Source: Wall Street Journal | Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. | April 15, 2016
A defective radiation-risk standard holds back our most important low-carbon energy source.
Green activists, some masquerading as attorneys general of New York and California, want to prosecute Exxon as a climate heretic. Its sin? Saying impeccably true things about climate science: The range of uncertainty is high. Climate models are not the climate, and show themselves to be unreliable guides to future warming. There is a cost-benefit test that policy must pass, and it doesn’t.
The AG case is a spinoff of “investigative” journalism by the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News, which we now learn was directly underwritten by climate activists at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Rockefeller Family Fund.
“It’s about helping the larger public understand the urgencies of finding climate solutions. It’s not really about Exxon,” explained a Rockefeller official about a January meeting to coordinate the legal and journalistic attack.
The journalists involved in this travesty, we’re sorry to say, are of the dumber sort—confused about what science is. But their clottedness comes at a poignant moment.
Honest greens have always said nuclear power is indispensable for achieving big carbon reduction. James Hansen, the former NASA scientist who has been chaining himself to fences since the first Bush administration, was in Illinois last week lobbying against closure of a nuclear plant. Ditto activist Michael Shellenberger. We might also include Bill McKibben, the Bernie Sanders of the climate movement and shouter of Exxon accusations, who told journalist William Tucker four years ago, “If I came out in favor of nuclear, it would split this movement in half.”
Nuclear (unlike solar) is one low-carbon energy technology that has zero chance without strong government support, yet is left out of renewables mandates. It’s the one non-carbon energy source that has actually been shrinking, losing ground to coal and natural gas.
What keeps nuclear costs high? Why do so many opponents misread the Fukushima meltdown, where 18,000 deaths were due to the earthquake and tsunami, none to radiation exposure, and none are expected from radiation exposure? Why has the U.S. experience of spiraling nuclear construction costs not been matched in South Korea, where normal learning has reduced the cost of construction?
The answer increasingly appears to be a real scientific fraud. In a series of peer-reviewed articles, toxicologist Edward Calabrese of the University of Massachusetts Amherst shows how a cabal of radiation geneticists in the 1940s doctored their results, and even a Nobel Prize acceptance speech, to exaggerate the health risk from low-level radiation exposure. At the time, Hermann Muller, their leader, was militating against above-ground atomic-bomb testing. “I think he got his beliefs and his science confused, and he couldn’t admit that the science was unresolved,” Mr. Calabrese told a UMass publication.
Data developed to show high-dose effect on fruit flies, Muller claimed, showed a proportional low-dose effect. Thus was born LNT—the “linear no-threshold” model of radiation risk that has become the world’s go-to standard for nuclear safety, source of repeated (and unfulfilled) forecasts of thousands of cancer deaths from Chernobyl or Fukushima. LNT is why nuclear plants shoulder artificially huge costs not to protect against accidents, but to protect against trivial emissions. Coal-plants, which don’t have to meet U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules, actually put out thorium and uranium far in excess of what nuclear plants are allowed to emit.
We detailed some of the health evidence in a December piece about efforts to wake up the NRC. The New York Times wrote a similar piece last September looking at Japan’s foolish evacuation of thousands of Fukushima residents against a nonexistent radiation threat.
Dr. Carol Marcus, of the UCLA medical school, and two other nuclear-medicine specialists last year petitioned the NRC to re-evaluate its standards. Now the Environmental Protection Agency and several green groups have filed defenses of LNT, which since the 1950s has been adopted not only as Washington’s unscientific model of radiation risk, but as the EPA’s unscientific model of chemical risk. It shouldn’t be overlooked that, for these green groups and the EPA, nuclear is also anathema because it competes with solar and wind.
OK, science seldom fares well in high-stakes political controversies, but it’s bizarre to watch green campaigners attack anybody who questions their thinly based climate predictions, then attack anybody who questions the thinly based science that keeps down our best carbon-free energy choice.
An environmental reporter with an ounce of independence would actually be doing his or her green friends a favor. Pushing the greenies to confront their nuclear contradictions is probably the best possible way right now of making progress on the climate conundrum.