Thursday, February 21, 2008

Letter Exchange

I won't publish the whole sordid story here, but the essence is that after nuclear-apologist and paid consultant, Patrick Moore, came to NB to spread some questionable advice/propaganda about nuclear power, I wrote a letter to the editor. I basically pointed out that Patrick Moore lacks credibility. At one point I said he does little to reconcile his figure of 60 dead with stats suggesting that the numbers may be in the hundreds of thousands. This was published in all of the 3 major Irving papers and the Irving-owned Kings County Record.

A Dr. Lowe (physicist from Etobicoke, ON) sent a reply to my letter which was published on Feb 19 in the Kings County Record. He (and the letter's headline) claimed Moore was right and Moir was wrong. Given this letter could almost be considered libelous - he's attacking my research credibility - I sent in a reply. We'll see if they publish it, but I include it below, because it has some links to data (sources that are pointed to) that discredit the argument that only 60 people died.

Moir replies (Published in the Kings County Record on February 26)

On Feb. 19, the Kings County Record presented a reply to a letter I wrote questioning one of the controversial statistics presented by pro-nuclear activist, Patrick Moore - that just 60 people died in the Chernobyl accident. At the risk of prolonging the debate, I felt it important that I should be allowed to reply as my credibility as a researcher has been brought to question.

As Dr. Lowe points out, the initial UN report claimed around 60 deaths. However, a 2005 report by the International Atomic Energy Association and the World Health Organization, both of which are UN organizations, increased that number officially to 4,000, and suggested there might be an additional 5,000 estimated deaths. Moreover, as reported in the April 2006 New Scientist, “Zhanat Carr, a radiation scientist with the WHO in Geneva, says the 5,000 deaths were omitted [from the 2005 report] because the report was a ‘political communications tool’.” In 2006, the WHO officially reported that there may be “up to 9,000 excess cancer deaths due to Chernobyl.”

Various groups criticize even this number of 9,000 because the WHO report only considered “Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.” Indeed, significant parts of Europe also suffered from fallout.

Perhaps more convincing is the work of Dr. Richard L. Garwin, Philip D. Reed Senior Fellow for Science and Technology and IBM Fellow Emeritus, who has published more than 500 papers and been granted 45 U.S. patents. He has been involved in the design of nuclear weapons and is a reasoned proponent of the expansion of nuclear power. He certainly cannot be accused of being anti-nuclear power.

In the Letters section of Physics and Society (Jan. 1999) he explains that “even for low-level radiation, deaths due to cancer occur at a rate of … 400 per million person-rem” and with relatively unanimous agreement of an exposure of 600,000 persons, this amounts to early cancer deaths of about 24,000. He repeated this calculation in a speech to the Nuclear Control Institute, Washington DC in 2001.

It is also true that Greenpeace and scientists within Russia place the death toll due to early cancer and other illnesses between 100,000 and 500,000.

In my initial letter, I pointed out that it is difficult to ‘reconcile’ the claims of Patrick Moore with other research. I did not claim that other research is in fact correct as it is very difficult to tabulate death tolls in this situation. However, I still stand by my claim that Patrick Moore’s figure of 60 deaths (as stated in 2008) is difficult to reconcile with other evidence.

I absolutely disagree with Dr. Lowe’s assertion that “Dr. Moore is correct.” Even he claims to accept that there may be an additional 9,000 early cancer deaths. Under the new math, 9,000 is still significantly greater than 60. Indeed, given he is on the pro-nuclear side, one would reasonably have to accept Dr. Garwin’s calculation of 24,000 early cancer deaths as at least a minimum.

I may be an economist, but I am fundamentally a researcher. The data both cited and presented here was found and read in perhaps an hour and a half.

Finally, if I may be so bold, have people thought to question why a scientist in Etobicoke, ON finds it necessary to reply to a letter in the Kings County Record, published in Sussex, NB? While I welcome his attempt at criticism, I find it strange that “experts from away” need to come to New Brunswick’s aid.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In my personal opinion, the whole story with the number of deaths attributable to Chernobyl does not stand any criticism. Such calculations are prone to enormous uncertainty and bias and cannot be used as a tool in pro or con nuclear discussions. There was a paper by Cardis et al. in 2006 making calculations of excess cancers in the whole of Europe and it came up with some tens of thousands as compared to other estimations of several dozens. it is wrong to make such statements and number manipulations, because in the 500 mln people of the European population, every year there is 1.25 mln of death from cancer - from all sorts of its types and due to all sorts of risk factors (controllable and not). Obviously this number fluctuates every year within quite large amplitude if expressed in numbers of deaths. We are talking about some 100K deaths no less. Those predicted 60K in the paper in question will be simply lost in the fluctuation margin. No one can state with a degree of certainty that those 60K deaths were due to Chernobyl. It is simply impossible by the tools currently available to modern science. There is no biomarker or a finger-print to indicate that this or that death was due to Chernobyl radiation or not. We can't tell how many they were, are, and will be.
Furthermore, if you understand statistics a little bit, you should know that the less is the exposure level, the larger sample size you need to have a sufficient statistical power demonstrating the effect. At the level of radiation doses received by European population, which was a fraction of natural background radiation dose, the entire 6 bln of the Earth population is not enough to provide for a sufficient statistical power... so any exercise counting deaths are simply useless and are only used for all sorts of activists for their political games.