Shock Horror Probe

Perhaps I expect too much of modern day journalism.

Take the following two articles:

The first concerns recent data on global warming ( HERE)

It is not the skeptical stance of the article that disturbs me, it is more the lack of accessibility to the released [quote] without fanfare [unquote] data -purportedly from the Met office.

I have looked for the referred to Met office document without success. Does it exist?

 All it would have taken would have been a link or reference in the above article. Is that too much to ask?

I could Google and Bing and whatever and maybe (if it exists - which I expect it does) I would find it.

But the article without a valid reference is diminished.

To be fair, it also diminishes the Met Office by them not having ready access to what they must know is likely to be controversial data. Are they hiding it? Or does it not exist? Who knows?

If you know - tell me. It would be nice to know, so I can make my own judgement.

The second is this article concerning Peer to Peer lending (HERE)

Again I admit I am quite a fan of peer to peer lending but I still look to responsible journalism for proper information on this growing sector of the financial system.

The article referred to a small increase in repayment default at Zopa (still less than that accepted at the main banks) and also a failed company that operated on the margins and outside of the voluntary regulation self imposed by most responsible peer to peer companies.

Yet these two unrelated aspects are used to taint the reputation of the three main companies trading in this field, namely Zopa, Funding Circle and Ratesetter.

Perhaps if the article had concentrated on the need for formal FSA regulation (as demanded by Zopa, FC and RateSetter) then it would have had a purpose.

As it was it simply indulged in an orgy of half truths and innuendo.

Journalism fails us when the sources are not transparent. It particularly fails us when journalists fail to let the truth get in the way of a good story.

DIY Foreign Aid on a Budget

The great thing about DIY is that it is cheap and effective.

That applies to DIY foreign aid just as much as it does to building that book shelf the wife has been moaning about for the last year.

You can get somebody else to do it, but then you know it is going to cost alot more and probably be done to a lower standard as well.

If you really want to get ripped off just get a government department to do the job. Not only will you pay through the nose, you will also get crap service. That is why much of the seven billion we spend in aid every year simply goes down the toilet.

Not only does our governmental aid fail to reach the deserving poor, it is often used to ensure they remain downtrodden.

Have a read of this Daily Mail article (HERE). AHa! I hear you say, but that is the Daily Mail, they would say that wouldn't they?

Well, how about this Zambian Economist (HERE) Incidentally she created quite a stir with her book titled Dead Aid (Amazon HERE)

So what can you do?

Personally, I have followed the advice given by the above Zambian economist (DAMBISA MOYO) and have loaned out (not given) a small amount of cash to honest hardworking folk all over the world through an organisation called Kiva (HERE)

It may be only a lousy $150 in total but I suspect it does more good than a considerably bigger sum doled out by the foreign office.

Not only that it is also relatively safe.

On Kiva you can deal yourself in with $25 (circa £18). That and you can also get your money back if necessary. This is Billothewisps Kiva page (HERE)

At least have a look at Kiva. You can make a difference as an individual by giving a hand up not a hand out. Even though you end up doing the bloody Foreign Office's job for them.

Keeping the lights on with Nuclear

You may have noticed that I am an unashamed supporter of nuclear power generation.

I do however, believe nuclear materials needs to be treated with respect. But that is true of 100's of other materials we also need for our daily needs. We need to keep things in proportion.

Nuclear energy has the potential to transform power generation around the world. It is the only viable generation source that can displace coal and even gas. It is safe and secure and remarkably resilient to even massively catastrophic events - like the recent Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami (including the clapped out 50 year Fukishima plant).

Compare Fukishima to the Banquao disaster, (Wikipedia page here) where a hydroelectric plant failed in China in 1975 resulting in at least 200,000 deaths. Nobody believes we should shut down our hydroelectric plants even after the catastrophe at Banquao. Neither should we shut down our nuclear plants because of the failure of one 50 year old, obsolete plant under ultra extreme conditions.

Particularly we should shun the insane German decision to shut down nuclear and build polluting coal plant to replace it.

But what about the risks of Nuclear? If it is so safe why did they evacuate Fukishima? Why was Three Mile island treated so seriously although nobody died?

Once, a long time ago in I heard a analogy regarding nuclear safety and the extreme precautions that are taken.

The analogy revolves around the question: "Why, if nuclear power was so safe, do we have to take so many precautions?"

Here is the analogy:

A man had two children. His children were frightened of the dark. The children believed there were ghosts and goulies waiting in the dark. Unfathomable horrors waiting for them.

Consequently, to allay their fears, their father left on the hall light. He knew there were no ghosts. But he also knew that without the light, his children would be frightened.

He took the precaution.

Much of the  rigorous safety precautions surrounding nuclear and the extreme low dosimetry involved are the equivalent of putting the hall light on.

The irony of the fathers compassionate decision was that by lighting up the hall he would reinforce the fears of his children that there actually were ghosts and ghoulies waiting in the dark.

After all why would he put the light on unless there really were bad things waiting in the dark?

Why should they believe their fathers protestations that there were no ghosts? After all he is the one that puts the hall light on.

One day the father and his children would have to confront the issue, or continue wasting resources on the unneccessary light.

For us today the stakes are much higher than a single light bulb.

But perhaps it is time the nuclear industry stopped pandering to the childish fears about nuclear power that infect our society.

Professor Wade Allison of Oxford University makes a compelling case far a more mature approach to nuclear risk in his book Radiation and Reason. It is available at Amazon (here) I also have a number of other links related to this book/reviews/websites  On This Post Here

Perhaps it is also time we treated the ridiculous and immoral scare-mongering claims made by the anti-nuclear lobby (See this Post), with the contempt and derision they deserve.

The Windscale Fire - 55 Years On

The Windscale fire was a fire in a nuclear reactor in Cumbria, England in 1957. Although the radiation release was less than Chernobyl, the pollution fell over nearby towns and also travelled across the Irish sea. Before Chernobyl, the Windscale fire was the worlds worst nuclear accident. The Windscale fire Wikipedia page is here

The enquiry into the Windscale fire searched for the casualties. It arrived at the conclusion that "statistically" 33 fatalies had resulted from the fire, although nobody could actually place names on the dead.

If you use the anti-nuclear scale that reckons around one million have died so far from Chernobyl, and one million will die from Fukishima (14,000 in the USA already), It would seem reasonable to give a conservative estimate to  the Windscale death toll over the last 55 years at  somewhere between 500,000 and 750,000.

Look at the scale of this thing.

It has been 55 years since the Windscale fire. So on average, using figures estimated from the anti-nuclear lobby's figures for Chernobyl and Fukushima, there should have been on average, about 10,000 radiation induced deaths a year.

There would have been peaks where a certain mortality took hold. So perhaps we should have seen, over this period,  a series of peaks of  20,000 - 40,000 deaths in particular years.

This would be a scale of additional mortality similar to that caused by medium size war.

Yet no medic or even anti-nuclear lobby has flagged up or protested about these tens of thousands of additional annual deaths. Nobody noticed.

Is that plausible?

Why is Cumbria (in particular) not an area of radioactive desolation? Why are the fields around Seascale not packed with mass graves? Why was the Irish population not decimated?

Unless you are one of the totally paranoid who believe in some magical international conspiracy designed to hide these deaths, you must admit, Cumbria is much as it was.

There have been no massive death peaks due to radiation induced illnesses. No mass graves, no huge health consequences. In fact a recent study into the health of the emergency responders found no long term health consequences at all, and they were the people who took the brunt of the radiation.

There was a localised rise in Thyroid cancer that was treated. This rise though was nothing like that at Chernobyl. At Windscale  iodine tablets were rapidly deployed and milk was discarded for a period of time.

Remember Windscale is still the third worst nuclear accident the world has ever seen.

Could it be a dark worldwide conspiracy and cover-up? Or is the truth that the anti-nuclear lobby's figures for Chernobyl and now Fukushima, are hopelessly over-stated.

In fact is it also possible that even the "official" figures are overstated?

Have we been frightening ourselves silly by allotting a far fetched and fanciful toxicity to nuclear material?

Professor Wade Allison of Oxford University (See this Post) believes in the second option.

And I tend to go along with him.

Nuclear Accident Casuality Figures

What are the real casualty figures for the nuclear accidents we have had so far? Can we trust the official figures produced? Or should we trust the anti-nuclear lobby instead?

Will Fukishima cause 1 million deaths? Has Fukishima already caused over 14,000 deaths in the USA as recently claimed?

Or have there been no radiation deaths caused by Fukishima?

Did Chernobyl cause 1 million deaths as claimed by the same people making the Fukishima claims?

Or were there less than 100 fatalities as found by the International committe that
evaluated the disaster?

How can we at least, get a feel for ourselves as to what the real consequences have been?

Fukishima is a recent event, so whatever claim is made and however outlandish it is, the recency of the event obscures any clear decision in the short term.

With Chernobyl, the poor Soviet era health and social care and the consequent closer monitoring of public health post Chernobyl also obfuscates the situation. It allows those with an agenda (whatever it is) to muddy the waters.

Also, we have to contend with those who fervently believe that there has been a grand conspiracy to hide the true casualty figures from Chernobyl.

To me, this proposed suppression of the "truth"  sounds exactly like the type of paranoia you get with a bad case of climate science denial. Why an international committee of world renowned experts would seek to hide the truth and fake the casualty figures is beyond me.

But there is greater clarity surrounding Windscale fire in 1957. The Windscale fire was the world's worst nuclear accident before Chernobyl. Even today is still ranked at number three.

Next post I will be looking at the 1957 Windscale fire - and I'll go looking for the bodies.

If the lurid claims for Chernobyl and Fukishima are correct, there must be hundreds of thousands of them.

Infant Mortality and Fukushima

I am prompted to write this post after a commenter on another post ( See Here ) referred to two studies on the medical effects of radiation.

One of these (the KiKK report) was legitimate science. I will come back to this in another post, because there are still some well known issues with it.

But today I want to make some observations on the other report, which proposes that the Fukushima meltdowns caused a large number of deaths in the USA in the fourteen week period immediately after the Tsunami.

The report ( Press Release Here) claims that there have been 14000 deaths in the USA in the first 14 weeks  after the Japanese Tsunami including 822 infants. It attributes these deaths to Nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima in Japan.

Scary stuff - if it were true.

Rather than having me, a mere bog standard engineer moaning about the dismal and probably dishonest methodology of the paper, you would be better off reading ( This Link ) by the illustrious Mike Moyer (Editor in charge of technology coverage at Scientific American).

If you want a complete demolition of the pseudo-statistics that forms the base of this report try This Post.. The is some more incisive  Informed Commentary Here.
But what I am going to do is make some observations on the consequences if this claim is true. We can then see how much this proposed increase in infant mortality has on the annual USA infant mortality rate and then see how this fits in with the infant mortality trends over the last 50 years.

The report "calculates" 14000 people have died from radiation effects in the USA from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. They also state that infants have been particularly badly affected with an additional 822 dying in the 14 week period.  So if this was maintained for a year the excess number of infant deaths would be over 3000. So I am going to assume a conservative figure of an increase mortality of 2000 children between 0 -1 year over the full year. The figure is not critical. Use you own if you like.

The following maths is simple enough.

The CIA fact book (Here) tells us that there are about 4.35 million births in the USA per year. The world bank graph of USA infant mortality rate shows 2010 as 6.5 deaths per 1000 births.

That means there are 28275 deaths of infants in the USA in a year.
(4,350,000 /1000) x 6.5 = 28275

So using this study as a base, infant mortality in the USA has, from 2010 to 2011 jumped from 28275 to about 30275. All in one year.

How does our 2000 extra deaths affect the annual infant death mortality rate?

we know  28275 deaths equates to 6.5 deaths per 1000 live births

So our new rate is  (30275/28275) x 6.5 = (as near as dammit) 7 deaths per 1000 live births

Even if the 822 deaths was the maximum and the radiological mortality stopped mysteriously at the 14 week boundary this would still push the annual infant mortality rate up to 6.7 per 1000 live births.

Do you find this plausible?

Why have the thousands of front line medical staff in the USA not noticed what amounts to a huge jump in infant mortality? Especially when we are talking about the first 800 or so casualties occurring in the such a short time.

Are all USA paediatricians asleep on the job?

Seriously, do you think it even remotely realistic that nobody has noticed the undoing nearly ten years of improvement? Except for the two anti-nuclear campaigners who discovered it in their cherry picked data?

This is the World Bank graph of infant mortality in the USA over the last few decades. This Link takes you to an interactive version so you can explore the rate year by year. Notice how the infant mortality rate has continuously declined, following a roughly exponential decay from the mid 1960's to the late 1980's .

Notice how it then heads on down (post Chernobyl) at a slightly increased decline rate. 

Let us look for some events.

Notice 1979 - Three Mile Island.

Can you see anything? To me it looks like there is no discontinuity let alone a prolonged spike.

Now look to 1986 - Chernobyl.

The only noticeable thing on the graph around this time is that the rate of decrease (i.e. improvement) accelerates towards the 1990's. Maybe the extra vigilance due to the fear of Chernobyl led to this small acceleration in decline?

Over the whole fifty year period, at no time does the infant mortality rate increase.

Of course, there will be variations month by month, day by day and location by location over the year. But this only turns into an increase and epidemic if you cherry pick your data and have an agenda.

If this report is correct we should expect the first increase in the annual infant mortality rate the USA in the last fifty years, and a large increase at that.

Mike Moyer of Scientific American wrote this about the study, it's methodology and the authors:
... a check reveals that the authors’ statistical claims are critically flawed—if not deliberate mistruths.” The authors appeared to start from a conclusion—babies are dying because of Fukushima radiation—and work backwards, torturing the data to fit their claims.

This report is appallingly flawed. But it also puts politics before science. It is dishonest, immoral and cruel. Such a distortion of the truth to suite political ends is a terrible indictment of the depths that sections of anti-nuclear lobby will sink to.

Fukishima Cold Shutdown

After the Japanese Tsunami (25,000 dead) the world has focussed its post Tsunami reporting on a series of meltdowns at the Fukishima nuclear plant.

There are those who have eagerly claimed that Fukishima would result in hundreds of thousands of radiation based deaths. The highest prediction Billothewisp has so far come across is 1.4 million.

But no one has actually died of a radiation induced illness at Fukishima. Nor are there likely to be any fatalities, especially as Fukishima reached cold shutdown a couple of weeks ago.
( See This IAEA pdf )

But was Fukishima just a lucky break for the nuclear industry?

Just like at Windscale 1957? At Windscale a Plutonium fire burned for days spewing radioactive waste over the nearby village. The subsequent enquiry declared that thirty three people were "statistically" killed though nobody actually knows who they were.

Another lucky break for the nuclear industry?.

Or like the 1979 Three Mile Island partial meltdown. Lots of panic. Lots of lurid predictions but no deaths.

Was this just another lucky break for the nuclear industry?

Even the ultimate catastrophe at Chernobyl. You know - explosion, no containment vessel, burned for days, dumped its plutonium into a nearby forest, nobody doing anything effective for a considerable period, clouds of radiation over Europe,  no issue of Iodine tablets until weeks later.

The wild predictions of millions of deaths from Chernobyl remain just that - wild predictions. Truly it was socially dislocating industrial distaster. But hardly a catastrophe. Look at the Japanese Tsunami for a real catastrophe.

So was even Chernobyl just another lucky break for the nuclear industry?

Are you like me starting the get the feeling that there is something very wrong here.

Either the lurid predictions of millions of deaths are true and these deaths are being hidden from us by some fantastic dark international conspiracy, or there is something very seriously wrong with the way some people are assessing radiation risk.

After reading a book by Prof. Wade Allison of Oxford University, I am very strongly of the opinion that the latter is the case.

The book is called Radiation and Reason. ( Amazon Link Here )

There is also a website unsurprisingly called

Here is a Link  to Prof Allison's bio on that site. Here is his Bio on Wikipedia.

The guy is a Fellow of Keble College and a Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford. Don't be put off. The book is highly readable.

I think many will find Allisons book an eye opener.