uncleamos: (Amos)
[personal profile] uncleamos
Cross-posted from Facebook, for a different (though overlapping) audience.

Interestingly, the argument for calm in dealing with Fukushima is: background radiation and radiation from other sources is vastly greater anyway, and you have to remember that tripling your risk of cesium-caused cancer raises it from effectively nil to...effectively nil.

Put differently, crazy shit happens on planet earth all the time and life deals.

....This is possibly also an argument against worrying that much about climate change.

But let's flip the script for a bit. This might shed some light on why your typical greenie who is desperately worried about climate change is also fiercely opposed to nuclear power - a proven, safe, efficient carbon-free source of vast amounts of electricity, that also doesn't kill birds or emit other dangerous atmospheric pollutants.

In fact, provided that fissile materials do not escape containment (as fuel or as waste) there are ZERO harms associated with nuclear power (I omit things like social inequity associated with uranium mining or whatever). To me, the lesson of Fukushima is that we need to vastly increase our investment in nuclear technology, and we need to do it yesterday. Seriously, since when do we as a species encounter a setback and go into full-blown retreat? Did Unsafe at Any Speed cause us to renounce cars, or did it cause us to buy seatbelts? Should this cause is to renounce nuclear power, or develop safer systems and make the investment needed to roll them out? What would the people who built Apollo 2 through the rest of them do?

Well, maybe we shy from these challenges since climate change nee global warming. Back to those greenies. The anti-climate change crowd and the anti-nuclear power crowd share a fundamental view: We should stop doing things that damage the environment.

Interesting. I'm not sure where this leads. The argument is refuted if we introduce....SCIENCE! The scientific consensus is that climate change is real, and bad, and the scientific consensus is that nuclear power is real, and safe. And one of these could solve the other!

More broadly, people who are committed to science need to push back against the anecdotal pseudoscience that fills our airwaves with misinformation. Media outlets need to be vastly more careful about their sources, and when they get a crazy op-ed from a Ph.D. they should denounce it as crazy, not print it under a headline saying that "A SCIENTIST SAYS THAT..."

Seriously. It's time to stop being stupid about this.

Date: 2013-12-06 09:08 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-12-06 09:12 pm (UTC)
irilyth: (Only in Kenya)
From: [personal profile] irilyth
I wonder what like teenagers and college students today think about nuclear power. When I was a kid, "nuclear" showed up a lot in the phrase "nuclear war", as a real and somewhat scary thing that might actually happen if too many people in the US and/or USSR got a little too crazy. Did that shape opposition to nuclear power? Maybe not. But I'm still curious what Kids Today TM think, and if they've gotten over this, or been brainwashed by their terrified elders.

Date: 2013-12-07 08:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sildra.livejournal.com
About every two years we get a colloquium in our department on nuclear energy. The line, over and over, is that only the oldest Gen-Xers and the Baby Boomers are against nuclear power; the younger Gen-Xers and the Millennials are all for it. The divide comes from two factors: the older people grew up during the Cold War and associate the word "nuclear" with bombs, and they were old enough to be aware of current events when Chernobyl and Three Mile Island happened. I mean, I--near the oldest edge of the Millenials--didn't even know until maybe two years ago that Chernobyl actually happened after I was born, I always had the impression it was so long ago. And Three Mile Island was a few years before I was born.

Date: 2013-12-07 02:43 am (UTC)
ccommack: (kalashnikitty)
From: [personal profile] ccommack
I agree with the large gist of this. But I have to dredge up everybody's least favorite subject: money.

Basically, what we've learned about nuclear power is that it requires massive up-front capital costs that aren't necessarily recouped over the initial design lifespan of the reactor. To illustrate, the current model on offer from Westinghouse, the AP1000, was formerly the AP600, because it was decided that a reactor with a 600MW output, wasn't big enough to be financially viable, so it was scaled up to 1000MW. That is huge. Total installed nuclear capacity in the US is somewhere around 1,000,000MW in round numbers; we're talking about the level of power it takes to run a mid-sized city coming from one reactor. And we all know what Wall Street thinks of industries with very high capital requirements and long payback schedules, ahem Penn Central. (I am taking the rather controversial government underwriting of the entire nuclear industry's tort liability as a given, here, because it's not something that's going away, but if anybody would like to have that argument with themselves, they can throw that in as well.)

Four AP1000 reactors are being built in the US right now, two in Georgia and two in South Carolina. They cost around $7 billion per reactor, a number which is slowly falling because interest rates are at the zero bound and not rising, which is "better" than projections.

This is a problem not only because we need nuclear as a bridge technology for fighting carbon emissions, but because to maintain the level of nuclear generation we have and not build a whole bunch more coal and natgas plants, we need to build modern GenIII+ nuclear plants to replace the old, defective Gen I reactors that we're keeping around through license extensions. This goes especially for the General Electric Mark I BWR design, which the contrasting experiences of the Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini generating stations showed is a fail-deadly design. Now, eventually, renewables will crush everything and the renewables sector has been growing exponentially ever since Obama took office (with a big assist from the German Energiewende), but neither the currently installed base nor the rate of new installation is going to make a serious dent in what we need going forward for decades.

Right now we seem to be replacing coal with natural gas, which is only a small climate win, and not a win at all if you live in or near the shale formations, about which much has been said elsewhere.

And I'm not particularly a fan of the companies that make up the nuclear industry, because the people who run them have had a bad case of Engineering Hubris that they can't quite shake, see again the GE Mk I, see also the fuel manufacturing process and Karen Silkwood, etc.

But you know who I hate even more than the nuclear companies? Coal companies. And coal. And I'm really quite comfortable with the idea that "preserving the coal industry" interests are no longer part of the Democratic Party coalition. And as I mentioned on Facebook, thanks to the uranium and thorium impurities in coal, it releases a fair amount of radioactivity in coal ash, which you never hear about in debates about nuclear power.

So yes, we need more nuclear in this country, and we need to be up-front about it, but we also need to figure out who is paying for it and how, and what that means. And right now we don't have very good answers to any of those questions.

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