*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Decided: Anti-Nuclear

There is something to be said for a rational decision, and there is something to be said for an emotional one, and against each; but when both reason and emotion align, listen.  That's where I am on nuclear power, and it's funny that I should read an article today that states the same.
The emotional part is due to being within a few hundred kilometres of multiple reactor failures.  I'm aware that there is limited chance of limited exposure, but I am sitting in my Tokyo apartment with my wife, mother-in-law and infant child, so though I am rational enough not to be one of the first gaijin to flee the country, I am emotional enough to be more than a little care-worn.  I am entitled to chew out anyone, no matter how qualified, who expects me to consider the risks to my family and my planet dryly, who isn't sitting in Tokyo with me.

The rational part doesn't support nuclear power either.  Though you can safely pursue the argument that nuclear power will reduce global climate change, and other effects of petrochemical pollution, that's akin to choosing herpes over syphilis.  Wouldn't you rather wear a condom than have either?  No matter the clear benefit of non-carbon power production over the fifty year span of a plant, you are left with waste, and real-estate, that is contaminated for longer than human civilization has existed.  That is if there has been no accident.  There is no way that nuclear power can be considered economical if fifty years of production creates ten millenia of waste: a 1:200 ratio.  Insanity.  There is no reason for the most amateur student of history to believe that the future will solve the waste problems (much less should be asked to), or be stable enough to contain the waste which already exists.  Contrary logic is 'magical thinking'.

When it comes to an accident, you must consider Chernobyl.  Chernobyl has been the worst, and worse than the worst case for Fukushima.  Nevertheless, there are hundreds of square kilometres which are poisoned for ever, from a human experience of time.  There will be some area of Fukushima for which that is also true, and its coast also.  Wasted nature, agriculture and fishery.  There will be more of these incidents, of greater and lesser scale, simply because there are so many of the old reactors in operation.  Better reactors will be built, and they will have incidents too, if smaller and less frequent.  You cannot design away all of the accidents, even with the 'best and brightest': remember Apollo 1 and 13.  I won't begin to consider the issue of nuclear proliferation in detail, except to say that the only world safe from that, including nuclear weapons in the hands of states which are all historically unstable, is to 'put the genie back in the bottle' if we can.

So what do we do about energy?  The romantics can forget about going back to the forest, because the rest of us are not going to follow.  They can also forget about reducing our energy footprint enough that carbon sources can be used sustainably, because it is impossible with human appetites.  'Carbon sequestration' is unproven, and appears to be a creation of the coal-lobby.  There is not enough hydrological potential to satisfy demand, even should we destroy every riverine and tidal environment.  There's plenty of wind, but it is not consistent enough.  Geothermal energy exists in abundance, but is expensive to tap.  Solar tends to be low yield.  Biomass, has it's own challenges.  On the other hand, we can use all of them together, and improve all of them.  We also have to look into building thorium reactors.

We have to put a moratorium on new massive power plants, carbon or nuclear: they are not sustainable, nor efficient when any part of the 'externalities' are factored in.  Yes, on the short term we will need to cut back and use power more efficiently, and yes there may be an economic cost, neither as great as some warn, nor as relevant as what we lose if we do not.  If the Manhattan Project could achieve nuclear mass murder in a few short years, and NASA could use a few sanitized Nazi rocket engineers as the locus behind the space race, surely with massive investment we can maximize the efficiency of the technologies we already have.  The Manhattan Project was murder, and the 'Space Race' was a %$#@ing game: this is a far more worthy project.


  1. The Big Think piece is excellent.

    I've never been a proponent of nuclear power precisely because it's always run by private or, at best, regulated utilities. This is not to say that all government run public entities are always conscientious (see: "Chinatown"). But by removing the profit motive you take away the primary reason for people to cut corners or seek "efficiencies" in order to maximize returns. I'd be a happier person if all utilities were government run.

  2. I wish I agreed on the solution, but there's a one word argument: Chernobyl. If our species is going to survive, we need to internalize the externalities in economics: pay all the future and present costs, not just of labour and resources, but pollution, social disruption, health care costs, income inequality... It will drive costs up, but tha's just because we don't pay the freight now. We need first to take control back from the narcissists and the sociopaths. It's a tall order, but it is the only thing that might save us.

  3. I think we agree, but having re-read my post, I make it almost sound like I'm for seeking "efficiencies."

    Put more succinctly, I've never trusted big business to do the right thing by society. This includes utilities (see: Enron).

    Call me a socialist, a dreamer, a meathead, but I believe things like clean air and water, healthful food, good public schools, public transportation, public health care and publicly run utilities are all necessarily collective goods. Once these things are secured, then the private sector is free to pursue profits through designer clothing, MP3 players, over-sized, graphite shaft drivers and ethnically-themed drinking establishments.

  4. Oh, I'm not arguing with you. We may have niggling differences, but I know we're both on the right side.