How to be an Errorist

A satirical piece recently published in The New Yorker has caught the eye of some in the nuclear energy world because, while meant to be humorous, it contains a fair amount of truth for those of us trying to set the record straight regarding nuclear energy.

The piece is titled “Scientists: Earth Endangered by New Strain of Fact-Resistant Humans.”

The research, conducted by the University of Minnesota, identifies a virulent strain of humans who are virtually immune to any form of verifiable knowledge, leaving scientists at a loss as to how to combat them.

While the story is made-up, many of these fact-resistant folks seem to be radically opposed to nuclear energy. This normally wouldn’t be of great concern, anyone can believe what they want. But when that ignorance (deception?) is given legitimacy through public policy discussions, then it can create a problem for society as a whole (impeding the development of new nuclear energy resources to combat climate change comes to mind).

Last week, the regional energy newsletter Clearing Up published a bylined news brief on a meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The Council had been asked by the anti-nuclear energy group Physicians for Social Responsibility to consider the premature loss of Columbia Generating Station as a Northwest power resource in the region’s 7th Power Plan.

As Clearing Up wrote:

“Would it not be reasonable to consider the anticipated loss of the CGS due to a decision to close the reactor because of, for example, a large known repair expense?” (the) director of PSR’s Joint Task Force on Nuclear Power, asked in the letter.

What is the “large known repair expense” PSR speaks of at Columbia? According to the letter dated May 22, 2015 to Council members, it is “the estimated $150 million cost of replacing the steam generators which are known to be at the end of their expected operating lives…” [emphasis added]

Primary containment at Columbia, a boiling water reactor.

Primary containment at Columbia, a boiling water reactor.

Those of you familiar with Columbia Generating Station know that it is a boiling water reactor, and as such, does not use steam generators. Pressurized water reactors do. But we are not that. Yet, PSR even has a definitive price for this non-existent equipment “at the end of their expected operating lives…”

The Council ultimately rejected the request.

A recent petition to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission put forward by PSR and another anti-nuclear energy group, Heart of America Northwest, about an indication (term used for a scratch, crack or welt) on a jet pump riser (blogged about here and here) spawned more news coverage. To increase the potential news value, the petition stated:

“…this known crack on the RS-9 riser… may cause water to drain more rapidly from the reactor vessel in a loss of coolant accident…”

This is in error – or at the very least a blatant misuse of the word “may.” The fact is the jet pump riser is not a direct flow path out of the reactor vessel and would be inconsequential in a loss of coolant accident – in Columbia’s design. In older BWR designs, the jet pumps serve a function to inject water into the core during a loss of coolant accident.

Both PSR and HOANW also seem to be unaware that the Boiling Water Reactor Vessel Internals Project variance Energy Northwest notified the NRC about had to do with indication growth rates – not repairs. From the petition:

“The issue does not merit allowing a variance to the ordinary prescription in the BWRVIP program (sic) that would require a nuclear plant operator to repair a crack when it has reached this length,” the petition said.

There is no directive in the program that mandates repair of “a crack” that is an inch and a quarter in length. Or any cracks, for that matter.

We just learned that two weeks ago, the NRC denied the PSR/HOANW petition request for immediate action in an email, writing:

On May 26, 2015, your request for immediate action was reviewed by members of the Petition Review Board (PRB), which includes staff from the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR), Region IV, and the NRC resident inspectors at CGS. After thorough review and discussion, the PRB determined that there were no immediate safety significant concerns which would adversely impact the public’s health and safety; therefore, the PRB denied your request for immediate action.

Physicians for Social Responsibility apparently did not alert the media to this fact, as they did when filing the petition.

There’s a lot of it about

Another anti-nuclear activist also attracted the attention of Northwest media despite views that lack a basis in reality.

In March, in an opinion piece advocating an end to all discussions about the benefits of nuclear energy (so much for free speech), she writes:

“I live downstream from a nuclear power plant called the Columbia Generating Station which if an earthquake occurs or a dam breaks or the grid goes down for any reason at all, or a worker makes a mistake I would be killed along with most in N. America. Killed by radiation.”

Most in North America. Killed by radiation. Seriously? There are many resources on radiation available, as well as nuclear plant safety – any one of which would dispel the notion put forward above (dispel it many times over). The Health Physics Society offers science-based information on radiation and radiation safety.

Early last year we had to correct a report issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists that claimed Columbia had three “near misses” in 2013. We didn’t. UCS portrays itself as a more technical/science-based organization, perhaps meant to raise themselves above the other anti-nuclear energy activist organizations – but even that thin veil is cast aside when there is an opportunity to unfairly bash nuclear energy facilities. (News coverage ensued, of course).

This blog has documented other cases of misinformation put forward at the behest of Physicians for Social Responsibility. And here.

Luckily, we now have a name for folks such as these: Errorists (hat tip Buzzfeed). An Errorist is “someone who repeatedly makes mistakes or is always wrong.”

(Courtesy Buzzfeed)

(Courtesy Buzzfeed)

Which is why this headline caught our eye: Are journalists critical enough when covering nuclear energy? The story, of course, is not about taking a keener look at anti-nuclear activists and their false claims, but the nuclear energy industry! That has never seemed an issue, especially when the bar is set so low from the examples outlined above.

We’re used to operating under a critical eye (governing boards, regulators, the media). It would be interesting to see if those in the anti-nuclear energy game could stand-up to the same scrutiny. At the very least, it may prevent wasted time and effort considering imaginary losses of imaginary equipment.

Perhaps someday we will find out.

(Posted by John Dobken)

2 thoughts on “How to be an Errorist

  1. Pingback: How to be an Errorist: if anti-nuclear content was factually true it wouldn’t be anti-nuclear | SeekerBlog

  2. Pingback: 266th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers | Hiroshima Syndrome

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