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The Nuclear Skeptic Part 2: Megaprojects vs Micropower

by DeAnander Thu May 25th, 2006 at 09:12:52 AM EST

"Increasingly it looks like the energy consultation has been a complete sham," said Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth.
-- Financial Times courtesy of J á P

Taking off from the general summary in Part 1, Installment number 2 contains one of the nuke-skeptic arguments less often heard, but I think perhaps just as important and urgent as waste management.  Technologies shape the societies which adopt them.  What shapes may the adoption of nuclear power encourage our societies to take?   What are the policy and governance implications of increased reliance on this source of electricity?

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob


I'm going to start with a fairly substantial quote from John Adams' classic book Transport Planning, Vision and Practice, Routledge and Kegan Paul 1981 (note the year; and of course all boldfacing is mine not Adams'):


Raw materials for the nuclear alternatives are much more evenly distributed about the world than reserves of fossil fuels.  But the economic and technological resources required to exploit them are, at present, dominated by a small number of countries.  Such is the lethal potency of the processes and materials involved in nuclear energy that this dominance is jealously guarded.

In 1976 transport in Britain consumed, almost entirely in the form of oil, more than fifteen times as much energy as was generated by nuclear power.  Thus for nuclear power to become a substitute for a significant part of the market now served by oil would require a very large increase in nuclear generating capacity.  It would also require a very large increase in the resources devoted to the security of the nuclear industry.

Effective security depends on surveillance and secrecy, on learning as much as possible about the enemy while permitting the enemy to learn as little as possible about oneself.  The requirements of security are in direct and inescapable conflict with the requirements of a free and democratic society.  As the stock of toxic nuclear substances increases, the problem of keeping them out of the "wrong" hands is increasingly adduced as an argument for concealing information about the means of security.  As dependence on nuclear power grows, the less admissible becomes discussion at public inquiries of the wisdom of government policies that foster this dependence. [...] As the threat of nuclear proliferation grows, the larger the area of discussion subsumed by the prohibition "national security".  As cost over-runs grow, the more reluctant become those responsible for the miscalculations to provide the information necessary for an informed discussion of the reasons.  As the quantity of low-level radioactive emissions increases, the stronger becomes the argument that public discussion of their uncertain consequences will spread panic among the scientifically untutored masses.  The greater becomes the dependence of the world on nuclear power, the smaller becomes the possibility of the lay public participating in informed discussions about it.

The growth of the nuclear power industry has been accompanied by a growth in the opposition to it.  Those who do not wish the industry well range from pacifists to terrorists and come in a great variety of political colours.  Those who represent the most serious threat to security are the least likely to parade in their true colours.  Hence effective security requires keeping an eye on all opposition.  Spokesmen for the industry are most anxious to assure law-abiding citizens that the security requirements of the industry pose no threat to their civil rights.  P J Searby [...] offered the following reassurance in a letter to 'The Times':  "Bodies and individuals opposed to the development of nuclear power would not be subject to security surveillance unless there was reason to believe their activities were subversive, violent, or illegal" (12 August 1977).

And [...] [the] Chairman and Secretary of the Electrity Supply Industry Employuees' National Committee, in another letter to 'The Times' dismiss concern about civil liberties as scare mongering:


        This is an aspect of the nuclear debate which needs airing but MR Seighart [Joint Chairman of Justice] fails, it seems to us, to explain why the existence of a number of fast breeder reactors would create any more of a problem in respect of civil liberties than does the present existence of the MoD and all its range of activities. (27 Sep 1977)

Those who are attempting to subvert the prevailing belief that the growth of the economy and energy consumption can and should continue indefinitely are little comforted by the assurance that only the subversive are to be targets of surveillance.  Nor are they reassured by the suggestion that nuclear security poses no more of a threat to civil liberties than does the MoD.  Civil liberties end where the realm of the military begins.  Armies are run as dictatorships.  The cardinal virtue of the soldier is obedience.  He has no right to withdraw his labour if he disagrees with his general about the identity of the enemy.  The operations in which he engages, even in peacetime, are shrouded in secrecy -- from the enemy, from subversives, from the civilian population and, usually, from himself.  His right to privacy is sacrificed to the demands of security.  Passes, security checks and surveillance are normal features of military life.  Attempts to subvert the dogma of the high command by reasoned argument are ruthlessly suppressed.

A very plausible account of the threat to civil liberties posed by nuclear power is contained in a report entitled 'Nuclear Prospects.'  The report describes some of the catastophic consequences that could follow from a failure of nuclear security in the plutonium fuel cycle.  They range from releases of radioactivity from nuclear electricity generating plants, to the havoc that could be wreaked by psychopaths armed with plutonium or even atomic weapons.  It then describes what is known of present security practice.  Its salient features include positive vetting for all the industry's professional staff (i.e. intensive scrutiny of their characters, associations and vulnerability to "subversion"), a special armed constabulary with powers to engage in "hot pursuit" and to arrest on suspicion, and an apparatus of surveillance -- the nature and extent of which is [of course] an official secret.

Placing credible threats of sabotage or malicious use of stolen nuclear material in the context of present security practice, the report proceeds to outline the probable security requirements of the greatly expanded nuclear programme envisaged by the industry's proponents.  The picture that emerges is one of a society crucially dependent for its very existence on electricity generated in heavily defended installations to which only vetted people are permitted entry, supplied with fuel transported under armed escort, from equally well guarded fuel refining and reprocessing facilities.  Given the scale of the operation, the numbers of people involved, the widespread hostility it would be bound to provoke, and the extreme consequences of a failure of security, the report argued that it would be irresponsible for the nation not to guard it with a strict, pervasive, militaristic security service.

The authors of the report, Michael Flood and Robin Grove-Wright, anticipated that those responsible for nuclear security might resent their "casting a light on activities which, arguably, rely on darkness for their full effectiveness".  They cited an article in 'Atom' by Sir John Hill (Chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authhority) in which he condemned a similar exercise conducted in the US on the grounds that it "provided a great deal of information which might just give the necessary encouragement to terrorists contemplating some nuclear outrage."  But they remained unrepentant:  "It would be far the unhappiest and most distinctive feature of nuclear power if its successful development were held to involve hazards so great that a democracy could be prohibited from talking about them."

When they proffered their report to the electricity supply industry for comment they had their anticipation confirmed.  They were told by one of the most senior figures in the industry that their report was "seditious."  Nowhere did their report advocate, or even hint at condoning, the violent overthrow of the government.  On the contrary their case against the nuclear industry rested on the argument that its further expansion would do violence to cherished democratic institutions.  They argued that the expansion of an industry inherently incapable of democratic control would foster and opposition that had a diminishing regard for the conventions of democratic protest.

The inability, or unwillingness, of the industry's leadership to distinguish between sober, precautionary argument, and incitement to the violent overthrow of the state, illustrates the inherently totalitarian tendencies of the nuclear power industry.  An infallible sign of a tyrant is his inability to distinguish legitimate opposition from illegitimate -- all opposition is sedition.  The principal difference between the security services required by a society dependent on nuclear power, and those by a country at war against a foreign enemy, is that the former must be directed against threats that are largely internal.  Waging the moral equivalent of nuclear war on the energy crisis would involve living with the moral equivalent of a security system appropriate to a society in the throes of civil war.

JA wrote this essay sometime between '78 and '80 for publication in '81, iirc.  It is now over 25 years later, and imho the points he made have never been answered by the nuclear industry, nor has its track record since that time encouraged any neutral observer into a greater comfort regarding the inherently antidemocratic aspects of nuclear technology.  US Liberal Blogistan was notified via a Greenpeace press release in May '06 of

[..] the arrest of an activist from the French Nuclear Phase-out network (Sortir du Nucleaire), who was accused of violation of France's nuclear Secret Defence by having a copy of the EDF document.(2) The activist, Stephane Lhomme, was interrogated over 14 hours on Tuesday after ten anti-terrorist police and others raided his home in Paris, removing documents, computers and phones.

The document in question allegedly describes serious vulnerabilities of the new EPR design.  Whether it does so accurately or not, the treatment of anti-nuclear activists as de facto terrorists is not a symptom of any particular model of economics or governance, but inherent in the potential lethality of the technology and the desperate desire (whether on the part of government or industry) to evade liability (as in Belorus where, as we saw in the Chernobyl anniversary diaries, simply doing epidemiological research on Chernobyl fallout was grounds for arrest and imprisonment).

The industry remains tightly coupled to the military and to weapons manufacturers;  plants are considered part of the "Security State within the state" for this reason as well as for their manifest vulnerability to terrorist attack.  Secrecy, coverups, and obfuscation continue to be the normal working methods of the industry when dealing with errors, near-mishaps, and actual mishaps at nuclear facilities (which I hope to discuss in subsequent diaries).  Moreover, nuclear power has an appeal to the kind of government/elite cadres who prefer an autocratic or repressive Security State model for their country.

Tony Blair, for example -- a fan of Panopticon type public surveillance, national biometric ID cards, increased police powers and support for US military adventurism -- is also a fan of nuclear power.   After years of preparing the ground while he pretended to vacillate (for example by suppressing a government study showing nuclear to be uneconomic and then issuing a total re-write, ignoring warnings from the waste management committee, and preparing one secret plan and then another), he has most recently attempted to impose the nuclear power option by fiat as UK energy policy:

Tony Blair ignited a political storm, including within his own cabinet, by endorsing a new generation of nuclear power stations last night. Mr Blair warned that failing to replace the current ageing plants would fuel global warming, endanger Britain's energy security and represent a dereliction of duty to the country.

Effectively pre-empting the outcome of the government's energy review due to be published in July, Mr Blair, in a speech to the CBI, said the issue of a new generation of stations was back on the agenda with a vengeance, alongside a big push on renewables and a step change in energy efficiency.

Mr Blair's spokesman said the prime minister was speaking after reading "a first cut" of the Department of Trade and Industry-led review on Monday. He said the country could not rely on one new source to meet the coming energy gap, pointing out that renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, had technical problems.

Ministers believe a new generation of nuclear stations will require an extension of the current renewables subsidy to nuclear electricity and some form of pre-licensing agreement to speed up planning permission for new stations.

[...]

The French company Areva said last night its reactors could be up and running by 2017 - if the planning procedures were streamlined and decisions made on long-term waste storage. [...]


Note that this autocratic move from Blair came about 2 months after the report from his own Sustainable Development Committee which was less than enthusiastic about the nuclear power option:
Tony Blair's backing for nuclear power suffered a blow yesterday when the Government's own advisory body on sustainable development came down firmly against the building of a new generation of reactors.

Despite the Prime Minister's well-known support for the nuclear industry, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) concluded that a new nuclear programme was not the answer to the twin challenges of climate change and security of supply. In a hard-hitting report, the 15-strong Commission identified five "major disadvantages" to nuclear power [...]

But instead of sanctioning a new nuclear programme, the SDC urged Mr Blair to back a further expansion of renewable power, fresh measures to promote energy efficiency and the development of new technologies such as "carbon capture" to tackle the environmental threat posed by fossil-fuelled stations.

The commission's report comes just three months before the Government publishes the results of its latest energy review, which is widely expected to pave the wave for a new generation of nuclear stations.

Sir Jonathon Porritt, the chairman of the commission, said:  "Instead of hurtling along to a pre-judged conclusion (which many fear the Government is intent on doing) we must look to the evidence. There's little point in denying that nuclear power has its benefits but, in our view, these are outweighed by serious disadvantages. The Government is going to have to stop looking for an easy fix to our climate change and energy crises - there simply isn't one."

The commission said that even if the UK's existing nuclear capacity was doubled, it would only lead to an 8 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from 1990 levels. By contrast, renewable energy sources such as wind, wave, solar and biomass, which are zero-carbon sources of energy, could supply 68-87 per cent of the country's electricity needs if fully exploited.

Sir Jonathon added that opting for the "big-bang fix" of a new nuclear programme would jeopardise public-sector support for renewable power. It would also undermine efforts to improve energy efficiency, which the report estimates could reduce UK energy demand by as much as 30 to 40 per cent and cut carbon emissions by 20 million tons a year - equivalent to the output of 27 power stations.

Sir Jonathon said, that among the commission's 15 members, eight had come down against nuclear power, five had concluded it was not yet time for a new programme and two had said there was "maybe" a case for more reactors. [...]


The cultural signature of the nuke industry is fairly plain here;  first, that the report of a "Trade and Industry" group is privileged over a report from a sustainable development (public interest) group;  second, that the nuclear option is declared by fiat, pre-empting normal democratic process and justified by "state of emergency" rhetoric;  third, that the decision is wrapped in the flag, i.e. couched in the language of patriotism and nationalism (it would be "dereliction of duty to the country" not to build more reactors).  The fears which Sir Jonathon cites certainly appear to be realistic.  And diversion of current renewable subsidies to nuclear power generation will preclude investment of those subsidies in what many would call "real" renewable technologies -- i.e. the "undermining" or opportunity cost which the SusDev commission accurately predicted.  I note also the implicit threat of "streamlining planning procedures" -- which inevitably means reducing time spent on public input, ignoring what input there is, disregarding all expert opinions other than those of interested parties, shortcutting EIRs and equivalent impact reports, and otherwise "fast tracking" under the umbrella of the "state of emergency" mentality that has been so profitable for private contractors in just about every emergency, wartime, or black-ops spending spree.   These are early warning signs of autocratic, centralised, nondemocratic planning -- straight out of the Three Gorges Management Programme Handbook.

The antidemocratic or pro-authoritarian impulse implicit in nuclear power generation is not the only conceptual and physical implication of the technology.  It is inherently centralised and large-scale, and hence "megaprojecty".  These are imho serious strategic problems, and not only for ethical reasons having to do with the erosion of democratic/liberal values.  Centralised authoritarian systems are functionally brittle, and dependent on high energy inputs and hypermobility for maintenance.

Robust systems -- systems that can withstand damage, partial failure, changing conditions -- are those which feature flexibility, diversity, fractal/dense variability, redundancy, and so on.  Thriving biotic systems exhibit these qualities, with many niches and every niche filled, and significant variety/specialisation within niches.  They have a vast reserve of strategies and attributes from which to draw when conditions alter;  an attack on one niche does not take down the whole system, and information is often replicated in many locations (analogous to holography) and is not lost by the loss of one niche.  By contrast the highly centralised, authoritarian systems which have characterised power generation and distribution since the great consolidations (here's a typical history) of the 20th century are vulnerable to single-point failures (as many major power outages over the last 20 years have demonstrated), can only be scaled in enormous costly increments to adapt to increasing load, and --  ironically -- rely on the continuing availability of cheap energy to deliver cheap energy to their millions of dependent and far-flung customers.

An interesting sidelight on this "takes cheap energy to make cheap energy" Catch-22 is that in the US -- oddly enough -- most (maybe all?) reactors do not use their own generated power for their own control systems.  This has led to some (ahem) darkly comic moments in nuclear history:


On August 14th the largest electrical blackout in history caused sixteen nuclear plants to automatically shut down in the U.S. and Canada.

Nuclear power plants run on offsite power, not their own reactors.

If the electrical grid fails, reactors are designed to automatically close down. One or more diesel generators are supposed to start up, with capacity to power basic safety equipment, including the cooling system. If generators fail, the reactor cannot be restarted without offsite power.

David Lochbaum of the Union of Conerned Scientists compares this to a car without a battery, further explaining, "Nuclear reactors will automatically trip upon detection that the electrical grid is going down. Nuclear plants generate electricity by passing steam through a turbine. The electrical grid going down is to a nuclear reactor and its turbine/generator what stepping on the clutch is to a manual transmission car engine when traveling at 65 mph. To protect the turbine from spinning too fast with its 'clutch depressed,' valves that admit steam to the turbine close in seconds. Since the steam no longer has anyplace to go, there's a pressure pulse racing back towards the reactor. To limit the size of this pressure pulse, the reactor automatically trips. With the reactor down, there's less steam with no place to go. As long as it is available, offsite power is the preferred power source for the nuclear plant. However, once the electrical grid fails, the emergency diesel generator automatically starts and supplies power to safety equipment. The emergency diesel generators cannot provide enough power to operate the non-safety equipment at the plant."


In other words, these plants require continuous baseline AC power from "somewhere" (currently fossil fueled) in order to operate, and diesel generators for emergency backup.

The assumption of cheap energy is also built into the extremely long supply lines -- fuel sometimes transported across or between continents by bulk carrier and truck, copper wires spanning hundreds of miles from generator to load, energy-intensive mining and fuel processing.  Cheap fuel is a given, for example, in the assumption of responsibility by a central agency for thousands of towers, transformers, insulators, and cables (PG&E alone, in California, is responsible for 120,000 miles of utility line and 125,000 towers, much of this infrastructure being in remote areas carrying service to distant loads.  It is only cost-effective to transport crews and parts to these remote areas in a regime of cheap fossil fuel to power the enormous (PG&E alone runs over 8500 ICE trucks in California) truck fleet that services the grid.  The wastefulness of longhaul transmission lines is acceptable only under a regime of cheap energy;  estimates range from 7 to 8 percent loss in the lines alone, and iirc German figures were a bit over 15 percent end-to-end.  (It seems difficult to find figures via a casual google fishing expedition, for total loss from generator to wall outlet at the customer's site;  I'd appreciate it if any Eurotribbles have pointers to such figures.)

As mentioned earlier, the nuclear power model is inherently centralised and authoritarian;  one thing that nobody wants is their neighbour fooling around with a hobby nuclear reactor in the garage.  The toxicity of the fuel and the extremly critical handling and control requirements, not to mention the potential for weaponisation, imply very tight control in the hands of "trusted authorities" -- the State, or corporations licensed and supervised by the State.  The expense of elaborate surveillance and defence of nuclear plants, and the area affected by catastrophic failure, multiplies with their number;  so there is a built-in incentive to minimise the number and build a few huge ones rather than tens of thousands of little ones.  By contrast, a wind plant could be installed on every individual farm in the MidWestern states of the US without raising any security or control issues.  Nuclear power is inherently "megaproject" stuff, with all the problems of financing, oversight, accountability and deployed robustness that attend the megaproject model.

Megaprojects are so notoriously problematic that they have become the subject of academic research in their own right.  

Cost overruns of 50% are common, overruns of 100% not uncommon. Similarly, substantial benefit shortfalls trouble many megaprojects. Finally, regional development effects and environmental impacts often turn out very differently from what proponents promised. Cost overruns combined with benefit shortfalls spell trouble. But an interesting paradox exists for megaprojects: More and bigger megaprojects are being planned and built despite their poor performance record in terms of costs and benefits.
 One of the obvious problems with megaprojects is that such huge budgets attract embezzlers -- rich pickings can be had from fudging even the "small ticket" line items on projects with budgets in the 7 to 9 figures;  small personal fortunes can be looted from minor fiddles in the books, lost in the noise -- and oversight is costly and difficult for projects of this size and complexity.  Such projects have to serve enormous areas in order to justify their enormous size and cost;  therefore the actual locus of construction is seldom considered as other than a cost item or strategic decision, and the people living in that locus often experience being "railroaded" or "fast tracked" without democratic process, with the political decisionmaking (and skulduggery) taking place far away at fairly high levels of government.  Megaprojects have a profoundly antidemocratic track record worldwide.  Their enormous size encourages "greater good" and eminent domain arguments which are used to crush local political autonomy.

All this dissing of megaprojects implies that there is an alternative;  and I do think there is a viable alternative.

The competing model is micropower.  Micropower presumes a rhizome structure rather than a tree structure;  many peer nodes of small to moderate size and local function, networked in a complex and redundant architecture, and diverse/variegated in detail.  

Decentralized generation -- in The Economist's apt term, micropower -- enjoys an important market share in some countries: in 2004, 52% of the electricity generated in Denmark, 39% in the Netherlands, 37% in Finland, 31% in Russia, 18% in Germany, 16% in Japan, 16 % in Poland, 15% in China, 14% in Portugal, 11% in Canada. Yet it is omitted from many official statistics and projections, underreported in the media, and often dismissed by policymakers as small and slow a fringe market too trivial to bother with. Surprise!

A recent compilation of industry and official data published in June by Rocky Mountain Institute RMI) found that micropower worldwide has already surpassed nuclear power in both annual output (in 2005) and installed capacity (in 2002), and is growing far faster in absolute terms.  In 2004, DG added 2.9 times as much output and 5.9 times as much generating capacity as nuclear power added worldwide. Since nuclear power is often represented as an important technology, providing 20% of US and 16% of world electricity, surpassing this benchmark should at last qualify micropower as a serious competitor.

 That was Amory Lovins and the gang at RMI [PDF], not perhaps the most impeccable source (I take exception to some of Lovins' positions on other issues) but he generally gets his basic quantitative surveys right.

Micropower is inherently democratic -- a "convivial technology" in Illich's ingenious words.  It can be constructed at the local level, permitting local democratic process to work out the details of implementation.  It can be optimised to the resources available at the local level, introducing variability (diversity, the insurance policy against systemic failure).  It is robust against single point failures;  the failure of one plant does not leave millions of people without light or other electric services.  With intelligent complex peer/peer negotiated load balancing algorithms, functional nodes can even "band together" to carry the load from nodes that have failed.  Unit investments are low and the grid can scale up in small increments as required rather than in enormous megaproject increments;  hence scaling can happen faster, taking place at a smaller/lighter/faster level of funding, approval, and implementation.

Micropower serves first and foremost the community where it is generated, with only the surplus being routed to an intelligent grid [similar to "family farming" in which the family derives its food security from the home farm, marketing only the surplus].  This means that producers and consumers are in close communication within a manageable geographic region.  Issues of accountability are far more easily detected (and resolved) when the people who benefit from the process are the same people who experience the costs.  Megaproject power generation all too often dumps the costs (smokestack emissions, mine tailings, catastrophic MTR, isotope leaks, reactor failures) onto populations far from the mass of beneficiaries;  distance lends unreality and the illusion of "externalisation" of these costs, whereas when they are in our own back yards we have to weigh them more seriously against our benefits.  Any provisioning system which requires the creation of extensive wastelands or "sacrifice zones" should be questioned and re-examined;  it is "slash and burn" thinking and no longer suitable to Reality Planet (the one that is roughly spheroidal, with limited resources as to both sink and source).

Micropower generally involves least-toxic processes and materials (although in some regions where coal is the obvious fuel source the usual issues of coal combustion come to the fore even in micro-installations);  biomass, solar, wind, biogas digesters, tidal, etc. all have successful pilot projects and all -- though capable of failure and even of causing injury or death in extreme failure modes or cases of severe human stupidity -- are extremely benign worst-case scenarios compared to nuclear (a technology that has already created several of the most toxic and expensive "sacrifice zones" on the planet).

I hope to return to the model of "rhizome-like micropower" in a future diary;  for now, I emphasise that distributed generation with intelligent load balancing does not involve the heavy, top-down apparatus of State surveillance, heavy restrictive security, and secrecy which inherently accompany the nuclear option.  Operating costs (both social and financial) are very high when the power generation source is itself a major threat to biotic systems, and this makes it inherently a threat to social capital and democratic systems;  the two toxicities go hand in hand..

The only statement we can make with confidence about the future is that it looks unstable and unpredictable;  global climate shows signs of greater extrema and a higher number of catastrophic events;  many disturbing trends suggest a serious dearth of material resources (steel, aluminium, other ores, potable water, topsoil, fish, wood among others) as well as energy, in our imminent future.  Geopolitical instability appears to be increasing rather than decreasing and there is a general rightward trend in many countries as well as a recidivism towards ethno-religious tribalism and separatism.  All of these argue poorly for the kind of stability of government, longhaul trade, and complex high technology infrastructure on which the nuclear option absolutely depends.  It is not only inherently megaproject-oriented and antidemocratic, but an optimist's gamble on a stable and orderly future which (from where I sit) looks increasingly uncertain.  When conditions are unstable and ominous, the best prospect for survival lies in diversification (hedging one's bets), localisation (shortening supply lines), simplification (reducing dependence on highly complex and/or energy-dependent systems) and democratisation (empowering localities as much as possible to manage their own affairs, so that there is not paralysis and disorder if communications or supply lines are disrupted).  Nuclear power at this critical stage in industrial civilisation is a very large bet -- double or nothing -- against the odds.

The industry has had had over 60 years to develop since the first reactor was tested in 1942.  Remember the first American experimental reactor?  The story goes that it was built secretly under the football stadium at the University of Chicago during World War Two. They had a control rod suspended by a rope, and a guy standing by with an axe to chop the rope -- dropping the control rod and damping the reaction -- if the reactor started to run away.  Fortunately, nobody blew it and U Chicago is still inhabitable.  [No, I am not making this up.]   I think there has been enough track record by now to justify an evaluation -- in terms of CBA, in terms of social and political implications, in terms of applicability in the very near and practical term to the urgent problem of climate destabilisation and fossil fuel drawdown.  If the technology hasn't proven itself after 60 years (even with massive government subsidies and taxpayer risk assumption) then it's time for a rethink.  Not all technologies are winners;  the eight-track tape player, quadraphonic headphones, CP/M, the Osborne portable...

[The prosecution takes a deep breath and a long drink of water, and rests its case for the nonce.]

Hat tip to DoDo for the Tony Blair history links.

Display:
Regarding the arrest of the French activist who took secret EDF documents showing that the EPR is not as safe as claimed:

I note that in order to break the attempts at stemming the leak, a lot of environmental organizations  accepted the risk of high fines, and put up the document on web sites for exaple [pdf!].

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 05:33:17 AM EST
Interesting German interview with Stéphane Lhomme, made before the arrest.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 08:03:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I note that while in the European context, I see no maintenance effort-related advantage of microgrids (no big uninhabited areas anyway, more lines in sparsely populated areas due to wind power) and only limited grid loss benefits, and possibly unlike De, would favor the State to oversee grid design to ensure the capacity necessary for intermittance balancing; I would certainly favor if the fallback in case of European/national-level grid failure is dependence on the intermittance of local generation, rather than ensured region-wide blackout.

I further note that while European countries don't have much of a history of major power outages due to insufficient reserve capacity, they do have one due to grid failures in single lines that don't have much bypass - for example in the last few years, the big Italian blackout, and the Danish/southern Sweden blackout. A less centralised grid and peer-to-peer negotiation would possibly have made those crises much less serious.

A further argument about secrecy and trust, from my differing statist-socialistic point of view, is that while I'd trust the democratic-controlled State more than private companies or individuals  to provide/regulate infrastructure, the underlying assumption of democratic control is void when issues and facilities are kept away from public discourse by (necessarily) declaring them official secrets. A state-owned industry hiding security design flaws as military secrets is no better than an Enron-style company making fake power transfers from gas-fired plants for market manipulation.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 05:58:46 AM EST
What's wrong with the EDF model. No power outages. Available surplus capacity. Strong ethos of public service. Well paid workforce. Well run compnay, technically speaking. And the cheapest power around.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 06:07:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the theme of secrecy and trust - what came out: SuperPhénix scandals, la Hague scandals (yet another reported just two days ago), Chernobyl fallout blackout, military connection, EPR. Did everything come out?

On the theme of reliability - while it is often argued in nuclear's favour that other countries import from France, this can be turned around: the "EDF model" is no more closed than the "Anglo-Saxon model" when applied either to the USA or the UK. The French nukes represent an overcapacity most of the time, which can be get rid off via Spain and Italy, while at other times, like summer drought, the home consumption is still ensured, which would have been a shortage in a closed system.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 10:17:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What SuperPhénix scandals? The reactor did not function as well as it should have, but that's technology issue, not a secrecy one, AFAIK. Then it was killed by a political decision when it was finally working.

What la Hague scandals? And don't give me Greenpeace or Sortir du Nucléaire sources, they are hardly credible. They cannot get over the fact that nuclear is genuinely popular in France and their resort to the worst kinds of stunts and spin and scaremongering with little regard to truth. The latest story about an airliner striking the EPR is especially irresponsible, as it contributes to the general state of fear which we otherwise criticise here so forcefully. They are responsible for enabling Sarkosy and consorts when they play with fears like this, especially when it's false.

Chernobyl fallout. Yes, that was stupid, especially as the underlying issue (the fallout) was trivial in France

Military connection? What do you have in mind?

EPR? What do you have in mind ?

I don't understand you last sentence.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 02:45:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And don't give me Greenpeace or Sortir du Nucléaire sources, they are hardly credible.

I am troubled by this wholesale dismissal of sources.  this kind of reminds me of the young US Marine interviewed on his way to Iraq...  "Aren't you troubled to be going over there to fight a war that was based on lies?" said the reporter.  "After all, we now know there were no WMD, and the Iraqis had nothing to do with 9/11."  The young grunt shrugged dismissively:  "That's just what the liberals say.  I don't pay any attention to their bullshit."  (wtte).

if we decide that everything Greenpeace or SdN publishes is de facto untrustworthy, then we eliminate what is often the first or only reportage of investigative journalism and/or citizen complaint.  whom should we regard as trustworthy?  official government bulletins?  surely -- despite the relative excellence of the French bureaucracy and technocracy -- alert citizens should always keep an ear open to dissenting and oppositional voices.  even the French are not governed by angels :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 03:59:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I know. It is dismaying, but that's how I see it. I guess I'm with Migeru in his dialogue with DoDo on the Castor transports (see the other thread...)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 07:09:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, no, not that again!

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 07:13:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"I feel like... I feel like... Sing-mmmphghhh!"

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 09:22:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Uh, em, oh, where to begin... No, I best save most of my replies for the next diary, but this is too funny to let up:

The latest story about an airliner striking the EPR is especially irresponsible

You mean releasing the nuclear industry's own evaluation on an airliner striking a planned but unnecessary new nuclear plant is irresponsible? Not making that confidential? You have a strange concept of responsible.

the underlying issue (the fallout) was trivial in France

As the scandal is that there weren't even measurements, that's a tall claim.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri May 26th, 2006 at 01:11:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I find it depressing that you promote a terrorist attack with an airplane as something we should worry about today. It's scaremongering, and it plays to the politics of, well, you know.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri May 26th, 2006 at 02:41:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
facilities are kept away from public discourse by (necessarily) declaring them official secrets
I deny the necessity.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 06:20:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hm. Knowing your libertarian/anarchistic leanings, I believe I understand why. Without attempting a politico-philosophical debate, I hazard two questions:

  1. Do you think it would be (practically/politically) possible to entirely separate the nuclear power industry from the military?

  2. What organizatorial-regulatory-ownership structure do you foresee for a no-secrets nuclear industry?


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 10:24:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. There are many countries using nuclear power that don't have nuclear weapons programs. What other association do you have in mind?
  2. Public ownership or, if private ownership, open to audit by a public regulator. Public entities open to public scrutiny through freedom-of-information legislation.


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 10:30:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, concerning connections to weapons manufacturing, even the nuclear industries of many of the non-nuclear-power states are tied to the industries of those that are (all ex-East-Bloc power plants to the Soviet/Russian, the German to the French and British).

But I meant the national security considerations. While you would discount the bogeyman terrorist, the military will not only concern itself with terrorism, but a military attack, too. A centralised electricity generation system will already make a strategic asset, something the military will see necessary to secure (or attack). Furthermore, nuclear plants aren't just bigger targets than the average fossil fuel power plant: while the latter can be up and running half-repaired after the replacement of some pipes and welding-work (see Iraq or Yugoslavia), for a nuclear plant, the perfect replacement of a hundred essential parts would be needed in the best case, and it would stay a radioactive ruin in the worst case. So until we don't abolish armies and wars altogether, nuclear power plants will stay a national security issue.

Regarding 2, that's an answer about ownership and half of regulation, but what about organisation, and how would public regulation be organised?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri May 26th, 2006 at 01:04:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And even less likely that you can get convictions.  Today was a good day for the Criminal Justice System.  Not a great day, but a good one.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 06:17:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Criticism of nuclear energy can get you into trouble with state security organs -- and Stephane Lhomme's case is not the only one.

For example, in August 2005, 50 simple policemen and agents of the German Staatsschutzpolizei (= State Protection Police) stormed the editors' room of activist magazine anti-atom aktuell (aaa) and seized material and computers. Ostensibly, to find the people behind an action announced on the internet, except they could have found them just by clicking the links on the page, and there was no claim of any punishable crime. The search was declared unlawful by a court a month later.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 06:19:44 AM EST
yes, this is the gravest danger regarding their use; in a west already gravitating to a privacy-free, top-down, paranoid model, the choice to go nuclear invites -even guarantees - a rapid amplification of these negative factors.

i believe this choice by governments to be highly provocative, given the reliably mendacious history in sharing information, and the facile minimisation of the risks involved which are belied by their uninsurability, their proposed adoption will spur much public protest.

they have come to symbolise corporation-think at its worst: dehumanising, profit-worshipping, unecological and disrespectful to all except the few to whom the financial benefits accrue.

excellent breakdown of the risks, soberingly and clearly laid out.

 once again, kudos deanander, for showing how blogging can be highly advanced journalism, and for the courage to take on the conventional (lack of) wisdom.

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 09:09:20 AM EST
How does micropower work for densely populated regions, e.g. where I live.

You say local decision making - but what is local? - neighbourhood, town, county, state, nation? Say a town in upstate doesn't want the power plant to give energy to the city and its densely populated suburbs. Say the city and the densely populated suburbs don't want to pay the taxes that subsidize the (poorer) rural areas. Say the rich school districts say fuck the poor ones, it's not our problem. Say the rich coastal second home owners don't want those wind towers screwing up their views, and to hell with the interests of everybody else.  Say the locals in Alaska want their drilling, feeling that the money they'll get outweighs the environmental damage, say a community wants that polluting plant - sure it's bad for the river, but only downstream from us.

There's also an implication that decentralized small communities are better. In what way? In the US there's a pretty good correlation between population density and political ideology - the greater the density, the more left wing. Thank you, but I'll take NYC over rural  upstate, DC over rural Virginia,  Berlin over rural Brandenburg, Wroclaw over rural Silesia. And it's not just the cities - in many ways old, densely populated suburbs are also more progressive than either old rural communities or new exurbs.

What's inherently eco-friendly about 'micropower' - are home coal heating systems like you get in older central European housing better than better than a megaproject steam heating network? (Aaah, the sweet smell of a small Polish town in winter;)

What is 'micropower.'? Is a big windfarm 'micropower'? It's a pretty big capital investment - much more so upfront for power generated than a big fossil fuel plant.

by MarekNYC on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 12:07:47 PM EST
all good points MarekNYC.  I did mention that micropower using coal presented emissions control issues -- as Londoners found in the 40's through early 60's... in 1952 4,000 people died in London of pulmonary insult and reduced visibility during a 5-day nightmare of "pea-soup" fog curdled with coal smoke.  This led to a ban on the use of coal in domestic hearths and its replacement by coke, which burns cleaner.  (Oddly enough coal burning has been banned in London on several occasions through the city's history, going as far back as 1150 or thereabouts iirc).
Pollution had been seen as the price of progress, but the smog of 1952 woke the public to the terrible toll. The National Society for Clean Air (NSCA) says of the smog: "It marks the dividing line between the general acceptance of air pollution as a natural consequence of industrial development, and the understanding that progress without pollution control is no progress at all."

But it took years of compaigning to get the Conservative government to accept reform. To cover up the true extent of the smog disaster the government invented an influenza epidemic. In fact research has shown there was no epidemic and that the thousands more people who continued to die for the next four months did so because of the air pollution.

The government's policies were at least partly to blame. To maximise revenue the UK was exporting its clean coal and keeping the sulphur laden "dirty" coal for UK power stations and domestic fires. The result was a combination of soot laden air and droplets of sulphuric acid lying in a 200ft deep blanket across London, leading to the worst smog ever recorded.

Lies, stupid cover stories, and profiteering at the public expense -- nothing new.

I hope to return to micropower as a subject in its own right in a future diary RSN, with some theory, some success stories, and some urban as well as rural applications.

The difficulty of resolving local autonomy with polity-wide strategy is persistent.  Whether it is local cost imposed by distant benefit, or general cost imposed by local benefit, there is a skewing of CBA and  a serious challenge to democratic process.  This is imho one of the very good reasons for seeking solutions with least-toxic byproducts and minimum radius -- rather than the "extract and excrete" model we have been using since the kickstart of industrialism.  But more on this later.  All very good challenging questions and fodder for multiple diaries!


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 06:03:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
afterthought:  large scale finance capitalism certainly adds to this problem as we repeatedly see the argument that maximising the return for shareholders scattered all over Country A is a "greater good for greater number" and trumps the local rights of indigenes, pastoralists, subsistence farmers etc.  there's a serious modelling problem for democracy when investors provide the aegis for corporations whose "externalised" costs are inflicted not merely hundreds but thousands of miles away, under a whole different government and legal system...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 08:13:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
sorry that was supposed to be "indigenes etc in Country B"

this delocalisation or dislocation of benefit from consequences strikes me as a fundamental problem.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 08:24:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let me pose a question:

Suppose there is no viable solution to the energy issues of the 21st Century. By this I mean that we will not be able to maintain the standard of living of the first world at the present level and we will not be able to raise those on the bottom much (if any) above their current subsistence level.

What do we do then? Do the strongest retreat to their armed camps and let everyone else fend for themselves (or act as our servants)? Or do we just drift along as now and let events unfold as they may?

Currently the US is planning for the first option. Implicitly the US population supports this, they just don't want to acknowledge it. We are building new weapons systems, more foreign bases, unmanned air craft, autonomous land vehicles and even space-based weapons. Using this technology it should be possible to intimidate the rest of the world into doing our bidding (at least as far as raw materials are concerned).

I have no way of telling if it is possible to intimidate 4/5 of the world, but as Iraq shows, it is best to do it remotely.


Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 07:17:52 PM EST
<sigh>

here is one answer: that predatory economies inevitably drift into Exterminism.  italics original, bolding mine.  

"Progress," or "growth" chews threw the world like a feral pig - just as it chewed through the forest around my house.  No one intentionally killed the deer or the beaver.  Their deaths were simply a by-product... a statistical probability... the collateral damage of a social system reproducing itself.

Exterminism is this process writ large - writ worldwide.  Exterminism is the final stage of imperialism.

We cannot know the true meanings of Katrina in the familiar language of the Imperium; and we cannot link Katrina to either ecocide or the seemingly maniacal devotion of the neocons to the Iraqi bloodbath by simply comparing the costs of Katrina and the costs of the war.  This goes well beyond shopkeeper logic.

Ecocide - a terrifying danger often ignored on the left and the right - permanent war, and the malignant neglect of Katrina's victims, are intimately and structurally related.

"Exterminism" was first coined - as close as I can determine from cursory research - by Edward Thompson in 1980, in an essay for New Left Review called "Notes on exterminism, the last stage of civilization."

Exterminism, according to Thompson, describes "those characteristics of a society - expressed, in differing degrees, within its economy, its polity and its ideology - which thrust it in a direction whose outcome must be the extermination of multitudes."

Must be... as in "inevitable within the system."

It is, in other words, the tacit or open acceptance of the necessity for mass exterminations or die-offs (often beginning with mass displacements) as the price for continued accumulation and the political dominance of a ruling class.

"Shock and Awe" doctrine is an expression of exterminism.  Refusal to intervene in the AIDS crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa is equally an expression of exterminism.

Exterminism is not totally, or even most often, characterized by offensive action against whole populations, but frequently accomplished by calculated neglect - the instruments of which are poverty, disease, malnutrition , and "natural" disasters... and frequently facilitated by economic isolation and the mass displacement of populations.

Imperialism is not merely the oppression and control of nation by nation.  It is a system of inter-dependency in a very specific form - of capitalism.  There is no ideal and universal form of capitalism but only transient forms, bounded by changing externalities and driven by changing internalities.  Today's form is both imperial and exterminist.  It requires the plunder of nation by nation, and it necessitates mass displacement, mass neglect, and eventual death as part of its inexorable logic.

This is what we saw on a relatively small scale, even if we did not know it, with the spectacle of people starving and dehydrated on flood-besieged rooftops while a smiling George W. Bush cut a birthday cake for a smiling John McCain.  This is what we don't see - because it is not displayed in our cultural production - in the wasting away of tens of millions with HIV-AIDS in Africa.

In fact, many in the US - whether they will say it aloud or not - find this African die-off perfectly acceptable.

I recently had a brief exchange of notes with a senior faculty member, on the general topic of energy and sustainability.  After acknowledging that we were up a pretty narrow creek with no paddle, this cultured and civilised academic said, "I believe in conservation and possibly cellulosic ethanol.  I don't think that wind and tides can do that much.  Mainly I am in favor of x10 fewer people, at the very least."  This is a person who lives 60 miles and a mountain range away from the day job and commutes daily, and flies all over the world regularly each year to distinguished scholarly gatherings.  I somehow have the feeling that the culling that is imagined here is not a culling of the white western elite who live this fossil intensive lifestyle, but an elimination of all the other "hungry mouths" on Earth so as to keep this lifestyle going a little while longer.  I could be wrong, and hope that I am;  but to fly 50,000 miles per annum and then express the hope for a 90 percent reduction in the human population as a solution to our energy problems, strikes me as chilling -- about a 7.5 on the Wannsee scale.

Garrett Hardin has asserted the position that the West should stop giving aid of any kind to the South aka the third world, and just let millions starve as they are "naturally destined to do."  However I have not read any proposal from him for us to stop stealing their minerals, oil, water, land, protein, etc. nor to pay reparations for the damage inflicted over several centuries of colonial occupation.

In other words, "look at the time / let's just say that I'm / the winner..."

Disclaimer:  citing a link at FTW does not constitute a vote of confidence for MR.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 08:40:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding surveillance, can anyone here sketch a future scenario in which:

  1. The cost of cameras, computers, and bandwidth continues to plummet, and
  2. Bombs in crowds, guns in schools, etc., are still seen as threats, and
  3. People still seek security, and yet
  4. Surveillance doesn't become effectively ubiquitous?

How much control (and surveillance) would be required to prevent ubiquitous surveillance by private parties? What signs are there of a social and political consensus that could prevent ubiquitous surveillance by governments?

In my view, ubiquitous surveillance can best regarded as inevitable. If so, then our attention in this area is best directed to identifying social, computational, and legal structures that could make ubiquitous surveillance relatively tolerable, and our effort in this area is best aimed at implementing those structures. If this analysis is correct, then efforts to prevent surveillance (rather efforts to affect how it is used) are efforts to sweep back the tide, and are squandering the scarce resource of people willing to take action on this issue.

And no, this doesn't make me happy or optimistic, in part because I see almost no current action that, according to this analysis, is directed toward useful objectives.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 12:11:52 AM EST
Effective security depends on surveillance and secrecy, on learning as much as possible about the enemy while permitting the enemy to learn as little as possible about oneself.  The requirements of security are in direct and inescapable conflict with the requirements of a free and democratic society.
Software security shows that this is not the case. The open source community uncovers, diagnoses and repairs security vulnerabilities much, much faster than proprietary companies.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 05:43:14 AM EST
The applicability of your example might depend on what "effective" security means.  On one hand. On the other hand, on how you mean open source community - I know you're a Wikipedian, so if you mean that, I don't know the security issues involved, however, security with Linux does involve secrecy quite naturally - not secret source codes but limited file access on computers running Linux, firewalls.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 10:31:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Effective security of industrial operations means that you cannot just randomly come in and wander within the facility, and touch whatever you damn well please. Effective computer security involves restricting read/write/execute access to every file on the computer, and the ability to close communication ports. But if the source code of everything is public it means everyone knows how everything works.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 10:36:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OK. First on your general vision of a nuclear plant security open source community. It is compelling, and would certainly mean an improvement upon today, but it fits my original argument about secrecy as necessary characteristic of nuclear power. You do include a security perimeter, and consequently a line behind which outsider's measurements can be barred and inside which files can be kept. Those that make such decisions aren't the system operators, for whom information exchange about system vulnerabilities is a two-way street, peer-to-peer; but people who have to care about balance sheets (where I note that addressing security problems can cost a lot more than changing computer code), public reactions, and the continuation of projects: the equivalents of CEOs and administrators hiding company/state secrets on servers running Linux. This is cause for concern in case of chemical plants, but the stakes are higher and outside control is qualitatively more difficult for nuclear.

Regarding effective security, even with your definition focussed on human access, I don't think current open source community standards are sufficient [with which, note, I didn't meant they couldn't be an improvement]. The worst case scenario with a system vulnerability for a Linux OS would be a few ten thousand computer crashes, which the sysadmins have to repair by debugging, running a different Linux version, or getting a patch through another internet-connected computer. Addressing system vulnerabilities includes ticking your own system. In case of nuclear facilities, the equivalent worst case scenario should be better avoided. (Staying with the mischievous human factor, you needen't think of al-Qaida. In the USA in the first half of the eighties, there has been a case of sabotage of safety pumps and two cases of sabotage of back-up diesel generators by insiders, and one sabotage of external power lines.) Meanwhile, ticking your own system can be done only in a limited way, you have to rely on simulations and assumptions.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri May 26th, 2006 at 01:05:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I do include a "security perimeter". You do lock your door at home, don't you? And the office where you work is not 100% accessible to the public, is it? And it gets locked at night. Your computer's security is "a line behind which files can be kept". I don't know what it is that makes any of this evil. Since nuclear power plants (and chemical plants) involve a risk to the public health, they are subject to government regulation and audit. Everyone and every activity is similarly subject to regulation and audit because it impacts society in one way or another. But there is no requirement to keep everything in display for everyone to see.

Why is outside control qualitatively more difficult for nuclear?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 26th, 2006 at 03:16:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In other words, limited access but public protocols.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 10:37:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mr Blair warned that failing to replace the current ageing plants would fuel global warming, endanger Britain's energy security and represent a dereliction of duty to the country.
Dereliction of duty to the country is what his government has done, asleep at the spigot of North Sea oil and gas while it peaked. They were in power since 1997, they had access to hard data about the status of the oil and gas fields and did nothing.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 05:46:32 AM EST
yes.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 06:09:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As long as it is available, offsite power is the preferred power source for the nuclear plant. However, once the electrical grid fails, the emergency diesel generator automatically starts and supplies power to safety equipment. The emergency diesel generators cannot provide enough power to operate the non-safety equipment at the plant."
In other words, these plants require continuous baseline AC power from "somewhere" (currently fossil fueled) in order to operate, and diesel generators for emergency backup.
That's just bad design. Assuming that all power generation is nuclear, you are basically choosing to power the nuclear reactor here with power from the nuclear reactor there, instead of diverting some of your own power to keeping yourself going.

Are other power plants (coal-, gas-fired) also designed in this way? Who designed this?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 05:50:49 AM EST
Assuming that all power generation is nuclear, you are basically choosing to power the nuclear reactor here with power from the nuclear reactor there

In case of a cascading powerdown, as during the large blackouts, the nature of the off-site power doesn't count. I.e., simplified, shutting down one plant shuts down the next, that the third and so on.

Are other power plants (coal-, gas-fired) also designed in this way?

Their off-site electricity needs aren't as big. (I'll try to dig up some numbers when I get home.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 10:09:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know the nature of the external power source does not count. Assuming it's all nuclear just highlights the absurdity of using grid power for anything other than initial power-up.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 10:23:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I did a little read-up as promised. (Sorry for the one-day delay, but my home internet connection was down and was too busy at work fixing a measurement program to get back to this.) I need to precisify what was quoted originally.

The external electricity need is an essential security feature of these plants: external power runs the cooling system pumps, as fuel rods have to be cooled even after an emergency shutdown (=no own power available).  The emergency diesel generators are meant to run the cooling system pumps (along with the emergency systems) in case of an external power-down, though they aren't well suited to keep the power plants running, and are often weak links (at least poor maintenance of emergency diesel generators in US plants is widespread).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri May 26th, 2006 at 01:03:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, that makes sense.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 26th, 2006 at 02:58:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the obvious problems with megaprojects is that such huge budgets attract embezzlers -- rich pickings can be had from fudging even the "small ticket" line items on projects with budgets in the 7 to 9 figures;
The University of California routinely pays three times more than it should to its contractors... I don't know whether that is bad government or bad business, but the contractors know they can charge more, and the university seems to accept that it has to pay more than market rates.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 05:53:12 AM EST
now this is what I call micropower!

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 06:31:26 PM EST
The world's first true $100 laptop has just been unveiled, and it looks to be a spectacular innovation.

Delaware nonprofit One Laptop Per Child, initiated by CAD pioneer Nicholas Negroponte and run by MIT's Media Lab faculty, designed the laptops to be sufficiently inexpensive to be given to every child in the world. They are poised for distribution as digital textbooks in China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria, Thailand and elsewhere.

Each laptop contains a 500MHz processor, 128MB of dynamic RAM, and 500 MB of Flash memory in place of a hard disk, with four USB ports and wireless broadband that allows it to "talk to" its nearest neighbor, in an ad hoc local area "mesh" network.

Costs are significantly cut by using the open source Linux operating system and the same LCD displays found in inexpensive DVD players, which support full color or sunlight-readable high-resolution black and white.

According to Negroponte, the OLPC laptop can do everything a $1000 laptop can at one tenth the cost. The only difference is its permanent data storage capacity is limited to that of a high-end PC from the early 1980s. But what makes these digital textbooks an incredibly powerful global education resource is that they require no outside electricity; they're run by hand cranks.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the galaxy...
Bill Gates has mocked the $100 Linux-based, wind-up powered PC which is being pitched by MIT media lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte at developing markets.

In a move unlikely to endear the world's richest man to PC users in either the developed or the developing nations. Gates advised them to "get a decent computer" that offered a decent screen, a broadband connection and isn't powered by a wind-up handle.

Shortly before his reported comments, Gates - speaking at the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum in Washington - had been extolling the latest Windows powered machines costing up to $1,000.

"Hardware is a small part of the cost" of providing a PC, he noted, adding that the biggest costs come from network connectivity, support, and, er, applications.

Bill should know. The planned Microsoft Office Professional 2007 will be priced at $499 while the "budget" Office Home and Student 2007 comes in at $149. Then there's the price of the operating system. Microsoft has not yet released pricing for its next Windows client, however Window XP retails for several hundred dollars.

Combined, Windows and Office kill the $100 PC's value proposition for OEMs and users. That said, Microsoft did tackle the "value" concept itself in recent years when it reluctantly introduced stripped down, Starter Editions of Windows XP in Brazil, Russia and South East Asia in response to certain government-sponsored "peoples' PCs" programs developed using Linux. It is also understood to take a more flexible approach to pricing on its full strength products in some developing countries. (source)

No wonder people call him The Borg, and his company The Evil Empire.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 06:39:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding surveillance, can anyone at ET sketch a  scenario in which:

  1. The cost of cameras, computers, and bandwidth continues to plummet, and
  2. Bombs in crowds, guns in schools, etc., are still seen as threats, and
  3. People still seek security, and yet
  4. Surveillance doesn't become effectively ubiquitous?

A credible scenario should address these questions, among others:

  1. How much control (and surveillance) would be required to prevent ubiquitous surveillance by private parties?
  2. What signs are there of a social and political consensus that could prevent ubiquitous surveillance by governments?


Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Fri May 26th, 2006 at 02:09:54 AM EST

In my view, ubiquitous surveillance can best regarded as inevitable. If so, then our attention in this area is best directed to identifying social, computational, and legal structures that could make ubiquitous surveillance relatively tolerable, and our effort in this area is best aimed at implementing those structures. (David Brin has argued the importance of watching the watchers.) If this analysis is correct, then efforts to prevent surveillance (rather efforts to affect how it is used) are efforts to sweep back the tide, and are squandering the scarce resource of people willing to take action on this issue.

And no, this doesn't make me happy or optimistic, in part because I see almost no current action that, according to this analysis, is directed toward useful objectives.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Fri May 26th, 2006 at 02:10:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
polyopticon is different from Panopticon, I think.

f'rexample the Rodney King video:  this was an example the the people surveilling the State.  but it was in the mode of witnessing and recording, not in some kind of preventive sense.

I think the State should be totally open to surveillance by the people.  I would feel far safer in, zBs, a police station if I knew that there were IP-addressed CCTV cameras everywhere and that amateurs were randomly accessing them.  what if we were an open-source society?

OTOH there is some point surely at which one desires privacy and asserts a civil right to it?  the loutish practise of leaving microcameras in women's loos, for example, for the sophomoric amusement of little creeps with nowt better to do, should damn well be illegal imho.  would we want our doctor's consulting room or our analyst's couch to be webcammed?

there are two models to which ubiquitous surveillance can lead us.  one is the authoritarian model of paranoia and control, citizens being kept under observation by an omnipresent state apparatus, watched from afar by people who themselves are invisible and operate with impunity.  the other is the ur-village of our human past, where everyone simply knows everyone's business because we're all living in the same public space and sleeping in the longhouse at night.  

this kind of "village surveillance" can have a very civilising effect (as Jacobs points out in her book on American cities).  basically most people are less likely to commit offences when they know "someone" is watching.  the trouble with the authoritarian state model (which imho is where the whole "security state" trend leads us) is that the watching is asymmetrical, one-sided.  the watchers remain hidden and therefore they are more likely to commit offences and abuses, being "invisible".

so it comes down to what we mean by "ubiquitous" -- if it means that Authority has cameras everywhere watching us, but we cannot watch them, then imho this is a bad antidemocratic thing and will inevitably lead to abuse and repression.  if it means that there are cameras everywhere and they belong to random people or are public space, accessible by all, then it may not be such a bad thing, though a bit of a culture shock for those of us raised in the interregnum between the original village and the digital village.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri May 26th, 2006 at 02:27:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for a thoughtful perspective. To echo and add to some your points:

We've seen how people surveilling the State can provide a check on the abuse of power. Another example (of a sort) is the leaking of images from Abu Ghraib via cell-phone cameras.

More systematic surveilling of the State could provide a still more effective check. It seems to me that the strongest principled resistance to this (skipping lightly over the inevitably enormous unprincipled resistance) would be in monitoring intelligence gathering (watching the watchers) and military activity. In these areas, however, delayed access could give much of the benefit of public oversight while undercutting arguments for secrecy. We wouldn't be able to see where the army was deploying today or what they were planning, but would eventually be able to review the camera data in detail, perhaps a week later. (There would be complications regarding legitimately sensitive data, but this should never be an excuse for permanent, opaque secrecy.) Moderately delayed access would still provide accountability.

I like the village surveillance model, because it offers a point of reference based on long-term, widespread human experience. It would be illuminating to consider both what village life has been like and what the similarities and differences might be with various patterns of surveillance management. One can imagine pathologies if the village expands to the world (stalkers from beyond the horizon), but these potential pathologies might be addressed and minimised by controls on the diffusion of data. (Maybe there are cameras in the loos, but the records are encrypted and can only be opened by subpoena.)

Culture shock... Yes, and worse if the new culture is intrinsically intolerable. This issue is rushing toward us and seems poised to cause political and social change of transformative scale. I think it's worth trying to understand what outcomes are both possible and acceptable, to help us decide what is worth trying to achieve.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sat May 27th, 2006 at 02:28:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
serious problems with delayed feeds, as they can be edited before release.  this is already the case with some "live" TV, the feed being reviewed by network censors during a few-minute delay before actual broadcast.  there would have to be pgp signature on each block of digital video data, in some scheme which was utterly robust against bloc substitution.

problem:  the Gummint can always afford bigger computers than we can.

I think this is a worthwhile topic.  one data point might be the gov't office in (Germany I think?) Euroland which was made totally visible -- a "fishbowl" building where the public could look into any office at any time and see their tax dollars at work.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat May 27th, 2006 at 01:03:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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