The Nuclear Energy Solution

Guest Post by Bill Sacks and Greg Meyerson. Bill is a physicist and a radiologist, and wrote Lessons about nuclear energy from the Japanese quake and tsunami about a  month into the Fukushima crisis. Greg is an English professor with specialization in critical theory. Both are based in the U.S. For further details about the authors, see the Endnote to this post.


NUCLEAR ENERGY: THE ONLY SOLUTION TO THE ENERGY PROBLEM AND GLOBAL WARMING  By Bill Sacks and Greg Meyerson

The following is a brief rationale and outline of a much longer essay that is also available on bravenewclimate.com (CLICK HERE to download the printable PDF, 58 pages).

This essay unifies four critical contentions that the authors cannot find combined in any other of the many sources on nuclear energy.  Our four contentions are 1) fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) are now the main source of global warming; 2) they must be completely replaced with clean energy sources, chiefly nuclear energy since the inherent physical properties of wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal severely limit their use; 3) radiation at the dose ranges encountered in nature, as well as by the public in nuclear accidents, actually promotes, rather than destroys, health; and 4) the profit system presents an inherent obstacle to achieving the goal of clean, sustainable energy.

The authors hold the opinion that all four of these aspects are inseparable, and that a general understanding of all is necessary if any progress is to be made in solving the problems of inaccessibility of adequate electricity for much of humanity and anthropogenic global warming that is nearing tipping points that threaten to make self-amplifying and irreversible changes.  No one of these four, in our view, can be safely put aside as a distraction from some “main” point.

Recognition that the earth is warming and that human activity, rather than natural cycles, is now responsible is only the beginning of this solution — a necessary but not sufficient condition.  Similarly broad general understanding of the severe inherent limitations of all clean alternatives to nuclear energy is needed to hasten the building of nuclear plants world over, and to end the wasteful efforts to scale up wind and solar particularly, that profit a few but at the expense of rich governmental subsidies and higher energy costs that further restrict access to electricity.

Furthermore if nuclear energy is to gain the respect and advocacy of the public, the exaggerated fears of radiation have to be brought under rational control, which requires first that governmental regulatory agencies around the world be forced to admit that they have been basing their restrictions on an obsolete relic of the Cold War — one that falsely claims that all radiation is harmful to our health regardless of how low the dose, known as the linear-no-threshold (LNT) assumption.  However, the science of biological effects of ionizing radiation overwhelmingly points to an evolved response that protects against any harm from low levels of radiation, known as the hormetic effect, or hormesis, a very general biological response to all sorts of chemical and physical agents.

And finally, none of these can be accomplished without public recognition that arrangements of political and economic power in today’s world, and near-complete control over governmental policies, put the first three realms of decision virtually entirely in the hands of transnational profit-making enterprises whose dominating economic interests are directly and/or indirectly based in the continued near-monopoly of fossil fuels in the generation of electricity and other forms of energy.  We recognize that this point of view will meet with varying degrees of resistance, just as anti-nuclear organizations and individuals resist the recognition of hormesis, or just as fossil fuel advocates resist the recognition of anthropogenic global warming.  However, without this latter recognition the vast majority of humanity will remain powerless, in more ways than one.

The essay consists of explanations and references for all these points, aimed at an audience not necessarily familiar with either physics or biology.  In our effort to make this essay relatively self-contained, it begins with the history and science of energy in general terms, followed by an explanation of the physical processes of nuclear energy and nuclear reactors.  Nuclear reactors provide a little less than 15% of total world electricity, varying from none to 80%, in one country or another.

Energy options - we can't choose nothing...

We go on to compare nuclear with other clean energy sources, with respect to a number of indices.  These include safety, availability and longevity of the various sources and their conversion devices, reliability for round-the-clock and round-the-year energy generation, location requirements, and the required amounts of fuel.  The safety aspect deals with mining, explosions, environmental disasters, and the handling of nuclear waste.  We debunk the claim that nuclear plants are particularly susceptible to terrorism and the claimed relationship between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.  We demonstrate that nuclear has the safest historical record by far among all these alternative energy sources, and that, like the other clean sources, availability of nuclear fuel is without practical limit for the remaining life of the planet.

We explain the so-called hormetic effect of radiation, i.e., the evolved biological responses that protect us from low doses of radiation.  Humans, along with all extant plants and non-human animals, have evolved in a sea of natural radiation from ground and sky, with vast variations from one location in the world to another — variations that correlate, if at all, inversely with cancer rates and directly with life expectancy.  That is, the higher the natural background radiation levels the lower the cancer rates and the greater the longevity, though many other factors can confound these correlations.  We have also evolved by virtue of, and in the face of, internal metabolic processes that produce DNA-damaging reactive oxygen species (ROS) that do far more damage than radiation, and that have also required evolved protective mechanisms.  We exist today only because of the presence of several levels of such biological mechanisms, from the cell to the tissue to the entire organism, which we name and explain.  Thousands of epidemiological and laboratory studies over many decades have demonstrated that, while high doses of radiation sicken and kill by inhibiting protective mechanisms, low doses enhance those mechanisms and make us healthier.  Hormesis is a general phenomenon of all chemical and physical agents, and radiation is no exception.  Too little or too much of anything is harmful, but a midrange is healthful.  The conclusion is that we may actually be radiation deficient, and that if everyone were exposed to more radiation, assuredly within limits, we would all live longer and suffer lower rates of cancer and other diseases.  While this flies in the face of the conventional wisdom, we explain how this “wisdom” came about and, in particular, the falsehood that gave birth to it in the heat of the Cold War.

The facts - what everyone should understand about radiation doses.

We finish with an exploration of the motivations behind falsehoods, sometimes innocent but often deliberate, spread by anti-nuclear organizations and leaders, followed by a summary of the major points of the essay.  At the end there are numerous references and suggestions for further reading, as well as a description of the backgrounds of the two authors.

Read the full essay HERE


Endnote: About the authors

To introduce ourselves to our readers, we have, in the last few years, made a study of nuclear energy and other alternatives to fossil fuels, the political and physical relationships between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, and the biological effects of radiation.  We are true amateurs, which means that we have an intense interest in our subject and derive no monetary reward from our efforts.  But we have also transformed ourselves from being previously ignorant and/or fearful of things nuclear into moderately knowledgeable investigators in the field.  We don’t claim to be anywhere near as expert as nuclear engineers and physicists or oil geologists or pulmonary specialists or molecular biologists, but we have engaged in sufficient study, writing, speaking, and mutual discussion, as well as in sufficient direct communication with nuclear engineers and physicists, as well as with biologists and others who study the effects of radiation on plants and animals, to regard ourselves as fairly informed about these various aspects — at least at such a level as required to write this essay.  In fact, we have directly met with a dozen nuclear engineers and physicists — several of them having been involved decades ago in the pioneering efforts in building nuclear reactors, particularly the EBR-II and its successor, the IFR.  Over the last couple of years we have also frequently communicated with them by phone and email and with a dozen or so other nuclear engineers and physicists, as well as having been in regular email communication, over the same time frame, with several researchers in the biological effects of radiation.

There are many notable authors of books and articles that render scientific findings available in lay language to a wider public.  Most of these are not themselves science specialists but rather have also educated themselves in one or another field of science well enough to explain it to other lay persons.

As to formal credentials, one of us (Sacks) happens to be both a physicist and a radiologist, and the other (Meyerson) is an English professor with specialization in critical theory, but formal credentials in our view, are completely irrelevant with respect to whether someone knows what she/he is talking about or, even more importantly, is telling the truth.  The only relevance perhaps is that prior training in related subjects makes the job of learning a subject somewhat quicker, though the English professor has impressed the physicist/radiologist with his quickness to grasp complex topics and to recognize their significance in the present context.  But honesty and open-mindedness are not a matter of technical training.  They are a matter of attitude, which no amount of technical training can bring about.

As to whether we are among those experts who deserve to be listened to, we leave that to our readers to decide, but there is no contradiction between being amateurs and experts at the same time.  Formal training is often not only insufficient to make a true expert, but in the case of radiologists (doctors who interpret x-rays and other imaging modalities) the formal training is so misguided with regard to the biological effects of radiation as to be a major obstacle to expertise.  However, this obstacle is not insurmountable, with an adequately open mind and a strong desire to learn.

Finally, we consider ourselves fortunate to be in the company of many of the aforementioned nuclear engineers and scientists and biological hormesis researchers who have also been accelerating their attempts to reach the public with the truth about nuclear energy and radiation, in order to educate and mitigate the public’s phobic response, and to combat the anti-nuclear disinformation campaign.  And finally, neither of us has any investments in any form of energy, let alone nuclear.

68 Comments

  1. Claiming hormesis is fraught with risk: if it can be knocked down, it would discredit not only your paper, but the whole nuclear enterprise.

    Can’t help feeling that you’re really sticking your neck out. If Wikipedia represents the consensus, it’s pretty much not accepted.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_hormesis

    I’ve looked at evidence you provide for hormesis, and it doesn’t look bad to this inexpert eye. The Chen paper (contamination of the building steel) seems pretty remarkable, but it’s argued in Wikipedia that they didn’t correct for age, and that there was a dosage-dependent increase in cancers (Hwang).

    But we don’t need hormesis to make a clinching case for nuclear: even if we accept LNT, the balance of advantage is still overwhelming.

  2. Bill and Greg,

    I am afraid you lost me at your Contention #4. We will not return to public ownership of electricity and nor should we. I just posted this comment on another thread: http://bravenewclimate.com/2012/04/07/ifr-fad-12/#comment-15820 . I would have posted it on this thread if I’d seen it before I posted it.

    Here is one of the ten points:

    2. Australia, like most countries, is moving away from public sector ownership of electricity assets; the trend has been going for over 20 years, is not abating and is suppored by most reviews; that is, we must continue and complete the privatisation of the electricity industry; we are not turning back. Nor would it be good policy to return to public ownership. The public would have to invest over $120 billion to procure the existing assets, invest another $30 billion to upgrade the grid, $100 billion odd to build 20 GW of nuclear, and double that to take us up to where we’d need to be by about 2040. All that public investment would be at the expense of services and infrastructure that Australian’s agree is better provided by the public sector – such as Health, Education, public infrastructure such as public transport. We can’t even afford to provide main roads any more. So can I urge BNC commenters to get realistic – we are not going to return to public ownership of the electricity system; we are going to continue privatising until it is all privatised. That’s the reality.

  3. I’d like to point out that pushing public ownership is very unhelpful. Pushing (these) agendas is doing much more harm to your cause than you may realise. The majority just turn off and don’t want a bar of anything you are advocating. If you want to cut GHG emissions, I’d strongly urge you to focus on the end goal and how to achieve it, and stop trying to wrap in a whole host of other agendas along with it.

  4. I’m keen to read the essay, but personally found the discussion about the authors themselves to be highly insightful. Particularly that being amateur and expert need not be mutually exclusive. I agree, provided the amateur in question is determined to self-educate rigorously, put forward solid reasoning and references and remain open to criticism and correction. This is much the path I take. I have a great deal of respect for them thanks to this passage and I think it is really important. The true professionals in fields like climate change and nuclear power is a very small number of people, too small to effect change on their own. That means the rest of us need to develop our own informed opinions. There is a huge chain of disciplines, jobs and positions that must come together to effect change. We need people who have the confidence to become informed and hold a clear opinion right through the chain.

    As for the financial interests of fossil fuels, one would think this is incredibly self evident, but it seems a reality that the knee-jerk opponents of nuclear don’t want to face: they are the very best allies of these interests.

  5. The hormesis, fuel, and security points are well taken. But the decarbonization and public monopoly ideas are fundamentally flawed. A good example of the two collaborating to engineer a fiscal and energy disaster is what is going on in Ontario, Canada.

    Once government gets the bit between its teeth and imposes economy-wide “planning” and massive expenditures of public money, reinforced by legal and regulatory distortions, all hell breaks out.

  6. @Peter Lang, what compromise do you suggest? I ask because the private sector model seems to have insufficient tolerance for risk to invest the sums needed in new baseload in Australia. This was described very clearly to me by a fellow panellist, Tony Owen at a CEDA session in Perth. It seems a hybrid model is required. I would be concerned about presuming the future must be wholly private. I think this is equally not in touch with reality. http://decarbonisesa.com/2011/09/28/a-debate-we-have-to-have-the-wrap-up-of-ceda-in-perth/ . What do you think?

  7. The technological requirements (see for example saul griffith’s 25 year decarbonization plan on pages 14-15 of Brand, Whole Earth Discipline) for decarbonization are forbidding and immense. If decarbonization is a requirement (we think it is), cooperation will be required at global scale with greatly accelerated pace. we don’t think capitalism is capable of this kind of cooperation–cooperation to meet human needs is not what it’s about. It’s about profit maximization, cut throat competition, short term time horizons. Green entrepreneurs regularly gush about unleashing the market and unleashing entrepreneurial innovation, and they usually cite the rapid spread of information technologies as a template for the massive overhaul of energy infrastructures. can we stop a minute and analyze the plausibility of this analogy?

    and totalitarian impositions at global scale of the sort peter and brian fear will not occur and could not work since totalitarian imposition and cooperation are mutually exclusive.

    On Bill’s and my understanding of capitalism, James Hansen’s global flat tax solutions will not work because the parties will simply not agree to this and perhaps cannot without ceasing to be capitalist entities. and ordinary people cannot make enough corporations and states geared to serving the profit mechanism serve planetary needs. I hope we’re wrong.

    We know most of you disagree with our views on political economy.

    As for hormesis, I would like Bill to respond. He and I go back and forth over whether the main issue is showing that LNT is fundamentally flawed (wade allison’s approach) or going further toward advocacy of hormesis. The article has tilted toward the latter, but to be honest, I have my own nervousness around this.

    Chen is one article by the way. We cite many more.

    On markets vs “public monopolies”: at national levels, it does seem to me that nuclear builds are more likely to take place with greater rapidity if built by (pretty powerful) states, due to economies of scale and the ability to absorb risk. In the u.s., as I’ve remarked to Peter L before, and this is being borne out, if the focus is on low cost electricity, that is going to mean and has meant natural gas, not nuclear power.

    why has there been so little progress on cutting carbon emissions? why has there been so little progress coming from carbon trading schemes? who do kyotos and copenhagens continually fail? is it that human beings just can’t get along?

    Anyway, we don’t know much at all about setting up a cooperative world economy. No one else does either, I fear. So, we don’t think much progress will be made under current social arrangements, but still think that when and if circumstances change radically, those of us around can be in a position to build lots of nuclear quickly and safely.

    Whatever progress is made toward that end is good. I still think by the way that much more work needs to be done to convince more people of the implausibility of a 100 % renewables plan, not just for Australia but for the whole world.

  8. Just point out that a residence can always go off grid, with 100% renewables if desired. A little planning will then convince almost all that cooperating with the grid electricity supplier is a very good idea and that the supplier can’t be 100% renewable either.

  9. The privatisation wave in the electricity sector is already past its height, and reregulation is in full swing, at least in Europe. Productivity increased slightly in most cases, but customers didn’t profit from privatisation with lower prices, only shareholders and the state through increased corporate tax income and in many countries, necessary investments into infrastructure were put off because the private utilties were unable to raise sufficient capital.

    Why shouldn’t the electricity sector be in public hands? Electricity is not comparable to other commodities which are traded. Electricity production and distribution forms a natural monopoly and it may be more efficient to leave it under public control, because the public sector is able to plan long-term investments. In the past, a fast buildup of nuclear power has always been partially state-funded.

    In order to succesfully decarbonise quickly, we need planning in the power sector. Renewables and nuclear need to be rolled out quickly. France needs to be our role model here.

  10. Greg Myerson:

    I still think by the way that much more work needs to be done to convince more people of the implausibility of a 100 % renewables plan, not just for Australia but for the whole world.

    Our old friends at Climate Spectator are at it again. Peter L’s comment in response to their lead article reminded the author that he and the other authors of the BZE2020 Plan had not responded to criticism of their work which appears on BNC. Peter’s comment and all other comment which was even mildly critical of the article disappeared from the site soon after. I have sent a request to the site owners seeking a copy of their comments policy, because it appears pointless to post or to read comments which have been fitered to remove all signs of dissent.

    Not only do we need to critically review and discuss proposals to decarbonise our world’s energy sources, but we need to ensure that those who stand in the way of rational discussion on these themes are confronted.

    Yes, Greg… there is “much more to be done”.

  11. Also, I don’t agree with the assesment that we have to “get over” the profit motive in our economy. Profit is a powerful motivator for innovation. We don’t need to change our system but through regulation the state has to force polluters to account for the external costs they cause. A combination of a carbon tax and government planning in the energy sector should lead to rapid and economic decarbonisation.

  12. This is an interesting article, thanks guys.

    Points 1 and 2 I totally agree with.

    I more or less agree with peterc’s comment on point 3; the claims about hormesis are premature and ultimately irrelevant. The exaggerated fears of radiation can be brought under rational control without going there. Even assuming the LNT model, which WHO and UNSCEAR do, nuclear fission is still the safest source of energy we have access to.

    I think point 4 is overly simplistic. I agree that reckless profit-seeking is a massive impediment to achieving decarbonisation. However we surely need to reach a balance here. Greg, you said “James Hansen’s global flat tax solutions will not work because the parties will simply not agree to this and perhaps cannot without ceasing to be capitalist entities“. But the global ‘parties’ (mostly democratic societies) aren’t going to agree to abandonment of the capitalist system in any relevant time span either. What is there to work on in-between? I think the French example demonstrates that decarbonisation can occur under any political system, but only if the right regulations and incentives are in place. This doesn’t mean leaving it all to the market, or entirely rejecting the market either – it’s about finding a pragmatic balance between the two.

  13. Interesting article, thanks guys.

    I totally agree with points 1 and 2.

    I more or less agree with peter C on point 3; the claims about hormesis are premature and ultimately irrelevant. The exaggerated fears of radiation can be brought under rational control without going there. Even assuming the LNT model, as WHO and UNSCEAR do, nuclear fission is still the safest source of energy we have access to.

    Point 4 is overly simplistic. Greg you say “James Hansen’s global flat tax solutions will not work because the parties will simply not agree to this and perhaps cannot without ceasing to be capitalist entities”. But the global ‘parties’ (mostly capitalist societies) aren’t going to simply agree to the abandonment of the capitalist system in any relevant time frame either. We need to come to a pragmatic in-between. The French example demonstrates that decarbonisation is possible under any political system, as long as the right regulations and incentives are in place. This doesn’t mean embracing “leave it all to the market” or “completely abandon the market” ideologies.

  14. I reject the premise of your paper. This was not an attempt to find an answer to a question, but to find a question for your answer.

    “chiefly nuclear energy since the inherent physical properties of wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal severely limit their use”

  15. @TomKeen:
    I goofed. Twice.

    Firstly, the date of the article I referred to was yesterday.

    Second, while many comments had disappeared, PL’s remains intact. I was mislead because one of the upthread comments had several blank lines at the bottom, which in my haste I interpreted as the end of the string.

    Still, other comments have disappeared and my own was not posted, so there is something in what I was saying.

    The article in question is “scrambling solar signals. My apologies for the long URL. I must find out about tinyurl some day.

    http://www.climatespectator.com.au/commentary/scrambling-solar-signals?utm_source=Climate%20Spectator&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=d02609ca22-CSPEC_DAILY
    MODERATOR
    I assume you are talking about comments disappearing on the ClimateSpectator site as here on BNC none “disappear” without a comment from the Moderator as to why they have been deleted or edited.

  16. singletonengineer, on 12 April 2012 at 4:46 PM said:

    The article in question is “scrambling solar signals. My apologies for the long URL. I must find out about tinyurl some day.

    http://www.climatespectator.com.au/commentary/scrambling-solar-signals?utm_source=Climate%20Spectator&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=d02609ca22-CSPEC_DAILY

    First: In the URL, everything from the ? mark on is tracking info, and can be deleted:

    http://www.climatespectator.com.au/commentary/scrambling-solar-signals
    Second: tinyurl.com is bone simple if you can copy-paste. It even allows renaming (“alias”):
    http://tinyurl.com/scrambledSol

  17. Wind or solar electricity may have its place in isolated locations not connected to grid. The cost of storage at such places may be less than that of power lines. The consumption of resources may be similar.
    Urban living, involving more and more people, requires a lot of energy in general and electricity in particular. Nuclear is the only currently known technology which can meet this demand.
    China, some 18% of world population, excavate and burn half the coal production of the world. They find it insufficient and are going for nuclear in a big way. They started talking and acting about environment when directly faced with the results of their industry (?) in China. However, if the current once through use of uranium continues, even uranium production may peak out. Only the closed cycle nuclear, using Uranium as well as thorium can meet the energy till the end of civilization. Yet only three countries, including China, are building fast reactors which can be part of the closed nuclear fuel cycle.
    It looks as if the responsibility of a sustainable energy system will be handled by China and India, which need it most. Russia needs an honorable mention as it is contributing to development of breeder reactor skills, even if for business reasons. Many others have been discouraged after burning their fingers in sodium fires. Japan may be included in the list.

  18. Regarding LNT versus hormesis. I read this piece by Ted Rockwell:

    http://atomicinsights.com/2011/04/fear-of-radiation-is-killing-people-and-endangering-the-planet-too.html

    Reading through those figures, that’s lots of evidence for hormesis, and it also brings forward just how absurd the LNT is (eg if everyone in the world would eat one brazil nut, 250 would die, based on LNT).

    Then there is this piece by John cameron that explains just how weak LNT is. Even the ICRP states explicitly that they really haven’t a clue, but assume LNT anyway. I can hear axes grinding.

    http://www.radscihealth.org/rsh/docs/Correspondence/NCRP136/JrCcmts.htm

  19. Decarbonise SA @ 12 April 2012 at 10:11 AM

    @Peter Lang, what compromise do you suggest?

    Here are links to three of many posts on the solution I’ve been suggesting for the past 2 years or so:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2012/04/07/ifr-fad-12/#comment-157553 and about six more comments on this thread

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2012/04/07/ifr-fad-12/#comment-158201

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/07/06/carbon-tax-australia-2011/#comment-136436

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/

  20. I note that a new report by The Breakthrough Institute concludes that the “active role of the state in driving energy technology development and deployment and the transformation of the national energy system appears to be the key salient factor” in reducing the carbon intensity of economies. The analysis is based on the performance of 26 developed nations.

    Certainly doesn’t contradict what the above authors have contended.

    Which Nations Have Reduced Carbon Intensity the Fastest?

  21. Jagdish if China and India are leading the low carbon push why do those two countries react so badly to the EU airline tax?
    India http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/11/uk-india-eu-climate-idUSLNE83A02020120411
    China http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/2012-02/21/content_24688148.htm

    It seems to me China and India want to burn as much coal as possible while they can. I recall Pachauri as IPCC head saying this was fair. I think fossil fuels will have run out long before 2.5 bn people can consume energy at Western average levels. Sure Australians are selfish and profligate users of fossil fuels but there are only 22m of us. In another forum I have proposed carbon taxing energy intensive imports from China and India such as steel, often made with Australian iron ore and coking coal. World average per capita carbon energy consumption will have to fall and meet somewhere in the middle.of the current extremes
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contraction_and_Convergence

  22. Tom Keen: yes, but Germany has been among the most active driving energy technology deployment (well over $100 billion in feed in tariffs for solar PV and wind turbines has been contracted already) yet is not very effective in reducing its coal use at all (which is wording it the kind way). Technology is also a factor. Some technologies are just hopelessly unreliable and unproductive. I’ve done some basic energy analysis of the lifetime energy generated per source, if you’re interested:

    http://energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=2619

    For example, here in the Netherlands, I’ve looked at the Borssele nuclear plant and compared it to a typical solar PV rooftop installation. Turns out the nuclear plant produces 21x more electricity per Watt of installed capacity, than the solar rooftop systems. Germany has a similar climate as we do here, so it is not surprising that France with its nukes is much more effective than Germany with it solar rooftop systems.

  23. Several comments deal with our section on hormesis. There are suggestions that dealing with hormesis weakens our argument in favor of nuclear energy. First, it is important to distinguish between what would strengthen one’s argument and what is scientifically demonstrable. Taking a long term view, we believe it is important to give priority to the latter. Giving priority to the former would be opportunist, serving only short term goals, and we were trying to touch on all those aspects that we feel must be dealt with successfully in order to achieve sustainable clean energy for everyone on earth. This was, after all, only a short essay, not a 12-volume work.

    As Greg points out, in his comment above, we gave multiple examples of studies that demonstrate the truth of radiation hormesis, not just the one from the Taiwan apartment complex. There are plenty of people ready to oppose any single one of these studies, but it is the collection of such studies that should carry the day. Some may offer stronger evidence than others, but this was a tiny sampling of the literally thousands of studies that can be cited. The work of T.D. Luckey and Charles L. Sanders have led the way in consolidating the list of these studies, references that you will find at the end of the essay. Additionally Ed Calabrese’s journal Dose-Response is a very rich source of hormesis studies.

    We explain in the essay why we feel that dealing with hormesis is an important part of this struggle, namely that the anti-nuclear forces play heavily on a distortion of the biological effects of radiation to spread fear as a major tool in preventing the development of nuclear energy. Leaving the field to their half-truths would amount to fighting with one hand tied behind our backs.

    Similarly, as Greg suggests above, omitting our assessment of the nature of the profit system — not just profit but the entire profit system — would lead into what we believe is a dead end and one that has not yet been dealt with adequately, in our opinion, in any other pro-nuclear writings and advocacy. The profit system dictates that any product, whether it is energy or a teddy bear, will be motivated not by what humanity needs but rather by what produces the most profit for a few. So long as this is the case, nuclear energy will left to the vagaries of the market rather than to the rational planning of collective humanity, and the energy market is currently dominated by the temporarily most profit-producing sources, namely fossil fuels. Shortcutting that argument in the interests of maximizing the number who can agree with us might appear to profit Greg and me, but would not solve the problem of humanity’s needs.

    This is no short term struggle, as much as we would like it to be. There are powerful forces that are in a position today to dictate what forms of energy predominate, even if they are themselves in conflict with each other. These forces will not go away by themselves, and must be taken on by greater and greater organization of people, through not only opinion but action. We have attempted to combine those elements that we feel are the minimum necessary to begin that process. And that process is only in its infancy. Energy is only one of many needs of humanity, but this can serve as an example of what is needed to move to the next level of history.

  24. Please let us know when there is an outcome from Climate Spectator. I will be very, very put out if what seems to be happening, is happening, as I have been giving Tristan Edis some props over Twitter lately.

  25. @Peter Lang, thank you. I read that first linked comment and I agree with all points, however it is not quite addressing mine. The assumption in you comment is that nuclear could get up in a wholly commercial environment if sufficient impediments were removed. My assertion is that it couldn’t, and neither could any other form of multi-billion dollar baseload, without some input of Government money. The point Tony Owen made at CEDA in Perth was that no board will approve borrowing many billions of dollars at commercial interest rates with returns only to begin flowing in around 5 years. They are just not structured to handle that. Some form of bridging finance would be required that comes from a Government acknowledgement that the investment is necessary and in the national interest.

    My argument would be to make such support available to any technology that can deliver zero carbon baseload, since all will require it, and then and only then let them fight it out for commercial superiority. At that point most of us here know that nuclear is a shoo-in. But I am concerned that building expectations of 100% commercial delivery of rapid zero carbon power roll out is as unrealistic as building expectations of a return to public ownership.

  26. @ Decarbonise and re comments policy at Climate Spectator:
    I have received no response to my request for (1) advice regarding the fate of my comment and (2) a copy of the site’s comments policy. Recognising that this is drifting well off topic, I suggest that any updates should be via the current Open Thread.
    MODERATOR
    Good idea to move over to the OT – thankyou.

  27. Several comments have addressed the issue of public money being used to achieve national energy policy objectives. While not going so far as to recommend that oil companies should conduct and pay for their own wars, it seems clear to me that two very expensive, publicly-funded wars have been fought in Iraq and one in Libya in recent times, none of which would have received anywhere near as strong a commitment of national treasure from the West if not for the fact that these nations are oil-rich.

    The money spent is counted in trillions. Even half that sum would have been adequate for construction of dozens of nuclear power plants. It could be argued that the increased security of energy supplies which would have resulted from this exercise would be a force for peace, a stabilising influence.

    So, while I do not support reverting to public ownership of the electricity generation industry in Australia or elsewhere, it is clearly reasonable for governments, should they choose to do so, to support expansion of the nuclear power industry in like manner to support which every government world-wide supports essential and strategic industries in their countries, whether publicly or privately owned.

    Besides which, if energy policy and climate change are not topics of national importance, then what is more important? What objectives are higher on the totem pole?

    Resource and energy constraints are tightening continually. I remember once seeing a cartoon which drew attention to the reverse of the present situation, by saying that the world would be a better place air forces raised their money via charitable fundraising campaigns and the goverment’s defence budget was directed towards making peace. There’s some truth in that.

  28. Thank you Bill Sacks and Greg Meyerson for your essay, NUCLEAR ENERGY: THE ONLY SOLUTION TO THE ENERGY PROBLEM AND GLOBAL WARMING.

    As an emeritus professor of biology with a teaching specialty in immunology, I commend your presentation of radiation hormesis. There is little doubt that we are radiation deprived and that immune system is primed by additional radiation. Wikipedia needs to update its entries on radiation hormesis to reflect the best science. Over-regulation of radiation exposure only serves to frighten the masses causing needless pain a suffering.

    Wade Allison, author of “Radiation and Reason” proposed that radiation limits be set the same way other such limits are set by asking what is the maximum we can tolerate, including a generous safety factor. The answer he gets is about one Sievert per year for chronic radiation. This is 1000 times the current permissible limit of one millisievert per year. This level he says is still well under the clinical data on which he bases his proposal. A cancer risk from one Sievert per year chronic exposure or a one time exposure below 100 mSv is so low you cannot measure it.

    We need to boldly promote the good science and promote the adoption of a 1000 fold increase in radiation exposure allowed by our regulators. The WHO must stop making the suggestion that Chernobyl will increase the cancer incidents by 4000 cases among those exposed to radiation. The evidence clearly shows that those exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl accident have lower cancer incidents than unexposed countrymen. We need to insist that science prevail over paranoid fears.

  29. To Dr. John Tjostem,

    Thanks for your thanks. :-)

    Given your past experience in immunology and your expressed opinions about radiation hormesis, may I make so bold as to suggest that you try to correct the errors in the Wikipedia entry under “Radiation Hormesis” available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_hormesis.

    For example, the statement therein that Chen et al. failed to control for age, is countered by the fact that when Chen et al. subtracted out the children in the apartment buildings, the hormetic impact was even stronger. Besides, how could an age difference between what must be a predominantly adult population in the apartment complex and a predominantly adult population in the rest of Taiwan be so great as to give rise to a cancer rate that was 96.5% lower than that in the surrounding areas of Taiwan? Even Hwang et al., who oppose Chen’s findings, admit that the overall cancer rate was lower than expected in the apartments.

    There will undoubtedly be other aspects of the Wikipedia entry that you will find in need of correction, as well. This is a tough uphill struggle, when the official regulatory positions — of every country in the world that we have heard from on this score — is the LNT fiction. Whoever wrote the Wikipedia entry was clearly influenced by this fact.

  30. From the paper in PNAS for which SteveK9 linked to the PR:
    Gene mutations are thought to be the initiating events of cancer and they can occur via misrejoining of two DNA DSBs or via point mutation. Physical laws lead us to believe DSB frequencies are proportional to dose. Therefore, it is well accepted that point mutations are linear with dose because it requires only one DSB, whereas DSB misrejoinings are dependent to the dose squared (39). In the dose range of radiation cancer epidemiology, the quadratic term is almost always negligible, especially at low dose rates, as the first lesion is probably repaired before the second mutation occurs(40). However, the amount of DSB clustering at 1 Gy suggests a much higher quadratic term for DSB misrejoining than expected. Therefore, extrapolating risk linearly from high dose as done with qualities, with half-lives for RIF resolution as fast as 1.4 h after the LNT could lead to overestimation of cancer risk at low doses.
    I take this as support for QNT, quadratic no threshold, but of course even this fine study is only a preliminary one.

  31. Re. Peter Lang’s comments about the inadvisability of public ownership of electricity supply and the responses they generated: I discussed this at some length in Prescription for the Planet (soon to be available as a free download at the SCGI website). In the USA at present, about 25% of Americans are served by public utility companies/co-ops, including the entire state of Nebraska. The result is that their prices are lower and their systems more reliable. There can be no “free market” in electricity, since people in developed/industrialised countries are so dependent upon it as to be crippled without it. And it would be, I believe, a given that private companies of all kinds will, at one time or another, cut corners in order to improve their bottom lines. This can be done with regard to worker training, maintenance, infrastructure investment, inspections, etc. With nuclear power especially, the urgency of constant vigilance and conscientiousness is obvious, making nuclear a prime candidate for public ownership. Since governments are asked to provide financing or, at minimum, loan guarantees to build plants and sometimes end up being asked to help bear the costs of decommissioning as well as inspections throughout the lifetime of the plants, why not make a clean break between the private sector and nuclear power? This is no more anti-free market than consigning our roads to public construction and upkeep. The longstanding success of publicly-owned and -operated electrical generation amply proves the viability of publicly-owned nuclear power.

  32. Although installation of utilities may be paid for by the public purse, the amount of public capital committed to the utilities need not accumulate indefinitely. Once a nuclear power station is generating and selling power, it could then be sold off into the stock market as securities or shares in a devolved corporation. Even if only one reactor was involved, it would still be something of a blue-chip security, reliably yielding 3% or whatever for the remainder of the 60 year life of the reactor.

  33. The problem with electric markets in the US is that they have no long term outlook. The biddings for power sales extends into the future as far as the next Ipad model at Walmart, which is a few months at the most. You can’t build the equivalent of an Egyptian pyramid or great wall of China on such a short time scale. Our markets operate on the principle that if there are a batch of trees to exploit, we should go cut them down and sell them immediately, and to heck with the next decade.

    So how do we pay for nuclear power plants? If the government ran the entire operation from conception to construction to operation to mothballing, then the financing and planning could be long term and being centralized it would all be coordinated. Ah, but this doesn’t allow the JP Morgan types to make money, because they would not own the nuclear resource. So here in the US the government has gotten out of the nuclear business. It doesn’t even want to deal with the waste issue.

    So lets think for a moment. Investors are not interested in getting returns from their investments so far into the future so they aren’t interested in nuclear power. Most utilities are not interested in taking such a large financial risk so they aren’t interested in large nuclear plants. And individual customers don’t know how to invest or cannot invest in their own power supplies, either long term or short term. So there you have it. The reason we are not building nuclear plants is because there is no structure in place in the US to support the financing of large capital investments that pay off big time in the future.

    If you think the US government can make low cost loans you are wrong. When the nuclear plant is placed on line, the capital cost cannot compete with natural gas, thus the US government sees the investment in nuclear power as a risky financial investment and raises the interest rates, which makes the nuclear plant even less competetive with gas. So I guess we are stuck with a system that burns down trees as fast as possible until all else fails and we all go dark at some point in the not too distant future. Eventually we will come to realize this mistake we are making here in the US but by then it will be too late – maybe.

  34. A key difference between gas and nuclear is likely fuel price escalation. I see the US is thinking of building an LNG export terminal on perceptions of a gas glut despite pleas from Dow Chemical to conserve gas. From $2 a GJ for piped gas and some minor additional costs you can get $15 a GJ for LNG exported to Japan. That means domestic gas prices will have to rise. Then you have T-Boone Pickens driving around in his gas powered Honda Civic telling Americans they should do the same. More demand for natural gas. Then fracked wells may start steep declines in a couple of years. There goes the gas glut.

    If raw fuel cost is currently say 40% of the operating cost of a CCGT plant and that fuel escalates say 500% while finance and O&M costs remain constant I make the overall price escalator some 2.6. That is if gas prices go up 5X the electricity price goes up 2.6X. That’s without carbon taxes. With early peaking of fracked wells you have to worry whether CCGT plant lasting 40 years will have enough gas while it is still ‘young’. Within a decade gas plant could be like a V8 car, impressive to look at but too expensive to run.

  35. There has been widespread privatization of public assets in the Western nations over the past 30 years or so.A lot of these assets have been in the area of essential services which are natural monopolies in most cases.
    Electricity generation is an outstanding example of this phenomena.
    In Victoria there is a massive carbon polluter in the form of the brown coal burning Hazelwood power station. This was privatized some years ago but now needs to be shut down.But it is going to be kept running,not only because there is nothing to replace it but because the owners would be due for a huge compensation payment under current law.
    While this is the conventional wisdom there is very little chance of getting nuclear electricity generation up and running in Australia.
    This is primarily a political problem and needs to be addressed at that level.

    The authors of the article are to be commended for the accuracy of their work right across the topics they have covered.It is a useful primer for those interested in the problem of energy in a rapidly changing world.
    MODERATOR
    Yoour comment has been edited to comply with the Comments Policy. Please read the policy, particularly regarding politics and inflammatory pejoratives, before commenting again. Thankyou.

  36. A nearby PUD owns and operates not one, but two run of the river dams on the Columbia River. These typically generate more power than the PUD needs for its rather small customer base. So much of the electricity is sold, either under long term contract or on the Mid Columbia Hub spot market. The net effect is that the PUD customers still only pay US$0.02/kWh retail price for the electricity.

    The only NPP around where is publically owned; the electricity is sold of the fixed price of US$0.0275/kWh on the wholesale market.

  37. GM the Oil Drum has a recurring theme that any recent discoveries of oil and gas through horizontal drilling and fracking are at best temporary and will postpone not cancel the PO downslope. One analysis is here http://www.theoildrum.com/node/9085#more
    To my thinking that is a better perspective than the Washpost article.

    My take on $2 per GJ natgas in the US is that drilling for ‘tight’ oil in shale has created the need to sell the associated gas at near giveaway prices. In Australia it has been assumed we can replicate this but the geology may be different. However TOD commenters (eg ‘Rockman’) point out that gas output from fracked wells typically declines sharply after 18 months or so.

    Talk of a gas glut may be premature for other reasons. Remember the UK once thought they had a lifetime of gas in the North Sea soon they will get 40% of their gas from Siberia. Already there are looming gas supply imbalances between eastern and western Canada and northern and southern Australia. Another precaution is the need to keep Haber process nitrogen fertilisers cheap in the long run, pointed out by Dow in the US and Incitec Pivot in Australia. The fact that liquid transport fuels typically retail for 10X more per thermal unit than wholesale uncompressed gas is another worry. How long will US gas stay at $2 if it has to replace both coal and oil? Once the US gas industry gets a taste of that $15 Japan LNG export price kiss goodbye to $2 for piped gas.

  38. In support of John Tjostem’s reference to “radiation deprivation”:

    It is a familiar concept that the environmental level of radioactivity decays with time. In about 2 billion years the natural radioactivity from rocks will halve. The converse must also be true, that 2 billion years ago, radioactivity in the ground was be double what it is today. It follows that we evolved in an environment which was significantly more radioactive than it is today. In an average modern environment, cells whose biochemistry evolved to take benefit from ambient radioactivity, could now be in a state of radiation deprivation.

  39. Shale oil appears to be something between oil and coal. Such shale is also found in India.
    http://www.eai.in/ref/ae/afo/afo.html
    If you cannot extend the gas/oil technologies to it, extend the coal skills specifically the underground gasification. You can use the condensate or convert the gas to liquids, if you need liquids for transport.
    Prices will vary with time, place and circumstances and more economic ones will be used first. Carbon and energy economy can be achieved by using high temperature nuclear steam for gasification.

  40. I think it is preferable to use ‘labile’ biocarbon in any gasification processes. Sources could be gasified garbage or discarded biomass. Any resulting charcoal could be added to the soil for nutrient holding and effectively retires carbon from atmospheric circulation rather than adding.

  41. Roger: “In about 2 billion years the natural radioactivity from rocks will halve. The converse must also be true…”

    No, the earth does not have a fixed half life. Two billion years ago the radioactivity would be more than double.

  42. I see South Korea is north of Lat 33°N whereas Germany is north of Lat 47°N. I’m at Lat 34°S which I regard as borderline for PV.

    You’d have to think some strange hangups are at work whereby nuclear is troubling but solar (PV or thermal) is reassuring. Neither belief fits the facts.

  43. South Korea : Solar, where’s the meat?:
    I presume solar electricity comes under “other” in the table for electricity production in 2011
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_South_Korea
    in which case it’s in the 0.7% (down from 0.8% in 2010, in fact, and compared to 31% for nuclear).

    A quick google shows, however, that Korean industry is terribly interested in making solar plant, and selling it to mugs outside of their country, so you’ll find any amount of hurrah solar stuff associated with Korea, and, oh, ambitious plans for Korea itself, which strangely, seem to stay just plans.

  44. It’s wonderful to see the Sacks/Meyerson essay here on BNC. I had the pleasure to present with Greg Meyerson at the Left Forum on a related essay to this one, presenting the history and future of energy from a socialist perspective.

    Fellow commentator here Peter Lang is “projecting”. People do that, myself included. I would say stating what is going to happen and what we want to happen while overlapping are not necessarily mutually inclusive concepts. To wit:

    France has privatized a ‘section’ of EDF, but it remains a public entity. And, seemingly will remain so. That Australia is going private is unfortunate, as capitalization for nuclear will be impossible based on the a-historical view that the market knows best. It does, but for profit, not social need. Capital flows that which IS profitable. Fast, short term gains based on speculation.

    The public generally favors public control over electricity resoucres. In Capitalist America, this is no less the case with, as an above commentator noted, public power entities, from 16 to 25% of the grid, *always* are cheaper and better run, not having to worry about profits but only service.

    As the actual history of energy infrastructure shows, only national authorities have been able to provide the capital, or find the capital, organization and regulation for large scale energy projects. Anyone who thinks a private company can, *based on the market* build a dam, develop transmission or build nuclear is not thinking correctly. Certainly not historically, anyway. This includes, I might add, the most recent new builds in the US.

    Nuclear in France was developed by a state owned, fully nationalized, vertically integrated public utility. In fact they also built the plants, not just planned and ran them. Nuclear reactor operators at EDF have told me that its only the new *private* bid system that has caused the cost overruns and delays at EDFs new EPR built in Flamesville.

    I think “Point 4″ is vital to the discussion on nuclear energy. The State should just build nukes and get rid of the whole, unwieldy and totally unnecessary market approach to solving climate change.

    David Walters

  45. I know this is not a popular thing to say but I would agree with David Walters that the French public approach has worked much better. Privatization has meant lots of quabbling about whose property this is, whose fault that cost overrun is, paying for expensive litigation, causing delays that then increase project cost further. It’s terribly innefficient, ironically not doing what is intended.

    Just put the engineers in charge, fire the lawyers and clueless managers, let the engineers pick a couple designs, standardize them. Build lots of each standardized design. The French have three: small, medium, big. It worked very well, the cost was low:

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf40.html

    63 GWe for 400 billion French Francs is 61 billion Euros (1999 EUR) which is under 1000 EUR/kWe (1 billion per GWe) in 1999 Euros. So call it 70-80 billion Euros in 2011 Euros, giving costs under 1270 EUR/kWe (less than 1.27 billion Euros per GWe).

    I know the private verus public debate is a political one that many won’t agree on by definition, but the numbers don’t support privatization bringing a succesful nuclear program. The French program is enviable. They made the right decision after the oil crisis, and stuck to it. Now the fruits are sweet, ripe for their children to eat. Now they need to follow through and electrify mobility and industry further, to get off of oil.

  46. David Walters — I wouldn’t venture to state that in the USA POUs are always better than IOUs. The example of Idaho shows that (not controlled for other factors) sometimes IOUs provide the lowest cost electricity. Between Avista Utilities in the north and Idaho Power in the south the residents in the state of Idaho have the least average cost electricity of all 50 states: US$0.028/kWh.

  47. Both D.D. Benson and G. Preston raise an important issue. First, according the the Public Power Assn. the average rates for Publicly Owned Utilities (POUs) vs Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) runs about 16% less for the former vs the latter.

    A few things to note that were raised in part and then some.

    IOU and POU that rely on *publicly owned* Federal Hydro will always do better (and other ‘plus’ in the public side since Federal hydro is, well, public). There are some cases, and I think Idaho may be one, where due to hisotrical contractual arrangements, some IOUs have more or better access to such…public power and thus can shave some pennies off their charge to rate payers for a KW hour.

    On the other hand, or a different hand, anyway, many POUs do not have any generating facilities at all, they buy at or have first shot at both Federal and State owned hydro power OR, no less important in California, access to *other* POU owned hydro such as the California’s vast “Irrigation Districts” that dominate the grid up and down the state along the eastern half of the state.

    Some other news: energy facilities continue to get nationalized: Argentina yesterday announced they are nationalizing 51% of the Spanish own oil company operating in their territory. The Argentine gov’t is also building a nuclear power plant *to much acclaim* from the people there as well as the unions.

    There is a movement amount the CUT (The largest union in the Western Hemsphisere) in Brazil to push for total nationalization of all energy resources, especially hydro-carbon resources.

    The general trend in developing countries is nationalization. The general trend in developed countries is toward privatization.

    What is clear is that the State is a better ombudsman for nuclear energy than private industry, where few countries rely almost completely on private industry to plan, build and operate (UK is supposed to be one of those). I think the Sacks/Meyerson paper shows this to be true.

    David

  48. Nuclear reactor operators at EDF have told me that its only the new *private* bid system that has caused the cost overruns and delays at EDFs new EPR built in Flamesville.

    Dave W: can you explain how the bid system led to cost overruns?

  49. Gene Preston — Avista Utilities serves northern Idaho and buys about 20% of its electricity from BPA. Avista also has its own hydro; the two together being now only about 50% of total generation. The typical retail prices in Idaho Will be about like mine: US$0.068/kWh.

    Southern Idaho has most of the population. Idaho Power operates at least one storage dam (Brownlee) and two run-of-the-river dams on the Snake River. Those are long since fully paid for and so rates up to now have been very low. However: rates are going up as more of the generation is now from wind turbines. In addition, an intertie from Bordman, OR, to Hemmingway, ID, is being constructed. That will wheel 450 MW from the BPA area to Idaho Power and the wholesale price is probbably close to US$0.03/kWh, increasing the rate base. FInally, Idaho Power has a CCGT on construction. When that is finished the rate base will again increase. Between the intertie and the CCGT Idaho Power will regain the reserve lost due to the relicensing restrictions on Brownlee operations.

    In summary, electricity rate averages in Idaho are going to go way up. Despite that, Idaho will almost surely still have the lowest average rates of all 50 states.

  50. (Comment deleted – violation of the Comments Policy)
    Nuclear energy, and particularly the IFR, a combination of fast breeder reactors and reprocessing:
    https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thesciencecouncil.com%2Fpdfs%2FPyroprocessingBusinessCase.pdf
    Molten salt fast breeder reactors, one of the IFR concepts, will make reactors more neutron economic and reprocessing simpler and more cost effective.
    MSR, starting off with with LEU in Australia and Canada and reprocessed plutonium in uranium-poor countries, could be a good starting point.
    MODERATOR
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  51. Greg, before, EDF did the whole thing, very much like KEPCO in Korea or the two major Chinese nuclear utilities. While much of the component manufacturing came from Westhinghouse in the US, the contracting for the site, the building of the actual reactor and of course the operations were all EDF, vertically integrated into one enterprise.

    The EDF folks told me that as part of the partial privatization of EDF (think TVA in the US) it was ‘agreed’ up that the actual construction was to be done by French sub-contractors. Not one of whom had any experience in building reactors or even power plants…it went out to “low bid”. You pay for what you get was the lesson. As these companies didn’t want to hire the now-close-to-retirement engineers and planners from EDF, they hired the people who build office buildings, and so on.

    They had to re-invent everything as the skills set was non-existent. Also, traditionally in France, the subs always compete with each other, competition was getting in the way of running smooth operations and delays kept getting worse and worse. It still is. Combine this with a FOAK reactor and costs have doubled.

    Secondly, as there are no two contractors on site, it’s expected the other EPR going up in France shortly will have a whole different set of contractors, also un-coordinated.

    EDF built the French nuclear fleet as one grand plan with EDF construction working as both General Contractor and Sub-Contractors. Not so any more.

    David

  52. This is a nice example, David. we could use more of them. low bid/subcontracting in this case seems to mean avoiding the people who know the most. when does “competition” spread best practice and when does it hinder it? it’s not state vs. private so much since both (especially these days where the state has been weakened and so must act more like its “competitors”) can engage in low bid, subcontracting that sabotages the attempt to coordinate best practices.

    Of course, the coordination necessary to build safe and efficient nuclear is international, not just national. and that is also where dysfunctional failures to coordinate occur.

  53. Wonderful essay by Sacks and Meyerson. Do you plan to publish this somewhere (else)?

    I particularly enjoyed the discussions of knowledge and accountability. I don’t believe one needs specialized knowledge in particular fields to understand our energy choices. If you can balance a household budget you can engage in the energy choices discussion, and on your own account, not via proxies like authorities and references. What is needed is intellectual courage, to take responsibility for what you know, and to be accountable for how you know it.

    We can wish that people were better educated in science or engineering, but that is neither sufficient nor necessary, as attested by numerous examples in the essay (e.g. Mark Jacobson in the former case and Greg Meyerson in the latter). But what we in the climate and energy debate really ought to wish for is a much greater public grounding in epistemology and ethics. For this reason I have always thought we were very fortunate to have a professor of English as a commenter here, and in the author bio Greg makes a great example of himself on the questions of credentials, knowledge, and responsibility.

    I also enjoyed the discussion of the relationship between science and engineering. My formal qualifications are in science but functionally my day job is engineering, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship between the two. Sacks and Meyerson suggest science and engineering align approximately with theory and practice, which is certainly true in part but doesn’t completely satisfy. I was recently asked by a technical writer what the difference between a scientific paper and an engineering report was. Simply, a scientific paper is usually about something, whereas an engineering report is usually for something. Science is a way of knowing, and engineering is a way of doing.

    And if engineering is about effecting a change in the world, there is a kind of accountability and responsibility in the practice of engineering that is tied to outcomes that is not usually part of academic science, and is an important differentiating factor between science and engineering. That accountability can be missing from the academic engineering enterprise, which is why I am not so surprised as the essay’s authors that Mark Jacobson “shuns the practice” of engineering – I think what he has shunned is the accountability that must go with the act of engineering.

    Thank you for a fine read, I hope you circulate this widely and would be interested in hearing of reactions from other audiences.

  54. To John Morgan,

    Thank you so much for your comments.

    I particularly appreciate the point you make about the difference between engineering accountability in practical domains versus academic ivory towers. That was something we had not thought about. My personal experience with engineering is very secondhand, including the fact that one of my sons was an electrical engineer (who gave it up within a couple of years for another career) and another of my sons is a construction engineering manager. But as I communicate with more and more engineers, I’m gaining a tremendous appreciation and respect for the various fields therein.

    We are hoping to publish this, together with an earlier essay we wrote on global warming, in book form, but whether we will be able to do so remains to be seen — the book publishing industry being what it is. The essay has also been featured in my local newspaper in their online version, with a printed short summary (somewhat shorter than the summary that introduces it on BNC). From local friends, many of whom are engineers and scientists in either the nuclear field or other arenas, we have gotten a very positive response.

    Bill

  55. Greg Meyerson,

    What an impressive essay, mostly way above my pay grade! Good to know you are still beavering away.
    My commenting on energy issues will be minimal until late September as I have a new charter school to open in August. If all goes well there will be several more schools to open in 2013 as Florida is less hostile to charter schools than North Carolina was (is?).

    My contract at NCSU was cancelled so I may not have the opportunity to meet with you for a while.

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    Thankyou.

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