Thursday, April 14, 2016

Yes, You Can Be Too Careful

Hundreds of billions of dollars are to be spent 'remediating' U.S. sites even though there is no scientific basis for claiming any health or other benefit. - Theodore Rockwell

In 1988, and earthquake registering 7.9 on the Richter scale devastated Soviet Armenia, leaving more than 25,000 people dead. Four years earlier, in far more densely populated Mexico City, an 8.1 earthquake (with a 7.8 aftershock thirty-six hours later) killed 9,000 people.

Seven years after the Armenian quake, they were still trying to get electrical power to the cities for more than two hours per day; Mexican Power and Light restored power to its 3,200,000 customers in seventy-two hours.

While Mexico isn't exactly the most advanced country in our hemisphere, compared with the communist paradise of Armenia it is Beulahland. Its buildings were built to stronger, more earthquake-resistant standards; when people were trapped in collapsed buildings, there were tools to get them out, and power to run the tools. There were hospitals for the wounded, and sanitary conditions prevailed for the survivors. In short, Mexico had a superior infrastructure and was richer than Armenia. Its wealth saved the lives of thousands of people who would have otherwise died.

There have been many attempts to determine a reasonable estimate for the value of a human life in the United States. One of these I can remember set the figure at $20 million, contending that for every $20 million taken out of the economy, the lowered standard of living for all would cause the premature death of one person. [This sounds a lot like collective dose to me; except that we can - on occasions like Armenia - count the dead.]

While I can't vouch for this particular figure, the Armenian-Mexican situation shows clearly that there is a relationship of this nature. And it may be logically inferred from this that government, by wasting or compelling others to waste money, has a detrimental effect on the well-being of its citizens. [In 1980, Congress commissioned the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program, which was expected to show that the utilities were responsible for acid rain. It found, to the amazement of the scientists involved, that this was not true. But Congress, which had paid $500 million for the study, ignored it and mandated scores of billions of dollars in unnecessary "scrubbers" to remove an insignificant fraction of power-plant emissions. At $20 million per life, politicians killed hundreds with this single vote.]

Theodore Rockwell, in an article "What's wrong with being cautious?" [from Nuclear News, June 1997. A large part of this chapter is blatantly taken from this excellent article.] suggests five different kinds of harm that originate in the Linear No-Threshold hypothesis:

  • Billions of dollars wasted
  • Ridiculous regulations imposed that degrade the credibility of science and government
  • Destructive fear generated
  • Detrimental health effects created
  • Environmental degradation accelerated. (This final item refers to the incredible amount of ash and sludge - equal to about 100 truckloads per day - produced by a coal-fired 1,000 megawatt power plant, compared with less than a Volkswagen full per year of actual high-level wastes from an equal-sized nuclear plant.)

Rockwell gives an example of a forklift driver who moved a small spent fuel cask from the fuel-storage pool to another location. As the cask had not been completely drained prior to being moved, some water was dribbled onto the blacktop along the way. But since storage pool water is defined as a hazardous contaminant - by the regulators, not plant employees who had earlier used the pool for unauthorized midnight swims - it was deemed necessary to dig up the entire path of the forklift, some two feet wide by one-half mile long. It doesn't stop here.

Because the paving contractor used thorium-rich slag from a local phosphate plant as aggregate in the new pavement, it was more radioactive than the material that had been dug up - which was marked with the ominous radiation symbol and hauled away for expensive, long-term burial. Fortunately, it was only taxpayers' money.