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Maybe nuclear power is your problem, too?
April 12, 2011 6:14 AM   Subscribe

The German weekly newspaper Die Zeit shows Americans (and a few Canadians) what a Fukushima-sized evacuation zone might mean to them.
posted by rhombus (197 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm not sure I believe that every single nuclear power plant in the US could let go at once.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:22 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Woah, informative and useful journalism. I have missed you. Most of the reactors are on the east cost, wonder why that is?
posted by pwally at 6:24 AM on April 12, 2011


Fortunately the US still mostly uses non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, clean-burning, mountain-enhancing, eternally-lasting coal.
posted by DU at 6:24 AM on April 12, 2011 [54 favorites]


Maybe nuclear power is your problem, too?

Oh, not maybe. Definitely.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:25 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, out west, you've got seismic activity and significant hydroelectric development.
posted by mollweide at 6:25 AM on April 12, 2011


seismic activity

sigh...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:26 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is neat. Thanks for posting it.

A total of 16,040,474 people (≈5%) live within 18 miles of a nuclear plant.

Great, but that's all of them together. Since we don't expect every plant to have a meltdown at once, we can get more detailed (and arguably more helpful) information by clicking on each red dot to see exactly how many people live near that specific plant at the given distance, so according to the map, "a total of 1,280,850 people live within 18 miles of the Indian Point plant" near NYC and "a total of 29,210 people live within 18 miles of the Diablo Canyon plant" in California.

"65 nuclear power plants (with 104 reactors) are currently in operation in the United States."

How many of them are of a similar design to the Fukushima nuclear power plant?

I'm beginning to think a lead-lined underground bunker stocked with food supplies and weapons isn't a bad idea.
posted by zarq at 6:26 AM on April 12, 2011


Everyone will be fine if they all move to Kentucky.
posted by afx237vi at 6:28 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


but then you'd be in kentucky.
posted by empath at 6:30 AM on April 12, 2011 [20 favorites]


Most of the reactors are on the east cost, wonder why that is?

Most people live on the east coast.

But now hold on. Could that be A RESULT OF NUCLEAR PLANTS? Maybe. I'll look into it.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:30 AM on April 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


Yet another reason for people to move from Cleveland to Columbus.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:38 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yet another reason for people to move from Cleveland to Columbus.

Hey, whatever happened to keeping how great Columbus is a secret?

Columbus: it's horrible! Move back to Cleveland!

(see, that's how you do it)
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:40 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]




Most of the reactors are on the east cost, wonder why that is?

Probably has something to do with reprocessing fuel for nuclear weapons.
posted by empath at 6:42 AM on April 12, 2011


Hey, whatever happened to keeping how great Columbus is a secret?

i'm pretty sure no one in ann arbor knows that
posted by pyramid termite at 6:42 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have to say I wasn't particularly shocked by this. I've lived in what I was sure was the evacuation zone for two nuclear plants(Shearon Harris and Brunswick in NC) and it turns out I was totally wrong.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:50 AM on April 12, 2011


Ahhh, the US. Coming into its own, going through those awkward teen years. I remember when large red dots popped up on my face... but hey, kid, it gets better.
posted by SNWidget at 6:53 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd just done this for myself a few days ago too for the Pickering nuclear plant and Toronto.

http://maps.google.com/maps?q=http://www.nearby.org.uk/google/circle.kml.php%3Fradius%3D19miles%26lat%3D43.811667%26long%3D-79.065833%26geomColor%3Dff0000ff

When I was staying in Tokyo, I was well outside the 30 km zone from Fukushima, but in Toronto, my apartment is just outside 30 km. Though I'm sure the earthquake and tsunami risks are minuscule here compared to Tokyo, I still have to wonder who thought it was a good idea to put such a facility so close to Toronto.

I question whether Canada should have nuclear power at all. But if we must have it, why not take every possible precaution?
posted by mariokrat at 6:53 AM on April 12, 2011


Hey, whatever happened to keeping how great Columbus is a secret?

I just remind everyone that the True Name of columbus is Cowtown and poof, they leave.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:58 AM on April 12, 2011


I guess good thing this reactor in Cuba was never finished.
posted by three blind mice at 7:00 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think they should do a map showing hydroelectric dams and the downstream residents who are at risk. What's more dangerous, really? Nuclear power or hydroelectric?
posted by Shike at 7:00 AM on April 12, 2011


The Indian Point plant is 25 miles from NYC (the Bronx) and 35 miles from midtown Manhattan. It can withstand up to a 6.0 earthquake. Current federal evacuation plan is 10 miles.

"A total of 410,949 people live within 10 miles of the Indian Point plant."

"A total of 7,304,145 people live within 35 miles of the Indian Point plant."

"A total of 17,101,764 people live within 50 miles of the Indian Point plant."

The plant is nearly 40 years old and is expected to be decommissioned from 2013 to 2015. The company that runs it is trying to extend its life another 20 years beyond that.
posted by zarq at 7:04 AM on April 12, 2011


Most of the reactors are on the east cost, wonder why that is?

I know in California, we've had a moratorium on new plants since 1976. There's been talk recently of a nuclear desalination plant in Madera which might test the issue.
posted by kendrak at 7:05 AM on April 12, 2011


Most of the power plants I've looked at on this map seem to have been built in the 70's.. my understanding is that Fukushima was built in the 70's too. I also remember reading that modern plants are far, far safer. Especially in terms of being more resilient to natural disasters. And so here is another case of let's fucking upgrade our shit instead of fighting wars.
posted by pwally at 7:06 AM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


When one unsafely-designed airplane crashes, do we start grounding all other airplanes?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:12 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, this is an excellent presentation, very informative & illustrative.
posted by PepperMax at 7:16 AM on April 12, 2011


MetroWest Massachusetts: I have your new business growth campaign: Bring your business to the MetroWest: we’ll survive four 50-mile exclusion zones!

I expect the office parks in Marlborough, Grafton, Westborough, Northborough and surrounding smaller towns to be bustling with new business in short order.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:21 AM on April 12, 2011


When one unsafely-designed airplane crashes, do we start grounding all other airplanes?

We usually start by grounding other planes of a similar type.
posted by rhombus at 7:21 AM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I thought I was 50 miles away from SONGS, but it turns out it's closer to 45 miles. Still well outside a Fukushima Daichi-sized exclusion zone, but definitely close enough to make me nervous. When the Fukushima Daicihi panic dies down in the USA, I might actually think about picking up some potassium iodide to keep on hand.
posted by infinitywaltz at 7:22 AM on April 12, 2011


I like how you can move the slider to the right until you get scared.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:31 AM on April 12, 2011 [24 favorites]


The way humans mentally process risk is nothing short of hilarious.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:41 AM on April 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


Now that the Cold War is over, we can still have the sleepless nights and unmitigated fear without the propaganda and ethnic hatred involved with a competitive superpower and replaced it with human error and indifferent fate. Hooray for progress! Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go check on the expiration dates of my survivalist cache of canned creamed corn and bottled water.
posted by crunchland at 7:41 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


When one unsafely-designed airplane crashes, do we start grounding all other airplanes?

Could you then tell me how much more safely spent fuel is being stored in the US?
posted by KokuRyu at 7:41 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Kinshasa also has a nuclear facility. Luckily it's kept safe by three padlocks and a guy in a tracksuit.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:42 AM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


If they have to evacuate around the soon to be expanded Plant Vogtle, at 30 miles I wouldn't be able to go to work but I could stay in my house until they evacuated a 40 mile radius.
posted by TedW at 7:44 AM on April 12, 2011


I'd use another word, Salvor Hardin. Tragic suits, in all of its senses. [Everyone dies at curtain.]
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:48 AM on April 12, 2011


I used to live about ten miles from the nuclear generating station in Limerick, PA, so in our phone book, there were evacuation instructions in case of a nuclear emergency.

In my case, they were to get on the Schuykill Expressway and drive toward Philly. Now, that route is bumper to bumper traffic on a normal day, so I was concerned about the efficacy of their disaster planning. My own evacuation plan was to drive west until I reached my folks in Illinois.
posted by leahwrenn at 7:57 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I worked at Point Lepreau as a co-op student they told me they built it where they did because it was just far enough away from Saint John to be safe in case something happened to it. This map seems to bear that out.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:58 AM on April 12, 2011


Darn nice of 'em.
posted by punkfloyd at 8:02 AM on April 12, 2011


One kinda "good" thing is that Japanese reactor leakage has a chance to diffuse into the Pacific.

It's ironic that Quebecers get most of their power from hydroelectric but are downstream from the dozen or so reactors that sit within the Great Lakes watershed. Sorry Montreal.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:10 AM on April 12, 2011


The Indian Point plant is 25 miles from NYC (the Bronx) and 35 miles from midtown Manhattan. It can withstand up to a 6.0 earthquake. Current federal evacuation plan is 10 miles.

I actually grew up within that zone; in fact, due to being on the 3rd floor of a house on a large hill, I could actually see a small corner of Indian Point from my bedroom window. Every year they printed evacuation routes in the inside cover of the phone book, and occasionally tested the emergency sirens.

However, as a kid in the 80s, what I remember people (parents, teachers, other kids) talking about most was not the possibility of a meltdown, but rather whether or not we would all go up if/when the Russians attacked NYC with nuclear weapons. There seemed to be the idea that given Indian Point's location it would get destroyed if NYC was attacked. One friend's step-dad even moved the family to Arizona at the end of 7th grade to be safer.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:15 AM on April 12, 2011


I'm glad to see that I'm well outside the likely evacuation radius for either of the Texas nuclear plants. (Nuclear power: one stupid thing we did less of in Texas!)
posted by immlass at 8:26 AM on April 12, 2011


I'm not sure I believe that every single nuclear power plant in the US could let go at once.

Oh they won't.... provided the President accepts my demands for ONE BILLION DOLLARS. Bwaaaahahahahahahahahahahaha! ::strokes evil white cat, calibrates nuclear moon-laser thing::
posted by FatherDagon at 8:28 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I'm not sure I believe that every single nuclear power plant in the US could let go at once.

I thought that too, but making sixty five individual maps and making visitors drill down to find the location nearest their residence through a choose-your-own-adventure subsite, with one of the late-stage options being "I am Chocolate Pickle", would probably not be as helpful as you're implying.
posted by ardgedee at 8:40 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


What intrigues me is that the contamination pattern for each plant is perfectly circular. That's okay for an infographic-ish map that lets you see how close you are to the nearest plant (or, alternately see what percent of the landscape is covered by reactors).

But I'm curious about what the actual predicted patterns of dissipation are; For example, I'm guessing that although Toledo is the closest major city to the Davis Besse plant, it has a lot less to fear than Cleveland does since it's both upwind and upstream.
posted by ardgedee at 8:50 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Most of the reactors are on the east cost, wonder why that is?
No one lives out west.

Why does North Carolina need four reactors?
posted by PHINC at 8:57 AM on April 12, 2011


We live in the evacuation zone for the Seabrook New Hampshire plant. Every year we get a calendar in the mail that features lovely old photos of New Hampshire and an order form for potassium pills.

And this is what it sounds like when the sirens go off (self-YouTube link).
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:59 AM on April 12, 2011


If you compare these to hurricane evacuation zones, that actually are used fairly regularly, they are miniscule.
posted by smackfu at 9:05 AM on April 12, 2011


When one unsafely-designed airplane crashes, do we start grounding all other airplanes?

When that plane crashes, does it make a huge chunk of land around the crash site uninhabitable for generations?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:08 AM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you compare these to hurricane evacuation zones, that actually are used fairly regularly, they are miniscule.

Yes, but when the hurricane is over, you get to come back.
posted by enn at 9:13 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


One kinda "good" thing is that Japanese reactor leakage has a chance to diffuse into the Pacific.

One bad thing is cesium bio-accumulates, so it diffuses in the water, and re concentrates in fish.
posted by stbalbach at 9:14 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I live within the exclusion zone for Pickering near Toronto. In the last municipal election every candidate but one for this ward made a point of opposing windmills 2km out on Lake Ontario because they would supposedly spoil the view from the choice real estate atop the cliffs overlooking the lake. The neighbourhood advocacy group opposing the windmills is called Save Our Shoreline. But you can stand on those same cliffs and look down that shoreline to see a nuclear power plant.
posted by TimTypeZed at 9:17 AM on April 12, 2011


Road trip into the Japanese exclusion zone. (previously posted, but in case it was missed, well worth the trip).
posted by stbalbach at 9:19 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


If those germans are really desperate to comment on something that matters, maybe they can make a chart that shows how close I am to atherosclerosis.
posted by digsrus at 9:22 AM on April 12, 2011


I'm myself concerned about the effect on the irradiated water drained into the ocean, both from a biological & ecological standpoint as well as an economic one. Are Japanese fisherman ever going to be able to return to their livelihoods? Not to mention that irradiated fish most certainly won't stay within Japanese waters - is radioactive testing of all fish (& maybe for that matter, all consumable goods from anywhere) going to become routine? Should it?
posted by PepperMax at 9:22 AM on April 12, 2011


...opposing windmills 2km out on Lake Ontario because they would supposedly spoil the view from the choice real estate atop the cliffs overlooking the lake

I was just walking along the Gulf of Mexico beach near my house last breezy Saturday and thinking how awesome it would be if there were a row of windmills generating electricity offshore.
posted by lordrunningclam at 9:33 AM on April 12, 2011


they would supposedly spoil the view from the choice real estate atop the cliffs overlooking the lake

Of all the objections to wind power I've heard this one makes the least sense to me (and I understand people are alleging heart disease and panic attacks?). In Vancouver they just stuck a giant wind turbine on top of Grouse Mountain that's visible from the entire city and it's not so bad.
posted by Hoopo at 9:38 AM on April 12, 2011


So is there an exclusion zone map for freeways? Because I'm much more likely to die on an accident there than from a nuclear plant accident.
posted by happyroach at 9:39 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is one more reason I'm glad to live in Buffalo.

Buffalo: Not nearly as bad as you've been told.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 9:39 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


When one unsafely-designed airplane crashes, do we start grounding all other airplanes?

Decommissioning an old plane has almost zero cost (since someone will buy it for scrap/parts), while decommissioning a nuke plant costs $300 million or more. So there is incentive to keep old plants running as long as possible (beyond the 40 year design), and safety is the variable that is stretched to achieve that.
posted by stbalbach at 9:40 AM on April 12, 2011


Damn. I was hoping there'd be a new thread on the announcement that Japan has upgraded the threat level to a Chernobyly-level catastrophe based mostly on more accurate information about radiation containment failures early on in the crisis, since the last time we really talked about Fukushima directly around here it was all about how reassuring that minor little incident at the Fukushima plant was to any of the stubbornly ignorant and ideological nuclear energy tech skeptics/critics out there.

I remember saying something early on about how it seemed a little premature to be trying to put bookends around a still very much developing situation like this either way, but then, wham! bam! suddenly, not only was the situation seemingly resolved like magic, the crisis itself was magically transformed by the power of hindsight into evidence of the safety and wisdom of nuclear tech. Soon after, I was treated to a round of discussions on NPR about how the Chernobyl catastrophe had ultimately reflected the inherent failings of the communist system more than anything else, and that's why things got so out of hand and there was so much doubt about the reliability of official sources of information--none of which, obviously, would be big problems in an open Western democracy like Japan, natch.

If the current crop of bozos is still running the world in 100 years time, I guarantee you the Overton window will shift so far we'll be debating whether 90% human extinction is really a "crisis" or an under-appreciated economic opportunity.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:44 AM on April 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'm myself concerned about the effect on the irradiated water drained into the ocean, both from a biological & ecological standpoint as well as an economic one. Are Japanese fisherman ever going to be able to return to their livelihoods? Not to mention that irradiated fish most certainly won't stay within Japanese waters - is radioactive testing of all fish (& maybe for that matter, all consumable goods from anywhere) going to become routine? Should it?

Shellfish and seaweed are the big problem here, as they remain in one place absorbing radioactive elements. It seems unlikely that these fisheries will resume anywhere near Daiichi, although seaweed (think nori, the stuff your sushi is rolled in) and shellfish (scallops, oysters) were harvested starting about 50 kilometers north of the power plant in the various inlets and bays that magnified the force of the tsunami (you can't really cultivate oysters and seaweed on exposed coastline, like you have along the coast of Fukushima).

Hard to say what radioactivity levels (thorium, cesium) are like in Miyagi, although I've seen maps showing radioactivity is pushed up there. However there is very little data, so many of these projections are probably inaccurate.

To the south, Ibaraki has the second-largest fishing industry in Japan (Miyagi to the north had the largest). Tsukiji, the big wholesale fishing market in Tokyo, has already turned away catch from Ibaraki. The government responded by setting acceptable radioactivity levels for fish.

It's true that fish can move in and out of the waters off the coast of the plant. Generally speaking, the best way to eat fish and avoid radioactivity is to avoid larger fish.

The only larger fish that I can think of that might be caught off of Fukushima and Ibaraki is katsuo, or bonito. Katsuo is a big part of Japanese food culture - it's also a sustainable fishery - and it would be sad if it were affected by the crisis, although most of Japan's bonito fishery is focused off of Shikoku.

In summary, I would really be worried about eating seaweed harvested in the region. It would be hard to personally limit your intake, except by avoiding all processed foods that include seaweed, so that means never buying sushi rolls at the convenience store for lunch ever again.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:48 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


So is there an exclusion zone map for freeways? Because I'm much more likely to die on an accident there than from a nuclear plant accident.

It's not just about you. The evolving accident in Fukushima has virtually destroyed the economy of an entire prefecture in Japan and affected about a million people.

A traffic accident cannot do that.

The Fukushima accident is largely unresolvable in the short time (the next year or so) because of the extreme danger posed by the practice of storing spent-fuel right on site. This is an issue that every single US plant has as well.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:51 AM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Buffalo: Not nearly as bad as you've been told.

Having been there, it's possibly worse.

When I was staying in Tokyo, I was well outside the 30 km zone from Fukushima, but in Toronto, my apartment is just outside 30 km. Though I'm sure the earthquake and tsunami risks are minuscule here compared to Tokyo, I still have to wonder who thought it was a good idea to put such a facility so close to Toronto.

I question whether Canada should have nuclear power at all. But if we must have it, why not take every possible precaution?


Canada needs nuclear power because we need a lot of electricity. And Darlington is about as safe a spot as you can get - there's zero earthquake risk, lots of fresh water for cooling and it's pretty unlikely to flood or any other sort of natural disaster. Besides, Canada has plenty of uranium and once upon a time - say a couple of years ago - we were the leader in creating medical isotopes.

Canada is one of the world's leaders in nuclear plant design. CANDUs aren't the be-all and end-all of plant design, but why not continue to innovate in the area? Why would we turn our backs on reasonably priced power that doesn't create CO2?
posted by GuyZero at 9:57 AM on April 12, 2011


The great thing about CANDU design is that they don't need power to cool down.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:58 AM on April 12, 2011


Why would we turn our backs on reasonably priced power that doesn't create CO2?

Doesn't Uranium mining and processing create CO2?
posted by yertledaturtle at 10:03 AM on April 12, 2011


The reassuring thing is how so much has improved since the incident at Three Mile Island in 1979.

But of course I kid.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 10:03 AM on April 12, 2011


Doesn't Uranium mining and processing create CO2?

In terms of tonnes of CO2 per MW generated, the difference is pretty clear.
posted by GuyZero at 10:05 AM on April 12, 2011


I wondered why the default display cut off the western half of the U.S., but scrolling I noticed only 4 out west, 2 in California... and I'm living 9 miles from one of them... however, of the 4-million-plus people living within 9 miles of a plant, less than 5 thousand of us live that close to the unfortunately-named Diablo Canyon. Out of the 100 million people within 49 miles, Diablo has under 150 thousand. A good place to put a nuke plant, if you ignore the fact that it's closer to a major earthquake fault than any other American plant. Right on the one part of the 'Pacific Ring of Fire' that has NOT shaken lately. Which makes San Luis Obispo, which had recently been named "the happiest town in America" into "the most nervous town in America".
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:11 AM on April 12, 2011


In terms of tonnes of CO2 per MW generated, the difference is pretty clear.
citations please. thank you
posted by yertledaturtle at 10:14 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


why not continue to innovate in the area? Why would we turn our backs on reasonably priced power that doesn't create CO2?

Nuclear power doesn't create jobs in Alberta.
posted by bonehead at 10:14 AM on April 12, 2011


The map doesn't point out every nuclear aircraft carrier home port or submarine base (Bremerton, San Diego, SF) on the West Coast.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:17 AM on April 12, 2011


You honestly want proof that nuclear power generates less CO2 than burning coal or oil?

Nuclear power isn't perfect, but the CO2 generation element is beyond obvious. Sure, uranium mining has trucks that burn gas, etc. But versus burning coal or oil it's doesn't take a nuclear physicist to figure this one out.
posted by GuyZero at 10:17 AM on April 12, 2011


Nuclear power doesn't create jobs in Alberta.

Actually they really are going to build at least one nuclear power plant in the oilpatch. Getting the oil out of the tarsand is extremely energy-intensive - they essentially boil it out with steam.
posted by GuyZero at 10:19 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The financial crisis is related to the Fukishima disaster is related to the BP oil spill and almost every other grand-scale fuck-up in one very simple way: a small group of extremely selfish individuals made decisions shortchanging the world at large for their own personal gain.

I think the solution to this "fuck everyone else" mental disability apparently endemic to human endeavours likely involves a secret society, long guns and messages delivered wrapped around bricks thrown through windows of 200th floor penthouse office suites, but I'm kind of uncertain how one would write the mission statement or get funding.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:20 AM on April 12, 2011


Man, some of these plants have the goofiest names: Turkey Point, Farley, Hatch, Vogtle, Watts Bar, Oconee, Vermont Yankee, Beaver Valley, Monticello (in Minnesota). About the only one that has an appropriately-scary name is Diablo Canyon (which, hey! Was built directly on a faultline). They should all have names like Seismosaurus Rex and Repent-A-Tron 3000 and Apoco-Barn and Electrogeddon and Nukeorama.
posted by Gator at 10:20 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's not just about you. The evolving accident in Fukushima has virtually destroyed the economy of an entire prefecture in Japan and affected about a million people.

A traffic accident cannot do that.


The interstate highway system has been around for what, something like 60 years? Built at cost of 425 billion, there are a minimum of 38,000 deaths per year on it. That's at least 2 million deaths, and an economic cost in the hundreds of billions, at least. And that's not counting at all the environmental and economic costs of the system.

Sixty years layers the highways are still killing tens of thousands of people, and are costing even more in pollution remediation and ecological damage. Give me the right actuarial tables and I can tell you how many people you kill when you get on the freeway, and how much it costs. But you like driving your shiny new car, right? And all those deaths are so far away and abstract. People of course easily justify anything personally useful to them, especially when their distorted estimates of probability support what they wanted to do anyway.
posted by happyroach at 10:22 AM on April 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


But you like driving your shiny new car, right? And all those deaths are so far away and abstract. People of course easily justify anything personally useful to them, especially when their distorted estimates of probability support what they wanted to do anyway.

Stop being so condescending. Also, please show me the actuarial tables that cover 200,000 year lifespan of nuclear waste.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:31 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


You honestly want proof that nuclear power generates less CO2 than burning coal or oil?

Nuclear power isn't perfect, but the CO2 generation element is beyond obvious. Sure, uranium mining has trucks that burn gas, etc. But versus burning coal or oil it's doesn't take a nuclear physicist to figure this one out.<>

Yes. I want proof. Why would I ask for it if I did not?
I could do the research myself but you made the claim that Nuclear power creates no CO2. This is simply not true.
But I would like to see some actual data that shows how much CO2 it produces
This includes.
1) The CO 2 used to mine uranium - which is done in huge open pit mines that destroy large portions of land.
2) Transport the uranium to market.
3) The environmental cost of storing nuclear waste for 100,000 of thousands of years.

posted by yertledaturtle at 10:32 AM on April 12, 2011


oops sorry did not close the italic's tag. sorry about that.
posted by yertledaturtle at 10:32 AM on April 12, 2011


Actually they really are going to build at least one nuclear power plant in the oilpatch.

I've not seen anything beyond idle talk. My impression is that industry has decided that the regulatory hurdles weren't worth it. It would take at least a decade to permit. The federal government strongly disfavours the Canadian nuclear industry. They've shut down or kneecapped every body and agency they can that's involved oversight, development or licencing of the industry. If we want nuclear power R&D in Canada, we need a new federal government.
posted by bonehead at 10:34 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


kokoryu: "The great thing about CANDU design is that they don't need power to cool down."

While the CANDU system definitely has some safety advantages (as well as some disadvantages), what you said is not true. Where did you hear that? The Shutdown Cooling system involves multiple pumps. I say this as an (erstwhile?) supporter of Nuclear Power. Zirc-clad spent nuclear fuel needs active cooling, no matter what type of reactor.
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:34 AM on April 12, 2011


The interstate highway system has been around for what, something like 60 years? Built at cost of 425 billion, there are a minimum of 38,000 deaths per year on it. That's at least 2 million deaths, and an economic cost in the hundreds of billions, at least. And that's not counting at all the environmental and economic costs of the system.

Sixty years layers the highways are still killing tens of thousands of people, and are costing even more in pollution remediation and ecological damage. Give me the right actuarial tables and I can tell you how many people you kill when you get on the freeway, and how much it costs. But you like driving your shiny new car, right? And all those deaths are so far away and abstract. People of course easily justify anything personally useful to them, especially when their distorted estimates of probability support what they wanted to do anyway.


This is a great argument against car culture ( I do not drive and rarely am i a passenger in a car).
However it still does not prove that nuclear power is safe and worth the long term risks.
posted by yertledaturtle at 10:34 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


The basic CANDU isn't walk-away safe. Even the new Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR-1000) needs active studown systems.
posted by bonehead at 10:39 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


According to the best metastudy I could find, taking into account the full set of activities involved, nuclear is worse than most renewables, but much better than any fossil fuels. As the study points out, there is no definitive answer, however, because of the variation among studies, plant lifecycles, and other issues.

Technology Capacity/configuration/fuel Estimate (gCO2e/kWh)
Wind 2.5MW, offshore 9
Hydroelectric 3.1MW, reservoir 10
Wind 1.5MW, onshore 10
Biogas Anaerobic digestion 11
Hydroelectric 300 kW, run-of-river 13
Solar thermal 80MW, parabolic trough 13
Biomass Forest wood Co-combustion with hard coal 14
Biomass Forest wood steam turbine 22
Biomass Short rotation forestry Co-combustion with
hard coal
23
Biomass FOREST WOOD reciprocating engine 27
Biomass Waste wood steam turbine 31
Solar PV Polycrystalline silicone 32
Biomass Short rotation forestry steam turbine 35
Geothermal 80MW, hot dry rock 38
Biomass Short rotation forestry reciprocating engine 41
Nuclear Various reactor types 66
Natural gas Various combined cycle turbines 443
Fuel cell Hydrogen from gas reforming 664
Diesel Various generator and turbine types 778
Heavy oil Various generator and turbine types 778
Coal Various generator types with scrubbing 960
Coal Various generator types without scrubbing 1050
posted by blahblahblah at 10:39 AM on April 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


Thanks for that data blahblahblah.
posted by yertledaturtle at 10:42 AM on April 12, 2011


yertledaturtle: I would like to see some actual data that shows how much CO2 it produces

There have been several studies on the matter. Here's one (If you dispute the source, feel free to google another. There is widespread agreement). In general, the CO2 emissions of Nuclear power is roughly comparable to that of Wind power, and VASTLY less than any fossil fuel power. The emissions from mining uranium are miniscule when compared to the amount of electricity generated. Such is the "miracle" of Nuclear power.
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:43 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


By comparison:
"NISA said the amount of radiation released into the atmosphere from the plant.. was around 10 percent that of Chernobyl."
Of course, radiation is still being leaked, but "Radiation released into the atmosphere peaked from March 15 to 16. Radiation is still being released, but the amount now has fallen considerably."1
posted by stbalbach at 10:47 AM on April 12, 2011


I should mention, for those who don't want to look at the paper, that about 45% of the estimated CO2 emissions come from mining, milling, enriching and transporting the fuel, and the rest is fairly evenly divided between plant construction, plant operation (backup generators, and maintenance, mostly), fuel processing/storage, and plant decommissioning.
posted by blahblahblah at 10:52 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Natural gas extracted from shale formations has a greater greenhouse gas footprint -- in the form of methane emissions -- than conventional gas, oil and coal over a 20 year period. This calls into question the logic of using natural gas as a climate-friendly alternative to fossil fuels (T. Boone Pickens!).1
posted by stbalbach at 11:07 AM on April 12, 2011


Besides, Canada has plenty of uranium and once upon a time - say a couple of years ago - we were the leader in creating medical isotopes.

One of the two MAPLE reactors was shut down — thank God — because it was found unsafe as soon as they tried turning it on.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:07 AM on April 12, 2011


Coal Various generator types without scrubbing 1050
posted by blahblahblah at 12:39 PM on April 12

Eponysterical?
posted by goethean at 11:07 AM on April 12, 2011


It should be noted that the recent INES level re-evaluation does NOT include radioactivity released into seawater.

For the record, I'm on the fence in regards to nuclear power. I've lived in a nuclear power town in rural Japan (actually, I've lived in three such towns), and, at the very least, nuclear power has provided a somewhat flawed economic development engine that creates jobs.

But the continued blithe remarks that cars are more damaging than nuclear power, with no regard to the tens of thousands of lives destroyed by this one little accident... it's puzzling to read.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:10 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


But the continued blithe remarks that cars are more damaging than nuclear power, with no regard to the tens of thousands of lives destroyed by this one little accident... it's puzzling to read.

Well on the one hand, you have the fact that humans are very bad at judging diffuse vs. acute risk. If we were better at these appraisals, we'd feel more comfortable accepting the fact that, even factoring in disasters like this most recent one, comparing the death rates per wattage production for nuclear, oil and coal shows that nuclear is FOUR THOUSAND TIMES LESS LIKELY TO KILL SOMEONE.

Also, this 'one little accident' wasn't a nuke plant just randomly shitting itself out of spite, it was a byproduct of the WORST RECORDED EARTHQUAKE since we've figured out how to rate earthquakes, which also happened to obliterate vast swaths of an entire country. It would be an unbelievable freaky mess even if the entire nation was run by perfectly efficient wind turbines that turned excess energy production into free backrubs.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:23 AM on April 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


It's not the power plant, it's the waste (spent fuel rods) that have likely caused the most serious air-borne contamination.

For whatever it's worth, this was the fifth-most-powerful recorded earthquake (not the first), and tsunamis of similar size and scope hit the area in 1933 and 1896.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:31 AM on April 12, 2011


...with no regard to the tens of thousands of lives destroyed...

Well, cars kill tens of thousands every year, so...
posted by fartknocker at 11:37 AM on April 12, 2011


Hey, I ride a bike. It would be great if we could get rid of cars. Not sure how a discussion about nuclear power turned into an argument about car culture.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:50 AM on April 12, 2011


Look, I don't think many people here disagree that the first priority with energy is to take solar and wind as far as they will go. They are relatively clean, safe, and easy to put into production. The problem is that we can only be sure of getting to about 30-40% of our energy production with currently proven technology. Beyond that we are relying on being lucky and developing workable energy storage/distribution technology fast enough.

The main advantage of nuclear power is that it exists. It may not be cheap or as safe as we would like, but we know we can set one up and pump out the gigawatts. There simply isn't any other technology we have in hand at the moment that we can say the same of that will not make it difficult or impossible to support the nine billion people this planet looks to be heading for.

Fossil fuels, apart from being dirty as hell (oil spills and near universal mercury contamination, to say the least) are going to be in limited supply in addition to contributing to climate change which will at the least impair food production and make it even more difficult to feed everyone.

Biofuels take arable land, and a lot of it. That is a non starter.

Beyond that we've got geothermal and hydro, which are near maximal exploitation. We might be able to add a bit with tidal power, but that is still a technology in development, and is not going to be providing all the power we need regardless.

So what're the other options? Efficiency and mandatory consumption cuts are not going to solve everything. Efficiency where its cost effective should and will be put into practice, but is only a salve not a solution. Consumption cuts... setting aside the nearly insurmountable issue of getting everyone to agree to them, we need a decently sized economy to support a modern society and nine billion people. Estimates before the advent of modern industrial agriculture put the maximum world population at 4 billion. We can't go back, not without billions of people dying. Ans even with better wealth distribution and our current production levels supporting that many people is going to be dicey.

Nuclear power may suck. It may put millions in danger. But I have yet to hear an alternative that doesn't endanger billions.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:53 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Zalzidrax: Wait--how would cutting our consumption even as much as 60% necessarily "endanger billions"? Renewables given the current state of tech could easily meet at least 60% of current global energy demand. I suspect if those countries using considerably less energy already and those using considerably more were just willing to meet halfway in terms of usage, we'd already be within the realm of making renewables practical as an energy alternative without "endangering billions" of lives. Now, billions of investment dollars on the other hand...
posted by saulgoodman at 11:59 AM on April 12, 2011


Because some people are assholes and don't want to cut their energy use, if it means actually cutting industrial output. And you will have to force them to. With guns.
posted by Zalzidrax at 12:03 PM on April 12, 2011


Meant to include this link to estimates of per capita energy use around the world.

It seems pretty obvious from looking over these numbers that there's plenty of opportunity to significantly cut global energy consumption without necessarily reverting back to the stone age.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:04 PM on April 12, 2011


In regards to cars versus nuclear power, I suppose you could also say that the Darfur massacres are not nearly as bad as the Rwandan genocide.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:04 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


And you will have to force them to. With guns.

If by forcing them with guns you mean enacting rational laws and regulations that don't allow anyone to make a fortune off of externalizing their long-term costs onto the rest of us, then I'm cool with that.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:05 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nuclear power may suck. It may put millions in danger. But I have yet to hear an alternative that doesn't endanger billions.

Renewables don't endanger billions and render land unlivable for centuries when things invariably go bad. Some European countries are making a successful run at the use of renewables as a replacement for nuclear and fossil fuel alternatives.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:07 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because some people are assholes and don't want to cut their energy use, if it means actually cutting industrial output. And you will have to force them to. With guns.

No you wouldn't. If the price of energy goes up the majority of people will cut back their use of energy and find ingenious ways to conserve it. No guns necessary.
posted by yertledaturtle at 12:10 PM on April 12, 2011


If by forcing them with guns you mean enacting rational laws and regulations that don't allow anyone to make a fortune off of externalizing their long-term costs onto the rest of us, then I'm cool with that.

I think we need to recognize that this is not actually what has happened, nor what is likely to happen in the near future. Solutions which depend on game-changing political and economic choices aren't as practical as solutions which would work now, in the context of the system we actually have.

No you wouldn't. If the price of energy goes up the majority of people will cut back their use of energy and find ingenious ways to conserve it. No guns necessary.

If the price of energy goes up, the price of food will go up. Significantly. The poor (who are already at the margins) will suffer around the world, and perhaps even starve. Those who can afford to do so will cut back on non-essentials first, not on food and energy, causing the world economy itself to suffer. Nations who don't want this to happen to their people may see "vigorous diplomacy" and/or outright war over resources as a preferable alternative to high energy prices... especially nations which have a large military, relatively weak neighbors, and a basic infrastructure which depends on cheap energy.

Again, solutions which depend on people making game-changing choices can't be depended on. "Cutting back and finding ingenious ways to conserve" has rarely been the sole response to shortages in practice -- in practice, shortages also tend to coincide with violence, displacement, disease, hoarding, and other things which are bad for human beings.
posted by vorfeed at 12:25 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


No you wouldn't. If the price of energy goes up the majority of people will cut back their use of energy and find ingenious ways to conserve it. No guns necessary.

Yeah, people have really shown a lot of restraint when it comes to poisoning their own lands with industrial pollution. They wouldn't ever invade another country for natural resources if it was more cost effective than altering their lifestyle.
posted by nomisxid at 12:26 PM on April 12, 2011


So we're pumping radioactive water into an area of the ocean that already has these in it.

Yep, fine. No problems there.

oh dear god....
posted by Salmonberry at 12:39 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Look: America had a major oil crisis in the 1970s. Around the same time, scientists began to make a lot of noise about how burning oil and other fossil fuels might actually destroy the climate and end human life as we know it. And throughout the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, everyone knew that the first nation to really, truly move beyond oil would be in an incredible position of economic and political power. Yet where are we now? Oil. More oil than ever before.

We've known better for forty years. And we have done jack shit about the problem. The idea that people are magically going to morph into rational, long-term thinkers -- once things get worse, no less! -- is ridiculous. More than one civilization has destroyed itself rather than make simple choices which were nigh-obvious outside its cultural paradigm, and I personally don't believe that we are immune. This is one case in which the perfect is most definitely the enemy of the good...
posted by vorfeed at 12:44 PM on April 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Renewables don't offer nearly the same investment and monopoly creating opportunities that scarce resource based energy technologies do. You don't think that plays a major role in the slow pace of their adoption vorfeed?

It's all about people playing Monopoly from where I sit.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:25 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


the highways are still killing tens of thousands of people

This analogy is so fucking stupid on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. No one is denying that highways can be dangerous for drivers, but car accidents don't generally mean the potential evacuation of all surrounding neighborhoods for decades, or the dispersion of radioactive car-accident material into the food chain, do they? Let's say you're transporting nuclear fuel rods in a container truck on a highway, and the truck has a wreck: already the accident is magnitudes more dangerous than a typical highway accident, and for all the very reasons that make the safety regulations surrounding nuclear power more stringent and complex than those surrounding automobiles. A safety belt may save your life in a car accident, but workers in the core of a nuclear power plant are wearing more than safety belts for a reason.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 1:25 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


These discussions always feel like being slapped right hard by Joseph Tainter.
posted by Jehan at 1:33 PM on April 12, 2011


These discussiongs always feel like being slapped right hard in the taint, all right.

Who's Joseph Tainter, now?
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:40 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This analogy is so fucking stupid

It's not an analogy. It's a comparison.

Fukushima has so far been responsible for how many deaths ? How much did it cost to build ? How much did it provide ?

The Interstate highway system has been responsible for how many deaths ? How much did it cost to build ? How much did it provide ?

You know how solar panels are made, right ? They have to mine up these minerals from the ground, refine them, and then in a complex chemical process create a device that turns photons into electrical potential, ship them around the world, and then deploy them.

How many people will die doing that ? How many dangerous chemicals will be used and need to be treated ? How many acres of land will you devote towards the mining ? Towards the collected insolation ? How many acres of land will you devote to energy collection as opposed to farming, habitat, or preservation ?

Is it greater or lesser than the risks above ? There are risks, after all. Its not like the magical renewable resource fairies come in the night and make these things while we sleep.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:40 PM on April 12, 2011


Its not like the magical renewable resource fairies come in the night and make these things while we sleep.

This kind of disingenuous, dismissive crap needs to stop.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:47 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fukushima has so far been responsible for how many deaths ?

Anyone who thinks the main concern at this juncture is how many fatalities have been directly caused by Fukishima, rather than the long-term environmental, agricultural, and health concerns the ongoing crisis presents to Japan and the world, is being pedantic and literal-minded (for what I must assume are ideological reasons).

Is it greater or lesser than the risks above ? There are risks, after all.

Something tells me the actual working safety codes and regulations for managing nuclear power plants and the waste they produce are more complex and detailed than those for manufacturing solar panels.

There are relevant dangers in literally everything human beings do, of course, but to flatten and make equivalent all potential dangers--when it comes to the topic under discussion--seems especially disingenuous.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 1:54 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


This kind of disingenuous, dismissive crap needs to stop.

Renewables don't endanger billions and render land unlivable for centuries when things invariably go bad.

But the current mix of energy generation does and that's what we're comparing Nuclear to. It's not Nucler vs Wind and Solar it's Nuclear vs the current energy mix as it exists today. It's not "Is nuclear the best of all possible options" but "Is nuclear a net win from where we stand today". And renewables are a rounding error in the world energy consumption mix.

Some European countries are making a successful run at the use of renewables as a replacement for nuclear and fossil fuel alternatives.

Cite please. Renewables excluding hydro are way less than 1% of world energy usage in 2009:
Just to have actual numbers involved, these are 2009 figures for energy produced (in millions of tons of oil equivalent):

Oil: 3,882.1
Natural Gas: 2,653.1
Coal: 3,278.3
Nuclear Energy: 610.5
Hydroelectric: 740.3
Total: 11,164.3

Converting from MW to millions of tons equivalent gives me:
Solar: 17.3
Wind: 120.6
Per Wikipedia Germany is at 17% of electricity production, that discounts all transportation usage entirely however.

I sincerely hope solar and wind can scale up fast enough to render this conversation moot. If it can, great we get to skip nuclear. If not, well even with Fukushima nuclear is safer in an aggregate sense than the current mix.
posted by Skorgu at 1:54 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


(for what I must assume are ideological reasons).

Please don't do this.
posted by Skorgu at 1:57 PM on April 12, 2011


Renewables don't endanger billions and render land unlivable for centuries when things invariably go bad. Some European countries are making a successful run at the use of renewables as a replacement for nuclear and fossil fuel alternatives.

I don't deny this. We very much should take renewables like solar and wind as far as we can. But running our entire power grid off of them presents major technical and engineering challenges that we might not be able to overcome quickly enough. So what happens if we can't?

As for as the U.S. goes, we could easily sink a couple trillion into renewable power capacity that works on tried technology and it would do us nothing but good. That is the thing we should be starting with.

But there's a very real possibility that won't be enough to ensure energy and food security for a modern society. The only thing that's guaranteed to work at this point, despite its risks and drawbacks, is nuclear power. And one of those drawbacks is that we're going to need to start building capacity way ahead of when we actually need it. So we're going to have to make that call way too soon to have anything approaching a solid answer to whether it's needed or not. That sucks.

But I'd personally take a known risk, that is controllable (nuclear accident) versus the uncertainty of what happens when fuel demand really starts outstripping supply: resource wars, or massive economic "readjustment," or rush job nuke plants. Not to mention that if the consequences of CO2 emissions ever get to a critical point, it will be far, far too late to do anything about it. That sucks. But the bottom line is nuclear power's dangers are relatively small scale relative to the risks of suddenly finding out we can't run modern society anymore.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:01 PM on April 12, 2011


This kind of disingenuous, dismissive crap needs to stop.

Look, renewables are great but only very, very recently have they become a realistic source of large-scale power. Until a couple decades ago the average solar panel took more energy to create than it could be expected to generate over its lifetime. Wind turbine efficiency has gone way up in the last 10 years.

The trouble with most renewables is that they're not really appropriate for generating base load - their production tends to fluctuate with wind speed or solar intensity. Hydro (dams) and geothermal are good for base load, but hydro is tapped out in a lot of places; believe it or not, people aren't that find of damming rivers. And geothermal is limited in availability and has its own detractors - some people say it causes earthquakes which isn't so great.

At any rate, renewables are not a panacea and should not be treated as such.
posted by GuyZero at 2:02 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


We went to the moon. The fucking moon! There were thousands who said it couldn't be done. They said we didn't have the technology or the engineering capability to do it. But we had a leader who was visionary enough (and a looming enemy shadowing over us) to cause us to reach for the stars.

That's what we need now with green and renewable energies. We need a leader who will say "We can do this in 10 years" and who means it. We need our most brilliant and brightest scientists and engineers working on solar and wind and bio and gene-hacking to get us to that place. And we need an enemy like Russia. But we already have that with climate change hanging over us.

What the hell happened to the thinking that led to great projects like the moon landings? Instead of thinking big our engineers are now too busy saying it can't be done.
posted by formless at 2:04 PM on April 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


What the hell happened to the thinking that led to great projects like the moon landings? Instead of thinking big our engineers are now too busy saying it can't be done.

By modern standards, going to the moon was pretty cheap. The reason most engineers are lukewarm on renewables is that they understand physics - most renewable energy sources have variable output patterns and relatively low output capacity relative to their space and/or cost.

Renewables are great, but they're a long-term investment built on very new technology that will need to stand beside traditional power generation techniques for a long time.
posted by GuyZero at 2:08 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd personally take a known risk, that is controllable (nuclear accident)

I respect the honesty of this argument for the necessary risk of nuclear power, even though I'm not sure I agree with it (repeat: not sure, not "dead set against").

But what I really find misleading is the other argument: the argument that the risks of nuclear power are no worse than those of literally anything else humans do.

Clearly there is a potential long-term risk here, and acknowledging it would, to my mind, strengthen the argument of those in favor of safe nuclear power.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 2:08 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Renewables don't offer nearly the same investment and monopoly creating opportunities that scarce resource based energy technologies do. You don't think that plays a major role in the slow pace of their adoption vorfeed?

I think this does play a primary role in the slow pace of their adoption. I also think it's not going to change simply because scarce resources become more scarce -- in fact, that's only going to make the we-need-to-control-the-oil equation seem more obvious and more pressing.
posted by vorfeed at 2:11 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Renewables also have significant, detrimental costs that can't be ignored.

Oil and grain crops are very high water use. In addition, ethanol plants need staggering amounts of water for distillation. There are real concerns that increased ethanol use could demand the entire capacity of drainage basins in the relatively dry midwest and prarie ecologies.

Big wind farms have very significant negative externalities which, while dismissed by many as foolish, have resulted in the cancellation and delay of many projects.

Hydro is extremely expensive to build, almost as bad as nuclear, and has the downside of large-scale habitat destruction, both at land and at sea. Hydro power is partially responsible for the destruction of Atlantic Salmon in the wild. Hydro is often also located a long way from the endusers necessitating 1000's of kms of powerlines which segment ecologies and cost enormous amounts of money to maintain.

Renewables aren't free and aren't without impact ecologically.
posted by bonehead at 2:12 PM on April 12, 2011


America refuses to backdown from nuclear. While, in Europe, Germany announces end of nuclear age, and start of new renewable age.

That's leadership. And that was before Fukushima was declared a level-7 incident. The US is going to fall behind in new energy technologies just like it's falling behind in everything else.
posted by formless at 2:12 PM on April 12, 2011


Germany announces end of nuclear age, and start of new renewable age.

Germany's been flip-flopping on nuclear for a while now and there's no indication that they're going to stop. So who knows where it'll end...
posted by Djinh at 2:19 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


the argument that the risks of nuclear power are no worse than those of literally anything else humans do.

Clearly there is a potential long-term risk here

These statements are not mutually exclusive. Nuclear has a big, specific set of high-visibility, high-dread risks that cause long-term issues.

Those risks can exist and be terrible and still be less risky than the alternatives.

The starting position is thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of deaths worldwide due to coal alone, forget the others. The question is how do you value the costs of nuclear against that backdrop. How many lives have to be saved to make an X-km exclusion zone a worthwhile tradeoff? How many deaths is equivalent to a 1% greater lifetime risk of cancer for 10,000 people?

I'm not asking these questions idly or lightly, they're macabre and grim but this is the calculus of risk management.
posted by Skorgu at 2:20 PM on April 12, 2011



This kind of disingenuous, dismissive crap needs to stop.

I'm not being disingenuous. The Fukushima plant was something like 400 MW ? You'd have to dedicate an awful lot of land to get that.

Land that isn't very useful for other things like habitat.

My point is that renewables have significant external costs. They aren't free of the sorts of pain we find with other energy sources.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:21 PM on April 12, 2011


The starting position is thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of deaths worldwide due to coal alone

Fwiw, in the three comments I've made on this thread I purposely avoided advocating for or against any sources of energy in either relative or absolute terms; the sole purpose of my comments thus far was simply to request more honest acknowledgment of the inherent risks of nuclear power.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 2:27 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


We went to the moon. The fucking moon! There were thousands who said it couldn't be done. They said we didn't have the technology or the engineering capability to do it. But we had a leader who was visionary enough (and a looming enemy shadowing over us) to cause us to reach for the stars.

That's what we need now with green and renewable energies. We need a leader who will say "We can do this in 10 years" and who means it. We need our most brilliant and brightest scientists and engineers working on solar and wind and bio and gene-hacking to get us to that place. And we need an enemy like Russia. But we already have that with climate change hanging over us.

What the hell happened to the thinking that led to great projects like the moon landings? Instead of thinking big our engineers are now too busy saying it can't be done.
The big enemy isn't just one thing. There's also the countries, industries, corporations, and individuals that are heavily invested in fossil fuel production and consumption. They won't go down quietly, and as long as fossil fuels are projected to not run out in the next year, they won't care.

Technically, we can do anything. Emotionally, that's another story.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:30 PM on April 12, 2011


Djinh: Germany's been flip-flopping on nuclear for a while now and there's no indication that they're going to stop. So who knows where it'll end.

My guess, based on the huge impact Fukishima has had here (based on the media hype, you'd have thought that the plant was located in the Rhine-Ruhr): They're going to go through with it, but will pay for it in the form of higher energy costs per kWh than if they hadn't. They'll basically have to triple their renewable capacity to make up for it, but it's doable.
posted by moonbiter at 2:32 PM on April 12, 2011


There's also the countries, industries, corporations, and individuals that are heavily invested in fossil fuel production and consumption.

That and the costs for renewables being higher.

There's no conspiracy here - it's cheap to burn coal and expensive to put up wind turbines and/or solar panels. Without large government subsidies there wouldn't even be a renewable energy market in North America.

The trouble is that it's tough to convince people that they should double their electricity costs because it's good for them in the long run. People remain cost-sensitive as they have always been.

But there's no need to resort to conspiracies when simple economics will explain it.
posted by GuyZero at 2:34 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The big enemy isn't just one thing. There's also the countries, industries, corporations, and individuals that are heavily invested in fossil fuel production and consumption. They won't go down quietly, and as long as fossil fuels are projected to not run out in the next year, they won't care.

With all due respect, I call shenanigans on this argument. Billions has been spent, and is still being spent on renewable power. The potential profits are staggering. EVERYBODY wants to buy guilt-free electricity. Some are even willing to pay extra for it. Who wouldn't want in on that game? The fact is that the technology isn't ready to generate more than 30% of a national grid from wind or solar, nor is it likely to be for a long time.
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:38 PM on April 12, 2011


Or what GuyZero said.
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:43 PM on April 12, 2011


Let's give a concrete example: Bullfrog Power. They "sell" "green power" to consumers in Ontario. They charge a premium of 3 cents per kWh. Regular electricity rates in Ontario are 5.1-9.9 cents per kWh.

So that's a 33% to 60% extra cost to buy electricity solely from wind and/or hydro.

It's great that this option exists, but I hope everyone will understand that not everyone is rushing to add an average of 50% to their electricity bill.
posted by GuyZero at 2:45 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, as much as I love Bullfrog, part of their generation capacity is from dams that have been around for decades. There's a tiny bit of greenwashing going on here really.
posted by GuyZero at 2:46 PM on April 12, 2011


BTW, I'm fully in support of a transition to as much renewable power as possible, so long as everybody acknowledges the following corollaries:

1) The capacity factor of wind / solar is less than 30%. That means:

1.1) you need to have access to a reliable generator for the other 60% of the time. For every wind turbine you build, you need to build (or buy access to) two turbines worth of coal or gas capacity* (Nuclear or Hydro won't work for this purpose, for a variety of technical reasons).

1.2) you will never generate ALL of your power from wind / solar (though you might break even if you build 3x more windmills than you will ever use, and sell the occasional extra to close, fossil burning, neighbours)

2) The cost of wind / solar electricity per kWhr generated is currently 3-10x more than fossil or nuclear electricity. And that multiplier climbs the more renewables you have in the grid. That means:

2.1) The number of people who can't afford food & rent in your country will increase.

2.2) The number of manufacturers in your country who remain competitive with cheaper overseas products will decrease, with the attendant job losses (feeding into 2.1).

Choosing to move to renewable power will have economic consequences for individuals, and the country at large. We may decide that the cost of not moving is greater, but I wan't people to at least acknowledge the cost, instead of appealing to optimism or conspiracies.

*power storage would be another option if it weren't orders of magnitude more expensive again
posted by Popular Ethics at 3:02 PM on April 12, 2011


My 3-10x cost factor for renewables is coming from Ontario's Feed In Tarriff program.
posted by Popular Ethics at 3:07 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


(erp. The other 70% of the time.)
posted by Popular Ethics at 3:08 PM on April 12, 2011


Fwiw, in the three comments I've made on this thread I purposely avoided advocating for or against any sources of energy in either relative or absolute terms; the sole purpose of my comments thus far was simply to request more honest acknowledgment of the inherent risks of nuclear power.

Where do you see people being not honest about the risks? Again, I'm not trolling for something I'm genuinely curious what specifically you're referring to.
posted by Skorgu at 3:10 PM on April 12, 2011


It's curious how quickly a discussion about nuclear power turns into a referendum on non-nuclear power sources.

Be that as it may, a lot of this necessarily hinges on the question of peak oil and on exactly how much oil remains to be pumped out of the earth (a point of contention). If we assume, conservatively, that there may be approx. 1000 billion barrels remaining, or approx. 40 or so years worth of oil (at current demand of 84mb/d), and if prices hover between $50 and $100 a barrel, then the oil companies have (if my math is correct) a more or less guaranteed remaining revenue stream of at least 500 trillion dollars. Presumably this is motive enough to maintain the status quo on energy for several decades at least, regardless of how we as non-oil-executives feel about it.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 3:11 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Where do you see people being not honest about the risks? Again, I'm not trolling for something I'm genuinely curious what specifically you're referring to.

The analogy or comparison of nuclear power to automobiles, as I explained in my first comment, is a really dishonest comparison in my opinion.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 3:13 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


But there's no need to resort to conspiracies when simple economics will explain it.

I don't think there's a big covert conspiracy as much as there is inertia from various entities that have spent decades building up their power over fossil fuels - Saudis, Koch brothers, BP and so on. They won't give up their business models without a fight. Maybe it is simple economics - it's cheaper to maintain old business models with appropriate nudges here and there rather than take a risk and trash existing infrastructure for something new.

With all due respect, I call shenanigans on this argument. Billions has been spent, and is still being spent on renewable power. The potential profits are staggering.

True, but they don't exist yet.

I guess my point is that winning on the merits of how great renewables are won't work without taking care of those deeply invested in non-renewables. Whether that's going to be a friendly or hostile action is to be determined. Straight up hostile action will probably be met with hostile reactions.
posted by ZeusHumms at 3:22 PM on April 12, 2011


"It's curious how quickly a discussion about nuclear power turns into a referendum on non-nuclear power sources"

Unfortunately this is a zero sum game. What has happened at Fukushima is completely indefensible, except when you consider the alternatives.

"500 trillion dollars. Presumably this is motive enough to maintain the status quo on energy for several decades at least"

That's really not how the market works. Think of it this way: Over the next 40 years, there will be demand for over 3 billion equivalent barrels worth of energy. That money is there for anyone who can deliver it cheapest.

it's cheaper to maintain old business models with appropriate nudges here and there rather than take a risk and trash existing infrastructure for something new.

Yes that for sure, but if you had a way to generate green power cheaply, I guarantee you will find investors. They know the amount of potential profit up for grabs. Those profits don't exist yet not because of entrenched opposition, but because the technology isn't price-competitive, and politicians can't convince an electorate to pay more voluntarily.
posted by Popular Ethics at 3:33 PM on April 12, 2011


The analogy or comparison of nuclear power to automobiles, as I explained in my first comment, is a really dishonest comparison in my opinion.

I don't think so. Automobiles and Electricity are arguably necessities of modern life, and comparing how many dead bodies we are willing to tolerate for each of those is a fair comparison to make.

Turns out, we're willing to kill a lot more people to use the drive through at Walgreens.


It's curious how quickly a discussion about nuclear power turns into a referendum on non-nuclear power sources.


Nuclear power plants don't exist in a vacuum. If you want to discuss them, then a discussion about alternatives is also going to happen.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:38 PM on April 12, 2011


The analogy or comparison of nuclear power to automobiles, as I explained in my first comment, is a really dishonest comparison in my opinion.

I strenuously disagree.

Talking about risk is all about relative risks. If we are happy to not just tolerate but actively invest in (and bail out) a technology that kills tens of thousands of people annually but are unwilling to invest in a technology that kills perhaps tens annually then we are saying that the non-death risks of the second are greater than the deaths from the first.

Or, back to my previous point, how many deaths is an exclusion zone worth? If it's worth ten billion to you, personally, then nuclear power is right out. If it's worth one then it's just as obvious in the opposite direction.
posted by Skorgu at 3:39 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


how many dead bodies we are willing to tolerate for each of those is a fair comparison to make.

No it's not b/c the issue is clearly more complex and elastic than just numbers of known fatalities.

To repeat this one more time: going simply on federal rules and regulations, the safety hazards of nuclear power are magnitudes greater than those of ordinary automobile accidents; and if you insist on this comparison rather than compare fatalities it might make more sense to compare accidents (i.e. if there were as many nuclear power accidents as car accidents our situation would be different due to the potential long-term environmental, health, and agricultural/food-chain hazards of nuclear power. It's a crap comparison.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 3:44 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]



About solar power : Google invested in a solar plant in the Mojave desert that will generate almost as much power (375MW) as Fukushima(420MW).

The downside ? It's going to take 3500 acres to do that. And that's in a southern desert with great weather and lots of insolation.

If you were to put something like that in Minnesota, it would have to be 3-5 times as large - about 20 square miles. That is an enormous loss of habitat and huge environmental footprint.

Solar power isn't consequence free either - especially on the scales we are talking about here.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:50 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


a) Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response

b) MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY STANDARDS AND REGULATIONS, NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION

One of these things is not like the other; i.e. things like fears of terrorism against nuclear power plants (vs. no fear of terrorists attempting to cause car accidents) or things like evacuation procedures for threatened areas (vs. no known plan to evacuate Chicago next time there's a tractor-trailer pile up on a highway).
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 3:58 PM on April 12, 2011



Yes. A particular nuclear accident and a particular traffic accident can be separated by several magnitudes of severity.

That is not particularly useful for assessing risk, however.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:16 PM on April 12, 2011


Google invested in a solar plant in the Mojave desert that will generate almost as much power (375MW) as Fukushima(420MW).

Just for clarification, each of the six reactors at Fukushima 1 generates about 500 MW. And with a capacity factor less than half of the reactors, Google's solar plant will be generating much less power go all it's achorage. Still. - go Google.
posted by Popular Ethics at 4:22 PM on April 12, 2011


That is not particularly useful for assessing risk, however.

I feel like you are being selective with the comparison, since it's precisely b/c nuclear accidents have not been as frequent as car accidents that we can say with some certainty that were that the case the situation would be different. Automobiles are a technology we are ok with letting individuals choose to use, but we are not ok allowing people to build nuclear power plants in their garage. Back to my initial point, hopefully now clarified: nuclear power accidents have a much wider chain of potentially negative reciprocal effect or consequence than car accidents. And furthermore: the real long-term negative risk of cars is the environmental impact (carbon emissions), another aspect of the comparison that complicates it. In general, a crap apples and oranges comparison.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 4:28 PM on April 12, 2011


Everyone will be fine if they all move to Kentucky.
posted by afx237vi at 6:28 AM on April 12

Sure, no reactors, but we do feature a 'Gaseous Diffusion Uranium Enrichment Facility.' (And, frankly, with fellow Kentuckians at the helm, natural disaster doesn't strike me as the most likely reason it would ever engender an evacuation zone.)
posted by relooreloo at 4:46 PM on April 12, 2011


Well, to humour the people who continue to present this false dichotomy comparing automobile safety and nuclear safety, how about this: neither are helpful. Get rid of the automobile, and you'll be able to a) reduce CO2 emissions b) reallocate energy resources so much that nuclear power is not needed.

I know it sounds stupid, but so does the off-topic comparison between cars and nukes.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:02 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


No it's not b/c the issue is clearly more complex and elastic than just numbers of known fatalities.

No, it's not. That's my entire point. As long as you believe risks can be universally ranked it's possible to construct an (arbitrary but consistent) value system.

Thing X kills 5,000 people and gives 1,000 people cancer. Thing Y kills 1,000 people and gives 5,000 people cancer. I won't insult everyone's intelligence by invoking some tram that will release a cloud of carcinogens or crash into an orphanage but for the purposes of the thought experiment one or the other will happen whether you act or not.

If you really have no preference and would flip a coin in the thought experiment then I'll respectfully end this conversation here as there can't be any outcome except frustration.
posted by Skorgu at 5:45 PM on April 12, 2011


risks can be universally ranked it's possible to construct an (arbitrary but consistent) value system.

But you're only ranking them according to one metric (known fatalities that have thus far occurred in each category), whereas I am ranking them according to more than one metric, such as environmental impact, and in doing so am concluding the comparison is not useful (is apples and oranges) except as some arbitrary b.s. rhetorical device.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 6:59 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The way humans mentally process risk is nothing short of hilarious.

It's amazing how constant lies and coverups and innumerable small fuckups, decade after decade, make people more fearful of risks which were imposed on them without any choice or adequate information.

Humans mentally process risk in much less hilarious fashion when they're treated with respect, not conniving and duplicitous arrogance.
posted by Twang at 7:05 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


As for cars: you can buy car insurance on most street corners. Gimmee the address of a single firm that is willing to sell indemnity insurance to nukes.

So much for that limp argument.
posted by Twang at 7:08 PM on April 12, 2011


Aw man... I always brag about having lived in a state with a bunch of nuclear reactors but it looks like Bridgeport and Westport would be safe even in the event of a meltdown. I feel like such a poser.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:09 PM on April 12, 2011


and for all the NIMBY types the East Coast is GORGEOUS
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:09 PM on April 12, 2011


ranking [options] according to more than one metric, such as environmental impact, and in doing so am concluding the comparison is not useful (is apples and oranges) except as some arbitrary b.s. rhetorical device.

It's absolutely possible to do integrated risk assessments. They come under many names, the most general being net or cost-benefit benefit analysis. In terms of environmental, health and industrial performance, the usual suspects are called risk-based assessment (for toxicological risk) or life cycle analysis (for net environmental performance).
posted by bonehead at 7:12 PM on April 12, 2011


But you're only ranking them according to one metric (known fatalities that have thus far occurred in each category), whereas I am ranking them according to more than one metric

Sure. But if you can rank outcomes you can convert between metrics. Same thought experiment except now X kills 1,000 people and Y causes 1,000 acres of Valdez-like environmental impact. Again, either you have a preference in which case we can use any metric we like as the comparison point or there is no preference and there's no point in continuing.
posted by Skorgu at 7:15 PM on April 12, 2011


As for the map in the OP, it doesn't include decommissioned nuclear plants, which don't necessarily go away immediately once they're taken out of service.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:16 PM on April 12, 2011


Would the comparison between nuclear power and cars be better served if, perhaps, we added an additional layer of metaphor?

cars:airplanes::coal:nuclear

One has the advantage of being far, far less dangerous overall (at least in terms of deaths and CO2 emissions), due to constant low-level suffering caused by the other. However, when the generally-safer one fails, it is so spectacular that everyone shits their collective pants and just DOES NOT KNOW what to DO now. Perhaps it's worth considering (and I'm not even necessarily suggesting that it's at all comparable) what happened to airplane "security" after a few were hijacked to kill Americans, despite the fact that the annual death statistics suggest that a War on Traffic would be more beneficial than a War on Terror.

Also, I will continue to believe, given what I've seen here in Japan, that the problem isn't nuclear power; rather, the problem is that TEPCO was put in charge of nuclear power. At this point, hearing about their various, er, shortcomings, I wouldn't trust them to drive a bus.
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:23 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


formless: "While, in Europe, Germany announces end of nuclear age, and start of new renewable age. That's leadership."

Living in Germany, I can assure you it's not. It's mass hysteria.
posted by brokkr at 6:25 AM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's mass hysteria.

Call it what you will, in the long run doing away with nuclear power will be the advantageous course. Future generations, saddled with the problem of what to do with the highly contaminated and highly dangerous waste their forebears left behind, will look approvingly on any nation that made a genuine effort to halt this insanity.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:42 AM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Living in Germany, I can assure you it's not. It's mass hysteria.

Yeah and neoliberal economists have been saying the same thing about Germany's "economic protectionism" in wanting to maintain its strong manufacturing base rather than "evolving" into a "modern service" economy for years.

And yet, Germany didn't come up looking all that hysterical after the economic collapse, which it's weathered much better than the rest of us.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:16 PM on April 14, 2011


And yet, Germany didn't come up looking all that hysterical after the economic collapse, which it's weathered much better than the rest of us.

All strategies have their pros and cons. Germany has very poor, if any, growth for decades. That this strategy helped them avoid the meltdown was great, but that doesn't make it the best strategy for all situations.
posted by GuyZero at 3:46 PM on April 14, 2011


If the goal is stability and sustainability, it is. A lot of us would like to see those be the goal, and apart from investors who want to see money growing on their money, I can't even think of a single good justification for other goals.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:34 PM on April 14, 2011


It's tough to differentiate stability and stasis sometimes. Economic growth is a major driver of societal change, often for the better. In 2006 Germany has one of the lowest rates of women in the workplace: "In a survey of women's presence in the workforce sponsored by the World Economic Forum last year, Germany placed 20th out of 58 developed and developing countries. The same survey ranked German women 28th in job opportunities and 34th in educational attainment. "

I've never met a German who think the country is in very good economic shape regardless of its relative economic stability. Prior to 2008 germany had consistently higher unemployment than the US and the UK. Much of the recent upswing in employment can probably be attributed to growing Chinese imports of machinery and German manufactured goods which has more to do with China's hyper-growth than any huge policy changes on the part of the German government.
posted by GuyZero at 6:04 PM on April 14, 2011


flapjax at midnite: "Call it what you will, in the long run doing away with nuclear power will be the advantageous course."

Sure. Let's just solve the fossil fuel issue first to make sure we'll be here for the long run, mmkay?
posted by brokkr at 9:30 PM on April 14, 2011


Sure. Let's just solve the fossil fuel issue first to make sure we'll be here for the long run, mmkay?

Obviously fossil fuels are a dead end in the long run as well. But it never ceases to amaze me how even those who are most starry-eyed about the infinite possibilities of *science* (no shortage of such here at Mefi) suddenly shut down and scream "it's not possible it's not possible!" at the slightest mention of wind, solar, geothermal... not to mention conservation. It's as though we're talking about magic or homeopathy or something. Basically, people have bought, hook line and sinker, what certain vested business interests would have them believe: that there's no other way.

And as far as making sure we'll "be here for the long run", yeah, ceasing to create incredibly hazardous-to-human-health* spent nuclear fuel would be a good place to start.

*not to be confused with hazardous-to-human-wealth, as in, humans who own nuclear power plants
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:00 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never met a German who think the country is in very good economic shape regardless of its relative economic stability.

Maybe so, but when I used to visit my mom there, I was astonished by what I high standard of living my family there enjoyed. And they were very, very poor by most standards. My mom worked as a cleaning lady and her deadbeat husband, who was too proud and stubborn to hold a steady job, only eked out a living selling cheap crap he bought in Amsterdam at Flohmarkt. Even so, they ate better bread, better cheese, got all their health care for free, got something like 1500 Euros for school clothes in the Fall, and 1500 Euros for Reisegeld to go on vacation each year.

So now you've met a (half-)German who thinks the country is in very good economic shape.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:01 AM on April 15, 2011


It's as though we're talking about magic or homeopathy or something.

If you're talking about replacing fossil fuels and nuclear with solar and wind in the near future, then you pretty much are.
posted by empath at 7:03 AM on April 15, 2011


And as far as making sure we'll "be here for the long run", yeah, ceasing to create incredibly hazardous-to-human-health* spent nuclear fuel would be a good place to start.

Yeah, and now that I think about it, let's look at what history can tell us.

What happened when we first started using fossil fuel based energy tech? We had more energy than we needed, and partly as a result, the human population grew at rates far exceeding any previous point in history.

So suppose we do manage to amp up Nuclear tech to the point where it's providing all our energy needs and more. What might we expect would be the result?

Well, if history's any guide, whatever energy production capacity we have, we'll amp up our consumption until we exhaust it. We'll find new ways to waste energy until even our Nuclear production capacity is pushed to the limit.

The result? Huge amounts of nuclear waste piling up; more and more reactors. We'll push things to the breaking point until they break, like we have done with coal and oil.

At least with renewable tech, pushing it until it breaks doesn't seem very likely to destroy any cities or cook our grandchildren alive.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:08 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're ignorant, Empath. The only remaining problems with those techs are political and economical--there isn't the investment or political will to truly scale them up. But otherwise, the fundamental tech problems are largely solved now.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:09 AM on April 15, 2011


The nuclear waste issue is both valid and also kind of a red herring.

The current treatment of nuclear waste is abysmal. Everywhere it's stored it's a one-off hack because there is no plan on any scale to deal with it yet. This is a big, dangerous problem and it's something the nuclear industry has to answer for before building anything new. Personally I don't see why the waste can't be 'just' diluted substantially, solidified and put back in the uranium mines it came from but not being an expert I concede there may be solid scientific reasons besides NIMBY why this isn't being done.

But there's nothing inherent in the technical aspects of nuclear power that requires that there be such horrible waste. There are alternative fuel cycles that don't produce much or any of the really nasty stuff and there are other cycles yet that can recycle the existing bad stuff as has already been done with scavenged nuclear warheads. They have their own problems of course but again, technical solutions exist and it seems that Japan was looking towards FBRs as a long-term project for just these reasons.

And saulgoodman, empath didn't say it was impossible because of technical reasons, many things are technically possible but will never happen due to political and economic problems.
posted by Skorgu at 8:18 AM on April 15, 2011


... but will never happen due to political and economic problems.

That's the spirit! The kind of talk that makes TEPCO, the Tennessee Valley Authority, etc. etc., very happy!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:26 AM on April 15, 2011


You're ignorant, Empath.

Was that necessary?
posted by empath at 8:37 AM on April 15, 2011


Was that necessary?

You're right--probably not. I apologize for being harsh. If it takes away any of the sting, I meant that in the literal rather than the pejorative sense. Based on your comment, I imagine you genuinely might not know about some of the more recent breakthroughs in renewable energy tech; that's not meant as a sleight, but an observation.

On the other hand, if you did mean economically/politically, then I would argue with that claim, too.

More than any other factor, our common beliefs about what the political/economic possibilities of the times are help to sustain and reinforce the status quo political/economic possibilities. Realigning our political/economic realities always requires our participating in the belief that they can be changed first. In practice, political realities are all about our common beliefs--and politics is the art of attenuating them, shaping them, manipulating them for some purpose.

In a certain sense, anytime we collectively choose to believe or not believe that something is politically/economically possible, we're probably right.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:50 AM on April 15, 2011


Based on your comment, I imagine you genuinely might not know about some of the more recent breakthroughs in renewable energy tech; that's not meant as a sleight, but an observation.

I follow the news. It's not just a political will or economic issue (except that the technical issues make any implementation prohibitively expensive). There are efficiency problems that are going to be incredibly difficult to overcome any time soon.
posted by empath at 8:53 AM on April 15, 2011


Not really. Existing solar tech is already at grid parity; sure, there are practical limits to direct solar generation that are driven by climate conditions and other factors--but for short term storage and use, the storage issue is well on its way to being solved with newer rechargeable battery tech, if it isn't already for all practical purposes.

Newer PVs are much more efficient. And solar-based hydrogen fuel cell and hydrogen generator technologies are poised for take off with the development of the first practical artificial leaf technology, which requires only the use of nickle and cobalt--elements that are plentiful--in the manufacturing process to produce unlimited amounts of liquid hydrogen fuel from solar energy. That's solar energy permanently stored in liquid hydrogen, so there's no storage problem there, and efficiency is already pretty good, and theoretically, can be greatly improved still:
Using this approach, a solar panel roughly one square meter bathed in water could produce enough hydrogen to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for both day and night, Nocera says.

...

John Turner, a research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, says the ability to use a virtually transparent cobalt catalyst is a key advance, and the reported efficiency is promising. "He is getting most of the efficiency out of the cell," Turner says. "If he [starts with] an 11 or 12 percent cell, which is commercially available, he should be able to do much better. But we would need to see what he can do once he gets a better cell."

But then, I guess you have to choose who to believe, since there's also this very objective assessment--from a petrochemical industry representative:
James Stevens, a research fellow at Dow Chemical, says the technology still has a long way to go. "There is a lot that has to be done before this could be practical," he says. "The efficiency is low and the capital costs of these things are very high."
And I suppose the capital costs of nuclear tech and offshore drilling rigs are very low once subsidies and externalities are accounted for in-kind?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:24 AM on April 15, 2011


But then, I guess you have to choose who to believe

And I suppose the capital costs of nuclear tech and offshore drilling rigs are very low once subsidies and externalities are accounted for in-kind?

I think nuclear is vastly less expensive than fossil fuels, once you account for externalities. And probably even less expensive than solar and wind, except in certain niches.
posted by empath at 10:01 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: You're really on an unsupported tear. Photovoltaic technology has been improving drastically yes, and if it continues, we can look forward to much cheaper solar power. But as it stands, it's still far more expensive than almost any other technology. Don't take my word for it - go price it out yourself.

You are absolutely when you say that the externalities of fossil fuel power is not being accounted for. Unfortunately your country (and mine) has worked very hard to make sure those costs remain borne by the taxpayer. That's not just industry lobbying - ask your neighbours if they think gas and electricity prices should be raised to prevent global warming. I'd be surprised if more than half supported you (and me) on that assertion.

The argument is more difficult to make with Nuclear power because it is unique in that more than any other technology, the externalities *ARE* accounted for. We can argue whether enough money is being set aside (or if such an amount is possible given the lengths of time involved), but you can go to any reactor and actually count the waste inventory - it's not being dumped wildly into the biosphere.

In any event, what you can't argue is that the cost of renewable power will get cheaper once you've priced in the externalities of non-renewable power. Maybe relatively, but overall, we are going to have to pay more. That decision will come with some difficult consequences, as I discussed above.
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:04 AM on April 15, 2011


So let me acknowledge that this is a huge tangent.

So now you've met a (half-)German who thinks the country is in very good economic shape.

What you've seen is socialism. The poor are well-treated in Germany. I agree that's a good thing, but it's different from having a good economy overall. Way too many Germans are in exactly that kind of not-so-bad poverty.

One again, renewables are great but they're just not dense enough - you need to spend more money and allocate more land per MW generated. Current nuclear plants have their own orthodoxy and there's a lot of room for improvement, but the long and short of it is that it's avery practical and cheap solution, even with full life-cycle costs factored in.

What happened when we first started using fossil fuel based energy tech? We had more energy than we needed, and partly as a result, the human population grew at rates far exceeding any previous point in history.

You're coming pretty close to the kill-people-to-save-the-earth argument here which is going to undermine any useful points you have to make.
posted by GuyZero at 10:21 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


In any event, what you can't argue is that the cost of renewable power will get cheaper once you've priced in the externalities of non-renewable power. Maybe relatively, but overall, we are going to have to pay more. That decision will come with some difficult consequences, as I discussed above.

Paying more, our countries using taxpayer money to make fossil and other nonrenewables cheaper than they should be, etc., are all political and economic challenges.

But America has achieved great things by challenging contemporary notions of what makes political and economic sense before--the development of interstates, the railroad system, the space program. We could make sacrifices and reach even the most ambitious goal, if we really wanted to.

As far as the petroleum-derivatives industries, I've never understood why they seem to be so resistant to renewable tech development on a wide-scale: they stand to make huge profits, because if demand for their primary production input--petroleum--rapidly declines while demand for their derivative products remains stable, they could significantly reduce their production costs and make out like bandits. Companies like Dow and DuPont should be pumping every last bit of spare R&D money into supporting renewable energy tech development and the windfalls once it's widely adopted will be massive.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:24 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Companies like Dow and DuPont should be pumping every last bit of spare R&D money into supporting renewable energy tech development and the windfalls once it's widely adopted will be massive.

Go read The Innovator's Dilemma.
posted by GuyZero at 10:30 AM on April 15, 2011


What you've seen is socialism. The poor are well-treated in Germany. I agree that's a good thing, but it's different from having a good economy overall. Way too many Germans are in exactly that kind of not-so-bad poverty.

Don't want to get to far into this either, but why should I be concerned in the slightest about whatever arbitrary economic performance indicators some economists tell me measures the economic prosperity of a country?

Chile was an appalling backwater lorded over by a despotic mad man we in the US helped put in power, and according to neoliberal economists, it was as economically prosperous under his rule as any nation we could hope to see. Neoliberal economists still marvel over the Miracle of Chile. And strictly speaking, Chile did "prosper" economically under Pinochet--but the rewards of that prosperity were unevenly distributed, so in effect, the people of Chile were more powerless and impoverished than ever.

That's where growth oriented economics focused on arbitrary GDP and similar metrics gets you. In practice, the German people are much better off as a direct result of their nation's protectionist, manufacturing oriented economic and socially democratic domestic policies. What difference does it make if, according to one narrow interpretation of neo-liberal market theory, Germany isn't delivering on the right kinds of performance metrics?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:33 AM on April 15, 2011


too far
posted by saulgoodman at 10:33 AM on April 15, 2011


Also, according to the recent study discussed here, we could already realistically replace 17% of our current petroleum production with newer Algae-based bio-fuel production processes. That's 17% according to the conservative, low-end estimates; pushing the tech to its limits (which would admittedly be impractical), the study concluded we could replace about 48%. But even just 17% would be a substantial improvement.
If we went for broke and maxed out our capacity to produce algae, we could cut petroleum imports by 48 percent, the researchers say. But we’d need several times our annual consumption of irrigation water to do so. It isn’t terribly practical.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:40 AM on April 15, 2011


All told, that comes to about 25 percent of the water we currently use for crop irrigation. (The researchers say that’s on par with ethanol.)

We are already running out of water.
posted by empath at 12:06 PM on April 15, 2011


Also, according to the recent study discussed here, we could already realistically replace 17% of our current petroleum production with newer Algae-based bio-fuel production processes. That's 17% according to the conservative, low-end estimates; pushing the tech to its limits (which would admittedly be impractical), the study concluded we could replace about 48%

I would be very excited if we could develop cheap solar biofuel, but the article you cite is pessimistic news. First of all, they say you could only cover 17-48% of US fuel needs *if* you used up 5 to 100% of the suitable land and water for the effort. That's a pretty big if. Secondly, the research does not calculate how economical it would be to do so. I still haven't heard that algae-based biofuel is energy neutral, let alone economically competitive!
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:53 PM on April 15, 2011


The basic trouble with all biofuels, whether they're corn, switchgrass or algae is that ultimately they compete with food for inputs. Nitrogen, phosphorus, water, whatever. Any large-scale production of biofuel will ultimately drive up the cost of food.
posted by GuyZero at 2:36 PM on April 15, 2011


Why wouldn't the availability of more hydrocarbon-based fuel stock mitigate the demand for existing petroleum sources, offsetting the increased demand for petroleum caused by biofuel production? Does this biofuel production method consume more energy in the net than it produces? If so, what's the point of it at all? Burning hydrocarbons just to produce smaller amounts of a different form of hydrocarbons seems pretty pointless, if that's actually what this does. Have to admit, I haven't really been paying close attention to biofuel tech, but it seems to me unless the process is a net energy loser, the economics would balance themselves out over time.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:49 PM on April 15, 2011


Burning hydrocarbons just to produce smaller amounts of a different form of hydrocarbons seems pretty pointless, if that's actually what this does.

That's the case for ethanol production right now. It takes huge amounts of fertilizer and gasoline to produce ethanol.
posted by empath at 3:02 PM on April 15, 2011


In North America, ethanol (from corn) will always be a loser, net loss of energy. In Bazil, it's energy positive because a) sugarcane is a superplant when it comes to bioconversion and b) they can get an ungodly number of crops a year. Even in Brazil though, soil depletion is a hige problem. Grow anything fast with high energy demand and it's going to be hard on the soil.

Algal biodiesel and/or biogasoline reformulates have a lot of promise in terms of reduced land burden, but they're also proving to be a lot like fusion, the technology is only "a few years away". We've been "a few years away" for more than a few years now.
posted by bonehead at 3:16 PM on April 15, 2011


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