Home > Boneheaded stupidity, Environment > When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do?

When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do?

November 13th, 2013

This quote is attributed, perhaps spuriously to Keynes. A sharper version of the same point is made here by Noah Smith, exploring the concept “Derp”, “”the constant, repetitive reiteration of strong priors”, where “strong priors” in the technical Bayesian sense, mean that ” … you really, really believe something to be true. If your start off with a very strong prior, even solid evidence to the contrary won’t change your mind. ”

A notable example of this, very relevant on this blog, and cited by Smith, is the cost of solar energy. Roughly speaking, the cost of solar modules has fallen by a factor of 10 over the past few years, and the cost of installed systems by a factor of three. If that hasn’t changed your mind about the relative merits of alternative policy option, then you must have really strong priors, and in that case, you shouldn’t be engaging in debate, since your mind can’t be changed by evidence. As Smith observes, “That is unhelpful and uninformative, since they’re just restating their priors over and over. Thus, it is annoying. Guys, we know what you think already.”

But, it’s easy to throw stones, so I thought I would check my own archives to see if I was guilty of Derping on this point. Here is what I thought in 2004

Nuclear (fission) power is probably the cheapest large-scale alternative electricity source (there are some sites where wind is cost-competitive, and similarly for geothermal) but it is still a good deal more expensive than coal or gas. How much more expensive is hard to tell because the industry is riddled with subsidies, but I’d guess that the full economic cost is about twice as high for nuclear electricity as for coal or gas. Moreover, most recent construction has been in places like China and Korea where safety standards may not be as high as they would have to be to get nuclear energy restarted in the developed world as a whole.

What this means is that nuclear power won’t enter into calculations until we have a carbon tax (or equivalent) steep enough to double the price of electricity. It’s clear though, that much smaller increases in costs would make a wide range of energy conservation measures economically viable, as well as reducing final demand for energy services. Implementing Kyoto, for example, would not require anything like a doubling of prices. Whether or not a more radical response is justified, it’s clearly not going to happen for at least a decade and probably longer.

Nevertheless, if mainstream projections of climate change turn out to be correct, and especially if, as Lovelock suggests, they turn out to be conservative, we’ll eventually face the need for new sources of electricity to replace fossil fuels. Solar photovoltaics are improving fast but still a long way from being cost-competitive. So it may well be that, at least for an interim period, expansion of nuclear fission is the best way to go.

I didn’t mention carbon, capture and storage, but I also supported that as a good option for Australia, assuming it could me made to work.

The facts have changed, and I have changed my mind. I now think the role of renewables, and particularly solar is going to be much larger than seemed likely ten years ago, nuclear much less, and CCS marginal.

Update Obviously, this post was intended to provoke a reaction from the critics of renewable energy (normally, also advocates of nuclear) who regularly comment here, challenging them to say how they had adjusted their views in the light of the evidence of the last decade. Most commenters responded thoughtfully. But our single-topic nuclear fans, Hermit and Will Boisvert, responded by herping even more flerps of derp. Despite being reminded of the topic, they just kept on pumping out the same constant, repetitive reiteration of their priors that defines derp. This does, at least provide me with some guidance. From now on, comments from single-issue pro-nuclear commenters (specifically, the two mentioned) will be deleted unless they contain a point that has not been made previously or (highly improbably) a change of view.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Environment Tags:
  1. Hermit
    November 13th, 2013 at 10:17 | #1

    The follow-up question to declining PV costs is ‘how much could we use if it was absolutely free?’. There is still the problem of night and other low light periods such as winter and cloudy weather. More immediately will we get to 2m solar roofs if the feed-in tariff becomes 8c per kwh Australia wide in a few years? Even the much vaunted assist with air conditioning cost becomes moot after sunset. It can still be 35C at 9 pm on some very hot days. I suspect many aircon users will want grid power from the despised despatchable sources at night. Note that wind is usually becalmed in the high pressure systems of heat waves.

    There’s also the early morning electrical demand spike for coffee and toast. While some solar hot water will carry over from the day before others will have have their shower water heated by gas or electricity in near realtime. Without looking it up I think the estimate was that 1.1% of Australia’s electricity was generated by PV in 2012.

    Some opine that home batteries will store enough PV generated electricity to run appliances at night. That’s where the cost savings near to occur next as PV is cheap enough. Until there is gigajoule scale storage of solar energy either in homes or central locations then PV could already be close to its sweet spot. Maybe we could get that to 10% then diminishing returns will set in as key despatchable power sources (gas and coal) become less efficient.

  2. John Quiggin
    November 13th, 2013 at 10:32 | #2

    @Hermit

    I must say, I don’t see any change here from what you were writing nearly 10 years ago in this thread

    http://johnquiggin.com/2005/04/29/time-to-go-nuclear/

  3. John Goss
    November 13th, 2013 at 10:46 | #3

    It is pleasing that the price of solar PV is now in a number of places competitive with fossil fuels. But it does show that the future is unpredictable. 10 years ago the solar enthusiasts were promising grid parity very soon now, but the trouble was they had been promising the same thing for the previous 10 years. 10 years ago it looked most likely that it would be wind in conjunction with some other renewable technology like geo thermal or wave that would be the solution. And as John said, perhaps nuclear would be a supplementary solution.
    Now it looks as though solar PV by itself (with new storage technologies) will provide most of the solution. But we don’t know for sure. In ten years it could be a different picture again. However the constant is that it is innovation combined with appropriate (and not necessarily market) incentives that provides the solutions.

  4. MikeH
    November 13th, 2013 at 10:53 | #4

    The modelling from the AEMO was the game changer for the renewables argument in Australia. This was a study from the people who manage and do the long term planning for the eastern electricity grid. Their work showed that 100% renewables in Australia is technically feasible. It would certainly increase the wholesale cost of electricity, particularly since it requires overbuild of capacity but ironically since privatisation, the wholesale cost is now a much smaller % of the retail electricity price.

    Politically we are further away than ever. Abbott signalled in an interview yesterday with Alan Jones that renewables are in his sights.

    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/tony-abbott-gets-it-wrong-on-wind-farms-and-renewables-80014

  5. Alphonse
    November 13th, 2013 at 11:10 | #5

    Ten years ago, I was predicting a steep cost curve that would make PV competitive by now. I rationalised my prediction with tenable views about the progress of infant technologies and the economies of mass production, but I did have strong priors.

    Did I luck out, or do I have the right kind of priors?

  6. Hermit
    November 13th, 2013 at 12:06 | #6

    @John Quiggin
    The vehicle I was running on home made biodiesel all that time needed a total fuel system cleanout due to wax deposits. I’ve now moved on to microhydro and a novel form of energy storage. My conclusion is the same …. put them all together and it won’t be enough.

  7. Newtownian
    November 13th, 2013 at 12:11 | #7

    We shouldn’t feel bad John about how difficult it can be for people to change their mind as it seems to be buried very deep inside our ?still reptilian? brains. I’ve posted this before but this seems a good time to repeat as you just intoned the great Reverend’s name …. Hallowed be thy Bayes.

    By way of evidence the wonderful 3 doors problem http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monty_Hall_problem (a classic ‘simple’ Bayesian problem) continues to prove this thesis and provide a party treat to befuddle students and intellectually arrogant friends. The problem and its history provides incontrovertible proof that we tend to be non rational when it comes to probabilities and decision making. And (most likely) when you go through the logic, you can prove to yourself how resistant you are to change once you have made up your mind – even in the face of a mathematically precise and trial and error proofs you are wrong.

    Beyond that is the wonderful study below which uses this simple problem to show that randomly selected rational people (economics? students for University of St Gallen), are as individuals highly resistant to learning. This simple falsification test should have been enough to bring down all the economic rationalism nonsense but alas we am still waiting.

    Interestingly the authors claim competition + communication can eliminate mistaken economic decision making. But omit to mention their data showed mistakes were never completely eliminated, learning of even this simple problem took a long time, and communication and competition are to a degree mutually exclusive the way society is being atomised today .

    Slembeck, T., Tyran, J.-R., 2004. Do institutions promote rationality? An experimental study of the three-door anomaly? Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 54 337-350.

    (seems to be openly accessible see

    http://www1.vwa.unisg.ch/RePEc/usg/dp2002/dp0221slembeck_ganz.pdf )

    Abstract
    The three-door problem is an example of a systematic violation of a key rationality postulate
    that has attracted much attention. In this seemingly simple individual decision task, most people
    initially fail to apply correctly Bayes’ Law, and to make the payoff-maximizing choice. Previous
    experimental studies have shown that individual learning reduces the incidence of irrational choices
    somewhat, but is far from eliminating it. We experimentally study the roles of communication and
    competition as institutions to mitigate the choice anomaly. We show that the three-door anomaly
    can be entirely eliminated by these institutions.

  8. Ken Fabian
    November 13th, 2013 at 12:17 | #8

    PV is under $1 per watt (peak) installed now – with some rebate/subsidy involved. If it can manage that price with subsidies gone the amount of installed PV will continue to grow. If it can come down some more – say to 50c per watt – we’ll see unstoppable take up.

    I think a lot depends on time of use electricity pricing and how it’s done.

    Cheaper solar will make oversizing popular and grid operators are going to have to deal with growth of daytime supply during sunny conditions, whether they want it or not.

    In-home batteries are starting to hit the market; if the grid pays too low for daytime excess but charges too high for evening supply that will make an incentive for batteries. They don’t need to do multiple days, just a few hours, to see fossil fuel plant that’s idling during sunny days stay idling through evenings and nights that follow as well. From daily ramp down and ramp up, they can go multiple days ramped down. They will have to shift from always on to only on when needed and will be the backup to renewables without any specifically needed to be built for that purpose.

    To what extent energy intensive activities can be scheduled around cheap daytime electricity I don’t know; I doubt many businesses would seek to work that way – but if cheap power is available they may seek to take advantage of it.

    In a solar powered Australia, weather prediction is going to be a very serious business, determining when households run their heating and air con most cost effectively, when businesses should best do their heavy lifting, when the fossil fuel plant needs to come online. In ‘smart’ homes with ‘smart’ appliances the most economic energy use will be programmable to some extent.

    Solar power systems are going to be capable of switching between any combination of direct consumption, battery charging, power to the grid or from the grid; how that will be programmed to work will probably depend on how charges are being leveled. I think flat electricity charge rates are headed for obsolescence but to what extent retail price will slavishly follow wholesale, or to what extent retailers will offer fixed prices by time of day blocks is unclear. Whichever way it goes the PV owner is going to be able to set their system to best advantage.

    Of course nothing is stopping energy companies from being big PV owners or building large scale energy storage; they ought to be able to do it and do it cheaper.

  9. TerjeP
    November 13th, 2013 at 12:32 | #9

    In 1993 when I was still at university finishing engineering I did one of my elective subjects on solar power. I recall seeing charts projecting the cost of solar falling until it could start to be cost competitive with coal around 2015. Based on the costs in the tables attached to the following page, after adjusting for differences in name plate capacity, I suspect the price drop is running behind that 1993 schedule and we won’t be there by 2015.

    http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/capitalcost/

    I would make the following points:-

    1. I always expected solar to be cheaper to adopt in the future which is why I’ve always thought we should adopt it in the future.

    2. Name plate capacity is only part of the story. Capacity factor tends to be much lower for solar and wind.

    3. If solar can compete without subsidies or biased feed in tariffs or MRET then let it rip.

    4. Most of the stories about coal being subsidised don’t stack up except in regards to some of the sunk capital costs. But they are sunk costs.

    5. At some given price on CO2 emissions coal will fall by the wayside relative to alternatives. I’m not of the view that the right price is whatever it takes to kill coal. But I’ll be quite content when something actually is competitive enough to kill coal. It may well happen even with a zero price on CO2 emissions.

  10. TerjeP
    November 13th, 2013 at 12:39 | #10

    Ten years ago, I was predicting a steep cost curve that would make PV competitive by now. I rationalised my prediction with tenable views about the progress of infant technologies and the economies of mass production, but I did have strong priors.
    Did I luck out, or do I have the right kind of priors?

    Ten years ago I think everybody pretty much agreed that unit prices would fall over time. However without cheap mass storage the system cost of solar and wind increases as the penetration rate gets higher. You can perhaps do some demand shaping with dynamic pricing however this just transmits the cost to consumers. It still entails a higher cost.

  11. conrad
    November 13th, 2013 at 12:54 | #11

    “I recall seeing charts projecting the cost of solar falling until it could start to be cost competitive with coal around 2015″

    If we had electric cars, it would more than competitive for oil at least right now. Imagine if you had a car with two batteries you could swap in and out easily that plugged more or less directly into a solar panel (i.e., you’d have almost zero installation costs)? This would save the average person thousands in fuel costs for a pretty minimal outlay. Or imagine if you could drive to work, park your car and get it charged before you went home? You’d only need one battery then. I can’t imagine we will have to wait too long for this sort of thing and that’s not even being optimistic.

    So at least around some pretty significant edges, solar seems like it will be a bit of a long-term winner.

  12. Ikonoclast
    November 13th, 2013 at 13:08 | #12

    “I’m not of the view that the right price is whatever it takes to kill coal.” – TerjeP.

    I take it you would rather kill the biosphere as place which can support humans? That is the corollary of your position.

  13. TerjeP
    November 13th, 2013 at 15:07 | #13

    Who is projecting the destruction of the biosphere? IPCC is projecting warming that may have serious costs if it is too fast.

  14. Ikonoclast
    November 13th, 2013 at 15:18 | #14

    @TerjeP

    OK, let’s take what we can agree on: the IPCC projections. With respect to serious costs “if it is too fast”. We can add to that. The rate of change (fast or not fast) is not the only issue. The extent of change is also the issue. It is in false to believe that we can adapt and adjust to any extent of change if the rate of change is slow. Eventually extent of change, if it continues, must go beyond any adaptational ability.

    I hope by “costs” you mean more than money costs, particularly since money is notional and not real.

  15. John M Legge
    November 13th, 2013 at 16:25 | #15

    @Hermit
    Despatchable resources can be 100 per cent efficient (hydro, interruptible tariffs for aluminium smelters and zinc refineries. CCGF plant can be 95 per cent efficient with a short start-up cycle; even the monsters at Loy Yang can pick up or drop 5 Mw/minute and continue working at top efficiency.

    No-one familiar with the experience curve should be surprised at the fall in cost of solar panels; the same effect is at work with battery technology.

    Given the zero marginal cost of wind and soar power, having some standby gas systems with low utilisation is quite affordable: after all, open cycle gas is used in Victoria for a few hundred hours per year if that.

  16. TerjeP
    November 13th, 2013 at 17:06 | #16

    Ikonoclast,

    Money is just a way of measuring things. Of course it’s real costs we care about.

    As for IPCC projections we’re probably just going to derail the discussion if we go there.

    Perhaps it is more informative to talk in terms of the CO2 price required to make solar cost competitive with coal and how that price has dropped with time. It would seem from the comment by JQ that relative to ten years ago he now thinks a lower CO2 tax will suffice.

  17. rog
    November 13th, 2013 at 17:06 | #17

    Battery technology, PV cell technology, rectifiers etcetera etcetera are all moving ahead. Clever and smart technology. They can move faster, like the Manhattan Project moved things faster.

    Against this we have established systems which require burning coal (which incurs great pollution) or nuclear (which is ultimately the greatest polluter).

    The latter two are used to boil water. Is the use of WMD to boil water a good outcome?

  18. QuentinR
    November 13th, 2013 at 17:12 | #18

    Back to topic, I think some of us change and others don’t. Maintaining the status quo is generally easier than change.

    I think JQ falls under the heading of professionals whose livelihood necessitates an up-to-date knowledge of matters. If their teachings are out-of-date or unsupported by current knowledge, their employer soon finds someone more knowledgeable and usually younger (… and possibly cheaper) to replace them. Professionals need to keep up-to-date, but the rate of take-up of new knowledge is generally managed haphazardly by employers.

    But in society generally, there is not always the incentive to update one’s knowledge and apply it rationally. [ANY NUMBER of examples could be given.]

    In physics, my momentum will be maintained, unless some external force provides an incentive to change. In life/blogging/teaching, my knowledge base will be maintained (and regurgitated) unless some external force provides an incentive to change my mind.

  19. rog
    November 13th, 2013 at 18:00 | #19

    As history has shown maintaining the status quo usually leads to tears.

  20. Fran Barlow
    November 13th, 2013 at 18:37 | #20

    Well in 2004 I was a lot less optimistic about nuclear power than I am now, but three years ago I was a lot more optimistic about nuclear power than I am now.

    Ten years ago, I’d have been opposed to the building nuclear power plants on principle, but I was keen to work out if I had any good basis for that, or was just doing what are called here “strong priors”. The leftwing party to which I used to belong more than a decade before 2003 had a technology-neutral position in the sense that it trusted a healthy workers government to make the right choices and expected capitalist government to fail regardless of what it tried. This didn’t help me much as there were no exampoles of healthy workers governments where our distinction could become meaningful

    So by 2003 I had reverted essentially to a position I had held in the mid-1970s on NPPs. Yet I remained keen to find a solid objective basis for opposing nuclear power development. The urgency of mitigation was something of a circuit-breakwer, because now it was not merely a purely theoretical point but one tied to human well-being for all time. In 2003 I strongly favoured a suite of measures to ‘firm” intermittent sources — (such as pumped storage) and favoured massive developments in wind, wave and tidal technology as well as geothermal. I was also keen on algae to biodiesel and/or butanol.

    Yet I found out on close examination that pumped storage wasn’t as easy as I’d supposed as it turned out the site constrainst were a lot more considerablke than I’d supposed, given that I wanted to avoid disrupting river systems and estuaries and wanted to keep them close to load centres and sources of intermittent power.

    Similarly algae-to-fuel turned out to be not as promising as the EROEI was going to make scaling difficult and in practice to over come that you would up with a price not in the same commercial ballpark as conventional oil. As it turned out, you’d be better off using your algae for something where EROEI wasn’t relevant — pharmaceutical preparations, packaging, plastics or even food. I still fancy that it might be OK as an exercise in carbon sequestration.

    So I would say that although I did have some pretty “strong priors” I was able to work through them in an attempt to go where the salient facts led me given my overall goals.

  21. Jordan
    November 13th, 2013 at 18:54 | #21

    1. I always expected solar to be cheaper to adopt in the future which is why I’ve always thought we should adopt it in the future.

    Since the price of developing technologies are coming with positive feedback, if followed this rule of adopting it in the future, solar would never arrive to that future.

    That future does not come on its own, it has to be pushed by subsidies in order to reach it quicker.
    This variable is dependent on faster adoption, which makes it a positive feedback.
    Mistake of concluding that price parity will come in 2015 depended on subsidy size to fossil fuels and to subsidy size to solar alternative which is a political decision, not economical decision. Those subsidies are competing with each other and cancel each other.
    Also, subsidies to fossil fuels are worldwide which affects worldwide prices and not so much individual state dependent. If USA subsidezes the oil and coal prices it will affect Australian prices of oil and coal. That is also working for the solar but to the smaller effect due to developemental natur eof it. It is not developed for use yet as the fossil fuels are, which is more costly then if solar already had its own infrastructure as fossil use has.

    So if you want the price of the solar to arrive quicker to such future, it will need more subsidies to solar and less to fossil fuels. It is a self fulfiling prophecy type of thing. Making it wait for the price reduction by itself, it will never come.

  22. TerjeP
    November 13th, 2013 at 20:36 | #22

    That future does not come on its own, it has to be pushed by subsidies in order to reach it quicker.

    There were sufficient opportunities for solar to develop. From remote energy solutions where grid was not an option to load relief on long haul distribution systems. I’ll accept that subsidies probably helped things along but the future was coming regardless. And every dollar and scientist you divert to solar is a dollar and scientist that doesn’t get applied elsewhere.

  23. TerjeP
    November 13th, 2013 at 20:37 | #23

    Well in 2004 I was a lot less optimistic about nuclear power than I am now, but three years ago I was a lot more optimistic about nuclear power than I am now.

    Same here.

  24. November 14th, 2013 at 00:21 | #24

    At present, in the early days of the energy transition, countries look very similar: everybody instals GW of wind and solar. As you move towards 100% renewables, the differences re-emerge. Australia has tremendous potential for CSP and geothermal (per AEMO), but not for pumped storage. Japan can’t instal much fixed offshore wind because the Pacific side where the cities are has little continental shelf, but it already has 35GW of pumped storage. Britain’s solar potential is limited by high latitude and cloudiness, according to the DECC scenario calculator; but it has half of the North Sea for offshore wind. Brazil is lucky – it already has lots of hydro, and has plenty of wind an solar resources, but not geothermal. And so on.

  25. Donald Oats
    November 14th, 2013 at 03:28 | #25

    Well, I don’t know about it being a strong prior, but my stumbling block is around risk factors being grossly under-estimated with nuclear power. In principle, those factors can be accounted for, by and large; in practice though, some incredibly obvious things get overlooked for reasons that can really only amount to economic concerns, rather than due to genuine ignorance of the unk-unks. Fukushima illustrates the issue quite graphically: if it had been built up on much higher ground, it would have cost more for water transport to and from the ocean to the reactor site; if it had been made earthquake-proof, in the sense of being able to fail gracefully in the event of a massive one, that would have been very expensive too, and yet tsunamis and massive earthquakes were known risk factors in the area. Low frequency, high impact—almost the definition of an operational risk, given that they ultimately involved people and processes, and system failure. If a nuclear power station must be built, then let it be built somewhere away from the margin of statistical mis-judgement (eg requiring a sea wall of x metres, then needing one of x+h metres in the actual event), and with decent, non-marginal, safety factors employed.

    I would also like to see a more serious and progressive approach to the issue of nuclear waste confinement, storage maintenance, and ultimate disposal. Again, there are a range of obvious risk factors which can be dealt with—at a cost—but a most clearly not being dealt with on anything but the most ad hoc basis: see the article and accompanying lead image, “Eternal Challenge” in New Scientist, pp 42–45, 2 Nov 2013 (unfortunately, paywalled; however, National Geographic has a less impressive image that makes the same point, i.e. haphazard dumping of nuclear waste in a salt mine prone to water penetration.)

    If these concerns constitute strong priors for me, then call me guilty; the real question though, is are they valid strong priors? (Actually, my position on these can definitely be shifted, just not very easily, so I guess they are moderately strong priors, rather than the strong priors in question by the above blog post.)

  26. rog
    November 14th, 2013 at 04:01 | #26

    According to data from the US renewables have eclipsed nuclear, with coal on the decline (replaced by gas).

    It is cold comfort though as total energy, incl fossil fuel, is up.

  27. rog
    November 14th, 2013 at 04:09 | #27

    The issue of radioactive waste just won’t go away, business rails against increased regulation while the potential for waste dumping is being exploited by criminal groups.

  28. rog
    November 14th, 2013 at 04:19 | #28

    The quantum of once legal ocean dumping is described here.

    Subtotal of all volume reported is 982,394m3.

  29. ZM
    November 14th, 2013 at 05:18 | #29

    Regarding the topic, I changed my mind on the practice of slavery.

    I had read Gone With The Wind when I was about 11 without more knowledgable supervision to give me context. For around 10 years afterwards, I thought slavery was not great theoretically, but that many slavers treated the enslaved like “Mammy” well etc. I can’t really remember all the details of my muddy and muddled thought, except arguing when I was 17 or 18 that The Birth of a Nation was not an inherently racist film (this being despite the fact of it having a character called “Gus the Renegade Negro”).

    To change my mind I had to read more legitimate and well researched and reputable accounts of the history than Gone With The Wind – that set out the horrors and brutality and violence. all of which were less palatable than Gone With The Wind *seemed* to be when i was 11ish. I feel especially stupid about this because when I was younger still I loved Little Women, and still do, where the father is away fighting for the Union. I never drew the two together ’til I was older.

    I feel ashamed that I was so easily led astray on this, but very grateful that my lack of good judgement didn’t really affect anyone else, which, of course, if things had been different, it could have. If I had been a young man who was mulling over enlisting for the civil war for example.

  30. Will Boisvert
    November 14th, 2013 at 06:40 | #30

    In 2023, the fraction of Germany’s electricity generation produced by fossil fuels will be the same as in 2013. The Energiewende will make no progress at all on decarbonizing the power supply over the next decade. Quote me on that 10 years from now, John Quiggin.

    The Green obsession with wind and solar is the worst environmental policy of our time.

  31. ZM
    November 14th, 2013 at 06:46 | #31

    Dear Will Boisvert, this thread is about a time when you changed your mind.

    To help you out I will bow and balance to you and quote you on the subject matter of the discussion:

    “I used to worship Chomsky; now I think he’s a mixed bag.

    His condemnations of American wars and support for foreign dictators are fine-useful and stimulating; good to have a Jeremiah to keep us honest. That officials and pundits can be callous hypocrites is a message that bears repeating.

    But Chomsky can also be one-sided, obfuscatory, tendentious, hypocritical and uninformed, his writings on the Khmer Rouge being a good example. (Here is an excellent critique of them http://www.mekong.net/cambodia/chomsky.htm.)”

  32. ZM
    November 14th, 2013 at 06:48 | #32

    Sorry, I should list the source of that quote:

    http://coreyrobin.com/2013/03/28/why-noam-chomsky-can-sound-like-a-broken-record/

    Corey Robins’s answer to the question was :

    “I mean seriously, folks: are you surprised Chomsky can sound like a broken record? The guy has been doing God’s work for over a half-century, confronting this kind of deep corruption, moral and political, in our chattering classes. How would you sound after 50 years? I’d have simply given up.

    Here’s a thought: if you don’t like the record, change it.”

  33. QuentinR
    November 14th, 2013 at 06:49 | #33

    @ZM

    Nice examples of the incentives for us to change our mind, in my opinion.

  34. Will Boisvert
    November 14th, 2013 at 06:51 | #34

    Donald Oats, the two plants to the north and south of Fukushima Daiichi were hit by the same tsunami and came through unscathed. Raising the sea wall at Daiichi, or just stowing some generators, fuel and switching equipment on upper floors instead of basements would have seen the Daiichi plant through just fine. Coastal plants can be made safe at a modest cost.

    Burying nuclear waste in the desert is an expedient and obviously safe way to dispose of it. The disaster scenarios surrounding waste are fanciful.

  35. Will Boisvert
    November 14th, 2013 at 07:03 | #35

    @ Rog, on renewables eclipsing nuclear in the US.

    Rog, half of the renewables production in the table you cited is biomass, almost all of which is corn ethanol with some wood clear-cut from pine plantations thrown in. Just about every environmental group denounces energy production from corn ethanol and wood-cutting because it destroys wildlife habitat, displaces agriculture and drives up food prices.

    Is that really the kind of energy system we want?

  36. ZM
    November 14th, 2013 at 07:04 | #36

    Will Boisvert remembers how he thought about technology back in the days:

    “They might, as Boisvert does, think nostalgically of a time when technology was big and bold and beneficial. “Back then,” he remembers, “we did not expect machines to be us; they were bigger and stronger and faster than us, and we revered them as they remade the world in ways we had never imagined”” (p.98). The Baffler

  37. Newtownian
    November 14th, 2013 at 07:13 | #37

    @rog

    (Regarding nuclear) And you have to wonder about management subcontractors – in Japan apparently the local Mafia??!! – and non proliferation controls – India (we wont sign the non proliferation treaty) is a great market and because they are big, our friends and play cricket we’ll just ignore them and the fact they are in ‘mini’ nuclear arms race with Pakistan which must have China concerned.

    But separately the real economic problem for me is the absolute size of the resources which amazingly doesn’t get talked about much until you look in the literature from the IAEC. Why replace one depleting resource with an even smaller one? It doesn’t make much sense – any more than our university’s ‘Centre/Institute for Sustainable Mining’. The oxymoronic nature of these places is not lost on the inhabitants.

    If the USGS is to be believed there is only about 2 million tonnes of high grade uranium ore of which only 1% is usable with current technology. Now Uranium is very energy dense but say 10-20,000 tonnes if nuclear power went global wouldn’t go far. Thus France is an exception not the model for the future.

    How long will it last? Uranium 235 is about 1 million times more energy dense than coal so using current technology you get the replacement equivalent of about 10 gigatonnes of coal. Now given coal production currently is 7 gigatonnes per annum, nuclear power could supply coal replacement alone for only 2 to 3 years. Its a joke.

    Alternative ores? Seawater mining is also joke (see Bardi on this). Mining bedrock? You very quickly get to the same problem of too much energy in to produce too little fuel out – same as tar sands.

    The trouble is both the pro and anti nuclear rarely seem to do the sums limiting growth of the industry but base their arguments on personal biases conceptual appeals based on fairly stories – Disney in the case of the pronuclear people – shock horror selective statistics e.g. greens and fellow travellers of Helen Caldicott.

    So the function of current power station promotion is not to seriously address climate change but to keep the commercial industry and its research allies on life support and provide a pool of technicians in the event there is a desire in a country to develop nuclear weapons using government subsidies.

    Nuclear was definitely killed not by mad greenies but by economic rationalism irony of ironies. But too many people still remember those Disney propaganda films about the friendly atom.

    In the longer term of course the dream is breeder technology which is taking a lot of time. Historically several first generation breeders were tried at full scale during the 20th century but all except maybe the Russian one have been shut down as lemons.

    Regarding the new ones this could be Thorium or Plutonium. The candidate technologies so called Gen IV are promoted by our local nuclear environmentalist Barry Brook. But few others are talking about the implications or discussing the earlier bad experience of plutonium breeders.

    Perhaps John this is the debate you should be having in these pages – rather than discussing the current nuclear systems which have too small a resource base to make a difference – what does the future hold and where has this got to.

    Some interesting discussion points perhaps:
    - Gen IV – where is it up to what are its prospects and are there any serious critiques yet.
    - How are we to solve the problem of transport fuels whether primary energy comes primarily from solar wind or nuclear?
    - Thorium breeders – given the ore is abundant and cheap, doesn’t produce transuranics much and supposedly is less proliferation risky – WHY hasn’t it happened long ago? (a possible is the extremely radioactive nature of the liquid thorium caldron and some of its by products – but it would be nice to hear some crowd sourcing here)
    - Plutonium supply proliferation – (anyone out there remember the original ‘Edge of Darkness’) – is this really soluble?
    - Supply – the conventional ores reported by the USGS are only sufficient for around 100-200 years even if breeders were successful and world energy demands didn’t increase much – say double. To illustrate consider the Uranium 235 calculations above. You might be able to put off PV for a couple of hundred years at best.
    - Mining bedrock (Herman Kahn’s solution) – How big a quarry do we want the earth to become before we get the limits to growth message? When does recycled PV become the natural solution?

  38. Hermit
    November 14th, 2013 at 07:26 | #38

    I find some of the comments here disturbing because it suggests we are going spend years labouring under a delusion. That delusion is that wind and solar will make a serious dent in coal use. Therefore I blame such people for perpetuating the reign of coal with expensive sideshows while the core problem is unresolved.

    Case in point Germany which has over 30 GW of both wind and solar is expected to increase its emissions about 2% in 2013. Similar thinking would have predicted a large cut in emissions. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves if we are part of the solution or part of the problem.

  39. ZM
    November 14th, 2013 at 07:30 | #39

    Newtonian, can you clarify a couple of your statements for me?

    “but base their arguments on personal biases conceptual appeals based on … shock horror selective statistics e.g. greens and fellow travellers of Helen Caldicott.

    So the function of current power station promotion is not to seriously address climate change”

    I do not have a scientific leaning mind myself, but I did look for academic sources and found a study and a review of a study about the effects of Chernobyl.

    Now, Will Boisvert has argued – without giving any supporting references – against trusting in these scientists, despite him not being a scientist himself, and coming across from his writing as someone not to put your trust in himself, so I feel I can fairly easily not take note of his criticisms.

    OTOH if you are a scientist, can you say what is objectionable in the studies I cited? And why do you disregard those scientific studies on the harm of nuclear energy production etc but not disregard the scientific studies on climate change?

  40. ZM
    November 14th, 2013 at 07:35 | #40

    Hermit, here is a link to an article by a scientist, whom i’ve already mentioned and linked to proper articles by, saying the world can use only renewable energy. It is an accessible read for non-scientists:

    https://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/sad1109Jaco5p.indd.pdf

  41. Donald Oats
    November 14th, 2013 at 08:37 | #41

    Will Boisvert :Donald Oats, the two plants to the north and south of Fukushima Daiichi were hit by the same tsunami and came through unscathed. Raising the sea wall at Daiichi, or just stowing some generators, fuel and switching equipment on upper floors instead of basements would have seen the Daiichi plant through just fine. Coastal plants can be made safe at a modest cost.
    Burying nuclear waste in the desert is an expedient and obviously safe way to dispose of it. The disaster scenarios surrounding waste are fanciful.

    Will, your points simply confirm my original comment: if a few simple and perfectly obvious risk factors had been accounted for during the original design, the reactor site would have survived the tsunami. But the developers did not take the known risk factors into account by anything like what was necessary. In engineering terms, they knew the risk profile for tsunami, but failed to apply a generous safety factor for the seawall and the site placement; they (presumably) operated on the margin of the risk for commercial reasons, effectively hoping a big tsunami would never occur during the life of the plant.

    As an extension of the argument, consider the example of an IT centre holding data crucial to the ongoing operation of a big business, and their operation is located in a known tornado zone. Then merely extending the IT centre’s size (perhaps putting some servers on different floors), hoping only some of it would be damaged in the event of a tornado, is operating on the margin of the risk; having another IT centre somewhere well away from the known tornado region, with data replicated, is applying the principle of a generous safety factor. Clearly, while the latter rather obvious option deals with the risk of tornado events, and other catastrophic risks as well, it is a more expensive option in the initial instance. The question as to how tornado risk is dealt with most likely is one of economics, not one of a lack of obvious good options for virtually avoiding the risk factor entirely.

  42. Fran Barlow
    November 14th, 2013 at 10:47 | #42

    @Donald Oats

    Fukushima illustrates the issue quite graphically: if it had been built up on much higher ground, it would have cost more for water transport to and from the ocean to the reactor site; if it had been made earthquake-proof, in the sense of being able to fail gracefully in the event of a massive one, that would have been very expensive too, and yet tsunamis and massive earthquakes were known risk factors in the area. Low frequency, high impact—almost the definition of an operational risk, given that they ultimately involved people and processes, and system failure. If a nuclear power station must be built, then let it be built somewhere away from the margin of statistical mis-judgement (eg requiring a sea wall of x metres, then needing one of x+h metres in the actual event), and with decent, non-marginal, safety factors employed.

    I don’t differ radically from this. The curiosity with Fukushima was that the original construction created the risk so as to get easier access to the water. Had they built at the original elevation, they’d have been operationally unaffected by the tsunami, though they’d have had to pump the water up. Given ValVerde had reached Japan from the other sside of the Pacific 4 years earlier, you might have thought they’d have taken that into account.

    Equally, not isolating the diesel back up power needed to run the SCRAM and shut down/cooling units (it being a system requirement that in serious earthquakes the unit be shut down) was a serious error. Again, had they preserved the original elevation this would not have been a problem. Preserving the original elevation would also have demanded a less impressive sea-wall, at some cost saving.

    Presumably, there was a net cost saving in what they did, but as you imply, the choice they made exposed them to appreciably more risk. Had they decommissioned in 1999 (which IIRC was the original plan) they’d have got away with it, and if they’d isolated the back up power then — again, there’d have been no serious problem, but as TEPCO fancied that the plant would shortly be decommissioned they couldn’t justify spending the sums involved and fancied that they’d keep getting away with it. They were wrong.

    Really the big mistake was made at the original commission, and then, 40+ years later, not simply to decommission and keep their ‘winnings’ from the reckless gamble they took.

    I suppose the broader issue concerns how one prevents such reckless trade in human safety. Even state control doesn’t guarantee accountability — particularly as the Japanese regime was effectively a one-party state post-War and in a facility such as a nuclear plant, all manner of official secrecy provisions can be adduced against disclosure — and these form the analog with “commercial-in-confidence” defences for private operators.

    For me, this is one of the more persuasive arguments against having nuclear power, because although in theory, one could commission and run the plants with suitable regard for public safety, the very scale of the enterprise and its technical complexity will tend to jeopardise accountabilty and this in something with a very obvious putative catastrophic risk. No industrial scale solar or wind plant is ever going to generate that kind of a problem.

    While I agree that the problems of dispatchability (often mistakenly called “the baseload problem”) are IMO greatly overstated, I’m now of the view that if we really were forced to choose between slightly less reliable power supply and a slightly greater risk of an uncontrolled contamination of a wide area of heavily populated land, I prefer the former risk to the latter. The former, if it occurs, is a nuisance in the case of brown-out, but we can take a deep breath and get over it. The latter is something people are going to be living with for a very long time and is orders of magnitude more costly.

    I should say that it was not clear what, in 1964, Japan could have built to supply their energy needs apart from nuclear that would have generated less CO2 or cast a smaller eco-footprint. Had there been no Fukushima, there would have been massive coal and/or gas with all that implies and I daresay that when the tsunami arrived the consequences would not have been much more manageable. We ought also to keep that in mind.

  43. quokka
    November 14th, 2013 at 10:50 | #43

    The quantum of once legal ocean dumping is described here.
    Subtotal of all volume reported is 982,394m3.

    A little reminder – there are several different units for quantifying radiation and radiation dose, but m^3 is not one them. Your comment is without meaning. One may also observe that there are 1.3 billion cubic kilometers of water in the world’s oceans.

    What would be pertinent would be any studies of what harm that historical dumping may, or may not have done. I would have thought that anybody who believes that such dumping may pose a meaningful risk would make an attempt to seek out such studies.

    However, since the issue of “priors” is raised here, this is all rather incidental to the fact that dumping in the oceans of radioactive waste is no longer allowed, just like the dumping of some other potentially hazardous materials is no longer allowed though such dumping has certainly occurred in the past. Furthermore illegal release of hazardous material of many types has occurred in the past and no doubt occur in the future – nothing unique in radwaste in that.

    There would be one case where ocean dumping of radwaste would be entirely justified. And that is water contaminated with tritium, but cleaned of other radio nuclides from the Fukushima plant. It would free up resources to deal with the big issues which are the spent fuel pools and the reactors. If there is any risk of serious future radiation release, that’s where it lies. Tritium is a radiation wimp because of it’s very low decay energy. Which is why the WHO recommended limit is 10,000 Bq/l. In this context msm hysteria over levels of 300,000 Bq/l of tritium in water leaks is simply incredible. Even water with multiples of that would be diluted to absurdly insignificant levels very rapidly if dumped into the ocean.

    Pandering to radiation phobia on this issue is dreadful policy and is NOT the lowest risk policy. It should also be observed that there is a lot of money sloshing around at Fukushima and a lot of money to be made in addressing phantom issues. No doubt there will be some kind international offers of help to address the very difficult technical issue of separating tritium – at a price.

  44. quokka
    November 14th, 2013 at 10:53 | #44

    Just to clarify an omitted detail in the above comment: the WHO recommended tritium limit is 10,000 Bq/l in drinking water

  45. Will Boisvert
    November 14th, 2013 at 14:56 | #45

    @ Donald Oats and Fran Barlow, on nuclear risks.

    Although the probability of nuclear accidents per reactor-year will go down because of Fukushima lessons learned (as it has steadily over the history of nuclear power), you are right that it will never go down to exactly zero. There will always be some tiny possibility of an asteroid impact or whatever.

    But that’s not the crux of the nuclear risk issue. The real point to understand is that we’re getting the risk profile of nuclear all wrong. We think of nuclear accidents as low-probability, high-impact risks. In fact, the real risk profile is low-probability, low-impact.

    That’s because nuclear accidents, very much including Chernobyl and Fukushima, are not cataclysmic. Radiation is simply not very dangerous at the levels civilians absorb from even the biggest nuclear spews. With Chernobyl, for example, the average dose to people living in the fallout zones, over decades, was 1.3 millisievert—that’s as much extra radiation as you would get living in Denver, Colorado for three months.

    While the LNT theory conjectures that 27,000 people should die of fatal cancers from Chernobyl fallout, the number of deaths that we actually observe in epidemiological studies is quite small, according to UNSCEAR and other authoritative sources–on the order of a few hundred. There were very serious health effects: dozens of deaths from acute radiation syndrome among firemen; an epidmic of 6000 thyroid cancers, with 15 resulting deaths, which could have been avoided by warning peasants to avoid drinking tainted milk. A tragedy, no question, but in no sense an apocalypse, and not even outstandingly large for an industrial accident.

    As for Fukushima, the scientific consensus, even among anti-nuclear academics, is that the radiation might eventually cause a thousand or so fatal cancers, a number that’s far too small to observe epidemiologically–and that’s assuming no evacuations or cleanup. Which means that all the cataclysm of Fukushima—the forced relocations, the closed fisheries and farms, the poignant vistas of abandonment and ruin, all the vast effort and cost of cleanup and compensation—stems from an irrational overreaction to a radiation release that will have no observable public health effects.

    So history and science turn the conventional risk profile of nuclear power on its head. People commonly think, “there is a one in a thousand chance that a nuclear accident will destroy the world,” and that balancing of infinitesimal odds against infinite harm rightly terrifies them. But the real risk profile is, “there is a one in a thousand chance that a nuclear accident will cause your house to come down with a moderate case of radon that will largely wear off in a few years.”

    And of course that risk pales beside the risks of other energy technologies. The pollution from coal-fired power plants, which nuclear power is uniquely suited to displace, kills hundreds of thousands of people every year. That’s why NASA climate scientist James Hansen in his recent paper reckoned that nuclear power had saved a net 1.84 million lives over the last few decades by abating coal pollution, and could save another 400,000 to 7 million by mid-century.

    Nuclear risks compare favorably even to renewable technologies. Renewables can’t be all windmills and PV panels; dispatchables like hydro and biomass are needed as well. But hydropower is at least as dangerous as nuclear power, and probably much more so; dam bursts in China and Italy killed at least 30,000 people over the last 50 years, more than Chernobyl, Fukushima and TMI combined. If we ban nuclear because of cataclysmic risks, why not ban hydro as well?

    Biomass is even worse. It’s an integral part of most renewables plans, and will require hundreds of thousands of square miles of energy crops and tree plantations. But that will displace a huge amount of food production, which will raise food prices. Even modest food price rises can really exacerbate malnutrition among the poor in a hungry world. There’s little question that, all by itself, scaled-up biomass will cause many times more deaths and illnesses than the worst nuclear accidents could.

    Fran, even a slightly spottier electricity supply from wind and solar can have risks comparable to nuclear risks. There are lots of ways people can die from power outages. They can slip and break their necks in the shower when the lights go out, they can crash their cars when traffic and street lights go out, they can die of heat exhaustion when the air conditioning conks out. (No joke: when I lived in Chicago in 1995 we had a heat wave that killed 600 retirees who lacked air conditioning.) If the added unreliability of an intermittent grid kills just 50 people a year worldwide, it will be killing on a Fukushima scale.

    And the economic costs of unreliable power could dwarf those of nuclear accidents. Suppose that more frequent power outages cause the US to lose all of one day’s worth of GDP per year. Doesn’t sound like much, but that would add up to $41 billion per year. That would be about 200 times more than the offsite costs of TMI, every year.

    We’ve all had it drummed into our heads that nuclear fission is the worst threat in the world—that it will obliterate the planet, unleash Godzilla, and turn us all into mutant cannibal zombies. But apocalyptic radiophobia is not just unwarranted, it’s a profound misapprehension of the real risks that we face. Short of a rogue planetoid, there is not going to be an apocalypse, not from nuclear power, not even from global warming (which is still a very bad thing that we should avoid). The serious threat isn’t doomsday scenarios but the steady drip drip of banal risks and costs that we shrug off: warming; air pollution; hunger; poverty–including the simple lack of energy when it’s wanted.

    This OP is about changing one’s mind when new facts emerge. If we take that idea seriously, then it’s time for greens to drop their anxieties about nuclear safety and insist on a prominent role for nuclear power in a clean energy system, with a systematic roll-out that drives down costs through mass production. The scientific and historical facts show that nuclear energy is safe, even when it melts down and blows up.

  46. rog
    November 14th, 2013 at 15:38 | #46

    Unless I am getting it wrong it seems that the consensus of some commentators here is that the risk of illness and/or death from nuclear accidents is almost zero, including the dumping of nuclear waste at sea.

  47. John Quiggin
    November 14th, 2013 at 15:56 | #47

    No more on radiation risk, please. FWIW, I don’t think its a central issue.

  48. ZM
    November 14th, 2013 at 16:36 | #48

    Will Boisvert is certainly one for routine…

    (yes I’ve read the Arendt book in reference, but has Will Boisvert? Or has he just referred to it for showiness?)

    “The Banality of Radiation

    When we shift the focus away from comparative mass body counts, we get a less fraught perspective on nuclear power as an ordinary and rather modest item on the list of marginal everyday risks. I could compare it to car crashes or beer or nitrite-laden barbecue. Instead, I’ll just compare it to other sources of radiation in which we blithely wallow even though they give us drastically larger doses than we get from nuclear plants.”

    http://slackwire.blogspot.com.au/2011/07/trying-to-be-for-nuclear-power-when-it.html

  49. John Quiggin
    November 14th, 2013 at 17:33 | #49

    Thanks for that link, ZM, but absolutely nothing more on this topic. Will, I’m going to assume from now on that anyone who wants that link can find it. Nothing more about Fukushima, please, from anyone.

    More generally, Will, I think you have missed the point of the post even worse than before. The idea is not for you to reiterate a demand that your opponents should accept your point of view, but for you to take a moment to think about the evidence suggesting you might be wrong.

  50. hix
    November 14th, 2013 at 20:05 | #50

    What about hindsight bias? Im sure ive changed my opinon a billion times, while believing that i thaught so all along. Fortunately, theres no 10 year old blog post to pin me down on my opinon about solar at that point. Im suspecting myself to have been far less sure about the extend of US espionage pre Snowden than i think right now. Strong priors are not always bad. Look at how people like Merkel which have very weak opinons just sit out everything, even when doing anything at all would be better.

  51. John Quiggin
    November 14th, 2013 at 20:23 | #51

    @hix

    The whole point of Bayesian thinking is to have non-diffuse priors. But, the strength of your priors ought to reflect the weight of evidence.

    On Snowden, despite all the people now claiming “we all knew this”, the extent was worse than the worst case I considered possible, to the point where I hesitated to discuss it online for fear of being accused of being a conspiracy theorist. So, although my priors were broad, and therefore weak wrt to the central tendency, they weren’t weak or broad enough.

  52. November 14th, 2013 at 21:27 | #52

    @John Quiggin

    As an aside:

    I hesitated to discuss it online for fear of being accused of being a conspiracy theorist

    I know the feeling.

    Today I read an interesting piece about the “conspiracy theorist” epithet: “Conspiracy Theories? No One Does it Better Than West’s Elite – By Neil Clark”

    It reminded me of a generalised protest I went to in Brisbane outside the gates of a school where the then PM was appearing. All the varied protesters were sent on to one side of the road by the police.

    Two ladies turned up with hand made signs supporting their particular issue (from memory the closure of a childcare facility or something similar). I indicated that they might join the other disparate groups across the road and they said “but we’re not protesters, we’re just concerned about the government closing down the centre and want the PM to know that.”

    I’ll happily be labelled a ‘conspiracy theorist’ for speculating that the wedges driven between all of us as citizens are more by design than accident.

  53. Ken Fabian
    November 15th, 2013 at 06:06 | #53

    Hermit :
    I find some of the comments here disturbing because it suggests we are going spend years labouring under a delusion. That delusion is that wind and solar will make a serious dent in coal use. Therefore I blame such people for perpetuating the reign of coal with expensive sideshows while the core problem is unresolved.

    Climate action obstructionists, laboring under the delusion that dangerous climate change is vastly exaggerated and who have gone to great lengths to inculcate that view within the public go right the way to the top of mainstream politics – don’t you a big lot of responsibility or blame for perpetuating the reign of coal should be levelled against them?

  54. Hermit
    November 15th, 2013 at 06:57 | #54

    @Ken Fabian
    I’d describe deniers and green dreamers as partners in crime. On the one side you get coal and on the other side you also get coal. The coal miners should hardly believe their luck. When emissions fail to seriously reduce (aside from a general downturn) I think the knives could be out for both sides.

    The now comfortable middle class gets some 80% of its electricity, personal mobility and overnourishment from fossil fuels while promoting the fantasy of a wind and solar economy. I suspect the Spanish middle class thought like that look what happened
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/9411367/The-pain-in-Spain-recession-and-the-middle-class.html

  55. November 15th, 2013 at 07:55 | #55
  56. November 15th, 2013 at 07:57 | #56

    Oh. Right. The graph is not visible on this platform. So I will comment. The link in my comment above is to a graph of change in coal fired generation by state.

  57. November 15th, 2013 at 08:06 | #57

    Anyway, I guess I should try to say something relevant to the topic. Um… Well, in the past I didn’t realize how bad the lies about nuclear power’s costs were. I investigated some of the more blatent lies and found out that even people I thought could be trusted on the issue were lying, either actively or through negligence. I will quote what Daniel Davies said on this topic, “Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.”

  58. Ken Fabian
    November 15th, 2013 at 09:49 | #58

    Hermit, ‘green’ anti-nuclear activism is mostly a noisy minority who only count because mainstream politics keeps pointing at them and saying it’s their fault. It’s apparently their fault that we have a climate problem to alarm and upset people. It’s their fault mainstream politics is incapable of pushing for nuclear power as well? Rubbish.

    Climate science denial bleeds away any motivation to push for nuclear within conservative politics. It offers a super cheap do nothing option that successfully diverts and silences calls by commerce and industry to use nuclear in ways that anti-nuclear activism never could. Anti-nuclear activism is almost irrelevant in the climate and energy debate, except as scapegoat. If the LNP ever wanted to address emissions with nuclear no bunch of fringe activists could made them stop. But they don’t want to address emissions do they?

    If Australian conservatives had spent a tenth of the effort pushing for climate action using nuclear as they have spent pushing climate science denial and obstructionism over the past two decades we would probably have nuclear in the pipeline now. Conservatives denying there is any need has been far more damaging to nuclear as emissions solution than green anti-nuclear activism could ever be.

    Our mainstream media’s willingness to go along with gratuitous criticism of nuclear even more than it does with criticism of climate science is a pretty good indicator of how much wealthy and influential conservatives really want to use nuclear for reducing emissions.

  59. Will Boisvert
    November 15th, 2013 at 11:52 | #59

    @Ken Fabian, on the influence of antinuclear activism.

    Ken, no, anti-nuclear activists are not a powerless fringe tendency in the environmental movement.

    Just about every mainstream environmental group—Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, NRDC, Riverkeeper near New York, you name it—is strongly anti-nuclear and lobbies and propagandizes against it. Can you name any environmental group other than The Breakthrough Institute that is not antinuclear, much less one that supports nuclear power to any degree?

    Nor is antinuclear animus politically impotent. Green Party parliamentarians and government ministers have pushed through nuclear bans and phaseouts in Germany and now France. Greens mobilize huge demos against nuclear power all over the globe, and politicians listen to those protests, and even more to the popular, feel-good renewables nostrums greens promote as alternatives to nukes. Greens have gotten large subsidies and renewable portfolio standards passed by the US Congress and in dozens of states, and in many other countries.

    The notion that Greens have no political clout is absurd. You don’t mean to say that it was conservatives that pushed through Australia’s ban on nukes, do you, or Germany’s and Austria’s? Or are you blaming conservatives for not trying hard enough to overturn the green-inspired ban on nukes? That’s just confused scapegoating.

    Conservatives do tend to support nuclear, while most greens strongly oppose it—and, unfortunately, the green critique of nuclear power has captured the public imagination and now drives policy. If greens would support nukes as part of a clean energy strategy then there would be an obvious opening for a deal with conservatives that would push forward a nuclear build, with tremendous benefits for decarbonization.

    The left has a long and disgraceful history of denying responsibility for the consequences of the policies it advocates. It looks like that impulse is alive and well among greens.

  60. rog
    November 15th, 2013 at 12:06 | #60

    @Ronald Brak The cost of reducing contamination from “incidents” is staggering.

  61. ZM
    November 15th, 2013 at 12:48 | #61

    Aargh, Will Boisvert, you know not shame!

  62. quokka
    November 15th, 2013 at 13:40 | #62

    I’ve struggled with trying to understand what this post is trying to say or even what might be deemed an “appropriate” response. Is it about people changing their minds on the basis of new evidence? It’s hard to argue in principle with that. Personally I’m inclined to initially pay a little more attention to those who have managed to go through what is sometimes a difficult process to discard previously strongly held beliefs. It doesn’t mean I’m going to agree with them.

    If you want tales of personal journeys, then go and see Pandora’s Promise. If you want an individual response, I’m quite happy to say I changed my mind on nuclear power though I can’t see why anybody would be very interested on an individual level. Why was I opposed to nuclear power – because I was (and still am) on the left “of course”. Let’s not make things too complicated, it’s that simple. I recall my mother telling me of recurring nightmares of nuclear Armageddon. Colonial wars and interventions were the order of the day from Vietnam to death squads and fascist coups in Latin America. And make no mistake the ugly face of imperialism was ultimately backed by a nuclear arsenal. As I recall, Michael Hudson says something like – not the gold standard or dollar standard but the F-16 standard. If conventional military force failed, then what? Remember that the US has threatened or mooted the use of nuclear weapons on more occasions than all other nuclear armed states put together. It was not too hard to put two and two together – or so it (very reasonably) seemed then.

    Historical echoes of this remain the foundation of anti-nuclear attitudes. The LCOE of nuclear generated electricity absolutely nothing to do with it at all. Incidentally the “nuclear is too expensive” meme was peddled in the 1970s too.

    There is also something to say also about the story that historically, anti-nuclear movement was environmentalist. I don’t think so. It was driven by the left – the peace committees, friendship societies, Western Communist parties, the emerging New Left, Fabians, pacifists and various others of left wing persuasion. The “environmentalists” came a little bit later and with them the “small is beautiful” and “self reliance” types. As the influence of the left waned, the influence of these types increased. Their ideological influence in “environmentalism” remains strong, insidious and reactionary. They represent a right wing ideology not terribly different from libertarian-ism. How’s that for flame bait? And yes, I am quite prepared to expand on this.

    What’s the point of all this? If you don’t attempt to understand historical context and your own place in it, then you are left with believing that now is day zero. To pretend that this context has not influenced the economics of nuclear power is to my mind not credible especially in the US. The anti-nuclear movement success in stopping significant government funded research and development of advanced nuclear power in the 1990s in the US is but one example. While spinning narratives of the technological wonders to come in for example energy storage (if only enough R&D money was spent on it) nuclear power is castigated for being stuck in the 20th century. Disingenuous or what? How can this not adversely the cost of nuclear power? Some reality and honesty please.

    More to follow on PV.

  63. John Quiggin
    November 15th, 2013 at 14:58 | #63

    WB: ” You don’t mean to say that it was conservatives that pushed through Australia’s ban on nukes, do you, or Germany’s and Austria’s? ”

    Does the name “Angela Merkel” ring any bells?

    With that, I’m adding Germany & Austria to the list of topics on which we’ve heard your views and don’t want to hear any more. That includes quibbles about Merkel – I’m sure you have some, but I’m not interested

    And, as regards Australia, the only proposal for nuclear power was in fact killed by the conservative party in 1971. The subsequent Labor government looked at reviving the idea, IIRC, but concluded it wasn’t a goer, a conclusion every sensible analysis since has reinforced.

  64. John Quiggin
    November 15th, 2013 at 15:00 | #64

    I Googled for the protests obstructing the US nuclear renaissance and found one, which apparently attracted 8 people. No doubt they are responsible for the cost overruns

    http://www.topix.com/forum/com/georgia-power/TF5MJP9BA0FTGSG7P

  65. John Quiggin
    November 15th, 2013 at 15:05 | #65

    Quokka, please don’t expand on this. What’s clear from your post, as with Pandora’s Promise is that you are too busy correcting errors you made in the 1970s and 1980s to pay any attention to the evidence of the 2000s.

    Contrary to what you say, “The LCOE of nuclear generated electricity” has everything to do with it, for those of us who never bought the idea of the anti-nuclear campaign as the replacement for anti-Vietnam protests.

    And indeed “Incidentally the “nuclear is too expensive” meme was peddled in the 1970s too.” so effectively that utilities everywhere abandoned their nuclear construction programs midstream. Doubtless that’s because they were run by guilt-stricken lefties.

  66. ZM
    November 15th, 2013 at 15:14 | #66

    John Quiggin, might you allow quokka to elaborate on just the one element – how reactionary and libertarianism is somehow conflated into the *one thing he dislikes*? I think it would prove exceedingly diverting to see the full faulty maouverings of his logic.

  67. Hermit
    November 15th, 2013 at 15:15 | #67

    I might mention that I pay nothing directly for either electricity or car fuel. I’m now dabbling in several other forms of renewable energy. It’s clear to me these methods are niches that help somewhat without being crucial replacements for fossil fuels. Neither my own observations nor the regular news from media outlets like Der Spiegel persuade me that the squeaky cleans (wind and solar) can make enough of a difference.

    Some of those observations were just today; in a small town one family is putting up 10 kw of PV to grab the feed-in tariff but they’ve run out of north facing roof space for the 40 panels. Another family was removing a sizeable 10 kw wind turbine as it failed to produce steady power. As always coal or something like it remains the fallback option.

  68. quokka
    November 15th, 2013 at 15:26 | #68

    @ZM

    Aargh, Will Boisvert, you know not shame!

    Would you like to here something quite similar from the purportedly centrist Nordhaus and Shellenberger. It could hardly be more succinct:

    But rather than obscure the dogmatism that underlies green opposition to nuclear energy, the economic arguments further revealed it. Having demanded policies to make energy more expensive, whether cap and trade or carbon taxes, greens now complain that nuclear energy is too expensive. Having spent decades advocating heavy subsidies for renewable energy, greens claim that we should turn away from nuclear energy because it requires subsidies. And having spent the last decade describing global warming as the greatest market failure in human history, greens tell us that, in fact, we should trust the market to decide what kind of energy system we should have.

  69. John Quiggin
    November 15th, 2013 at 15:30 | #69

    @quokka

    N&S must be competing to get the most possible fallacies in one para. That is the silliest thing I’ve read in a long time. Too busy to demolish I’m afraid, so I’ll crowdsource this one.

  70. November 15th, 2013 at 15:30 | #70

    Hermit, could you run out and take a photograph of your of the people who are removing their wind turbine, please? A record of people who were actually confused enough to think that a single wind turbine would provide a constant source of electricity should be kept for benefit of history. And the fact that their response is to remove it rather than install an off grid battery bank/generator set up or simply connect to the grid if that’s available also makes them rather unique.

  71. ZM
    November 15th, 2013 at 15:33 | #71

    Sorry, if you followed my arguments you’d see I don’t argue on the price of things at all – more of a values girl myself.

    I think nuclear energy is dangerous and the dangers reach ahead of us in time, and evoking the Hippocratic principle, ought not be undertaken at all and this should be agreed to without any regard for price whatsoever.

    I think the market economy is a failure.

  72. ZM
    November 15th, 2013 at 15:36 | #72

    Ronald Brak, there is actually quite a lovely Russian film called Urga or Close to Eden in English about a family who get power for a television they watch infrequently by a windmill. It is a very good movie if you like foreign films.

  73. November 15th, 2013 at 15:39 | #73

    ZM, plenty of people get power infrequently get power from windmills. I know I do. It’s the idea of someone going through the expense and trouble of installing a wind turbine and then removing it becuase it ‘failed to produce steady power’ which is hilarious.

  74. rog
    November 15th, 2013 at 15:44 | #74

    In 2012 France had a audit of their nuclear facilities and found them just too expensive to replace.

    It’s not greenies or lefties or basket weavers that are stymieing a clean green nuclear future, it’s the bean counters.

  75. ZM
    November 15th, 2013 at 15:53 | #75

    Oh, that is very funny!

  76. quokka
    November 15th, 2013 at 16:03 | #76

    @John Quiqgin

    Quokka, please don’t expand on this. What’s clear from your post, as with Pandora’s Promise is that you are too busy correcting errors you made in the 1970s and 1980s to pay any attention to the evidence of the 2000s.

    You have entirely missed the point. And I’m not correcting mistakes I made in the 1970s, because I don’t regard them as mistakes. I would have thought that was very obvious from what I wrote.

  77. quokka
    November 15th, 2013 at 17:23 | #77

    @ZM

    John Quiggin, might you allow quokka to elaborate on just the one element – how reactionary and libertarianism is somehow conflated into the *one thing he dislikes*? I think it would prove exceedingly diverting to see the full faulty maouverings of his logic.

    I would be happy to oblige you, but it would cover a lot more ground than just nuclear power. But not now.

    Now I will leave you with my “first law” of energy and climate.

    In the absence of unforeseeable future events, security and reliability of electricity supply will never be compromised by pursuit of environmental objectives. In nations without secure and reliable (and sufficient) electricity supply, attainment of such will not be compromised by pursuit of environmental objectives.

    This directly follows from the reality that no matter what the cost of reliable, on-demand electricity is, the cost of not having it is unacceptably higher.

    This applies even if there are some people who find watching TV only when the wind blows to be an acceptable state of affairs.

    In this context a whole lot of hand waving about LCOE and haggling over the last one or two cents per kW/h is an exercise in futility. What counts ultimately is average cost system wide. And that before even putting any of the claims about LCOE under the microscope rather than credulously believing assertions.

  78. ZM
    November 15th, 2013 at 17:53 | #78

    “This applies even if there are some people who find watching TV only when the wind blows to be an acceptable state of affairs.”

    If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.

  79. Tim Macknay
    November 15th, 2013 at 18:17 | #79

    Now I will leave you with my “first law” of energy and climate.

    That sounds like a pretty strong prior you’ve got there. ;)

  80. rog
    November 15th, 2013 at 18:25 | #80

    @quokka Is this a spoof?

  81. Will Boisvert
    November 15th, 2013 at 18:52 | #81

    @ John Quiggin on anti-nuclear politics in Germany, Austria and Australia

    Deleted as advised

    –As for Australia, I was under the impression that the Conservatives (weakly) support nuclear power while Labor opposes it.

    The larger issue isn’t green obstruction of nuclear power, though that’s real enough; it’s that the left and the environmental movement ought to be the natural vehicle for nuclear power (as it actually once was). Labor and the left should be strenuously pushing to enact a massive nuclear buildout, along with renewables, because that’s the fastest, most comprehensive and cheapest way to decarbonize the energy supply, as well as being very afe-say and an environmental boon. Instead, the left is dragging its feet because of anti-nuclear dogmas.

    An all-renewables, no-nuclear policy is the slow, lackadaisical and incomplete way to combat global warming, as Germany is proving now. The real problem with the anti-nuclear left is not that it’s crazy, but that it’s fainthearted and, in crucial respects, downright reactionary in its abhorrence of needed technological advancements. Progressive and environmentalists who are really serious about global warming don’t want that; they want vigorous, decisive action that. That won’t happen without nuclear.

  82. ZM
    November 15th, 2013 at 19:06 | #82

    Even the faint hearted fare better than the false hearted Will Boisvert.

    “It’s better to say that the initiative was distinctively Green….

    The larger issue isn’t green obstruction of nuclear power, though that’s real enough; it’s that the left and the environmental movement ought to be the natural vehicle for nuclear power (as it actually once was). Labor and the left should be strenuously pushing to enact a massive nuclear buildout…”

    Let us all give hearty thanks that Master Will Boisvert is not Laird o’ th’ Left then!

  83. rog
    November 16th, 2013 at 03:59 | #83

    Even under 0% nuclear power Japan does not forecast an increase in GHG (page 27).

  84. rog
    November 16th, 2013 at 04:06 | #84

    @Will Boisvert All this left/right divide on nuclear power…it was opposition to nuclear weapons testing that unified people. Remember Mururoa? Marshall Islands? Maralinga? Nevada? Sinking of Rainbow Warrior by French secret service?

    It was an own goal by the pro nuclear lobby, they have nobody but themselves to blame.

  85. rog
    November 16th, 2013 at 04:21 | #85

    BNEF put out this study into the PV industry. They find that arguments tend to be made based on faulty, misleading, outdated or just wrong data.

  86. Ken Fabian
    November 16th, 2013 at 11:14 | #86

    Hermit, Will, Nuclear advocacy that fails to acknowledge climate action obstructionism as a serious problem is advocacy that will continue to fall flat on it’s face.

    Climate obstructionism by the Right is not a reaction against green anti-nuclear activism, it is a reaction of powerful coal share investing conservative interests against climate action activism. It’s a result of conservatives rallying to the defense of the projected future incomes of fossil fuels and of deceptive accounting that allows them to defray the full costs of their products to future generations, in order to undercut competition, like nuclear.

    Nuclear advocacy can’t shake loose of it’s anti-green baggage, nor of the belief that conservative interests are nuclear’s friends. Too many nuclear advocates are climate science deniers – not a reassuring sign – and too vehemently anti-green for organised nuclear advocacy to break with the Right and demand they ditch their climate obstructionism. Rather than face that division in their own ranks they prefer to make it all about green opposition. The suggestions that all that stands in the way of solving the climate problem is green intransigence is deluded; Australian conservatives will never commit to nuclear as long as they can keep denying the climate problem really matters.

    The climate science denial of the Right is a house of cards waiting to collapse and when it does they will act like they are nuclear’s best friend. Why are advocates of nuclear so reluctant to shake that house of cards?

  87. Will Boisvert
    November 17th, 2013 at 02:43 | #87

    @ John Quiggin, on facts changing minds,

    The reason many people still have misgivings about solar is not because of “strong priors” but because they are indeed looking at facts—a wider range of facts, in a deeper context, than greens normally consider.

    It’s true that solar installations have gotten cheaper recently. But their capacity factors are incredibly low, much lower than most greens credit, so their LCOEs are still much higher than nuclear’s. And that’s at very low penetrations; as the percentage of wind and solar generation on the grid rises, the mathematically inevitable curtailment of these surge-and-slump intermittents will also rise; capacity factors will therefore fall even further and per-kwh costs soar. LCOE also doesn’t capture the additional system costs solar imposes on grids, including costs of redundant transmission capacity and storage and the costs of building and running coal and gas plants to back up solar, with their attendant greenhouse emissions and pollution.

    So given the realities of the costs and performance of wind and solar, they are still the highest-cost, slowest and most incomplete way to approach decarbonization. That assessment is borne out by more facts about real-world renewables initiatives. Germany’s Energiewende was forced into a major retrenchment this year because of insupportable costs and the difficulties of integrating solar and wind into the grid. Solar installations were cut in half from 2012 levels, by design, and that ramp-down means the Energiewende will likely not meet its targets for 2020, which were timid and sluggish to begin with. Fossil-fueled electricity generation and CO2 emissions are rising steadily.

    Similarly, in China the massive buildout of wind and solar is proving a fiasco; intermittent generation is feeble and the contrast with nuclear productivity is glaring. Last year China’s 13 gigawatts of nuclear produced as much low-carbon electricity as its 55 gigawatts of grid-connected wind turbines. Chinese solar does even worse. Every yuan invested in a nuclear gigawatt produces three times as much clean electricity as a yuan invested in solar installations, and displaces three times as much Chinese coal-fired electricity, along with its notorious air pollution.

    The problem with rose-colored assessments of solar based on a few cherry-picked facts is that they feed a conviction among greens that wind and solar can “do it all”—and that we can therefore abolish nuclear without paying a heavy price in climate change. For example, green websites are full of stories about how wind and solar are taking up the slack from shuttered Japanese and German nukes. But the facts show just how fanciful that conceit is. In order to replace the low-carbon electricity from that roughly 60 GW of lost nuclear capacity, we would have to build 300 GW of solar panels, three times the entire world PV capacity in 2012, at a cost of $480 billion dollars. (That’s just construction costs, not counting extra transmission, storage, fossil-fueled backup, etc.)

    So John, please, help me to understand—given all the facts, why should nuclear advocates change their minds and prefer solar to nuclear?

  88. ZM
    November 17th, 2013 at 06:55 | #88

    “So John, please, help me to understand—given all the facts, why should nuclear advocates change their minds and prefer solar to nuclear?”

    I will help you out here Will Boisvert yet again, although you seem a man to ignore good sense to me. I will do so using mythology. I hope because you have pretentious to be a writer, you will care for myth. Otherwise it is a great shame tat you didn’t pursue science I think.

    The previous thread was called Pandora’s Promise.

    Another commenter on a previous thread mentioned rudely Pandora at me, so I wrote what I remembered of the myth for everyone’s benefit. I will copy it down here for your aid too Will Boisvert. But I will say at the outset nuclear energy is Promethean, in case you are the sort of person to misread myth.

    You posted your shameful piece badly utilising a reference to the Banality of Evil on J W Mason’s blog. So perhaps you also consider yourself as having “affirm[ed yur] membership in the Cobain-Linklater-Copeland tribe”, in which case we all know what obvious 90s insult would apply to you Will Boisvert, and of course we all know it ends with out.

    “I know some of the surviving variants of Pandora’s Box, not all, and i’m sure a lot were lost to time as things are. It is old and Greek and fairly dark (give me bucolic verse or persephone or something like the golden ass any day) I think – but of course, if you address a woman, with non-specific hints, why not bring up Pandora!?!
    From what i remember (anyone please correct me, i am not going to bother looking it up right now) i think it generally follows from Prometheus – who stole fire for men (or maybe they were titans or something at this stage?) and taught them to eat meat – trying to pacify the gods by giving them part of the flesh, but, as a trickster, Prometheus taught the men to give the gods only the less edible parts. Zeus punished Prometheus by binding him to a rock, and vultures pecked out his liver or something.
    Ok, I’m getting a book I have after all. Literature and the Crime Against Nature.
    “Mythically, it was Prometheus who determined that the Neolithic Golden Age should be replaced by the terrible age of Bronze:
    Earth’s natural plenty no longer sufficed.
    Man tore open the earth, and rummaged in her bowels.
    Precious ores the Creator had concealed
    As close to hell as possible
    We’re dug up – a new drug
    For the criminal. So now iron comes
    With its cruel ideas. And gold
    With crueller. Combined they bring war –
    War, insatiable for the one,
    With bloody hands employing the other.
    Now man lives only by plunder.
    (Ovid)”
    I can’t remember the direct link, but to punish men or Prometheus or both Zeus created Pandora and gave her as a gift to Prometheus’ more stupid brother or something like that. She was very attractive and he was happy to wed her, but Zeus had given her a vessel, which she was to open. And when opened out came all of the evil, and hope stayed inside. etc etc”

  89. Ikonoclast
    November 17th, 2013 at 07:18 | #89

    @Will Boisvert

    Fact, Chernobyl melted down. From 1986 to 2000, 350,400 people were evacuated and resettled from the most severely contaminated areas of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.

    Fact, Fukushima blew up (hydrogen explosions) and melted down. TEPCO first falsified safety records in 1976. A 2008 Tsunami study was ignored. Over 200,000 people were evacuated after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

    Fact, there have been 33 serious incidents and accidents at nuclear power stations since the first recorded one in 1952 at Chalk River in Ontario, Canada.

    I hope you are including the costs of all these large meltdowns, evacuatios and clean ups in your costings of the “efficency” of nuclear power.

    Finally, fission fuel is a limited resource on earth just like coal and oil. It will run out. Economic and energy-return-viable deposits are limited. Don’t bother arguing about getting uranium from seawater. That is a furphy (a fanciful tale) as that would produce a negative energy return – more energy taken to obtain it than would be produced. You might as well mine gold from gum trees. (Outback gumtrees have been shown to take up gold in minute quantities where gold is present.)

    In the final analysis we will have to survive on renewable energy for that will be all that’s left. All non-renewables will run out, and soon, if fully expolited If renewables cannot support our current world population and living standards then that too will be a plain hard fact. But I will get a rap over the knuckles for pointing out yet again, in detail, where that leaves us. Between a rock and a hard place is a good summary.

  90. Fran Barlow
    November 17th, 2013 at 07:57 | #90

    @Will Boisvert

    they feed a conviction among greens that wind and solar can “do it all”—and that we can therefore abolish nuclear without paying a heavy price in climate change.

    Classic strawman. Greens don’t assert that “wind and solar can do it all”. Greens also argue for energy usage avoidance and energy efficiency and demand management. We’ve also argued for geothermal and wave and tidal energy and biomass. Some of us argue for passive or even active geo-engineering.

    And some of us aren’t opposed to nuclear power or don’t see shutting it down as the top priority — and even those who do trenchantly oppose nuclear power are not the obstacle to nuclear renaissance, as has been repeatedly shown in this topic.

    It’s actually quite simple. We need to stop desequestering and combusting fossil HC as soon as possible and co-extensively work around the consequences of that. Renewables are part of that plan, but there’s a lot more than that involved.

    PS: Interesting that your nym translates as “Greenwood” …

  91. rog
    November 17th, 2013 at 08:19 | #91

    @Ikonoclast Another fact is that Fukushima was very close to a chain reaction meltdown which would have required the evacuation of Tokyo, which probably would have bankrupted the country with global consequences. A combination of good luck and bravery seemed to have saved the day but risks still exist and its estimated that it will take 40 years to clean up the mess.

    Its no wonder PV has become more popular.

  92. Will Boisvert
    November 17th, 2013 at 11:26 | #92

    @ Ikonoclast and Rog,

    I would love to respond to the points you’ve raised, but I’ve been warned that I’m not to discuss the topics of ruclear nisks and ukushima-fay under pain of deletion, per page 1 # 47 and 49 and page 2 # 31. If you look around close by you can find comments that address issues you are concerned about. If you look back over this thread and the Pandora Post-mortem thread you may find posts that address issues that you are concerned about. Rog, especially. on the third page of Pandora’s Postmortem, if you count to five. Note, Rog, that a “chain reaction meltdown” is physically impossible. In the absence of water the reactor has no moderator and the nuclear chain reaction immediately shuts down. Rog, antinukes have many false and bizarre ideas about how nuclear reactors function and fail; I hope you’ll take time to read more widely on the topic, including sources who are not antinuclear activists.

    Ikonoclast, reserves of fission fuels are stupendously larger in energy content than the earth’s hydrocarbon reserves. There are many good and innovative technologies for mining, extracting and burning them, and we will surely develop more. In situ leaching, seawater extraction (down to $300 per kilogram in experiments), co-processing from phosphate or rare earth mines, breeder reactors—there are so many ways to obtain fissile fuel that it’s out of the question that human ingenuity will be foiled by the task. Probably we’ll get more just by digging it up in places—deep deposits, undersea deposits—we haven’t bothered looking because uranium is dirt cheap. If you read more widely on the topic with an open mind, instead of limiting yourself to antinuclear writers, you will discover that concerns about fissile fuel constraints are unfounded. There is plenty out there to supply all the world’s energy needs for many thousands of years, and we will get it.

  93. Will Boisvert
    November 17th, 2013 at 11:27 | #93

    @ Fran Barlow,

    Of course you’re right—I shouldn’t exaggerate for effect. Wind and solar do grab the headlines, though, and I think many naïve greens who aren’t up on the specs, and the public who are influenced by green ideas, have a general impression that wind and solar will be supplying almost all of the electricity. Greens tend to downplay other aspects of a total renewables system because many other elements, especially biomass and “demand management”, are even more problematic than wind and solar.

    And yes there are pro-nuclear greens and their numbers are growing. So far, though, I think you must admit that the overwhelming attitude towards nuclear among greens is stridently oppositional, and indeed abolitionist.

    I do feel that you and other nuclear-neutral greens still don’t register how badly the renewables project has failed, and thus your assessment of the comparative merits and prospects of nuclear and renewables is skewed. In Germany, the Energiewende is being hit with drastic cutbacks of 40 to 50 % in the deployment rates of onshore and offshore wind, and of solar. It was barely keeping up with its targets last year, and the new cutbacks will make its 2020 and 2030 targets impossible. German electricity in 2030 will likely be almost as carbon-intensive as it was in 1999. As geo and hydro resources won’t scale, the only way for Germany to meet its decarbonization targets is to restart all its nuclear reactors. Restarting reactors should be policy goal number 1 for greens, and number 2 should be finding cheap ways to build new nukes. The left should be particularly active on 2, because the key there is to reject neoliberal models of ownership and financing.

    As for whether greens bear any responsibility for blocking the nuclear renaissance, I could talk about certain places and certain people, but per 13 and 31 this is a topic I just can’t discuss freely. My apologies.

  94. ZM
    November 17th, 2013 at 11:40 | #94

    Will Boisvert’s proposition on how to treat Mother Earth: ” Probably we’ll get more just by digging it up in places—deep deposits, undersea deposits—we haven’t bothered looking because uranium is dirt cheap.”

    Mother Earth’s reply: “Waste Me. &$@! me, my friend”

  95. rog
    November 17th, 2013 at 14:30 | #95

    There have been several official reports post Fukushima, the American Nuclear Association said that it could take 10 years to understand fully what happened. This appraisal identifies the weakness as being human and stresses that worst case scenarios must be addressed, not brushed aside as nonsense. They are quite clear on the matter, it wasn’t the tsunami that caused the accident it was the failure of the nuclear industry to make allowances for naturally occurring events.

    What is apparent is that nuclear accidents are a fault of the nuclear industry and it is the nuclear industry that is now calling for tighter regulations.

  96. rog
    November 17th, 2013 at 14:44 | #96

    In his book Mark Willacy details the political response as does this piece in the NYT

    The report quotes the chief cabinet secretary at the time, Yukio Edano, as having warned that such a “demonic chain reaction” of plant meltdowns could result in the evacuation of Tokyo, 150 miles to the south.

    “We would lose Fukushima Daini, then we would lose Tokai,” Mr. Edano is quoted as saying, naming two other nuclear plants. “If that happened, it was only logical to conclude that we would also lose Tokyo itself.”

    In hindsight you could say that they panicked but in their defense the politicians did identify a worst case scenario, something that obviously TEPCO had not.

  97. Fran Barlow
  98. rog
    November 17th, 2013 at 15:34 | #98
  99. Fran Barlow
    November 17th, 2013 at 15:56 | #99

    Incidentally, Will, I came across an article of yours from 2009 published in the US Social Democratic magazine In These Times. The article asserted that the citizenry of Manhattan were more “Green” than those of Vermont, citing the energy footprint consequences of population density — the inability to buy stuff, the resort to walking and mass transit, the lower loss of heat per person in apartments given their adjacency and so forth.

    As is common with urban mythology, such claims are not entirely ridiculous. Yet you forget the hinterland. Manhattan would not be possible without a vast hinterland to supply it with the consumer goods its citizenry can buy — much of it from outside the US, the footprint of which is accounted with others.

    Now don’t get me wrong — I support urban consolidation for many of the reasons you cited in the article — though I don’t find nature boring — but I do find such pleading to be either lazy or disingenuous.

    Humanity functions as a vast system reaching across the borders of virtually every jurisdiction in the world. Speculating on what would happen if everyone had the per capita footprint of Manhattan is simply moot because it’s not in practice possible.

  100. Ikonoclast
    November 17th, 2013 at 16:10 | #100

    @Will Boisvert

    You are a fantasist Will. I almost envy you. It must be comforting to believe such nuclear cornucopian fairy tales. Those of us who live in the real world of real physics and real ecology know the picture is quite different.

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