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View Diary: Nuclear This Week at MIT and Harvard (46 comments)

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  •  That's a good way to put it. (0+ / 0-)

    I do kind of feel beaten into submission. In a lot of ways. In the way you suggest, plus in another way which I'll try to put into words.

    I spent about 30 years working on the periphery of nuclear energy, as I have related before, being a strong advocate of it all that time. And before that time, actually, which played a part in my accepting the positions I did when they came along.

    All that time, though, I did have a feeling in the back of my mind that nuclear energy (fission) was the way to go so long as no serious accidents happened. Then, serious accidents did happen. I remained optimistic that some of the newer technologies would be put into operation and that would fix the deficiencies of the current generation of reactors.

    But then Fukushima happened, and it seems that some of those low probability, high consequence accidents I always kind of had my fingers crossed against were not quite so low probability after all. I don't really know what to think about what the ultimate impact on the people near those facilities (and what do I mean by near, anyway, 20 mi, 50, 10? don't know) will be, but I do think we won't really know for a while despite all that has been written about it up to now on these diaries.

    What really makes me feel beaten up is the lack of potential for a meaningful conversation on the topic with those who claim to know all about what is going on at Fukushima. You're either a member of the amen corner or a shill.

    It's much easier to have a conversation with you, David, et al. But then we're just talking about what we already know or think we know, and I need to know more than that.

    In consequence, I don't advocate for nuclear energy any more. I realize that other energy sources kill a lot more people, but I'm not quite sure anymore what the status of nuclear energy will be when all is said and done on that score.

    In the meantime, I know I still feel comfortable with it but I'm not sure if that's just due to familiarity with the technology.

    I find it hard to advocate for it now because so many people feel uncomfortable with it, and no amount of assurance from people like me can, or should, change that. I just don't think I know enough about it anymore to be giving those kinds of assurances.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Tue Oct 04, 2011 at 06:20:29 PM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  Well, there's a third possibility (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Recall
      You're either a member of the amen corner or a shill.

      Or you're a rational person who is willing to take a wait-and-see approach.

      While you think about Fukushima, take a look at history. At this point in time after the Three Mile Island accident, we didn't know that part of the core had melted. There are still lots of unknowns in Japan.

      One thing has been consistent, however. After both the TMI accident and the Chernobyl accident, dire consequences were predicted—lots of carnage and death—but once the scientific follow-up studies were conducted, the consequences turned out to be far smaller than anticipated. This surprised even the researchers conducting the studies.

      Let's keep some perspective here. The event that took down those old nuclear reactors was a natural disaster that killed tens of thousands of people. If there is anything regrettable about this incident, it is that too much attention has been focused on the nuclear plant that has been rather benign, instead of the real tragedy that claimed all of those lives.

      The anti-nuke doomsayers have been predicting that an event such as this should claim thousands of lives from radioactive fallout, but that did not happen. It is this inconsistency that has caused people like George Monbiot to take a fresh look at the debate and realize that he had been lied to for years by anti-nuclear organizations.

      So, yeah, nuclear reactors are not perfect. Rare acts of god can still knock them down. But what is perfect? And is that any reason to abandon the technology?

      Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
      -- Albert Einstein

      by bryfry on Tue Oct 04, 2011 at 10:11:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I wouldn't abandon it personally, (0+ / 0-)

        I just won't advocate for it to people who have already rejected it.

        Also, I'm not as sure as I once was about who to trust on the subject of just what the actual danger of radiation is. Perhaps that skepticism comes from all the back and forth about the dangers of tobacco that was already raging when I was 10 years old. I grew up and spent a couple of decades after that watching as the initial denial about the dangers slowly turned into common knowledge that they were real. That and other things along the way made me more wary of scientific studies in general. I think that attitude finally has permeated just about all of my thinking these days. I take most everything with a grain of salt. It's no fun at all, but there it is.

        When I said you're either a shill or a member of the amen corner, I meant that's how one is perceived in these diary comment sessions. I consider myself a rational person who is willing to take a wait and see approach. That attitude is often called out as shilling too, as I'm sure you have experienced even more than I have.

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Wed Oct 05, 2011 at 05:44:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think that you're missing the point (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          billmosby, Recall
          I just won't advocate for it to people who have already rejected it.

          Do you think that I am foolish enough to believe that I am going to convince anyone who has already rejected it? I don't write what I write for the anti-nukes. I write to continue the debate so that I can convince those still sitting on the fence, who are reading all of this.

          If you throw in the towel, then you've left the field clear for the side of disinformation, and they will win.

          The minds that I'm changing are not those that I'm fencing with, and I don't pretend that they are.

          Also, I'm not as sure as I once was about who to trust on the subject of just what the actual danger of radiation is.

          Well, that topic is open to debate. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that the dangers are vastly overstated.

          None of that matters, however, since the regulations that we have and current practices already use the most conservative assumptions. That is, we already go with the LNT model and the assumption that no dose, however small, has no effect. There is nobody other than complete crackpots who are arguing that the risks are worse than LNT. (And the National Academy of Sciences have completely and unequivocally dismissed such claims.) So why should you be disheartened? This is light-years away from what has been going on with smoking.

          I, for one, have found value in your comments here. I have found them to be very rational, and I hope that you will continue to post them with the same enthusiasm that you have in the past. Your take, as an insider, on the aborted IFR project are particularly interesting to me. Thanks.

          Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
          -- Albert Einstein

          by bryfry on Wed Oct 05, 2011 at 11:13:43 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks for the kind words. (0+ / 0-)

            I'm going to keep thinking about it.

            I should have said I wouldn't advocate for nuclear energy for anybody, anti, pro, or on the fence, until I have satisfied myself that it's the right thing to do. I need to substantiate for myself what I used to tell people. Since I worked only peripherally with the energy producing parts of the technology, I had taken a lot of it on faith. And that goes double for water reactors- I only ever saw EBR-II and a little TRIGA reactor up close. Oh, and the 93% enriched U core of a fast source reactor you could hold in your hand, if crit safety rules hadn't mandated that only 1 of the two parts be removed from the birdcage at a time unless being installed in the reactor.

            I'd like to have a real conversation with the antis about the blizzard of stuff we get from them, just to find out for sure what part of it bears further examination or to clear up the all too frequent garble. From the responses I often get to the most respectful and mildly stated questions, though, I don't think that's possible.

            I have been working on some other things, but I think maybe I'll have to come back to this and at least give what's been presented a good going over. It may take a while.

            Who knew that retirement would make so many demands on one's time, lol. I still am trying to find a way to supplement my income without using up all my time in the process. That online tutoring I used to do was hardly worth the effort it took.

            Moderation in most things.

            by billmosby on Wed Oct 05, 2011 at 11:33:00 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  How do you reconcile these beliefs? (0+ / 0-)
      But then Fukushima happened, and it seems that some of those low probability, high consequence accidents

      ...

      I realize that other energy sources kill a lot more people

      If Fukushima is "high consequence" then what do we call all the other stuff that's far greater?

      •  It's the taking of (0+ / 0-)

        land and other properties out of use for long periods of time that is most worrisome to me. I used to think that was rare, now I'm not so sure.

        I'm also not so sure that covering a lot of ground with diffuse energy collectors (solar, wind, etc) is a good idea. Sure, we can get all the energy we "need" from a few percent of the land area or whatever. Then we will continually redefine the amount we need upwards until we have another crisis. I have lived long enough to notice certain trends in human society, and continual growth of things in general is a big one. This all could just be a symptom of our tendency to grow in all ways. If the population was stable and 1/10 of what it is now, and satisfied with 1/2 or 1/4 or whatever fraction of what we use, so many of these things would matter so much less.

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Wed Oct 05, 2011 at 05:49:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Even by that standard, fossil fuels ... (0+ / 0-)
           It's the taking of (0+ / 0-)
          land and other properties out of use for long periods of time that is most worrisome to me. I used to think that was rare, now I'm not so sure.

          ... are still far worse. Chernobyl is going to be clean long before mountains grow back. The damage from fossil fuels is every bit as permanent as anything nuclear, if not more so.

          •  Mountains (0+ / 0-)
            Chernobyl is going to be clean long before mountains grow back.

            Mountains don't grow back. They are originally pushed up by tectonic activity and then slowly erode down.

            The timescale required for this makes Chernobyl and all of its consequences look like a brief instant in time.

            Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
            -- Albert Einstein

            by bryfry on Wed Oct 05, 2011 at 03:04:20 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well, yeah, but (0+ / 0-)

              the mountain land is at least not off limits due to radiation, however much it's screwed up. You could put wind turbines, solar panels, or, say, drive-in movies on the land.

              I live within view of the reputedly biggest hole in the ground, the Bingham mine. It provides about 1/6 of the copper production of the U.S. currently. Nobody is using the slopes of that, but that's because it's still in production and being dug. I imagine it will become a sort of pseudo-toroidal ski resort someday, except that the snow might be a little thin by then. I'd laugh at that thought except that some fool is planning a ski resort nearby in the Oquirrhs, which see not all that much snow, typically.

              Hope that stab at humor isn't inappropriate. I just think there's a difference between radioactively contaminated land and big digs.

              Moderation in most things.

              by billmosby on Wed Oct 05, 2011 at 05:21:22 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  You could do that even if it was radioactive. (0+ / 0-)
                You could put wind turbines, solar panels, or, say, drive-in movies on the land.

                Turbines and solar panels don't mind radiation, and drive-in movies only exist so teenagers can be attacked by monsters.

                I just think there's a difference between radioactively contaminated land and big digs.

                And global warming? It makes everything else look like small potatoes.

                •  If it's an exclusion zone, (0+ / 0-)

                  I would think that the tendency would be to exclude uses that include regular access by lots of people. I know that there are still people working at the reactor at Chernobyl of course. I don't know if new installations would be allowed, though.

                  You're right about global warming, but I think that's already baked in the cake, if you will pardon the expression. The only real chance we had to avoid the tipping point(s) expired about 30 years ago when nuclear energy stalled here. Nothing else was ready to pick up the slack back then. Bear in mind that I'm not a nuclear opponent, but I wouldn't do anything to force it on whoever else doesn't want it, and that included a majority of people back then, however much things have changed in that regard since then.

                  Moderation in most things.

                  by billmosby on Wed Oct 05, 2011 at 10:54:59 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

              •  There's a big difference (0+ / 0-)

                But we disagree on which situation is preferable.

                I think that it's important at least to look at this "radioactively contaminated" situation that you talk about.

                In the case of a nuclear accident, the only important radioisotopes are the volatile radioisotopes, namely I-131 and Cs-137. The I-131 decays away to nothing in a couple of years. The Cs-137 lasts longer, but it is one of the less mobile radioactive metals in the environment. It tends to adhere quite well to soil, and thus tends to sit in the upper layers of topsoil where it is deposited. This is why cesium is generally not a major contaminant in groundwater where it is found (from the fallout from atomic bomb blasts, for example).

                The amount of money, energy, and effort it takes to remove the tops of entire mountains or to do other "big digs" could easily be used to remove the top soil layer of various "hot spots" (areas with higher readings of Cs-137 contamination) and bury this soil under the ground at specially chosen locations. The lack of mobility of Cesium means that it will stay where it's put (assuming that you're not stupid in selecting a location), and the fill dirt above where it is buried is sufficient to provide shielding against the gamma rays resulting from the barium-137m decay product.

                Certainly, disposing of this topsoil is no more environmentally damaging than digging huge holes in the ground. And if it comes to a choice between trucking some topsoil away or removing an entire mountain (regardless of what you decide to do with the land afterward), sorry, but I have to choose the mountain.

                Mountains don't grow back.

                Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
                -- Albert Einstein

                by bryfry on Thu Oct 06, 2011 at 11:38:55 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

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