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Earth Power Science Technology

An Unexpected Relationship Between Nuclear Power and Low Birth Weight (arstechnica.com) 146

Applehu Akbar writes: Ars Technica reports on a Carnegie-Mellon study of an unexpected side effect of the slowdown in nuclear plant construction after Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. The pollution associated with replacing the power in places where nuclear plants were delayed or canceled has resulted in significantly lower birth weights for children born in the region. The impact on birth weight starts at 97g less in the second quarter after a nuclear shutdown and goes to 146g for in the third quarter, and of similar magnitude thereafter. Though the steady shift in recent years from coal to natural gas has probably slowed this trend down (no update to the study has been announced) because gas pollutes less, Trump's policy of bringing back coal may mean that micro-babies are back in fashion. Here's an excerpt from Ars Technica's report: "[Carnegie Mellon assistant professor of economics and public policy Edson Severnini] looked at the closure of the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama in 1985 as well as the Sequoyah plant in Tennessee, which was closed from 1985 to 1988. The closure of the two plants corresponded to increased coal burning at nearby coal plants -- in 1985, TVA noted in its annual report that coal plants had 'extraordinary performance' due to the shut down of the nuclear plants. He also gathered birth-weight data from the National Centre for Health Statistics (NCHS) and found that babies born in regions with the biggest increase in coal burning had lower birth weights than babies born in other nearby areas. Looking at data from 1983 to 1985, before the nuclear plant shut down, also showed that the largest change in birth weight occurred after the shutdown."
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An Unexpected Relationship Between Nuclear Power and Low Birth Weight

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  • Misleading Title (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 03, 2017 @10:39PM (#54168581)

    As it makes it sound like nuclear is causing low birth weights, when it is *coal* causing low birth weights.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Didn't read, but it sounds like coal is *correlated* with low birth weights.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by arth1 ( 260657 )

      As it makes it sound like nuclear is causing low birth weights, when it is *coal* causing low birth weights.

      It does not establish that coal is the cause, or at least not the only one. A nuclear shutdown presumably also leads to both job losses and fear, which may be factors.

      • Coal is much more labor intensive, especially in the 70s and 80s.
        • by irrational_design ( 1895848 ) on Monday April 03, 2017 @11:52PM (#54168715)

          If I learned anything from the Simpsons it's that nuclear workers eat donuts. The nuclear shutdown would naturally have led to job loss in the donut sector. Now that I think about it, pregnant women not being able to get their donut fix could result in lower birth rates. So maybe the nuclear shutdown really was the cause of the lower birth weights.

          • If I learned anything from the Simpsons it's that nuclear workers eat donuts. The nuclear shutdown would naturally have led to job loss in the donut sector. Now that I think about it, pregnant women not being able to get their donut fix could result in lower birth rates. So maybe the nuclear shutdown really was the cause of the lower birth weights.

            Your analysis overlooked beer, which you should *never* do. According to your same source they also drink a lot of beer. Fewer beer swilling nuclear workers mea

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 03, 2017 @11:53PM (#54168721)

        Wow, you'll run the correlation != causation trope while at the same time "presuming" extra conditions that have no proven relationship to anything.

        Are you trying to suggest the average pregnant mother was so out of work they couldn't afford to eat or were, I dunno, afraid to?

      • "A nuclear shutdown presumably also leads to both job losses and fear, which may be factors."

        If this were a factor, we could then blame Hollywood for low birth weight.

        • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

          "A nuclear shutdown presumably also leads to both job losses and fear, which may be factors."

          If this were a factor, we could then blame Hollywood for low birth weight.

          We could certainly blame Hollywood for the increase in density between the ears of all Americans.

    • exactly. read it twice to get it right.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Coal causing lower birth weights? Quite plausible given the pollutants. Interestingly, lower birth weight is often most evident in the (under)size of body extremities.

        Put another way, by promoting coal, Trump delivers a population of people with small hands.

    • by Malc ( 1751 )

      It's so poorly written: I had to re-read the story just to be sure that they're actually claiming there's a relationship between low birth weight and the lack/removal of nuclear power. Do they not teach basic literacy skills at school any more?

    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
      Headline writer not happy with narrative of story, hopes to put opposite spin on article. Happens plenty.
    • Yeah you have to read it to get that. Coal is some fairly nasty stuff anyhow. Lot of waste products from it are very toxic.
    • by jafiwam ( 310805 )

      It's not the title, it's the overly convoluted 'logic' used in the summary and quote.

      WTF, why not just "pollution reduction of nuke plants causes drop in frequency of low birth rates." ?

      Or even, "Pollution causes low birth rates. This study shows clean nuclear plants help prevent them."

    • That's the joke

  • by dlleigh ( 313922 ) on Monday April 03, 2017 @10:46PM (#54168595)

    The alternative, click bait headline.

  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Monday April 03, 2017 @10:51PM (#54168607)

    "...Trump's policy of bringing back coal may mean that micro-babies are back in fashion."

    Politics aside for a moment, this kind of wording makes me wonder how the fuck humans ever succeeded in procreating before nuclear power was invented, as if incubators were some kind of fashion trend.

    Yes, perhaps we should get back to the "healthy" standard of macro babies, especially with c-sections being all the rage in the spring lineup for 2017...

    • to this [youtube.com]. Kinda terrifying, actually.
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by rickb928 ( 945187 )

      "Trump's policy of bringing back coal may mean that micro-babies are back in fashion."

      Politics are never aside. The NeverTrumpers cannot abide their losses, and will never, ever suffer a moment's surrender. To their credit, they are committed. But they are a problem, and not any pat of a solution.

      Worse, this infects every part of American life. The civil war has already begun. Will it be only what it is now, or will the opposition take every measure, and expand the violence already undertaken?

      Sore losers a

      • ...Moln Labé. At least pronounce it properly.

        Misspellings can often be a burden on pronunciation, unless your vocabulary includes frequent use of y'all...

      • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

        "Revolutionaries need only hope they will not be opposed. Moln Labé."

        Sounds like a French revolution. Let 'em eat cake.

    • by flink ( 18449 )

      "...Trump's policy of bringing back coal may mean that micro-babies are back in fashion."

      Politics aside for a moment, this kind of wording makes me wonder how the fuck humans ever succeeded in procreating before nuclear power was invented, as if incubators were some kind of fashion trend.

      Yes, perhaps we should get back to the "healthy" standard of macro babies, especially with c-sections being all the rage in the spring lineup for 2017...

      While the c-section rate ha ballooned beyond what is necessary (particularly in the US), what happened before was that a non-trivial number of mothers and babies died in child birth. We evolved to walk upright and a big brain more or less concurrently. It's a tough ask of our hips to allows us to walk upright and allow a baby with such a big head to pass through.

  • fake title (Score:2, Informative)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 )

    This story has a fake title, it's as if it was posted by mdsolar...

    An Unexpected Relationship Between Nuclear Power and Low Birth Weight

    - the title.

    The actual findings: shutting down of nuclear power plants is correlated with lower birth weight.

  • by chromaexcursion ( 2047080 ) on Monday April 03, 2017 @11:36PM (#54168691)
    BeauHD and whoever edited this piece are idiots! can't they read what they wrote!

    brain dead title. brain dead editor!
    • Um, they don;t write it so they can read it. They write so that YOU can read it.

      And your question, properly presented, might be "BeauHD and whoever edited this piece are idiots! I can't understand what they wrote!".

      Or not. It's equally hard to understand what you wrote.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 04, 2017 @12:36AM (#54168805)

    Almost all of the energy related articles on Ars are heavily biased and intentionally deceptive. (slashdot too, since BeauHD/mdsolar) This one article and most of the comments are actually quite out of place, excepting a certain compulsive liar who buries anything nuclear on Ars in mountains of bullshit. I have to wonder if Megan Geuss is going to have a job tomorrow.

    Again, here is the actual title of the article that the "editor" butchered:

    Nuclear power policy in the ’80s caused low birth weights after coal stepped in
    Researcher says a more measured approach to nuclear fears may have produced better outcomes.

  • "Micro babies.." Talk about junk science. So the normal healthy baby weight range is 2500g to 4000g http://kidshealth.org/en/paren... [kidshealth.org] . The natural variation range is 1500g, and they managed to find a statistical variation of LESS THAN 7% where the natural variation of healthy babies is 38% and some nitwit calls it micro babies caused by coal. Talk about complete lack of proportion or basic knowledge of the facts...

    • Re:Junk Science (Score:5, Informative)

      by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Tuesday April 04, 2017 @01:21AM (#54168899) Journal

      There are a number of things to unpack here.
      To a statistician, "significant" means "very unlikely to have happened purely by chance", i.e. we are seeing a real difference, not sampling error. To a lay person, "significant" means "big enough to matter". You are arguing that this result is not significant in the second sense.

      If there are non-linearities in a system, small shifts in the mean can have a large effect. For example, a town has natural temperature range between -20C and +45C. An increase in the mean of 2C is small compared to that range. However, the number of days per year hotter than 40C might easily triple with that +2C shift in the mean (due to the shape of the high temperature tail of the distribution), and if >40C is a threshold for causing major health problems, then the small shift has a large effect.

      145g might be significant in this way: a 1355g baby might have much worse survival chance than a 1500g baby. (Further complicating things, although the mean might shift by 145g, the shape of the distribution might also change. The shift could affect low weight babies more or less strongly than normal weight babies.) I don't know enough about babies to know whether that 145g shift is important or not.

      • An understanding of science. A relatively low UID. A correlation that has me pining for the Slashdot of old.

      • I fully understand the statistics and considerations that you are citing, However, you need to take it out of the theoretical and apply it to the story if you want to have a relevant post. The post was specifically about "micro babies" which is pure bunk based on the statistical deviation that they saw. (Micro babies are those born from 20-25 weeks that weigh an average of around 500g). Further, it is a well documented fact that baring genetic deformity or maternal compromise (i.e. drug use, malnutrition

  • by alanxyzzy ( 666696 ) on Tuesday April 04, 2017 @03:17AM (#54169101)
    Otto Frisch [wikipedia.org] (one of the inventors of the nuclear bomb [atomicarchive.com]) wrote a spoof article: "On the Feasibility of Coal-Driven Power Stations" [mpoweruk.com] in 1955

    The main health hazard is attached to the gaseous waste products. They contain not only carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide (both highly toxic) but also a number of carcinogenic compounds such as phenanthrene and others. To discharge these into the air is impossible. It would cause the tolerance level to be exceeded for several miles around the reactor.

    It is therefore necessary to collect the gaseous waste in suitable containers, pending chemical detoxification. Alternatively, the waste might be mixed with hydrogen and filled into large balloons which are subsequently released.

  • When the nuclear plant shut down, was the facility razed and a massive coal-fired plant constructed, OR was there an increase in coal-fired generation somewhere else in the state? If coal caused the low birth weights, wouldn't it's impact be near the coal-fired generator, not the shuttered nuclear plant?

    I strongly suspect the low birth weight after the nuclear plant shutdown may have more to do with a reduction in prenatal care due to the loss of well-paying jobs with generous healthcare benefits.

    It would b

    • "OR was there an increase in coal-fired generation somewhere else in the state?"

      That's exactly what the article says: a nuclear shutdown causes the nearest mothballed coal plants to be restarted. Though grids can extend for great distances, the most efficient replacement power when a plant goes offline is from the vicinity.

      • The vicinity can mean a lot of things. And just a few miles downwind can mean it has no effect on the pollution you or your baby are subject to.
        At the same time, perhaps a uranium refinery or mining operation were upwind. And now everyone has cleaner air, but are also under crushing poverty. The only thing we can assume with any certainty is that shutting down a power plants makes the residents poorer.

    • It would be interesting to know about any impact to low birth weights around the coal-fired generators, not the shuttered nuclear facility.

      That's what they did.

  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Tuesday April 04, 2017 @07:34AM (#54169703) Homepage Journal

    I can't find anything this side of the paywall [nature.com] that says that they controlled for economic factors that lead to or were caused by the shutdown of these plants. Ordinarily poor economic conditions is the prime cause of low birth weights.

    i want nuclear to win out on its actual merits. Save the coal for distributed micro-energy needs.

  • I am really hoping they controlled for poverty. It seems to make a lot of sense, not even including pollution, that worse results across the board would follow after a big fancy high paying business shuts down in a one business town.

  • Finally an answer for the obesity epidemic.
  • tumors are heavy!
  • It's not coal/gas/other power plants causing low birth weights.

    Lack of gamma rays from nuclear power plants is preventing new Hulk-sized babies.

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