I began my three-part series on energy accidents to answer the question: “What about Chernobyl?” This type of concern invariably comes up whenever nuclear power is discussed, as fear of nuclear accidents is something that is cemented into our cultural consciousness. I wanted to help put these concerns into perspective.
In my first look at that question I put the World’s Deadliest Energy Accidents in Perspective. I dedicated the next piece to environmental concerns: “What About Radioactive Wastelands?” A Look at Chernobyl’s Effects on Nature, assessing the idea (which I also used to hold) that nuclear accidents could make large swaths of land uninhabitable for humans and nature. I noted that nature was notably impacted by the radioactive contamination in about 40 square km (15 square miles) area around the power plant, or about 1-2% of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, including dead and stunted trees and rodent and invertebrate deaths. Most of the areas quickly recovered, however.
The absence of people in the Zone lead to a increase in wildlife numbers. Undeterred by radiation, thriving populations were established of more than 400 vertebrates, including many protected species. As the WHO put it: “a unique sanctuary for biodiversity” was created.
It appears then, that common idea of an uninhabitable wasteland as consequence of the Chernobyl accident is misleading, and large camera trap surveys have found no evidence to support the idea that animal populations would be suppressed in highly contaminated areas.
Now for the last part of this three-part series: how do these environmental impacts compare to the effects of other energy accidents? Continue reading
Posted in biology, climate, energy, environment, history, nuclear, renewables, society
Tagged biodiversity, Chernobyl, UN, WHO
“What about Chernobyl?” is a question many people ask whenever nuclear power is discussed. In my first look at that question, in the previous article, I put the World’s Deadliest Energy Accidents in Perspective. But many people will point out that direct human health effects are only a part of the story, and rightly so. What about the risk of making large swaths of land uninhabitable for humans or nature? This is probably the most iconic of our fears when it comes to nuclear accidents, and it also used to be my main concern with nuclear power. As I wrote in Nuclear Waste: Ideas vs Reality:
How could we justify producing any amount of energy if – bear with me – that meant risking that large areas of the earth become barren wastelands, should anything go wrong?
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 the ghost-town of Pripyat near Chernobyl.
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
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.
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
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.
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