Mark Lynas changed my mind about Nuclear
Posted: 05 March 2013 12:45 PM   [ Ignore ]
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The interview with Mark Lynas changed my mind about nuclear power.  In the past, I was 100% anti-nuclear.  Gradually, over the years, that belief weakened and I came the think that maybe there was something to the idea of using the new Thorium reactors which promised to produce much less radioactive waste and held up the promise of limiting the opportunities for nuclear weapons proliferation.  Now, I’m convinced that what is urgently needed is conversion of existing power plants to Thorium based reactors incorporating all the lessons learned from the disasters and near-disasters of the past as one of the many alternative power options so we can stop burning fossil fuels.  It took me much less time to realize that the anti-GMO ideology was problematic.  It is encouraging that Lynas was able to incorporate evidence in his worldview and change it in a rational direction.  I suspect the process has a lot in common with religious deconversion.  Corporate oversight is still a huge issue in all aspects of the application of potentially dangerous technologies, and ultimately, controlling the psychopaths who tend to rise to the top of corporate and government hierarchies is and will remain the most critical issue in the struggle for the continued survival of our species.

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Posted: 08 March 2013 08:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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He shouldn’t have.

Nuclear energy is a ridiculous choice (for new plants) at this point.  Has it worked for France?  Sure.  France is a tiny country compared to the US.  If the whole world starting using nuclear power as France does, we would actually run out of nuclear fuel faster than we’re going to run out of oil.  That’s insane.

Listen, we know that burning fossil fuels isn’t sustainable.  Especially oil (we’ve got a bit more coal in reserve).  Not just because of climate change, but because it’s a finite resource that takes tens of millions of years to renew.  We know we have to get off it.

If we’re going to do that, why on earth would you choose something else that’s going to run out even quicker?  How many non-sustainable energy sources do you think we can keep iterating through?

If we’re going to make a massive shift from fossil fuel based energy, to something else, which involves huge non-recurring costs to do, the only smart decision is to select another technology (or technologies) that we can stick with for a long time.  That means renewables.  Period.

It would be one thing if there were no renewable technologies ready.  But there are.  Wind and solar are both already competitive with nuclear.  Will solar continue to get better?  Sure, it’s still in the early stages.  But, it’s already cost competitive with nuclear, depending on where you install it, and which of various solar technologies you use.  Add in geothermal, advanced biofuels (not ethanol from corn), biogas, and you have enough options to ensure that all new energy sources in this country can be made without coal, or nuclear. 

Of course, solar and wind have the issue that the location where you generate the power isn’t usually the place where power is consumed, so transmission lines are required.  And, people don’t like having those in their back yards.  Guess what?  That issue is magnified 10x when it comes to nuclear waste.

Then, there’s the issue of securing nuclear sites (both from malicious attackers, and natural disasters).  The worst case failure mode for nuclear is awful.  For solar, wind, biofuels, tidal, geothermal?  Tiny by comparison.

I take serious issue with Mooney trying to paint this issue as “if you’re still against nuclear, (despite us just having a vivid example of how even the most high tech, quality-oriented of societies can fail really badly with nuclear), then you’re anti-science”.  That’s garbage.  I’m not anti-science.  I’m an engineer.  As an engineer (as opposed to scientists), I have to worry about the implementation details of various technologies that look good on paper.  Nuclear is rife with such pragmatic problems.  And again, the fuel is in finite supply, and essentially non-renewable!.

I also take issue with Mooney supporting this conclusion with a guy like Mark Lynas.  I understand where Mooney is coming from, but as someone with a real science background, I know the difference between a real scientist, and a science journalist.  Lynas has degrees in history and politics.  And that qualifies him to make tradeoffs regarding complex engineering solutions, how?

By the way, I have science degrees from two of the top 5 science/engineering schools in the country, and have worked in multiple dissimilar engineering disciplines.  We need these decisions to be made by multi-disciplinary science and engineering minds.  Not liberal arts majors.  Sorry to sound like a snob, but it’s insulting that scientists/engineers have to constantly debate their technical positions with people who flatly aren’t qualified to understand the issue in depth.

[ Edited: 08 March 2013 08:10 PM by n8r0n ]
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Posted: 08 March 2013 09:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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n8r0n - 08 March 2013 08:05 PM

He shouldn’t have.

Nuclear energy is a ridiculous choice (for new plants) at this point.  Has it worked for France?  Sure.  France is a tiny country compared to the US.  If the whole world starting using nuclear power as France does, we would actually run out of nuclear fuel faster than we’re going to run out of oil.  That’s insane.

Listen, we know that burning fossil fuels isn’t sustainable.  Especially oil (we’ve got a bit more coal in reserve).  Not just because of climate change, but because it’s a finite resource that takes tens of millions of years to renew.  We know we have to get off it.

If we’re going to do that, why on earth would you choose something else that’s going to run out even quicker?  How many non-sustainable energy sources do you think we can keep iterating through?

If we’re going to make a massive shift from fossil fuel based energy, to something else, which involves huge non-recurring costs to do, the only smart decision is to select another technology (or technologies) that we can stick with for a long time.  That means renewables.  Period.

It would be one thing if there were no renewable technologies ready.  But there are.  Wind and solar are both already competitive with nuclear.  Will solar continue to get better?  Sure, it’s still in the early stages.  But, it’s already cost competitive with nuclear, depending on where you install it, and which of various solar technologies you use.  Add in geothermal, advanced biofuels (not ethanol from corn), biogas, and you have enough options to ensure that all new energy sources in this country can be made without coal, or nuclear. 

Of course, solar and wind have the issue that the location where you generate the power isn’t usually the place where power is consumed, so transmission lines are required.  And, people don’t like having those in their back yards.  Guess what?  That issue is magnified 10x when it comes to nuclear waste.

Then, there’s the issue of securing nuclear sites (both from malicious attackers, and natural disasters).  The worst case failure mode for nuclear is awful.  For solar, wind, biofuels, tidal, geothermal?  Tiny by comparison.

I take serious issue with Mooney trying to paint this issue as “if you’re still against nuclear, (despite us just having a vivid example of how even the most high tech, quality-oriented of societies can fail really badly with nuclear), then you’re anti-science”.  That’s garbage.  I’m not anti-science.  I’m an engineer.  As an engineer (as opposed to scientists), I have to worry about the implementation details of various technologies that look good on paper.  Nuclear is rife with such pragmatic problems.  And again, the fuel is in finite supply, and essentially non-renewable!.

I also take issue with Mooney supporting this conclusion with a guy like Mark Lynas.  I understand where Mooney is coming from, but as someone with a real science background, I know the difference between a real scientist, and a science journalist.  Lynas has degrees in history and politics.  And that qualifies him to make tradeoffs regarding complex engineering solutions, how?

By the way, I have science degrees from two of the top 5 science/engineering schools in the country, and have worked in multiple dissimilar engineering disciplines.  We need these decisions to be made by multi-disciplinary science and engineering minds.  Not liberal arts majors.  Sorry to sound like a snob, but it’s insulting that scientists/engineers have to constantly debate their technical positions with people who flatly aren’t qualified to understand the issue in depth.

I agree, there are huge problems with current generations of nuclear power plants.  The Thorium based plants with passive shut-down systems seem like a huge step forward which resolve most of the issues with the existing generations of nuclear power.  The supplies of Thorium are much larger.  The technology can recyle much of what is currently considered waste.  I agree, longer term, that solar, wind, geothermal, etc. are the way to go, but until enough of those can come online, Thorium reactors seem like a better idea than thousands more coal fired power plants.  Lynas is not the only one pointing out that global warming is rapidly becoming a bigger threat than even conventional nuclear power plants combined with rapid expansion of coal fired plants.  We have enough methyl hydrates on the ocean floors around the world to turn a significant fraction of the oxygen in the air into CO2, so burning carbon compounds for energy will not be limited by running out of carbon compounds, but we might not survive to burn all of it.

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Posted: 09 March 2013 09:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Lynas has degrees in history and politics.  And that qualifies him to make tradeoffs regarding complex engineering solutions, how?

Maybe it doesn’t.

Or maybe….just maybe….like a lot of the members of this forum, he’s actually done his homework on the subject.

Maybe.

Just something to think about there.

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Posted: 10 March 2013 02:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Equal Opportunity Curmudgeon - 09 March 2013 09:34 AM

Lynas has degrees in history and politics.  And that qualifies him to make tradeoffs regarding complex engineering solutions, how?

Maybe it doesn’t.

Or maybe….just maybe….like a lot of the members of this forum, he’s actually done his homework on the subject.

Maybe.

Just something to think about there.

I’m of two minds on this issue.  On the one hand, people with physics degrees (I also have one) are generally more qualified to understand the issues around nuclear power than people who haven’t studied physics at all.  On the other hand, there is nothing stopping any intelligent person from reading up on the issues and educating herself about the science, so just saying I have a science/engineering degree and you don’t, isn’t terribly convincing.  Someone saying I have a degree from a recognized university and you have a degree in BS from a Bible Studies college (get it?  BS => Bible Studies?) would pretty much convince me to go with the opinion of the guy with the real degree in Physics (or other relevant science depending on the issue).

There are reasonable arguments for and against building more nuclear power plants.  The huge amounts of corruption and lobbying to set aside clearly necessary safety regulations conducted by the nuclear power industry in the past doesn’t fill me with confidence.  But having a few dozen new coal fired power plants popping up around the world every week or so is also a prospect which fills me with dread.  The prospect of civilization-destroying power shortages is also not terribly joyous for me.  I guess for me it is a matter of looking at the three almost equally unacceptable options and going for the least terrifying of them while lobbying for a saner approach to essential power infrastructure.  The prospect of new super high density supercapacitor electrical storage systems will hopefully make some combination of wind, solar, and geothermal power generation a viable alternative to nuclear.  There is also the relatively long shot prospect of fusion power, which is a form of nuclear power without most of the downsides of fission power.  Meanwhile, I would reluctantly support new Thorium fission reactors if it would prevent the construction of new coal powered plants and/or replaced an existing less-safe nuclear power plant.  Power companies who wanted to construct one, though should not be able to get special legislation to weasel out of any liabilities due to safety violations.

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Homeopaths don’t have brains, just skull water with the memory of brains - Robin Ince of The Infinite Monkey Cage podcast
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Posted: 10 March 2013 08:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’m of two minds on this issue.

I’m a bit more single minded but not the way some might think. I’m of the “Show Me Your Evidence And let the Chips Fall Where They May.” sort of mindset.

I understand your concerns however.

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Posted: 18 March 2013 04:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I essentially agree with n8r0n.  My core problems with nuclear power is that it uses a limited resource that requires the destruction of a natural resource.  I fear that if we have a massive build up of nuclear power plants, the operation expense and costs of uranium will skyrocket.  This is one reason why I am worried about nuclear fusion.  From what I understand, it requires the destruction of lithium and it is not nearly as abundant as hydrogen.

With that being said, I am very ignorant on the issue of nuclear power though and my concerns may be unfounded.

I don’t understand Lynas’s reasoning on why he would think the right shouldn’t like nuclear power.  He is correct that the right doesn’t like government involvement which is what nuclear power would require.  First of all, if it were their choice, they’d have nuclear power without the regulation because they think the free market would be able to handle it on its own. Now for me personally, another problem I have with nuclear power is that I don’t think government is competent enough to regulate it.  The right on the other hand just views it as an additional burden on power plants that will increase cost.  Second, why would they throw out the baby with the bath water?  That is like saying that the right should be opposed to firearms because there are gun control laws (although they are very weak).

It also boggles my mind how he can say he can’t understand why the left would be against natural gas.  Here is a thought: maybe what they are against is FRACKING.  You may be able to argue that the problems with fracking are wildly exaggerated, but he didn’t even make that case or bring it up as an issue.

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Posted: 18 March 2013 04:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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It also boggles my mind how he can say he can’t understand why the left would be against natural gas.  Here is a thought: maybe what they are against is FRACKING.  You may be able to argue that the problems with fracking are wildly exaggerated, but he didn’t even make that case or bring it up as an issue.

All I would do is point out that a lot of people are very adept at identifying the problem (And sometimes, they’re even right!) but when you ask them for a better idea, they ain’t got one.

Anybody can be a naysayer, but I’d be interested in one who had a demonsterably viable alternative to offer to whatever it is they oppose.

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