NY Times Editorial Board Delivers a 'Prudent' Message of Nuclear Abandonment
In support of the dying nuclear power industry, the New York Times Editorial Board has penned an inadvertent epitaph.
Appearing in the May 2 edition, The Right Lessons from Chernobyl twists and stumbles around the paper’s own reporting. Though unintended, it finally delivers a “prudent” message of essential abandonment.
The edit drew 288 entries into its comment section before it was capped. I’ve posted one of them at NukeFree.org. Overall they’re widely varied and worth reading.
Because the Times is still the journal of record, the edit is a definitive statement on an industry in dangerous decline.
The edit begins by citing the “New Safe Confinement” shield being built over the seething remains of Chernobyl Unit 4. Already “almost a decade behind schedule,” its completion is “a race against time” due to the “decrepit state of the sarcophagus” meant to contain the radiation there.
That we still must fear Chernobyl more than 28 years after it melted and exploded underscores the “nightmarish side of nuclear power.”
That the “vast steel shield” may not be done in time, or may not even end the problem, is downright terrifying, especially in light of the “near-bankruptcy of Ukraine,” not to mention a political instability that evokes horrific images of two hot wars and the cold one.
Amidst rising tensions between Ukraine, Russia and the west, the corporate media studiously avoids Chernobyl. But Belarus and Ukraine long ago estimated its cost to their countries at $250 billion each. One major study puts the global death toll at more than a million human beings.
The Times says Chernobyl’s terror is “more powerful than Three Mile Island before it or Fukushima after it.”
Three Mile Island suffered an explosion and melt-down in 1979. Exactly how much radiation escaped and who it harmed are still unknown. The industry vehemently denies that anyone was killed, just as it denied there was a melt-down until a robotic camera proved otherwise.
At Fukushima, there is no end in sight. Bad as it was, Chernobyl was one core melt and explosion in a single Soviet reactor in a relatively unpopulated area. Fukushima is three core melts and four explosions in American-designed General Electric reactors, of which there are some two dozen exact replicas now operating in the U.S., along with still more very similar siblings.
Spent fuel is still perched dangerously in damaged pools high in the Fukushima air. Thousands of rods are strewn around the site. The exact location of the three melted cores is still unknown. At least 300 tons of highly radioactive liquid pour daily into the Pacific, with the first of their isotopes now arriving on our west coast. Huge storage tanks constantly leak still more radiation. The labor force at the site is poorly trained and heavily infiltrated by organized crime.
The Times itself has reported that a desperate, terrified population is being forced back into heavily contaminated areas. Children are being exposed en masse to significant radiation doses. Given the horrific health impacts on youngsters downwind from Chernobyl, there is every reason to fear even worse around Fukushima.
But the Times Editorial Board follows with this: “Yet it is also noteworthy that these civilian nuclear disasters did not and have not overcome the allure of nuclear power as a source of clean and abundant energy.”
“Allure” to whom? Certainly the corporations with huge investments in atomic energy are still on board. The fossil fuel industry is thoroughly cross-invested. And extraordinary corporate media access has been granted to pushing the odd belief that nuclear power can help mitigate global warming.
But the vast bulk of the global environmental movement remains firmly anti-nuclear. Grassroots opposition to re-opening any Japanese reactors is vehement to say the least. Amidst an extremely popular revolution in green technologies, U.S. opinion demands that nuclear subsidies be cut, which means death to an industry that can’t live without them.
It’s here the edit falls entirely overboard: “Only Germany succumbed to panic after the Fukushima disaster and began to phase out all nuclear power in favor of huge investments in renewable sources like wind and sun.”
Germany’s green transition has been debated for decades, stepped up long ago by Chernobyl. With strong popular backing, the German nuclear phase-out, as in Sweden, Italy and numerous other European nations (Denmark never built any reactors) has long been on the table. The center-right Merkel government finally embraced it not only because of Fukushima, but because the German corporate establishment decided that going green would be good for business. As energy economist Charles Komanoff has shown, they’ve been proven right.
Despite the predictable carping from a few fossil/nuke holdouts, Germany will shut its reactors, as will, eventually, all other nations. The edit says there may be “an increase in greenhouse emissions,” but it will be “temporary.”
But as some in the respondents section point out, the Times ignores nuclear power’s own greenhouse impacts, especially in the mining, milling, transport and enrichment of radioactive fuel. Not to mention the heat emissions into the air and water from regular operations and periodic melt-downs and blow-ups. Or those involved with the as-yet unsolved management of radioactive wastes, both at exploded sites and where thousands of tons of spent fuel rods and other hot detritus still sit.
The Times does concede that “The world must do what it can to increase energy efficiency and harness sun, wind, ocean currents and other renewable sources to meet our ever-expanding needs for energy.” But the vision of a green-powered Earth is no longer the property of a Solartopian movement. As the Times and other major publications have long reported, Wall Street has thoroughly rejected atomic energy and is pouring billions into renewables, especially photovoltaics (PV) which convert solar energy to electricity.
A technological, financial and ecological revolution is well underway. Maybe the Times Editorial Board should consult its financial section.
The edit then cites a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report as a reason to keep nuclear energy as “part of the mix.”
But the IPCC report emphasizes atomic power’s negatives, most critically safety, economics, waste and timing. It posits no parallel burdens on the transition to renewables, which it says is both affordable and do-able within the time frame necessary to save the planet.
Even if public opposition somehow dissolved, the technical and economic prospects for small modular or other “fourth generation” nukes have crumbled. With the industry’s history of gargantuan cost overruns and endless delays, this editorial doesn’t bother to argue for them.
For nuclear to “play a role” in fighting climate change, the industry must keep its old, increasing decayed reactors on line. But many of the planet’s 400 commercial nukes are older than that crumbling sarcophagus at Chernobyl.
Japan’s Abe regime wants to re-open all 48 reactors idled since Fukushima. But as Reuters and others have reported, 30 or more can’t meet current safety standards or face too many technical barriers to safely or economically re-open.
With twice as many licensed reactors in the U.S., could the number of below-spec nukes here be more like 60?
Four of these decrepit nukes shut last year, with at least one more—Vermont Yankee—scheduled to close in 2014. For health, safety, economic and ecological reasons, many more of these dangerously decayed nukes are poised to go down.
But it’s precisely these the Times edit defends:
The reasons for the shutdowns vary. In some cases, competition from cheap natural gas and from nearby wind farms has forced reactors to operate at a loss. In other cases, a marginal plant’s economic viability has been jeopardized by the cost of replacing steam generators to extend the life of a plant or by the cost of upgrading safety systems to meet new requirements imposed after the disaster in Fukushima.
As it begs for “prudence” before shutting more reactors, we must ask:
Does the Times Editorial Board really want us to ignore the need to replace unsafe steam generators (as at California’s San Onofre) and just operate them as is?
Should we really ignore “new requirements imposed after the disaster at Fukushima?"
Should we also forget that the Union of Concerned Scientists and others report that many of those old nukes that can’t meet basic fire protection standards?
And those downriver from large dams whose failure could release floods parallel to the tsunami that swamped Fukushima.
Is all this okay with the Times Editors? Will the Grey Lady now provide the radioactive disaster insurance missing since 1957?
The edit does spare us more hype about the “nuclear renaissance." After a decade of being pushed to buy a whole new fleet, we’re now begged to be “prudent” about shutting the old tugboats.
Above all, we’re not to be “spooked” into mistrusting an industry that for decades said reactors could not explode, but has now blown up five and melted five.
For the finale of this landmark edit, we hear that “the great shield over Chernobyl should also entomb unfounded fears of using nuclear power in the future.”
A decade behind schedule, millions over budget, technologically unproven, threatened by political instability, surrounded by the dead and dying, that canopy’s sole purpose is to somehow contain future damage from a failed reactor that has already irradiated the planet, the people downwind, the ecological and economic future of the region.
If the New York Times wants to anoint Chernobyl’s unfinished second shroud as the prime symbol of today’s atomic industry, then this editorial is indeed a fitting epitaph.
YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE
By Frank La Sorte and Kyle Horton
Millions of birds travel between their breeding and wintering grounds during spring and autumn migration, creating one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. These journeys often span incredible distances. For example, the Blackpoll warbler, which weighs less than half an ounce, may travel up to 1,500 miles between its nesting grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.
Blackpoll warbler. PJTurgeon / Wikipedia<p>We used this information to determine how the number of migratory bird species varies based on each city's level of <a href="https://www.britannica.com/science/light-pollution" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">light pollution</a> – brightening of the night sky caused by artificial light sources, such as buildings and streetlights. We also explored how species numbers vary based on the quantity of tree canopy cover and impervious surface, such as concrete and asphalt, within each city. Our findings show that cities can help migrating birds by planting more trees and reducing light pollution, especially during spring and autumn migration.</p>
Declining Bird Populations<p>Urban areas contain numerous dangers for migratory birds. The biggest threat is the risk of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-13-090.1" target="_blank">colliding with buildings or communication towers</a>. Many migratory bird populations have <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw1313" target="_blank">declined over the past 50 years</a>, and it is possible that light pollution from cities is contributing to these losses.</p><p>Scientists widely agree that light pollution can <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1708574114" target="_blank">severely disorient migratory birds</a> and make it hard for them to navigate. Studies have shown that birds will cluster around brightly lit structures, much like insects flying around a porch light at night. Cities are the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2029" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">primary source of light pollution for migratory birds</a>, and these species tend to be more abundant within cities <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/gcb.13792" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during migration</a>, especially in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2020.103892" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">city parks</a>.</p>
Composite image of the continental U.S. at night from satellite photos. NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
The Power of Citizen Science<p>It's not easy to observe and document bird migration, especially for species that migrate at night. The main challenge is that many of these species are very small, which limits scientists' ability to use electronic tracking devices.</p><p>With the growth of the internet and other information technologies, new data resources are becoming available that are making it possible to overcome some of these challenges. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-07106-5" target="_blank">Citizen science initiatives</a> in which volunteers use online portals to enter their observations of the natural world have become an important resource for researchers.</p><p>One such initiative, <a href="https://ebird.org/home" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eBird</a>, allows bird-watchers around the globe to share their observations from any location and time. This has produced one of the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ecog.04632" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">largest ecological citizen-science databases in the world</a>. To date, eBird contains over 922 million bird observations compiled by over 617,000 participants.</p>
Light Pollution Both Attracts and Repels Migratory Birds<p>Migratory bird species have evolved to use certain migration routes and types of habitat, such as forests, grasslands or marshes. While humans may enjoy seeing migratory birds appear in urban areas, it's generally not good for bird populations. In addition to the many hazards that exist in urban areas, cities typically lack the food resources and cover that birds need during migration or when raising their young. As scientists, we're concerned when we see evidence that migratory birds are being drawn away from their traditional migration routes and natural habitats.</p><p>Through our analysis of eBird data, we found that cities contained the greatest numbers of migratory bird species during spring and autumn migration. Higher levels of light pollution were associated with more species during migration – evidence that light pollution attracts migratory birds to cities across the U.S. This is cause for concern, as it shows that the influence of light pollution on migratory behavior is strong enough to increase the number of species that would normally be found in urban areas.</p><p>In contrast, we found that higher levels of light pollution were associated with fewer migratory bird species during the summer and winter. This is likely due to the scarcity of suitable habitat in cities, such as large forest patches, in combination with the adverse affects of light pollution on bird behavior and health. In addition, during these seasons, migratory birds are active only during the day and their populations are largely stationary, creating few opportunities for light pollution to attract them to urban areas.</p>
Trees and Pavement<p>We found that tree canopy cover was associated with more migratory bird species during spring migration and the summer. Trees provide important habitat for migratory birds during migration and the breeding season, so the presence of trees can have a strong effect on the number of migratory bird species that occur in cities.</p><p>Finally, we found that higher levels of impervious surface were associated with more migratory bird species during the winter. This result is somewhat surprising. It could be a product of the <a href="https://www.epa.gov/heatislands" target="_blank">urban heat island effect</a> – the fact that structures and paved surfaces in cities absorb and reemit more of the sun's heat than natural surfaces. Replacing vegetation with buildings, roads and parking lots can therefore make cities significantly warmer than surrounding lands. This effect could reduce cold stress on birds and increase food resources, such as insect populations, during the winter.</p><p>Our research adds to our understanding of how conditions in cities can both help and hurt migratory bird populations. We hope that our findings will inform urban planning initiatives and strategies to reduce the harmful effects of cities on migratory birds through such measures as <a href="https://www.arborday.org/programs/treecityusa/index.cfm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">planting more trees</a> and initiating <a href="https://aeroecolab.com/uslights" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">lights-out programs</a>. Efforts to make it easier for migratory birds to complete their incredible journeys will help maintain their populations into the future.</p><p><em><span style="background-color: initial;"><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/frank-la-sorte-1191494" target="_blank">Frank La Sorte</a> is a r</span>esearch associate at the </em><em>Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University. <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/kyle-horton-1191498" target="_blank">Kyle Horton</a> is an assistant professor of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at the Colorado State University.</em></p><p><em></em><em>Disclosure statement: Frank La Sorte receives funding from The Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation and the National Science Foundation (DBI-1939187). K</em><em>yle Horton does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/cities-can-help-migrating-birds-on-their-way-by-planting-more-trees-and-turning-lights-off-at-night-152573" target="_blank">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Lynne Peeples
Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.
In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.
Unintended Consequences<p>Chemists first discovered disinfection by-products in treated drinking water in the 1970s. The trihalomethanes they found, they determined, had resulted from the reaction of chlorine with natural organic matter. Since then, scientists have identified more than 700 additional disinfection by-products. "And those only represent a portion. We still don't know half of them," says Richardson, whose lab has identified hundreds of disinfection by-products. </p>
What’s Regulated and What’s Not?<p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates 11 disinfection by-products — including a handful of trihalomethanes (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA). While these represent only a small fraction of all disinfection by-products, EPA aims to use their presence to indicate the presence of other disinfection by-products. "The general idea is if you control THMs and HAAs, you implicitly or by default control everything else as well," says Korshin.</p><p>EPA also requires drinking water facilities to use techniques to reduce the concentration of organic materials before applying disinfectants, and regulates the quantity of disinfectants that systems use. These rules ultimately can help control levels of disinfection by-products in drinking water.</p>
Click the image for an interactive version of this chart on the Environmental Working Group website.<p>Still, some scientists and advocates argue that current regulations do not go far enough to protect the public. Many question whether the government is regulating the right disinfection by-products, and if water systems are doing enough to reduce disinfection by-products. EPA is now seeking public input as it considers potential revisions to regulations, including the possibility of regulating additional by-products. The agency held a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/dwsixyearreview/potential-revisions-microbial-and-disinfection-byproducts-rules" target="_blank">two-day public meeting</a> in October 2020 and plans to hold additional public meetings throughout 2021.</p><p>When EPA set regulations on disinfection by-products between the 1970s and early 2000s, the agency, as well as the scientific community, was primarily focused on by-products of reactions between organics and chlorine — historically the most common drinking water disinfectant. But the science has become increasingly clear that these chlorinated chemicals represent a fraction of the by-product problem.</p><p>For example, bromide or iodide can get caught up in the reaction, too. This is common where seawater penetrates a drinking water source. By itself, bromide is innocuous, says Korshin. "But it is extremely [reactive] with organics," he says. "As bromide levels increase with normal treatment, then concentrations of brominated disinfection by-products will increase quite rapidly."</p><p><a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15487777/" target="_blank">Emerging</a> <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.7b05440" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">data</a> indicate that brominated and iodinated by-products are potentially more harmful than the regulated by-products.</p><p>Almost half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, where saltwater intrusion can be a problem for drinking water supplies. "In the U.S., the rule of thumb is the closer to the sea, the more bromide you have," says Korshin, noting there are also places where bromide naturally leaches out from the soil. Still, some coastal areas tend to be spared. For example, the city of Seattle's water comes from the mountains, never making contact with seawater and tending to pick up minimal organic matter.</p><p>Hazardous disinfection by-products can also be an issue with desalination for drinking water. "As <a href="https://ensia.com/features/can-saltwater-quench-our-growing-thirst/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">desalination</a> practices become more economical, then the issue of controlling bromide becomes quite important," adds Korshin.</p>
Other Hot Spots<p>Coastal areas represent just one type of hot spot for disinfection by-products. Agricultural regions tend to send organic matter — such as fertilizer and animal waste — into waterways. Areas with warmer climates generally have higher levels of natural organic matter. And nearly any urban area can be prone to stormwater runoff or combined sewer overflows, which can contain rainwater as well as untreated human waste, industrial wastewater, hazardous materials and organic debris. These events are especially common along the East Coast, notes Sydney Evans, a science analyst with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG, a collaborator on <a href="https://ensia.com/ensia-collections/troubled-waters/" target="_blank">this reporting project</a>).</p><p>The only drinking water sources that might be altogether free of disinfection by-products, suggests Richardson, are private wells that are not treated with disinfectants. She used to drink water from her own well. "It was always cold, coming from great depth through clay and granite," she says. "It was fabulous."</p><p>Today, Richardson gets her water from a city system that uses chloramine.</p>
Toxic Treadmill<p>Most community water systems in the U.S. use chlorine for disinfection in their treatment plant. Because disinfectants are needed to prevent bacteria growth as the water travels to the homes at the ends of the distribution lines, sometimes a second round of disinfection is also added in the pipes.</p><p>Here, systems usually opt for either chlorine or chloramine. "Chloramination is more long-lasting and does not form as many disinfection by-products through the system," says Steve Via, director of federal relations at the American Water Works Association. "Some studies show that chloramination may be more protective against organisms that inhabit biofilms such as Legionella."</p>
Alternative Approaches<p>When he moved to the U.S. from Germany, Prasse says he immediately noticed the bad taste of the water. "You can taste the chlorine here. That's not the case in Germany," he says.</p><p>In his home country, water systems use chlorine — if at all — at lower concentrations and at the very end of treatment. In the Netherlands, <a href="https://dwes.copernicus.org/articles/2/1/2009/dwes-2-1-2009.pdf" target="_blank">chlorine isn't used at all</a> as the risks are considered to outweigh the benefits, says Prasse. He notes the challenge in making a convincing connection between exposure to low concentrations of disinfection by-products and health effects, such as cancer, that can occur decades later. In contrast, exposure to a pathogen can make someone sick very quickly.</p><p>But many countries in Europe have not waited for proof and have taken a precautionary approach to reduce potential risk. The emphasis there is on alternative approaches for primary disinfection such as ozone or <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/eco-friendly-way-disinfect-water-using-light/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ultraviolet light</a>. Reverse osmosis is among the "high-end" options, used to remove organic and inorganics from the water. While expensive, says Prasse, the method of forcing water through a semipermeable membrane is growing in popularity for systems that want to reuse wastewater for drinking water purposes.</p><p>Remucal notes that some treatment technologies may be good at removing a particular type of contaminant while being ineffective at removing another. "We need to think about the whole soup when we think about treatment," she says. What's more, Remucal explains, the mixture of contaminants may impact the body differently than any one chemical on its own. </p><p>Richardson's preferred treatment method is filtering the water with granulated activated carbon, followed by a low dose of chlorine.</p><p>Granulated activated carbon is essentially the same stuff that's in a household filter. (EWG recommends that consumers use a <a href="https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/reviewed-disinfection-byproducts.php#:~:text=EWG%20recommends%20using%20a%20home,as%20trihalomethanes%20and%20haloacetic%20acids." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countertop carbon filter</a> to reduce levels of disinfection by-products.) While such a filter "would remove disinfection by-products after they're formed, in the plant they remove precursors before they form by-products," explains Richardson. She coauthored a <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b00023" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019 paper</a> that concluded the treatment method is effective in reducing a wide range of regulated and unregulated disinfection by-products.</p><br>
Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992, and is still one of relatively few full-scale plants that uses the technology. Courtesy of Greater Cincinnati Water Works.<p>Despite the technology and its benefits being known for decades, relatively few full-scale plants use granulated active carbon. They often cite its high cost, Richardson says. "They say that, but the city of Cincinnati [Ohio] has not gone bankrupt using it," she says. "So, I'm not buying that argument anymore."</p><p>Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992. On a video call in December, Jeff Swertfeger, the superintendent of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, poured grains of what looks like black sand out of a glass tube and into his hand. It was actually crushed coal that has been baked in a furnace. Under a microscope, each grain looks like a sponge, said Swertfeger. When water passes over the carbon grains, he explained, open tunnels and pores provide extensive surface area to absorb contaminants.</p><p>While the granulated activated carbon initially was installed to address chemical spills and other industrial contamination concerns in the Ohio River, Cincinnati's main drinking water source, Swertfeger notes that the substance has turned out to "remove a lot of other stuff, too," including <a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-contamination-pfas-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PFAS</a> and disinfection by-product precursors.</p><p>"We use about one-third the amount of chlorine as we did before. It smells and tastes a lot better," he says. "The use of granulated activated carbon has resulted in lower disinfection by-products across the board."</p><p>Richardson is optimistic about being able to reduce risks from disinfection by-products in the future. "If we're smart, we can still kill those pathogens and lower our chemical disinfection by-product exposure at the same time," she says.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-disinfection-byproducts-pathogens/" target="_blank">Ensia</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649953730#/" target="_self"></a></p>
- Most Meat Will Be Plant-Based or Lab-Grown in 20 Years, Analysts ... ›
- Lab-Grown Meat Debate Overlooks Cows' Range of Use Worldwide ... ›
- Will Plant-Based Meat Become the New Fast Food? - EcoWatch ›
One city in New Zealand knows what its priorities are.
Dunedin, the second largest city on New Zealand's South Island, has closed a popular road to protect a mother sea lion and her pup, The Guardian reported.
piyaset / iStock / Getty Images Plus
- No Country Is Protecting Children's Health, Major Study Finds ... ›
- 'Every Child Born Today Will Be Profoundly Affected by Climate ... ›