After Amy Goodman interviewed Amory Lovins for Democracy Now, she wrote a blog post on TruthDig.com titled Don’t Drink the Nuclear Kool-Aid. I do not think that Amy is one of those bloggers who notices when others have something to say about their posts; she apparently is not even one who participates in the discussion that her post generates.
However, on the off chance that she might occasionally do a search on Technorati or some other service that shows who is linking and commenting, I thought it might be worth sharing a few ideas.
It might surprise some readers – not those who have been reading for a while – that a guy who has made a career as an officer in the US Navy and who enthusiastically supports nuclear power listens regularly to a show like Democracy Now. I actually like the discussions and often agree with the guests – I sometimes describe my political leanings as progressive and believe that both Roosevelts were pretty good presidents. I do not like deferring to the powerful, hate the idea that there are some people who think making 38,000 times as much as the average wage earner is okay, and believe that spending without taxing is borderline criminal behavior from leaders.
When it comes to nuclear power, or perhaps energy in general, I think that many progressives have been dangerously duped by quick talking charlatans like Amory Lovins. Increasingly available supplies of controllable energy have been one of the real boons of modern civilization. No longer are assets and activities like education, travel, reading, rapid communications, fresh fruits and vegetables the province of only the rich and powerful. No longer do most people have to spend their entire lives in backbreaking labor to make it possible for a thin slice of human populations to live comfortable lives; instead of having peasants, slaves or servants do all the hard work we order fossil fuels and electricity to do our bidding.
I will grant that burning fossil fuels is not an optimal solution – there are definite hazards and certain long term damage to many portions of the environment. Fossil fuels are also, by nature of their distribution, subject to resulting in damaging concentrations of enormous wealth and power. We can, and do, however, burn fossil fuels pretty darn cleanly in some places.
Unlike many “free market” thinkers, I believe that having too much wealth in too few hands is a problem, especially since I strongly believe that the variations in talent and value among humans is much smaller than the variations in the resources that we accumulate. Part of that is the role that luck plays, but a good part of the variation has come because some players in the game of life are quite willing to cheat or to write the rules in such a way as to favor their own particular section of the population.
Nuclear fission power scares the heck out of the privileged and powerful class – even if they like to hide their fear behind different masks. The very idea that it might be possible for a tiny country to develop power that can enable them to tell a much larger country to kiss off frightens the people that have always had the ability to force others to do their will.
While many people in the world were rightly scared or awed by the massive destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the powerful were really more afraid of the image of a single plane carrying the explosive power that had formerly required huge clouds of planes many trips over places like Tokyo or Dresden. If a single plane could carry that much power, they thought, all those war machine factories would be pretty worthless. The established powers that be worked hard to control access to all atomic knowledge and to make people as afraid of the potential as they could.
Fortunately, there were too many people who could understand the physics and do the math well enough to realize that producing heat by fission was 2-3 million times more effective per unit weight compared to producing the same amount of heat using fossil fuel combustion.
Those smart people have figured out how to power ships and submarines for decades without refueling. They have produced operating power plants whose total production costs are about 1.7 cents per kilowatt hour including all fuel, operator salaries, used fuel storage fees, decommissioning cost allowances, regulatory fees, and taxes. That is amazing compared to coal fired power plants – grandfathered and not required to meet Clean Air Act limits – that cost more than 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour to operate, gas plants that cost 7-8 cents per kilowatt-hour and oil fired plants that cost 9-40 cents (depending on location) to operate.
I never drink Kool-Aid. Perhaps one of my day job coworkers would be willing to enter into the comments to testify just how often I get myself in a bit of hot water because I truly and honestly question everything. No matter what Amory Lovins says, there is a strong relationship between all forms of energy – if we have a lot more nuclear fission power we will need a lot less oil, coal and gas. Conservation does not compete with nuclear – if people really do use less then nuclear can simply displace coal and gas in power production that much faster. (I really do not believe that we will ever use less electricity in total than we do today without massive economic disruption.)
There are more and more people who are recognizing that fact and recognizing the financial opportunity that is available by investing in new nuclear plants. The people involved are not central planners – Amory Lovins is flat out lying when he makes that claim. It cannot be ignorance, I have told the man to his face that their are private investors spending real money on nuclear power but he refuses to change his canned talking points.
Fission by products are dangerous if not properly handled, but they are rather simple to handle. All you need to know is time, distance and shielding. There is a good reason why no one has ever been hurt by exposure to excessive radiation during used fuel handing and storage. The procedures and systems are pretty straightforward. I still have difficulty wondering why people believe that human society is going to somehow forget these simple rules – put adequate distance and shielding between you and radioactive material and do not eat it.
When it comes to energy and its importance, I question why Progressives often think that nuclear power is not worth pursuing when it is so obviously superior to all other alternatives. It is especially attractive because it offers the chance to really stick it to some very rich and powerful people who have been imposing their will on the rest of us for far too long.
Hope you have a great day and do something to challenge the establishment today. They are not doing us any favors these days.