[FoRK] Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Fri Mar 25 12:09:19 PDT 2011


On 3/25/11 11:31 AM, Ken Ganshirt @ Yahoo wrote:
> --- On Fri, 3/25/11, Gregory Alan Bolcer<greg at bolcer.org>  wrote:
>
>> From: Gregory Alan Bolcer<greg at bolcer.org>
>> Subject: Re: [FoRK] Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power
>> To: fork at xent.com
>> Received: Friday, March 25, 2011, 9:30 AM
>> It's not binary, design is an evolutionary process.  "Overcome" and
>> "Eliminate" are two different things.  You can always
>> design something better.
>>
>> Obviously you aren't a fan of fault tree analysis?
>>
> In instances like these it is pretty much binary. Either a decision is made or an action taken that causes or enables a critical problem sometime in the [immediate or foreseeable] future or it isn't. Either the design allows for that to occur or it prevents it.
>
> Yes, you can make it incrementally "better" (and I am not arguing against trying). From an analytical standpoint (fault tree/whatever) you might even approach perfection.
>
> But you still don't get it. It doesn't matter how good the design is if people choose to simply ignore critical aspects of it.

So, if you design a self-contained reactor that is small enough, with a type of material that could not possibly melt down no matter 
how reconfigured, and a container that is hermetically sealed and designed and tested to withstand time and forces well in excess of 
anything conceivable (and then, probably, you bury the result):
Your position is that it is inevitable that A) all of the design and testing will inevitably have a fatal flaw or B) no number or 
type of safeguards will prevent an out of spec reactor from getting out of the factory and C) doing widespread damage?  Just how do 
we fly planes?  Get to space?  Build large buildings?  Manage not to blow ourselves up with thousands of nuclear weapons?

The semi-implicit assumption in all of this is that failure is truly catastrophic and totally unacceptable.  The numbers do not 
support that assumption: Even Chernobyl wasn't catastrophic on a historical scale, except for the fear it induced.  Any absolute 
reasoning about deaths would have to give priority to drastically lowering deaths from smoking, driving (automated cars!), being 
overweight / not exercising, war, religion, ...  Even just considering energy, by many calculations dominant non-nuclear energy 
sources cause far more deaths than nuclear has, and probably more than nuclear would even if it did have periodic "catastrophes".  
This is apparently very true for coal, largely true for oil.

The public has a romantic love for irrational bogeymen.  Nuclear fear is the prime example of this.  At least with biological agents 
(plagues and GM microbes/crops/animals) you could at least imagine a runaway situation.  (Although, in reality, it is almost as 
remote.)  With nuclear energy, only a long line of extremely stupid actions could amount to significant catastrophe; sort of the 
inverse of achieving successful space travel.

> In simple terms: you can put the perfect lock on the door. If someone forgets or chooses not to lock it or sells the key to someone you wanted locked out, your perfect lock doesn't do much good.
>
> You can design a process which states thou shalt lock the door and thou shalt not sell the key to a thief. But I defy you to design an oversight and enforcement process that will anticipate and thwart all possible incentives for humans to do those things in any case.
>
>          ...ken...

sdw



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