The Zero Sum Nuclear Debate

Michael Levi on why we don’t have a rational discussion:

Most advocates can’t admit that there are any downsides to nuclear power. Most opponents can’t accept that nuclear power has anything going for it.

But a commenter at his site, who is a Stanford law professor and energy policy expert, makes a good point about the “cost” issue that I’d like to see Levi address.

13 Responses to “The Zero Sum Nuclear Debate”

  1. charlie says:

    The fuel issue seems trickier.
     
    Say, for instance, a terrorist crash a 747 into a fuel pool?  What happens then?

  2. Tom Gray says:

    Teh “cost issue” is addressed in Peilke Junior’s book “The Climate Fix”. Since nobody knows what technologies can be used to realistically replace carbon-based fuels, the “cost issue” is moot. Better than arm waving”discussions about green energy replacing carbon would be a program to develop the technologies that could realisticallly replace carbon.

    As Hulme points out, most discussions about green issue are rally discussions about quite different things. Green energy is a stalking horse used to promotethings that are derived from other values.

  3. William Newman says:

    You quote approvingly “Most advocates can’t admit that there are any downsides to nuclear power.” Really? My impression is that it’s  common for nuke advocates to choose to compare the downsides of nuclear power to the downsides of alternative power sources, sufficiently common that some factoids for doing it have become cliches. E.g., I’ve encountered at least half a dozen times the comparison between the radioactivity released from a typical coal plant and the radioactivity released by a nuclear power plant in normal operation. I heard it most recently in person a few days after the tsunami from a guy that I play Go with. (And I chided him for it, because he didn’t know enough to be able to clarify whether it was just a figure for normal day-to-day operation or amortized over  historical disasters, making it was a spectacularly irrelevant factoid to trot out in arguing about the disaster in Japan.)

  4. BBD says:

    Nuclear has problems. Potentially very serious ones if something unexpected occurs, as we are seeing in Japan.

    However, unlike wind and solar (and all the rest of the renewables grab-bag), nuclear is also a proven baseload generation technology.

    It doesn’t need a new, untested and only speculatively costed ‘super grid’ to compensate for intermittency and variability.

    It doesn’t need ‘smart’ meters to ration energy because renewables aren’t dispatchable and lack the capacity to meet demand.

    The cost to society and industry of forced reliance on an energy mix with a significant renewables component is rarely considered in the ‘cost comparison’ argument.

    Lots of time is usually devoted instead to discussing the social and economic costs of a nuclear accident. Which is reasonable enough, but one-sided.
    <b>charlie</b>

    What happens if terrorists crash a 747 into a major dam? Why, I wonder, does this argument only ever get applied to nuclear risk?

  5. harrywr2 says:

    Columbia Generating Station Operating Budget
    http://www.energy-northwest.com/who/documents/2010Budget/Final%202010%20Columbia%20Generating%20Station.pdf
     
    charlie Says:
    March 29th, 2011 at 10:10 am

    <i>Say, for instance, a terrorist crash a 747 into a fuel pool?</i>
    Having had a pilots license, deliberately crashing a 747 into a fuel pool would be like getting a hole in one at the golf course.
    It’s possible but only a very small proportion of the attempts are going to succeed.
    It’s just a fact of like that the controls on airplanes get very mushy once you get into ground effect which is roughly an altitude lower then the length of the wing.
    If ones goal is to kill a lot of people then crashing a 747 into a something big like a football stadium on a Sunday afternoon is much easier.
     
     

  6. A similar dynamic plays out in almost all societally controversial issues: About CCS it’s the same. Climate science too.

    At such a moment the discussion is so strongly polarized that it’s no longer rational or constructive. How to get out of such a gridlock is the question.

  7. BBD says:

    Bart V
     
    Well, that certainly put a stop to things 😉

  8. Tom Gray says:

    re 6
     
    BV wrote:
     
    =============
    At such a moment the discussion is so strongly polarized that it’s no longer rational or constructive. How to get out of such a gridlock is the question
    =============
    One suggestion
     
    Ban the word “denier”

  9. Keith Kloor says:

    Bart (6)
    Paul Kelly in the last two threads at your site suggests a way out of the polarization by building a wider coalition around energy and getting off fossil fuels.

    Alas, as he noted several times in those threads, people wedded to keeping climate front and center seem more interested in winning an argument.

  10. Keith,

    As I pointed out to Paul in response, the person he accused of being more interested in winning an argument than in decarbonizing the economy clearly had the latter objective front and centre. So that accusation is largely moot I think (of course there are exceptions where such an accusation may have a nucleus of truth).

    But adding (not substituting) other reasons to the rationale for decarbonization is of course a good thing, as I’ve said to Paul in return.

    Tom G,

    I don’t usually use that word, though many indeed do. May I offer some friendly advice in return (not particularly directed to you, but in general): Ban the endless stream of accusations towards climate science and climate scientists. I’d be quite happy to advocate not using the d-word in return.

  11. charlie says:

    @BBd; actually I agree with you.
    The 747 test is stupid.  Because as we’ve seen with Japan, you take take our a reactor not by attacking the primary containment but going after the  little stuff.

  12. BBD says:

    charlie
    I see you are not an engineer.
    How is total loss of power to all reactors, coupled with seawater inundation and severe structural damage across the site ‘the little stuff’?

  13. Tom Gray says:

    re 10
     
    BV writes
     
    ====================
    I offer some friendly advice in return (not particularly directed to you, but in general): Ban the endless stream of accusations towards climate science and climate scientists.
    =================

    One mire good suggestion would be for all parties to accept that teh AGW issue is inherently political. As Hulme points out, people attitude towards the issue are shaped by their fundamental attitudes. Some people are opposed to AGW measures because it will affect them financially. Some people support AGW measures because they stand to make a great deal of money in carbon futures etc. There is self-interest and altruism on both sides.

    An acceptance of the inherent political nature of the process may be the impetus to create a workable political process to deal with the issue. Decisions will be made openly and transparently. The motives behind the positions of various parties will be accepted and dealt with. With this acceptance of the political nature of the issue, climate science will take its place as one and only one of many  sources of knowledge that will inform the decision making process. One thing that we have learned in the the past 10 or 20 years is that the IPCC process is unworkable. To tun a major world effort of such importance as an exercise in academic science by academic scientists is unbelievable. Decisions being made on a major issue like this by use a peer review of papers  and grant proposals by anonymous reviewers is something that is bound to fail.

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