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Every nuclear technology starts by promising electricity too cheap to meter, discounts out of hand known technical complexities that impinge on technical viability, not to mention health and safety, covers up (lies about) safety lapses in construction and early operations, and then when things finally go bad for real--Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, but you could also throw in near-misses such as Browns Ferry--explains it away as an old and obsolete technology that can be discounted and ignored because everything is different now.  Until the next meltdown.  

As Malooga says, forget pollution, forget the ever unsolved and ever growing problem of waste storage, forget the known but unasignable deaths due to accidents and leaks--just look at the design issues:  These plants can not be turned "off" without copious, long-term external power for shutdown-mode cooling. These plants are the most insane machines ever constructed.  As Steve from Virginia over at Economic Undertow says, the one great difference of nuclear power over other forms of power generation has been its ability to push costs into the future.  That was done then and those costs are starting to arrive now.  

But does any of this matter?  Industrial civilization is committed to using as much power as possible from any and every sufficiently cheap source for as long as possible, regardless of externalities which typically mean the destruction of the inhabitability of land and the potability of water.  This is in turn a consequence of the demand for infinite growth.  There is no argument nuclear vs. coal, or vs. anything else.  The only question is how much dirty energy of all types Industrial Civilization will develop before the price becomes too high or underlying human life support is destroyed.  All sources of energy--no matter how dirty or destructive--will be used if they can be.  

The only way out--if it can be called a way out--is to use less energy, and that means giving up on growth altogether.  Industrial civilization has no way of not growing.  This is an absolute impasse.  That is, the way out implies the end of industrial civilization, which, it is true, will happen anyway--but the implication is to embrace necessity in the spirit of damage limitation.  

But where is the political will to come from?  If these plants are not shut down, the best parts of North America, Europe, and Asia will become exclusion zones before the 21st century is out.  But there is no money to be made by saving any of these continents:  Money can only be made by destroying them.  So there is no solution within the bounds of the current political economy.  

We need a revolution, sure, but here is the catch:  Unlike previous revolutions, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  The revolution itself would be based on the recognition that nobody will be "better off" as the phrase is currently understood.  The West is currently completely nihilistic--no one believes that a future is possible, let alone likely, and no one has any interest in seeking it.  The short phrase for this is murder-suicide, and murder-suicide is the underlying psychology of the West.  Everyone has bought in to their own death by their own hand.  

Except for a few lone nuts, of course.  But they have no power and no influence.  How can this change?  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Jun 22nd, 2011 at 11:58:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Make this a diary.

Economics is politics by other means
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 23rd, 2011 at 04:45:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I strongly share at least some of your views. But i was hoping that people who are in favor of expanded nuclear power would share whether/how Fukushima has affected them.

I've stated here that nuclear power is the symbol of a civilization with zero understanding of humanity's place in the universe, a lethal technological hubris. especially when civilization could easily be powered by the various forms of solar.

But there remain lots of people who believe low-level radiation is not dangerous, that the waste problem is or will be solved, and everything is hunky dory. That technology always functions exactly as designed, doesn't fail, get brittle with age, and of course doesn't fail.

Even if there aren't near enough foundries to provide the nuclear plan.

Even if the need to completely decentralize energy isn't an immediate necessity for this sick civilization, instead of further centralization.

I'm always struck that my mentor, the founder of the wind industry in amurka, was previously the chief designer of the first class of nuclear submarines. He changed enough to establish the first PhD. engineering program in wind. Courageous, no?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Thu Jun 23rd, 2011 at 05:27:51 AM EST
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But there remain lots of people who believe low-level radiation is not dangerous

Dangerous compared to what?

Dangerous compared to coal mining? That depends on how much you weigh human suffering today (dead coal miners) over human suffering tomorrow (elevated risk of radiation effects).

Dangerous compared to global warming? I'd take a doubling of the gamma background any day of the week.

Dangerous compared to going without electricity? Well, no. Not in any reasonable estimation of the consequences of going without electricity.

Dangerous compared to harvesting wind or solar power? Obviously, yes.

Dangerous compared to basing your civilisation exclusively on harvesting sustainable energy sources? That remains to be seen, but I strongly suspect that the answer is yes.

What Fukushima has demonstrated is that current nuclear technology is not failsafe. And that is obviously not sustainable, given the disruptions and casualties from a serious failure. It may be acceptable for a bridging technology, though, depending on what the alternatives are.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 23rd, 2011 at 06:03:39 AM EST
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I don't believe a bridging technology is necessary. We can build all the sustainable technologies right now.

Anything else is distraction, eye on the prize, a sustainable civilization.

not sure i get "taking a doubling of gamma background." using the technology at all risks dead zones.

not sure "going without electricity" is one of the options.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Thu Jun 23rd, 2011 at 06:13:04 AM EST
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I don't believe a bridging technology is necessary. We can build all the sustainable technologies right now.

Perhaps. But with what ramp-up time?

Bridging technologies are not useful for bridging the gap to some as-yet-uninvented magic bullet. That is excuse-making, not reality-based strategic planning. Bridging technologies are useful for bridging the gap between where you currently are and where you have good reason to believe you will be able to get using existing technology.

It may be that the ramp-up time for renewables is short enough compared to the design life of a nuclear plant, or the remaining design life of our coal-burning infrastructure, that it is undesirable to build new nuclear capacity. But that is an empirical question, and as such I reserve the right to suspend my judgement until and unless I have empirical data.

not sure "going without electricity" is one of the options.

Oh, it is certainly an option. It is my understanding that people did so for some millennia prior to Volta and Faraday came around.

Just not a very good option.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 23rd, 2011 at 01:30:44 PM EST
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While solar technologies are not quite as advanced as wind, they are far down the learning curve... as are efficiency and insulation technologies.

The idea that they're not quite ready for prime time is a media concoction by the powers that be. They are ready to be ramped up globally on a huge scale right now.

In both wind and PV, the ability to ramp up hugely has already been proven. The build-up of the supply chain for wind turbines, a highly complex piece of equipment, is the example of how it would be achieved.

The industry has already installed 200 GW globally, 35.8 GW last year. China had 5.9 GW at the end of 2007, three years later had 42.3 GW installed. Global growth outside of China has slowed because of lack of political will, but there already have been periods of similar growth in the west.

At the end of 2007, the US had 16.8 GW, by the end of 2010 40.2 GW. That's 23.4 1,000 MW nuke plants in three years. Globally last year 35.8 plants.

Especially as new markets continue to come online, such as now in Brazil, it would be possible to double output in three years, and hit 100GW/yr in 5, continually increasing where needed.

If there's money to build conventional plants, there's money to build this level of renewable installation.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Thu Jun 23rd, 2011 at 03:00:27 PM EST
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Of course, my comment didn't address capacity factors, but still, it shows the level of production available. And believe me, there are 100s of companies wishing to get into the wind supply chain, so the manufacturing capacity is there.

Would this help the world grow productive economies?

Solar and efficiency technologies would do the same. and all produced relatively locally.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Thu Jun 23rd, 2011 at 03:19:43 PM EST
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Even if we took all nuclear offline the result would not be without electricity as much as rationed electricity. A bit of american television form the Californian electicity scam comes to mind:

Journalist: What do you do to use less power?
Guy on the street: I turn off my television when I go to work. I mean, I like having it on when I come home, but we all have to pitch in.

Had to quote that, but actually the big savings are still in the industry and commercial properties. Wasting are often a form of conspicious consumtion and if it is on the company, then why not?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Jun 23rd, 2011 at 03:03:22 PM EST
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