Theranos of the Nuclear Industry

THE WORLD has its fair share of prospective ‘revolutionary ideas’, objectives that have failed to pan out. Not for lack of trying, nor because a notion isn’t any good on paper but rather the expression of a thought may not be based upon sound physics, or could be missing a vital technological breakthrough or component. In the case of Theranos, the idea of a portable blood analysis machine was surely innovative, but the underlying technology did not exist and the project failed to deliver. The result is a fraud case involving over-sell — under-performance, gross deception and astonishingly optimistic claims by one Elizabeth Holmes.

Similarly in 2007 the Department of Environmental Affairs held a parliamentary inquiry into the nuclear industry, in particular the much vaunted Pebble-Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) programme whose technology was essentially borrowed from Germany. As it turned out the programme was fundamentally flawed, and was deemed unsafe by the Germany government following a pebble bed reactor accident at Hamm-Uentrop.(1)

At this stage some R10bn had already been spent without so much as a working reactor. Submissions by civil society organisations Koeberg Alert and Earthlife Africa, provided engineering analysis of why Germany had dropped the thorium-uranium programme, in part due to the ‘tendency of the pebble fuel to disintegrate’. Other serious issues included problems of safety, lack of containment, waste fission products and a host of other technical issues.

This didn’t dissuade South Africa’s nuclear industry. Though government input into the programme seemingly ended with Minister Barbara Hogan cancelling further funds, the PBMR took on a new life under Kelvin Kemm, who began touting a gas-cooled version called High Temperature Modular Reactor (HTMR) produced by his own company Nuclear Africa, along with a supposedly ‘new fuel’.

Billions of rands of governmental spend was thus, for all intents and purposes, simply transferred to Nuclear Africa, under the auspice of Kemm who was then chair of NECSA in order to further acomplex prestige project, one which readily leads to economic dependency (see below).

Steenkampskraal Thorium Limited (STL) is a subsidiary company ‘in the business of developing and commercialising thorium as a clean safe energy source for the future.” The STL company site however professes “The primary goal of the HTR fuel development programme at STL is to produce fuel spheres containing uranium for irradiation testing in the short term, thorium/uranium in the medium term as well as thorium and plutonium in the long-term.”

Enter the X Factor, Yet Another Fuel

Meanwhile Eben Mulder and Martin van Staden announced their company X-energy was using a new modular reactor design alongside a brand new fuel. “X-energy has developed the compact Xe-100 reactor, which delivers 80MW of electricity and is about the size of an elevator shaft in a four-storey building,”. They further claim, “the US military has also signed a contract with the company in March to deliver its Xe-Mobile reactors”.

While Kemm’s project certainly has some merit in its purported use of presumably thorium instead of uranium, but certainly fails when it comes to the economics of producing Thorium Dioxide (see below) the X-energy project insists it has developed an advanced new nuclear fuel known as “Triso-X”.

Triso-X appears to be nothing more than a complex “tri-structural isotropic (TRISO) particle fuel” already developed within the nuclear industry. The company thus also claims somewhat disingenuously: “We manufacture our own proprietary version (TRISO-X) to ensure supply and quality control.”

If the claims are to be believed, TRISO fuel may significantly alter the burnup rate of fission products and change the melting of fuel within reactors. It is claimed to “double the previous mark set by the Germans in the 1980s” and thus is ‘three times the burnup that current light-water fuels can achieve—demonstrating its long-life capability.”     

According to pundits “TRISO particles cannot melt in a reactor and can withstand extreme temperatures that are well beyond the threshold of current nuclear fuels.”

A 2020 Nuclear Industry Journal article on ‘Uranium nitride tristructural-isotropic fuel particle’, demonstrates “testing of a novel coated fuel particle, uranium nitride tristructural-isotropic fuel” and claims “this fuel particle offers significantly higher uranium density over historic manifestations of coated fuel particles and may be more optimal for a range of advanced reactor applications”

There is however no consensus in the industry on the resulting fission products produced by the TRISO process impacting upon health and safety, nor the longevity of the fuel. One can only suggest that many of the objections to the latest Thorium-Uranium project, also apply. In fact many of the claims made by X-energy, beg the question, why Thorium?

Vegter doesn’t understand science let alone physics

IN A RAMBLING and shoddy piece of quackery published by Daily Maverick, discredited anti-humanist curmudgeon Ivor Vegter claims, inter alia “a lot of opposition to nuclear power is motivated by fears over the safety of nuclear reactors. Chernobyl and Fukushima scared the pants off people. But they’re wrong. Nuclear is by far the safest form of energy on the planet, bar none.”

It is clear from the manner in which the purported facts are presented, that Vegter doesn’t understand science, let alone scientific evidence. Is opposed to humanism and the manner in which scientific consensus is driven by published research, peer review and moderation.

So far as Vegter is concerned, not a single person has died as a result of direct exposure to radiation in the Fukushima and Chernobyl disasters. Vegter thus proceeds to impute the findings of the Japanese government, who likewise impute the findings of the World Health Organisation attributing an increase in infant mortality as a result of radiation exposure.

Did anyone die because of Fukushima?

Thyroid screening of under 18-year-olds, conducted in the aftermath following the Fukushima disaster “detected a large number of thyroid cysts and solid nodules”, ‘including a number of thyroid cancers that would not have been detected without such intensive screening.’

A UNSCEAR report quoted by Vegter, and used apparently as strong evidence of ‘no deterministic effects from radiation exposure’ is a merely a ‘white paper’ to ‘update and consolidate’ some of the earlier findings and conclusions of an assessment of the ‘radiological consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi accident’ and fails to note the deaths of workers.

Instead of affirming the earlier prognosis of no deterministic effects, it rather provides a political platform for a ‘Recapitulation of the earlier 2013 report’, in effect carrying news of  ‘a controversial document stating a radiation-induced increase in thyroid cancer incidence’ amongst the public where the authors reported ‘a 50-fold (95% CI: 25, 90) excess in Fukushima Prefecture.’

UNSCEAR however discount the controversial finding,  as ‘too susceptible to bias’, thereby upholding the validity of the earlier committee findings and paving the way for new data and experimentation. Far from being definitive, the UN committee sponsor merely restates the areas and vectors of investigation requiring more research, alongside abnormalities (or lack thereof) in the gonadal tissues of frogs, collected from sites with elevated levels of radionuclide concentrations and ‘morphological defects in Fir trees’.

LETTER: Andrew Kenny’s Pro-Nuclear Epistle

Dear Ed

Nuclear is ‘safe and economic’, Andrew Kenny, IOL 2 May 2017 refers

Your correspondent, Andrew Kenny, a self-proclaimed expert and ‘nuclear power consultant’ has been delivering paid sermons and editorials on nuclear energy for the past decade. When he is not attending conferences sponsored by the nuclear industry, an industry in which he claims to be qualified, both as an ‘engineer’ and apparently also a ‘physicist’, Kenny deems fit to declaim on human morality and ethics. Both disciplines in which he is eminently unqualified and unfit to deliver an opinion.

One has merely to examine his 2015 epistle on the white supremacist enclave of Orania to see where his political affiliations and moral standards are housed. The piece was considered unfit for publication by the editor of the Citizen, Steven Motale, who in a letter to Kenny, published by Biznews.com, rejected the piece since it “might be interpreted by many as a tacit glorification of segregation and may be highly offensive to victims of apartheid. I have therefore decided not to publish it.”

That the Independent Group continue to publish Kenny’s utterances, the latest purporting to present the “moral arguments’ in favour of nuclear power, is risible and beneath contempt — given the extensive scientific and medical opinion on the subject matter.

John W. Gofman, Ph.D., M.D., one of America’s ‘most prominent critics of nuclear power’, performed extensive research on the hazards of radiation, and has written several books on the ‘relationship between nuclear energy and public health’. After working on the Manhattan Project he became concerned about the affects of low-level ionising radiation, in particular after the death of two of his colleagues working with various radioactive isotopes, which then sparked his investigation 

It is thus Gofman who alerted South Africans to the problem back in the 1980s, in particular the covert nuclear enrichment programme then being conducted by the apartheid state. In an interview published by Mother Earth News, he stated “our data showed the cancer hazard resulting from radiation to be 20 times worse than we, or anybody, had thought: We calculated that, if everyone in the country received the official “permissible” dose of radiation — which at the time was 170 millirems per year — there would be between 16,000 and 32,000 additional cancer deaths a year in our nation.”

In order to accommodate emissions of radioactive isotopes such as strontium-90 (Sr90) and caesium-137 (Cs137) from Koeberg, which currently exceed European safety guidelines, allowable limits had to be raised by the Atomic Energy Board to accommodate the plant. Not to be outdone, the National Nuclear Regulator (formed after the former Council for Nuclear Safety and previous Atomic Energy Corporations of the apartheid state disbanded), proceeded to exempt a range of radioactive nuclides, not normally found in our environment (1) — exempted actions include the release of sr90 and various isotopes of caesium (range Cs131 through Cs138), supposedly resulting in ‘exposure of less than 10 petasieverts (pSv) per annum or less’. 

Exactly how this government sanctioned exposure is measured when it comes to the human body and our health is highly problematic and open to discussion. The regulator appears to operate under the strange assumption that human life-span is only one year, and thus we reboot ourselves on an annual basis, setting the clock back to zero every year. There is thus no measure of the cumulative effect of low-level ionising radiation. Urgent research and baseline data in South Africa is required, and I thus appeal to the public and your readers for support in this regard.

Sr90, a by-product of nuclear fission with a half-life of 28.8 years, substitutes for calcium in bone, preventing expulsion from the body, and represents a serious health problem. So far as Cs137 is concerned,  it is a long-lived high-energy beta emitter with a half-life of 30.17 years (2), one of two principal medium-lived fission products, along with Sr90, which are responsible for most of the radioactivity arriving in our diet from Koeberg.

The contamination has been measured by groups such as Koeberg Alert, appearing in wheat, dairy and shellfish — in an independent 2002 study conducted by Gerry Kuhn “samples of fall-out dust captured continuously over a 16-week period” were measured and the research is in my possession. Follow-up research is urgently required.

Dr Helen Caldicott, an Australian physician and author of books on the dangers of nuclear energy, ‘Nuclear Power is not the Answer’, ‘Nuclear Madness’, ‘The New Nuclear Danger’ and ‘Crisis without End’, examines the current ongoing crisis at Fukushima, the result of a meltdown and subsequent reaction sequence of nuclear materials called breeding. Physicists are unable to provide a proper and adequate explanation for what is occurring as we speak. 

In a recent article Caldicott explains robot photos taken of Fukushima’s Daiichi nuclear reactors “radiation levels have not peaked, but have continued to spill toxic waste into the Pacific Ocean — but it’s only now the damage has been photographed.”

Every day since the accident began, 300 to 400 tons of water has poured into the Pacific where numerous isotopes – including cesium 137, 134, strontium 90, tritium, plutonium, americium and up to 100 more – enter the ocean and bio-concentrate by orders of magnitude at each step of the food chain.”

Yet it is Kenny who appears oblivious to the impact of the Fukushima disaster, an ongoing environmental and human tragedy of enormous magnitude, brashly stating immediately after the accident, that ‘not one life had been lost’ in the incident. The man now has the audacity to state to the public, that: “unfortunately many technological choices are caught up in politics, ideology and morality” and that “nuclear power has the strongest moral case of all energy sources.”

This is exactly the same justification used for the ‘moral murder’ and slaughter of innocent citizens that was made by the former apartheid state, anything but a moral agent. One must therefore thank organisations such as Earthlife Africa and SAFCEI for carrying forward the torch of our common humanity, enshrined alongside environmental rights and our earth rights in the constitution. We must continue to oppose the untenable nuclear deals being tabled, and in particular by opposing the nuclear colonialism sponsored by various states such as Russia, South Korea, France and USA.

Far from supporting a nuclear industry carte blanche, plants such as Koeberg need to be decommissioned and closed down.

Forward to a non-racist, non-sexist, nuclear-free continent.

David Robert Lewis

Committee for the Rights of Mother Nature

Notes:

(1) See Annexure 1, NATIONAL NUCLEAR REGULATOR ACT, 1999 (ACT NO. 47 OF 1999

(2) Cs137 beta-decays to barium-137m (a short-lived nuclear isomer) then to nonradioactive barium-137, and is also a strong emitter of gamma radiation. Cs-137 has a very low rate of neutron capture and cannot be feasibly disposed of, but must be allowed to decay.

LINKS

https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/helen-caldicott-the-fukushima-nuclear-meltdown-continues-unabated,10019

http://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/john-gofman-anti-nuclear-zmaz81mazraw?pageid=6#PageContent6

http://www.biznews.com/undictated/2015/10/30/heres-andrew-kennys-orania-column-the-citizen-doesnt-want-you-to-read/

 
 
Business Report responds:
 
Hi David,
Please note Andrew Kenny is not our correspondent.
You will see that BR carried letters on nuclear today and we did not publish your letter due to lack of space.
We reserve the right to publish letters.
 
Please note at the end I have stated that we run different articles on various forms of energy. We run both pro and anti-nuclear articles in line with the view that we do not take a stance and are independent.
 
Nuclear is a hot potato at best.
In the past we ran a series of articles on problems with renewable energy and got slammed for it.
However, it is very important to have an energy debate. Both for and against.
What is highlighted is that South Africans are very concerned over energy issues. They hate nuclear and it is clear that the nation is against it.
 
Without South African standing up against the nuclear deal and expressing their opinion, would we still be going the nuclear route?
The yin and yang of articles is that in running an unpopular article, you get the overwhelming feedback of how South Africans feel.
 
Regards

Philippa Larkin 

Business Report: Content Editor

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