Open Thread 4 is about to spool off the BNC front page, after 700+ comments, so it’s time to kick off a new one.
The Open Thread is a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. So get up on your soap box! The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the broad theme of the blog (climate change, sustainability, energy, etc.). You can also find this thread by clicking on the Open Thread category on the left sidebar.
To add some grist to the new discussion mill, I provide three interesting extracts:
On scepticism, from Bertrand Russell, extracted from the ‘Introduction to his ‘Sceptical Essays’ (1928):
I wish to propose for the reader’s favorable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.
First of all, I wish to guard myself against being thought to take up an extreme position. … [Pyrrho] maintained that we never know enough to be sure that one course of action is wiser than another. In his youth, … he saw his teacher with his head stuck in a ditch, unable to get out. After contemplating him for some time, he walked on, maintaining that there was no sufficient ground for thinking that he would do any good by pulling the old man out. … Now I do not advocate such heroic scepticism as that. I am prepared to admit the ordinary beliefs of common sense, in practice if not in theory. I am prepared to admit any well-established result of science, not as certainly true, but as sufficiently probable to afford a basis for rational action.
There are matters about which those who have investigated them are agreed. There are other matters about which experts are not agreed. Even when experts all agree, they may well be mistaken. …. Nevertheless, the opinion of experts, when it is unanimous, must be accepted by non-experts as more likely to be right than the opposite opinion. The scepticism that I advocate amounts only to this: (1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.
On the anti-nuclear movement, from MIT Technology Review:
…asked about nuclear power, Totten invokes the prospect of Chernobyl-style meltdowns and reactors smashed open by terrorist-piloted planes. Reminded that these are technical impossibilities for modern reactor designs, he switches to an economic argument: nuclear plants are so expensive that the industry always requires government subsidies.
But it’s notable that in the 1970s, before regulations made construction costs skyrocket, nuclear energy provided America’s cheapest electricity. Nor should we forget that France gets more than 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, emits two-thirds less carbon dioxide per capita than the United States, and is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity—earning $4 billion annually—thanks to its very low cost of generation.
[Stewart] Brand says it’s entirely predictable that many greens neither know nor are interested in educating themselves about recent developments like new reactors or cleaner fuel cycles: “As far as they’re concerned, nuclear had been stopped, they’re glad it was, and now that it’s happening again, they’re confused and upset.” That observation strikes at the heart of the matter. If today Greenpeace and an entire generation of activists simply can not accept that nuclear power might be the most credible source of carbon-free energy, it’s because doing so would entail an almost unbearable recognition: that a very large part of their life’s work has been fundamentally, disastrously wrong, and that by obstructing the transition to nuclear back in the 1970s, they bear direct responsibility both for global warming and for the hundreds of thousands of deaths that have since resulted from coal-related pollution. It is to Stewart Brand’s credit that he can recognize that disturbing truth.
Finally, since we’ve been having plenty of discussion on costs and nuclear safety, I’d like to highlight the comment Tom Blees made here:
Noonan writes: “There are a number of significant inherent weaknesses in the arguments of nuclear proponents in Australia.”
After struggling through his article packed from end to end with weak and misleading arguments, this was a laugh out loud throwaway line. While it would take another full-length article to deal with the weaknesses of his piece here, I’ll comment on just a couple points.
The Price-Anderson Act is the federal law that covers the costs of any hypothetical nuclear accident whose damages exceed the considerable insurance pool already established by the nuclear power industry. Why don’t opponents ever discuss who would pay for the damages from a breached dam? How about an exploding LNG tanker? Major fiascos resulting from such energy system accidents would likewise be covered by the government. To say that utility companies are “unwilling to pay the real costs of insurance” is disingenuous, since they have already amassed a considerable insurance pool themselves. Since federal law is in place to pay anything else, what sensible company/industry would volunteer to dismiss that federal guarantee in order to spend more of their money on insurance?
As for the costs of the two AP-1000 reactors proposed to be built in Georgia, those costs of $6.5 billion per reactor can be compared to the first-of-a-kind AP-1000s being built now in China. The FOAK construction of any such major project is normally considerably higher than follow-on units, and indeed the Chinese expect that this modular reactor cost will soon be lowered to nearly half of what these first reactors are costing them, yet even the first ones are estimated to cost $1.9 billion each. So why should they cost more than three times that much in the USA? No, it’s not because of low Chinese labor costs. Japan was able to build US-designed ABWR reactors for about $1.4 billion per gigawatt, and they import virtually all the materials and pay their workers very well, higher than the USA in general. The truth is that much of the cost built into nuclear power plants in the USA is the cost of uncertainty because of past experience. No company can be sure that a bunch of protestors with signs might not shut down their project when it’s half-built, as happened too often in the past. That and other weaknesses in the US nuclear power arena inflate prices to these ridiculous levels (compared to Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea). It’s not a weakness in the economics of nuclear power per se. Otherwise we would see it everywhere. Are Australians doomed to create the same sort of dysfunctional climate for nuclear power in their own country? If so, then maybe they should stick to coal. But don’t pretend it’s because nuclear power plants can’t be built economically.
As for nuclear power projects not providing enough jobs compared to renewables, there’s perhaps a point there though I suspect it’s a weak one.
Chew on that, folks…