The Cultural Contradictions of Anti-Nuke Environmentalists

Why do environmentalists reject a good bet for renewable energy?

Among the thousands of rowdy protesters and activists at last week's Copenhagen climate change conference was the group Don’t Nuke the Climate. Their big moment came when they unfurled a banner inside the Bella Center to mark their displeasure with the idea that nuclear power is a carbon free source of energy. Currently there is a fierce debate within ideological environmentalism over whether nuclear power is an acceptable energy technology for addressing concerns over man-made global warming.

Seeing the anti-nuke protestors in Copenhagen reminded me that I had recently read James Gustave Speth's environmentalist manifesto Red Sky at Morning: America and the Global Environmental Crisis (2004) as preparation for an academic symposium on global warming. As I explained in my book, Eco-Scam: The False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse (1993), environmentalism owes a great ideological debt to the anti-nuke movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and in many respects the two have now melded.

Speth, after a long career as an environmental activist, is now the dean of the prestigious Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, former Administrator of the United Nations Environment Program, and founder of the World Resources Institute, an environmentalist think tank. While reading his incoherent and reactionary tome, I was particularly struck by a passage in which Speth described his youthful opposition to fast breeder nuclear reactors in the 1970s.

Fast breeders are nuclear power plants that can produce more fuel (about 30 percent more) than they use. They can also produce electricity by burning up highly radioactive nuclear waste and the plutonium removed from nuclear weapons. On top of that, the radioactive waste that fast breeders generate after their fuel is recycled decays after just a few hundred years instead of the tens of thousands of years it takes for the waste from conventional reactors to decay. Plus, since fast breeders produce more fuel than they use, there's no need to mine additional uranium. And finally, new fuel processing technologies have largely allayed concerns that the plutonium produced by fast reactors could be diverted and used to produce nuclear weapons. In other words, fast breeders could be the ultimate in renewable energy.

So what caught my attention in Speth’s manifesto was the credit that he proudly takes for helping to stop the development of these reactors. As an attorney for the activist Natural Resources Defense Council (which he co-founded), and the Scientists’ Institute for Public Information, Speth filed a crucial 1973 lawsuit against a government plan to commercialize fast breeders. As Speth notes in his book, “The AEC's [Atomic Energy Commission] program to commercialize the breeder was extremely controversial; it aimed to have 200 breeder reactors operating commercially in the United States by 2000." He goes on to declare that “the breeder reactor story had a happy ending...[because] it was ultimately halted by President [Jimmy] Carter and the Congress.”  

Actually, since Speth was then serving as the chairman of Carter's Presidential Council on Environmental Quality, it's likely that Speth had a hand in the president's final decision. It’s also worth noting that Carter stopped the development of the nuclear fuel recycling program, which meant that thousands of tons of highly radioactive waste had to be stored rather than reused. Thus began the decades-long quest to find a long term (i.e, thousands of years) nuclear waste repository. More recently, President Barack Obama cut funding for the development of the Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada. There are no alternatives currently being considered.

Later in Red Sky at Morning, Speth asserts, “The biggest threat to our environment is global climate disruption, and the greatest problem in that context is America's energy use and the policies that undergird it.” His concern is that the U.S. is emitting about 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually from the burning of fossil fuels into the atmosphere. The accumulation of carbon dioxide is thought be the chief cause of global warming. In 2005 Speth declared that man-made global warming is the “single greatest threat” to humanity.

So here’s the really aggravating part of Speth's preening self-congratulation about stopping the commercialization of breeder reactors: In an alternative universe where 200 fast breeders come online, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would be about a third lower than they currently are. (Note that I am not considering the economics and subsidies of fast breeder reactors, just as Speth does not take the economics and subsidies of solar power, geothermal, or fusion power—which he favors—into account. In world where carbon dioxide is not rationed, burning coal and natural gas will be cheaper than any of the current renewable fuel alternatives.)

Consider that burning coal accounts for 36 percent of current U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Since 90 percent of the coal burned in the U.S. is used to produce electricity, replacing all coal-fired generating plants with zero-carbon electricity generation plants (say, nuclear reactors) would cut emissions by roughly 2 billion tons.­­­ Currently, 1,400 coal-fired electricity generation plants supply about 45 percent of the country's electricity while 104 conventional nuclear power plants produce roughly 20 percent. So to replace all coal plants would take roughly 250 1,000-megawatt nuclear plants, either conventional or fast breeder. (Note also that according to former Vice-President Al Gore, in the 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission predicted that the United States would have 1,000 nuclear power plants operating by the year 2000.)

In a 1975 article in Environmental Action, Speth and his co-authors noted that the AEC projected that 50 percent of U.S. electricity in 2020 would be generated by fast breeder reactors and 20 percent by conventional nuclear power plants. This is very nearly the alternative universe posited above. If the AEC’s projections had come true, U.S. carbon emissions could easily be about one-third lower than they are now. Which means that the very reactors that Speth opposed could have been a huge part of the solution to what Speth now claims is humanity's "biggest threat."

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is available from Prometheus Books.

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  • ||

    Don't nuke the climate. But by all means cut down thousands of square miles of trees (with no intent of replanting) and put up solar cells and windmills. The logic is bulletproof!

  • John Tagliaferro||

    If we switch to solar windmills they will produce electricity even when the air is calm.

  • Jeffersonian||

    We can use the solar power to run fans to turn the windmills!!

  • CTHORM@IBIS||

    We can create wind from pressure differences in smug!!!!1

  • ||

    We can make beans into peas!

  • ||

    A legume by any other name still smells as sweet.

  • ||

    In the state that ever seeks to contradict itself, things have gotten even stupider. Feinstein seeks to block development of solar power.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12.....mp;emc;=th

    Another winning moment in the article. Robert Kennedy who, along with his whole family, blocked wind farms near their compound because it interfered with the view, stated that Feinstein shouldn't be allowed to block these developments without environmental impact statements. Of course, Mr. Enviro Kennedy is not saying this because of the money he stands to rake in from his investments in the project. The hypocrisy is stunning, even for this bunch.

  • Old Mexican||

    Ron, the enviros are not interested in ANY viable technology that would help human economic progress, even if these technologies promise ample energy at low cost and with zero emissions. They are only interested in depopulating the Earth - that has been their goal all this time - they are Neo-Malthusian hacks and ideologues.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    That is the only true agenda of theirs (vs. their stated bullshit) that I can identify too. Plus, lots of them slip up and admit their true agenda.

  • Robert||

    No, I think there's something additional operating in their thinking. The anti nuclear energy movement was originally almost entirely an outgrowth of the anti nuclear weapons movement. Now, if you can show that the residue of nuclear weapons can be mitigated by conversion thru breeders, it says that nuclear weapons were costless after all. The opponents want to be able to "told you so" regarding disposal costs and problems.

  • Old Mexican||

    The Cultural Contradictions of Anti-Nuke Environmentalists.

    There's no contradiction.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    I'm waiting for Larry David and Ed Begley, Jr. to weigh in on this important topic.

  • Old Mexican||

    Ed Begley will say he wants all of us to pedal for our energy like he does...

    ... which he can do because he has all that time in his hands, since he has no J-O-B! The rest of us are productive people, instead.

    [At least he is no tax-consuming parasite]

  • ||

    Peer Review. Peer Review. Peer Review.

  • ||

  • James Doshinji||

    More like:

    What if it's a big hoax and we impose neo-feudalism for nothing.

  • Tony||

    Why is it that you automatically gravitate toward the least plausible conspiracy theory you can find?

  • Old Mexican||

    You don't read much, do you?

  • CHADS shadow||

    Tony, bb, stop typing a come back to bed

  • Zeb||

    So, I take it you have done an extensive survey of self identified environmentalists and none are in favor of nuclear power or any other source of power which would help human economic progress?

  • Zeb||

    Don't get me wrong. I think you are right about a considerable portion of so-called environmentalists. But absurd absolute claims about broad groups of people get old fast. People (even collectivists, whether they like it or not) are individuals who act independently.

  • Old Mexican||

    Indeed, but you have to read their publications (from The Population Bomb, to Silent Spring, to John Holdren's writtings) to know that Humans are the hated species, the virus, infesting the Earth.

  • ||

    Zeb: I did start by pointing out that there is a debate now among environmentalists, didn't I? Just saying.

  • ||

    Hey Zeb,

    I'm inclined to dismiss your complaint about overgeneralization as a diversionary tactic -- unless you expand on it by showing that the majority of environmentalists are "in favor of nuclear power or any other source of power that would help human economic progress".

  • Eric||

    I've heard several people refer to this line of reasoning as "the Philosophy of Death." I couldn't agree more. The Environmental Left is like a gaggle of spoiled children. No matter what we give them, they'll be shrieking for more. It's about the compromise. Every time we compromise with them, they show us and themselves that no one has a consistent philosophy, which enable them to keep protesting. This is precisely why the left hate Rand so much. She had the audacity to be consistent.

  • Eco-Wacko||

    "Fast breeders are nuclear power plants that can produce more fuel (about 30 percent more) than they use. They can also produce electricity by burning up highly radioactive nuclear waste and the plutonium removed from nuclear weapons. On top of that, the radioactive waste that fast breeders generate after their fuel is recycled decays after just a few hundred years instead of the tens of thousands of years it takes for the waste from conventional reactors to decay. Plus, since fast breeders produce more fuel than they use, there's no need to mine additional uranium. And finally, new fuel processing technologies have largely allayed concerns that the plutonium produced by fast reactors could be diverted and used to produce nuclear weapons. In other words, fast breeders could be the ultimate in renewable energy."

    HA! You are so full of shit!

    What you say CAN'T be right because...well...it just can't!

    Nukes are bad!

  • John Tagliaferro||

    And dangerous too. They are nuclear for crying out loud!

  • ||

    That is right. Didn't you see The China Syndrome?

  • John Tagliaferro||

    YEA! And every chick who drives a Prias said the same thing!

  • Tim||

    Yes, they are more efficient. They produce fissionable U235 from U238, while fissioning U235, but ultimately use up U238. It cannot go on ad infinitum due to conservation of energy and mass.

  • ||

    Of course it doesn't go on ad infinitum. But it takes unusable U235 and turns it into usable uranium. So it unlocks the vast majority of current uranium supplies and makes it useable.

  • Tim||

    Agreed

  • ||

    I think you guys are a little confused on the nuclear chemistry at work here. U235 is the fissile material in uranium that reactors run on. "Enriched" U has the 235 concentration over natural .7% 235 presence in U ore.

    Fast breeder reactors make Pu-239 from U238 (like any other reactor). They also burn-up U238 because they do not use a neutron moderator (the "fast" part) and hence the high-end energy spectrum of fission neutrons (>6MeV) will "smash" the U238 and induce fission. U238 is "fissionable" but not "fissile" and thats the difference. Slow the neutrons down with a moderator, and U238 will capture the slow neutrons (making naughty Pu-239).

    Some fusion reactions (D+T is the mad bomber's favorite) have high neutron energies...14MeV for D+T. 14MeV neutrons smashes U238, every time. Most thermonuclear weapons really aren't "fusion" bombs...they're U238 fission bombs powered with high energy neutrons from a fusion reaction. More boom, less bux and you can "cheat" by using cheapo natural uranium in the secondary case.

    I would say that's the ultimate fast-breeder right there.

  • ||

    I'd say you are a little confused...it's not chemistry, it's physics. Changes are in the nucleus not the electron orbitals.

  • ||

    "Conventional" chemistry is building molecules out of elements. "Nuclear" chemistry is building elements out of nucleons. It's why Glenn Seaborg (the creator of plutonium) won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, not physics.

    Go back to school.

  • ||

    Glenn Seaborg won the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discoveries in the chemistry of transuranium elements. Not for producing Plutonium. Perhaps you would care to expound on the difference between nuclear chemistry and nuclear physics for our entertainment.

    Go to school.

  • ||

    First off, I want to apologize for my "school" comment. It was low-brow and I regret it.

    But, "nuclear chemistry" is a very valid term; especially in this context. For a full treatment, the wiki article is actually pretty good: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_chemistry.

    As some technical examples, you will find that equations describing nucleosynthesis of elements in things like nuclear reactors or the Sun are written in the notation and symbology of chemical equations. Same thing goes with concepts (muon "catalyzed" fusion for instance), especially in fusion. Fusion really is nuclear combustion analogous to chemical combustion (helium "ash," tritium "kindling"). But the numbers (ignition and burn temperatures for instance) are that much higher because the mass-energy in nucleons is so much higher than with electrons.

    Hope that clears everything up, and again sorry about the "school" comment.

  • Engineer-Poet||

    Why oh why are the people who are most ignorant of basic facts so goddamn sure of themselves?

    1.  Breeder reactors using U-238 produce mostly Pu-239, not U-235.
    2.  Even thermal-spectrum reactors breed U-238 to Pu-239; the problem is that there aren't enough neutrons from thermal-induced fissions to achieve a breeding ratio >= 1.
    3.  The major problem with thermal-spectrum reactors burning uranium is that not all the Pu fissions, and instead produces americium and curium which are long-lived neutron poisons.

    Fast-spectrum reactors can both get enough neutrons per fission to be net breeders, and can fission Pu, Am and Cu so that they don't have to be disposed of as waste.  Another possibility is thorium breeders converting Th-232 to fissile U-233, because fission of U-233 yields more neutrons than U-235 and almost nothing captures enough neutrons to get past uranium.

  • John Robb||

    Eco-Wacko is wisely skeptical. I am personally not against the production and use of nuclear energy, but the "Science Correspondent" here propagates some confusion. First off, uranium is NOT a renewable resource, although its supply could very well hold out much longer than fossil fuels. Secondly, no matter what is deemed as "fuel" along the chain of events, it all starts out as uranium. The fast breeder reactor does two things. Like any reactor it converts the resource into a useable form of power generation. It also extends the useability of the resource, much like refining crude oil or distilling wine into brandy. One may use brandy as a fuel to heat wine and get a net positive on brandy, but first one must ferment some grapes. Grapes ARE renewable, by the way. Ethanol IS solar energy. :)

  • ||

    Secondly, no matter what is deemed as "fuel" along the chain of events, it all starts out as uranium.

    Or thorium.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium_fuel_cycle

  • John Robb||

    Thanks wylie, that was an excelent read. Wow, eleven reactors using thorium in India today. I had no idea, makes sense though as India has an abundance of thorium.

    To date, it still takes uranium to get the thorium ball rolling. I'm guessing the Indians will be the first to bypass uranium altogether. Whatever current or future nuclear fuels are harnessed I still wish to simply re-state my opposition to the author's unscientific use of the term "renewable". To date, none of these fuels are renewable. Finding a way to use what was previously considered waste does not deem something as renewable. Extending fuel cycle is a great feat, and I am quite impressed by the fast breeder's 130 percent return on "fuel", but let us look at the big picture and not be deceived into thinking that this statistic is somehow mystical. What currently constitutes gasoline was once deemed an industrial byproduct/waste and dumped into the Hudson River. Just because I now use it to shoot down the road at 70mph doesn't mean I consider petroleum to be a renewable fuel. ;)

  • ||

    Fast breeders are nifty widgets...but I've never seen a fast-breeder where a calamity meltdown isn't part of the design risk...no moderator = sketchy on reactor safety. No passive mode of shutdown, it just keeps cooking.

  • ||

    That's no problem, just build them around high concetrations of liberals...win/win.

  • ||

    I'm down.

  • Patrick||

    I'd think though, that you'd still have to mine some- even if it's not uranium (perhaps thorium), due to the principle of conservation of energy.

  • John Robb||

    Patrick, you have essentially isolated the core of what inspired me to comment in the first place, my beef with the author's rhetoric. The title here of "Science Correspondent" certainly does not mean Mr. Bailey is a scientist with whom the journalists at Reason correspond, but obviously means that he is the journalist at Reason designated to correspond with scientists. The author makes clear his break from reality with the claim, "Plus, since fast breeders produce more fuel than they use, there's no need to mine additional uranium." Such misunderstanding leads to misled conclusion such as, "In other words, fast breeders could be the ultimate in renewable energy" and "Why do environmentalists reject a good bet for renewable energy?"

    Ironically, the above headline was what seduced me to read the article. Yes, I'm a sucker for perusing journalists' lack of scientific prowess. I don't ultimately mean disrespect for Ron Bailey though, as he tackles fun subjects and uses interesting references and links. I am grateful that he writes, gets these subjects into public view, and provides a forum for the rest of us to comment and interact with each other. I don't even remotely believe in the Big Bang, but I've learned much from reading books on the subject.

    I've enjoyed reading TheZeitgeist's comments. Should Reason Magazine ever hire him/her as a Science Correspondent, I might actually consider buying a subscription. :D

  • Engineer-Poet||

    Yes, Mr. Bailey (or his editor) was sloppy with the terminology there.  The fact remains that light-water reactors use only about 1% of the uranium (both the U-235 that's burned, and the Pu-239 that's bred and then burned).  Some of the remaining 99% has been turned into things like anti-tank ammunition, but the vast majority (and almost every bit that's been through a reactor but unburned) remains in our inventories.  At 0.8 tons per gigawatt-year in a Gen IV reactor, the 43000 tons of uranium we have in stock in just our spent fuel could run the nation's electric grid for about a century.  The depleted uranium byproduct of enrichment is several times as much.

  • ||

    John C. Randolph mentioned Lysenkoism in another thread. That is really all this crap is. The greens claim there is no need for nuclear because they have these new magical renewable sources of energy. It is no different and no less dangerous than Lysenko's theories of agronomy and collectivization.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    Like the solar windmills I mentioned up there!

  • ||

    Ironically it was the mad-bomber genius Sakharov who had the cajones to denounce Lysenkoism (and Lysenko right to his face) at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in the mid-sixties. He started his journey to dissident-in-Gorki by doing that.

  • Poop Slinger||

    Still waiting on that compact, trash-burning fusion-drive kit to mod my car for flight and time travel. Any day now, scientists.

  • Adam||

    This is the damn future. I want my flying Delorian!

  • ||

    Look, i can see why we don't have flying cars for the masses yet....but can't we get some flying ambulances and fire trucks goin? Assuming they'd be any more efficient than helicopters of course.

  • CTHORM@IBIS||

    Don't you dare indict Christopher Lloyd for this. He just did the time-travelling, some other schmucks had to invent it. Maybe they killed themselves after losing a world-series bet.

  • ||

    I am working on it...I am working on it!

  • VM (as dirty canadian hippie)||

    BUT... BUT... BUT...

    YOU CAN'T HUG A CHILD WITH NUKLEER ARMS!!!!!!!!

  • A Child||

    Nuclear arms just blow me away!

  • John Tagliaferro||

    ROFL, I keep forgetting to use that one.

  • ||

    You can't hug a child with underwater A.R.M.s!

  • Eric||

    It took me like a whole minute to get the joke. I'm so stupid...

  • ||

    The greens only real gripe about nuclear power is that it is power.

  • ||

    Don't nuke our imagination bro

  • ||

    Hahahahahha classic South Park!!!

  • ||

    Thanks for giving me another reason to hate Jimmy Carter. On a side note, remember when Dan Aykroyd played him in the Pepsi Syndrome on SNL? A total riot!

  • OMG||

    I was thinking about that skit all through the article. Then the cleaning woman turns into a nuclear giant and Carter dumps Rosalyn for her ... classic

  • D.R.M.||

    Add some hatred for John Kerry, who lobbied to kill the Integral Fast Reactor (a new breeder prototype) in 1994, and Bill Clinton, the President who killed it.

  • Old Mexican||

    Later in Red Sky at Morning, Speth asserts, “The biggest threat to our environment is global climate disruption, and the greatest problem in that context is America's energy use and the policies that undergird it.”



    It is clear that for Speth, the problem is not merely fossil-burning energy production, but energy use itself.

    Energy usage allows our current level of wealth, living standards and economic progress. If we start from the premise that Speth posits, that the problem is energy usage, then it follows that whatever is derived from energy usage has to be a problem, be it economic and population growth and human well being. The solution, of course, is NOT to have a cleaner source of energy available because that would not cure the problem (i.e. usage). The problem is cured by less energy use, not more or the same except cleaner.

    In order to achieve a decrease in energy usage, you have to reduce economic growth and productivity. You can only achieve that by making energy usage MORE expensive (thus the opposition to both nuclear AND wind and solar - see the newer posts); or, by reducing the size of the population.

    It is not farfetched, then, to deduce the enviros are NOT interested in new and cleaner energy sources, they are interested in DEPOPULATING the Earth, in the name of Gaia . . . or whatever.
  • MNG||

    OM, I know you're a bit slow but the only thing "clear" from that quote is that the guy means AMERICA'S energy use, i.e., our current way of using energy. That doesn't mean he hates all energy use.

    And it's your careful observations we are supposed to find more convincing than climate scientists...Sheesh.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: MNG,

    OM, I know you're a bit slow but the only thing "clear" from that quote is that the guy means AMERICA'S energy use, i.e., our current way of using energy.

    That only begs the question, MNG - BIG time. What's the difference? What's so special about "America's" energy use? It is like somebody critizicing MY energy use - compared to whose? Your's?

  • MNG||

    For a long time people have criticized America for having an energy system too tied to oil in particular and fossil fuels in general (remember Bush's "addicted to oil" speech). It's obvious to any fair-minded person that's likely his meaning.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: MNG,

    For a long time people [who?] have criticized America for having an energy system too tied [begs the question - how much is "too" much? Compared to what?] to oil in particular and fossil fuels in general (remember Bush's "addicted to oil" speech). It's obvious to any fair-minded person [Oh, a "No True Scotsman fallacy?] that's likely his meaning.

    Other non-specific people's criticism's are not facts nor arguments, MNG. Again, what's so special about America's energy usage compared to other countries'?

    The use of the word "too" implies there is an Optimal level after which one should not go beyond - that idea is preposterous and begs the question.

  • MNG||

    Stop being silly. The argument is:
    1. Pollution is bad.
    2. Energy use from fossil fuels increases pollution.
    3. Therefore energy use from fossil fuels is bad.

    The conclusion here becomes the major premise for the next step:

    1. Energy use from fossil fuels is bad.
    2. The dominant form of energy in the US is energy from fossil fuels.
    3. Therefore the dominant form of energy in the US is bad.

    If the "bad" is bothering you just add "bad for human health."

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: MNG,

    Let's see who's being silly:

    Stop being silly. The argument is:
    1. Pollution is bad.
    2. Energy use from fossil fuels increases pollution.
    3. Therefore energy use from fossil fuels is bad.

    That's not the argument posited above. You said: "OM, [...]the only thing "clear" from that quote is that the guy means AMERICA'S energy use, i.e., our current way of using energy."

    I asked why. You flew off the tangent with the question-begging notion that America's energy usage is "too tied to oil" (in fact it is tied to COAL, mostly.)


    1. Energy use from fossil fuels is bad.
    2. The dominant form of energy in the US is energy from fossil fuels.
    3. Therefore the dominant form of energy in the US is bad.

    Again, that is not the argument posited by Speth.

    Besides this, you're avoiding the issue YOU raised unwittingly: How much is TOO much? For instance, I *know* how much is too much when it comes to filling my gas tank - more than 12 gallons. I *know* how much is too much when I am eating tacos: right after I feel full. But I would never presume to *know* how much is "too much" when talking about being "too tied" to oil.

    If the "bad" is bothering you just add "bad for human health."

    I do not believe Speth meant that. You made that one up yourself.

  • MNG||

    What is Speth's argument in your opinion? All I read was what you quoted, and it certainly seems to me that the quote can be read to mean something other than that he is against any energy use. What he specifically says he objects to in that quote is "America's energy use." Energy use the way it is found in AMERICA. You then said "well what's so unique about America's energy use." Well, my answer is that given that for the past decade allmanners of folks including even GOP Presidents have "criticized America for having an energy system too tied to oil in particular and fossil fuels in general" I think a fair bet is that is what he is referring too.

    You go off on this crazy tangent about "what do you mean when you say 'too tied' to..." You know what people mean when they say this or you have been living in a cave for decades. They mean that we use too much oil and fossil fuels. It's too much because they find it especially polluting. You know that.

  • ||

    His objection to "the way energy is used" in America, is that he thinks it is being used excessively and for trivial purposes. He's making a kind of cultural objection. I.e. America is culturally bad in the way we use energy. We're too consumerist, too vulgar, about what we use energy for. Etc.

    Spelt wants to restrict energy consumption because he thinks that will force the kind of cultural reorientation that he would like to see happen.

    He's probably got a romanticized vision of pre-industrial society and thinks that if energy is rationed that society would return to something like that.

  • JohnD||

    MNG, shut the fuck up, moron

  • Old Mexican||

    By the way, the whole "oil use is polluting" argument is specious - Speth is a known blocker of nuclear plant construction, which means he could care less about alternatives to oil use. You are trying to invent an argument for him, nothing more.

  • MNG||

    Just because he might not like one alternative to oil energy doesn't mean he doesn't care about any.

  • NaSa||

    Just because he might not like one alternative to oil energy doesn't mean he doesn't care about any.

    Who "cares" about what he "cares" for. It is not like that there are abundant supplies of alternative energy sources out there- most of them require decades of development not to mention endless government subsidies (remember ethanol?) before they have any hopes of being a decent substitute to either coal or oil or nuclear or ANY OTHER form of energy.

    It is pretty clear Speth is an idealogue, an Agent Smith character right out of the Matrix movies.

    Old Mexican nails it with the following line

    "It is not farfetched, then, to deduce the enviros are NOT interested in new and cleaner energy sources, they are interested in DEPOPULATING the Earth, in the name of Gaia "

  • LarryA||

    What's so special about "America's" energy use?

    U.S. energy use is the main target because the U.S. economy is the primary one that actually produces a higher percentage of the world’s wealth than it consumes. If radical environmentalists can flush our productivity down the crapper everyone else will follow. Once the world reverts back to an “idyllic” agrarian lifestyle, only this time with limited sources of easy-to access oil and coal, the Luddite solution may well last millennia.

  • Old Mexican||

    LarryA,

    Agreed. The issue I have with MNG is that he does not want to accept the premise behind Speth's arguments: That it is our industrial civilization that posits the greatest environmental "threats". This is regardless of what energy source we could use - even if scientists and engineers had an "Eureka" moment and found a way to get more energy out of solar-emmited light, and made our whole civilization fully solar-powered, people like Speth would not be happy at all, since he and his ilk are not interested in human economic progress and well being, only in what you described: an idyllic, pastoral, bucolic lifestyle, i.e. one where people would be DIRT POOR and about 100,000 in population.

  • MNG||

    I should hope you have more evidence for this than the quote you referenced, because that's a pretty big conjecture. If that's what Speth meant then he is silly, but I think it wise to not assume people are being silly when their comments can fairly be read otherwise.

  • ||

    MNG, the ONLY way you can rectify the greens objections to nuclear, with their insistence on dramatic reductions in carbon emissions, is by assuming they want us to convert to a radically lower-energy lifestyle.

    It is industrial society as a whole they object to, largely.

    Either that, or they are fucking idiot believers in magical rainbow pony shit.

    I don't discount the latter possibility, but I'm being generous.

  • Chad||

    How can you claim that we are producing more than we consume when we are borrowing like mad?

  • VikingMoose||

    WRONG. THE ONLY THING "CLEAR" FROM THAT QUOTE IS THAT WE NEED MORE nuCLEAR. THAT'S RIGHT. PUT THE "CLEAR" IN nuCLEAR.

    *does dramatic gesture towards the telephone*

  • ||

    You are correct. It's not about reducing CO2 consumption at all. It's about "changing our lifestyles".

    Which is to say, changing our lifestyles to a very low-energy neo-agrarian style. These are people who largely subscribe to much broader criticisms of industrial society than just the pollution issue. They want us to return to something similar to pre-industrial Europe, possibly with the addition of a few modern conveniences. That means giving up air conditioning and refridgeration, and relying on root cellars and so forth.

    I would say it's an exagerration to say they want to "depopulate" the Earth. (That mgiht be a long term vision.) But they certainly don't give a fuck about going into space, or any further degree of economic growth.

    Ergo, they can get away with arguing that we don't "need" nuclear. Because their idea of "need" is based on pre-industrial levels of energy consumption.

  • ||

    OM nails it with this comment (and everything that follows--GO OM!). There is no way to maintain our lifestyle without enormous amounts of energy. Do the Gores of the world think that they (and their children) will be exempt somehow? Are they like the communist intellectuals who thought they would rule in comfort after the revolution?
    These people are suicidal utopians, there's really no other explanation for their contradictions.

  • MNG||

    I've seen more liberals reconsider nuclear power in light of climate science findings than ever before.

    There are some who still are not re-thinking things though. I think this is partly understandable if silly. On the one hand it seems tailor made to address current environmental concerns. On the other hand nuclear power has earned an almost archetype-level mythos of scariness in popular culture. The first thing people think of when you say the word "nuclear" are unnaturally devastating explosions. The second thing people think of is "radiation poison." People are just going to get over that admittedly heavy cultural baggage.

  • Robert||

    Yes. It should be noted that the anti- movement is nowhere near as prominent as it used to be. Indeed, it's hardly a movement at all any more, as opposed to a sideline of one or more larger movements.

  • ||

    Important evolution of the anti-nuclear movement is people by and large today distinguish nuclear power and nuclear weapons as different things. In the old days of the Cold War, one seemingly begot the other. Not so much anymore in popular conscience (even amongst the lefties).

  • MNG||

    I mean surely the same people who are telling libertarian types to get over their pants-shitting fear of any government action to address potentially devastating climate change effects can get over their fear of being turned into mutant zombies from nuclear radiation for the same cause.

  • Old Mexican||

    And what are the odds of that happening, ever?

  • MNG||

    More and more are doing it. On NPR a few months ago they had this guy, one of the fathers of 1960's sustainibility types who now is a huge advocate of nuclear power. It's happening, but that doesn't make for as much outrage as focusing on a few hippies.

  • ||

    I thought he was asking for the odds on the mutant zombies...

  • Eric||

    Odds of mutant zombies 3:2.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: MNG,

    I've seen more liberals reconsider nuclear power in light of climate science findings than ever before.

    Well, "Liberals" is too broad a term. We're talking about enviromentalists, the whacky kind, the ones with the really wooly thoughts - the standard-issue type, to put it more succinctly.

  • MNG||

    "We're talking about enviromentalists, the whacky kind, the ones with the really wooly thoughts - the standard-issue type, to put it more succinctly."

    Well, see, that's you're problem, assuming that this subset speaks for environmentalist in general. I'd bet they are a smaller and more inconsequential fringe than one would think from reading right wing blogs...

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: MNG,

    Well, see, that's you're problem, assuming that this subset speaks for environmentalist in general.

    What subset? I said "The Standard-issue type". For me, as I can define it using rationality and reason, environmentalist IS in the fringes, along with Millenarism and Ascetism.

  • Chad||

    You know nothing of environmentalists, OM. In fact, you seem to be trying to prove that you know less than nothing.

    Yes, there is a whacko environmentalist fringe that hates nuclear (and anything "big business"). They are the teabaggers of the left, and should largely be ignored. If you look at mainstream environmentalists, most have long since moved on, or are, like me, to young to have been caught up in the stupidity of the 60's in the first place. I have never been anti-nuke, though I remain to this day opposed to subsidies for nuclear. It has received enough to stand on its own two feet by now.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Chad,

    You know nothing of environmentalists, OM. In fact, you seem to be trying to prove that you know less than nothing.

    You on the other hand are a repository of wisdom, I presume?

    Yes, there is a whacko environmentalist fringe that hates nuclear (and anything "big business"). They are the teabaggers of the left, and should largely be ignored.

    Interesting notion - a fringe thinker (like you, who believes that at least 33% of our labor belongs to "society") thinks there is a fringe part of the environmental movement that should NOT be taken seriously; makes me wonder what the NON-fringe environmental movement that you think is non-fringe looks like - it suggests a frightening image.

    If you look at mainstream environmentalists, most have long since moved on [what, they died?], or are, like me, to[o] young to have been caught up in the stupidity of the 60's in the first place. I have never been anti-nuke, though I remain to this day opposed to subsidies for nuclear.

    Why not? Aren't nuclear power plants part of society, and thus deserving of my (and your) 33%?

  • ||

    You seem to be under the erroneous impression that Chad is making a good faith attempt at an honest argument.
    He's not. He doesn't really support nuclear, he just want his "side" to "win", and is making a tactical choice not to oppose nuclear, but not to support it to avoid antagonizing his "team".

  • Tony||

    And you're trying to make an irrational straw man out of environmentalists so that you can be justified in sitting on your ass doing nothing. I know more lefties who are pro-nuclear than totally against it. My question is why you guys pimp this one industry as a solution to the problem, when you're not denying a problem exists.

  • ||

    Okay, Tony. How exactly do we reduce carbon emissions by 60-70% WITHOUT radically altering our lifestyles, and WITHOUT using nuclear power?

    Magical rainbow pony shit?
    Tell me, please, how you think these people can reconcile being against nuclear with being for drmatic carbon emission reduction that DOESNT involve neo-agrarian utopian pony shit?

  • Chad||

    Wrong. I support nuclear being built by anyone who wishes to do so on their own dime, including the insurance. They can even build it "in my backyard". It is clearly superior to coal, which is the heart of a number of problems, and can serve as a useful mid-term solution to the climate issue. If the technology advances far enough, it could even last indefinitely.

  • ||

    How about your expend a tiny fraction of the amount of time you spend on here, over at the Greenpeace site telling them to stop protesting nuclear, then?

    It's not my side that is stopping them from building plants. It is yours. You are just to fucking cowardly to take on people on your own "side". You prefer to argue against people that you know you aren't going to influence, instead of those where you might actually make a difference.

  • stuartl||

    MNG, are you saying Speth is the "whacky kind?" Is Jimmy Carter in the group as well?

  • MNG||

    The environmentalists I know, even the extreme ones, advocate less population growth because they think it will make the earth a better place for humans as well as for the various "ecosystems" or whatever. That's not so far-fetched to me. The more people that live in my house doesn't make it better, and I'm not part of a "death cult" because I approve of my wife using birth control to keep that number down. There's a huge difference between preventing the creation of more people and wanting to see people die...

  • Flush Obama||

    The environmentalists I know, even the extreme ones, advocate less population growth because they think it will make the earth a better place for humans as well as for the various "ecosystems" or whatever. That's not so far-fetched to me.

    You know what I learned yesterday? That the human body has more bacteria cells than actual human cells. In other words, we are more bacteria than human.

    Why do Environmentalists hate bacteria?

  • ||

    That's true, but the fact is they don't own the house. And they want to run the place like a hippie commune.

    Thanks, but I don't want to join your hippie commune. piss off.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: MNG,

    The environmentalists I know, even the extreme ones, advocate less population growth because they think it will make the earth a better place for humans as well as for the various "ecosystems" or whatever. That's not so far-fetched to me.

    Uh, sure - ever heard of the "Nirvana Fallacy"?

  • Flush Obama||

    Is that the belief that Courtney Love didn't kill Kurt Cobain?

  • VikingMoose||

    ooh- is that the one where we're actually supposed to believe that there are, like, actual, real words to "Smell Likes Teen Spirit"?

  • ||

    *shrug*

    IIRC, most of the OECD countries are already below the replacement ratio of around 2.1 live births per female. This has happened voluntarily, mainly because people are no longer "expected" to produce rug rats to keep the grandparents happy and instead prefer to do what they like with their lives.

    If this trend continues and spreads to the rest of the world (and there are plenty of signs that it is spreading), then the world human population will peak around 2050, then begin a gradual decline.

    IOW, the "population bomb" is a dud and overpopulation is a problem that will disappear with rising prosperity.

  • Chad||

    You got the problem backwards. It is population decline. And as of yet, no one has shown how we are going to escape it.

    Nature gave us the desire to have sex and the desire to protect our children like wildcats on crack. That used to be enough to ensure the survival of the species. We did NOT need the desire to have children, because the aforementioned desires took care of it.

    Then came the pill, which circumvented nature's method of reproducing our species. No one has yet found a cure for our cure for pregnancy.

  • CTHORM@IBIS||

    The fucking singularity man.
    Clones?
    Not dying?
    Even without pie-in-the-sky future tech, you statists would 'cure' the freedom to control reproduction anyway.

  • ||

    NUKE THE WHALES!

  • Dello||

    Nuke the gay baby whales!

  • Hacha Cha||

    there is no such thing as nuclear waste. the "waste" can be reused through several processes, one being transmutation. any other waste can be used to generate electricity in RTGs (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators). fucking environmentalists nut jobs and fear mongers want to make electricity more expensive and make life shittier for everyone.

  • Brett L||

    More people died a Chappaquidic than Three Mile Island...

    Too Soon? Should I save that for after the Edward M. Kennedy Memorial Health Care debacle?

  • Eric||

    It's never the wrong time to keep Swimmer Kennedy in the forefront of our mind.

  • ||


    Redacted to remove irresponsible statement concerning appropriate uses of nuclear enegy and Washington DC.
  • ||

    solar power, geothermal, or fusion power—which he favors

    So, fusion is ok, but breeder reactors aren't? Last i checked, the tokomak design that is working its way towards commercialization becomes seriously radioactive over its useful lifetime. Once decomissioned, the whole reactor core will be hazardous waste for a few hundred years (same timescale as the waste from breeders).

    Any idea how he squares the contradiction? (not that he has to, being an environut.)

  • ||

    Similar to squaring a circle, as I understand it.

    √π is the hard part.

  • ||

    Depends on the fusion fuel used. But yeah, D+T makes a neutron flux nastier than any fission reactor. Has a bad habit of "activating" shit into radioisotopes...like the steel for the containment vessel.

    Besides, no one's ever built a tokamak that makes more juice (even thermally) than it sucks out of the wall. You can home-brew a tabletop fusion reactor called a "fusor" that's about as efficient as the early tokamaks.

  • Kevin Carson||

    Back in the '50s, Westinghouse told Congress in pretty straightforward terms that they wouldn't develop nuclear power unless the government subsidized development costs and assumed risk.

    So knock yourself out, Ron. Cut the nuclear industry off the taxpayer tit, repeal Price-Anderson, eliminate all government subsidies to the mining of uranium and the disposal of nuclear waste, and let private business develop nuclear power to its heart's content. Or not.

  • ||

    Don't forget to repeal the environmental and other regulations on nuclear waste disposal and nuclear plant siting and operation.

    I mean, if we're going to cut the support, we might as well cut the restrictions as well, right?

  • ||

    KC: What RCD said, plus did you not read the caveat below from my article? I'm not in favor of nuclear socialism or solar socialism. Level the competitive playing field and let the cheapest power win.

    Caveat: (Note that I am not considering the economics and subsidies of fast breeder reactors, just as Speth does not take the economics and subsidies of solar power, geothermal, or fusion power—which he favors—into account. In world where carbon dioxide is not rationed, burning coal and natural gas will be cheaper than any of the current renewable fuel alternatives.)

  • Chad||

    So let's give a couple of teams really huge head starts, and then "level the playing field"?

    Boy, that sure sounds like a way to ensure the "best" team wins.

  • CTHORM@IBIS||

    Regarding the Economics of energy production, which we aren't talking about, leveling the playing field also includes externality costs...

    Which could mean a broad-based tax on emissions of CO2, CO, HCl, HS or rainbows. Hell, you could even tax nocturnal emissions. Unless you can think of a way to do this without ceding more power to the whores on Capitol Hill (or the UN building, thanks).

  • Chad||

    I think prices on pollutants is exactly what Ron was referring too. Heck, we can even give coal plants a tiny credit for creating prettier sunsets.

    This is clearly an appropriate situation for government whores.

  • ||

    If we really want to level the playing field, Greenpeace should be paying reparations to the nuclear industry for the next 50 years.

  • ||

    One of my favorite dreams devolves around the notion that Jimmy Carter has the task of cleaning the latrines at the Smithsonian.

  • D.R.M.||

    MNG —

    If environmentalists have rethought their views on nuclear power, then name one major environmental organization in the U.S. advocating rapid adoption of nuclear power.

    Yes, there are a few random, individual environmentalists who have reconsidered. They're the fringe, not the anti-nuclear environmentalists.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Does the Pew Center on Global Climate Change count?

    http://www.pewclimate.org/database/factsheet/nuclear

  • ||

    Another advantage of nuclear power is that the electricity produced can be used to produce hydrogen from water. Hydrogen may also be used as a nonpolluting fuel in the ways that natural gas is used now. Hydrogen is nonpolluting because it returns to water when burned. So nuclear power plants would not only reduce co2 production by eliminating coal plants – it could result in the decrease of petroleum powered cars that release co2 if they are replaced with those powered by natural gas. And hydrogen could replace petroleum used in space heating.

    (A comment on an earlier post: Actually, u238 is converted to pu239, which can be used to replace u235. Both u235 and u238 are uranium, but only u235 is fissionable. But it is true, when the u238 is used up, then no more fissionable pu239 can be made – but that would be a long time in coming.)

  • ||

    The cool nuclear-hydrogen idea I like is using the waste heat (post steam turbines) to improve the efficieny of water electrolysis systems attached to the plant.

    Heck, you can split water without any electricity. Just crank the heat upto 2000C.

  • ||

    "you can split water without any electricity"

    True ... good point.

  • ||

    I've always thought an interesting idea would be an off-shore nuclear power station where the water is "cracked" in the reactor, and then piped inland to some arid and/or thirsty place as hydrogen gas. When it gets to the destination, burn it on site for the power and then exhaust the resulting water for the locals. It would be an interesting project for things like California's Central Valley or the Australian Outback. Fight desertification and get electricity (twice, once from the reactor and once when you "burn" the water) in doing it.

    Totally pimp.

  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    I have been saying this for years. Utilities bitch because they have all of this excess generating capability with no load. Not only hydrogen but other forms of potential energy such as pumping water up hill (to be used to drive generators during peak power needs.) Yes, I know that the efficiency is way down but getting something is better than getting nothing.

    ... Hobbit

  • ||

    Has anyone done the math regarding the amount of water vapor an all hydrogen fuel car fleet would produce? Last I checked water vapor is a worse greenhouse contributer than CO2 by several factors. Would it not be worse than petroleum powered cars?

  • ||

    even if scientists and engineers had an "Eureka" moment and found a way to get more energy out of solar-emmited light

    Another decade or two of nanotech research and we just might have panels made of nano-antenna that generate electricity across a wide spectrum (UV, visible, and IR.)

    There's still only ~1kW/m^2 hitting the earth on a cloudless day. That's 500,000m^2 (or 5.38 million ft^2) of panels to replace a 500MW nuclear plant.

    A quick googling gave me 660 acres for a 476MW plant in Nebraska, which comes out to 2.67million m^2. I can't believe they're actually using all that land though, all the pictures I've seen of plants seem a lot smaller (under 100 acres).

    With those numbers, the hypothetical 100% efficient solar panels win. Real panels don't fare as favorably though. Fresh PV panels only convert about 15% of incoming light to electricity, so each m^2 is only good for 150W on a cloudless day. Comes out to 3.3million m^2 to get 500MW, and so nuclear wins.

    Lets not cover the planet in solar panels until they reach at least 50% conversion efficiency. Hell, even then, lets look at power beaming satellites again and screw the terrestrial panels.

  • Chad||

    If land use was the only consideration, you would have a point.

    Very little solar is going to go anywhere but on land already "used" for something else, or wasteland.

  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    wasteland

    Yeah, good luck getting a permit to do anything in this "wasteland". Thus the heart of this article, greenies are long on big talk and big ideas and really, really short on actually getting anything done.

    ... Hobbit

  • Chad||

    There is an enormous amount of desert out there, and (heaven forbid), some IS worth protecting. This is yet another thing that the government needs to be sorting out.

  • Gaian Finger of Shame||

    There is no such thing as wasteland. All of the Earth is sacred. Especially those barren places whose natural beauty can only be seen by the most enlightened.

    Repent, blasphemer.

  • Libertarian douche||

    Here, let me dump my giant bucket of shit all over your lawn. The market will clean it up.

  • ||

    Don't abandon your kids. They're yours, after all.

  • CTHORM@IBIS||

    This is why I'm ambivalent about "solar socialism." Solar technology, like nuclear, is really useful for space-based applications. Funding research in the field is one of the least-bad kinds of government intervention. Beaming power from a space-based solar station, via microwaves, is already viable.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Tangential, but worth a read.
    http://edge.org/3rd_culture/br.....index.html

  • ||

    I can't believe that there is actually a "furious debate" of any sort going on, when the answer is so fucking obvious.

    What on earth could the anti-nuclear fucktards have to say in their defense?

    "Radiation is bad!" ?
    "Human shouldn't use energy!" ?

    In truth, the anti-nuclear contingent is sustained largely by the typical progressive/leftist inability to say anything unpopular or controversial within their little sect. They may all privately suspect that nuclear power isn't that bad, but are afraid of being shunned and frowned upon by all the superior righteous people they hang out with. Most of these people are probably the loudest to denounce anyone that says anything pro-nuke, out of fear of being uncovered as a secret nuke-lover.

  • ||

    The social and technical evolution of both space propulsion and nuclear power is an interesting indictment of what truly motivates governments.

    The US Government was quite enthusiastic and ambitious about both endeavors. When the weaponization of these technologies was perfected, the technologies became stagnant in their progress.

  • ||

    Well, no. They became stagnant because the government developed technologies that had planned inefficiencies in them. You know ... because they needed to "produce jobs".

    In the case of nuclear power, it could have survived commercially, if it wasn't for the massive campaign of fear-mongering waged against it by the left, and the way the regulations were subsequently rigged to make sure costs would escalate by several factors. It was effectively economic sabotage, really.

    In the case of the space industry, I wouldn't say that space has really been "weaponized". At least not to the extent it could be, for sure.

    But in that case, so much of the space industry is just a big "job production" factory, that the technology is a giant clusterfuck of inefficiency. Anyone trying to get into space cheaply has to pretty much redesign everything from scratch.

  • Tony||

    "But thanks for humanity's deeper understanding of the universe, NASA!"

    It's only polite, Hazel. Not every organization can do a task so noble as producing widgets for profit.

  • ||

    I beg to differ.

    Rocket and nuclear technology have both stagnated since the early 80's, which is coincidentally when the penultimate strategic weapon systems (Trident/W-88, MX/W-87) were drawn up.

    The physical configuration of the Space Shuttle itself (a winged brick the size of a 737 on segmented solid-rocket boosters) was a product of military requirements and Nixonian political intrigue, not some rational set of criteria NASA "needed."

    The biggest technical successes the USA has in space right now are all military assets or based on military assets. GPS comes to mind. Hubble is essentially a KH aimed up instead of down. The cameras, telemetry, radar-mapping, and spectrometery on NASA's deep space probes are all leveraged from military tech for the KH and Defense DSP assets. The mission that originally discovered water at the moon's south pole (Clementine) was DoD asset launched on an Air Force Titan. NASA has plowed something like $100 billion over the past twenty years cooking up a shuttle replacement, and never flew one vehicle.

  • ||

    Well, the military aspects actually serve some kind of demand, so they make a minimal effort to provide a technology that really works, and at a reasonable price.

    However, the 8civilian* side of the space program is trated by congress as a big job manufacturing project. In other words, they don't give a flying fuck if anything NASA does really works, as long as they employ lots of constituents in their districts.

    So that is the source of the distinction ebtween military and civilian technological development.

  • ||

    It doesn't really matter at this point. The Constellation Program is on the typical government course: couple billion over-budget and a couple years past schedule. This time though, there are other games in town, spawned by NASA ironically through the COTS program.

    With SpaceX, Armadillo, and a couple of other dark-horse candidates, NASA will be out (as in replaced) of the manned spaceflight biz, probably by 2016 or so.

  • Chad||

    Hazel, I suspect you haven't spent five seconds with a group of environmentalists in your life. There is vigorous discussion about nuclear power, and frankly, my side (the one you agree with) is winning.

    And it simply a matter of fact that the left tolerates a lot more diversity of opinion than the right (both the religious and economic conservative rights). Hell, it is rarely for any self-professed libertarian around here to come up with an honest answer to describe a political situation where their party line is wrong.

  • Eric||

    "Hell, it is [rare] for any self-professed libertarian around here to come up with an honest answer to describe a political situation where their party line is wrong."

    Why would I argue against myself? Further, I don't think libertarians have a codified party line, except maybe the protection of Life, Liberty and Property. Arguing against these things would bring me to a position of supporting Death, Slavery and Poverty.

    I also disagree that the left is more tolerant. I don't think either side is very tolerant. The right requires that I toe the line on God, and the left requires that I toe the line on Climate Change (a new religion of sorts).

  • ||

    You suspect wrong.

  • ||

    The main problem with Nuclear energy is that it would be prohibitive in cost to operate. Given the consequences of system failure (think Chernobyl or TMI),you couldn't let just anyone operate or build the reactors. That means no skimping on construction, training, personnel or security just to save money (regardless if it's a businessman or government official - both groups have their reasons for cutting corners). And that also means no Unions keeping incompetents at jobs that could jeopardize plant safety.

  • ||

    Chernobyl was a graphite-core reactor run completely outside of its operating limits by incompetent management. I don't know the details on TMI, but the radiation release was probably less than the radioactivity released in the coal smoke burned today in the USA. Seriously.

    There are reactors that by nature of their operation cannot melt down. My personal favorite is the CANDU reactor. Unfortunately, such reactors present a significant proliferation risk. Rock and a hard place with reactor tech that way.

  • ||

    TMI contained everything in the reactor house.

    So, yes, more radioisotopes were released that day from our coal plants.

  • ||

    Yeah, Chernobyl. That horrible event whose consequences are statistically undetectable.

    That mass catastrophe that caused the appalling number of 9 deaths from thyroid cancer.

    That planet distroying apocalypse that might have maybe caused a slight change in the rate of birth defects, but we're not really sure after 20 years of study.

    http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publi.....79_eng.pdf

  • ||

    Good points, but I think they only underscore the need for further development.

    And the need for competent management. The Chernobyl reactor was an unusual design and managed by legendarily inept soviet apparatchiks.

  • ||

    Ron B,
    It seems you have already been chastised for calling nuke power "renwablw", so I won't.

    Objections by anti-nuke enviros nowadays now focus on water usage, 20% more per watt than coal, mining damage and mining waste. Also the time to develop thorium and commercially feasable fast breeder technologies...ie calls for such are essentially calls to do nothing for a couple decades, when right-now-action is what enviros want.

    On a libertarian view, nuke power is highly centralized and government dependent in many ways. It cannot survive in a true free market. Given it's weapons related nature, it probably shouldn't be solely free-market though.

    On a commercial view, current nuke power tech takes many more years to get to first sale in the market, as compared with wind and solar. Investors are thus unwilling. This is the biggest single hindrance to expanding nuke power IMO.

    New nuke technologies may resolve these issues, but the development adds years. Enviros (and investors) want action now. This is not a reason to not invest in better nukes; but the nukes argument is being used by the usual suspects to promote inaction.

    Realizable action doable now will not be One Technology™. e.g. nukes or solar or wind. But a combination of them all.

    Ron B tends to be tech-myopic on this subject. Take off your blinders

  • ||

    Objections by anti-nuke enviros nowadays now focus on ass covering so they won't ever have to admit they were wrong.

  • Chad||

    Sam-hec|12.23.09 @ 7:37AM|#

    On a libertarian view, nuke power is highly centralized and government dependent in many ways. It cannot survive in a true free market. Given it's weapons related nature, it probably shouldn't be solely free-market though.

    I don't think we know if nuclear can survive in a free market. It surely has troubles competing, however, when its primary competitor - coal - gets to dump half or more of its true costs onto third parties.

    Coal is the problem. That is all it really boils down to.

  • ||

    It has trouble competing because your buddies in Greenpeace camp out in front of every plant site and delay the construction by years, driving up construction costs. ON PURPOSE.

  • ||

    I dig on nuclear power and what not, but its not a Ultimate Panacea like the solar-wind shit Al Gore spews out.

    There are some really significant fixed costs in setting up a nuclear plant (even minus the lawyers). There also is the problem of what to do with the waste. No matter the reactor tech, you're options are either to permanently store it (expensive) or reprocess it (ditto) and then store it. You also have to factor in the costs for dismantling the plant at its end-of-life, again not cheap.

  • ||

    RTFA.

  • ||

    Look, the impression I am getting from your comments is that you think it is exclusively the fault of the Greenpeace crowd that nuclear power isn't "too cheap to meter" as they used to say.

    Fact is, no amount of regulatory and legal level-the-playing-field type stuff is going to replace the reality of high capital costs for building a significant nuclear reactor complex. Nor replace the fixed costs that will have to be incurred to dismantle that reactor at its end-of-life. Costs that must be recouped during its operating life.

    If you don't understand that, fine...not my problem. But don't go tell me to re-read articles and ignore the point of my post in the first place. Sheesh.

  • Chad||

    Why can't you seem to be able to argue with me, rather than third parties.

    I do not camp out in front of potential nuclear facilities. I do, however, participate in activities to prevent or delay coal plants.

  • ||

    I agree, Coal is the basic problem.

    WRT Best One Thing™, advanced efficiency efforts has the best bang for buck at addressing climate change. But that will only work if there is a sufficiently hefty price placed on fossil carbon emissions.

  • ||

    The contradictions of environmentalists cover far more than nuclear power. They claim to want alternatives to fossil fuels, then put barriers in the way of any alternatives.. Solar power - can't hurt that pretty desert. And it uses water. Wind power - kills birds and ruins rich people's scenic views. I suspect tidal generators would be accused of hurting some sea animal. And of course, anything nuclear is obviously evil. Even fusion power, if it is ever developed, won't be totally clean, and therefore would be objectionable. They seem to have no concept of trade offs or compromise, which is why their "solutions" never seem to accomplish anything other than the obstruction of potentially useful projects.

    The environmental movement, taken as a whole, is incoherent. There are too many factions, and the only point of agreement between them seems to be that man is bad (and they really mean 'man') and nature is good, and heavy government control is needed to prevent the bad men from hurting Gaia.

  • Jed Rothwell||

    Breeder reactor technology is far too expensive and problematic. See the Japanese Monju breeder reactor project, one of the worse fiascoes in the history of nuclear power.

    The most promising new energy source is cold fusion, the Fleischmann-Pons effect. See the Defense Intelligence Agency review of cold fusion here:

    http://lenr-canr.org

    In the News section, see information on the recent replications of the Arata experiment at Kobe U. and the Naval Research Laboratory, and the recent conference sponsored by the ENEA (the Italian DoE), the Italian Physical Soc., Chemical Soc., and National Research Council (CNR).

    Cold fusion is much closer to being a practical source of energy than most people realize, and far closer than plasma fusion. Plasma fusion Tokamak reactors have produced only 6 MJ in a reaction lasting a fraction of a second, with far less energy output than input, whereas cold fusion reactors have produced 300 MJ, and many of them -- such as the Arata reactors -- are fully ignited, stand-alone reactions, with no input. Also, Tokamak reactors cost billions whereas cold fusion reactors cost about $100.

  • ||

    Aside from the small problem of noone being able to reproduce the results, hell yeah!

  • Jed Rothwell||

    wylie wrote:

    "Aside from the small problem of noone being able to reproduce the results, hell yeah!"

    This is incorrect. Cold fusion has been reproduced by thousands of scientists in hundreds of major labs, and these replications have been reported in mainstream, peer-reviewed journals. I have 1,200 peer-reviewed papers copied from the library at Los Alamos, and 2,500 from other sources, such as the U.S. Navy. I have uploaded this bibliography along with about 1,000 full text papers. Review this literature and you will see that you are wrong.

    Putting aside the technical literature, you should realize that it is highly unlikely that ENEA, Toyota, the U.S. Navy and others would send 150 researchers to a conference on cold fusion 20 years after the announcement if no one had reproduced the results as you imagine. The Italian Physical Society and the American Chemical Society have sponsored conferences and published books on cold fusion, which is not something they do for non-existent phenomena.

    The Defense Intelligence Agency report lists several authors, and roughly 100 others in U.S. military research agencies contributed to it and critiqued it. Those people know much more about cold fusion than you do, and they are certain the effect is real. They are certain because, for example, it is not difficult to measure 20 W of heat with 1 W input, or tritium at 10E8 times background. There is not the slightest chance all of these researchers have made experimental errors.

  • ||

    Oh no, a cold fusionneer. This is a libertarian thread after all...lol.

  • Jed Rothwell||

    The last I checked, the Italian National Research Council and the American Chemical Society were not run by libertarians or "fusioneers" -- whatever that may be. This is a scientific issue, not political. It is important. It deserves careful consideration, not ridicule, and not ignorant dismissal by people such as Wylie who suppose the effect was never replicated.

    I do not know where Wylie came up with that notion. Perhaps he dredged it up from the Internet, or he made it up. Many people do invent assertions about cold fusion. In any case, I strongly recommend that people seek scientific information in legitimate, mainstream, peer-reviewed journals. If this makes me some sort of fanatic or libertarian then so be it.

    It used to be that people took it for granted that scientific journals were the best source of information for this sort of thing, and they took it for granted that an experiment replicated thousands of times at high signal to noise ratios must be real, by definition. Nowadays people have odd, new-age, touchy-feely notions that it is okay to make up facts as you go along, and substitute crackpot nonsense from the Internet for rigorous scientific research. That's why, for example, so many parents who don't give their kids tetanus shots. I am old fashioned and I don't hold with that. I guess that makes me a reactionary or libertarian or something that sounds unfashionable.

  • ||

    I don't necessarily discount the concept of "cold" fusion. Statistically, a couple fusion reactions happen when you electrolyze water, because fusion events are a probability distribution at a given energy level...not a "on" or "off" event. Cold fusion is a real phenomena for sure. But break even and beyond? Nope.

    Don't feel bad. The hot-fusion crowd has been just as off on their own predictions of break-even for a given process. The fusion concepts that have been tried (there are many...stellerators, TOKAMAKs, particle-accelerator based concepts, electrostatic confinement, inertial confinement) have all "worked" in the sense lots of fusion happens. But not enough to even run the machine, much less power cities and such. And the proponents of such techniques have routinely been wrong by orders of magnitude on when "break-even" will happen in their concepts at a given scale or power. Laser-driver inertial concepts at Lawrence Livermore have been perennial disappointments for decades (since at least SHIVA) and have shown the limits of computer-model predictions for complex physical processes, in even simple systems.

    My personal favorite for something that potentially could work (the proverbial silver bullet) is the Polywell reactor concept. If it can be made to work it will be amazing. If it can be made to work with proton-boron fusion, humanity's energy problems are solved essentially. But nothing works until it actually works, and replicating energy-consuming devices merely proves you can build dynamos that take more juice to run than they put out. That's cold fusion, hot fusion, et al at this point.

    I bring up the "libertarian" angle on this because libertarians - stereotypically anyways - are the crew into the alt-science world (Coast-to-Coast AM crowd, zero-pointers, etc.). No offense intended...

  • Jed Rothwell||

    TheZeitgeist wrote:

    "I don't necessarily discount the concept of 'cold' fusion."

    Cold fusion is not a concept or theory. It is an experimental finding. There is no theoretical explanation for it.

    "Statistically, a couple fusion reactions happen when you electrolyze water, because fusion events are a probability distribution at a given energy level...not a "on" or "off" event. Cold fusion is a real phenomena for sure. But break even and beyond? Nope."

    The experimental data shows that you are incorrect. The experiment has been replicated thousands of times in hundreds of laboratories, often at very high signal to noise ratios. For example, the experiment shown on CBS “60 Minutes” in April 2009 produced 20 W output with less than 1 W input for a couple of days, nonstop. The experiments at Toyota produced 300 MJ at about 100 W for 3 months, nonstop. The Osaka U., Nagoya U. and NRL experiments produced the effect hundreds of times in a row successfully, with no input power, so obviously it is above breakeven.

    This is not a matter of opinion, or something that you can dispute, unless you can show that calorimetry does not work or the laws of thermodynamics have been repealed. You would have to prove that several different calorimeter types do not work, ranging from the NRL’s microcalorimeter, to the most accurate flow calorimeter ever made (at SRI) the ice calorimeter at Shell Oil in Paris, France, which was invented in 1780 by Laviosier. In other words, you would have to prove that the last 230 years of experimental science have been wrong. Calorimetry is fundamental to chemistry and physics. You would also have to prove that x-ray film, tritium detectors, mass spectrometers and host of other devices do not work, even in the hands of experts at Los Alamos, BARC, the NRL, Toyota and 200 other world-class labs. In short, you would have to prove that the experimental method does not work.

    "I bring up the "libertarian" angle on this because libertarians - stereotypically anyways - are the crew into the alt-science world (Coast-to-Coast AM crowd, zero-pointers, etc.)."

    I am aware of that. But as I said, most actual cold fusion researchers work for governments. In the U.S. most are in military. The recent Defense Intelligence Agency report was reviewed by around 100 DoE researchers who are either doing cold fusion research or who know a great deal about it. (I know about half of them.)

    "No offense intended..."

    None taken. I hope you do not take offense when I suggest that before commenting on cold fusion, or asserting that it has not achieved break even, you should first review the scientific literature on this subject. You will see that you are incorrect. Either that, or thousands of professional scientists are incorrect, and for the first time in history the scientific method itself has failed. Please note there is not a single instance on record in which a claim was widely replicated and yet turned out to be wrong. Only two replications of polywater were reported and both were soon retracted. Both were close to the noise, whereas 20 W to 100 W of heat continuing for days or months is as far above the noise as any experimental result could be.

  • vulgar moralist||

    I feel like this is of a piece with the moral contradictions of global warming politics, explained thusly:

    http://vulgarmorality.wordpres.....-politics/

  • Jerome||

    Boy but you folks are dim! Let me enlighten you as to the real reason behind our objections: If we have nuclear weapons or nuclear reactors, that means that we cultured people will have to suffer you uneducated yokels talking about nukular this and nukular that. To avoid this, I would even be willing to eliminate Physics departments.

  • ||

    What an absolute load of horsecrap this guy is dispensing! First, the cost to build even one nuclear power plant is a hundred times more expensive than a wind farm and would take a minimum of 10 years to build and get online. Second, there is no such thing as "safe" nuclear power plants. They use the most deadly toxins ever created. They are prime targets for terrorism. You might as well paint targets on the sides of the cooling towers, because terrorists will aim at them certainly. Besides, one accident could result in huge areas of the country becoming uninhabitable for decades, if not centuries. Just having a nuclear power plant around increases the likelihood of cancers, lymphomas, autoimmune diseases, birth defects, and on and on. Isotopes end up in fish, breast milk, fetuses, plants and animals who are nearby, regardless of the precautions that are taken. Besides, the U.S. doesn't have a large stock of uranium. We would have to rely on unfriendly foreign countries like Niger to get enough to meet our needs. Nuclear power is expensive, dangerous, and short-sighted and doesn't contribute one iota to national security, in fact it reduces our security. What is needed is decentralized, renewable energy and heat sources and more conservation and insulation (nega-watts). We have the technology now to retrofit houses and businesses to use geothermal, solar, wind and superinsulating techniques. We just have large, well-funded and entrenched corporate interests that oppose these measures!

  • ||

    You must be the Greenpeacer type that the poster Hazel Meade (see above) is all xenophobic about. Take her point-of-view on the costs of nuclear and add it to yours, divide by two, and you probably have "reality," lol.

  • Jed Rothwell||

    Stephen Kriz wrote:

    "First, the cost to build even one nuclear power plant is a hundred times more expensive than a wind farm and would take a minimum of 10 years to build and get online."

    That is incorrect. Nuclear plants cost roughly $6000 per kW of capacity. Wind costs between $1000 and $2000 per kW (depending on the location). So it is about 3 to 6 times, not 100 times. Nuclear plants require uranium fuel whereas wind turbines take no fuel, but the cost per kWh of uranium is very cheap.

    A nuclear plant would probably take more than 10 years to build, whereas wind farms take a year or two.

    The U.S. is presently building about 7 GW of nameplate wind capacity per year. Adjusting for the capacity factors of wind versus nuclear (30% and 95%) that comes to about 2.3 nuclear power plants per year actual capacity. This is costing FAR less than building 2.3 nukes.

    You have exaggerated, but your point is valid: large scale electricity from wind is far cheaper and safer than from nuclear power. With present day technology the U.S. could generate about 20% of our electricity from wind, tapping only a small fraction of total wind power. With advanced technology and production of gas and liquid chemical fuel from excess wind power (especially at night), the wind energy in the top 4 U.S. states could generate all electricity and more liquid fuel than the Middle East now produces in the form of petroleum.

    In Europe, North Sea offshore wind could produce four times more energy than Europe consumes. So this resource is plentiful. It is far cheaper than nuclear power, but more expensive than oil or gas, when you ignore the cost of pollution, global warming, terrorism and wars for oil.

  • Jed Rothwell||

    I wrote:

    "[Wind] is far cheaper than nuclear power, but more expensive than oil or gas, when you ignore the cost of pollution, global warming, terrorism and wars for oil."

    I meant the initial cost is cheaper. I was comparing apples to oranges. Nuclear power is probably still cheaper than wind over the entire life of the plant, but the start-up costs are immense.

    Nuclear power is only cheap for baseline generation, where the plant remains on line at full power day and night. A larger fraction of generation capacity is only used at peak hours, and turned off at night. Building nuclear plants for this purpose would be economic lunacy.

    Coal is only cheap if you ignore the ~20,000 Americans killed every year from particulates. If the industry were to be held accountable for this (totally unnecessary) massacre, electricity from coal would be prohibitively expensive. No other industry gets away with killing thousands of people with a problem that could easily be fixed. (Automobiles kill 40,000 but it difficult to reduce the carnage.) Coal is also contributing to global warming, which means the overall final cost to society will be astronomically high.

    Determining the actual cost of energy from various sources is complicated.

  • Will||

    Nuclear power relies on a powerful centralized government. Nuclear technology is probably the greatest manifestation, except maybe for space programs, of government intervention in science and technology. Communist countries like Russia and France use it so much because it is communist and collectivist. There's the subsidies and government guarantees in the industry, much like the moral hazard in the banking and real estate industry. But there is also the fact that we will always need a grid whereas solar and wind already gives people individual freedom to produce your own energy just like the individual right to own guns. Why would true libertarians not support these technologies over such a collectivist, communist form of energy? It makes no sense. Nuke sucks and it is communist. I'll keep my guns and my solar panels like any true lover of freedom.

  • Jed Rothwell||

    Will wrote:

    . . . There's the subsidies and government guarantees in the industry, much like the moral hazard in the banking and real estate industry. . . . Why would true libertarians not support these technologies over such a collectivist, communist form of energy? It makes no sense. Nuke sucks and it is communist. I'll keep my guns and my solar panels like any true lover of freedom."

    Please note that solar panels are produced by major industrial corporations. These are mainly the same corporations that manufacture nuclear plants. Also, solar panels are subsidized by governments, especially in German and Japan. You are not the least bit independent when you use them, any more than you would be using electricity from a centralized coal, gas, wind or nuclear plant.

    Wind is also subsidized, although the subsidy is decreasing. The Japanese gov't subsidy for solar power has decreased a great deal in recent years. Solar panels are widely used in Japan, and solar thermal water heaters are ubiquitous, and have been for decades. Japan, however, has a highly centralized economy and not much regard for individualism. So there is no connection between solar panels and your ideology.

  • Pedantula||

    Niger is mad at us? And I thought we were getting on so well...

  • ||

    The fact is they are not contradictory at all-- a quote in the article itself proves that:

    “The biggest threat to our environment is global climate disruption, and the greatest problem in that context is America's energy use and the policies that undergird it.”

    What, exactly, are the policies that "undergird" America's energy use? Why free market capitalism, of course. The true wacko greens hate capitalism and think there are too many people to boot! The answer is not more clean energy but less energy in total! And hopefully, less people in the bargain. They make perfect sense to me.

  • ||

    Why is it that simplistic positions devoid of nuance is all that passes for journalism these days?

    I am a proud proponent of nuclear energy now anfter being a principled critic when critics were needed. The Gen III+ LWRs are the 'perfected' and 'passive', certifiably safe, reactors that we all sought in the 1970s and 1980s. The premature technology of that era needed more investment to complete their uncompleted development.

    It has taken billions of dollars and almost twenty years to revise and complete the designs, using the more rigorous standards of today. It has also made the newer reactors much cheaper to finance and build.

    The 1970s reactors were conspicuous by their premature development and uncompleted testing. The poor regulation and sloppy construction that was sometimes occurring then, needed to be corrected; and finally have been.

    I strongly support the construction of the 35 larger reactors in the pipeline for the USA in the next decade, and the other 53 in the pipeline elsewhere. These larger reactors will almost double the proportion of nuclear generated electricity, and provide the electricity to drive our electric cars. They will also allow the scrapping of the oldest and dirtiest coal plants that had to soldier on, when Gen II reactors were canceled in the 1980s. I hope more will be ordered and built, in addition.

    What is this nonsense that fast reactors will have no long-lived wastes? Such is definitely not the case. But 'Actinide Burning' is a valid and new technology for transmuting the less than 1% of the waste that lives long, and creates all the concern. Transuranics such as isotopes of Plutonium, Neptunium, Actinium, Americium will be transmuted to shorter lived or non radioactive elements. The French already transmute the least stable even- numbered atomic weight transuranic isotopes, in their LWRs. Safe Fusion reactors or special accelerators can process the rest, and reduce the radioactive waste issue to a nullity.

    These reactors, over their lifetime, will provide the single generation of Fission reactors needed to provide the energy transition to the time when safe, clean, inexhaustible Fusion is fully ready to replace them before mid-century, entirely ending the artifical Oil 'PRICE' Crisis.

    At the same time, I can readily oppose developeing Gen IV fast reactors. They must run much closer to the edge of safety, that they just cannot surmount, in my opinion. And they are not needed.

    Wasting billions on their development, only creates a dangerous technology to compete with Fusion.

  • abercrombie milano||

    My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I'm sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won't get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there's more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I'm not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It's just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight...the Bible's books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on..

  • nike shox||

    is good

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