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After the twin diaries on Chernobyl  by DeAnander and DoDo, herebelow is the case made by DeAnander against nuclear power.

The full text of this has been on European Tribune for the past 2 days, and has triggered a lively debate.

As I have done previously, everything below the fold has been written by DeAnander and not by me.

Since this is a contentious topic, maybe it would be best to begin with a quick reconnoitre of the disputed territory -- a little rough demography of the disputants - and the talking points "each side" (though there are more than two, of course) traditionally upholds.  Sometimes it helps to have an approximate agreement about what one is disagreeing about...

The Case for the Defense

The claims made by the various spokespeople for the nuclear industry at this juncture are, in précis:



  • (a) that nuclear power is "unlimited", i.e. can be maintained or grown for an "indefinite" future (this in practise means "a couple of hundred years");


  • (b) that nuclear power is carbon-neutral, i.e. does not contribute significantly to greenhouse emissions or climate change and therefore is a "fix" for global warming;


  • (c) that nuclear power is, nowadays, "safe"...  meaning: incidents like TMI (Three Mile Island) and Chernobyl, and sites like Hanford and Sellafield, are "bad old days" stuff, and we can take care of all the problems of waste disposal, leakage of active isotopes, provide fail-secure "walk away" reactors, etc.


    (c1) that it's "safer to build than to import" from neighbours with old or substandard nuclear technology


  • (d) that nuclear power can replace almost every application of fossil power or


    (d1) that nuclear power can at least provide a reliable energy baseline


  • (e) that nuclear power is already more cost effective than renewables and


  • (f) that new fission reactor designs such as CANDU or pebble bed solve the problems of "old, bad designs" like TMI or Chernobyl and/or


  • (g) that new developments such "safe breeder reactors" and "fusion reactors" are just around the corner and will make nuclear power really efficient and safe (even though, as we all know, it already is)


  • (h) Just because some incompetent nations/companies have built lousy plants or mismanaged them (Soviet fast-track crude technology, American privatisation or political corruption) doesn't mean that nuclear power cannot be managed properly by competent and rational government programmes, as in France.  (i.e. failures of nuclear power in the past were structural failures of the society, government, or level of expertise or materials, not due to risk factors inherent in the technology).


  • (i) All industrial technologies are risky, and there is no reason to fear nuclear accidents or pollution more than any other industrial process or "externalised" waste or pollution (much of which can be shown to have caused more premature loss of life over the last 20 years than can be irrefutably ascribed to the nuclear sector).


  • (j) fission reactor construction, and nuclear development generally, have been unfairly held back over the last 20 years by unfounded public fears, prejudice, and anti-nuke protestors


Further systematic or conceptual, implicit or explicit claims often heard from the industry or its supporters are:



  • (A) The energy and climate situation is dire and some remedial action is urgently needed;


  • (B) Nuclear power is the only practical alternative to fossil fuels;  or put more vividly, the only alternative to nuclear power is "shivering in the dark", i.e. widespread power-famine.  Therefore, opposing the nuclear industry is -- implicitly -- a crime against humanity, as it means obstructing the only possible solution and condemning people to freeze in the dark / die / starve / live like lowly third world peasants;


  • (C) Therefore it is clear that only stupid people would oppose such an obvious solution; therefore opposition to the nuclear industry must be born of stupidity -- opponents are presumably non-scientists and/or generally ill-educated, and believe a lot of superstitious/cartoony exaggerations about the dangers of radiation.  Alternatively they are a lot of "eco-crazies" or "tree huggers" who are ideologically anti-science, anti-progress, and suffer from a sentimental attachment to a wholly fictional happier agrarian/pastoral historical period.


  • (D) Quality of life is linearly related to amount of energy consumed per person per annum


  • (E) We have reason to be optimistic about steady and often radical improvements in technology;  scientific "miracles" produced by the efforts of academic and/or commercial elites have occurred in the past which produced wonderous returns for consumers, and more of the same can be expected to continue indefinitely until everyone on Earth enjoys a First World lifestyle and/or humanity colonises the solar system, etc.  But to reach this Promised Land we will need lots of energy, so we must not permit our energy consumption and production to fall.




I think that about sums it up, but perhaps our local pro-nuclear advocates can add a few more talking points.

The Case for the Prosecution

The claims made by opponents of nuclear plants, on the other side of the fence, can be distilled into this list:



  • (a) Nuclear power is not safe, because:


             
    • Waste management is an unsolved problem and the waste is intensely toxic effectively forever


    •        
    • Uranium mining is associated with poor worker safety, contamination of water sources, etc (like coal mining)


    •        
    • Leaks happen at nuclear plants, safety procedures are not followed, corners are cut, and then coverups are mounted to prevent the public from finding out.


    •        
    • No private insurer will insure a nuclear plant.  If the technology were safe, you could get insurance on it.


    •        
    • Nuclear plants are a stalking horse for the nuclear weapons industry.  The history of DU munitions (a handy way the industry figured out to get rid of some hot waste) is abominable.  This tie makes the world less safe all over.




  • (b) The public does not trust reassurances made by nuclear scientists and industry spokespeople, and rightly so. (More on this failure of trust later).


  • (c)Uranium mining is not only physically dangerous, but a politically dirty business associated with exploitation of labour, fraudulent dealings with aboriginal people, and all the rest of the typical mining industry profile (i.e. moral odium attaches to it).


  • (d) Nuclear power is centralised, extremely high/heavy technology, difficult for average people to understand -- and therefore makes power consumers into helpless clients of an authoritarian, secretive industry (with enormous lobbying power for self-perpetuation). In part this is because:


    • Nuclear power is tightly coupled to national security risks, proliferation etc. which inspire/require rigorous security measures -- these are inherently secretive and antidemocratic.


    • Radiation is invisible, unsmellable, undetectable without expensive equipment (geiger counters, dosimeters, etc)  -- average people cannot tell if they are being exposed.  They must take the word of (untrusted) authorities.




  • (e) Health effects of radiation exposure may take many years to develop, and may include genetic damage that does not become visible until gestation or birth of children.  As menaces go, it qualifies as "insidious" as well as carrying extreme damage and lethality potential.


  • (f) Uranium is no more an infinite resource than fossil fuel.


  • (g) Nuclear power is not cost-effective;  no nuclear plant has ever turned a profit, all have been subsidised/socialised (as the saying goes, "No plant has ever been built that burns uranium as efficiently as it burns money.").  This muddies and confounds comparisons with alternative technologies that have never been subsidised/socialised to the same extent.  Further cost issues are:  


    • Old nuclear plants are very expensive to repurpose or clean up.  Decades go by and they are still eating up scientist and engineer hours:  a permanent burden on society.


    • Nuclear plants are very costly to build and require many highly trained personnel to operate -- high level of complexity and high failure costs.  This = Expensive.  Expensive multiplied by ... how many of them would we have to build to replace fossil fuel generating capacity?




  • (h) Other alternatives look more obvious, cheaper, easier, and less scary:  first, conservation;  second, reversion to renewable energy sources (wind, tidal, solar, geothermal, "solar tower", biomass, biodigester methane, etc);  third, localisation, micropower, smart grids (smart information/routing technology)


  • (i) In terms of addressing urgent climate/energy issues, nuclear power is not a nimble or timely solution.  It takes 10-15 years to bring a new nuke plant on line, whereas we need solutions and ameliorations right now for both fossil fuel scarcity and climate destabilisation.


  • (j) What has held nuclear power plant construction back for 20 years has not been public protests (10 million people protesting couldn't stop the illegal invasion of Iraq, after all) but the failure of the technology to demonstrate a good return on investment or a manageable risk


  • (k) New miracle technologies are mostly vaporware, and/or incur significant underplayed "externalities".  We've been promised safe breeder reactors and fusion for at least 30 years.  Where are they?  [Ironically the fission faction in the pronuclear camp has at times made much the same snarky remark and has protested against the diversion of funding into "impractical" fusion research.]  Pro-nuke advocates suffer from a sentimental attachment to a wishful-thinking Star Trek or Jetsons cartoon future and are naively optimistic about technology, which they fetishise.




In addition, antinuclear advocates have their own implicit or explicit "larger assumptions" or ideological groundwork which tends to inform the viewpoint of a majority among them.  These might include:



  • (A) skepticism about the Infinite Growth model of economic theory and urgent concern about its impact on various biotic and social infrastructure worldwide; skepticism about capitalism and the profit motive as engines of progress


  • (B) conviction that it is not physically possible for everyone on Earth to live a First World lifestyle;  and further, that it is not possible for First Worlders to go on doing so much longer;  for survival as well as for social justice, affluent lifestyles in the industrial West should be considered excessive and some curbing of consumerism/materialism is in order


  • (C) a conviction of the utter moral wrongness of nuclear weapons;  for example the conviction that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a crime against humanity


  • (D) skepticism about technological hubris and promised "scientific miracles";  a conviction that many of these carry hidden price tags


  • (E) some degree of libertarian and/or anarchistic tendencies leading to


             
    • a skeptical and resistant stance towards Authority, and a mistrust of centralised government and/or large corporations;


    •        
    • higher value placed on community/grassroots and local organising and provision of services (devolution, downsizing, decentralisation))


    •        
    • fear that any government may fall, or policies change at any time, leaving large numbers of nuclear plants in "the wrong hands"




  • (F) optimism about the intelligence and capacity of the proletariat (vs faith in academic or corporate elites) and the viability of simple, sustainable, and small/medium-scale systems to provide a decent lifestyle for a majority of people;  the Promised Land is already here, if we would only exercise some common sense, reasonable frugality, and fairness.  Quality of life is not linearly related to amount of energy consumed per person per annum.




Summary Remarks

The usual disclaimers apply:  not everyone who is pronuke will agree with every one of the "pro" talking points, and vice versa for the contranuke position;  ideological mappings are always fuzzy in detail.  But published literature from both points of view seems to bear out the rough clustering in meme-space that I've tried to map here.

In addition to a polarisation of risk assessment and beliefs as detailed above, there is an approximate conventional-political polarisation:  support for nuclear power is more common and firmer among people of right and centre-right ideology and/or strong adherence to neoliberal received ideas;  it seems to be more common and firmer among high-level technocrats as well.  Again this is not a hard and fast correlation, but a perceptible tendency.  Firm opposition to nuclear power is more common among people of left/liberal, anti-war, "green," anti-capitalist, sustainable/eco-activist, "hippie" leanings.  Support for nuclear power also appears to be significantly stronger among males than females, something I'll return to in a later installment.

I'd be interested to find out how readers feel about this meme-map... how it reflects -- or doesn't reflect -- their own experience of the nuclear power debate.

In an other diary I'll start to address the problem of security and its social implications, and similar sociopolitical issues around nuke plants and the model of power distribution that they lock us into.

All the above by DeAnander

Originally posted to Jerome a Paris on Tue May 23, 2006 at 03:40 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  My own position on the above (14+ / 0-)

    For Nuclear Power:

    a) Nuclear power is "unlimited" —  in the limited sense allowed by De of "for the next couple hundred years" - agree

    b) Nuclear power is "carbon neutral" — It's hard to know exactly the cost of building the plant - studies seem biased either way. I'll say I mildly agree.

    c) Nuclear power is "safe" — strongly agree. Its track record over the past 40 years is incomparably better than all other power generation options, for the same TWh.
    c1) Nuclear power is "safer to build than to import" — mildly agree in that it is hypocritical to be against nuclear but import nuclear energy from the neighbors.

    d) Nuclear power can replace almost every application of fossil power — agree: electric transportation, even of the private kind, is very much possible. Water desalination also comes to mind. Agri-use is too small at this point to matter.
    d1) Nuclear power can provide a reliable energy baseline: strongly agree: it already does.

    e) Nuclear power is more cost-effective than renewables: this is a hard one, but the French experience does suggest that nuclear is cheaper than everything else when financed, owned and run by the State. So agree

    f) New fission reactors solve the problems of "old, bad" designs. I don't know, would not want to bet on it. So disagree.

    g) New developments are just around the corner that will make nuclear energy even more efficient and safe — disagree: as above disagree

    h) Just because incompentent nations or companies have built lousy plants doesn't mean that nuclear power cannot be managed properly — agree.

    i) There is no reason to fear nuclear accidents or technology more than other industrial process or externalised cost — agree. There is an irrational fear of nuclear accidents. Coal deaths, like road deaths, are more undestandable and somehow less feared, it would seem.

    j) The nuclear industry has been held back over the last 20 years by unfair fear, prejudice and activism — mildly agree.

    :: ::

    A) The energy and climate situation is dire and some urgent remedial action is needed — true, but nuclear should not be the first option to pursue. It is the best of the not politically impossible options.

    B) Nuclear energy is the only practical alternative to fossil fuels — mildly agree. For now, nuclear is the least bad of the full baseload options.

    C) Opponents of nuclear energy are scientifically illiterate, superstitious or ideologically biased — mildly agree

    D) Quality of life is strongly correlated with per capita power consumption — this needs to be changed. This is a higher priority than doing more nuclear.

    E) We have reason to be optimistic about steady and often radical improvements in technology — I'll say I mildly agree, for my son.

    Conclusion: I am French.

    Against nuclear power:

    a) Nuclear power is not safe — disagree: the track record is excellent, and the only really bad accident, Chernobyl, came from a terrible design and pretty bad safety procedures. Compared to the dozens of failed dams, the hundreds of thousands of feaths from coal mining and burining, and the wars for oil&gas, it is magnificently safe. Renewables are likely to do better, though.

    a1) Nuclear waste management is an unsolved problem and waste is toxic "forever" — disagree. What's dangerous is not big, and what's bulky is not dangerous.

    a2) Uranium mining is associated with poor worker safety, contamination of water sources, etc — This has improved significantly, I understand. Still, agree.

    a3) Safety is sacrificed to efficiency, accidents happen and then they are covered up — disagree. Nuclear energy is certainly supervised much more thna other dangerous industries.

    a4) No private insurer will insure a nuclear plant; if nuclear power were safe it would be possible to insure it — agree This is State risk.

    a5) Nuclear power is a stalking horse for the nuclear weapons industry — I understand it depends on the technology chosen.

    b) The public does not trust the reassurances of nuclear scientists and industry spokespeople, and rightly so — disagree the public does not trust any industry anymore. So it's not really relevant

    c) Uranium mining is a politically dirty business — disagree it's a small part of the overall costs, so not sure how this is relevant. Should the mobile phone industry be blamed for Zaire's mess (for the coltan?)

    d) Nuclear power is centralised, high/heavy technology, difficult to understand, and makes power consumers into helpless clients — agree, but that's what makes it a great candidate for State-run, cost effective business. As to helpless clients, this sounds luddite.

    e) Nuclear power is coupled to national security, nonproliferation, and other risks which inspire or require rigorous security which is inherently secretive and undemocratic — disagree security need not be undemocratic. Just regulated by tough rules, which can be explicit.

    f) Radiation is undetectable without specialized equipment and people cannot tell if they are being exposed, having to rely on the word of (untrusted) authorities — agree, but tell me how this is different from most chemical or biological contamination.

    g) The health effects of radiation are insidious, as they can take years to develop and may include genetic damage which does not become visible until gestation and birth of children — disagree thetrackrecord - long term - is noxw available. The worst incidents took place in the early years, and their consequences are still hotly debated.

    f) Uranium is no more an infinite resource than fossil fuel — true, but it is more abundant for now, and what about thorium?

    g) Nuclear power is not cost-effective and benefits from hidden subsidies — disagree French studies point to excellent prices with full cost accounting. This is linked to full State funding and running the industry.

    g1) Old nuclear plants are very expensive to repurpose of clean up — agree, but this seems true of any old plant.

    g2) Nuclear power plants are costly to build, require expert personnel to operate, and have high complexity and high failure costs, all of which is expensive — disagree Only the cost per kWh is relevant, not per plant.

    h) Simple, cheaper, cleaner and less scary options than nuclear power include conservation, renewable energy and localised energy production — strongly agree

    i) Nuclear power is not a nimble solution for urgent problems (such as climate change or peak oil) as it takes 10 to 15 years to bring a nuclear power plant online. — agree

    j) Public protests have not been a decisive factor in holding nuclear power back, but rather inadequate return on investment and unmanageable risks — disagree There has been a pall against nuclear. Referenda in several countries. Widespread hostility.

    k) New miracle technologies either fail to deliver on their promises or incur significant externalities — agree All technologies will have negative side effects when used on a larger scale. (So will wind, most likely)

    :: ::

    A) The infinite growth predicated by economics is a myth, it is environmentally and socially unsustainable and does not guarantee progress — agree Not specific to nuclear.

    B) It is not physically possible for everyone on earth to lead a first-world lifestyle — I don't know.

    C) Nuclear weapons are utterly morally wrong — disagree.

    D) promises of technological miracles are a case of hubris and carry hidden costs — agree but we are talking about existing technology.

    E) anarchism/libertarianism:

    E1) Authority should be resisted, and large centralised governments or corporations mistrusted — agree but being a French technocrat I trust French technocrats to some extent.

    E2) community/grassroots efforts and local organisation and provision of services should be more highly valued — strongly agree

    E3) government may fall, or policies change, leaving nuclear plants in the wrong hands — disagree If we get to that point nuclear plants will be the least of our worries.

    F) a decent lifestyle for the majority of people could be attained with common sense, reasonable frugality and fairness — agree strongly.

    Conclusion
    I don't see nuclear as bad. It's much, much better than the existing large scale alternatives (on pretty much every metric: cost, pollution, global warming, direct or indirect deaths). It needs to come after a massive effort at conservation and renewable energies.

    In the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)
    Read more on the European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe

    by Jerome a Paris on Tue May 23, 2006 at 03:37:08 PM PDT

    •  My objection to nuclear power (0+ / 0-)

      ...is that the safety system which failed at Chernobyl is duplicated in every nuclear plant in the world.

      People.

      Rubus Eradicandus Est.

      by Randomfactor on Tue May 23, 2006 at 03:41:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Last line of defense (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sphealey

        and first line of failure.

        But this is true in every industry or activity (including driving, for instance), and it is possible to run each activity/industry in ways that protect more or less against that risk. Chernobyl did not, but other designs do.

        In the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)
        Read more on the European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe

        by Jerome a Paris on Tue May 23, 2006 at 03:48:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  hmmm, so you don't drive or ride in automobiles? (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sphealey, GayHillbilly, djpat, david78209

        ...tongue only partially-in-cheek. :-)

        I would argue that one of the most important lessons of Chernobyl is to compare it with TMI.

        Each plant was operated with approximately equal incompetence on the day they failed.

        But one caused great harm to many thousands of people in a vast surrounding area; while the other caused no measurable harm, even to the people directly on-site.

        -Jay-
      •  Could you provide specifics? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        blueness

        > is that the safety system which failed at
        > Chernobyl is duplicated in every nuclear
        > plant in the world.

        1. Chernobyl did not have a containment structure.  Every nuclear plant in the West has a containment structure
        1. Chernobyl used Soviet control systems.  While the Soviets built some very good electronics and controls for military purposes, safety was never their strong point.  After the accident the Soviet Union asked Western nuclear plant suppliers and operators for assistance redesigning their plant controls.  
        1. The RBMK design has a positive coefficient of thermal reactivity (leading directly to the steam explosion which shattered the reactor).  No commerical Western design has that characteristic.
        1.  I won't try to defend the "safety culture" of Western nuclear utilities; that is a huge topic.  But having read interviews with Soviet nuclear power authorities about 6 months before Chernobyl (they were trying to open up to the West and consented to some interviews with industry trade pubs), I can say with some confidence that the Western safety culture is 1000x more advanced in thinking that the Soviet one was.

        So I am not sure exactly what you mean.  What safety features do the RBMK reactors share with pressurized lightwater reactors?  With pebble bed reactors, if you want even more safety at the cost of efficiency?

        sPh

    •  nuclear material has an indeterminable life span (0+ / 0-)

      that is my major concern but it is too late. Regardless of what one thinks we have to learn to live around tons of this stuff. Man can't even manage himself that is my bi concern.
        I just wanted to say that I am fond of saying something like this in regards to people trying to be different and not accomodating others.
        In the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)
         I like to say, in the end we are all the same, dead!

      Repug credo: If you can't Dazzle them with Brilliance Baffle them with Bullshit! http://anaverageamericanpatriot.blogspot.com

      by jmsjoin on Tue May 23, 2006 at 03:48:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You disagree that nuclear WEAPONS are immoral? (0+ / 0-)

      I know you're French and all, but I thought we could all agree that nuclear weapons..if used...are far worse than conventional weapons. Or are you saying that M.A.D. works and therefore the existence of nuclear weapons is not so bad? I can agree with that...nuclear weapons are essentially useless except for mass suicide.

      As for nuclear power, maybe the problem is that it is unsafe for either communists or capitalists to run them, because neither of those systems provides the requisite regulation.

      "All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out." --I.F. Stone

      by Alice in Florida on Tue May 23, 2006 at 04:22:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm particularly fond (0+ / 0-)

      of your Keynes quote placed at the end of that list, Jerome.  Perhaps, in determining the global fuel mix, we could determine which component will kill us on the longest possible timeline.      

    •  Order of priorities makes sense given time scales (0+ / 0-)

      that are involved.  Significant gains could be realized through conservation almost immediately with enough political will.  Renewables a bit longer.  But, adding nuclear capacity has decade-long lead times.  Therefore, it makes sense to maximize what can be done with conservation NOW while agressively building renewable capacity over the next decade, while building nuclear capacity in parallel to at least replace all current fossil-based sources of baseload electricity supply within 20-30 years.  

      The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

      by mojo workin on Tue May 23, 2006 at 07:01:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Jerome (0+ / 0-)

      Sorry for the off topic question, but what do you know/think about HHO gas as a potential alternative energy source.   I came across a news report on it recently and it seemed promising, but haven't had the chance to research it.

      Thanks.

      Democrats - applying common sense to common problems for the common good.

      by Rick Oliver on Tue May 23, 2006 at 08:13:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  personally I don't know what to think! (0+ / 0-)

    What scares me is that anything in mans hands will be fucked up. It is human nature it seems. They seem incapable of even managing themselves.
      My only thought on Nuclear power besides that is that Nuclear material is hear to stay. It has an indeterminable life span.
      So, drop everything today and we are still stuck with tons upon tons to try and live with.

    Repug credo: If you can't Dazzle them with Brilliance Baffle them with Bullshit! http://anaverageamericanpatriot.blogspot.com

    by jmsjoin on Tue May 23, 2006 at 03:41:08 PM PDT

  •  My main problem: (7+ / 0-)

    Your comment:

    It needs to come after a massive effort at conservation and renewable energies.

    is always tacked on to the end of every speech when it should be a stand-alone message in flashing neon. I see no real sign of anyone paying attention other than lip service to this. The public, even though it is a few years ahead of the moron in the White House, cannot get over the silver bullet idea so responsible parties must do it for them.

    Carbon sequestration, anyone?

    •  I agree (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sockpuppet, melvin

      As this specific diary is about nuclear, that particular pitfall was hard to avoid ;-)

      But you are absolutely right.

      In the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)
      Read more on the European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe

      by Jerome a Paris on Tue May 23, 2006 at 03:50:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Beyond that (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sockpuppet, NJwlss

        my main objection is the one of centralization of power - but that is a political or even cultural argument although it greatly oversimplifies to beat us with the word "luddite." (I am not a French technocrat and not particularly fond of the idea of states at all.)

        I fear we will wind up making all these decisions with a gun to our head, on an emergency ad hoc basis. Hardly seems the way to determine the shape of society for the next few hundred years, does it?

        •  I know (0+ / 0-)

          DeAnander makes that case convincingly as well.

          I guess we have a different experience of this, and I won't pretend not to being biased, as many of the top engineers and managers of the nuclear industry in France are alumnis of my university.

          In the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)
          Read more on the European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe

          by Jerome a Paris on Tue May 23, 2006 at 04:01:44 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  the reason for your bias is a bit disappointing (0+ / 0-)

            though :-), but as you said, you are French, so you are excused. Those elites, what c(w)ould we be without them?

            •  hmm, and I thought (0+ / 0-)

              you are working with wind energy, because you had some anti-nuclear energy view-points ... I am disappointed. I don't like all your agreements with the pro arguments. They are short-sighted and I don't trust them one bit. Nuclear energy is the energy choice of the evil genius, and I can live without evil and without genius. Oh my, I hope I will reread this a couple of times tomorrow to see if there is anything that would convince me.

              •  and yes, you bet (0+ / 0-)

                Firm opposition to nuclear power is more common among people of left/liberal, anti-war, "green," anti-capitalist, sustainable/eco-activist, "hippie" leanings.  Support for nuclear power also appears to be significantly stronger among males than females, something I'll return to in a later installment.

                I am one of those female green, anti-capitalist, sustainable/eco-activists with a "science" degree and no visible hippie markers. I don't give a damn about science, when it's used to put down so-called non-scientific tree-hugging "hippie" leaning folks.

                •  Yo... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  sphealey

                  Female green, anti-capitalist, sustainable/eco-activist tree-hugger health physicist here. I've been ragged for years by my hippie friends for my support of nukes, and have been able to bring a few around.

                  I don't think nukes are the best answer, by any means, but I do think they are something that can keep us going until we find something that works. I'm glad nuclear power scares people - I hope the public never becomes comfortable with it. Nuclear technology begs to be abused, so the sooner we can get rid of it and move to something better, the happier I'll be.

                  But we have to have something until we get there, and, like it or not, nuclear is the only option that is even remotely feasable.

                  "Eschew Ofbfuscation." - Mark Twain

                  by windsngr on Tue May 23, 2006 at 08:46:59 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  No, not a question of bringing someone around (0+ / 0-)

                    matter of fact is that no matter what mankind is a slave of its own technological and scientific discoveries and ideas. Just because we are so darn unlucky to have become dependent on nuclear energy, doesn't mean that we will "get" to something better, just because you hope so. So far most technological developments were neither planned the way they turned out, nor could they be prevented. You dont' stop people from thinking. And what that thinking leads them to is uncontrollable.

                    If them darn scientist have them darn ideas and them big entrepreneurs see an opening to make a buck of profit with those ideas, there is no way of stopping both of them developing whatever self-destrucive technology there is.

                    There is no way of knowing that what we will get nuclear energy rid off will be better.

    •  Check out the (0+ / 0-)

      Kardashev civilizations scale sometime.  I would mostly agree with its characterization of civilization as the levels of energy it can marshall.

      More energy, the more you can change things to suit your purposes (extend life, travel, perform science, etc).

      Efficiency is always good - the higher your efficiency, the more of the energy you marshall actually does what you want it to.  The ability to suck in 10^20 watts is worthless if you can only spend a tiny fraction of a percent of it.  Also, why work hard when you can work smart?

  •  Flame on (5+ / 0-)

    I consider environmentalism to be one of my major political issues, and my support for nuclear power stems directly from that.

    I don't buy in to the idea that "we're killing the Earth".  That's stupid.  The Earth has survived terrible, terrible things in the past.  It's survived massive meteor impacts, rapid climate change, and the transformation of the entire atmosphere into a gas that was poisonous to nearly all life at the time (the so-called oxygen extinction).  There have been points in the past where 99.9% of the Earth's life has been wiped out-- extinction events that make the human-abetted Great Extinction today look miniscule.  But life has survived.

    The Earth can take us or leave us.  The problem is that we're killing ourselves.  Humans have evolved for a very specific environment, and we're just as vulnerable to habitat loss as any other animal.  That's what's so scary about climate change to me.  We have evolved in a comparative island of atmospheric regularity.  The few times that this regularity has been disrupted even a little bit it has caused massive problems, including economic devastation and skyrocketing mortality.  If climate change is even half as bad as the current worst-case scenario then human life may be doomed, and there is no place on Earth you could go to escape it.

    Nuclear waste, by contrast, is a point source issue.  It is a specific outcome of a specific process produced in a specific place.  As such it is FAR cleaner and easier to handle than the output of even "clean" coal plants, which currently make up most of our power supply.  Coal and oil produce tons of negative byproducts, including sulfur dioxide that contributes to acid rain and particulate matter that is carcinogenic.  That bears repeating because it's a common argument against nuclear power: our current power-generating technology causes cancer too.  The difference is that nuclear waste is trapped and controlled, while particulates are just disseminated into the air you breath.  That said, I don't doubt that waste control will be bad for a specific community and a specific ecosystem, although I think the effects can be mitigated.

    Currently, nuclear power is the only efficient energy source we have. That is likely to be true throughout the theoretical "ten year window" we have to prevent climate change.  If that's the case, then our choice is between saving the local ecology around a waste processing site and saving the ecology of the whole world.  Yes it's shitty that we've gotten to this point.  Yes, we should research other technology to keep our dependence on nuclear fuel at a minimum.  But neither of those things changes the reality: nuclear power is our only realistic chance to stop climate change, and the destruction of homo sapiens sapiens only habitat.

    Read James Loewen's "Sundown Towns"!

    by ChicagoDem on Tue May 23, 2006 at 04:11:55 PM PDT

    •  Hmmmm ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ChicagoDem

      I am not sure what I think of nuclear power ... I am of two minds ... thus, take these comments from someone who is neither an advocate or a to the death opponent.

      Currently, nuclear power is the only efficient energy source we have.

      I don't see how one gets to this. If "efficient" solely focuses on power generation, coal / natural gas / oil (last especially for transportation) all merit being called more 'energy efficient'.  And, wind power on large scale is clearly more efficient than new build nuclear power (while having far less impact re global warming).  

      But, re "efficient" -- power is a multi-part equation and we should consider the parts 'neutrally'.  The most efficient 'new power' available for most of the industrialized world is introducing efficiency.  In the US, for example, residential power use could probably be cut by somewhere between 20 to 40% at a lower cost than what it would take to produce new power (especially if there is -- what there should be -- some form of carbon tax).  

      theoretical "ten year window"

      There is virtually no ability through much of the world to go from a thought for a potential nuclear power plant to actual power production within ten years ... the overall world wide power generation situation in 2016 can only be minorly changed by decisions in the near term to go 'heavy nuke'.  Unless every safeguard were thrown out of the US system (AEC hasn't approved a new plant in what ... 30 years ... how many can it approve and how fast ... and are the materials available to build the plants ... and ...???), hard to see many new nuclear power plants on line before late in the next decade.

      theoretical "ten year window" we have to prevent climate change

      Hmmm -- seems to me that we already have climate change.  The dying of frogs ... dying of coral ... changing of environments around the world (warming of Siberia, melting of Greenland's glaciers, reduction of Artic ice, etc ...) ... I don't know how anyone comes to a 'ten-year window' -- but, to me, the question is not 'whether there will be climate change' but 'how bad will climate change be and what will the impact be on the world, nature, 'civilization', and the human race'?

      If the 10 year window is critical, massive conservation and mass introduction of efficiency technologies would have many orders of magnitude of impact as any new nuclear power plant electricity production ...

      Now, I wrote above that I am somewhat agnostic.  I know people who speak with passion (and knowledge) about health impacts (increased cancers) downwind of operating nuclear power plants (with the birth defects dropping radically in the year post plant shutdown) ... And, I am aware of many of the passionate arguments for nuclear power.  Relative to all the positives and risks, I tend to come down that nuclear power -- even with all its evils -- is part of the solution set to provide a bridge to a sustainable, non-GHG energy future.  But, nuclear power is no silver bullet.

      9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

      by besieged by bush on Tue May 23, 2006 at 08:32:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Good discussion (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        besieged by bush

        I totally agree that nuclear power is no silver bullet.  My position is that it is an essential component to a responsible energy policy.  In my opinion, a "responsible" policy is one that does the following: a) takes avoidance of climate change as a major goal, b) providing enough energy that it remains politically feasible.  Even the most efficient energy plan is useless unless it makes it off paper.  Ideally, a good plan would include enough support for renewable energy that we could keep investment in nuclear technology at a minimum -- but I think that our most important priority as a society right now is to reduce carbon emissions as much and as fast as possible.

        You're right that I was incorrect in saying that it was the only efficient fuel source we have.  I was hurrying and got sloppy.  What I mean is that it's the only efficient non-fossil fuel energy source we have.  Your point about wind is interesting though -- can it really compete with nuclear energy on a dollars/MW-hr basis?

        The source for the "10 year" prediction is the International Climate Change Taskforce.  Here is a BBC summary, and here is the actual report.

        I agree with this:

        If the 10 year window is critical, massive conservation and mass introduction of efficiency technologies would have many orders of magnitude of impact as any new nuclear power plant electricity production ...

        But I'm not optimistic about the probability of it happening.  The political will is missing, and the Republicans will fight an utter scorched earth campaign to keep us from doing anything to hurt energy industry profits.  This is bigger than politics, but it's going to have to take place within the scope of American politics.  I'm more confident in getting Congressional support for new nuke plants than for a set of tough new conservation laws.

        Now, I wrote above that I am somewhat agnostic.  I know people who speak with passion (and knowledge) about health impacts (increased cancers) downwind of operating nuclear power plants (with the birth defects dropping radically in the year post plant shutdown)

        Nuclear power has been used safely in Europe for years.  It is incredibly popular as a cheap power source, which explains why developing countries like India are clamoring for new nuclear plants.  The overwhelming burden of evidence shows that a properly maintained, regulated nuclear power plant is very safe -- of course, the regulation is a problem of policy, not technology.  

        One interesting study I'd like to see-- and I don't think it's been done-- would be comparing the health risks of nuclear plants with coal and oil power.  People tend to be wary of nuclear plants largely because of residual Hiroshima/Nagasaki memories and the experiences of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.  But the bombs were weapons, and shouldn't be used to vilify the underlying technology, any more than WWI submarine warfare should vilify electric batteries.    The other two were industrial accidents, and industrial accidents involving hazardous chemicals nearly always have major risks.  Yet we allow tons of hazardous chemicals to be created, process, and circulated throughout the nation provided they have strong controls.  I'm not convinced that nuclear waste should be in a separate category.  But that's why I'd like to see some research on it.

        Read James Loewen's "Sundown Towns"!

        by ChicagoDem on Tue May 23, 2006 at 10:34:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Mea culpa as I don't have time to (0+ / 0-)

          respond fully ...

          1.  Wind is clearly competitive, especially if one 'full costs' nuclear power (insurance, other infrastructure (gov't security, inspections, monitoring, etc), waste disposal).  While nuclear power advocates tense at the name, Amory Lovins (check out Rocky Mountain Institute) has some numbers arguing this (at the extreme side).  Basically, 'total cost', there is perhaps a 5-7 cents/kwh advantage to wind over nuclear power.
          1.  Efficiency technologies offer tremendous business opportunities -- even for energy companies.  But, for example, what if there were federal regs & funding to drive less efficient vehicles out of the fleet -- that would mean more new cars sold each year.  Or, how about major efforts to put in insulation / etc ... It would be exchanging one cost (raw fuel) for another (manufactured efficiency) for a couple decades. A boom to business -- plus, the energy companies are not going to starve as fuel prices are unlikely to drop.  As well, there is 'decoupling', which provides utilities a profit path whether or not power usage goes up or down -- with requirements to foster new energy efficiencies as part of their license.  Works well in California, which has per capita electricty use about 60% of the US average (e.g., including Californians) -- and which has held basically steady for several decades while there has been 30+% growth nationwide.

          And, I agree with your last section.  There are more risks associated with nuclear power plants than your note suggests (based on what I have seen in briefings by medical experts) but there are some serious questions about 'what is lowest damage/lowest cost'.  Well sited windmills will kill some birds -- some -- but far (FAR) fewer than would be unhealthy, killed, etc from coal pollution.  E.g., need to total analysis and place things in context of overall risk structure.

          Now, there are many who believe in distributed, renewable power (Jeremy Rivkin along with Amory Lovins -- for example) who make eloquent cases against nuclear power.  Not stating that they "are right" but they are strong siren songs ...

          But, as per your note, political reality might make new nuclear power plants one of the favored ways of new generation with lowered GHG emissions.

          9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

          by besieged by bush on Wed May 24, 2006 at 03:21:42 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Not at all proven (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    besieged by bush

    I don't think nuclear is "there" yet but we've basically nailed the coffin but doing virtually zero research on nuclear power since 1980.

    My main objections:

    1. no nuclear reactor has operated by 30 years without showing significant wear and tear which can be practically impossible to fix.  For example, CANDU (potentially a great design) has fuel rod issues where the neutrons cause material changes in the tubes and then the fuel cannot be inserted, or worse, withdrawn.  This requires retubing every couple of dozen years.
    1. waste fuel is a terrorism magnet.  You want a dirty bomb?  Hey, use waste fuel.
    1. there are few to no Americans who have the skill to operate modern nuclear plants...nuclear physics is hardly taught in US universities and plasma physics went the way of the dodo except in astrophysics schools.  Right now, this is the US view of the average nuclear engineer:

    Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under. H. L. Mencken

    by captainlaser on Tue May 23, 2006 at 04:38:46 PM PDT

    •  My objection to your objection#1 (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      besieged by bush, JayBat

      It is true that prolonged exposure to the intense neutron flux causes material changes in the zirconium-niobium pressure tubes of a CANDU.  These are NOT "fuel rods"; they are the pressure vessel which contains the fuel "bundles" and the coolant.  Neutron irradiation has two main effects: it causes a phenomenon called "creep", whereby the tube becomes both longer (axial creep) and wider (radial creep), and embrittlement, such that the risk of a small crack propagating quickly increases slowly over time.  Embrittlement is a very manageable issue. It is the axial creep which caused the greatest problem in older reactors.  It has literally caused tubes to overgrow their supporting bearings, such that they needed to be shifted back into place or replaced.  Fortunately, newer designs take account of the data provided by older reactors, and provide much more latitude for tube elongation.  As for your statements about inserting and removing fuel, I'm not sure what you mean; perhaps you are thinking of a LOCA experienced by BNGSA wherein the pressure tube split, and a fuel bundle came apart and a pencil got lodged in the crack?  If so, that reactor responded to that event exactly as per design, and the fuel pencil was removed safely after the rector was cooled down, the damaged pressure tube was replaced, and the rector was back in business relatively quickly.

      Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving: it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.--Thomas Paine

      by peterborocanuck on Tue May 23, 2006 at 05:53:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for this (0+ / 0-)

        I haven't been following CANDU since I headed south 7 years ago.  So why are the pressure tubes zirconium/niobium and not something with a smaller neutron cross-section?

        All I saw was from the popular press that they couldn't pull a bundle out of the reactor because the bundle had "bowed".  I didn't realize it had split.

        I guess my point still stands that a lot of the work on the technology hit the skids since Hydro decided to mothball some of the units.  Maybe you can tell me I'm wrong...when did they put a CANDU in Peterborough (:-;)

        Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under. H. L. Mencken

        by captainlaser on Tue May 23, 2006 at 07:19:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Pressure tubes (0+ / 0-)

          The choice of zirconium alloys was a compromise between absorption cross section and toughness; most material decisions involve just such tradeoffs.  AECL has never stopped work on CANDU design.  They are now trying to market the advanced CANDU, which would run on slightly enriched uranium, with a light water coolant to greatly reduce the positive void coefficient of reactivity. Ontario is on the verge of announcing new nuclear.  Probably CANDU, maybe the advanced PWR from AREVA.  No nuclear plant in Peterborough, but Darlington, a 3800 MW installation, is just down the highway.  Cheers.

          Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving: it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.--Thomas Paine

          by peterborocanuck on Tue May 23, 2006 at 08:00:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  My objection to your objection #3 (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      besieged by bush

      Ummm, not so. Hubby is a reactor engineer, and just a couple of years ago when he was looking for a job, the market was flooded. And not, as one would suppose in the Bush economy, with ex-retirees. Hubby is a '97 grad, and his class was not small, but every class at that school since then has been larger.

      "Eschew Ofbfuscation." - Mark Twain

      by windsngr on Tue May 23, 2006 at 08:28:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Question ... (0+ / 0-)

      In terms of "few to no Americans who have the skill to operate modern nuclear plants", what about those trained by the US Navy and who operated submarines and aircraft carrier plants?

      9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

      by besieged by bush on Tue May 23, 2006 at 08:34:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We can do better than nuclear (0+ / 0-)

    If it were a true immediate solution I might be persuaded to overlook the byproducts temporarily. But considering that it would take at minimum 10-15 years to build one one plant at over 2 bill a pop, and considering it would ultimately take 1000 or more plants to replace fossil fuel power (even without addressing autos), I think we can do better. We would be better served by putting that money into solar, wind, biofuels and energy efficiency.   I think we are selling American ingenuity short.  Does anyone remember Kennedy announcing we'd have a man on the moon in x years?  I wasn't around then but I hear that was considered a pipe dream by many, too.  

    Mother Nature bats last.

    by parrothead on Tue May 23, 2006 at 04:43:04 PM PDT

  •  Nuclear waste IS toxic forever (3+ / 0-)

    According to a report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, it will take 3 million years for radioactive waste stored in the United States as of 1983 to decay to background levels. So, presently, the only solution is to store the waste in a place so that the environment won't be contaminated.

    The problem with storing nuclear waste is both political as well as technological. In terms of politics, no one wants it stored near them. So there's much dispute as to where radioactive waste should be stored. In addition, storing so much waste is a major technological challenge. According to a report issued by the British Parliament, "In considering arrangements for dealing safely with such wastes, man is faced with time scales that transcend his experience." -- link

    A second major problem. Reactor life.

    Nuclear reactors can't last forever (40-50 years) because radiation changes metallurgic properties, causing metals to degrade. My biggest concern has always been the corporate cost-benefit analysists' tendency to err toward more risk in commercial reactors. Aging reactors are difficult to fix and expensive to decommission. Without watchdog groups like NIRS overseeing the government regulatory agencies who oversee the commercial reactors, we could have easily have had more nuclear accidents.

    A third problem. Mox Technology makes civilian nuclear energy more risky than before.

    The US The U.S. Department of Energy has decided that most of the plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons will be made into an experimental fuel (called MOX) for use in commercial atomic reactors. The MOX project puts plutonium in the hands of commercial enterprises.

    MOX plutonium fuel also produces more heat and radioactivity than uranium fuel.

    In the U.S., most commercial light water reactors are not designed to use plutonium-based fuel. Differences in the characteristics of plutonium fission as compared to the normally-used uranium are likely to create problems. The neutrons from plutonium fission have a higher average energy than neutrons from uranium fission. This will increase the rate of radiation damage to key reactor parts, which could affect reactor control and maintenance. In addition, the rate of fission of weapons-grade plutonium tends to increase with temperature. When fuel temperature increases, so does the rate of fission, which further increases the temperature, and so on. This property of plutonium makes the reaction harder to control.-- link

    In addition, it would produce more plutonium in so-called "low-level" radioactive waste, exacerbate utility decommissioning efforts and increase costs, expose more people to danger from plutonium through frequent shipments across railways and highways, and increase electricity costs.

    I don't fear nuclear energy...I fear the bean-counter whose job is to maximize corporate profit by stretching the regulatory/maintenence rules. I fear the lobbyist writing policy and law in the middle of the night that are "favorable" to the business...never reviewed or debated in the light of day. I fear the power moguls still looking to concentrate power (literally) in the hands of the few while downplaying solar or biomass which can be manufactured and controlled by communities or small business.

    I think nuclear power should be the last option on the menu of alternative energy source in a market-driven energy economy. The consistent push to increase profits is antithetical to the stringent regulatory environment required for safe nuclear power generation. The costs of pushing the envelope are high if an error in judgement/practice is made. I

    Edward R. Murrow:We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.

    by digital drano on Tue May 23, 2006 at 04:49:34 PM PDT

  •  The following is totally wrong (0+ / 0-)

    f) Radiation is undetectable without specialized equipment and people cannot tell if they are being exposed, having to rely on the word of (untrusted) authorities — agree, but tell me how this is different from most chemical or biological contamination.

    Umm, no.  You can build something that (if calibrated) can actually give a useful measurement and even without calibration will make a good detector for all intents and purposes from materials most like available on your kitchen shelf.  An empty jar a bit of wire, some tinfoil and a bit of wire is all that is needed.

    Don't expect science from Luddites.

    Best Wishes, Demena

    by Demena on Tue May 23, 2006 at 05:15:24 PM PDT

  •  a state run nuclear industry works (0+ / 0-)

    in france where political divisions are not so strong. if we had state run nuclear plants wouldn't there we a temptation for politicans to abuse it's power. couldn't bush cause power outages in NYC and LA and chicago and boston if he wanted to? staff it with political cronies and retaliate against those who oppose him and have the possibility of cutting off power to black and hispanic residents.

  •  My Position (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mimi, besieged by bush, JayBat

    I am a fairly scientifically literate American who has followed the nuclear power industry for almost fifty years (when I was ten or twelve, "nuclear scientist" was one of my answers to "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  During the 1970s, I read extensively about energy policy and alternatives. Not much more than general audience articles since then.  And I am one of those progressive liberal tree-hugging Democrats sometimes labeled "hippies".

    For Nuclear Power:

    a) Nuclear power is "unlimited" —  in the limited sense allowed by De of "for the next couple hundred years" - Agree with the item, but the limitation of "limit" is suspect.  Not sure that I agree with only a 200 year operational definition of "unlimited".

    b) Nuclear power is "carbon neutral" — Suspect that it is as "carbon neutral" as any large office building.  But this is sort of a red herring defense IMHO.

    c) Nuclear power is "safe" — Depends on what you mean by "safe"; Jerome evaluates its against energy production.  What if you evaluated safety against days?  Or in total lives lost per year (and included the lives lost in wartime uses of nuclear energy and  the nuclear-caused deaths or injuries of workers in mining nuclear feedstocks or operating nuclear plants)?  I think by any of these measures nuclear safety would exceed most industries thought of as "safe".  In part because of the regulated nature of almost all nuclear facilities.  Poor regulation of the nuclear industry has never approach the accident levels of for example the coal or refinery industry.  And we are still learning a lot about the hazards of hydrocarbon products that used to be considered safe.  Answer: safe compared to what?

    c1) Nuclear power is "safer to build than to import" — Another red herring.  The major source of risk is in how well regulated the exporting country is and on the international politics of the relationship.  Importing it puts it more like oil in terms of the total safety of the industry.  Will there be energy wars for access to nuclear generating facilities?

    d) Nuclear power can replace almost every application of fossil power — Disagree. Nuclear energy is not great for driving independent small horsepower equipment away from an electric grid.  In fact, propelling anything smaller than a submarine probably requires an electric grid.  Nor does this address backup energy sources when there is a grid failure.

    d1) Nuclear power can provide a reliable energy baseline: My experience as a Duke Energy customer says yes.  Any failure of baseline electrical service was due to an transmission problem instead of a production problem.

    e) Nuclear power is more cost-effective than renewables: How are you going to measure cost-effective?  Are you going to limit it to cost-effectiveness of plant operation?  Cost-effectiveness over the investment lifetime and only for those identified items being depreciated?  Or are you going to include externalities, like war for sources of nuclear feedstocks?  Are there going to be supply-demand assumptions for large-scale adoption?

    f) New fission reactors solve the problems of "old, bad" designs. Not only do I not know, I think that no one knows until the new wears off the technology.  It's analogous to the problem with new technology vehicles - do they really use significantly less gasoline- what other problems do the create - you don't know for a year or two.

    g) New developments are just around the corner that will make nuclear energy even more efficient and safe — What are they?  Have they been costed out? What are you smoking that lets you see the future so well?

    h) Just because incompentent nations or companies have built lousy plants doesn't mean that nuclear power cannot be managed properly. - But it doesn't mean they can be managed properly over long periods of time either.  Another red herring.

    i) There is no reason to fear nuclear accidents or technology more than other industrial process or externalised cost. - Agree. The argument that Jerome makes is persuasive.  It is similar to the argument about fearing terrorism versus fearing automobile accidents.  It is fear instead of looking at the actual risks.

    j) The nuclear industry has been held back over the last 20 years by unfair fear, prejudice and activism. - Disagree.  It has been held back (at least in the US) by its unwillingness to be transparent, by fighting efforts to make it transparent, and by forcing consumers to underwrite its investment risks through "construction work in progress" charges for plants that were eventually never built because the fuel market prices changed (once expensive oil-fired plants suddenly became more cost-effective than nuclear) and conservation radically reduced the growth in demand for electricity.

    :: ::

    A) The energy and climate situation is dire and some urgent remedial action is needed — True.  I agree with Jerome that it is not the best first option.  I disagree that it is the best politically possible option.  There are mixtures of technologies that are options, not a single technology.  Some are more politically possible here than they are in France; others are more politically possible in France.  At any rate, we do not need to continue to have a series of parallel energy monocultures.

    B) Nuclear energy is the only practical alternative to fossil fuels — Only where there is sufficient nuclear capacity now or can be brought online quickly.  i.e. France.  Elsewhere there not single alternatives.

    C) Opponents of nuclear energy are scientifically illiterate, superstitious or ideologically biased — The general public is scientifically illiterate, superstitious, and sometimes ideologically biased.  Opponents are drawn generally from the general public; proponents are drawn from the industry.  It is up to the proponents to present the evidence.

    D) Quality of life is strongly correlated with per capita power consumption — No.  It depends on who is defining "quality of life".  But up to a point, yes.  There seems to be a minimum technological energy substitution for human labor substitution that makes a difference in the quality of life (in terms of being able to make choices - see Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom)

    E) We have reason to be optimistic about steady and often radical improvements in technology — We have hopes for believing this; such has happened in the past; we hope it will happen now.

    Conclusion: The case for nuclear energy depends on assumptions that the social environment will be aligned to make nuclear energy safe and cost-effective.  It depends very much on local conditions at specific times.  Does this localization affect the global risks of nuclear technology? No one has made this assessment.

    Against nuclear power:

    a) Nuclear power is not safe — disagree, if one constrains the view to nuclear power production

    a1) Nuclear waste management is an unsolved problem and waste is toxic "forever" — Jerome: What's dangerous is not big, and what's bulky is not dangerous. TarheelDem: Technologically, this is correct.  What is an unsolved problem is doing this economically.  Bulky means lots of shielding materials and large storage spaces.  Not bulky means specialized storage and specialized transportation.  What "forever" is is generally understood.

    a2) Uranium mining is associated with poor worker safety, contamination of water sources, etc — Mining is associated with poor worker safety, contamination of water sources, etc.  Improving this raises the costs of feedstocks.

    a3) Safety is sacrificed to efficiency, accidents happen and then they are covered up — Depends on where you are.  Even within US companies and TVA.

    a4) No private insurer will insure a nuclear plant; if nuclear power were safe it would be possible to insure it — Agree.  The risk of an incident might be lower than most industries but the consequences are much more severe.

    a5) Nuclear power is a stalking horse for the nuclear weapons industry — Agree.  The mixture of technologies is what creates the ambiguity that Bush is exploiting in Iran.  In order to require deterrence, one needs threats.  At the moment, politically only nuclear threats justify nuclear weapons, even for deterrence--certainly moreso for use.

    b) The public does not trust the reassurances of nuclear scientists and industry spokespeople, and rightly so — True 20 years ago.  Now a red herring because of the general distrust corporations and governments.

    c) Uranium mining is a politically dirty business — Agree.  The transparency of the mining industry is critical to non-proliferation of weapons.

    d) Nuclear power is centralised, high/heavy technology, difficult to understand, and makes power consumers into helpless clients — Agree. And that is why in controlled circumstances, it is best for centralized, high/heavy energy-using industries.  As for consumers, non-substitutability of sources is what makes helpless clients.

    e) Nuclear power is coupled to national security, nonproliferation, and other risks which inspire or require rigorous security which is inherently secretive and undemocratic — In the US, the nuclear industry (Atoms for Peace) was associated with cover for the growth of the nuclear weapons industry.  In the US, concern for proprietary information as much as security causes the nuclear industry to be secretive and undemocratic (see Silkwood, Karen).  In the US almost all industries have become enforcers of rigorous security, secretive, and undemocratic.  While, this might not be inherently so, it still is an environment inherently opposed to transparency and whistleblowers.

    f) Radiation is undetectable without specialized equipment and people cannot tell if they are being exposed, having to rely on the word of (untrusted) authorities — Agree.  But as Jerome says, this is also true of many other industrial by-products.  A ready market for low-cost indicators for the risks consumers consider most serious.  Various forms of high-technology clothing, for example.

    g) The health effects of radiation are insidious, as they can take years to develop and may include genetic damage which does not become visible until gestation and birth of children — Agree. For particular cases, this is especially true.  The difficulty in in blanket statements about risks to populations, especially in comparison to other risks.

    f) Uranium is no more an infinite resource than fossil fuel — Agree.  But sufficient for short-term transition.

    g) Nuclear power is not cost-effective and benefits from hidden subsidies — It really depends of the price of the items that go to make up the costs and what increased use of nuclear energy will do to those costs.

    g1) Old nuclear plants are very expensive to repurpose of clean up — Agree.  This is also true of most process industries as well.  What do you do with an old oil refinery?  Nuclear plants are very specialized building centered around the reactors.  Few other industries require a similar architecture.

    g2) Nuclear power plants are costly to build, require expert personnel to operate, and have high complexity and high failure costs, all of which is expensive — As Jerome points out absolute expense is beside the point (unless the plant never produces a return on investment)--and even government investments are are evaluated in cost (investment) - benefit (return) terms.

    h) Simple, cheaper, cleaner and less scary options than nuclear power include conservation, renewable energy and localised energy production — Strongly agree; but this would require moving from energy monocultures and allow a high degree of substitutability.

    i) Nuclear power is not a nimble solution for urgent problems (such as climate change or peak oil) as it takes 10 to 15 years to bring a nuclear power plant online. — Strongly agree.  But this depends on your assessment of how imminent peak oil and global warming are.

    j) Public protests have not been a decisive factor in holding nuclear power back, but rather inadequate return on investment and unmanageable risks — True for the US.  Although public opposition to siting nuclear plants can't be discounted--but it crosses ideological divides.  How many nuclear plants are in Greenwich, CT, or the Hamptons?

    k) New miracle technologies either fail to deliver on their promises or incur significant externalities — Strongly agree.  But so do most new ideas.  "The devil is in the details."  Really, red herring.

    :: ::

    A) The infinite growth predicated by economics is a myth, it is environmentally and socially unsustainable and does not guarantee progress — A bad rap on economists.  What economics predicts, based on observation, is growth to the limits of the  most constrained resource.  We are rapidly approaching the point at which these constraints are environmental and social sustainability.  It is the boosters and the market fundamentalists who most argue "infinite growth".

    B) It is not physically possible for everyone on earth to lead a first-world lifestyle — And why would they want to?  Jerome is correct.  The fact that resources are limited neither means that it is and us-or-them struggle for resources or an impossibility to create a high quality of life (whatever that means personally and locally).

    C) Nuclear weapons are utterly morally wrong — I agree in principle, but it will take us a lot of work to get moral again.  For now, deterrence will have to work.  But deterrence runs the risk of use, and use runs the risk of peremptory use (see Bush, Iran).  But non-use weakens the credibility of use.  A classic Prisoners' Dilemma game structure.

    D) promises of technological miracles are a case of hubris and carry hidden costs — Agree with Jerome.  A red herring.

    E) anarchism/libertarianism:

    E1) Authority should be resisted, and large centralised governments or corporations mistrusted — People should be presumed innocent until proven guilty; institutions should be presumed guilty until proven innocent.  This is called "transparency" of institutions.

    E2) community/grassroots efforts and local organisation and provision of services should be more highly valued — Strongly agree because of the networking and substitutability effects.

    E3) government may fall, or policies change, leaving nuclear plants in the wrong hands — Agree. If we get to that point nuclear plants will be the least of our worries.  But localized instances and a global coalition in an environment of deterrence can mitigate the risks.  (Problem with Iran is that Bush is not interested in mitigating risks).

    F) a decent lifestyle for the majority of people could be attained with common sense, reasonable frugality and fairness — Agree strongly.  This is the quintessential American value.

    Conclusion:
    The case against nuclear energy must now be focused on the less costly, shorter term to implement, less dual-use (military/civilian) technologies as an alternative in the short term.  And on getting greater transparency in the global nuclear activities of corporations and governments without exposing information that could facilitate terrorism.  That is to say, a real reduction of terrorism needs to be a side element of any energy strategy that includes nuclear plant expansion.

  •  Uranium... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sphealey

    Isn't it possible to use other types of fuel in nuclear reactors? Does uranim mining necessarily count as an issue in every case when considering nuclear energy?

    "Eschew Ofbfuscation." - Mark Twain

    by windsngr on Tue May 23, 2006 at 08:32:38 PM PDT

    •  Thorium can also be used to breed (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sphealey

      U-233, which will support fission reaction just like U-235.  This has advantages over the U-238 -> plutonium breeder cycle for obvious reasons concerning weapons proliferation.

      Here's a link: here

      The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

      by mojo workin on Wed May 24, 2006 at 06:44:17 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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