another reactor at Oldbury.

Hitachi has already invested around £2 billion into the Wylfa project prior to the announcement, with the UK government offering to invest £5 billion. But spiralling costs led to doubts that the project would survive through financing negotiations.' https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/shelved-nuclear-power-plans-leave-uk-governments-energy-policy-in-hot-water/3010136.article

Well, at least the UK can count on a never ending supply of oil and gas from the North Sea, right?

At a low, low price of under 265 billion dollars until 2035, it seems - 'Despite its notoriety as a legacy producing region, the UK’s continental shelf yielded 20 percent more oil and gas in the last five years after 14 consecutive years of production declines, the industry’s association, Oil and Gas UK, said in its latest annual Business Outlook.

The figure for 2018 was 1.7 million barrels of oil equivalent daily and it covered 59 percent of the country’s oil and gas demand, the industry body noted, adding that newly approved projects last year exceeded the total number for the previous three years combined, at 13. These, OGUK said, will tap into 400 million barrels of oil equivalent. Capital spending on these projects is estimated at around US$4.37 billion (3.3 billion pounds).

Exploration in the UK’s North Sea is definitely picking up and this year could see the drilling of up to 15 new wells, the association also said. This is momentum that needs to be maintained, the association noted, as expectations were for another decline in production to begin after 2020.

Over the longer term, the investment flow will need to keep flowing into new exploration and production to keep output rising. In its Vision 2035, OGUK estimated the industry needed to add another generation to the productive life of the UK’s continental shelf and said this would need investments of around US$264.8 billion (200 billion pounds).'

Heehee. Triggered him.

The probability of developing cancer at least once in lifetime for an average person is ~0.35 to 0.40. Linking cancer to extra radiation from the accident is hard because the natural occurrence rate is already high.

The accident created ~100K refugees.

The construction of the last structure to keep the reactor confined costed around 1.5 billion euros. It was finished last year. We don't know how much the USSR spent to fix the mess 30 years ago.

It would be very interesting if economists made an estimate of the total cost of the accident: infrastructure loss + deaths + refugees + remediation actions. How many billions?

I forgot to add compensation payments to the victims: the USSR payed ~1 billion USD from 1986 to them.

By the way, the liability of nuclear power plants in the US is capped at ~12 billion. Damages greater than this amount will be covered the US federal government. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price%E2%80%93Anderson_Nuclear_Industries_Indemnity_Act

You know that there are entities set up to declare bankruptcy protection long before $12 billion is reached.

Just like BP did?

Exactly, and I don't think that helps the nuclear case.

BP didn't, though...

Yes. I don't expect any power plant owner handling that much cash to the victims. PG&E could not even pay compensation for the fire damages from last year.

Are you the same Anonymous that shared the link of Diablo Canyon above? Those are the real costs of nuclear power. It's true that nuclear power is carbon neutral, but the life-cycle cost estimate must include decommissioning and waste recycling/disposal.

Same Anonymous, but San Onofre is a different plant, in southern California.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2016/04/26/will-the-truth-about-chernobyl-ever-come-out

"The media continues to wrongly assert that experts still debate whether the Chernobyl deaths number in the hundreds or in the millions, but there is actually no such debate among the experts. The number is less than a hundred. While this is horrible, it does not rise to the level of the millions of deaths that the public now believes resulted from this accident and that has so incorrectly colored the worldview on nuclear energy."

"The health effects, including deaths, were thoroughly documented by the Chernobyl Forum September 6-7, 2005 in Vienna in their resultant report. The Chernobyl Forum was established by the IAEA in 2003 to provide an authoritative consensus on the impact of the accident."

"As summarized by Dr. William Burchill, former President of the American Nuclear Society, the actual fatalities were

- 2 immediate, non-radiation deaths

- 28 early fatalities from radiation within 4 months,

- 19 late adult fatalities from radiation over the next 20 years, and

- 9 late child fatalities from radiation resulting in thyroid cancer.

These last 9 are an inexcusable tragedy since they were totally avoidable with a warning from the Soviet government (which they intentionally failed to do in time), and appropriate administration of potassium iodide prior to I-131 reaching that area and getting into the food chain, also failed by the Soviets.

Almost a thousand emergency workers were thrown into the fire in the first days of the accident by the Soviets, and this led to the approximately 50 deaths from cancer and other health issues.

According to Mikhail Balonov, Secretary of Science at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the 600,000 recovery and operations workers that have worked at Chernobyl since the accident, and the 5 million residents of the contaminated areas in the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, received minor doses similar to natural background radiation levels. There have been no observable radiation-induced health effects in these people. And certainly none have occurred in areas outside these regions which received even less dose."

That's about the order of magnitude I remember seeing too.

Frankly, I'm surprised there is still so much variance. Early on, you needed to use models, and those models are notoriously poor quality. But 30 years later?? We should have actual mortality data.

I'd even suggest we can close the books on the event. Trying to attribute additional causation to one event 30+ years ago seems like a fool's errand. So many intervening facts.

The WHO's method for estimating deaths was based on the old linear no-threshold (LNT) hypothesis, which health physics communities in Europe, the United States and Japan had overwhelmingly rejected by the early 1990s but used for the 2006 report and their health report on Fukushima released in 2013.

UNSCEAR finally dropped the LNT hypothesis in 2012.

Yes. The LNT is massively falsified by the data and this has been manifestly obvious for some time. It's proponents are the usual intellectually dishonest shower of peaceniks, deep greens, and communists.

But don't worry, I'm sure the "expert scientific consensus" is reliable and not compromised by motivated reasoning in any other field.

I've never seen any claim advanced that there were "millions" of deaths. and I was an adult at the time of Chernobyl. To be sure, there were gross exagerrations initially-- that happens in catastrophes (remember the estimates that tens of thousands had died on 9-11, or in Katrina?), but even those were in the five digit range.
If you look up a list of history's most lethal disasters you'll find pride of place given to the Spanish Flu and the Black Death. Chernobyl won't even get an honorable mention.

Although all of the reactors at Chernobyl are now shut down (the last not until 2000, as Ukraine did not care to pay Russia for electric power) there are still at least ten RBMK type reactors operating within Russia.

Although safety mitigations were added to all the RBMK reactors, they type appears to be inherently less safe than other types of nuclear reactors.

IMHO, arguing that nuclear power should be banned because of Chernobyl is like arguing that cars and airplanes should be banned based on the absolute worst examples of these vehicles that have ever been manufactured.

I think this assumption has proven false with the Fukushima accident. For years we dismissed the Chernobyl accident to Soviet mismanagement but the Fukushima experience shows that nuclear meltdowns in boiling water reactors can occur quite easily.

As DaveL pointed out, the health effects resulting from a nuclear meltdown are much lower than anyone estimated and in the case of Chernobyl those 50 deaths (and 5 thousand treatable childhood thyroid cancer cases unmentioned in the Forbes article) were mostly preventable.

Just because our assumption about the critical factor was wrong doesn't mean we can dismiss the cost analysis entirely. Meltdowns are much more likely than we thought and there is an enormous cost in the loss of property value in the surrounding area as well as the loss of the plant itself.

My engineering judgement tells me that nuclear power is not cost effective compared to natural gas plants but that is more of a Fermi estimate. I'm equally skeptical of optimistic and pessimistic opinions on nuclear energy. Its an interesting technology but it has not lived up to the expectations.

+1, that seems like a rational analysis.

Fukushima indeed shows that it is inadvisable to build nuclear reactors in an area subject to tsunamis or extremes of flooding in general.

My "engineering judgement" tells me that no one knows the true cost of building nuclear reactors, because there are so many exogenous inputs into the cost. It is "interesting technology" that, in spite of being relentlessly hobbled by politics ("not lived up to expectations") has produced the vast majority of the planet's carbon-free power for decades.

Given that climate change threatens to displace or even kill tens or even hundreds of millions of people, at an unguessable cost in lives and property, the issues with even the old-school nuclear plants are minor and more importantly, manageable.

No, climate change does not threaten to kill tens or even hundreds of millions of people. Where did you get that from?

Note that I said "DISPLACE or kill."

Climate change has already displaced millions in the Middle East and Africa. Indirectly (as displacement often leads to violence) it has killed tens of thousands. The Syrian civil war and the violence in the Sahel were fueled by climate change (though it is not the only cause, of course).

Zero evidence for this.

'or extremes of flooding in general'

Well, extremes is a variable, but you do know why nuclear plants are built next to bodies of water - like the Rhine. Whether the Rhine or Neckar is subject to extreme flooding will remain of interest for basically the everyone living downstream of those reactors (which have magically been turned into secure storage sites for highly radioactive waste - which is convenient, as currently there is nowhere else to store it.)

Though one can be confident that the pro nuclear proponents here can detail the time scale, technologoies, and costs of decommissioning.

Stop laughing.

'the issues with even the old-school nuclear plants are minor'

Well, apart from that generating of weapons grade fissile material being part of their fundamental design. The Greens are not just opposed to nuclear power after all, they are also opposed to nuclear weapons. Which just happen (ever so coincidentally, of course) to use nuclear plants as a major source of their fissile cores.

Only certain types of reactors are capable of generating weapons-grade materials. Light water reactors (like Chernobyl's) can produce such materials but it is easily detectable if they are used to do that: the reactor must be shut down to remove the Pu-239. Heavy water reactors can more easily produce weapons grade materials U-235 as well as Pu-239), as can breeder reactors. According to Wikipedia, there are 31 heavy water reactors in operation (out of about 450 nuclear reactors overall).

Regarding “For years we dismissed the Chernobyl accident to Soviet mismanagement but the Fukushima experience shows that nuclear meltdowns in boiling water reactors can occur quite easily.”. I don’t think there is anything “easy” about a massive tsunami taking out the backup generator. But that said, nuclear plants more modern that Fukushima have a higher level of passive cooling capability so even if you lost all electrical power and backup generators, you could keep the core cool.

That said, those remaining RBMKs do scare me. And we should be looking to replace older Western reactors without appropriate passive cooling capability. Maybe as part of the Green New Deal?

'I don’t think there is anything “easy” about a massive tsunami taking out the backup generator.'

Sure there was, as noted here - 'But a review of company and regulatory records shows that Japan and its largest utility repeatedly downplayed dangers and ignored warnings — including a 2007 tsunami study from Tokyo Electric Power Co’s senior safety engineer.

“We still have the possibilities that the tsunami height exceeds the determined design height due to the uncertainties regarding the tsunami phenomenon,” Tokyo Electric researchers said in a report reviewed by Reuters.

The research paper concluded that there was a roughly 10 percent chance that a tsunami could test or overrun the defenses of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant within a 50-year span based on the most conservative assumptions.

But Tokyo Electric did nothing to change its safety planning based on that study, which was presented at a nuclear engineering conference in Miami in July 2007.' https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japa-nuclear-risks/special-report-japan-engineers-knew-tsunami-could-overrun-plant-idUSTRE72S2UA20110329

But it seems as if the Japanese were not hysterical ninnies like Americans after Three Mile Island, and remained unconcerned about regulatory costs making nuclear power more expensive - 'Even though Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, (NISA) one of the three government bodies charged with nuclear safety, cataloged the damage to nuclear plant vent systems from an earlier earthquake, it did not require those to be protected against future disasters or hardened against explosions.

That marked a sharp break with safety practices put in place in the United States in the 1980s after Three Mile Island, even though Japan modeled its regulation on U.S. precedents and even allowed utilities to use American disaster manuals in some cases.'

So serious mistakes were made with outdated, irrelevant technology, and after a very rare and severe natural catastrophe, how many people died? Zero?

FWIW, here is what Russians think about it:

1. Visually, it's great. This is how things looked in the 1980s USSR.

2. In all other respects, it's nonsense on stilts, a typical ignorant Western portrayal of Russia. (Russians have a special word for it, cranberry.)

If you want more info on the second point, Google translate this piece from an Ukrainian publication. It's entitled, "Radioactive Cranberry that they will believe."
https://strana.ua/articles/analysis/203348-serial-chernobyl-chto-pravda-a-chto-mif.html

"...a typical ignorant Western portrayal of Russia."

Which is not different from the typical ignorant Western portrayal of Pearl Harbor (2001) or the other typical ignorant Western portrayal of US history in The Patriot (Mel Gibson, 2000).

Wait a min.....it's not ignorance, it's just the fact that simplistic good Vs bad guys stories yield nice profits.

It's Chernobyl in Ukraine?

"avoided the worst scenario with a combination of bravery, smarts and luck."
What is luck? What information does that word add to the quoted sentence?

Luck = favourable exogenous factors beyond your control. Not sure what they are supposed to be here.

...and, unfavorable exogenous factors that prevented the situation from being not as bad. That would be bad luck.
ad infinitum

Couple of points to make:
1. Nobody does these kinds of long-term distant effect studies on anything other than nuclear accidents. For instance, has anyone done studies on the long term impacts on the 500,000 people who were exposed to methyl isocyanate after the Bhopal Disaster? Have there been studies of the long-term impacts of volcanic dust deposits from the Mt. St Helen's explosion? Nuclear is the only thing that is exposed to this level of scrutiny.

2. How much of the effects on well-being, welfare and mental health are due to the fear of radiation, not the radiation itself. I'm sure there are effects on well being and mental health from any large evacuation. What about Hurricane Katrina? What are the effects on the people evacuated from New Orleans who resettled elsewhere?
Again, why is nuclear the only thing where people go to these lengths to find negative health effects?

'Nobody does these kinds of long-term distant effect studies on anything other than nuclear accidents.'

Coal plants or lead smelters come to mind, actually.

Really? There have been studies on the long-term "mental health, welfare, and well-being" effects of living near a coal plant?

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=coal+plant+health+effects

Hazel, it's generally accepted, amongst public health types, that direct stress / mental health effects are unfortunately significant for this class of event. And that's not counting additional dislocation impacts from evacuation etc.

There was a detectable uptick in European spontaneous abortion rates after Chernobyl. But it was completely unrelated to radiation exposures. Even non-exposed areas got hit. It was stress and public panic.

The hysteria promoted by the Greens and their media friends probably killed over 1,000 babies. I think about those dead children, every time I see one of them advertising their virtue on TV.

I know when I look at President Trump I see all the babies his calm, rational, and completely anti-hysterical demeanor has prevented from being spontaneously aborted. In my mind's eye countless thousands of them are all dancing in unison and singing his praises.

One thing I learned (so far, it hasn’t all appeared yet) is that it could have been much, much worse but the Russians avoided the worst scenario with a combination of bravery, smarts and luck.

As the linked article itself points out, the reactor never actually melted through the concrete pad, so the apocalyptic scenarios that the characters keep proclaiming will occur wouldn't actually have happened anyway. I'm pretty sure a steam explosion, even one underneath a melting down nuclear reactor, isn't going to kill 100 million people and render half of Europe uninhabitable too.

In other words, the Legasov character in the show is just spouting a lot of hysterical nonsense. The actual facts of the events as they occurred may be correct, but in terms of spoken dialogue, they are hyping up how bad the accident could have been for dramatic effect.

Yeah I was surprised to see this take from Alex. Knowing that the death count/seriousness of the event is often way overblown, at a time when nuclear power is really needed, to have a fear-mongering show like this bothered me.

With all the opposition of greens and leftists to nuclear power in the Western world, it's weird that I have never seen them protesting vehemently against nuclear development in Iran. The enemy of my enemy is my friend?

True, but on the other hand I've never seen Iranians protest GMOs.

Nine thousand cancer deaths? More like nine.

A large proportion of the total human radiation dose from Chernobyl landed on a few very small towns. If there were nine thousand cancer deaths total, those town would have several thousand.

Instead, they seem healthier than average.

Last night's episode was even worse than usual. "The radiation would have killed the mother, but the BABY ABSORBED IT INSTEAD!"
I know I am not a health physicist but this strikes me as laughably absurd. Also, the whole idea that you have to be protected from people who have radiation sickness, because they're so radioactive you might catch it from them strikes me as implausible. I kind of don't think they would have absorbed so much radiation that they could transmit harmful doses of it to someone else. WTF.

Yeah, that could work under the right circumstances. A fast growing fetus is going to be absorbing things like radium and incorporating it into bones at a much faster rate than the mother. Same for plenty of radioactive elements. So the fetus is not absorbing radiation but ending up with a greater concentration of radioactive isotopes than the mother's tissues. Of course, what gets shown on TV probably isn't very nuanced.

Also, if people got radiation sickness from being exposed to radioactive material the people treating them need to be protected from any of that material they may have on or in them. For example, if someone sneezes out a tiny piece of the core from their sinuses that could give your a tumor if you breath it in or carry it around in your pocket in your pen or whatever.

Also, people with radiation sickness need to be protected from contact with others because their immune systems are compromised.

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