Archive for September, 2013

Fukushima update—the plume and fish come to North America, part 3

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Some of the oddest accusations about the Fukushima accident imply that it has affected or will affect health of Americans.

Tsunami debris

Marine debris from the tsunami is expected to hit Hawaii this winter, and the US mainland in 2014. This is unrelated to the nuclear accident, but will it have health effects? Harm other species?
marine debris
Marine debris, see NOAA for more information

The plume

A number of unrelated figures, such as this NOAA picture of tsunami height on March 11, 2011, have been alleged to represent a radioactive plume moving east across the Pacific:

Tsunami height becomes radiation?
Snopes says nope, NOAA’s picture of tsunami height is not also a picture of the amount of radioactivity.

The current expectation is that the plume will reach Hawaii in the first half of 2014, and the West Coast of the US some years later. Estimates of Hawaiian radioactivity is 10 – 30 becquerel/cubic meter, but it will be more dilute when it hits the mainland, some 10 – 22 Bq/m3, according to Multi-decadal projections of surface and interior pathways of the Fukushima Cesium-137 radioactive plume. This radioactivity adds to >12,000 Bq/m3 in the ocean water itself (the great majority of this is potassium-40, also a large part of natural radioactivity in our body).

Lots of stuff travels to other hemispheres through the ocean and air—California gets enough Chinese coal pollution to challenge the state’s air pollution standards. (More interesting and less discussed, but why?)

Radioactive fish are traveling as well

The US, like a number of countries, requires tests of food if there is reason to think that food standards might not be met. So far as I know, the US isn’t bothering to test Pacific Ocean fish for radioactivity.

A partial list of odd assertions:

Cecile Pineda, a novelist, has stayed in that genre with her recent discussions of Fukushima. She spoke recently in the SF East Bay on fish purportedly showing signs of radiation disease washing up in Vancouver, Oregon, and LA. Yet as we see below, the major radioactivity in almost all fish traveling to North America is natural.
• The Daily Mail offers radioactivity as an explanation for malnourished seal pups in CA. See the front page of The Daily Mail if you wonder about its general reliability.
• Bluefin tuna caught in CA last August are 10 x as radioactive as normal, according to a Huffington Post interpretation of a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. NOT. Interestingly, the link the article provided gives different information: the fish, which were young and in Japan at the time of the accident were 5 x as radioactive as normal if you count just the cesium (5 becquerel rather than 1). This is in part because cesium washes out unless the fish keep ingesting it.

The actual facts are not frightening. According to Evaluation of radiation doses and associated risk from the Fukushima nuclear accident to marine biota and human consumers of seafood in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,

Abstract: Radioactive isotopes originating from the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 were found in resident marine animals and in migratory Pacific bluefin tuna (PBFT). Publication of this information resulted in a worldwide response that caused public anxiety and concern, although PBFT captured off California in August 2011 contained activity concentrations below those from naturally occurring radionuclides.

To link the radioactivity to possible health impairments, we calculated doses, attributable to the Fukushima-derived and the naturally occurring radionuclides, to both the marine biota and human fish consumers. We showed that doses in all cases were dominated by the naturally occurring alpha-emitter 210Po and that Fukushima-derived doses were three to four orders of magnitude below 210Po-derived doses….

Their report begins,

Recent reports describing the presence of radionuclides released from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Pacific biota have aroused worldwide attention and concern. For example, the discovery of 134Cs and 137Cs in Pacific bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis; PBFT) that migrated from Japan to California waters was covered by >1,100 newspapers worldwide and numerous internet, television, and radio outlets. Such widespread coverage reflects the public’s concern and general fear of radiation. Concerns are particularly acute if the artificial radionuclides are in human food items…

The “three to four orders of magnitude” says that the added radioactivity from the Fukushima accident is, give or take, 1,000 – 10,000 times less important than natural radioactivity. The relative interest in bluefin tuna radioactivity over Chinese air pollution in North America appears to be explained in the opening paragraph.

Table 1 provides mean radioactivity decay rates for the following elements:

Bluefin tuna arriving in San Diego, August 2011
cesium (both Cs-134 and Cs-137), 10.3 becquerel/kg dry
potassium-40, 347 Bq/kg dry
polonium-210, 79 Bq/kg dry

Japan, April 2011
cesium, 155 Bq/kg dry
potassium-40, 347 Bq/kg dry
polonium-210, 79 Bq/kg dry

The polonium will have significantly more health effects per becquerel—polonium is an alpha emitter, stored differently in the body, etc.

In the same table, the authors assume that Americans get their entire average annual sea food consumption, 24.1 kg = 53 pounds/year, from bluefin tuna, and calculate health effects. They do the same for the Japanese, assuming 56.6 kg = 125 pounds consumption/year. It is not clear that the authors consider how long radioactive atoms remain in our body, since we excrete them along with other atoms; the numbers below may overstate the case as the authors assume a residence time as long as 50 years.

San Diego, August 2011
cesium, 0.9 µSv (microsievert, see Part 2 for more on units)
potassium-40, 12.7 µSv
polonium-210, 558 µSv

in Japan April 2011
cesium, 32.6 µSv
potassium-40, 29.7 µSv
polonium-210, 1,310 µSv

Radioactivity due to cesium in tuna, in Japanese waters and elsewhere, has declined dramatically since 2011.

Bottom line

The accident at Fukushima added an insignificant level of radioactivity to that already in seawater and fish, at least for those of us who are far away. As mentioned in Part 2, a small number of bottom feeders in the area immediately adjacent to the plant have levels of radioactivity which don’t meet international standards.

A good portion of the American Fukushima discussion I’m seeing asks, “How will Fukushima affect me?” The answer: if it is unhealthy for Americans, the effects in Japan would be more dramatic. Contrast this with Chinese air pollution, affecting CA air quality after killing many hundreds of thousands yearly in China.

Part 1 Bottom line numbers
Part 2 The state of the evacuation, food and fish
Part 4 The history of predictions on spent fuel rods
Part 5 The current state of F-D cleanup

Fukushima updates on evacuation, food, and fish, part 2

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

What is happening with the Fukushima evacuation, and how the radioactivity in Fukushima compares to other places people visit and live. The cleanup, food and fish, and the cost of increased use of fossil fuels.

Many places in the world have high natural background radiation

According to World Nuclear Association,

Naturally occurring background radiation is the main source of exposure for most people, and provides some perspective on radiation exposure from nuclear energy. The average dose received by all of us from background radiation is around 2.4 mSv/yr, which can vary depending on the geology and altitude where people live – ranging between 1 and 10 mSv/yr, but can be more than 50 mSv/yr. The highest known level of background radiation affecting a substantial population is in Kerala and Madras states in India where some 140,000 people receive doses which average over 15 millisievert per year from gamma radiation, in addition to a similar dose from radon. Comparable levels occur in Brazil and Sudan, with average exposures up to about 40 mSv/yr to many people. (The highest level of natural background radiation recorded is on a Brazilian beach: 800 mSv/yr, but people don’t live there.)

Several places are known in Iran, India and Europe where natural background radiation gives an annual dose of more than 100 mSv to people and up to 260 mSv (at Ramsar in Iran, where some 200,000 people are exposed to more than 10 mSv/yr).

Units* are explained at the end of this post.

That list is far from complete; there are a number of other places with high background radioactivity:
Finland, population 5.4 million, almost 8 millisievert each year (mSv/year)
• parts of Norway over 10 mSv/year
Yangjiang, China population 2.6 million > 6 mSv/year
Denver 2.6 million, 11.8 mSv/year
Arkaroola, South Australia, 100 x more radioactive than anywhere else in Australia. The hot springs are hot because of radioactive decay!
• Guarapari, Brazil where the black sand on the beach comes in at 90 µSv/hr using the 800 mSv/year figure above, but higher recordings have been seen, up to 130 µSv/hr. People are permitted to sit where they will on the beach without wearing any special hazmat outfit.
• Radon was first discovered as a major portion of our exposure when Stanley Watras triggered the alarm at his local nuclear power plant. His basement was more than 800 µSv/hour.
• Etc… Cornwall … etc…southwest France…etc…
• Air travel increases our exposure to radioactivity, by about 4 – 7 µSv/hour, more for the Concorde NY to Paris route.

Numbers provided by different sources vary for a number of reasons. Some sites don’t include our own internal radioactivity, about 0.4 mSv/year. Some look at maximum, some look at maximum people actually live with, some average.

Japanese evacuation categories

Over 160,000 were evacuated in 2011. The Japanese government only allowed return to begin in 2012 where yearly dose would be less than 20 mSv/year the first year back, although decontamination would continue. Restrictions exist for areas not expected to drop below 20 mSv/year by March 2016, 5 years after the accident, and include about half the 20 km (12 mile) evacuation zone. As of now, all towns can be visited, although some visits are restricted, including Futaba, the town closest to the plant, where many houses were destroyed by the tsunami.

The Japanese government has 4 categories for evacuation:
—difficult-to-return zones, with evacuation expected to be at least 5 years from March 2012
—no-residence zones, where people will be able to return earlier
—zones preparing for the evacuation order to be lifted
—planned evacuation zone, “a high-risk zone to the northwest of the plant and outside the 20-kilometer radius that is yet to be reclassified into any of the three other categories.”

   Dose equivalent 11/2011  Dose equivalent 3/2013  Dose equivalent at 3/2013 level
   µSv/hr  µSv/hr  mSv/year
 Difficult to return  14.5  8.5  74
 No-residence  5.7  3.7  32
 Evacuation order to be lifted  2.0  1.1  9.6
 Planned evacuation zone  2.7  1.5  13

Table: Radioactivity decline over 17 months.

Of course, the level of radioactivity will continue to decline. This rate of radioactivity decrease is about the same as was seen in the areas around Chernobyl, where cesium declined with a half life of 0.7 – 1.8 years; decline in the zones around the Fukushima plant was about 40% in 1.6 years. The areas around Chernobyl saw a rapid decrease for 4 – 6 years, so it would not be surprising if by January 2015, all rates had dropped by half, and by November 2016, all rates dropped by half again, even without special clean up work. The difficult to return zones would expect to see an average of 2.1 µSv/hr, or a temporary rate of 19 mSv/year, or less, by November 2016. Assuming the Japanese experience is the same as in the areas around Chernobyl, the rate should continue to decline rapidly between 2011 and 2015 – 2017.

To get some idea of radioactivity in the area northwest from the Fukushima-Daiichi plant, go to this map which is updated frequently (although we are unlikely to see any change day to day). Note that you can get more detailed information by placing your cursor over the sites; the most radioactive site at the end of September 2013 was 26 µSv/hr. The sensors are in place and sending information to the Japanese NRA (nuclear regulatory agency).

Note: nowhere on this map is as radioactive as a number of places where people travel freely, such as Guarapari, Brazil or Ramsar, Iran.

How is Japan doing on the cleanup?

In November 2011, a team from International Atomic Energy Agency thought that Japan deserved good grades for prompt attention to cleanup, and poor grades for setting reasonable priorities.

In practical terms this translates to focusing on the quickest dose reduction, without unwanted side effects like classifying millions of tonnes of very lightly contaminated topsoil as ‘radioactive waste’. It may be desirable to remove this soil from childrens’ playgrounds, for example, but some of the material may pose no realistic threat to health and could be recycled or used in construction work, said the IAEA team.

Another point of consideration is the handling of large open areas like forests. “The investment of time and effort in removing contamination beyond certain levels… where the additional exposure is relatively low, does not automatically lead to a reduction of doses for the public.” Japanese authorities have already noted that removing some contaminated leaf mold could have a greater harmful effect on some parts of the ecosystem.

The Japanese appear to be spending lots of money to bring the level of radioactivity well below 20 mSv/year, at best only partially following IAEA recommendations:

A further 100 municipalities in eight prefectures, where air dose rates are over 0.23 µSv per hour (equivalent to over 1 mSv per year) are classed as Intensive Decontamination Areas, where decontamination is being implemented by each municipality with funding and technical support from the national government.

Work has been completed to target levels in one municipality in the Special Decontamination Areas: Tamura, where decontamination of living areas, farmland, forest and roads was declared to be 100% complete in June 2013. Over a period of just under a year, workers spent a total of 120,000 man days decontaminating nearly 230,000 square metres of buildings including 121 homes, 96 km of roads, 1.2 million square metres of farmland and nearly 2 million square metres of forests using a variety of techniques including pressure washing and topsoil removal.

Meanwhile, other municipalities hope to receive the classification and the money that goes with it.

What about the food?

Japan allows less radioactivity in the food and water than many other parts of the world. For example, Japan before the accident set their water safety level at 1/5 the level of the European standard, and then lowered it further. Their assumptions of the health effect of various decay rates for food and water appear to me to assume that radioactivity from food and water comes in, but never leaves.

The US standard is 1,200 Bq/L for water, and 1,250 Bq/kg (570 Bq/pound) for solid food.

The World Health Organization standard for infants is 1,600 Bq/L radioactive iodine, and 1,800 Bq/L radioactive cesium (table 6 here).

Similarly the Japanese food standard for radioactivity began lower than that in other countries, and the Japanese lowered it even further. This has repercussions for Japanese farmers—more than a year ago, 30 out of almost 5,000 farms in the relatively contaminated areas farmed rice too radioactive to sell, although it would be safe according to standards elsewhere, but by imposing even more rigorous standards, 300 farms would encounter problems selling their rice.

• The new standards for Japan are 10 Bq/L water, 50 Bq/L milk (because the Japanese drink less milk), and 100 Bq/kg (new standards) for solid foods.

“Scientists say [the much higher international] limits are far below levels of contamination where they can see any evidence of an effect on health.”

There are a number of foods naturally more radioactive than the new Japanese standard, for example Brazil nuts can be as much as 440 Bq/kg. Even though Bq is a decay rate and not a health effect, the health effect from cesium decay and other radioactive atoms normally in food, like potassium, is the same.

From a Woods Hole article on seafood,

In one study by the consumer group Coop-Fukushima, [Kazuo Sakai, a radiation biophysicist with Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences,] reported, 100 Fukushima households prepared an extra portion of their meals to be analyzed for radioactivity. The results showed measurable amounts of cesium in only three households, and in all cases showed that naturally occurring radiation, in the form of potassium-40, was far more prevalent.

The article contains a statement by a Japanese pediatric oncologist, recommending massive removal of top soil, etc so that levels of radioactivity were below natural background in the US, with the idea of reassuring Japanese citizens.

Ironically, some suggested, the Japanese government’s decision to lower acceptable radiation limits in fish may have actually heightened consumer fears instead of dampening them. Deborah Oughton, an environmental chemist and ethicist at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, related that the Norwegian government, when faced with high radioisotope concentrations in reindeer meat as a result of Chernobyl, decided to raise acceptable limits from 600 to 6,000 becquerels per kilogram. The move was made, she explained, to protect the livelihood of the minority Sami population that depends on reindeer herding for its survival.

Weighed into the judgment, she added, was the issue of dose: The hazard involves not only how high the levels are in meat, but how much you eat—and Norwegians rarely eat reindeer meat more than once or twice a year. The decision had no impact on sales of reindeer meat.

The larger point, Oughton said, “is that public acceptance with regard to these issues comes down to more than becquerels and sieverts. It is a very complex issue.” And nowhere more complex than in Japan. Alexis Dudden of the University of Connecticut offered a historian’s perspective when she suggested that “both at the local level and the national level, some discussion needs to take into consideration Japan’s particular history with radiation.”

What about the fish?

According to the KQED interview with Matt Charette (minute 14:15 – 15), 20% of fish obtained near Fukushima prefecture come in at above the Japanese standards.

The Japanese allow 100 Bq/kg fish, <1/10 as much radioactivity as Americans (and everyone else). Within 20 km (12 miles) of the plant, they are finding that 40% of the bottom dwelling fish off Fukushima don’t meet the Japanese standards. While most of these will meet international standards, two greenling caught in August 2012 came in at 25,000 Bq/kg (subscription needed).

All fish, particularly the bottom dwelling fish are tested from this region and those that flunk are not sold in Japan or exported.

According to Fukushima-derived radionuclides in the ocean and biota off Japan, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the level of cesium in fish would need to be about 300 – 12,000 Bq/kg to become as important as the radioactive polonium-210 found in various fish species. Potassium-40 is also an important source of radioactivity in ocean fish. Only a small portion of fish tested in 2011 had become half as much more radioactive than ocean fish are naturally. Eating 200 gram piece of fish (typical restaurant portion) at >200 Bq cesium/kg is equivalent to eating an uncontaminated 200 g banana.

Fishing has begun again off the coast:

Out of 100 fish and seafood products tested, 95 were clear of radioactive substances and the remaining five contained less than one-10th of the government’s limit of 100 becquerels for food products, it added.

Cost of switching to fossil fuels

Japan is now operating full time old power plants meant to operate while the nuclear plants are down, and it is challenging to keep them on. Much of the $40 billion annual increase in the cost of fossil fuels (to $85 billion) since March 2011 is due to replacing nuclear power with fossil fuels.

Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions are up about 4%, even with reduced electricity available, 10% for electricity.

* Units: One microsievert (µSv) = 1 millionth of a sievert. One millisievert (mSv) = 1 thousandth of a sievert. The model predicts approximately for the general population that 10 man Sieverts = 1 cancer, 20 man Sieverts = 1 death. Most major organizations assume a lower health effect for low doses (below 100 mSv or below 10 mSv) or for a low dose rate.

Sieverts include decay rate, type of decay (some types of decay do more damage), and tissue type—they are a health effect.

There are 8,760 hours/year. Multiply values for µSv/hour by 8.76 to get mSv/year. Since radioactivity is disappearing rapidly from the area around Fukushima-Daiichi, round down a bunch to get your actual exposure over the next year if you move back today.

Part 1 Bottom line numbers
Part 3 The plume and fish come to North America
Part 4 The history of predictions on spent fuel rods
Part 5 The current state of F-D cleanup

Fukushima update, bottom line numbers—part 1

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Updated to correct the number of evacuation related deaths and to add the standards for evacuation.

There have been a recent upsurge of odd assertions on the nuclear accident in Fukushima, along with reasonable questions on what-the-heck is happening there. The short answer is not much. The long answer will be spread over a few posts.

You can begin with my articles in Friends Journal, with appendices. Note there are two articles, one coming after the letters to the editor.

Early version bottom line numbers from those articles

Some of these numbers are updated below.

• 124 workers at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant received a dose of more than 100 millisieverts (mSv). This unit takes into account actual decay rate, the type of decay because some decays do more damage, and tissue type to give a health effect. The net result is that one worker might die, with a total cumulative exposure exceeding 13 man Sieverts (more or less, 10 man Sieverts = 1 cancer, 20 man Sieverts = 1 death, fewer cancers and deaths predicted in an older male cohort). Additionally, one worker died from a heart attack while wearing the hazmat outfit in the heat.

• The actual exposure to the public was relatively small, in part because people stayed inside and in part because of evacuation.

• The official level of public safety is 20 mSv/year for the public the first year back, or else 1 mSv/year (I find myself confused, more in part 2). A few? several? tens of thousands lived in areas where first year dose would be 20 mSv or higher. The health effect of 20 mSv is less than the health risk to each of the 36 million living in Tokyo from just the particulates in air pollution.

• Background radioactivity falls rapidly with the decay of the radioactive iodine (half life 8 days). That is the most dangerous, as it targets a very small gland. Most of the rest of the radioactivity was from cesium, half of which decays at the rate of 30% per year, and half at the rate of 2%/year. Cesium is removed from the environment by natural processes, such as rain, which makes the ecological half life much smaller—the areas around Chernobyl saw half of cesium disappear from the environment every 0.7 to 1.8 years for the first 4 – 6 years, depending on location. Physical half life would predict 58% left at the end of 4 years, and 50% after 6 years; yet only 3 – 20% of the Chernobyl cesium remained after 4 – 6 years.


• The number of workers exposed to more than 100 mSv is up to 146, and the expected number of deaths is still not quite 1.

• The most exposed member of the public will get an exposure of < 10 mSv over their lifetime and this probably overstates the case. If the local residents had moved to Denver, their dose would increase by 8 mSv/year; if to other areas of the world, their dose could increase by as much as 50 – 250 mSv/year.

• The health effects of living in Tokyo go beyond particulates: ground level ozone and nitrogen oxides makes Tokyo even unhealthier, by a lot. For example, Tokyo is smoggier than LA, and residents of California’s Central Valley and Los Angeles metropolitan area have a 25 – 30% higher chance of dying of respiratory disease, compared to the SF area.

• While the Japanese government protected people from exposure to radioactivity, some policies opened them up to perhaps greater dangers.

According to World Nuclear Association,

As of October 2012, over 1000 disaster-related deaths that were not due to radiation-induced damage or to the earthquake or to the tsunami had been identified by the Reconstruction Agency, based on data for areas evacuated for no other reason than the nuclear accident. About 90% of deaths were for persons above 66 years of age. Of these, about 70% occurred within the first three months of the evacuations. (A similar number of deaths occurred among evacuees from tsunami- and earthquake-affected prefectures. These figures are additional to the 19,000 that died in the actual tsunami.)

The premature deaths were mainly related to the following: (1) somatic effects and spiritual fatigue brought on by having to reside in shelters; (2) Transfer trauma – the mental or physical burden of the forced move from their homes for fragile individuals; and (3) delays in obtaining needed medical support because of the enormous destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami. However, the radiation levels in most of the evacuated areas were not greater than the natural radiation levels in high background areas elsewhere in the world where no adverse health effect is evident, so maintaining the evacuation beyond a precautionary few days was evidently the main disaster in relation to human fatalities.

The international recommendation for evacuation is 700 mSv/year, with IAEA saying that 1 month to evacuate at 880 mSv/yr is OK (with people staying indoors, presumably, so actual exposure is less). Presumably this balances the dangers of evacuation with the dangers of evacuation. The amount of radioactivity was MUCH higher in the first month, due to the radioactive iodine, but only the small towns in the immediate vicinity of the plant itself got anywhere near this kind of dose.

As with Chernobyl, the health effects are expected to be dominated by anxiety about the radioactivity, and the behaviors that accompany this anxiety. The effect of anxiety can be seen in the statistics: the death rate from Chernobyl is much lower among those who refused to evacuate and those who evacuated and then returned, higher in those who evacuated but did not return.

I assume that there has been or will be some discussion of evacuations—both what short-term exposure is acceptable, and how rapidly to evacuate. A quick evacuation may not be needed, although restrictions not used after Chernobyl will reduce exposure dramatically (stay indoors, and don’t eat unwashed apples off the tree or drink milk from the local cows).

• The Japanese government appears to have exacerbated the worries of its people, both by sounding like they don’t know what is what, and in overdoing the warnings. Just two examples:

——Bottled water was provided for Tokyo parents when radioactivity for a very short time reached 210 becquerel/liter, because this would exceed the Japanese limit for exposure if the babies drank the water for a year. The European standard is 1,000 Bq/liter over a year, with no provision for worry if the level is up 5% for 2 days.

——In Residents brave radiation fears for two golden hours in ghost town, an article on Tomura residents visiting their homes shortly after F-D, residents are shown in outfits to protect them from radioactivity.

Hazardous homecoming: Residents dressed to protect against radioactive contamination wait at a local gymnasium in Fukushima
Article caption—Hazardous homecoming: Residents dressed to protect against radioactive contamination wait at a local gymnasium in Fukushima

The highest measured dose is 1.3 microsieverts/hour. Contrast this with the 9.5 µSv/hr exposure when flying from New York City to Paris, a flight longer than 2 hours.

• There is general agreement that the Japanese government was trained at the anti-Tylenol school of disaster communication.

A lot of top nuclear people and organizations are saying so, more on that in post 4.

Part 2 The state of the evacuation, food and fish
Part 3 The plume and fish come to North America
Part 4 The history of predictions on spent fuel rods
Part 5 The current state of F-D cleanup

Another conflict resolution exercise—solutions to climate change, part 3

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

“We’re talking about this civilly!” was my favorite line of the workshop. It came during the exercise Gradients of Agreement in the workshop Friends Process: Responding to Climate Change, where we produced a minute on climate change. In this exercise, we first identified our position on wonk recommendations (from major reports from the communities that begin with peer review) on solutions to climate change, and then we explained why we were standing where we were.

After each statement (see below), we stretched ourselves out on a line from 1 to 8. Then those at the extremes explained their reasoning; others did as well. At any point we could move around, or stay put. Those who moved shared why, and others might share why they stayed put, and what could entice them to move. Moving around physically made the exercise different somehow—it let us feel that our commitment to a position could be temporary. And at any point we might be asked to explain our position, something we do too rarely in the safety of like-minded others.

The gradient line:
1 whole-hearted endorsement
2 agreement with a minor point of contention
3 support with reservations
4 abstain
5 more discussion needed
6 don’t like but will support
7 serious disagreement
8 veto

The closest we got to an agreement on any statement below was clustering between 1 and 4; sometimes we stretched from 1 to 8.

Place yourself on the line for each of these six statements. Can you explain why you are there? All of these are mainstream predictions, although A, C, and F come from the most aggressive push I’ve seen for alternatives to fossil fuels from a mainstream source, International Energy Agency’s Redrawing the Energy Map..

A. I support International Energy Agency’s recommendation to add 4,000 terawatt-hours wind yearly (including replacement of essentially all current windmills), and 1200 TWh solar yearly in panels, including replacements, by 2035. The wind, if on land, would be spread over 200,000 sq miles (about 1.5 Californias), with more than 7,000 sq miles of land actually covered by roads and windmill. Much of solar would be solar parks spread over 10,000 sq miles (an area the size of Maryland). [Note: the comparison is to US states, but IEA’s recommendations, here and below, are for the world.]

B. I support adding a cost to greenhouse gas emissions. The current US estimate of social cost of GHG would add $36/ton, about 3.6 cent/kWh for coal, half that for natural gas, and 32 cents/gallon for gasoline, and a lot to the cost of an airplane flight (more than just the tax on fuel). This would likely be 3 – 4 times larger, or even more, by 2050.

C. I support International Energy Agency’s recommendation to add 3,500 terawatt-hours in new nuclear yearly, including replacements, by 2035. This is about 400 reactors of the type being built today in South Carolina and Georgia, although the actual mix will probably include some that are smaller. Land use is less than 1% of wind.

D. I support hydraulic fracturing, fracking, techniques used to replace coal with natural gas in the US, China, Germany and elsewhere.

E. I support adding a cost to greenhouse gases and letting the market decide which solutions are the best able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, rather than subsidizing wind and solar.

F. I support increasing International Energy Agency’s recommendation to increase the world’s supply of hydro by almost one half by 2035.

I was always in position 1 for each of these, although I assumed the fetal position for recommendation F—if there are more major solutions than are needed, hydro will be the first to be cut. All of these are mainstream wonk recommendations. For more, see Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group 3, Mitigation (a new report is due out mid-2014). For a relatively easy to follow wonk blog, try Energy Economics Exchange.

Leave a comment with where you are on the line for any one of these statements, A – F, especially one you have changed your position on, and why? What might change your position again?


Part 1 Quaker workshop minute on climate change
Part 2 Conflict resolution exercise—solutions to climate change in which we look at which sources we rely on, and why