Christianity and Anti-Nuclear: Both Selective Users of Science

Christianity and Anti-Nuclear: Both Selective Users of Science January 10, 2020

The documentary film Pandora’s Promise (2013, 86 minutes, $4) explores nuclear power as it interviews prominent environmentalists who switched from being against it to being in favor. I’d like to highlight some of the features of the transition these environmentalists went through. There are surprising parallels with the transition people make when leaving Christianity, and there are parallels between a dogmatic anti-nuclear attitude and a dogmatic religious attitude.

The charges against nuclear power

Dr. Hellen Caldicott (a medical doctor) is used in the film as the representative of anti-nuclear environmentalism. She has been called “the world’s foremost anti-nuclear campaigner.” She has received many prizes, 21 honorary doctorates, and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize by Linus Pauling and has been called by the Smithsonian Institution “one of the most influential women of the 20th Century.”

Caldicott uses nuclear accidents to make her case and claims that 985,000 people died as a result of the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl (Ukraine). She says that the aftermath from the 2011 Fukushima (Japan) power plant accident will be even worse. Seven million will die prematurely in the next two decades, and tens of millions more will suffer from “debilitating radiation-induced chronic illnesses.”

And the rebuttals

The World Health Organization disagrees. About Fukushima, it concluded in 2013, “The increases in the incidence of human disease attributable to the additional radiation exposure from the Fukushima Daiichi NPP accident are likely to remain below detectable levels.” No deaths due to radiation have been attributed to the accident.

Caldicott’s source for the nearly one million deaths due to Chernobyl has been widely discredited. A consortium of United Nations organizations and others gave this summary of the mortality due to the Chernobyl disaster:

According to [the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation] (2000), [Acute Radiation Syndrome] was diagnosed in 134 emergency workers. . . . Among these workers, 28 persons died in 1986 due to ARS. . . . Nineteen more have died in 1987–2004 of various causes; however their deaths are not necessarily—and in some cases are certainly not—directly attributable to radiation exposure.

There were no radiation deaths in the general population, though there have been close to 7000 cases of thyroid cancer among children. These would have been “almost entirely” prevented had the Soviet Union followed simple measures afterwards.

The report estimates an increase in cancer mortality due to radiation exposure of “a few per cent” in the 100,000 fatal cancers that would be expected in this population. In other words, Caldicott is about as wrong as it is possible to be.

This is not to dismiss the problem—the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents were indeed disasters—but it doesn’t help to see them incorrectly. The Fukushima earthquake and tsunami caused 16,000 deaths, while the power plant accident caused none.

Not seeing the problem correctly causes its own problems. The World Health Organization concluded twenty years after Chernobyl that “its psychological impacts did more health damage than radiation exposure did,” and childhood obesity in the Fukushima area is now the worst in Japan because children are not allowed to play outside, in most cases without any valid reason.

Environmentalists—aren’t they the ones who should be following the science?

One critic compared environmentalists with climate change deniers.

Failing to provide sources, refuting data with anecdote, cherry-picking studies, scorning the scientific consensus, invoking a cover-up to explain it: all this is horribly familiar. These are the habits of climate change deniers, against which the green movement has struggled valiantly, calling science to its aid. It is distressing to discover that when the facts don’t suit them, members of this movement resort to the follies they have denounced.

I find this topic revealing because anti-nuclear attitudes are typically held by liberals. Instead of using science and technology to find solutions to the problems of nuclear power, some liberals simply want it to go away. But these problems have solutions. For example, the Integral Fast Reactor was an experimental fourth-generation reactor program begun in the U.S. in 1984. It was cancelled ten years later by Democratic pressure, after it had proven that it was failsafe (it survived a loss of electrical power and loss of all coolant) and shown that it could reduce the waste leaving the facility to less than one percent that of conventional reactors.

The mothballing of the reactor cost more than letting the project conclude. Democrats can be as mindlessly ideological and anti-science as Republicans.

While the U.S. civilian nuclear power industry has caused no deaths, the U.S. health burden from fossil fuel power generation is 30,000 to 52,000 premature deaths per year. Worldwide, the total is millions per year.

Breaking free

Some of the interviewees spoke of their change of mind. Mark Lynas said, “I was under no doubt that my whole career and my whole reputation as an environmental activist, communicator was at risk if I talked publicly about having changed my mind about nuclear power.”

Richard Rhodes said, “I came to realize [journalists] basically avoided looking at the whole picture. They only looked at the questions that seemed to prove to them that nuclear power was dangerous, as I had, too.”

I was most shocked at how little some of these environmentalists knew about nuclear power. They had their standard line—nuclear power of any type was bad—and they stuck with it. One career environmentalist admitted that he hadn’t known about natural background radiation from the ground, from space, and even from bananas. Natural potassium, of which bananas are a good source, is 0.012% potassium-40 (a radioactive isotope), and humans are more radioactive because of potassium than because of carbon-14.

Comparison with Christianity

Dr. Hellen Caldicott, the strident anti-nuclear activist, has a lot in common with Christian leaders. (Obviously, her opinion of religion isn’t the issue. I’m simply paralleling her actions with those of Christian leaders.)

  • Dogmatic. Caldicott is a charismatic speaker, and she has a ready audience eager to hear her message. She’s “the world’s foremost anti-nuclear campaigner” for a reason. She says that nuclear power is wicked just like a televangelist might say that same-sex marriage in America is wicked. She says that nuclear power of any type is bad, just like a preacher might say abortion of any type is bad.
  • Confident and unchanging. Caldicott is well aware of this controversy and the fact that her figures are orders of magnitude greater than the most widely accepted data. Her position is grossly out of touch with reality and could even be called hysterical. But she uses this notoriety to her advantage, and I imagine her façade is as confident as ever.
  • Reputation. This is her livelihood and her identity, and she’s not likely to change. Like Harold Camping or John Hagee in the Christian domain, she can’t admit a big mistake. Some career environmentalists do change, though, as the film documents, and the soul-searching crisis that individual environmentalists go through parallels that of ex-Christians like Dan Barker, Bart Ehrman, or Matt Dillahunty. Leaving one’s identity in either domain means reinventing or even re-finding oneself, and former allies may ridicule or shun.
  • Embrace of science. Caldicott is like William Lane Craig and other apologists in that neither feels bound by science. They use science as it suits them and ignore it when it doesn’t. Caldicott is outraged that climate change deniers dismiss environmental dangers by ignoring or selecting their science, but then she does it herself. In the same way, William Lane Craig quotes cosmologists to defend the Big Bang (because he likes a beginning to the universe), but he ignores quantum physics when it says that quantum events needn’t have causes (he’s desperate to find a cause for the universe).

It’s tempting to pick and choose (or invent) your science when you’re on the losing side of the evidence. Christian apologists do it, and seeing it within the anti-nuclear movement, a completely different domain, can illustrate that it’s not just dogmatic Christians who are guilty of it. This bias is a human problem. Seeing nuclear power incorrectly prevents seeing it as an important way to address climate change, and seeing the supernatural incorrectly diverts us from solving society’s problems. No, God isn’t going to ride into town to save the day.

I’m starting to worry that reason is an acquired taste.
— Sam Harris

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 11/10/15.)

Image from Idaho National Laboratory, CC license


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  • LOLwut?

    Nuclear is demonstrably dangerous and toxic. It’s not a matter of “selective” science, it’s the simple truth!

    • Raging Bee

      Also, Helen Caldicott is nowhere near representative of the anti-nuclear movement. She was widely vilified as a hysteric who was trying to instill terror in CHILDREN (at the absolute height of anti-nuclear hysteria, mind you), and her disregard for facts and logic was considered outrageous even by other anti-nuclear liberals. Trotting her name out this long after she’d flamed out, really doesn’t enhance the credibility of the OP here.

      • Thanks for that information. I used Caldicott in the same way she was used in that documentary. It’s good to hear that she doesn’t have much credibility even in the anti-nuclear movement.

    • Raging Bee

      A simple truth echoed even by people inside the nuclear industry, who admitted we were doing nuclear power dangerously wrong in many ways, at many levels at once.

    • Michael Neville

      I spent years in nuclear powered submarines. My radiation exposure was measured by thermoluminescent dosimeters and the highest exposure I had was the run where I was the Deck Division Leading Petty Officer, spending 30 days working under the fusion reactor called the Sun. I got more radiation from the Sun than from the nuclear reactor.

      There are problems with nuclear power. It’s expensive to build, maintain and operate and disposing of radioactive waste is a major concern. But as the old saying goes: TANSTAAFL, There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Every kind of power generation has its costs and problems.

      What happened at Chernobyl was the result of the operators disregarding safety precautions and violating safety regulations. There was also a design flaw in the RBMK-1000 reactors in the Chernobyl plant but primarily the accident happened because of operator error.

      • I was thinking long-term. Nuclear waste has to go somewhere, and, uh… nobody wants it anywhere near themselves (with good reason).

        • eric

          We’ve been producing waste since the 1960s, and will continue to produce waste even without civilian nuclear plants because of the use of them for submarines, aircraft carriers, and medical isotope production reactors. Like it or not, and regardless of what we use to produce electricity in the future, the US needs a nuclear waste storage decision. And, AIUI, ‘no decision’ keeps the waste closer to human communities than setting up a remote storage site would, because ‘no decision’ defaults to “all reactors keep their waste.” Let’s take Indian Point as an example. It sits on the Hudson river, nestled between a whole bunch of populous suburbs of NYC and 36 miles from Manhattan. Not having a national storage facility means it’s waste stays there. Or, we could stick that waste under a mountain in a desert 50-60 miles from the nearest town, in an area nobody’s allowed to live in and which is owned by DoD already, because they used to conduct nuclear tests there in the 50s. Which of those options sounds relatively safer than you? Well guess what Kitty, unless Dems (and GOPers) get on the rational side of the nuclear power issue and designate a facility, all the waste Indian Point produces stays right there, ideally positioned in the Hudson watershed and within a few miles of NYC suburbia. That’s what NIMBY and refusal to deal with the issue gets us.

          …So, storage is really a problem that exists independently of the question of whether we use nuclear power in the future. We can choose not to…and we’ll still have to store nuclear waste somewhere. Choosing not to use nuclear power in the future doesn’t magically make all the million-year-half-life material we’ve already got magically cease to exist. Love nuclear power or hate it, all citizens need to get a bit more pragmatic and a lot less head-in-the-clouds about waste storage.

          Now, Bob’s IFR proposal would actually allow that waste to be used as fuel. You burn a lot of it up AND produce power from it at the same time. Those are some pretty big upsides. The downside, however, as I pointed out, is that you just created a big supply of weapons’ grade plutonium. And, very likely, gave every other country in the world the ability to create their own supply, as it’s going to be very hard for the US to justify a “it’s okay for us but not for thee” position. Personally, thinking globally, I’d rather there be uranium glass buried in Nevada than weapons’ grade plutonium being produced in Natanz.

        • The rational side doesn’t support nuclear energy. And you can’t use nuclear waste as fuel, if you could, it wouldn’t be waste!

          Y’all drank Gerrard’s Nuclear Kool-Aid, and it shows.

        • It’s just a matter of perspective. In a light water reactor design, fuel rods after 2 or 3 years in the reactor are called “waste,” even though they still have 99% of their energy left. And the fuel in other designs isn’t called waste until much more of the energy is used.

          One design’s waste is another design’s fuel.

        • Atrus

          I could call the peel of the banana I just ate waste, but that doesn’t change the fact that it could be turned into compost and used in a garden. Even if light water reactors can’t use it doesn’t mean that nothing else could possibly ever use it.

        • eric

          you can’t use nuclear waste as fuel, if you could, it wouldn’t be waste!

          The slow neutron method used in current reactors can’t (efficiently) cause fission in Neptunium or in lower density Uranium. So as you build those things up, they act as waste and ‘poison’ the reactor – they have to be removed. But a breeder reactor uses fast neutrons, which can fission those things, which means it can burn those materials as fuels. Perhaps diesel vs. regular gas engine makes for an approximate analogy; the diesel engine can burn a wider range of fuels and less pure fuels than your regular gas engine, because it operates at a higher combustion temperature. Petrochemicals that would poison your car’s engine are fuel for the diesel.

          And what would you propose we do with the 900,000 metric tons of nuclear waste that already exists? As I said above, stopping all use of nuclear power isn’t going to magically make this go away. So what should we do with it?

        • I don’t know — I think that should have been considered before it got to 900,000 metric tons.

        • eric

          We’ll call “invent a time machine and go back in time to before we used nuclear power” plan B. What’s your plan A for dealing with current nuclear waste?

          Nobody should call themselves or consider themselves an environmentalist as long as they willingly and intentionally ignore present waste. You’re treating current nuclear waste as an oil baron treats CO2 emissions; complete unwillingness to have a serious discussion about realistic fixes.

        • No, I’m pointing out that nuclear waste is a PROBLEM. We have nowhere to put it. Which, yes, SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED prior to actually building nuclear power plants. Now we have a bunch of radioactive junk that nobody is willing to take because of the dangers.

          The fact that it’s already there is just more reason to NOT go forward with more nuclear energy — if we can’t deal with the current amount, how are we going to deal with it when there’s even more, and still nowhere safe to put it?

          And it takes at least 25 years to build ONE reactor. We don’t have that kind of time! Investing in wind and solar is simply the more rational solution, as it can be built and implemented quickly, providing an immediate reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

          It’s waste. It can’t be “recycled” the way you want to.

        • eric

          nuclear waste is a PROBLEM. We have nowhere to put it.

          We must put it somewhere, because it exists. There is no perfect solution. So what less-than-perfect solution do you suggest?

          It’s waste. It can’t be “recycled” the way you want to.

          If you have some scientific basis for claiming fast breeder reactors can’t fission neputium and lower grade uranium that counts as ‘waste’ for a slow neutron reactor, I’d love to hear it. Otherwise, you might want to listen more and assert less.

        • No, we’ve got places to put it. It’s just that some people push to not use those places.

          One anti-nuclear strategy is to just impede everything–no, you can’t use Yucca Flats, no, you can’t build a plant here, and so on. They’re determined to not be satisfied.

        • Did you misquote your source?

          The United States has over 90,000 metric tons of nuclear waste that requires disposal. The U.S. commercial power industry alone has generated more waste (nuclear fuel that is “spent” and is no longer efficient at generating power) than any other country—nearly 80,000 metric tons. This spent nuclear fuel, which can pose serious risks to humans and the environment, is enough to fill a football field about 20 meters deep

        • eric

          Yep, sorry, baaaad typo. I looked up the GAO source too, but hit 0 one too many times.

          Nevertheless, the point remains. WMDKitty is representative of folks whose visceral fear/dislike of nuclear power prevents them from rationally thinking about the waste problem.

        • Lord Backwater

          The rational side doesn’t support nuclear energy.

          * Citation or supporting argument needed. “I is rite, you is rong” isn’t going to cut it.

        • Let’s design reactors that change the name “waste” into “fuel.” With light water reactors, the enriched uranium fuel still has 99% of its energy when it is taken out for reprocessing and called “waste.” Other designs (such as the Integral Fast Reactor, discussed above) already show how to extract 99% of the energy.

        • I’d like to know what you’re smoking, it must be some good stuff. Nuclear poisons the environment in worse ways than fossil fuels, with far further-reaching consequences.

        • Phil Rimmer

          All our current reactors are based on designs done on slide rules. The Industry has been allowed to be hugely conservative in the mistaken opinion that change is more dangerous.

          Travelling wave reactors specifically using current high level fuel waste and rendering it as much lower risk not only mitigates an outrageous problem too long neglected but also provides all the baseload power needed in the transition to renewables for next 200 years, until we have used up our stocks of high level waste.

          The system is inherently immune to runaway, needing active neutron bombardment to sustain a reaction. Power failures, natural disasters will cause it to stop.

          FWIW. I work with renewables and the circular economy, now configuring smart manufacturing processes adapted to renewable, justifying much higher levels of uptake even before ideal storage solutions come available. BUT the progress in nuclear has been substantial and I became a convert about 5 years ago needing to abandon my support of Greenpeace seemingly not able to go where the facts lead.

        • The number of people killed and injured by fossil fuels used for power annually is far, far, far greater than the sum of all deaths and injuries ever for nuclear used for power. Can we at least agree on that?

        • Yeah, sure. Can we also agree that when nuclear goes wrong, it goes really wrong?

        • Nuclear going wrong sounds like TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. How many deaths is this? Less than 100, I think, and that’s in the entire history of the civilian nuclear industry. How many minutes of the burning-carbon status quo would it take to get to 100?

          “Really wrong” applies to the fossil fuel industry.

        • So you don’t care that radiation irreversibly poisons the land, water, and air? Wow.

        • Why did you sidestep my questions? It doesn’t matter what I think of you and your argument, but you owe it to yourself to rethink your argument when there are questions that give you pause.

          So you don’t care that radiation irreversibly poisons the land, water, and air? Wow.

          Yes, potassium-40 is radioactive and we get some every time we eat food with potassium. We get carbon-14 from the atmosphere. There’s radon. And so on. The environment is full of radiation, as you note. Since earth life evolved in this environment, it seems to cope fairly well.

        • Lord Backwater

          And fossil fuels haven’t gone really wrong? Even ignoring the whole greenhouse thing, do you not remember incidents like this one:

          Duke Energy says dam breached at North Carolina plant and coal ash may be flowing into Cape Fear River (2018)

        • I never said anything about fossil fuels.

          Solar and wind and hydro are all feasible.

        • Aside: I heard that US hydro power can be roughly doubled (I think) with no new dams simply by retrofitting existing dams with power plants.

          Solar and wind and hydro are all feasible.

          Fossil fuel and nuclear plants have the important property of being able to supply a base load. Once they’re on, they can provide power at a constant rate day or night, windy or not. Solar, wind, and hydro aren’t so reliable. Yes, local power storage is an important area of research, but let’s not just imagine that 1MW of wind power can be just plopped in like a LEGO piece to replace 1MW of coal power.

        • Lord Backwater
      • Fusion reactor? Fusion used to create useable power? I don’t think such a thing exists.

        • Michael Neville

          I know you live in Seattle so non-rainy days are few and far between, but the next time it isn’t raining and the clouds part for an hour or two go outside and look at the sky. If you’re very lucky you’ll see a very bright disk, so bright that it’s hard to look at. That’s called the “Sun”. It’s a large fusion reactor, powered by fusing hydrogen into helium. If you’d gone to a college that taught science instead of some tech institute you might have learned about the “Sun” and how it operates.

        • I think I need to reread your previous comment!

          Yeah, I just went to tech school. Thanks for going easy on me.

      • Most of us are, I think, in agreement that nuclear power CAN be generated in a safe way. Most of us, I also think, know that corporate MurKKKa gives less than the half-life of a fleafuck about safety.

        • Maybe a little exaggeration? If you’re saying that the profit motive can get in the way of safety, I agree. Still, the report card in general for technology’s ability to improve life is pretty good.

        • The nuclear industry AND the fossil fuel biz both have horrible records in the area of pollution and plant safety going back to their beginnings.

          It doesn’t have to be that way but it has to be that way when investors in their far off skyscrapers are held in higher esteem than the people who live or work in or near their plants.

          The Vermont Yankee Plant & the planta in Rowe MA, Diablo Canyon, CA and Calhoun Station (a few miles north of Omaha, NE) are all in various stages of decommissioning, a process which is going to cost $Bs. Vermont Yankee has been sold by Entergy to another company, NorthStar for $1K and had NorthStar not only sign on for the clean-up but take on the outstanding debt of $143M for some work that was done to safeguard/remove spent fuel from ponds on the site.

          Entergy which owned the plant had a tritium leak that was not reported until something like 3 years after it was discovered by their own people. Curiously the Fitzpatrick Plant (about 10 miles from my house) had a similar problem around the same time. In both cases the company spokeswadz stated that the there was, “NEVER any danger to the public!”. Doesn’t pass the smell test.

          This is a tiny sample of what’s been done without the public being aware of it, in some cases for years, by the people we entrust with out lives.

          De-commissioning costs are to be covered by the fund set up for that purpose. I haven’t heard of a plant closing, yet, where the fund was big enough to do that.

          Scientifically, nuclear power is a very good idea. In the rapacious climate of the markets it is a hugely efficient extractor of money for its owners and a poorly self-monitored/regulated and highly dangerous industry.

        • RMS

          require manglement to live on site and that would change very quickly

        • That’s a cozy thought. Just think how much they could save on their heating billz!

      • Jim Jones

        And the encasement of the whole thing was ludicrously inadequate IIRC.

    • And yet fossil fuels kills far, far, far more people than the nuclear industry. Share with us the problems with nuclear if you’d like, but don’t do it until we all agree on the harms of the status quo. It sucks.

    • Jim Baerg

      Calling your statement a misleading half truth would be overly generous.
      Deaths from nuclear are greater than zero but less than from other energy sources, so for practical purposes calling nuclear ‘dangerous’ is a lie.

      • LOL riiiiiight.

        • Lord Backwater

          Please: less LOL, more scientifically credible citations.

        • Jim Baerg

          I was about to ask if she(?) was trying to back up the original posts contention that anti-nuclear is like a religion. Just saying LOL is pretty much that.

  • eric

    I’m pro-nuclear, but I have to say that the recent advances in solar, wind, and energy efficient devices (example: diodes replacing incandescent light sources) may end up making it unnecessary. And they don’t have the nuclear waste problem.

    Ideally, we’d invest in research and development in all of these technologies, because three environmentally friendly energy producing technologies provides more options and flexibility than two, right? But I don’t think the argument that we need nuclear as a replacement for fossil fuels is as strong as it was in, say, the 1980s. There’s not *a* light at the end of the fossil fuel tunnel now, there’s multiple tunnel exits. Nuclear’s one of them…but, optimistically, not the only one.

    the Integral Fast Reactor was an experimental fourth-generation reactor program begun in the U.S. in 1984. It was cancelled ten years later by Democratic pressure, after it had proven that it was failsafe (it survived a loss of electrical power and loss of all coolant) and
    shown that it could reduce the waste leaving the facility to less than one percent that of conventional reactors.

    It reduces waste through a breeding cycle, which has the side effect of producing weapons grade plutonium. Granted, there are more efficient ways of producing plutonium if a nation-state is focused on creating hydrogen bombs, so it’s not ideal if that’s your goal. However, making these sorts of reactors available would certainly help countries such as Iran and NK produce nuclear weapons while claiming they’re only pursuing peaceful uses of nuclear technologies. Iran, for example, hasn’t even tried to produce plutonium because its too hard to get away with if you’re pretending to be interested in nuclear power. They went the route of enriching uranium, precisely because that’s a “legitimate” slow reactor process. But if they had had some IFRs, they could’ve gone the plutonium route and that would’ve been much easier. I also vaguely recall that fear of plutonium production was the exactly the reason why the US forbade such technologies from use by the civilian nuclear power sector in the first place, back in the 60s. We’ve always known about it’s waste-reduction benefit – the IFR is not new in that respect. Instead, the US only allowed the military and Department of Energy weapons programs to build and use breeders, because for them – at least back in the 70s or so – producing plutonium in addition to power is a feature, not a bug.

  • Thanks4AllTheFish

    I had a discussion with a poster named Enlightened Liberal almost 3 years ago. Apparently he works in the nuclear industry and he provided me with these l!nks which caused me to rethink my negative views about nuclear energy and placated my fears over nuclear waste.

    Indonesia Considers Thorium Molten Salt Reactors

    • I see Indonesia is also considering high-temperature gas-cooled reactors. HTGRs worked well in the UK, which has (IIRC) eight plants using them, each with two reactors. The U.S. had exactly one commercial HTGR, at Fort Saint Vrain in Colorado. It was converted to natural gas in 1989 — the route most conventional reactors are going today.

      In my opinion it was a great mistake to settle so early on one basic reactor design in this country.

    • Yes, I believe thorium as a fuel avoids completely any bomb concerns.

      • Thanks4AllTheFish

        And apparently it eats its own waste.

  • For all the problems it has if things go really pear-shaped (letting Homer Simpson work in Chernobyl, for example), nuclear power is a necessary evil until fusion power is commercially feasible. Not alone, but together with renewables as solar or wind.

    And for space exploration nuclear is a must if one wants to go beyond Mars in manned one, for unmanned one if someone wants a probe to the outer Solar System that does not require decades to reach its target.

  • overgrownhobbit

    Well, I find that theoretically, nuclear energy is fantastic. The only problem is that whole pesky issue of what to do with radioactive waste and a lack of accountability when projects are mismanaged (I am just going to mention the Hanford nuclear site up in Washington where proper safety protocols were not followed and a massive amount of radioactive material contaminated the environment. Oh and also, the local nuclear plant near where I live was shut down in the 90’s because cheap fossil fuel made running the plant no longer cost-effective. They are still missing four fuel rods from its active days AND OH BY THE WAY IT IS BUILT ON THE COAST IN A TSUNAMI ZONE.).

    It is not that the technology is inherently dangerous, it is that (at least in America) we have been used to decades of cheap fossil fuel energy, and we as a citizenry lack the heart to properly regulate nuclear power, and the massive corporations who build and run these contraptions cannot resist the sirens song of cutting maintenance to the bone so they can maximize their profits.

    It meant an awful lot to me to see what happened in Fukushima, because in my opinion the Japanese are paranoid about radiation to the point of avoiding CT scans and X-rays if they can perform MRI scans. I WANT to believe in the promise of nuclear energy, but FFS we have a ways to go as a society if we can trust nuclear energy to be safe.

    • Jim Jones

      > The only problem is that whole pesky issue of what to do with radioactive waste.

      NOT the way they want to deal with it. Burying it in caves in mountains, the way stupid bureaucrats always deal with stuff.

      I want the stuff encased in cement cylinders, mounted on steel shafts and out in the open where it can be inspected often enough for safety.

    • Lord Backwater

      Quite a few reactors are built along coasts. This is because they need cooling water. Awareness of plate tectonic effects such as tsunamis has increased greatly over the last few decades, particularly in the Pacific northwest.

    • RichardSRussell

      The only problem is that whole pesky issue of what to do with radioactive waste …

      Why don’t we just follow the admirable example of the petrochemical industry and belch it all up into the atmosphere, where it’ll never be a problem for anybody?

    • Chris DeVries

      The thing about nuclear waste is that much of it can be further utilized in specialized reactors called molten salt reactors (MSRs) which allows you to get more bang for your buck (i.e. you need less uranium fuel per unit of power, which means that the same mines can fuel more reactors on the same output of uranium ore, and also you end up with less waste per unit of power produced), while turning the more dangerous long-term actinide isotopes, many of which have half-lives in the thousands of years, into isotopes with much shorter half-lives. The problem with waste-disposal right now is that ideally, you want to encase waste and bury it far away from any people or groundwater sources, and it needs to remain isolated for at least 20,000 years if its impact is to be mitigated. But if that waste is reprocessed and run through one of these MSRs, it must only be safely stored for a few hundred years. It’s MUCH easier to mitigate risks on this shorter timeframe. Also, MSRs do not rely on pumps circulating water to cool their fuel. The fuel and the coolant is the same liquid; a loss of coolant is also a loss of fuel – if temperatures get too high (if the circulation of the fuel into heat exchangers by pumps stops, for example), the fuel melts a plug that allows it to flow into dispersion tanks, which critically do not have a high enough volume to allow for fission to continue, which makes meltdowns virtually impossible. Furthermore, these reactors don’t require the use of fluids under high-pressure, which reduces the risk of explosion to nearly zero.

      This technology exists NOW. Yes, it would take a couple decades to fully implement, and we don’t have that kind of time when dealing with climate change. But it’s a lot smarter to keep using existing power plants while building MSRs, as the waste-management plan put into place would allow reactor waste to be reused as fuel, and short-term storage of this waste is relatively safe. Furthermore, it would reduce the amount of fossil fuels we need to burn, saving thousands of lives every year and allowing countries to meet their energy needs while also reducing their carbon dioxide outputs.

      People always forget about the insanely high impact fossil fuel extraction and combustion has on people and the environment when discussing this issue. Even if there is a meltdown or two from reactors that are getting a bit long in the tooth, and even if people die and land is made unusable by these meltdowns…this is only a tiny fraction of the ANNUAL impact incurred by our reliance on fossil fuels (which already contaminate land, and which already kill thousands every year via pollution while progressively making the planet hotter and hotter, the consequences of which will be hundreds of millions of deaths). There really is no contest here. We should be using EVERY tool in our toolkit to combat climate change, and nuclear energy is one tool. We should also be using wind, solar, carbon capture, and frankly, we should be using less energy too. All are required if we want to seriously mitigate the impacts of climate change.

      • Small addition: it’s one thing for the West to preach reducing power consumption, but the Third World won’t appreciate that. “You guys get ahead, and then you want to shut the door on us when we’re trying to get to your level? Not fair.” Safe nuclear power could be a boon to Third World development without worries about climate change, deforestation, and so on.

  • Jim Jones

    It’s not nuclear power plants that concern me. It’s poorly designed, poorly located, poorly built, poorly operated and poorly maintained nuclear power plants that concern me. This is not a situation where numerous corners can be cut without consequences.

    • Michael Neville

      The reason why the US Navy, which has and had the most nuclear reactors in the world, has never had a Chernobyl or Three Mile Island can be attributed to one man, Admiral Hyman Rickover. When he set up the Navy nuclear power program he instituted very strict quality assurance. When ever there was a problem with a Navy nuclear plant an Incident Report was generated which described the problem and the solution. For instance, secondary steam valves had an allowable leak rate of one drop per minute and were tested periodically. One valve had a leak rate of a drop and a half per minute, so the valve was pulled, sent off for refurbishment, and a new valve was installed. A three page Incident Report was written (as the ship’s Yeoman I got to type it) with one file copy, one copy for Squadron, one copy for Group, one copy for COMSUBLANT (Commander Submarine Force Atlantic Fleet), and original and seven copies for NAVSEA-08 (Rickover’s office). Rickover personally read every Incident Report and sometimes gave feedback. Careers were in jeopardy if Rickover responded to an Incident Report.

      Rickover was forcibly retired in 1981 after 63 years of service (making him the last World War I veteran on active duty). However his successors have continued to run the Navy Nuclear Power Program to Rickover’s exacting standards.

      The sort of quality assurance instituted by Rickover is very expensive but very effective.

      • I’m probably confounding things with Red Storm Rising, where the reactor of a Soviet submarine goes meltdown as it’s pushed beyond its limits (I think) and the effects are really nasty, but had not Russians similar troubles with one of their nuclear subs?

        • Michael Neville

          The Russians (and Soviets) have had all sorts of problems with their submarines, both nuclear and diesel-electric.

          Since World War II the US has lost four submarines.*

          ● USS Cochino (SS 345) sank in 1949 due to a fire and battery explosion.

          ● USS Stickleback (SS 415) sank after a collision with USS Silverstein (DE 534) in 1958.

          ● USS Thresher (SSN 593) sank in 1963 during post-overhaul sea trials. The cause of Thresher’s loss is not known, the two most likely theories are a seawater piping weld broke, causing uncontrollable flooding in the engine room or a reactor SCRAM caused lack of propulsion while the ship was near test depth.

          ● USS Scorpion (SSN 589) sank in 1968, cause unknown.

          The Soviets lost 16 submarines, eight diesel-electric and eight nuclear boats (mainly HEN class**) since 1945. I won’t go into detail about these subs because in most cases the cause of sinking is unknown. The Russian Navy has lost two boats, both nuclear:

          ● Kursk, an Oscar class SSGN, in 2000. She suffered a torpedo fuel explosion which ruptured the hull.

          ● K-159, a November SSN, in 2003. She was lost in heavy seas while being towed to a shipyard for scrapping.

          *A hull designator of SS is a diesel-electric boat, SSN is a nuclear powered fast attack submarine, SSBN is a nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine, and SSGN is a.nuclear powered cruise missile submarine. DE designates a destroyer escort.

          **The Soviets were very secretive about their military equipment and didn’t even release the names of various submarine classes. As a result NATO named the classes after phonetic letters. The HEN class were three types of submarine with identical nuclear propulsion systems. The Hotel boats were SSBNs, the Echo boats were SSGNs and the November boats were SSNs. The HEN boats were the first large class of Soviet nuclear submarines.

      • RMS

        same with France – the nuclear plants are all operated by some branch or other of the military or the gubmint, I forget which. High standards.

  • Karen the rock whisperer

    We might all be MUCH better off if our planet as a whole were not mostly ruled by oligarchs. Scientists can come up with lots of solutions to the difficulties of climate change, of powering civilization, of feeding people…and a lot of those solutions neither break the public bank nor demand outrageous adaptation or risk from Joe/Jane average. But most of them don’t line oligarchs’ pockets well enough, so there’s lots of misinformation spread to get them discarded. I have lived long enough, and seen enough of this foolishness, that I am glad I have no children. It’s sad enough to turn the planet over to other people’s children.

    An example, since someone is likely to ask: Desert solar power plants are all the rage. They use renewable energy and line oligarchs’ pockets, isn’t that a win-win? Except that they’ve proven very destructive to birds and land-based indigenous species, and the specific markets where their parent companies sell electricity (California and the Southwest) are best served by distributed rooftop solar. That technology reduces the earnings of the big power companies, however. Rooftop solar is making gains in California where I live because the state mandates support from the power companies. It is making huge gains in my own city, which owns its own power company and encourages rooftop solar enthusiastically, even with our residential and business electricity costs being some of the lowest in the state already.

    • Michael Murray

      Solar plants and birds ? Are you thinking of focusing mirrors ? I thought that problem of all the mirrors focusing at one point was solved by fixing the software. Or is there something else I am unfamiliar with ?

      Where I am in Australia we tend just to lay out fields of fixed PV or wind. I think we lead the world in domestic rooftop solar PV. We do have lots of sunshine although lately it’s been obscured by smoke.

  • Atrus

    Another Chernobyl-like disaster is pretty much impossible. All the factors that went into making it as bad as it ended up being makes another one even from the same time period essentially null, let alone in modern reactors. An incredibly unusual reactor design, combined with a reactor test, combined with extra power demand at exactly the right moment, combined with managers overriding a lower manager’s order to shut things down when things seemed off, combined with a severe lack of safety features even for the time period, combined with the few safety features that weren’t turned off for said test failing.

    If even a single one of those factors were different, things likely would’ve turned out very differently. Even just a concrete containment barrier, which were supposed to be standard even then, would’ve significantly reduced the disaster by preventing the roof being blown off and spreading radiation into the atmosphere. Modern reactors have even more safety features and are just designed inherently safer than the 1970’s reactors like Chernobyl and Fukushima.

    • Lord Backwater

      Modern reactors have even more safety features and are just designed inherently safer than the 1970’s reactors like Chernobyl and Fukushima.

      I don’t know where you are located, but most reactors in the USA were built in the 1960s and 1970s. Newer facilities have not been built due to political pressure.

      And about those safety features: One safety feature added after Three Mile Island is to compensate for the fact that those reactors were not “fail-safe” because in event of an emergency they need certain valves to be turned, but if there is no power then there is a problem because the only alternative is to turn the valves by hand, which may be prohibited by radiation levels. The solution was to require such plants to have an emergency generator on the promises.

      Fukushima had an emergency generator and diesel fuel on the premises. They were in the basement, where they were flooded out by the tsunami.

      U.S. Energy Information Administration

      The average age of U.S. commercial power reactors that were operational as of October 31, 2019 was about 38.5 years. The oldest operating reactor is Nine Mile Point 1 in New York, which entered commercial service in December 1969. The newest reactor to enter service is Tennessee’s Watts Bar Unit 2, which began operation in June 2016. The next-youngest operating reactor is Watts Bar Unit 1, also in Tennessee, which entered service in May 1996.

    • Doubting Thomas

      Another Chernobyl-like disaster is pretty much impossible.

      Not only that, but theoretically even if we had one Chernobyl-like accident a year, the death toll from nuclear would still pale in comparison to the death toll from coal power.

  • Yes, the left can be this way too. GMOs are an example where this happens also, I’ve read.

    • Have you heard the story of golden rice? It’s a GM rice modified to make vitamin A (ordinary rice doesn’t). If it replaced ordinary rice in diets, it would go a long way in preventing half a million annual cases of blindness cased by vitamin A deficiency plus more than that number of deaths.

      There are no patent obstacles. It’s available for the taking. And now, years after it’s been available (and not used, for GMO fears), finally one country (Philippines) has approved its use.

      • I’ve heard of it, and some other stories. Like the President of Tanzania refusing to have GMOs used, because Westerners had told him they’re poison. Unfortunately, a kind of “ecological elitism” sometimes occurs where they don’t realize what this could mean for other people (not to mention of course the scientific ignorance) who live in far less affluent countries. Advice such as that has dire results.

        • Unfortunately, that “You really shouldn’t grow GMOs” advice from Smart Westerners can come with teeth. Those Westerners can point out that agricultural exports to Europe must be certified GMO free, so growing golden rice locally would jeopardize that export. (I don’t know how big agricultural exports from the Third World to Europe are.)

        • That’s true, and I know it’s contentious. Even the European authorities have found no known risk from what I’ve read however. I don’t know how big of an export it is either.

      • Lord Backwater

        Yeah, golden rice. The biggest obstacle may be that it does not work in practice as well as it does in theory.
        Genetically modified Golden Rice falls short on lifesaving promises

        The big test for me is going to be blight-resistant American chestnut trees. The American Chestnut tree used to dominate the landscape in the Eastern USA, but has now been almost wiped out by a foreign blight. Inserting a single gene from another plant (wheat) can infer blight resistance. And yet there are wingnuts who oppose this for very stupid reasons.

        • There’s a GMO replacement for the Cavendish banana, I hear, but researchers may have to get there the old fashioned way to make it acceptable.

        • …but researchers may have to get there the old fashioned way to make it acceptable.

          I’m curious what “old fashioned way” you’re talking about, given that the common banana tree is a species that needs to be cloned in order to reproduce? Wouldn’t genetic modification, or genetic editing, be necessary at this point since we’re talking about a species that doesn’t reproduce on its own?

        • Out of my wheelhouse. I guess it’s cuttings or graftings or looking for mutants that survive the fungus. It’s whatever agricultural biologists did before CRISPR.

    • epeeist

      Yes, the left can be this way too. GMOs are an example where this happens

      This isn’t necessarily anti-science. Quite a number of people on the left who are anti-GMO are against them because of the control over agriculture they give to the large chemical and agri-businesses.

      • I was only referring to the “frankenfood” objections. However, they’re often intertwined.

        • epeeist

          However, they’re often intertwined.

          You won’t find me denying this. As ever with humans there is rarely a single cause when it comes to behaviours and beliefs.

        • Very true. We can’t ignore the irrational factors (like disgust) that often lie behind rejection of these things, underlying the supposed evidence against their safety.

        • RMS

          also rational, but self-interested & dishonest, factors: anti-nuclear, anti-GMO, anti-abortion, and anti-gun-control activists make their living from donations & speaking fees. Upton Sinclair, 1935 – “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

        • Quite so.

        • Phil Rimmer

          I am strongly against several aspects of current GMO business practise, with its threats of monoculture and the availability of alternate solutions to specific local needs.

          Much good is done eking out production in particular eco niches. Ingenious plant breeding and rotation propagation solve problems not of commercial interest to the likes of Union Carbide. The input isn’t genetic science and its high development costs, but local knowledge and long-term commitment born of necessity.

          Until there is combined pressure on such companies to oblige them (successfully!) to fund seed banks, actively maintained and making seed readily available in local competition, then I see them as not paying their dues for access to a currently bio-diverse market.

          Currently I work in agribusiness, mainly horticulture, hydro and aeroponics and vertical farming, and I am keen to see GMOs brought to bear on the sector creating dwarfed crops with lower plant body waste, for example.

        • I would consider those separate from what I’ve mentioned. We would probably agree on a lot of this. I think it is a problem of the corporate cultures, and not the science. That seems to be your view too, if I’m not mistaken.

        • Phil Rimmer

          They are indeed distinct issues. And I’m sure we will pretty much agree in this area.

          The problem is that GMO corporates (as opposed to research institutes) do everything they can not to notice this area of the ethics of GMOs in relation to bio-diversity and the thousands of breeders and agronomists solving problems they haven’t the bandwidth to even notice.

          Those opposed to much of the still under-regulated GMO corporate activities are usefully side-lined as science deniers. Nor is the debate quite like other corporate culture debates. Bio-diversity and local agronomist problem solving, once lost, are not coming back for hundreds or thousands of years. The debate on ethics as opposed to say food safety is very difficult to have. In discussing this with many such in agribusiness start-ups in the UK and Canada. this is the number one negative aspect of GMOs voiced.

        • That’s probably true, but activists do themselves no favors with handing them the issue. You might well be right that biodiversity has been more often raised, yet the safety claim is what I’ve seen the most. That seems to lie behind the bans and campaigns for mandatory labeling more than concerns over biodiversity. I do realize however that not all concerns over GMOs are the same.

  • RichardSRussell

    I myself am a liberal, but I am under no illusions that all the science-denying faults (or even most of them) lie on the other side of the political spectrum. I’ve discovered that the following subjects are likely to provoke irrational responses in liberals:

    • the supposed link between vaccines and autism

    • the dangers of nuclear power, combined with unduly rosy views of ethanol, wind, and solar

    • ill effects of radiation from high-power lines, water meters, etc.

    • genetically modified organisms

    • “gun control”, in particular the boogeymen of concealed carry and “assault weapons”

    • illegal immigration

    • Michael Neville

      Ignorance, incredulity and downright stupidity can be found throughout the political spectrum.

    • Illegal immigration as a liberal issue?

      • epeeist

        Illegal immigration as a liberal issue?

        You may have noticed that we have just had an election here in the UK. Much of the switch from Labour to Conservative in traditionally Labour voting areas can be attributed to immigration issues.

        • Phil

          Perceived immigration issues?

        • epeeist

          Perceived immigration issues?

          Well yes, a fair number of people don’t seem to be keen on Eastern Europeans.

          But there again a fair number of people don’t seem to realise that immigration from the EU is only about 20% of the total immigration. Or the fact that there is a points system on non-EU immigration.

        • Phil

          Or that EU immigrants that don’t have a job after 3 months can be deported. The fact is that we don’t deport them. I know because my son works in the very department at the Home Office. All they are working on is right to stay application because there is money to be earned in it. Also the dept for deporting EU immigrants was funded by the EU!

      • RichardSRussell

        Oh, yeah! Liberals get all worked up over immigration, but for the opposite reasons as conservatives. Conservatives tend to think of all immigration (including the legal kind) as bad (especially if the immigrants appear “too dirty”, if you know what I mean), whereas liberals tend to think of all immigration (including the illegal kind) as good.

        Here’s a more nuanced approach. There are 2 broad categories of people entering the United States: returning citizens (who were either born here or have successfully completed the naturalization process) and immigrants (who start off without an inherent right to be in the country). The latter can be further divided into 3 subgroups:
        • legal immigrants (who, playing by the rules, have successfully completed the application process)
        • asylum seekers (who, also playing by the rules, are hoping to convince the US government to let them stay because conditions where they came from are so awful)
        • illegal immigrants (who haven’t played by the rules and haven’t gone thru any process at all, either because they weren’t aware one existed or because, like drug runners, they’re actively avoiding it)

        Again, political ideologs tend to overgeneralize, in this case by opposite conflations of the 2 latter subgroups: ardent conservatives tend to treat all asylum seekers as illegal immigrants, and strong liberals tend to treat all illegal immigrants as if they were asylum seekers. You will never, for example, hear a conservative react to the phrase “illegal immigrant” with the non-sequitur observation “No person is illegal” or chiding “You should have said ‘undocumented workers'”; those are exclusively liberal tropes.

        And don’t even get me started on the several ways in which “undocumented workers” is a mindless euphemism.

        • I have a lot of compassion for people struggling to make a better life for themselves, but I think liberals hurt their position by not acknowledging the correct points in the conservative position—that countries have borders, that countries are (arguably) wise to not have open borders, that a non-US citizen violating US laws is a lawbreaker, etc.

          But perhaps I am naïve to imagine that liberals and conservatives could agree on a some points and then rationally explore the best answers to what remains.

        • John Grove

          Agreed Bob, but conservatives also hurt their position by some of the points that Richard outlined, especially this prevalent notion that even legal immigration is often lumped together with illegal immigration because immigrants are perceived by many conservatives as “dirty”. Tucker Carlson has said this along with many other conservatives. And this was no Freudian slip of the tongue. Some who “come” here under the banner of legal amnesty are conflated with those are under the umbrella of “illegal”.

        • Certainly. Conservatives (deliberately?) don’t see immigration correctly. I’m just saying that liberals do themselves no favors by making their position mockable when they don’t agree to the obvious points (“Stupid libtards won’t even admit that a country should defend its borders!” or whatever).

          Of course, I might be being naive by thinking that liberals admitting to the obvious will do anything to move the conversation forward.

        • John Grove

          I agreed with you there though that would be a caricature of what most Democrats believe about immigration. Not supporting a Trump wall doesn’t a priori imply you are against illegal immigration or against strong defenses of our borders.

    • Lord Backwater

      the supposed link between vaccines and autism

      Anti-vax used to be non-partisan, with a slight bias towards the right. But in the last year or two the Republicans have seized this issue as a way to build their coalition of insane single-issue voters.

  • NSAlito

    While nuclear power plants are theoretically a useful low-carbon energy supply, I don’t see how they can be built cost-effectively anywhere outside of a fiat-government nation. Any program for widespread construction has to deal with the great lag associated with contractor specialization education and the supply of nuclear engineers from university or military programs.

    When France built its nuclear power plants, it had several advantages over the environment in the US: There was a single design, a single payer (French gubmint), and contractors and vendors had relatively stable relationships* (i.e., not having to coordinate with all new players every time). After the first couple of plants they had a better handle on the costs and scheduling. Those ideal circumstances are not common.

    Contrast that with the US, where nuclear plants usually involve the DoE, multiple investors, multiple jurisdictions, public utility commissions, multiple utilities, and contractors and vendors working together often for the first time. Cost and schedule overruns are the norm, and there are so many local politicians to bribe stroke to get many things done.

    I’ve mentioned before the problems of any nuclear design that requires siting near water, whether for steam turbines or coolant: Vulnerability to sea level rise, increased river flooding from rain-bombs, and overwarm† cooling water. Legacy plants have to adapt to changes like this, too.

    The ROI on wind and PV solar is now much shorter, reducing the amount of capital people would want to invest in future nuclear plants. They’re scalable, waterless, require lower construction and maintenance skills, and can share space with other land use. Grid storage (time-shifting power) is now going through frenzied tech competition similar to computer-related advances in the 1990s (with similar numbers of failed companies, no doubt), further eroding the advantage of nuclear power.
    *My sister, a contracting engineer for industrial plant projects, describes a “rolodex problem” when it takes time to find out which person (not title) in the other company actually understands what’s going on and how things work.

    †Two of France’s nuclear power plants had to shut down during a 2019 heat wave due to overwarm coolant water.

    • Michael Neville

      Two of France’s nuclear power plants had to shut down during a 2019 heat wave due to overwarm coolant water.

      One submarine I was in had a similar problem when transiting the Red Sea in August. The seawater that supposedly cooled the steam condensate was hotter than the condensate. We had to shut down the steam plant and cruise using the diesel (the ship spent over 18 hours “rigged for reduced electrical power”).

      • HairyEyedWordBombThrower


        • Michael Neville

          It was a miserable time because air conditioning is considered non-essential and so is shut off during reduced electrical. So we were under a summer sun operating on the surface in a ship painted black. Internal temperatures during the day were quite high. When we finally got into the Mediterranean and the water cooled sufficiently that the condenser could function, the Captain got on the 1MC (general ship’s announcing circuit) and ordered: “Commence short-form reactor startup. Report to Control when TGs (turbine generators) are operating.”

          EDITED because I hit post too soon.

        • Greg G.

          Were you allowed to open the windows?

        • Michael Neville

          And the screen doors.

  • Michael Murray

    We could just wait 20 years for fusion.

    • Phil Rimmer

      Again… I mean still?

      At uni (early 70s) I finished up with plasma physics because fusion was 20 years away and that was what I wanted to do most of all. (The ZETA project needed a boost.) In the early nineties I actually got a chance to work on the control system for the wriggling plasma in the COMPASS project at Culham (I had worked on very fast high power electromagnet drivers.) Looking at the problem I could see that we were barking up the wrong tree topologically speaking and regretfully declined the chance.

      Fusion may be the power for off planet use. Given fusion energy falling on us at 1500 watts per square metre, one third of which goes into the atmosphere one way or another, this source is my long term solution.

      • Lord Backwater

        Fusion energy has been twenty years off my entire adult life. In that way it’s to the Samuelson unit, defined as “The length of time it takes for the Social Security Trust Fund to go bankrupt.”

        • Greg G.

          I have heard that the Theory of Evolution would be overturned in the next 10 to 15 years for the last 50 years. But they were saying the same thing about gradualism in geology 200 years ago.

          But then Christians have expected to be raptured while they were alive for nearly 2000 years.

      • Michael Murray

        There are some interesting ideas in Australia around solar. This is a plan to generate power up north and ship by undersea cable to Singapore.

        • Phil Rimmer

          Thanks, Michael!

          I am a huge fan of HVDC systems which are just getting into their stride as new switching technology emerges. The break-even distance compared to HVAC is getting shorter and cables made sub-terrain and sub-sea much more cheaply. Now doubling efficient transmission distance quadruples sales potential and fickle renewables average out their availability over larger areas.

          Solar, sold with high lateral linkage and wind, with inland connection from Temperate zones, 200kms close to the coast dramatically reduce the size of base load provision needed.

          Flow battery storage is just getting its boots on with limitless capacity (put in bigger tanks for more) and new high capacity chemistries. (Glasgow University recently unveiled an 18 electron storing Tungsten molecule for Flow Battery systems with double the theoretical capacity of lithium chemistries.)

        • JenniWest

          Solar is incapable of replacing fossil fuels on any meaningful scale. The reasons are many. It’s like comparing a moped to an Airbus. They both qualify as “transportation” but are worlds apart in capability.

        • Michael Murray

          I don’t think anyone is planning purely solar as a replacement for fossil fuels. More often hydro, solar PV, solar with molten salt and some storage like batteries or pumped hydro or the molten salt.

        • JenniWest

          Your comment assumes solar has no drawbacks. It has so many, that even one or two should be a deal breaker, for even bothering to build them. And would be for any other technology possessing that combo of low value/high drawbacks. Let along trying to use solar in ways it’s not qualified to be used.

        • Michael Murray

          Actually my comment doesn’t assume solar has no drawbacks. The reason you need wind and energy storage is for the obvious drawback that the sun doesn’t shine all day. What are the other drawbacks you are thinking of ?

    • We’d first need to get serious about fusion research, which ain’t happening.

      Also, I attended a lecture (a single data point, I realize) where the speaker said that climate change can’t wait for fusion. We can do quite a lot of good by simply having no more fossil fuels power plants going forward. Nuclear is an option that’s available now.

      • Michael Murray

        Oh definitely. Maybe fusion is 100 years away or maybe it just isn’t doable. We need to be stopping releasing anymore C02 in the atmosphere well before that to limit the temperature rise to something survivable.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower


  • JenniWest

    Thank you for posting this article.

    I was once a (mild) anti-nuke. Until social media. There I met innumerable highly educated people against whom I could not win a single debate. IF I was to honor facts, data, science and reality. (I always honor those things even if it means I have to…gasp!…change my mind…) So I was forced to actually study this topic and lo and behold, I was wrong.

    I was wrong to be against nuclear fission power. So because people like me, anti-nukes, are largely responsible for global warming (by fighting against the best solution that CAN actually replace fossil for the critical decades that could have stifled AGW,) and my incoherent, uneducated anti-nuke activism resulted, indirectly, in the deaths of millions of people, I became a nuclear power advocate to try and make up for some of that. Volunteer, unpaid.

    I am a tree hugging 1960s born hippy left liberal democrat and I believe that if we do not rapidly build and overbuild nuclear power, based on what I have learned, we will not be saving this planet. So you can imagine how popular my comments are with my “tribe.”

    I chose to surround myself with people who can make sure I never lack in facts, ever again. My personal nuclear power Facebook page has more than 200 members, alone. There is about 10 years of accumulated knowledge from some of the foremost experts in the world on energy generation. It’s not easy. Complex science never is. But you cannot pretend to be an environmentalist and be against the best kind of solution for fixing this planet on more levels than just making electricity.

    Opinions, beliefs and personal preferences have no place in this debate if you have to ignore reality to hold those beliefs.

    • (I always honor those things even if it means I have to…gasp!…change my mind…)

      And therein lies the problem.

      Thanks for the comments, and thanks for being one of the open-minded ones.

    • Michael Murray

      fixing this planet on more levels than just making electricity.

      What are the other levels ?

      • JenniWest

        A few of nuclear’s superpowers are the ability to use excess heat and power generation to replace industrial heat now generated in a dirty manner by fossil fuels. (High levels of energy are required to smelt steel, for example. Or run heavy manufacturing.) Nuclear can also use excess heat to make what is called “district heat” where heat is piped to cities for various uses. Nuclear desalinates water C02 free. Nuclear can generate synthetic fuels. And create hydrogen for use as fuel. We haven’t really begun to imagine the ways this gift can be utilized because we have been closed to even using it freely as energy gen. It’s a beast.

        • JenniWest

          As well, if we are truly destined to replace gasoline powered vehicles with electric, the grid will be literally replacing the energy/power of 1 billion gas powered cars. Plus growth, as the third world comes more online to improve their lives to Western levels. That is not possible without either fossil, nuclear or hydro. Nothing else has the chops.

        • Michael Murray

          You would really need to back up that with some numbers.

        • Michael Murray

          Any form of electricity can desalinate water and create hydrogen.

  • smrnda

    There have been some high profile nuclear disasters. It’s bad publicity. But in terms of environmental impact, fossil fuels have done a lot more damage.

    • JenniWest

      For the media there is almost no better moneymaker than anything with the “N” word or the “R” word. The smallest, or most unrelated incident, if it happened TO or NEAR a nuclear plant will mention the nuclear plant. It’s pure fear mongering for money. The media are complicit in the lies spread about nuclear and almost invariably will choose anti-nukes as commentators in their trash pieces about nuclear power, rather than experts whose facts would render their articles moot.

      If you are anti-nuclear power and/or fearful of it, I guarantee you have been duped.

      • RMS

        the media isn’t ANYONE’S friend – if there’s any possible way to provoke or entertain, rather than inform, they will do so. And I include in that evaluation relatively liberal, fact-based outlets like NPR and ProPublica.

    • It’s sort of like plane crashes vs. car crashes. We’re numb to car crashes. There are 40,000 car crash deaths annually in just the US. But a plane crashes and kills 100 people–that’s front page news because it’s rare.

  • Michael Murray

    Some Sean Carroll podcasts on climate change

    Michael E Mann was been on sabbatical in Australia during the bushfires. He’s been very useful for giving an authoritative response to the rubbish we get in our overwhelmingly Murdoch dominated press.