“What About Chernobyl?” World’s Deadliest Energy Accidents in Perspective

Whenever nuclear power comes up in discussions online, more often than not someone declares that all anyone needs to know can be said with one word: Chernobyl. This name evokes a chilling reaction in most of us, and the idea is that this should conclude the conversation. There can be no argument heavier than “What about Chernobyl?”

A radioactive sign hangs on barbed wire outside a café in Pripyat.

A ‘radioactive’ sign hangs on barbed wire outside a café in the ghost-town of Pripyat near Chernobyl.

Can there?

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the impacts of Chernobyl nuclear disaster, as well as the overall effects of different energy forms on human health and the environment. I often try to make the argument that we should look at the big picture, the totality of the effects, at first hand.

But the big picture is vague, grey, and complex. The name of that place – Chernobyl and the accident it’s irrevocably linked with, burns with a bright red focus in people’s minds. Chernobyl disaster might be the most famous accident in the world. It would definitely be wrong to sweep its effects aside – the tragedy of lives and homes lost is real, painful, and unforgettable.

But here we arrive at an odds. Do the lives of the people affected by the Chernobyl accident weigh more than the lives of people struck by man-made disasters elsewhere? Should we respect the memory of the victims of Chernobyl more than those who died as the result of the failures of other energy forms? Continue reading

Posted in energy, environment, health, nuclear, renewables | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Radiation Exposures at a Glance

Inspired by a risk conference I attended, I decided to try my hand at visual demonstrations of toxicological safety limits and pesticide exposures. It struck me that the same kind of visualisation might work well for a demonstrating radiation dosages. I have written earlier about Radiation and Cancer Risk, after I visited Switzerland’s interim repository for nuclear waste, ZWILAG. While in the heart of the place – the dry cask storage hall which houses the spent nuclear fuel – we crossed a line with a sign that read: “HIGH RADIATION AREA No unnecessary stay !!!”

This left me curious. I wanted to know how dangerous a “high radiation area” was, and after a dive into the evidence, I got my answer. But much of what I wrote there could also be effectively summarised with an infographic.

Radiation exposures squared.png

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Posted in biology, health, nuclear | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Toward More Intuitive Toxicology Information

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Our presentation was titled: “Navigating the Risk Landscape” by
Alison Bernstein, PhD & Iida Ruishalme, MSc

Last week I had the privilege to attend a conference on risk science in New Orleans, and hold a roundtable together with neuroscientist Alison Bernstein from SciMoms. We were kindly invited to talk about our approach to risk communication by Center for Food Integrity.

This was awesome! Not only did I and Alison finally get to meet face to face, we also got to present what we had learned about messages that work on social media (see our series: Risk In Perspective), as well as ones that don’t. In between many interesting sessions, on everything from food fears to radiological risk to supplements and climate change mitigation, Alison also introduced me to fresh beignets, fried green tomatoes and other New Orleans essentials.

For our presentation, one of the things we talked about was the varied success of our infographics for the piece Measures of Toxicity. In the article, we underlined the distinction that acute toxicity info (like LD50) is mostly relevant to accidents, murders and suicides, whereas what the public is often most concerned about are the gradual chronic effects. These are more appropriately reflected by the chronic intake limits, which are set in a way to try hard to avoid such effects. Continue reading

Posted in agriculture, chemistry, health, science communication | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Nuclear is a Crucial Piece of the Carbon-Free Puzzle

The findings of the recent MIT study bear repeating: to achieve a carbon-free grid, exclusion of nuclear would make the effort much, much more expensive.

the team’s analysis shows that the exclusion of nuclear from low-carbon scenarios could cause the average cost of electricity to escalate dramatically.

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Posted in climate, energy, finance, nuclear, renewables | Tagged | 2 Comments

Saving Lives Is Not Shameful – Let’s Break the Stigma on Supporting Nuclear Energy

ask me about nuclear

This t-shirt is from a site called What Is Nuclear, a great information resource. Available at Zazzle.

I own a t-shirt that says “Ask me about nuclear energy.” On the back there’s an image of a cooling tower and the words: “Sustainable. Ecological. Independent.” I wore it to my daughter’s first day at our village music kindergarten class a few days ago.

I had a cold, so I also wore a warm shirt and a shawl, and had counted on keeping my views on energy policy a private wardrobe-matter on the occasion. But when we got there, little sweaty from hurry, it turned out that my shy 4-year-old refused to let go of me for the entire lesson. I ended up holding her hand, dancing around the room, playing boats bobbing on the waves with my t-shirt in perfect view of all the other parents sitting at the end of the room (…little nuclear icebreaker on the chilly ocean of popular opinion…). Continue reading

Posted in energy, environment, nuclear, parenting, psychology, renewables, society | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Lyrical in Lapland – Biologist Released into the Wilderness

Nature post! I went to Lapland for a few days, and am so bursting with happiness about the fact that I can’t help sharing some of the experience. Anyone looking to read about nature observations of plants, lichens, mushrooms and animals, as well as my hiking mishaps and serendipities above the arctic circle in Finland, with plenty of photos to go with, read on.

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On the green banks of brook Sivakkaoja

My much awaited Lapland visit could not have packed much more of the things a wilderness hike is all about: surviving the cold, drying wet socks over the fire, climbing a fell (rounded ancient ice-ground mountains of Finland), finding vibrant valleys between fells with clearwater lakes and waterways, crossing said waterways on foot, eating bilberries everywhere, and encountering a family of fearless Siberian jays (kuukkeli), reindeer, owl, and rock ptarmigans (kiiruna). Continue reading

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Do we fear the right things?

torivartti okI had the privilege of giving a public presentation at a large Finnish political discussion and debate fair Suomi Areena for the Finnish Ecomodernist Society in Pori a few days ago. (Finnish readers can view the presentation here – skip over to the 03:01:30 or 02:15:00 depending on the version, to watch my 25 minute live televised presentation.) This year’s theme at the fair was safety, and the point of my talk was to look at things we fear, things that are risky, and where these two meet – or don’t meet. Continue reading

Posted in biotechnology, health, nutrition, psychology | Tagged , | 4 Comments