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Friday, November 24, 2017

Peer Review of Wendover Production's "The Nuclear Waste Problem" Youtube Video

Above images from Nuclear Energy Waste--Making Mountains Out of Mole Hills

The YouTube video, The Nuclear Waste Problem was published on November 21, and went viral with about half a million hits in a few days. I learned of its existence when it was presented to me as irrefutable evidence for why nuclear can't be part of the climate change solution.

Technically, it's quite well done. The graphics and music are appealing. The transcript is about two and a half pages long, single spaced. Unfortunately, the narrative found in that transcript is remarkably inaccurate. If the graphics and music are lipstick, the narrative would be the pig.

The author, Sam (last name couldn't be found which may be part of a marketing shtick) hoovered up a collection of old, dog-eared, anti-nuclear talking points from the internet echo chamber to weave this narrative.

Nobody can predict when a video will go viral or why it did so. Its technical quality combined with the following introduction likely elicited an aura of legitimacy:
This video was made possible by Brilliant. Learn to think like a scientist for 20% off by being one of the first 500 people to sign up at the link in the description.
I have news for Sam (whoever he is). This video is not science. It ends with:
If you want to learn more about clean energy or anything else, you should try Brilliant. They have a fantastic course on solar energy complete with approachable explanations, straightforward graphics, and thought-provoking puzzles. I’ve really been enjoying Brilliant because their courses do a great job of providing an overview of complex topics in a way that anyone can understand. As a Wendover Productions viewer who enjoys learning or is serious about science, Brilliant’s interactive puzzles will help you explore all kinds of interesting stuff. If you want to check them out, head over to The first 500 who do and sign up will receive 20% off. I absolutely suggest that you give Brilliant a try because it’s truly a great website and doing so helps make Wendover Productions possible.
Two-thirds of the words in the front of the transcript (parroting anti-nuclear arguments scrounged off the internet) are used to warm you up for the author's final conclusion, which is explained in the last third of the words  (also scrounged off the internet). The conclusion in a nutshell? It isn't possible to store nuclear waste long term because after the fall of civilization curious primitive cultures of the future will always manage to find it and gain access. Part of his problem is that he thinks the access tunnels will be marked with a sign and filled with clay. In reality, the entrance will be hidden and the access tunnel will be filled with concrete and stone, miles of it.

Then what? Well, my guess, if it's still hot enough to cause radiation burns, they will quickly figure out, like we have always done with poisonous plants and animals, that it's bad medicine and rebury it. If not, there may be an increase in some cancers in old age for some. Otzi the five thousand year old ice man mummy had high levels of arsenic in his tissues from copper mining, and his lungs looked like those of a chain smoker thanks to campfires. People have balanced the advantages of things like fire and copper with the downsides for millennia. But this is all academic. A primitive culture would be incapable of getting to it if they could find an entrance, assuming it won't be used as nuclear fuel in breeder reactors.

This video isn't trying to save the world from climate change. It reads more like a spam comment writ large trying to get you to click on some sponsor's link. 

 Below is the description found under the video:

In summary we have the following words to prime viewers:
  • Smart
  • Brilliant
  • Scientist
  • Real Engineering
  • Education
We're all susceptible to marketing. It has been hypothesized that our large brain size may, in part, be the result of an arms race between deception and deception detection. Being convinced to buy a brand of car is one thing. Being convinced with a false narrative that nuclear energy should not be part of the climate change solution because of its waste is another thing altogether.

When I visited the Wendover website I found the following description:
Wendover Productions is all about explaining how our world works. From travel, to economics, to geography, to marketing and more, every video will leave you with a little better understanding of our world. New videos go out every other Tuesday.
In this case, their video left us with a misunderstanding of how our world works. Separating the wheat from all of the chaff found on the internet on a topic this complex and then making a video about it would take a lot longer than two weeks, which may explain why the film is mostly chaff. One advantage of using the printed word instead of video is that you can link to sources, as I do here.

Let me give you some examples:
But that doesn’t necessarily mean nuclear is the long-term solution for the world because nuclear material is perhaps the most poisonous substance on earth.
Not sure what he means by nuclear material, not sure he does. Below is a quote by Bill Nye from Parsing Bill Nye's Anti-Nuclear Energy Keynote Speech where he goes all old-school, pulling a classic anti-nuclear terror tactic out of his way-back machine:
... if you breath just a few micro-grams, breath a few micro-grams of Plutonium, it will kill you. Like arsenic, it will replace the phosphorous in your DNA. So it really is dangerous stuff.
From Wikipedia:
Several populations of people who have been exposed to Plutonium dust (e.g. people living down-wind of Nevada test sites, Nagasaki survivors, nuclear facility workers, and "terminally ill" patients injected with Pu in 1945–46 to study Pu metabolism) have been carefully followed and analyzed. These studies generally do not show especially high Plutonium toxicity or Plutonium-induced cancer results, such as Albert Stevens who survived into old age after being injected with Plutonium. "There were about 25 workers from Los Alamos National Laboratory who inhaled a considerable amount of Plutonium dust during 1940s; according to the hot-particle theory, each of them has a 99.5% chance of being dead from lung cancer by now, but there has not been a single lung cancer among them."

 Plutonium has a metallic taste.
From the WNA:
Comparisons between toxic substances are not straightforward. The effect of plutonium inhalation would be to increase the probability of a cancer developing in several years time, whilst most other strong toxins lead to more immediate death. Best comparisons indicate that, gram for gram, toxins such as ricin, some snake venoms, cyanide, and even caffeine are significantly more toxic than plutonium.
I was surprised how toxic caffeine is at high doses. Google it.
If the power fails and the backup generators fail, the pumps and cooling systems stop working so the water heats up and can boil off. The water is what blocks the radiation so, without water, the radiation just goes right out into the environment. In fact, exactly that happened at Fukushima.
In fact, the water didn't boil and no radiations was released from the cooling pools at Fukushima.
Finland is building just that [a long term waste repository] ...It doesn’t have earthquakes.
Finland has earthquakes.
...for the millions of years that the most toxic nuclear waste will continue to emit radiation ...
The spent fuel will be no more radioactive than the originally mined ore it came from in 1,000-10,000 years, not millions.
The Fukushima disaster, meanwhile, having taken place is a much more populated and developed area, is estimated to set Japan back over $500 billion dollars ...
The direct costs of the Fukushima melt downs will be around $15 billion to clean up over the next two decades and over $60 billion in refugee compensation. Other costs typically blamed on Fukushima include the imported fossil fuels replacing the nuclear power stations that were unnecessarily closed all across Japan by antinuclear fear-mongering. But those costs are on the shoulders of antinuclear groups, not Fukushima.

No point in leaving a comment under the video. There are over 4,000 of some of the dumbest remarks you'll find anywhere. YouTube comments are notoriously terrible. If anyone is interested in a second post that parses the video in detail, let me know in the comments.


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