“I missed fucking Asbestos Dust?” Rufus said. He was amazed. The rest of us about died.
For those just whooshed, Asbestos Dust is the nom-de-Net of a writer from Texas or Arkansas or maybe Alaska. I met him at a party in Pennsylvania to which Rufus was invited but did not attend.
Word choice makes a difference. Even word position makes a difference. “I fucking missed Asbestos Dust?” has a very different meaning than what Rufus actually said.
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be,” Mark Twain wrote. Regular readers will realize that I use little profanity in real life and even less in my writings. I will not use any of the other seven dirty words here today; younger readers need not tune to a different channel.
On the other hand, I will take issue with how the anti-science crowd uses its words.
NPR’s Science Friday focused on new nuclear technologies in the episode broadcast March 5, 2010 . Guests included Earth Policy Institute founder Lester Brown, Scott Burnell, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission public affairs officer, John Deal, CEO of Hyperion Power Generation, and Professor Richard Lester who heads the Nuclear Science and Engineering Department at MIT.
“What is the future of nuclear power,” Mr. Brown asked himself. “It’s cost cost cost.”
Waste could kill nuclear power, he said. “Imagine if the billion dollar price tag [the per plant cost of the Yucca Mountain project] had been on the table when they were being considered, most of them would never have gotten off the ground.”
A billion dollar “extra” cost per plant sounds excessive, doesn’t it? It is exceptionally expensive if all you know is that one partial factoid.
“The volume of waste produced is very, very small,” Professor Lester said. A nuclear plant produces a couple of ounces of waste per person per year; a coal plant produces about 10 tons of waste per person per year. “We can afford to spend a lot of money on safely storing this material. The impact on the cost of nuclear electricity is actually very small.”
“Our cost … is just under 10 cents per KW-hour,” Mr. Deal said later. That includes the waste.
“What we have in this country, and that’s not going to help with the image of nuclear power, is the discovery that there are now 27 older plants with underground pipes that are leaking tritium, and tritium is a carcinogen,” Mr. Brown said. “In Vermont, as I recall, with the most recent instance occurring at Vermont Yankee.”
Tritium leaks sound pretty dangerous, don’t they? They are excruciatingly dangerous if all you know is one partial factoid.
The hydrogen isotope tritium is a by-product of modern nuclear reactor operations. It combines easily with oxygen to form “tritiated water” which can be ingested by drinking or eating organic foods. It is a radiation hazard when inhaled, ingested via food, water, or absorbed through the skin but, since tritium is not much of a beta emitter, it is not dangerous when simply nearby. It has a 7 to 14 day half life in the human body. That means a single-incident ingestion is not usually dangerous and it precludes accumulating tritium from the environment in your body long-term.
“There have been 27 instances … [but] they are not all ongoing,” Mr. Burnell said. “In the case of Vermont Yankee … the contamination is not reaching any drinking water sources; it’s not reaching the nearby Connecticut River. So it is not presenting any public health issue and we, at the NRC, are closely watching how Vermont Yankee is evaluating the situation to discover where the leak is coming from. We will make sure that they do identify it properly, that they fix it properly, and that in every instance they are doing what is necessary to operate the plant safely and in accordance with our regulations.”
“I’m not a geologist or an engineer,” Mr. Brown said as he evaluated the complex dance of creating and running a nuclear power plant. Ya think?
Word choice — what we actually say — makes a difference in what listeners understand. Mr. Brown certainly knows that. This is a real example of choosing words to propagandize rather than choosing to disclose the facts.
So, did we fucking miss A.D. or did we miss fucking him?
“It’s been too long since I had a taste of the Dust,” Rufus said.
There is no hope.