To the Editor:
As it turns out, I am an engineer involved in radiation detection systems. This past Earth Day, I gave a talk at my kids' school advocating the greatly increased use of nuclear power instead of fossil fuels for electricity generation. New Jersey derives about 50% of its power from nuclear energy. If the entire country did the same, we would stop the emission of perhaps 400 million tons of CO2 per year. The entire country of France gets about 75% of its electricity from nuclear power. Many people who think of themselves as environmentalists oppose nuclear power out of what can only be called a phobia, a wild overestimation of both the risk of accident and the actual level of risk even in the event of an accident. Chernobyl was horrible, yet 20 years later the excess cancers can only be statistically detected in 2 groups. First, there were about 4000 excess childhood thyroid cancers over 10 years, which is particularly shameful because most could have been prevented with potassium iodide prophylaxis had the population been notified promptly. Second, a physician in Scotland has found a statistically detectable increase in cancers among the children of mothers at an early stage of pregnancy, when the developing fetus is known to be highly sensitive to radiation. Spread over the entire population of Europe and 20 years, this is regrettable but hardly the Black Death all over again. The scary numbers you see bandied about are statistical projections over the entire population for its entire lifetime, and undetectable against background cancer rates. And that was a worst-case accident. New technology makes the loss-of-coolant accident typified by Chernobyl and Three Mile Island impossible, and also makes it much harder to divert the fuel for nuclear weapons. See the article "Heavy Metal Nuclear Power" by Eric Loewen. The technology is also briefly described at https://www.ne.anl.gov/research/ardt/hlmr/, which discusses small reactors for third-world application that don't need refueling for 15-20 years. No less an environmental icon than Stewart Brand, author of the Whole Earth Catalog, has turned in favor of nuclear power. See https://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/14406/. Nuclear power is the only technology that has a chance of substituting for a significant fraction of fossil-fuel consumption over the coming decades. China is building one new coal-fired power plant every week. So if you really want psychiatry to help stop global warming, cure our national phobia of nuclear energy!
Richard B. Mott
Ringoes, New Jersey
The foregoing comments are Mr. Mott's personal opinions and are not to be interpreted as representing the position of PulseTor, LLC.
Moffic S. Can psychiatric approaches help to address global warming?. MedGenMed. 2007;9(3):2. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/558522 Accessed July 12, 2007
Reply From Author:
While my expertise surely does not extend to the real risks of nuclear power, I do think that Richard Mott emphasizes an important psychological process not highlighted in my commentary due to space considerations. Unrealistic fear, which in the more extreme and specific situations can be called a "phobia," can definitely be a factor in a lack of concern about global warming or in opposition to an alternative energy source.
For nuclear power, there probably is some excessive fear due to the longstanding concerns over possible devastation from nuclear weapons. Excessive fear can also influence our resistance to even the lifestyle changes needed to address global warming. Fear of the new always slows response to change for some people. The best psychological response to combat that fear is reassuring information from reliable sources, perhaps akin to the spirit of his letter.
H. Steven Moffic, MD
Readers are encouraged to respond to Paul Blumenthal, MD, Deputy Editor of MedGenMed, for the editor's eyes only or for possible publication via email: email@example.com
Cite this: Reader's and Author's Responses to "Can Psychiatric Approaches Help to Address Global Warming?" - Medscape - Aug 10, 2007.