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

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Fri Mar 25 15:20:29 PDT 2011

On 3/25/11 12:20 PM, Eugen Leitl wrote:
> On Fri, Mar 25, 2011 at 12:09:19PM -0700, Stephen Williams wrote:
>>> 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):
> Nobody will use it because there are cheaper alternatives.

Oil, gas, and coal can be cheaper, or at least easier alternatives.  But if they have been cheaper, it was for historical reasons 
and because their extended costs are back loaded, not front loaded.  Nuclear has been required to front load almost all of their 
costs, has no economy of scale most of the time, and still it comes out much cheaper.  Any fair comparison with traditional energy 
sources seems to favor nuclear a lot.

Which is not to say that we shouldn't pursue all promising alternatives.  Some of those may solve a lot.

However, when a unit of thorium, which is potentially as cheap as dirt, can produce as much power as 350 million units of coal using 
a non-critical mass method, it is hard to believe the net risks outweigh the potential savings.

> I wonder why the blind spot; this should be obvious. In fact,
> this is *precisely* what is happening. Out there. Hence the
> endless number of small and middle incidents, in Germany,
> France, Japan, U.S.

Alternatives do not seem to be fundamentally cheaper.  Buried under enough red tape, lawyers, delays, lack of scale production, 
etc., even something free becomes hyper expensive.  Public opinion, irrational or not, can incur a lot of costs.

One of those self, hermetically sealed reactors could be designed, tested, and deemed secure.  Perhaps using something dirt-cheap 
like thorium, and is approved.  Whether it is expensive or very cheap depends on whether we make 1 of them or many.  Interesting 
that the Norwegian company bought the patent rights to the accelerator/thorium reactor ideas.  Would make a great power source for 
cruise ships wouldn't it?  They could create cruise-ship "countries" or factories with a technology like that.  Or disaster relief 
refugee camps.  Perhaps with farm ships to match.

> All by yourself you're an illustration why people are not
> smart enough to use systems with severe failure modes with
> no prior negative feedback.

Oh?  Have I mentioned radiation burns or something?  What are you referring to?
On the other hand, both in scuba and flying I've A) been trained and certified and B) experienced potentially severe failure modes, 
and C) survived.  I'm well aware of risks, mitigations, and consequences of a range of things.

We have chemical plants everywhere dealing with many different deadly chemicals all of the time.  There are failures, although much 
less so in the modern safety-conscious era, but we find it worthwhile to deal with that risk to get the rewards.  This is no 
different.  I'd rather be exposed to a little radiation than many of those chemicals.

> Many people are into hubris. It's ok, as long as we don't let
> these people deploy stuff they can't control

Without some degree of hubris, we don't get anything done.  In this case, it is also hubris to ignore better, proven options to 
improve what some describe as a desperate and highly wasteful situation while waiting for better alternatives to emerge.  We need 
the better alternatives, and we should be investing in them, however we're instead spending very large chunks of our resources 
prolonging the use of poor and never to get better alternatives (oil).  If we were to implement nuclear modernization, we would 
probably save huge in a few years.  We could then put some of those extra resources in developing the other alternatives more too.


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