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"This house believes that the world would be better off without nuclear power."
April 11, 2011 11:08 AM   Subscribe

The Economist is holding an online debate on nuclear power. These debates provide a great opportunity to get an overview of the different perspectives on an issue. If f you are so inclined, you can share your own views on the topic too. Today's discussions focus on a contribution by Amory Lovins.
posted by philipy (68 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nuclear Power is terrible. Just look at Fukushima. In geologic terms, these kinds of events happen all the time. And also there is the need for perpetual storage of nuclear waste.

The elephant in the room here is excessive consumption of resources. When there is not enough energy to go around, the answer is *not* to increase the consumption of energy. People need to use less. Especially Americans. People in the USA are pigs when it comes to energy consumption.

Dial it back people! Stop buying cars and flying around the globe. Stop building new roads. How about a massive restructuring of the industrial economy? Cut the defense department budget to 1/15 its current size and hire people to farm oats and grow vegetables. Where is the goat-herder class? Seriously, do we consider our current lifestyles to be permanent historical fixtures?
posted by kuatto at 11:39 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Kuatto - that's a fascinatingly blindered look at modern society. Not liking nuclear power is one thing but your alternative (such as it is) presented here seems to be "Quick, everyone back to the 16th century." The goat-herder class? Seriously? Farming oats and growing vegetables? Do you think the world's problems right now actually stem from a lack of oats? Do you think that the "goat-herder class" had a better life than you do now?

Why are you using an Internet forum to propose this revolution? Shouldn't you be using vellum, or perhaps a Gutenberg press at the best?
posted by Inkoate at 11:45 AM on April 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


Nuclear Power is terrible. Just look at Fukushima. In geologic terms, these kinds of events happen all the time. And also there is the need for perpetual storage of nuclear waste.

Thank you for your opening statement. Now for the leader of the opposition...
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:46 AM on April 11, 2011


Dial it back people! Stop buying cars and flying around the globe. Stop building new roads. How about a massive restructuring of the industrial economy?

You must be new to this planet. Humans aren't like that.
posted by birdherder at 11:46 AM on April 11, 2011


Where is the goat-herder class? Seriously, do we consider our current lifestyles to be permanent historical fixtures?

There is no path that will allow societies to return to earlier levels of energy consumption. That may be a desirable endpoint but there is no path through social/political/economic phase-space that connects it to our current situation.

We will either get energy from somewhere (I'm including negawatts here) or everything will go to hell in a long series of escalating wars and resource shortages.

Saying that we would be better off consuming less energy is like saying that we would be better off without war. Definitely true, non-trivial to achieve.
posted by atrazine at 11:46 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The trolls are out this Monday morning on Metafilter.

Nuclear is necessary, and probably still the safest of our possible large scale generation (coal, natural gas, etc). Just don't build any more plants in geologically active regions, okay? And definitely start decommissioning plants that were designed in the 60s and early 70s.
posted by SirOmega at 11:51 AM on April 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


Dial it back people! Stop buying cars and flying around the globe. Stop building new roads. How about a massive restructuring of the industrial economy? Cut the defense department budget to 1/15 its current size and hire people to farm oats and grow vegetables. Where is the goat-herder class? Seriously, do we consider our current lifestyles to be permanent historical fixtures?

How many people are you willing to kill to take their lifestyles, wealth, and freedom away? Because that's the only way to that.
posted by spaltavian at 11:52 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


People in the USA are pigs when it comes to energy consumption.

We also want a hamburger, want a pizza, and is pig disgusting.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:53 AM on April 11, 2011


...online debate....

AKA Troll fight.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:59 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


1) There is no path that will allow societies to return to earlier levels of energy consumption.

2) How many people are you willing to kill to take their lifestyles, wealth, and freedom away? Because that's the only way to that.

I disagree.

Why are you using an Internet forum to propose this revolution? Shouldn't you be using vellum, or perhaps a Gutenberg press at the best?

Let me rephrase: Where is the internet-savvy goat-herding class? I'm just throwing that out there because I do not believe our current lifestyles to be a permanent historical fixture. It *will* change at some point and despite what some people are suggesting here, we have the choice as to what we will become as a society.

Live within your means, ecological and otherwise. Greed is destructive.
posted by kuatto at 12:00 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I disagree.

Well that settles that.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:09 PM on April 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


Even if you can somehow convince americans to significantly cut back or reduce energy consumption, there's no way you'll be able to do the same with China or other emerging countries. They will be drastically increasing their energy usage as their economies and industries grow, and, telling them to "use less power" is simply not an answer at all.
posted by yeoz at 12:18 PM on April 11, 2011


Nuclear is necessary,

Yes. Because without it the planet would get cold without the Nuclear power of the Sun.

still the safest of our possible large scale generation (coal, natural gas, etc).

Again, if it was not for the Nuclear power of the Sun there would not be coal, natural gas etc.

Just don't build any more plants in geologically active regions, okay? And definitely start decommissioning plants that were designed in the 60s and early 70s.

And somehow selecting "geologically active regions" this prevents:
1) Corporations, in trying to be profitable, will ignore manufacturing defects? How about killing whistleblowers?
2) US-Supported Iran (1970's) ordering and construction of nuke reactors VS non-US supported Iran being prevented from running nuke reactors? (Aka - the politics change in a place that has nuke reactors. )
3) Terrorist attacks
4) Asymmetrical war - the nation with less resources attacks the nuke reactors
5) things like In early July 1981, workers at Nine Mile Point Unit 1 in central New York faced a problem. All of the radwaste system's tanks were filled, yet waste water continued to be generated. So they deliberately flooded the basement of the waste building with about four feet of water
6) Sleeping security guards that only get addressed once someone filmed them and put it up on you tube
7) Such will make nuke power SO safe that Price-Anderson won't be needed.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:29 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I disagree.

I am genuinely 100% non-rhetorically interested in hearing how you think either global or any particular national society might achieve this. I've tried to think through it and I just can't figure out how we could do it.
posted by atrazine at 12:30 PM on April 11, 2011


I am genuinely 100% non-rhetorically interested in hearing how you think either global or any particular national society might achieve this

I don't think we'll choose a solution like this for our current problems, but I think we'll be resolved to something like it as our resource base is gradually depleted.
posted by symbollocks at 12:54 PM on April 11, 2011


As far as nuclear goes I don't think it's the solution to our energy problems (well, maybe one very small part) because of the huge upfront investment it takes in terms of money and energy. Plants can take a decade or more to offset that initial investment. And we're strapped as it is.
posted by symbollocks at 12:56 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've tried to think through it and I just can't figure out how we could do it.

Oh, the beautiful thing is that it will happen whether we make any effort or not. If we don't find the portal ourselves, four helpful horsemen will be long eventually to take us by the scruff of the neck and pitch us through it.
posted by localroger at 12:58 PM on April 11, 2011


kuatto, I will not continue this derail past this single post, but you have no idea how tempting it is to ad-hominem you with something like "What the fuck do you know? You're not even a whole person, you parasite."

On topic, nuclear is bad but is better than coal, and isn't as nice as solar or wind if we can get enough of that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:04 PM on April 11, 2011


Cut the defense department budget to 1/15 its current size and hire people to farm oats and grow vegetables. Where is the goat-herder class?

You forgot to include the phrase "wake up, sheeple!" The Cadre will be most displeased.
posted by Diablevert at 1:05 PM on April 11, 2011


I heard an interview on NPR the other day with a former opponent of nuclear power who was converted because of Fukushima Daiichi. It reminded me of the scene in The World According to Garp when Garp and his wife are looking for a house to buy and decide to buy one right after a plane crashes into it. "Honey, the chances of another plane hitting this house are astronomical. It's been pre-disastered. We're going to be safe here."
posted by kirkaracha at 1:10 PM on April 11, 2011


kirkaracha, I hate that scene. I get that it's meant to be a cutesy joke, but if you know even a little about statistics, you know it's all wrong.

Or was that supposed to be the joke?
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:13 PM on April 11, 2011


FWIW the first time I read that quote I thought it was a joke.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:30 PM on April 11, 2011


Thank you Mr. Speaker.

The question before this house today is an important one, and I feel we may have been put on a tangent by the question of goatherds, however, as a Member of Her Majesty's Government, I feel compelled to respond.

Firstly, what the Honorable Leader of the Opposition has either refused to acknowledged or failed to comprehend is how a diffuse and reliable electrical grid could be provided by mixed goat/sheep husbandry.

The Honorable Leader for the Opposition is recognized but reminded points of information will not be taken in the opening minute.

Thank you. As a Bible-believing Christians, we know in our hearts of hearts that Christ will return on the day of judgment to judge the living and the dead. Likewise, the Bible tells us that on the day of Judgment, He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Knowing that goats and sheep are roughly the same size and density, and also knowing that sheep will join the Lord at his Throne in the Kingdom of Heaven, and that goats are cast into the fires of eternal perdition, that sheep must have on average more kinetic energy than goats. Therefore, a being capable of effortlessly sorting sheep and goats must be in effect a kind of Maxwell's Demon, violating the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Point not taken for the duration of these opening remarks, thank you.

THE HONORABLE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION WILL RESPECT REGULAR ORDER AND SIT DOWN!

Thank you. Furthermore, we know that on the day the nation of Israel occupies all the land west of the Jordan, the day will come when Christ returns to issue His Righteous Judgment. Therefore, it is the firm belief of this Government that with proper research and development and a UN resolution declaring the borders of Israel proper to include the entirety of the former British Mandate of Palestine for 1/120th of a second, 60 times per second, the world could forever solve our energy...

I'm making my closing remarks. Please sit down.

IT IS FOR THESE REASONS THAT THIS HOUSE BELIEVES THAT THE WORLD WOULD BE BETTER OFF WITHOUT NUCLEAR POWER.

Mr. Speaker, the Member of the Government yields the remainder of his time. Thank you.
posted by [citation needed] at 1:31 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


If we don't find the portal ourselves, four helpful horsemen will be long eventually to take us by the scruff of the neck and pitch us through it.

Yes. The only possible solutions are technolgical or demographic.

Live within your means, ecological and otherwise. Greed is destructive.

Hi, my name is Tragedy of the Commons. You and I should get aquainted.

I'm just throwing that out there because I do not believe our current lifestyles to be a permanent historical fixture.

No lifestyle is a permanent historical fixture. When societies acheive their maximum production (food, energy) available with their current complexity (population, technology, social organization), they retrogress through either war or want.
posted by spaltavian at 1:35 PM on April 11, 2011


When societies acheive their maximum production (food, energy) available with their current complexity (population, technology, social organization), they retrogress through either war or want.

Yea, like the EDO period of Japan.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:38 PM on April 11, 2011


I am genuinely 100% non-rhetorically interested in hearing how you think either global or any particular national society might achieve this

I can't give you a comprehensive blueprint, but my basic approach would be a radical reapportionment and prioritization of capitol. So 400 people own half the wealth in the country? That needs to change immediately and the capitol must be invested in individuals who will create the small scale systems that will sustain us all.

In my view there are three important legs of society: healthcare, foodproduction, and housing. Education, civic virtue etc are sustained by these. Take food production for instance, we have to redefine typical 'capitol-intensive' farming. Redirect that capitol into small-scale farmers who grow food with low-energy input. Stop producing ethonol to burn. Start producing food to eat. It's counter-intuitive, in my opinion, to industrialize food production when the eventual post-petroleum 'steady-state' will involve small scale systems anyways.

This is the theme, again and again: invest in the individual--not the ultra wealthy, not corporations. We need to *drastically* and immediately begin to raise the standard of living such that people can afford to invest in these sustainable systems. Peg the capitol to people and the interests of Capitol are then aligned with the interests of people. We need to do simple, silly things like insulating the fuck out of our homes, etc. At some point we may be only able to heat one or two rooms in the winter. People need to live where they can garden and walk to work. Having large classes in society in a vulnerable position may be good for profits, but it is destructive when the wolves appear at the door. I think investing in agriculture is a great deal better than the shit this country has invested in, and a much better investment than nuclear power.

Seriously, we do not bat an eye when politicians consider shifting enough capitol around to build 100 nuke plants, but investing in the tools and modalities of a post-industrial world? pshaw.

Please think about the next 10,000 years. /house rests
posted by kuatto at 1:53 PM on April 11, 2011


I can't speak for countries other than the U.S., but here, it's kind of silly to even discuss, because it's a non-starter. Nuclear is expensive, with big upfront costs, and everyone's broke. Nuclear plants take like 20 years to come on line, and no new ones have begun construction for like, what, 40 years? Yucca Mountain isn't going to take any nuclear waste, and we don't have another place lined up for it.

I'm neither pro nor con when it comes to nuclear power, because it's not going to happen. There's no political will to make it happen, and there is the NIMBY issue pretty much everywhere that nuclear is geographically possible (ie, the coasts).

My solutions are practical, but unpopular, and therefore suffer from the major impediment that nuclear power suffers from- lack of political will. Ban electric dryers (use gas, or get an electric drying cabinet) and upright refrigerators (use chest models). Change the building code to require DC wiring, or both AC and DC. Allow the Weatherization Assistance Program that was enriched by the stimulus package to outfit sunbelt buildings with geothermal retrofits to eliminate conventional air conditioning. Tax each household if they exceed a per capita electrical limit. And put NASA to work on finding all the best ways to harness the amount of energy that the sun shines on the U.S. every day- the equivalent of 45 trillion barrels of oil. If we did this stuff, I'm guessing that we could survive on renewable electricity alone.
posted by Leta at 2:03 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


One of the most disturbing things I've seen in the ongoing discussion about nuclear power is the viewpoint by the pro-nuclear side that the anti-nuclear side is anti-science.

There have even been comparisons to the moon-landing initiatives. That the anti-nuclear crowd has beliefs and policies that go against this epic social initiative.

I thik the oppositive is actually true. Nuclear power is easy. We have the technology to build as many plants as we want. Solar power? Wind? Floating masses of algae batteries? Powering the world with those are the kinds of new technologies will truly expand our scientific knowledge and challenge us a whole.
posted by formless at 2:05 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


my basic approach would be a radical reapportionment and prioritization of capitol.

So, warfare on a massive scale. Sounds fun.
posted by desjardins at 2:08 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


how would moving the seat of government solve our energy crisis?
posted by entropicamericana at 2:14 PM on April 11, 2011


Nuclear power is easy.

Easy in the sense it can be done, yes.

Not easy in actual implementation due to the flawed nature of man which then is reflected in man's creation. And a flawed plant/flawed operation leads to failure. (Except when the nuke plant is hit with meteor or a big 'ole solar mass ejection because really - how do ya design to prevent THAT)

And I'm rather sure none of the pro nukers are pro plant failure.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:15 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let me rephrase: Where is the internet-savvy goat-herding class?

Goats? GOATS!? Do you even know what goats are? Goats are four-legged environmental disasters on a scale that makes Chernobyl look like a hiccup, and Dow Chemical look like a community organic garden. Look at the Mediterranean; the Greek islands used to be covered with trees until goats were introduced, and the same goes wherever the fuckers are introduced. Goats turn viable land into desert.

Anyone who brings goats into a debate has no business saying anything about ecology, lifestyles or anything else. They might as well say we can solve our problems by paving the Earth.
posted by happyroach at 3:00 PM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Goats turn viable land into desert.

Huh. I would love to see some more on this topic.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:06 PM on April 11, 2011


I've felt very discouraged, trying to have this discussion in the aftermath of Fukushima.

I'm an ardent environmentalist, a lover of the human race, and a liberal advocate of nuclear power, which pretty much puts me at odds with most of the people I know. My turnaround came after a lifetime of nuclear panic, where everything nuclear had the stink of human arrogance, corporate intrigue, and permanent, unavoidable destruction of all we know and love. I started reading out of grim fascination, in the way you read about disasters, but the numbers stopped adding up the way they'd always been laid out. I read, researched, taught myself more about science and statistics, and, in the end, when the anti-nuclear activists start to rail, it's usually not long before the distorted, manufactured statistics come up, and the histrionic misunderstandings of science get stood up without question, backed by the appeal of "what if you're wrong?"

Three Mile Island, for instance, is still called a disaster, but no one reports the actual facts, produced by insiders and outsiders alike. No one died. Seriously. Not one person ever died from causes that could be tied to the industrial accident at TMI. The environment around the plant, one of the most intimately studied areas in the country, wasn't laid waste. The meltdown didn't burn through the reactor housing and reach China. The disaster, as it was, was primarily financial, but you'll never hear that in the mainstream media. You'll hear it from the anti-nuclear activists, though—time and time and time again, voices repeating facts and figures that only they know. When you can drill down to the reality of the missing damage, the language changes—"We were lucky! Imagine what could have happened!"

Over my lifetime, nuclear war's been the real risk, the brinksmanship of politicos playing out on a human chessboard, but it's never mentioned that one in ten homes in this country is being powered by uranium from decommissioned Soviet nuclear weapons, a program that's destroyed the equivalent of 16,000 warheads. Once they're gone, they're gone, but that doesn't count. All nuclear is all bad all the time. The thousands upon thousands of deaths attributable to coal, and the horrendous ongoing disaster of gas mining through hydraulic fracturing...well, those are not as bad as civilian nuclear power, an industry that, in the United States, has never produced a single documented direct fatality.

Unfortunately, we've got Chernobyl and The Simpsons standing up for the other side. We'll never hear the end of how nuclear power is irredeemably and infinitely dangerous because one out of control closed society built RBMK reactors in what were essentially big sheds. We'll never trust the industry because of Charles Montgomery Burns, whose mustache-twirling dastardliness just seems so plausible. You mention nuclear power, and most flinch. It could be a bridge from an economy run on smoke to one run on renewables, but the conversation is so poisoned by prejudice and dogged commitment to a faith in nuclear danger that shall not be moved, not matter what evidence arises.

I suspect the battle's lost, and has been for years, and we'll keep on drowning the world in smoke and greenhouse gases, but you do what you can.
posted by sonascope at 4:07 PM on April 11, 2011 [15 favorites]


In 1980 solar cost 21/watt this year it has dropped to less than $2/watt. Meanwhile nuclear energy remains expensive to build, dangerous to operate and produces a significant unmanaged waste stream.
posted by humanfont at 4:43 PM on April 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nuclear is necessary, and probably still the safest of our possible large scale generation (coal, natural gas, etc).

That certainly was the predominant view about 10 years ago. There've been a couple of studies to suggest that the "possible" large scale generation could be primarily wind-wave-water by 2030.

* UCDavis study
* Union of Concerned Scientists
* A Realizable Renewable Energy Future (PDF)

Considering the blindingly high price of nuclear (which just doubled one month ago), and the extended misery from one of those "thousand-year" accidents (can't happen here!), maybe we ought to get serious about replacing carbon with renewables (uranium/thorium isn't) - which are now cost-competitive with coal and WAY cost-competitive with nuclear - instead of just talking about it. So that, you know, the grandkids don't all have to move to the Canadian midwest.
posted by Twang at 6:13 PM on April 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oops : should be "wind solar water" (grrrrrrrr)
posted by Twang at 6:14 PM on April 11, 2011


Renewables (still mostly hydro, which is tapped out) produce up to 19% of the world's energy, and there are hard limits on what percentage that can be increased per year.

So if the discussion were nuclear vs. renewable, or nuclear vs. conservation, I could maybe be argued to the anti-nuclear side. But the discussion for probably the next 30-50 year time frame is nuclear vs. fossil fuel (mostly coal). So right there, on the cost of human life alone, I'm extremely pro-nuclear. I'm willing to entertain an economic argument against it, but I suspect it's cheaper than coal when all the externalities are factored in.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:21 PM on April 11, 2011


@BrotherCaine The recent reports from the scientists I quoted disagree with your assessment of the 19% max.

"Suspecting" is not reason. Facts are.
posted by Twang at 6:24 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Japan will raise the nuclear crisis level to 7, the same level as Chernobyl.
posted by dirigibleman at 6:26 PM on April 11, 2011


I didn't say 19% max. I said 19% currently. I haven't looked at tidal lately so I can't speculate, but at least in the US there's a limit on availability of additional hydro from riparian sources. The limits on additional Solar growth are materials and production. I'm sure some nano-scale process is going to come along at some point and allow geometric growth in solar, but we don't know how far out that is. Right now, we are looking at coal vs. nuclear. Sure the situation could change in the near time frame, but you're going to put all your eggs in the renewables basket before you know for sure?
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:32 PM on April 11, 2011


Here's a part of why I'm pro-nuclear and anti-coal (and now that I see this chart, I'm going to be thinking about biomass renewables too.

Not to mention coal mining fatalities.

So yeah, we could avoid nuclear and hope that renewables vastly increase their rate at replacing coal in power generation. But if we do that, and some material shortage causes delay, we'll be responsible for a lot of death from coal use until those renewables replace the share of nuclear we could have been building.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:42 PM on April 11, 2011


Most of the world has already seen the light, and the money is pouring into renewables. I doubt that Fukushima will slow that down.

According to the World Economic Forum, investments in sustainability and renewable energy reached $243 billion in 2010, a 30% rise from 2009. Investment across Europe, the Middle East and Africa rose to $94.4 billion, while North and South America saw an increase of $17 billion.

I'm not sure who is the "we" still looking at coal and nuclear. US financial experts see nuclear as a bad investment, cost and time-wise. China, which is also investing heavily in renewables production, spent $54 billion last year alone ... it's building 27 nukes and just put a hold on the rest of the 80+ it had planned. And complained to Japan about pouring radioactivity into the ocean.
posted by Twang at 6:44 PM on April 11, 2011


Well, my take is that we should build all the solar we can, and invest heavily in R&D to improve efficiency. I think we should also be building new nuclear plants at the rate required to replace nuclear plants that have safety and efficiency concerns. I'm not arguing for doubling our nuclear power, although I notice that Canada and France seem to be doing fine with what they have. Even with the vast investment you are citing in renewables, how many tens of thousands are going to die from coal mining and emissions before we can finally get rid of it? As it is, coal use for energy may be on an uptick.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:55 PM on April 11, 2011


Actually, after reading the Economist debate, I'll stop advocating for building more nuke plants even at a replacement rate. I still very definitely think we should squeeze as much usage out of them as we can. Even with Chernobyl in the mix, the human costs of coal are worse.

I still think we should research fusion though.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:06 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Solar production rates are rising rapidly over 100%/year, and costs have dropped. Energy storage costs are also dropping rapidly. If you started buipidjg a new nuclear plant today, it would be 15 years at least before it came online. Faced with rapid innovation in the energy sector it seems like putting a lot into new nuclear power is a mistake.

Geothermal, offshore wind and microbial biofuels are just starting to get rolling. Also consider how chaonitnos to conserve power. The average American uses 2x the kWh of Europeans and Japanese each year. We can cut usage substantially without affecting quality of life.
posted by humanfont at 7:22 PM on April 11, 2011


humanfont: "Also consider how chaonitnos "

cat-like typing detected
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:49 PM on April 11, 2011


George Monbiot vs. Dr. Helen Caldicott: A Debate on the Future of Nuclear Energy. Part 1 of 2 (March 30, 2011)

How nuclear apologists mislead the world over radiation George Monbiot and others at best misinform and at worst distort evidence of the dangers of atomic energy by Helen Caldicott (April 11, 2011; Guardian) Comments (472)

What Does Fukushima's New “Level 7” Status Mean?
Japanese officials announced on Tuesday morning that they were planning to raise the event level at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from a 5 to the maximum level of 7, the highest on the international scale for nuclear incidents and the same level assigned to the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl in the Ukraine.

more news here
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 8:49 PM on April 11, 2011


I still think we should research fusion though.

One guy (Rossi) is claiming some kind of Nickel+magic.

There is always Low Energy Nuclear Reactions for what is being done at the moment. So there is some research.

What Does Fukushima's New “Level 7” Status Mean?

Its at max. 7 is the top.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:44 PM on April 11, 2011


Renewables (still mostly hydro, which is tapped out) produce up to 19% of the world's energy

The International Energy Agency estimates about 12.2% of world energy comes from renewables, of this about 2.2% is hydro, the rest being combustible biomass, probably not being used very efficiently in most cases. The room for expanding what humanity burns is pretty slim, though there is potential for improved efficiency through designing and applying technology to support development. Hydro is about 16% of total world electricity generation, and scope for expansion is limited.
posted by biffa at 2:06 AM on April 12, 2011


The thing I find a little frustrating in these discussions is that the anti-nuclear side is absolutely steadfast. No amount of science, no amount of statistics, no amount of risk management engineering are ever going to change their minds, and they have the ultimate weapon of concern trolling—the reality that unexpected things happen. What about the thousand year accident? Well, it's pretty hard to argue with a mythical monster. You hear a lot about how the Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable, or how the government, corporations, mysterious syndicates [insert your own bugbears here] are pulling the wool over our eyes in mysterious conspiracies that we know are there...because we can't see them.

So we talk renewables, and renewables are great things, unless you're talking about hydro, which pretty much wrecks every landscape it touches. We talk about wind, which is great. The largest wind farm in the world produces 25% less power than the smallest nuclear plant. We talk about solar, which is great, too, but are we really going to turn the desert ecosystems into giant, glossy black fields of glass, which is what'll have to happen to run our grid the way it's working now? These things will all be great, once the cultural work is done to build the systems of efficiency to make them function. That's a steep, steep uphill battle.

Look at metafilter, for instance. In a discussion about the humble clothes dryer the sheer panicked outrage at having to incorporate a natural process in one's life instead of just firing up the dryer was just...amazing, and we're a smarter, more articulate, and educated group than the rest of the country.

I do my best to share my own experiences in moving to more efficiency, waxing romantic about my 80mpg scooter, about the pleasures of hanging clothes out on the line, or about what a rich, restful commute I have on the regional train line, writing in various arenas on the subjects. Mainly, people roll their eyes, saying "well, Joe, that's easy for you, but we have" [kids, a difficult schedule, a house off the beaten track, a physical handicap, etcetera]. I don't even do it from a holier-than-thou, smartypants sort of place, either—I have a wonderful, interesting life that gives me a lot of joy and delight in exchange for taking the harder road, and I'm happy to talk about it.

I'm articulate, but I don't know that I've changed many minds. People are conservative.

The best hope for our future, though, is doing just that, changing the focus and the way we approach things, and a closed-cycle system of renewables is a wonderful thing that our culture of energy consumption will absolutely not support right now, tomorrow, or twenty years from now. We need the education, the transformation, and the bridge—something to keep us from completely upending the global climate while we encourage that cultural change. That could be advanced nuclear—the kind of safe, over-engineered sources like the CANDU, pebble bed, or breeder reactors, run in a system where we reprocess the fuel until there's a virtually closed loop, like renewables.

That could be, but it won't. The anti-nuclear advocates have already won, and their blockading of the construction of newer, better, safer plants creates the perfect self-fulfilling prophecy, where they can say "hey, look at all these aging nuclear plants, falling apart! We told you they were dangerous!"

It just makes me sad. My adopted second home state, West Virginia, will end up as flat as a pool table from mountaintop removal coal mining. All those wonderful electric cars will run on coal and gas pulled out of the ground by hydraulic fracturing, leaving an unusable aquifer filled with mining chemicals. The environmentalists will still scratch their heads at why we can't be more like Europe, then go on to tell everyone how stupid and selfish they are. All the while, the smokestacks will belch radioactive coal soot, which will settle gently across the landscape. The renewables will grow, too, but without a cultural change, there will have to be so many solar panels and so many wind farms that they'll stop being beautiful to us.

With luck, we'll catch up, but there was an easier path.
posted by sonascope at 5:35 AM on April 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


Sonascope, you make a lot of good points. I have the same concerns about plug in electric cars- my husband and I actually call them "coal fired" cars. It's true that France gets 80% of it's electricity from nuclear, which is part why they are a lower carbon society than we are. But the reason that France has so many nuclear plants is the same reason that we don't have many- political will. France has little to no oil, gas, and coal, so they didn't have a choice. At the time that they started heavily investing in nuclear, it was that or nothing.

We have coal. A whole lot of coal. While I'm not trying to hold coal up as a wonder fuel, our situation is fundamentally different. If I thought we could become energy independent by relying exclusively on U.S. reserves of coal, I'd be in favor of that. But we can't, and even if we could, we'd just be kicking the can down the road.

About half my dad's family lives in a coal mining region. They are still on Roosevelt era coal fired power plants that generate some of the cheapest electricity in the country. They are dirty and need to be replaced, but the big fight that's happening right now breaks down like this: Do we a) build a new coal fired power plant, that's cleaner, but still environmentally problematic, or do we b) instead invest that money in slapping some scrubbers on the old plant and turn to renewables to replace coal altogether over time? Both options will result in more expensive electricity.

This is the kind of situation that brings a real game change. The local municipalities down there are seriously discussing micro grids. I don't know if we are going to turn vast swaths of desert into sun farms, but whether we do or no, we are going to have to move toward a more distributed model of energy, because large grids are inefficient and different regions have different energy needs.

I am in favor of conservation, full stop. I would love to see some sort of governmental program that promotes conservation and punishes profligate consumption, rather than just the renewables tax credit model we have right now. You brought up clothes dryers, which is a great example. Right now, I am building this thing (using ductwork instead of cans, though) to pipe hot air into my basement laundry area, which will turn it into a giant drying cabinet, minimizing both my use of the dryer in the winter months and use of the furnace. This will save both electricity and natural gas, which means the $300 I spend on materials will be recouped within the first year that I use the solar furnace. This is an issue of architecture more than anything else- my laundry machines are in a walk out basement, so it's easy for me to get to the clothesline in the summer; my house has great southern exposure so I'm confident my solar furnace will get more than enough sun to work well; my house has no closets, so I keep all of our clothes in the laundry area (incidentally, this is an arrangement that sounds weird but that I cannot praise enough, it's cut my laundry time in half), so turning our family closet into a giant drying cabinet will actually make my life easier- out of the wash, onto a hanger, and done. With all the current chatter about green design and green homes, it's worth noting that my house is 150+ years old.

But my solutions are very different than those of my relatives who live in all-electric homes in Florida, where it's often too damp to line dry. Which is why I think we should ban the manufacture of new electric dryers- if you have an all-electric house, and no good line drying options, buy an electric drying cabinet. Yes, they are more expensive than dryers up front, but cheaper in the long term. And increased demand would bring the price down.

Same thing with upright refrigerators- lets just stop making them. If your kitchen only has space for that shape, then your fridge should look like a bureau, with a series of drawers, each one a tiny chest that is more than ten times as efficient than it's upright counterpart.

Once we do all this stuff, THEN I'll get behind nuclear power to bridge the gap between renewables and consumption. But right now, nuclear is non-starting, stop gap solution. It's just so much more practical to focus our efforts elsewhere.
posted by Leta at 6:32 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Solar production rates are rising rapidly over 100%/year
Cite please, the highest I've seen reputably reported was 59% YoY.

Personally I think once solar becomes cheaper per-watt than coal market forces will sort the whole thing out in about 50-100 years. Actually pricing the externalities inherent in fossil fuel production would speed it up of course but I don't think it's necessary.

And of course the lack of pricing in those externalities is the only reason we're still using fossil fuels IMO.
posted by Skorgu at 7:18 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


, no amount of risk management engineering are ever going to change their minds,

Right. You just keep thinking that.

Meanwhile nuke plant operators violate operation rules in an attempt to increase or even turn a profit.

But go ahead. Justify the example of flooding a basement I gave above as "safe" operation.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:00 PM on April 12, 2011


Right. You just keep thinking that.

There's really no need to take a hostile, sarcastic tone.

But go ahead. Justify the example of flooding a basement I gave above as "safe" operation.

(A) Was there a release of radioactive materials into the general environment?
(B) Was anyone killed, injured, or made sick by this incident?
(C) Did this incident go unreported, or did the NRC fail to exercise authority in causing it to be remedied?

The answers, for the record, are (A) No, (B) No, and (C) The NRC issued violations, followed up with investigations, and continues to monitor the site. The NRC's response could and should have been better, and because this incident happened, their responses to later incidents have been more appropriate.

The thing about using the word "safe" in mockery quotes is that the whole point of risk management is in generating power as safely as we can. As of 2011, there has still not been a single death in the US tied to an accident at a civilian nuclear power plant. Nuclear power has been safer than any other form of power used in the US, no matter how you want to manipulate the word "safe." It's been safer than coal, safer than natural gas, safer than hydro for forty years. I'm not sure how cherry-picking particular incidents of small-scale industrial mismanagement is supposed to alter the actual statistics, but that's how the opposition prefers to work, alas, which is why I'm as skeptical of the anti-nuclear side as I am of the pro-nuclear side. Where are the incidents of demonstrated harm to support the anti-nuclear case? Chernobyl doesn't count, because in the US, we don't build or run our reactors that way, have never done so, and will never do so. In this country, is there a conspiracy hiding forty years worth of bodies somewhere?

Again, though, the point's moot, which is why the level of dismissive, sarcastic, hostile anti-pathy you get in these discussions just makes me sigh. The anti-nuclear side has won the public relations war, and we won't get any new nuclear plants, our aging plants (designed to be replaced as the technology improves) will be gradually shut down instead of upgraded, and we'll return to the safety of nineteenth century coal and gas power, followed, if we're lucky, by something better. It better happen soon, though.
posted by sonascope at 1:19 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


The answers, for the record, are (A) No, (B) No, and (C)

You forgot (d) - it should have never had happened.

But that is typical of Corporations. Doing things that should not have happened - just to protect the profit margin.

But hey, why not DEMONSTRATE that the Corporate profit driven structure can generate consumer electric power without the need for Price-Anderson, without safety violations or my personal favorites (for this week anyway):

Instead, senior NRC officials let FirstEnergy keep operating the plant until Feb. 16 because they were "driven in large part by a desire to lessen the financial impact on FENOC that would result from an early shutdown,"

often making decisions based on the industry's profit margins rather than public safety.

10:00 min to 10:49 min mark as I could not find the exact UoCS report mentioned. "stop enforcing reguations or you'll put them out of business"

Making Merrifield's new role all the more interesting, is that he was in 2009 found guilty of ethics violations for pursuing jobs with several large nuclear corporations -- including his current employer, the Shaw Group -- while he was still on the commission and casting votes on matters in which those firms had a financial stake. He is now a senior vice president in Shaw's Power Group.

more about Mr. Merrifield


As of 2011, there has still not been a single death in the US tied to an accident at a civilian nuclear power plant.

Interesting claim. Considering your willingness to find flooding a basement OK because a fine was paid, perhaps others should not take your position at face value.

TMI’s owners did quietly pay out millions in damages to area residents whose children were born with genetic damage, among other things. (Ok - not dead so its all good. We'll ignore any still Born's)

The number of stillborn babies increased in the area downwind of Three Mile Island after the March 1979 accident. In the first year the number of stillborns doubled; the year after that the number tripled. Within three years it was five times greater. Some studies show that the number was ten times higher in some regions near TMI. (Hey - these were never alive so how can they be killed, right?)

33 years ago, the woman who used to cut my hair told me a shattering story of how she had given birth to a baby boy in the hospital at Hanford, Washington in 1958, the same year I was born. Her baby and the other two who were born in that hospital that same day all suddenly died within a few days for reasons nobody could explain. All three were born normal, healthy, full term babies with unremarkable deliveries. After explaining all that, she said, “I’m sure it had something to do with those Hanford nuclear plants. It snowed that day and the snow was black. I’ve lived here all my life and I’d never seen anything like that before and neither had anyone else that I talked to.” Sadly, years later I found out she was absolutely right. There was a huge and prolonged class action law suit against the government where it was finally proved that radionuclides were deliberately released into the atmosphere MANY times from those plants, and the folks who were affected are called “Hanford Down-winders.” This article about it is a mind blower: http://www.djc.com/special/enviro98/10043971.htm (Oh, its just a "story" .... no "proof" therefore no harm no foul, right? Oh and still born so again, never alive so therefore can't die.)

In case people want to read about Hanford down winders:
http://www.djc.com/special/enviro98/10043971.htm

It's been safer than coal, safer than natural gas, safer than hydro for forty years.

Yea, that's why the wild pigs in Germany, UPWIND and separated by an entire country from Chernobyl are too radioactive to consume. Chernobyl made the pigs "safe" from being shot.

Go Safety!

the whole point of risk management is in generating power as safely as we can.

And willfully flooding a basement with radioactive water is an example of "as safely as we can."?

Is that why the bones of the dead were removed and replaced with broomsticks? Exactly how is the replacement of bones of the dead an expression of "safe" - does it stop them from becoming radioactive zombies?

And as example of safety that you don't need to be a nuclear engineer to understand:
Sleeping Security Guards
And one you need to be cleared for:
the unspecified security “deficiency.”

Are plants so "safe" the guards can go to sleep?

Here is another example of operation one only needs to be a homeowner to understand.
According to Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspection records, a roof leak at the Calvert Cliffs plant shorted out one of the Unit 1 reactor's two electrical distribution buses on the morning of Feb. 18, 2010.

which is why the level of dismissive, sarcastic, hostile anti-pathy you get in these discussions just makes me sigh

How about being honest - instead of claiming "the system works! Its all good" when a willfull dumping of radioactive water happens - step up and admit it was wrong.

But perhaps you will be the pro nuker who can explain why Fission power was good enough for the Shaw of Iran but not for the post-Shaw Iran? The follow up question would be, if the Shaw had gotten working plants and then the post-Shaw events happened how would that have changed things?

Because if the world is gonna have nukes everywhere - how does the world deal with North Korea or a change of leadership of Nation-States with reactors?
posted by rough ashlar at 5:33 PM on April 12, 2011


Fossil Fuels' hidden costs [NAS Study]. "Nearly 20,000 people [in the USA] die prematurely each year from such causes, according to the study’s authors, who valued each life at $6 million based on the dollar in 2000. Those pollutants include small soot particles, which cause lung damage; nitrogen oxides, which contribute to smog; and sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain."

Deaths per TWH by energy source [blog post]. I don't think the nuclear rate is accurate, but I do think the coal is about right within 33%.

Because if the world is gonna have nukes everywhere - how does the world deal with North Korea or a change of leadership of Nation-States with reactors?

By encouraging the proliferation of reactor designs that can't be used to efficiently produce weapons grade Uranium? As for North Korea, they can already kill 33% of the South Korean population with chemical weapons. I'm pretty sure with nukes in their arsenal we'd treat them the exact same. The better question is would it make them more aggressive? Either way, it is a good point.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:23 PM on April 12, 2011


Oh, its just a "story" .... no "proof" therefore no harm no foul, right?

Uh...yeah, pretty much.
posted by Skorgu at 6:44 PM on April 12, 2011


no "proof" therefore no harm no foul, right?
Uh...yeah, pretty much.


Yup, just like for years how there was never any "proof" that smoking cigs caused health problems.

And the 500,000+ tons of soil removed is just a make work program for Bechtel.

Glad you were able to point out how safe Hanford is and the complaint is 'just a story'.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:53 PM on April 12, 2011


Well yeah, and it remained a story until numerous peer-reviewed scientific journals published exhaustive empirical evidence that it was, in fact, true.

As it happens the Hanford site is pretty well documented to have been the site of serious radiological accidents [cite]. It's the documentation not the 'story' that makes it fact however.
posted by Skorgu at 7:20 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


it was, in fact, true.

Or the court case could be allowed to go forward and then legal "truths" could then exist.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:23 PM on April 12, 2011


Skorgu, your Hanford link goes to a page not found. Is this what you were looking for?
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:19 PM on April 12, 2011


How about being honest - instead of claiming "the system works! Its all good" when a willfull dumping of radioactive water happens - step up and admit it was wrong.

I don't need to "step up." I already pointed out that it was wrong. All of the industrial accidents involving nuclear power are wrong, as are all the coal mining deaths causes by malignant, unregulated companies like Massey Energy. No industry is perfect, so you build your risk management and regulatory systems to deal with such things.

The trouble here is you can't seem to leave the straw men alone.

Hanford is a straw man. It's neither civilian nor a power plant, but it constitutes a huge part of your argument. I'm 100% against nuclear weapons, which is why I'm glad that our nuclear plants in the US have been used to convert the uranium from 16,000 Soviet nuclear weapons into carbon-neutral power. If you want to go after the gross irresponsibility of the military, have at it, but it's not applicable to what I'm talking about.

Chernobyl is a straw man. It's a disaster, but it's a disaster in a country that doesn't run its nuclear power plants the way we do. I'm not talking about some hypothetical nuclear threat here--I'm talking specifically about nuclear power in my country, where I have a voice in regulating that power. If you want to rail about Chernobyl, speak to the Russians, but that's not remotely relevant to my contention.

Talking about the atrocious issue with unauthorized organ removal at Windscale/Sellafield is a straw man. It's not a US power plant, and it's not civilian. How am I supposed to account for what British people did fifty years ago?

If you want to talk TMI, you have to do better than quoting Harvey Wasserman's facts and figures, that, as far as anyone can tell, pretty much come from Harvey Wasserman. Anecdotes are not data. Paranoid conspiracy theories are not data. Phobic responses are not data. When independent studies have been made of the area around TMI, the histrionic claims of mass radiation poisoning haven't been backed up by data. The most that's ever indicated is a slight risk in cancer risk among a specific population group.

This brings up a key point. Show me the studies about people living around coal plants, or drinking water from wells contaminated by hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction. I'll put those numbers up against nuclear any day, and I'll come away saying that I'll take the route of lesser harm. People shrill about things not being "safe," but safety is a statistical illusion. Everything has risks and rewards. The risks of fossil fuel power are clear. Thousands die in mining, hundreds of thousands die from the poisonous, radioactive soot from coal burning, children are stunted and stillborn from chemicals in runoff and refinement and hydraulic fracturing. Civilian nuclear power in the United States has yet to produce even a fraction of the death and destruction that fossil fuel sources have, but somehow, nuclear is the bad guy.

I'll repeat, though, since it didn't matter the first time--the anti-nuclear forces have already won this battle. No new nukes in America, no upgrades, no sensible use for the resources we have. I'm just not sure why there's this raging, keening, arrogant desperation among the victors to not only win, but to force everyone to repeat their mantras, and believe their anecdotes and friend-of-a-friend stories over rigorous independent studies. Your mind's clearly made up, you're going to cite random incidences of minor accidents and military excesses and play apples against oranges, and all my words do is just serve as a launching point for a rant. Why do you care so much about my position that makes you so angry that you feel compelled to put words in my mouth?

You won, sir. Your side has successfully shut down a whole realm of science and engineering based on fear. Why are you still arguing instead of celebrating? I don't get it.
posted by sonascope at 3:42 AM on April 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


BrotherCaine Yes, thank you! /hangs head in shame
posted by Skorgu at 12:01 PM on April 13, 2011


Worldwide energy from wind, sun & water -- cleaner than coal, safer than Fukushima. 100% feasible right now.
posted by Tirebiter at 12:01 PM on April 15, 2011


For values of right now that strongly resemble 20-40 years anyway.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:31 PM on April 15, 2011


20 years is how long it takes to build a nuclear plant.
posted by humanfont at 8:01 PM on April 15, 2011


Sure but who is arguing that it's technically impossible to get to 100% renewable in a multi-decade timespan? All the arguments I see in here are that the non-technical problems are enormous in comparison to the technical ones. And that the last seven times we had this conversation it didn't amount to much.
posted by Skorgu at 8:54 AM on April 18, 2011


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