In my recent post about government’s manifest failure in the face of climate change, GerrardOfTitanServer naturally cropped up and started banging the “Nuclear is our only option” drum. I got so annoyed – he has pulled several comment threads into the weeds in the past – with him that I implied that maybe he could fuck off a little bit.
I regret that. The philosophical ideal would be to not be King Thag of This Blog, and fall back on my authority – which is real as far as bits in this corner of the internet go – I should have had the patience to engage, instead. So, I thought about GerrardOfTitanServer’s arguments for, oh, 5 minutes, and noticed a few gigantic, glaring holes in them. This posting is about that, and I welcome and invite anyone who wants to argue with GerrardOfTitanServer to go ahead.
This can be the GerrardOfTitanServer thread and, note to GerrardOfTitanServer: do not continue to drag other comment threads into endless text-walls of argumentation or I’ll shut you down. You’ve got your thread, now, here you go, this is it.
First off, some ground-work: Gerrardian has said things to the effect that “greens” are a threat to civilization and ought to be suppressed or silenced or dropped into the ocean (where they would release carbon) or something like that. The problem there is that we aren’t necessarily “greens” here. GerrardOfTitanServer is arguing with a stereotype that they’ve created in their mind, and that’s bad strategy, which says something for their overall strategic judgement. It’s easy to take a rhetorical side-step and ignore everything they’re saying by asserting “I’m not one of your ‘Greens'” and dragging them into a quagmire of detailed beliefs. [stderr – my earlier Argument Clinic post on labels] But I’m not interested in taking a rhetorical dodge pro forma – it’s more a case that GerrardOfTitanServer is flat out wrong about important things. And GerrardOfTitanServer is really right about a lot of important things; what they don’t seem to understand is that being really right about one point doesn’t mean you’re right about everything else.
In the past, I’ve commented regarding the climate crisis, as follows:
- We need to throw everything we’ve got at the problem including nuclear power.
- Cutting back dramatically on CO2 emissions is an obvious response, it’s the details that are ugly.
- Governments and their masters are a significant part of the problem and, since governments have regulatory control over humanity’s response to the climate crisis, we cannot simply ignore them.
I have also commented regarding nuclear power, in general:
- I’ve been to Chernobyl and now that miles of topsoil have been scraped away and buried, it’s a nice place. I extend my awed personal thanks to the hundreds of thousands of Russian and Ukranian miners who followed orders and went to clean up that beast.
- I understand that the death-rate of accidents like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Windscale [wik] and Fukushima is very low.
- I don’t think that nuclear accidents or spent fuel are, in and of themselves, reasons to avoid nuclear power. What they are is reasons to be careful about spent fuel and nuclear accidents. Fossil fuels aren’t great, either – I live 12 miles from the coal-fired power plant at Shawville, PA, and I’ve seen the coal ash mountain that it produces – that is nasty stuff and I don’t want it seeping into my ground-water any more than I want radiation seeping into my ground-water.
- Fusion remains 30 years in the future, and I believe that the US government should be spending “department of defense-style” money researching it, instead of, uh, department of defense-ing. The intellectual byproducts of the Manhattan Project were massive and, if you consider it merely as a government-sponsored high tech research project, it was massively successful. [I count the “moon race” in with the US’ nuclear war preparations, fwiw.] If humanity, collectively, were sensible, we’d have been spending like drunken sailors on researching fusion power, 30 years ago. But, see my point on “governments” above; the government has been able to regulate for fossil fuel subsidies instead of researching nuclear fission and fusion power, and we will all regret that Real Soon Now.
- Alternative fission power appears to be on the same time-ramp as fusion, and I am not sure why. I first heard about “pebble bed” reactors in the 1980s and they were going to be everywhere in 20 years, or something like that. I was a kid in the 80s, so I believed when “they” said that. What happened? I don’t know. But there is a point to be made here: if the CIA can haul plutonium-powered electronics up into the Himalayas, and lose them then what has happened that there are not safe and effective small-scale powerplants? [wired] I’m not saying that every smallish town should have a SNAP (Radioisotope thermo-electric generator) [wik] but there are governments in the world that have experience building such things, and coincidentally have lots of plutonium that they keep pointing at each other’s citizens, threatening global destruction. Maybe those swords could be beaten into plowshares, or something, huh? The Cassini probe was powered with one. There ought to be massive investment and effort on developing a full panoply of nuclear-powered (fusion/fission/radioisotope decay) power and it should be 20 years ago.
I am endlessly frustrated by people who say “nuclear power is dangerous” without specifying what kind of nuclear power and what kind of dangers. Stacking some nuclear power options, or even solar panel manufacture, up against fossil fuels, and it seems to me that we’re in a maze of twisty risk-management decisions not all of which are good by any measure. Further, I think that the opinion I just stated disqualifies me thoroughly as one of GerrardOfTitanServer’s “Greens” – I’m “green” only to the extent that I want humanity’s power systems to not fuck us up long-term the way fossil fuels have, and the way the landscape around Chernobyl is fucked up.
But let me come at this from another angle, to explain why GerrardOfTitanServer’s ideological purity of nuclear-ness doesn’t work:
Many people suffered following power cuts in the aftermath of two hurricanes, but advocates say solar power will withstand future disasters
Rosalina Marrero spends the best part of each day ironing and watching telenovelas at her modest bungalow in Puerto Rico’s coastal Guayama province. When it gets too hot or her asthma plays up due to the toxic coal ash from the nearby power plant, the 78-year-old widow rests on an adjustable hospital bed, clicks on the fan and thanks God for the solar panels on her roof.
Earlier this year, Marrero was among two dozen residents in a low-income, predominantly Black neighbourhood blighted by coal pollution, fitted with a rooftop solar and storage system. Campaigners say systems like hers should be rolled out more widely to tackle the island’s energy crisis and the global climate emergency – both of which are exacerbating racialized health inequalities.
At this point, I feel that I can “mic drop” on GerrardOfTitanServer and walk away, but I’m not going to play for drama. This is serious business.
Unfortunately, you’d have to be one of the biggest idiots in the world to want to build a conventional nuclear reactor on Puerto Rico, although the massive spike it would cause in the local construction economy would definitely be welcome. And in a decade, or so, they’d have lots of nuclear power. It makes as much sense as telling them “wait for fusion power, it’s coming in only 30 years!” would. Except that nobody, ever, especially not the US, would give Puerto Rico nuclear power. Unfortunately, the governments of the world have come to realize that when Canadians teach India how the nuclear processing cycle works, and builds them a breeder reactor, you get nuclear weapons not clean energy. When you have Israeli scientists studying in Chicago under Enrico Fermi, and A Q Khan learning how to enrich plutonium at Siemens AG in Germany, you get nuclear weapons not clean energy. The US keeps Puerto Rico so poor and supine that they probably would never dream of nuclear weapons, but the US has, unfortunately, burned its fingers on proliferating nuclear technology – somewhere in the 80s we switched to proliferating by staging US-made H-bombs all around the world, instead of teaching people nuclear technology.
That’s an important point because, unfortunately, non-proliferation efforts would make it harder for people to just go buy their own radioisotope thermoelectric generators at WAL-MART. “Hey, can you top up my plutonium? I’ve been mining bitcoin, lately…” Yes, if we could go back in time 30 years and change the direction of the future, maybe there would be regional pebble-bed reactors everywhere. I’d prefer that to a coal-fired power plant in Shawville, assuming that the plutonium didn’t wind up scattered around the neighborhood, like the CIA’s SNAP that they lost in the headwaters of the Ganges River.
My point in all of this is that GerrardOfTitanServer is not just wrong, but is stupidly wrong when they say that humankind should not be wasting their time on solar, wind, and other stuff that demonstrably works. I understand that nuclear powerplants also demonstrably work – I spent most of my summers in France, which has a really nice power-grid that rests on a platform of nuclear powerplants that have been quietly, unobtrusively functional. It can be done. It should have been done. But since it takes a decade or two to build a power grid like that, and it’s not an option for places subject to flooding, political unrest, or poverty maybe GerrardOfTitanServer can re-think their position, which amounts to: “the rich people of the world should tell all the poor people of the world to just get by without electricity” because, when they say that solar, wind, and hydro are a bad idea, that is what they are saying.The picture above is a Norwegian hydroelectric power-plant that generates electricity based on the height/drop of the side of one of the fjords. It’s so efficient that it doesn’t need a huge dam to capture water; it takes advantage of a predictable water supply, a tremendous drop (it’s dizzying looking down the side of the fjord from up there) and a smart power-grid behind it. Norway sells power to England, I was told when I toured the plant, which I may or may not believe, but it sounds like the kind of crazy bullshit humans do. The generator/turbine are a smallish (about the size of a shipping container) unit sunk in concrete, that makes a spine-tingling hum of pure power.
GerrardOfTitanServer is saying, bless their heart, that building such systems is an unnecessary distraction from building the nuclear power plants that are going to be too late to save the world. And by “bless your heart” I mean that in the passive-aggressive sense.
Actually, I want to hammer on that point, a bit. Here’s a view across the same fjord, from standing on the “dam” at the hydro plant:
You see that lovely waterfall on the opposite side? Yeah, that’s another hydro plant. There’s so much water flow that there wasn’t a need to stop the waterfall; the plant is powered by the excess and (the Norwegian plant engineer said) it actually helps control erosion, which is a big deal if you don’t enjoy having the side of your fjord collapse into the fjord and create a mega-tsunami. Norwegian humor is bone dry, reminiscent of the Finns, so maybe he was kidding me about the mega-tsunamis.
Or, maybe not.
That sort of power would be completely the wrong thing for Puerto Rico, but if the US government weren’t a bunch of horrible, racist assholes, they could be building wave and wind power down there. The deployment time for such systems is large, to be sure (it may already be too late) but Puerto Rico is a perfect example of what I mean when I say “the best approach is to throw everything we have at the problem”, which is very different from GerrardOfTitanServer’s approach, namely to accuse anyone who advocates for a thoughtful approach to local power needs of being a “green” and being part of the problem.
It is a social justice issue. Because of the expense and fissionable materials control problems in a nuclear reactor, nuclear power for Puerto Rico (or for the American South, such as Florida and Texas) is a bad option. I’m not saying that because I’m a “green” I’m saying that because I saw what happened at Fukushima as a massive engineering failure. And, with regard to Texas: those assholes already have too much of the US nuclear arsenal under their control and we ought to be subtly clawing back those deployments and turning Texas into an economic backwater to match its political backwater status. (and by “backwater” I mean “septic tank”)
Let me wrap this up here, with some predictions. Usually, when challenged, Gerrardian likes to avoid grappling with the political and technical reality of energy systems. It’s childishly easy to say “don’t waste your time on hydro” but its equally easy to dismiss it by replying “go talk to the Norwegians.” Or “hey why don’t you just stay poor without electricity” to basically, Africa. Not just Puerto Rico. Hidden behind the “nuclear power everywhere” idea is a whole lot of political complexity that is being swept under the carpet – and that is exactly the political complexity that got us to where we are, right now. Put another way: Joe Manchin should have been bought off with the promise of another yacht for himself and a few more millions for his family, in return for building a windmill construction plant in his district in West Virginia. Instead, he’s going to try to kill a bunch of practical legislation in order to protect his (and, to be fair, his buddies’) fossil fuel interests. For GerrardOfTitanServer to continue to insist that nuclear is the only way forward displays that they don’t even understand what “forward” means, in this day and context.
I don’t care about the dangers of nuclear power. There are some, but if you chalk “some people got irradiated at Chernobyl” up against “global warming from CO2 emissions” it’s clear to me that the only way nuclear anything is going to produce an extinction event for humanity is if the assholes in power start a full-up nuclear war (which they have always wanted to do). The time to have argued about safety was 30-50 years ago, when scientists who worked for oil companies started writing papers about greenhouse gas. Oh, maybe the “green” in “greenhouse gas” is what confused GerrardOfTitanServer.
I’m not a “Green”, GerrardOfTitanServer, I’m a “Cynic.”
Advance warning: I probably will not track and respond to comments on this post if it turns into a massive pile of GerrardOfTitanServer text-walls.
Consider what happened at Chernobyl (and Fukushima) as social justice issues, rather than technical issues about the safety of nuclear power. Basically, the plants got built in disposable real estate, which was then disposed of (and the residents along with it) when normal engineering failures happened. GerrardOfTitanServer likes to talk about “how many people were killed or injured” but dodges around the absolute fact that there was gigantic economic consequences and those consequences fell entirely on the poor and less privileged. In their scenario of nuclear reactors going up, everywhere, what they’re really calling for is that poor folks will wind up living next to a reactor, which might someday fail and dispossess them even further. Based on that line of reasoning, I think someone ought to pass laws that if you have a residence that is valued at more than $1mn, it must have solar panels on the roof and if you own more than 10 acres of land, 10 acres has to be put into wind or solar power. And if you own more than 200 acres, you need to build a nuclear reactor and get your fissionable fuel from somewhere… How about that?