Are Lefties (Re-)Embracing Nucular Power?

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Expanding nuclear power is only one piece of the energy puzzle. But it is a piece we cannot afford to dismiss.

The reason is clear. Electricity demand is rising—some say by as much as 50 percent during the next 30 to 50 years.

That's from an op-ed in today's SF Chron by the always-interesting G. Paschal Zachary (author of the wonderful book from a few years back, The Global Me). In "The Case for Nuclear Power," Zachary recounts a youth spent protesting nuclear power plants and catches the reader up on how nuke tech is better, safer, etc. It's well worth reading and is online here [*link fixed finally!].

As is the original Port Huron Statement, put out by Students for a Democratic Society, on this score. It takes nuclear power for granted ("whole cities can easily be powered" by it, even as the authors worry about nuclear weaponry; the full text even argues that "our monster cities…might now be humanized [and] broken into smaller communities, powered by nuclear energy) [updated link].

And so are the remarkable–and generally underreported–accounts of the long-term damage done by Chernobyl, the biggest nuclear accident to date. As the Wash Post glossed last year's authoritative UN study on the matter, the effects "were far less catastrophic than feared."

NEXT: Attn, DC Reasonoids: Ronald Bailey on the Precautionary Principle and the Politics of Fear, Feb. 14

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  1. Chernobyl was a disaster because they ran that plant like bunch of idiots – it wasn’t like they made an honest mistake or anything; it was designed poorly and not properly managed.

  2. Most of the folks I know around here–and I live in Seattle–agree that nuclear power is a good idea given:

    1. Good breeder reactors. Non-breeder reactors do far to much environmental damage, and they waste most of the uranium they consume.
    2. A good way to dispose of nuclear waste. Chernobyl notwithstanding, you need to get rid of that stuff on a long-term basis.
    3. Fail-safe reactor design. The idiots in charge of Chernobyl made mistakes. But a well-designed reactor should completely eliminate the possibility of a runaway reactor.

    A moratorium on nuclear power was pretty much an economic, and environmental necessity. Perhaps not for as long as it lasted, but for a long time. Those plants are expensive. Building them with planned obsolescence–ie not satisfying points 1-3 above–is a dumb thing to do.

    Here’s the kind of thing I’d like to see, in a new commercial reactor:

    CAESAR program (UMD)
    writeup in the econonimst

  3. Second link in post is still pointing toward “the second me” article instead of the nuke article.

  4. Hmm, content free links and a statement by SDS from 1993? Yep, that’ll surely get nuke plants up and a building again.

    It’s way more intersting than a real exploration of the completely subsidized, criminally negligent history of nuke-u-ler power.

    And the UN says Chernobyl was not really that bad? As we know, the conservative faction of libertarians places a lot of faith in the UN?!?

  5. I’m in favor of nukular energy, but just as devils advocate…

    It isn’t comforting to me to dismiss Chernobyl as a risk, because they were idiots or it was poorly designed. No country appears to have cornered the market on idiots.

    There seems to be abundant evidence that nuclear energy is safe and useful, however the odd melt down appears to be a significant risk. Controls, dear libertarians, are inevitable and will continue to inflate the cost of this form of energy.

  6. Hmm, content free links and a statement by SDS from 1993? Yep, that’ll surely get nuke plants up and a building again.

    In the past few months, there have already been about a dozen construction and licensing announcements by utilities. Barring an accident, new nuclear power plants will begin construction around 2010.

    It’s way more intersting than a real exploration of the completely subsidized, criminally negligent history of nuke-u-ler power.

    I struggle to think of a power source that has not been heavily subsidized in the US. Certainly wind and solar would be completely unfeasible without the massive subsidies they receive. In addition, the financial burden imposed by government regulation on nuclear power is staggeringly enormous compared to that of any other source of energy. It’s not immediately obvious to me that nuclear power would be uneconomical in a stateless society.

    As for criminal negligence, coal has already killed what, 18 people or so in the US this year? And that’s not even counting the effects of the air pollution. The US commercial nuclear industry has never killed a single person, Karen Silkwood conspiracy theories aside.

    And the UN says Chernobyl was not really that bad? As we know, the conservative faction of libertarians places a lot of faith in the UN?!?

    The UN’s findings were based on today’s leading mainstream scientific opinions by nuclear, radiological, and health experts. The majority of published research says the same thing. Chernobyl was a horrible disaster, proving the faulty design of the Soviet plants, the shoddy way in which they were run, and the flaws of the Soviet command economy’s response to disasters. The people it primarily affected however, were the first responders who put out the fire without realizing what they were being exposed to, and the children in the immediate area who got thyroid cancer. And the flaws of that old Soviet design have nothing to do with the plants that exist in the USA today, which have negative temperature coefficients and containment buildings. And they certainly have nothing to do with the new generation of nuclear power plants that would be built.

  7. I’m a proponent of nuclear power, but we also can’t ignore that the “not in my backyard” feelings that most people have regarding nuclear waste that was highlighted in the Yucca Mountain debate a couple years back.

  8. There seems to be abundant evidence that nuclear energy is safe and useful, however the odd melt down appears to be a significant risk.

    Three Mile Island melted down and no one was injured. Even so, as a result of TMI, there has been a safety revolution in the American nuclear power industry. Future accidents are inevitable, but the same could be said about any other industry in the US, and the effects of an accident at a US plant would simply not be like Chernobyl (and definitely nothing like “losing Detroit” or rendering NYC uninhabitable).

    I’m a proponent of nuclear power, but we also can’t ignore that the “not in my backyard” feelings that most people have regarding nuclear waste that was highlighted in the Yucca Mountain debate a couple years back.

    I agree. Yucca was a politically imposed site, not a scientifically chosen one. Little did they know back in 1982 that the Senate minority leader would be from Nevada in 2006, and that the state would be among the fastest growing. In any case, reports have said that the Bush administration is going to submit legislation this year that would switch the USA to a reprocessing state. If that were done, Yucca would only need to contain something on the order of 1% of the fuel it is currently slated to contain. With the leader of the Democrats being firmly opposed to Yucca, reprocessing is politically feasible.

    If the US wants to stick to deep geologic disposal, it should have done as countries in Europe did, and found out what parts of the country want the waste (and the resultant high-tech jobs) before choosing the site.

  9. amazingdrx, the big people are talking now. So why don’t you go back to the kiddie table and have some more Kool-Aid, mmkay?

  10. I’m not quite as up on the technology of breeder reactors, how do they compare with the pebble-bed designs?

    From what I’ve read, the pebble-bed designs are self regulating in such a way as to make a meltdown impossible.

  11. In any case, reports have said that the Bush administration is going to submit legislation this year that would switch the USA to a reprocessing state. If that were done, Yucca would only need to contain something on the order of 1% of the fuel it is currently slated to contain.

    Wow, I was unaware of that. Reprocessing has the potential to eliminate many of the concerns about disposal. I’ll have to look into this further. Thanks, phocion.

  12. Uhh yeah geek, real safe. The “pebbles” are tennis ball sized fuel pellets coated with graphite, the stuff used as a moderator in the chernobyl reactor.

    That’s the new “safer” design proposed by advocates for new nukes. Graphite, essentially coal compressed to a hard ceramic like substance.

    It’s the same moderator used in the very first nuclear reactor in the squash court below the Chicago universty stadium that gave the scientists working on that reactor nightmares because of it’s flammability.

    And their answer to nuclear waste? It’s the waste processing breeder reactor. Which no one is proposing to operate in this new improved pebble bed design.

    Right now their are 68 sites all around the country, including one right over earthquake fault lines, where used nuclear fuel rods containing the flammable metal zirconium are stored. If the water in the pools is drained or removed in another manner (by terrorist incident for example) 7 to 18 times the radiation released at Chernobyl will billow into the atmoosphere.

    Will the evacuation plans for the population around these potential disaster areas be as effective as the Katrina evacuation? No one knows or seems to care.

    And since Yucca has been a failed boondoggle, nuclear power utility companies have sued the feds (over promises to take over waste storage), for the funds to maintain those storage pools, money deducted from power bills payed by consumers meant to pay for nuclear waste disposal and nuke plant decommissioning. Thse funds are exhausted.

    Any other questions? Hehehey. Visit my blog.

  13. I’m not quite as up on the technology of breeder reactors, how do they compare with the pebble-bed designs?

    Breeder reactors are inevitable, because without them I doubt we have more than a century’s worth of readily exploitable nuclear fuel.

    I would say a meltdown is never impossible. Any new design is scrutinized by hundreds of smart people looking for any flaw that could lead to a meltdown, but there are limits to the human imagination, and in addition, some dummy at a utility can always fake inspections, let crucial parts corrode, or turn off alarms, etc. And then there are events like 5 independent systems breaking at the exact same time and so on. The plants are designed so that meltdown of fuel accidents have an extremely low probability. These probabilities are calculated in risk assessments that determine how likely each part of the plant is likely to fail, including the human component. In modern reactors, damage to the core is about a 1 in 25000 chance per year. Public exposure to medically significant amounts of radiation is far lower than that. And the newest reactors greatly exceed the current safety levels.

    The proponents of the pebble bed reactor talk a big game, but in reality theirs is one of many exciting next-generation designs. There are very high temperature designs, supercritical water designs, and so on. Pebble bed seems to get the most attention due to the exotic nature of its fuel. However, it seems likely to me that the future of nuclear design will be driven by economics. That means higher efficiency of fuel, which means higher temperatures of coolant. Pebble bed has that feature, but so do the other designs in consideration. It’s safe to say all these new designs would have to demonstrate extremely low chances of meltdown before they would be rolled out.

    The nuclear industry knows that, because the public does not trust things that are “nuclear” or “radioactive”, one accident could destroy their entire industry. This is something not many other industries have to deal with and results in work that is, in my opinion, often too conservative.

  14. New nuclear plants will only be built in the faith filled southland, the gullibility of their evangelical population is legendary.

    Everywhere else legal action by NIMBYs will delay build out interminably. Making any investment far too risky and pushing costs way up.

    The corporatist friendly corrupt governments of the chemically rich (terminally polluted) gulf and southern atlantic coast will welcome nukes.

    Then the locals can heat their trailers with nuke-u-ler waste buried beneath the crawl space.

    North Carolina is the first site, already a battle zone for corporatists, NIMBYs, and environmentalists.

  15. The liability pass given by congress to the nuclear industry is the main subsidy.

    No institutional investor would touch nuk-u-ler power without it. And no insuruer would ever issue insurance without that pass.

    This means that anyone living near a nuclear plant, say within an exclusion zone of a 50 mile radius, could lose the value of their property at a moments notice. And on top of that be caught in a “100 mile parking lot” for days like those trying to evacuate Katrina were.

    In fact how would one ever sell a home or business anywhere near a nuke-u-ler plant were even one more accident to occur? Any nuke-u-ler plant!!

    Allowing a nuke near your home puts your family and life savings at uninsurable risk, with any liability for that risk legally voided by congress.

    Big people talk geek, hehey.

  16. Uhh yeah geek, real safe. The “pebbles” are tennis ball sized fuel pellets coated with graphite, the stuff used as a moderator in the chernobyl reactor.

    New reactors have steel too. Steel was used at Chernobyl. Scary.

    Anyway, there is indeed a difference between having a huge block of regular graphite that can catch on fire and a thin coating of pyrolytic coating that melts at 3000 degrees C.

    That’s the new “safer” design proposed by advocates for new nukes.

    No. Pebble bed gets the most press of new designs, but most nuclear engineers in the US are betting on other high temperature designs. In addition, the plants that will be built in a decade’s time will still be Generation III PWRs, like those beginning to be built around the world today. No radical changes in these new plants.

    If the water in the pools is drained or removed in another manner (by terrorist incident for example) 7 to 18 times the radiation released at Chernobyl will billow into the atmoosphere.

    Source? NIRS? Greenpeace?

    I did my thesis work on zirconium alloys in nuclear power plants, though not specifically on the potential for a Zircaloy fire in a drained spent fuel pool. I do know this:

    – Once the fuel has been allowed to decay for five years or so within the pool, the amount of decay heat is not high enough to cause a Zircaloy fire even if the fuel is completely uncovered.

    – The NRC calculates the risk of spent fuel being uncovered and the fuel being ignited here. 2.2 x 10^-6 per reactor year.

    Obviously reprocessing or Yucca Mountain would both serve to greatly lower this risk.

    Will the evacuation plans for the population around these potential disaster areas be as effective as the Katrina evacuation? No one knows or seems to care.

    Another scare tactic, conflating it with Katrina. Of course people care and look into the issue carefully as part of their jobs. Would the mistakes of the Katrina evacuation be repeated? I don’t know. But this is not a proplem unique to nuclear power. if a chemical plant or oil refinery explodes, evacuations are also only as good as government planning. And in the case of a nuclear accident, an evacuation might not always be the prudent choice.

  17. Will the 500 (just in the US alone)or so new nuclear plants needed to save the earth from global climate change be built in time, under these conditions?

    With new nuke plants coming in at maybe 3 times the cost per watt of generating capacity of wind or solar? Barring expensive, interminable legal action, which could easily double that.

    But by all means geek, lobby your local utility to put up a plant right in YOUR backyard!!

    And don’t forget this, if a waste processing reactor is built near you, all the waste from the rest of the nation will be shipped right to you!!! Smell the radioactive metal? That’s what those who died at Chernobyl smelled with their last breath.

    That’s the smell of jobs, and a vibrant economy.

  18. I see this isn’t going anywhere. Enjoy the Super Bowl!

  19. “…a thin coating of pyrolytic coating that melts at 3000 degrees C.”

    Thats the “thin candy shell” of silicon carbide on the surface of the “pebble”?

    These nuclear “tennis balls” are being circulated around the reactor by compressed helium, what if some of them crack open?

    It’s an untested technology, are we supposed to just trust the nuclear industry in this neo-corporate age of industry self-regulation?

    A really telling point in this debate is that Germany, the country where the pebble bed design was developed, is going to wind and solar and shuttering ALL their nukes.

  20. phocion, let me just say that I (and probably many others that read this) found your descriptions very informative and, thankfully, devoid of the ad hominems present in other posters comments.

  21. You too phoc, sorry if my attack was too forcefull. But I have been over this ground repeatedly.

    The 7 to 18 times Chernobyl figure was from a government study that was widely reported, (link on my blog), and alarmingly the release was from each pool! Some sites have two pools, like Diablo Canyon over the earthquake fault on the California coast.

    http://www.sprol.com/?p=36

  22. …and the effects of an accident at a US plant would simply not be like Chernobyl (and definitely nothing like “losing Detroit” or rendering NYC uninhabitable).

    It’s common knowledge that Detroit is uninhabitable. Give NYC a couple more years of Bloomberg and it will be completely uninhabitable too.

  23. A few points:

    1) I recall reading an account of a visit to the Chernobyl site which said that upriver in the same valley there are a huge hydroelectric dam hat was clearly in desperate need of repairs and about to re-enact the Johnstown Flood. The Soviets were notoriously bad about maintaining things, and clumsy with technology generally. As horrible as Chernobyl was and is I’m far from sure it is an example of anything other than the dangers of trusting the State.

    2) The history of Environmentalism would tend to suggest that whatever plans are made to address the energy needs of the populace the Environmentalists will oppose them. Environmentalists are only in favor of energy technology if there is little or no chance that it will be implemented on a wide scale.

    3) The problem of nuclear waste disposal is almost purely political. Baked into glass bricks and stacked in blocks three feet or so in from the walls of a locked warehouse and the nuclear waste from power reactors would pose far less hazard to the environment than the ash and smoke from coal fired plants (which incidentally, is also radioactive). I own almost eight acres and would happily host such a warehouse on my land, especially if the government would pay a reasonable rent and see to my driveway.

  24. “And in the case of a nuclear accident, an evacuation might not always be the prudent choice.”

    I agree, stock up on duct tape, plastic, and bibles! Hehey.

    (Sorry couldn’t resist, you have a great potential career as a straight man)

  25. ” The “pebbles” are tennis ball sized fuel pellets coated with graphite, the stuff used as a moderator in the chernobyl reactor.”,/i>

    Yes, but unlike the chernobyl reactor the graphite isn’t piled up in one big stack without any containment but is individually packaged in each pebble and surrounded by a hard metal shell. For the graphite to catch fire. The shell would have to first melt off. For any significant radiation to escape as a result, hundred of pebbles would have to be compromised which is fantastically unlikely. Comparing the risk of pebble-bed reactors to Chernobyl because they both use a graphite moderator is like comparing the fire risk of a gas stove in a restaurant to the fire risk of camp fire in a drought area.

    “The liability pass given by congress to the nuclear industry is the main subsidy. No institutional investor would touch nuk-u-ler power without it. And no insuruer would ever issue insurance without that pass.”

    This is true, but is this unwillingness the result of the insurance companies assessment of the technical risk involved or does it result from their assessment of social and political climate? I argue that it is the latter. Given the utter hysteria that surrounds nuclear power, no body in their right mind would expect that they could get any sort of fair civil trial in the event of even a small accident. Heck, look at the problems that insurance companies have with mold in houses even though zero scientific evidence exist that mold presents a health problem.

    Nuclear power became a national prestige matter in the 1950’s that resulted in many bad decisions being made. The first generation of commercial reactors were merely scaled up submarine motors. As a result they were huge, fussy and expensive. However, bad political decisions in the past do not reflect on the technology itself.

  26. “thankfully, devoid of the ad hominems present in other posters comments.”

    I agree. Phoc’s arguments never sunk to the mob mentality exhibited in this post.

    “amazingdrx, the big people are talking now. So why don’t you go back to the kiddie table and have some more Kool-Aid, mmkay?”

    Hehehehehey.

  27. the case for nuke power
    found the link to the article

  28. “look at the problems that insurance companies have with mold in houses even though zero scientific evidence exist that mold presents a health problem.”

    True enough, I routinely remove this kind of mold with a spray bottle filled with vinegar.

    But would you wabt a nuclear waste processing reactor in your backyard? With all the waste from all over the nation shipped into your area?

    What if you ever wanted to sell your home? Why would anyone invest in property near an uninsurable nuclear facility with a pass on any liability?

    The free market would most likely deem your property worthless.

  29. ” The shell would have to first melt off.”

    Or more likely crack. And one cross leak of helium and outside atmosphere into the reactor vessel poses a catastrophic risk at the temperature in these reactors.

    And isn’t or a bit suspicious that when the waste disposal problem is brought up nuclear advocates abandon the pebble bed design in favor of the waste processing water cooled reactors.

    I think pebble bed is a technology that will never be developed past the testing stage, a red herring used by nuclear advocates, now abandoned by Germany, the country that developed it.

  30. In other words, I’ve met helmet-wearing kids in special ed who are more erudite.

    You shmuck.

  31. Well geek…

    That’s a shame.

    Now go out and picket your local utility company until they locate a waste processing reactor behind your house.

    Good luck with that.

  32. Off to ski in the wonderfully unpolluted wilderness of northern wisconsin. Thanks for the discussion here!

    This is a great virtual space!

  33. I’ll stick with Breckenridge and Vail.

  34. i hate the god damn left. From the article:

    We need to encourage the few utilities that are pacesetters in nuclear power, notably Entergy and Exelon, to build new plants fast. We need to use tax dollars to make it happen.

    So this asshole protested nuke plants for 20 years but now has changed his mind so now I have to open my wallet and pour my bucks into his government subsidied guilt correction. Fuck him.

    How about giving property rights back to individuals instead.

    G. Pascal Zachary you are pure jack ass.

  35. Ok geek, build yourself a mcmansion while you are at it, wink wink, nudge nudge. Hehehey.

  36. I was, uh, one of the authors of the Port Huron Statement.–The original Port Huron Statement.

    Not the compromised second draft.

  37. The dude abides. Over and out. Carry on man.

    Fight the power!!

  38. So the main disadvantage of the pebble-bed reactors is the increased difficulty in recycling the waste?

    Hm. So perhaps the advantage should go to the breeder reactors.

    How are complex are they design and safety wise compared to the traditional reactors?

  39. Nuclear Power: For When You Absolutely, Positively Need More Corporate Welfare

    – Josh

  40. amazingdrx,

    “But would you wabt a nuclear waste processing reactor in your backyard?””

    Based on the proven safety record of the nuclear industry, why not? Looking at the real world record, my family would be safer located near a nuclear facility of any kind than near any other kind of industrial facility.

    As to property values, well people used to try to keep various ethnic minorities from buying property in white areas because many white people had irrational fears about such minorities. Even people without prejudices had to face the very real possibility that their property values, often their major lifetime investment, would be severely adversely effected if minorities moved in. Does this somehow mean that whites fears about ethnic minorities were somehow rational and justified?

    The parallel with nuclear power is exact. Property values would be effected by nuclear facilities due to irrational fears prompted in large part by the actions of people such as yourself. That does not mean however, that the technology is in fact dangerously unmanageable. It merely means that people hold irrational beliefs.

    From the tone of your posting it seems to me that you are one of those people for whom nuclear power is symbolic of evil state-capitialism. Your knowledge of, or interest in the actual technology itself is both minimal and of secondary importance to its symbolic value in a larger political and social debate.

    If none carbon-emitting energy sources were not of such a potentially critical matter right now, using technology as a political tool would not be a major problem. However, if catastrophic global warming is in the cards then people like yourself are contributing to future megadeaths..

  41. amazingdrx (and others),

    I’ve fixed the “content-free” link to the Chron piece and have also added a link to the full text of the Port Huron Statement (the earlier link is only to the introduction), which includes this atomic revery: “Our monster cities, based historically on the need for mass labor, might now be humanized, broken into smaller communities, powered by nuclear energy, arranged according to community decision.” Whole text here.

  42. My apologies if someone already asked (too lazy to read all posts), but did you spell nuclear incorrectly on purpose, Nick?

    Regards, Andy

  43. “people like yourself are contributing to future megadeaths..”

    Hehehehehey. Spit out my coffee! Good one shannon!!

  44. Thanks nick. Sorry about the “content free” comment. One of my favorites though.

  45. amazingdrx,

    It is an attribute of people like you that you believe that your decisions cannot have consequences that you do not intend. People like you have already contributed to the deaths of millions by their war on pesticides in the developing world. Why shouldn’t you be held responsible for deaths caused by your irrational opposition to nuclear power?

    If Global Warming is a major problem then without nuclear power we will face one of two futures: (1) Humanity will continue to burn large amounts of fossil fuels resulting in megadeaths from ecological catastrophe or (2) we will restrict our energy consumption severely which will make us materially poor which will result in megadeaths.

    Alternative energy sources are never going to be more than boutique energy sources used in specialized applications. Nuclear power is the only non-carbon emitting energy source that can provide significant power on demand. Without it, or without something very much like it, our civilization will not outlast the century.

  46. Thank you very much for your enlightening comments, phocion. On the subject of nuclear power, it is gratifying (and, alas, rare) to hear from someone who actually knows what he’s talking about.

    Thanks also for the enlightening, clarifying and/or entertaining comments from MarkP, mac, bago, The wed RINO, Marcvs, mediageek, bob, C.S.P. Schofield, Shannon Love, joshua corning, The Dude, Wild Pegasus, Nick Gillespie and Andy.

    Have I left out anyone?

    No, I see that I have not.

    Hyuckyuckyuckyuck.

  47. Shannon, entertaining ann coulter imitation.

    But not quite shrill enough, you can do better.

    That’s called the false dilemna fallacy.

    Either nuclear power..or global climate disaster.

    Sounds familar..hmmm. Remember Condi’s false dilemna argument for the Iraq War?

    Either go to war…or mushroom clouds over US cities.

    It’s actually worse than sophmoric, because philosophy 101 is generally a freshman course. Please take advantage of the fine facilities of your local community college, thanks you.

    Have a nice day.

  48. Ah, the Internet. Giving voice to a few million nut jobs since 1978.

  49. There seems to be more pessimism around here with respect to renewable alternatives that I feel is warranted. Yes, renewables (wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, biomass for electricity; biodiesel, methanol, ethanol, etc, for liquid transport fuel) have been pie-in-the-sky for decades. There was an obvious reason for this – they were much more expensive than the petro alternative. However, it doesn’t take a genius to see the trends – renewable prices are steadily falling, petro prices are steadily rising, and they are not far from crossing.

    For years, there has been a lot of blather concerning these alternatives by the government, which changes little. But when the market speaks, people listen. You can see this in Brazil, where ethanol-powered hybrid cars are now dominating sales. I believe there is a lot of technology now that is finally on the cusp of breaking out.

    That being said, nuclear should be a big part of the mix. A new generation of power plants, built in the next ten years, should last us until the 2040s. By then, renewable alternatives should be well established and we will need neither petro or nuclear. The objections to nuclear are nearly all unscientific NIMBY issues and we should do everything to quash them.

    As for the government’s role, first is the obvious role of permitting. NIMBYism is a serious problem. The second is subsidies. Of course, as libertarians, I presume we generally agree to let the market sort this mess out. Some people earlier pointed out that alternatives would not have a chance without subsidies (for now), but this argument suffers from the obvious flaw that petro receives all sorts of subsidies, too. In particular, their free dumping of all their toxic, green-house-effect causing waste in to the atmosphere is an enormous subsidy. So yes, while a libertarian should support an end to all subsidies, they should also support a very strict concept of “polluter pays”. We do not have the latter at the moment.

    End subsidies. Force polluters to pay. Then let the market sort it out.

  50. That’s called the false dilemna fallacy.Either nuclear power..or global climate disaster.

    Here is another one you will like. You must breathe oxygen or you will die. Likewise, an advanced industrial civilization, especially one that provides a high material standard of living to everyone on earth, requires large amounts of reliable energy.

    It is your utter unwillingness to address this central problem that makes you appear emotionally immature. If you don’t like the choices presented by a dilemma you merely pretend the dilemma does not exist. There is always a quick and easy solution if, by golly, all the greedy people in the world would just act nice and stop it with all their grand conspiracies.

    Barring a currently unforeseen technological breakthrough, at this point it is nukes or nothing.

  51. Nukes or nothing is an oversimplification. There’s a giant nuclear reactor in the center of the solar system radiating energy toward our planet. Solar may not be feasible as a sole energy source, but as technology improves it may become competitive with unsubsidized nuclear power.

    And solar power manifests in more ways than just solar cells and panels. Biofuels ultimately derive their energy from photosynthesis. Solar energy evaporates water, it goes to the clouds, it falls down as rain, it collects in lakes and rivers on higher ground, and when it passes over a dam it generates power. And the kinetic energy in wind comes from solar heating of the air.

    I have no illusion that any of these renewables will be enough to meet all of our needs, but a diversified energy portfolio will make for a cleaner, more stable world.

    Hell, geothermal may even play a modest role. Again, I have no illusions that geothermal will be more than a niche application, but in areas where it’s feasible, well, a diversified portfolio is always better. Might as well harness some of the energy from those nuclear decays in the center of the earth.

  52. Here is why you have a false dilemna on your hands shannon.

    “Is nuclear power necessary? Or will wind and solar be enough?”

    http://amazngdrx.blogharbor.com/blog/_archives/2006/1/25/1721852.html

    Enjoy, feel free to grill me afterwards. Thank you for your cooperation.

  53. Shannon,

    Yeah, and if common folks would just quit questing for a higher standard of living and enjoying the fruits of the economic liberty that goes by the name of capitalism…

  54. Chad,

    “There was an obvious reason for this – they were much more expensive than the petro alternative.”

    Actually, the problem is that alternatives energy sources are less dense (energy provided in a physical space) and less reliable (on demand) than fossil fuels. There is not a single alternative energy sources that is superior to petroleum in terms of density and reliability. People will pay a premium for an energy system that provides enhanced performance even if it is initially just for spot applications but no alternative energy source has ever surpassed this threshold of overall efficiency.

    “In particular, their free dumping of all their toxic, green-house-effect causing waste in to the atmosphere is an enormous subsidy. So yes, while a libertarian should support an end to all subsidies, they should also support a very strict concept of “polluter pays”.

    While true in theory in practice there is no real world mechanisms for (1) determining how much CO2 is actually pollution (2) assessing the cost of such “pollution” and (3) establishing a market mechanism across the entire planet that will integrate this cost into the cost of fossil fuels. Any attempt to do so will be just politically contaminated guess work that will only function in limited areas at best. We simply do not have the scientific and political systems to pull off such an ideal system.

  55. I should also note that solar and wind can be considered as complementary energy sources. Both are best suited to collection in wide open spaces, and the wind can blow even when the sun isn’t out. Also, I was reading something surprising in an optics journal: A lot of work is being done to develop cheap lenses and mirrors to place over solar cells. I would have thought that such things would have been done long ago, but apparently there are substantial improvements. If you can magnify the sunlight 5x, that’s 80% less spent on the photovoltaic. Toss in materials that can cover the UV to IR ranges, put some wind mills on the property as well, and you see some ideas for squeezing the maximum amount of energy out of a property.

  56. “your utter unwillingness to address this central problem that makes you appear emotionally immature”

    Nope, that’s my Y chromosome, my youthfull outlook, and an hour and a half of wilderness aerobics per day.

    “I’m high alright, but not on your false drugs.” I’m high on my skis and snowshoes, and a natural world of wonder. Hehey.

  57. “A lot of work is being done to develop cheap lenses and mirrors to place over solar cells”

    Yep thoreau, amd how!! Solar concentrators.

    And getting heat to heat/cool buildings as well as electricity from these systems, it lowers the price per kwh and saves electricity normally going to run heat and air conditioning.

    http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/003127.html

  58. I recommend that everyone read what phocion wrote…I actually learned somthing which is a new thing for me on this comment board.

  59. but i recommend you skip amazingdrx‘s posts. It is like somehting M1EK would write but crazy and a million times dumber….

    oh wait that actaully sounds like something I would want to read…never mind

  60. ” the problem is that alternatives energy sources are less dense (energy provided in a physical space)”

    Less dense but getting more dense, the latest battery techology breakthroughs are aproaching the energy density of liquid fuels.

    “…and less reliable (on demand) than fossil fuels”

    These modern batteries, that recharge in minutes, in 100s of millions of electric cars plugged into the grid would procide a distributed battery system that could power the frid for days with no wind or solar input, plenty of time to fire up backups.

    “no alternative energy source has ever surpassed this threshold of overall efficiency.”

    Wind power from very large scale machines in very windy regions like the northern midwest great plains is aproaching 2 cents per kwh.

    Next!! No soup for you!!

  61. Well josh. From your link.

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2006/02/05/INGRBH0HFH1.DTL

    “We can only push an expansion of nuclear power, which today supplies 20 percent of America’s electricity, as part of a comprehensive program to limit the production of greenhouse gases, promote renewable energy sources, and dramatically raise the cost of burning fossil fuels in automobiles. Expanding nuclear power is only one piece of the energy puzzle. But it is a piece we cannot afford to dismiss.”

    A real pro-nuke tour deforce there buddy. Hehey. You is smaoort!

  62. Shannon Love: You are right. It is difficult to accurately access pollution costs. However, the incorrect response to this uncertainty is to assume those costs are zero, which you seem to be implying.

    For example, I cannot say exactly what a “fair” tax is on a gallon gasoline – however, I am sure it is much, much greater than the $.184/gal we are currently paying. $1.00 is probably much closer to the mark, and that is before you add in the addition taxes for road building, which should also be included in gas prices.

  63. One way to calculate the gasoline tax would be to look at the amount of money spent thus far on a failed attempt to pump oil from Iraq.

  64. In regard to solar concentrators, the technology seems so simple that I’m surprised it wasn’t done before. The idea of using secondary optical elements to correct the focus is indeed clever, but I’m still surprised that it’s taken this long for solar concentrators to get attention.

    Last night I looked at the journal article again, and some of the concentrator schemes could provide 500x enhancement. The optics are cheap, and the estimated reduction in production costs per area is more than 80%. If this is combined with successful schemes to use 3 layers of material (absorbing in the IR, UV, and visible) we are talking about something that may be very competitive.

  65. thoreau, I heard something on the radio about Iceland planning to go almost completely geothermal. Of course, Iceland has unique characteristics (well, rare ones, anyway) that make this sort of option feasible. Still, Iceland’s example does show that even a “minor” energy source can be a major one on a local level.

    With energy costs increasing and with heightened concerns about having a “nondependent” energy source, I expect that the market for feasible alternatives is about to really break open, at least in the Western world. I can’t help but think that the boom in materials science (including nanotech) is going to lead to some sort of breakthrough, too (particularly with solar). And, of course, there’s always fusion. No, really, it’s coming next year.

    Incidentally, I’m all for Yucca Mountain, but please, please, please do not dispose of nuclear waste on the Moon. I have a bad feeling about that.

  66. Chad,

    The free-market works because it accurately communicates information about the relative tradeoffs of different choices. Without accurate information, a market mechanism could easily do more harm than good. Information injected into the market by politicized guesswork is likely to do more harm than good.

    For example, low levels of global warming (

  67. Whoops, something ate my second paragraph in my last post. I don’t have time to fix it now.

  68. Thoreau, 3M several years back used their Fresnel lens technology to make films that could act as solar concentrators. The market was so small, however, that they finally gave up pushing it.

  69. “solar concentrators, the technology seems so simple that I’m surprised it wasn’t done before”

    That is the result of monopoly control of markets by government policy favoring powerful corporations.

    Obvious solutions invented decades ago like electric cars, solar cells, wind generators, solar heating/cooling, geothermal heat pumps are passed over in favor of technology that lines the pockets of corporatists in and out of government.

    And those who are duped by this scamming valiantly defend this interference in free markets by claiming they are fighting subsidies for renewable energy on behalf of free markets?

    It’s a topsy turvy world of corruption and faith based gullibility. Then science is bought to back the scamming. To first deny the existence of problems like global climate change, that would be solved by adopting renewable energy.

    And now tout even more heavily subsidized nuclear power to solve it? These sheople have no shame.

  70. I read in Wired magazine that China is going to mass produce pebble bed reactors within the next couple of years because of their huge energy needs.

    I guess at least someone thinks they are a good idea.

  71. I, too, would like to thank phocion for their posts on this thread. Very illuminating stuff.

  72. Shannon Love: Yes, politicized, incorrect information is bad. However, it is unlikely to be worse than no information at all, which you still seem to be advocating (and isn’t that a bit political?).

    We know, for example, that cars emit all sorts of undesirable chemicals (SOx, NOx, particulates, etc). We have a reasonable idea what the health and environmental consequences are. We can then take at least a reasonable guess at what to charge people for the priveledge of polluting should be. Right now, there is no environmental tax on gasoline at all. You can quibble about what the right answer is but the right answer is NOT zero.

    As for carbon emissions, there is little disagreement that a carbon tax of at least $10/ton is economically justified. Some people argue for much more, however. Again, whatever the right answer is, it is not zero.

  73. I also echo the kudos for phocion. Very interesting and clearly well-informed comments.

  74. Question for all and sundry:

    Opponents of Nuclear Power tend to favor solar power – for the moment. One does wonder just how fond they are going to be if Solar ever becomes really popular, and we start paving the southwest desert with solar farms.

    Solar power involves taking energy out of an ongoing dynamic in the environment, and diverting it for our use. What are the likely side effects? There have to be SOME; energy isn’t free – it comes from somewhere. Does anybody know? Has anybody other than me even asked?

  75. C. S. P. Schofield, that is an interesting question. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that with any form of solar power collection, you’re changing the albedo of the Earth. You’re going to take some portion of solar energy that might otherwise be reflected back into space as visible light, and convert it into mechanical energy that will generate waste heat, which is more likely to be retained within the atmosphere.

    That’s what the greenhouse effect is, after all — visible light to which the atmosphere is transparent is transformed into infrared, which is mostly blocked by the atmosphere instead of radiating back into space.

    Could widespread use of solar energy contribute to global warming? (I’m guessing it might, but probably less than burning fossil fuels already does. And how would it compare to nuclear power, which also generates waste heat? A lot of it, in fact. But I don’t really know how efficient solar power is.)

  76. Enough space exists on roofs, the solar exposed sides of buildings, and over parking lots and highways to provide plenty of solar
    power, without any more disturbance of wilderness land. If any more area is needed, land already devestated by industry, mining, and chemical agri-bizz farming can be used temporarily and rehabilitated.

    The land space used will be a fraction of that used by the pipelines,natural gas drilling,oil rigs, refineries, coal mines, uranium mines, nuclear waste sites, forests, river, lakes ..and on and .. being destroyed and contaminated by our present energy systems.

    The rest of the electric power needed to replace fossil fuel and nuclear power can be obtained with small to medium wind power at homes, buildings, and businsses. And the build out of as many industrial wind and wave power machines on areas that don’t disturb human activity or damage nature, that are needed. Calculations indicate a very small anount of surface area on the ocean and high wind energy areas of the great plains to acomplish this.

  77. Burning 400 years worth of biomass stored as fossil fuel per year, releasing all that greenhouse gas that traps extra solar energy, and bringing the power of the sun right down here on earth with nuclear power; all cause far more global warming than the small amount of extra energy absorned due to solar power use.

    Furthermore wind, wave, and solar power, by halting the emmission of that 400 years worth of biomass carbon sink per year as CO2, will stop catastrophic human created global climate change.

    Which is caused by extra heating due to greenhouse gases. No need to wonder, renewable power reverses extra absorbed energy and it’s release from fossil and nuclear energy sources.

  78. http://scientificactivist.blogspot.com/2006/02/nuclear-power-play.html

    There is a compromise that I have discovered, after many go arounds on nuclear power on various venues.

    How about letting the nuclear industry build a few waste processing reactors at Yucca Mountain. The waste needs to be dealt with anyway.

    If they can operate safely, efficiently, and agree to real regulation instead of industry self regulation, then more plants can be considered.

    The tradition of contamination and corruption in the past government/industry operation needs to be eliminated before widespread nuclear power buildout occurs. Trust must be restored.

    Of course this will mean only a few new plants are built in the next decade. It will be 10 years until they are proven to be safe and safely and economically operated.

    Meanwhile that leaves nuclear fission out of the global climate change cure for awhile. Hundreds of new plants would need to be built to have any signifigant effect.

    After 10 years of power generation and waste processing, the lessons learned should be applied to new designs and new nuclear plants should then compete without subsidies with other clean power generatinmg technologies on long term cost, including any fuel requirements and future waste disposal costs.

    This is a compromise that environmentalists may be able to live with, providing subsidies now in place for coal, nuclear, and fossil fuel power are eliminated.

    And a substantial portion of those savings are put into temporary subsidies for wind, solar,and wave power, large scale electrical energy storage, geothermal heat pump heating and cooling, and conversion from internal combustion transportation to battery electric vehicles.

  79. How about a Prairie National Renewable Energy Conservation Park. Where 1000s of huge wind plants spin over a renewed prairie filled with delicious free roaming organic buffalo?

    Eat the healthy buffalo meat in lieu of cornfed, unhealthy, feedlot beef.

    Use the wind electricity to stop greenhouse gas emmision and reduce energy prices and dependence on imported oil.

    Enjoy the prairie.

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