Comments: George Monbiot, Holocaust Denier

I'm sorry, but they've both posted outliers. The highest estimate I've seen so far is 200,000 people dead from related cancers to Chernobyl. The lowest, ~64. The WHO's estimate at present is roughly 4,000. Where Helen gets the "Up to a million" is beyond me - but I know where George got the 43: it was an early report of the the number of people that died directly from the event (that number is now known to be 57).

I hate to break this to you: Caldicott is an alarmist with little science backing up her wild claims, and Monbiot has only recently started to look at real science on the subject. Neither are good sources for the biological effects of radiation on humans.

Posted by Bryan Elliott at April 3, 2011 01:38 PM

Ok Aaron. We get it. Energy from nuclear power has its drawbacks and the authorities are less than forthcoming about the risks and hazards and incidents at times. I'm sure you're going to follow this series of articles about nuclear accidents with a whole slew of damning reports on the drawbacks of our other energy sources.

Wikipedia says 53 deaths from Chernobyl, maybe they are "holocaust" deniers too? How about calming down and getting back to politics or maybe reporting the number of environmental issues deaths that coal-fired stations are causing year in, year out due to mining and air pollution and climate change.

A quick net search brings up a host of issues relating to every energy source - soil and water pollution from the by-products of the solar tech industry, the damage to the environment and fauna from huge wind turbines, air pollution from burning petrochemicals and fossil fuels. So your point is what exactly in all this? I think the purpose of blogs like this is to balance the double-speak spewing from the mainstream media. The problem with this series of articles is that you sound awfully like most of the mainstream media here. Jesus, who doesn't hate nuclear power? Tell us something new already.

And I thought Monbiot was on "our" side? You know, he preaches the whole climate change thing, renewable energies and all that ... but look, oh no, he's not on message about nucular power. So let's demonize him.

I say we should invest in more, not less, nuclear power and try to make it safer and learn how to control it, have more than adequate safeguards, learn how to reprocess waste material. Has to be better than burning fossil fuels until solar tech becomes ready. Pandora's box is open, too late now. I know you're not even going to listen to a word of what I'm saying because you've got nucular=evil religion but I'd just like to say that not everyone who reads this blog (which I usually adore by the way) cares as much about this issue as you do or thinks it is such a grave issue. I'm not trying to make enemies, I mean this in all respect.

Yours sincerely, etc

Posted by Not Errol Flynn at April 3, 2011 02:29 PM

Has to be better than burning fossil fuels until solar tech becomes ready.

No, it doesn't "have to be". The present biosphere is already screwed no matter what. But how long earth takes to recover from the industrial age -- whether it's centuries, or closer to a million years -- could depend sharply on how much we do nuclear; way out of proportion to how much nuclear affects us in the here and now.

But, I also agree that this post is rather sketchy.

Posted by Cloud at April 3, 2011 03:40 PM

this all feels like a sneezing fit. we need a global plan or at least a sketch of penciled scenarios for getting rid of coal while using oil & gas sparingly. such a plan would apply existing nuclear technology as an energy security stopgap, where it makes sense. instead we're throwing the pencils at each other.

Posted by hapa at April 3, 2011 03:49 PM

In relation to the above post by Aaron (BTW, Aaron, always enjoy your posts) I read an essay ( by Monbiot recently which was a little puzzling.

Summary: terrible things haven't (yet) happened with the Japan nuclear incident. Therefore I now support nuclear power.

I don't think the fact that an accident hasn't happened is a very good reason for supporting this incredibly dangerous technology. Or am I missing something?

I've read Monbiot off and on for years, and my impression is that he is a good guy, and smart and fearless. But I don't get this.

Posted by Faheem at April 3, 2011 04:13 PM

Monbiot seems okay to me most of the time when I happen upon something he has written (apart from the standard stupid journalist stuff about how conspiracies are crazy), but I wouldn't say Monbiot is always right or "fearless." Maybe my ignorance is showing because right now I don't have time to listen to the broadcast, but I don't follow from the post how what he said is tantamount to Holocause denial. Maybe I'd see a parallel if the media as a whole denied the holocaust and he was going along with that, but . . .

Posted by N E at April 3, 2011 05:18 PM

It's the difference between a million people and 43, NE.....

Posted by Aaron Datesman at April 3, 2011 05:34 PM

Wait, what? Nuts to that Errol Flynn impostor guy. Aaron, keep posting this kind of stuff. It's super-topical, and it is an important debate that needs to be had on the subject of nuclear energy, its risks and benefits, climate change, and so on. In fact, what the fuck, Errol Flynn impostor? This is exactly what A Tiny Revolution SHOULD be talking about right now. (Also Libya, Bahrain, Ivory Coast, etc., but there's plenty of space for all of it).

Also, hapa:

such a plan would apply existing nuclear technology as an energy security stopgap, where it makes sense.

Given how expensive it is to construct new nuclear plants, how dangerous and expensive it is to safely dispose of the spent fuel, how tightly connected it is to weapons proliferation (yes, I'm aware of thorium, but it doesn't seem to have much political traction), and how we're inevitably going to have to step away from it in fifty to a hundred years time, it seems like it is a very BAD stopgap, and we should instead be doing the hard work of building reasonable alternatives now, instead of taking the expensive, dangerous, unwieldy, and maybe insufficient way out.

Posted by saurabh at April 3, 2011 06:33 PM

Strong agree, saurabh. Aaron's posts are interesting, substantive, timely, and AFAIK, unique. Aaron, you oughta write a book.

BTW, just watched the documentary "The Battle for Chernobyl," which puts the technology in the proper context. IMHO, simply not worth the risk, and certainly not before we push negawatts, then renewables, as far as they will go.

Posted by Mike of Angle at April 3, 2011 07:30 PM

Who unleashed the pro nuclear industry sock puppets in your comment section?

Posted by Michael Benton at April 3, 2011 07:49 PM

Faheem, I share your good opinion of Monbiot, and on the basis of what I've read of him in the past I know his embrace of nuclear isn't a matter of preference but of perceived necessity. I'd say the key part of the article you mentioned is this:

But the energy source to which most economies will revert if they shut down their nuclear plants is not wood, water, wind or sun, but fossil fuel. On every measure (climate change, mining impact, local pollution, industrial injury and death, even radioactive discharges) coal is 100 times worse than nuclear power. Thanks to the expansion of shale gas production, the impacts of natural gas are catching up fast.

Yes, I still loathe the liars who run the nuclear industry. Yes, I would prefer to see the entire sector shut down, if there were harmless alternatives. But there are no ideal solutions.

That's it. Monbiot has done a huge amount of research on ways we might be able to avert climate disaster (anyone who either wants examples or needs something to help them fall asleep can read Heat), and while he's a staunch environmentalist, his perception that global warming dwarfs nearly every other problem facing humanity (which I share) means he's also a pragmatist. If someone says you can choose either to lose a thumb or a big toe you're probably going to pick the latter, but that doesn't mean you'll be happy about it.

I think he makes a worthwhile point about Fukushima, actually, though as you say we'll have to wait and see what the long-term effects are.

Posted by John Caruso at April 3, 2011 09:37 PM

Wow, so the truth is between 43 and 1,000,000? That's helpful. If we split the difference and pick 500,021 then the alarmists win. But it doesn't seem right to say, oh someone is saying one million, so I'll update my 43 to 45.

Then what to do? I appreciate Aaron's herculean efforts and I agree with MoA that he should write a book. This is a hugely important issue and one would expect a consensus to emerge, notwithstanding the noxious propaganda from our corporate nuke overlords. Despite the best efforts of Philip Morris we've known for a long time that tobacco kills. So how can two seemingly honest people argue on Democracy Now whether the number is one million or 43? Bewildering.

Posted by bobs at April 3, 2011 10:16 PM

"So how can two seemingly honest people argue on Democracy Now whether the number is one million or 43?"

Perhaps the problem is in the language used. Perhaps the "43" refers to those who died from immediate (prompt) effects (acute radiation poisoning) and the "million" refers to (delayed) cancer deaths. Perhaps to be confused with prompt and delayed neutrons.

"and one would expect a consensus to emerge"

How long did it take for a consensus to emerge that the Earth is, in fact, NOT flat?

How long for a consensus that the Earth is NOT the center of the universe?

How long have we got?

@ Aaron
If you write a book, good for you. But it would do more good posted here - on the innernet - where we can all read it.

"Tell us something new already."
That the air was blue near Zions View was certainly new to me. That it may not have been particulates (smoke, if you will) was new to me. That the air itself may have been emitting photons in the blue wavelengths - that wasn't old for me.

Was it really old hat to you?

Posted by Some guy on the innernet at April 3, 2011 11:27 PM

I want to buy Aaron's future book and put it right next to Mike's book so they can cross index.

Posted by N E at April 4, 2011 01:52 AM

// Where Helen gets the "Up to a million" is beyond me //

Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment is a translation of a 2007 Russian publication by Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko. It was published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009 in their Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences series.[1]

There is significant disagreement on the degree of long-term adverse impacts of the Chernobyl disaster, despite decades of environmental and heath effects research.[2][3] The International Atomic Energy Agency's 2005 estimate of about 4,000 Chernobyl deaths contrasts with this review of 5,000 mainly Slavic-language scientific papers the IAEA overlooked. It found deaths approaching a million through 2004, nearly 170,000 of them in North America.[4]

Posted by dz alexander at April 4, 2011 02:34 AM


i don't really know if there will be more fission-generated electricity running around the world's wires 20 years from now. to some people though central generation is an important symbol and nuclear power carries that meaning more potently than either a wind farm or a gas-fired plant can.

transcontinental distributed energy grids have a lot to prove if they're going to give 'reactionary statists' that kind of boner.

Posted by hapa at April 4, 2011 02:38 AM

Don't bog down discussing studies and history. Instead discuss the future you want in your community--
--who wants a nuclear plant in their community?
--who wants a coal plant in their community?
--who isn't worried about fracking for more oil and gas destroying our water?
--but who is ready to turn off their TV and computer and lights and heat and A/C season is coming, are you ready to leave it off?
--you ready to bike or walk to work?

So, we need the alternatives, right? And we need them solar ready, can we handle wind?

I say yes, but we have to stop waiting--
--for it to be perfect (people used furnaces for decades before the first 90% efficient ones were created), and
--for the government and energy companies to do it for us.

Or...we can wait...and argue about where to put the nuke plant...and whether it will kill our kids when or when the existing 37 years of nuke waste stored on most nuke sites finally leaks. Your call sheeple.

Posted by The Other Mike at April 4, 2011 11:48 AM

I'm very thankful for that ride you took with your Ukrainian friends. Our paths unwind just as they should, it seems.

Posted by Amandasaurus at April 4, 2011 01:44 PM

>> Don't bog down discussing studies and history.

Good point. Much better to make decisions based on crass ignorance.

>> stop waiting for the government and energy companies to do it for us.

Right on! Everybody should build their own solar-powered car and maglev trains! Government and corporations are for losers.

Posted by bobs at April 4, 2011 02:54 PM
transcontinental distributed energy grids have a lot to prove if they're going to give 'reactionary statists' that kind of boner.

The great part about non-centralized power generation is you don't have to give reactionary statists a boner, which is something I never want to do. To build a 100 megawatt coal plant requires you to deal heavily with the federal government; for 100,000 people to install kilowatt solar generators probably involves way less.

Posted by saurabh at April 4, 2011 03:22 PM


I'm not saying government and corporations CAN'T do it...all I'm saying is based on what has happened to date they WON'T do it.

Why won't they do it? The short answer is that people haven't demanded it or proven they are a market for it. But I'm open to your better explanation.

In the meantime, somehow, people have no problem with nuke and more coal it seems...and to spend our time counting articles of competing studies of Chernobyl bodycount seems more interesting?

Posted by The Other Mike at April 4, 2011 05:37 PM

I have read several of your nuclear postings, and find them informative, as very under-reported history (such is all history, especially american IMHO).

Do not take my comments the wrong way, I understand the need to post information to inform people. However I yearn for more information, such as possible solutions and alternatives to explore.

Also, I cannot see how labeling Monbiot as a holocaust denier (which at best is misleading) helps the situation. Even a 'tiny revolution' needs as much honesty as possible as a foundation.

Posted by The Other Mike at April 4, 2011 05:47 PM


"The great part about non-centralized power generation is you don't have to give reactionary statists a boner"

i think if you're talking about rewiring a rich country you do have to dip into the federal credit pool (cuz it's magic) which means you have to get past some very soviet-brutalist gatekeepers who will demand respect for their gods. also nukes are a great way to get someone else to buy you your electricity.

in other countries there are unavoidable ambitions, as well as nervous relationships that might not feel as comfortable as 'yurp' or us naftans depending on neighbors for baseload 24/7. it's fun.

"which is something I never want to do."

it was seriously unfair to put you on the spot like that in public i apologize.

Posted by hapa at April 4, 2011 08:43 PM

Given that the WHO is subordinate to the IAEA why should we believe their statistics?

According to dissenting views, the health effects officially acknowledged may be wrong by an order of magnitude.

Environ Health Perspect. 2007 May; 115(5): A238–A239

The Chernobyl Nuclear Catastrophe: Unacknowledged Health Detriment
Rudi H. Nussbaum
Department of Physics and Environmental Sciences, Portland State University, Portland

Posted by anonymous at April 4, 2011 09:55 PM

My default opinion is closer to Caldicott's than to Monbiot's, but I thought he came off way better in the exchange. He seemed to mention more supporting documentation, and he didn't lose his cool, interrupt, etc. He managed to make her sound like a wacky conspiracy theorist.

My opinion remains the same as before, but reflecting on it I have to admit it's the pure weight of accumulated prejudice. I don't feel like I have the the energy reserves (or, quite possibly, the intelligence) to learn the literature and the science and find out who's misrepresenting what.

"No to nuclear! Why? Well, isn't it obvious?!"

Posted by Save the Oocytes at April 8, 2011 03:39 PM