John Horgan, a Nuclear Energy Skeptic, Interviews Rod Adams for Blogginghead.tv
A couple of weeks ago, Blogginghead.tv featured a conversation between John Horgan and George Johnson about nuclear energy. John expressed huge reservations about the technology, and George did not defend it very strongly. I contacted John Horgan and shared some thoughts about comments that he made during that discussion. He graciously invited me onto his Science Saturday program as a guest to be interviewed about atomic energy. Here is our discussion, recorded on Saturday April 24.
Update: (Posted at 0250 on May 2, 2010) During the conversation, I made at least two verbal “typos”. When describing nuclear plant containments, I said “3 inch thick” when I meant to say “3 feet thick”. When talking about the US inventory of U-238, I said it was approximately “900 million tons” when it is really approximately 900 thousand tons. I apologize for the errors; they were unintentional. If anyone is a registered user at bloggingheads.tv and can correct the record in the forum there, I would appreciate it.
Scientific American Guest Blog by John Horgan (March 30, 2010) – Obama’s nuclear policy takes one step forward and two steps back.
That has to be one of the best nuclear power discussions I have ever seen. Excellent job Rod!
I agree with Marcel. You set Mr. Horgan straight on several points. It was interesting he wasn’t familiar with the Connecticut gas plant explosion. If those people had been killed at a nuke, everyone would know about it.
Excellent work. In a way, the questioner was perfect for this because he expressed much of the same logic as many anti-nukes but in a very honest and inviting way, a true way to hold a discussion. Well done Rod!
Bravo Rod! Excellent examples and comparisons with your “pellet” visual (hold it up longer next time). Your approach was pitch-perfect as you avoided the “tall grass” of techno-speak yet gave enough numbers that demonstrated you obviously knew what you were talking about. (I’m thinking of the Megatons-to-Megawatts program)
Here’s hoping this is the first of several installments and that they get wide viewing.
Well done Road. That has to be one of the best interviews on Nuclear that I have ever seen. This video should be posted on Youtube so that it can go viral.
Keep up the good work.
I’m from Australia. Maybe Rod can talk some sense into the current political leaders of Australia who are still anti nuclear and pro coal even though we have the largest reserves of uranium in the world!!!
Pure awesome. It was refreshing to see an open minded critic be convinced with real data.
Rod: great job!
What comes across in all your presentations is your optimism. So even when you talk about a 3 inch thick containment building wall with reinforcing rods thicker than that, it all seems very strong. Its no wonder your colleagues in the nuclear industry are taking note of what you are doing.
David – you bring up a good point. I had at least two separate “verbal typos” in the discussion. I said “three inch thick containment” when I really know that containments are three – four feet thick. I also said that our inventory of depleted uranium is 900 million tons when I know that the real number is 900 thousand tons. I want to correct these statements at the original location they were made, but am still waiting for a username and password for the bloggingheads.tv forum.
However, at least I can correct them here.
Actually, as of 2007, the DU inventory for the DOE, was about 500,000 (metric) tonnes, ~470,000 tonnes U as 686,500 tonnes of UF6 and 30,000 tonnes U under other forms (oxide, metal). That excludes strategic reserves, spent fuel, etc.
Are there other stores of it in the US (DoD, privately owned, etc.) ? I’ve never seen a fully consistent national inventory of uranium and TRUs.
This was incredible. You did a great job.
What I think is the best part of what you did, Rod, is turning this from a conversation about fears, misconceptions, and problems into a conversation about hopes, and dreams, capabilities, and solutions. You turned it from a conversation about “terrorists” and “dirty bombs” and “proliferation”, into a conversation about what nuclear power can do for all of us. Instead of a conversation just about what nuclear is not, you turned it into a conversation about the good news of what nuclear is, and the great news – the incredible promise, possibilities, and potential of what it can be!
I think this is a good strategy, rather than being responsive and combating fears, we have to be proactive, put forth a realistic, positive vision of what nuclear can do, seize, take and hold the initiative, and refuse to give it up – because then the opposition has to fight on our ground and under our terms – rather than us having to fight on theirs.
Above all, I am struck by the positive vision that you were able to convey – this was brilliant!
Congratulations Rod! This is an example for us all!
Home run, Rod!
Many thanks for taking the time to contact Horgan. He gets kudos for being open-minded.
I wondered at two statements Rod made. In the spirit of no one asked me to provide a friendly critique but here it is:
Rod: “I’ve seen what happens when an aircraft runs into a section of a containment wall. There’s a video on the web where an F4, which is a much denser military aircraft with big engines, ran into part of a containment wall and essentially vaporized”
The Sandia test wasn’t a section of a containment wall. It was “a 3.6 m (12 ft) thick reinforced concrete block on air bearings”. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/contract/cr6906/cr6906.pdf The air bearings allowed the block to move as the jet hit.
If the IPCC had said they had witnessed a “section of a containment wall” hit by a Phantom jet, the climate deniers would be trumpeting that this obvious lie shows conclusively that every scientist who ever studied climate change is wrong about everything they ever concluded.
I’ve read anti nukes argue that this Sandia test means nothing at all. Sandia says they used information from that test in their study of how safe containment buildings actually are, and the NRC has not required existing containment buildings to be modified, which is not “it means nothing at all”, but it also didn’t show “what happens when an aircraft runs into a section of a containment wall”.
The other point that caused me to wonder a bit was when Rod said: “There are a lot of countries that have nuclear energy without ever having nuclear weapons. And every country that has nuclear weapons today had them BEFORE they had power reactors. So the relationship, the idea that power reactors lead to weapons, is unproven by history. Weapons programs are developed independently of power generation…. ”
Canada gave India a research reactor similar to the NRX at Chalk River which the US helped out on by supplying some heavy water for it to use, to help tool up India to get into nuclear power generation. Granted it was not a power reactor, but India used plutonium from this ostensibly aimed at nuclear power generation project to make its first nuclear bombs. The Canadian Candu reactor India bought and copied seems good for producing suitable plutonium for bombs because fuel rods can be removed after being in the reactor for any length of time easily because the reactor doesn’t have to be shut down while replacing fuel.
So it may be true that every country that has bombs got them before they put a power reactor online, but the question Rod was asked was “You’ve got this industry spreading around the world [i.e. if nuclear power is rediscovered and everyone worldwide buys in] – is it unreasonable to expect the know-how, the materials, the machinery, the processes for nuclear power generation could be diverted or could provide a cover for a nuclear weapons program? Are they really such different things that that’s not a reasonable concern?”
I’m a climate guy, new to nukes and enthusiastic about them, I am studying hard, but the proliferation issue is one big one still bugging me.
For what its worth, that’s my critique.
I think Rod does a great job talking about nuclear power any time he does it. I am still going through all the old The Atomic Shows sometimes listening to one three or more times as I study.
@David – thank you for the constructive comments. I am not sure what to tell you with regard to the Sandia F4 test.
With regard to the weapons issue – yes, a nation that has a better understanding of nuclear physics and more access to material has a better chance of building weapons – if that is what they want to do. However, if they want to build weapons, there really is no way to stop them. Certainly, their progress can be inhibited and they can be made into an international pariah with a great amount of human suffering imposed on their populations, but history also teaches me that they will eventually be able to produce nuclear weapons.
So, my answer is to try to help create a world where there is a much lower probability that anyone will WANT to build and use nuclear weapons. I am far more concerned about that last part of the statement – weapons that sit in bunkers are not that much of a concern to me. It would be intellectually inconsistent – though quite a common way to think – to believe that it is okay to be a citizen of one of the countries that has hundreds to thousands of weapons while believing that the rest of the citizens of the world should never have any.
@David — Are you able to give your cheerleading on climate change a rest or must you find a way to paint with your broad brush that anyone who dares question the evidence (using the Holocaust-reflecting smear of ‘denier’) of catastrophe-causing AGW is by default a scientific ignoramus?
Today’s post is a 3 cheers for Rod and a sensible engagement of ideas favoring nuclear power. Let’s leave it at that, OK?
Hey Doc – Ever try to get rid of a Jehovah’s Witness at your door? Ever try to avoid a Moonie at the airport?
I think you know what I mean.
Brian — I do and I appreciate your line of “discussion” over at Nuclear Fissionary. Arrogance is a character trait that cuts both ways and both sides of the debate are afflicted with the condition, in varying degrees.
I note that Roy Spencer has posted some new information on his site. If anyone is circumspect in their analysis, he would be near the top of the list. Yet that approach gets him smeared just as broadly as the skeptic who says there is zero human affect on climate. Point being: I don’t know if there is a global influence – local, possibly – but real pollution is a greater concern to me as a conservationist at heart.
What I like about you, @Doc, is that though we may differ about AGW, we can at least debate civilly, like gentlemen, where we differ, rather than call each other names. Though we might respectfully disagree on AGW, I’ve found that I do agree with you about a number of other issues beyond that one issue; you have interesting and informative perspectives about many things. You’ve helped me to think more critically about issues that I haven’t critically thought about in a long time through your civil manner of debating the issues, rather than calling names.
In that spirit, I think that we all should step back a bit from calling each other deniers, Moonies, pot-smoking, Birkenstock-wearing hippies, moonbats, troglodytes, Chicken Littles, trolls, or even imbeciles. People here have what good faith beliefs they have, but we all share the goal of trying to advance nuclear power. We’re trying to form a coalition here for nuclear, not a circular firing squad. Most of us enjoy a lively and vigorous debate but not one that descends into ad hominem attacks. Besides, it’s a fact that that a low-temperature conversation has a better chance of changing minds than very high temperature rhetoric, however useful it might be for generating energy among the faithful.
For some of us, AGW may be why we’re driven to seek nuclear solutions. For others, the carbon and pollution free nature of nuclear power may be one reason out of many reasons that nuclear is a meritorious technology to be pursued with all deliberate speed. For yet more people, AGW may not factor into the equation, instead, favoring nuclear power with arguments centering around other positive impacts, such as poverty reduction, wealth generation, concerns with other-than-AGW pollution, creating jobs, growing the economy, increasing exports, improving manufacturing, developing national mastery of a very-high-technology industry, increasing scientific and engineering literacy, opposing the involvement of irrationality and moral panics in the making of public policy, investing in our infrastructure, improving energy security, etc. There is no ideological or scientific purity test that is necessary to support the use of nuclear power; I would support nuclear power whether or not AGW was a possibility, for numerous reasons.
The fact remains that we all share a similar path, even if the reasons we choose to walk it are our own. Perhaps some of us – including myself – could do to remember that, and not try to knock our “fellow travelers” out of the way. After all, we’re all headed in the same direction, and getting there is difficult enough as it is.
@katana0182(Dave) — The sentiment is mutual. We all come to our worldview based on many factors and experiences; that worldview informs our responses to everything that impacts our lives, either directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly.
It’s been about a year since I began my intense learning about nuclear power – being involved in the solar arena / battery back-up systems and vision care. (I am a bit of an iconoclast in that field, too – but that’s another story). Between you, Rod, Charles, Kirk, David W and several others, I have learned much – yet know so little. Maybe it’s enough to be ‘dangerous’.
The advantages of nuclear power, especially with the advent of the small, modular reactors being developed, are so profound as to their effect on human progress — light, refrigeration, comfort, commerce, independence, liberty, efficiency — and the need is so great. I am reminded of Norman Borlaug and his legacy of discovering and developing hybrid seeds that lifted millions (more?) out of starvation. And to know that the technology exists, through desalination, to provide fresh water where it isn’t now available. Being in the healthcare field, that alone means an improved quality of life.
So, how do we get there? Just like eating an elephant – one bite at a time!
Drawing analogies is not the same as name-calling.
BTW, I wear Birkies, am intrigued by the moon, eat chicken heartily, and haven’t smoked pot for 30+ years — a good cigar? yes (Rocky Patel, Connecticut wrapper). LOL
Both sides of the debate have a lot to answer for. Extremists always do.
The Sandia test may not have been a perfect representation of a containment wall, but it is still an instructive example of what happens when a relatively light plane hits a heavy reinforced concrete structure. After the 9/11/01 attacks, EPRI conducted a computer analysis on the effects of a fully loaded Boeing 767 hitting various nuclear power plant structures, including the containments, the spent fuel buildings and dry cask containers. The results showed that no radiation would be released.
It should also be pointed out that not every nuclear containment structure is built with 3-foot thick reinforced concrete. As I understand it, the early GE BWR containment structures are really just thin steel bottles, not the heavy dome-shaped buidlings common with PWRs. The NEI link above says that all containment types were analyzed by EPRI.
With regard to proliferation, I thought of India also as an exception. The Tarapur reactors went into service in the late 1960s (according to World Nuclear org)
India’s first weapons test was in the 1970s, although the fissile material for the test did not come from the Tarapur reactors. As pointed out by Rod in the interview, the isotopic content of spent reactor fuel is completely inappropriate for making weapons. If a nation really wants to make bombs, it is not going to use spent BWR or PWR power reactor fuel. If they want to play games with the core of a PHWR, it may be possible to make weapons-grade plutonium, but they would need to do this in secrecy beyond the inspection of the IAEA.
Great interview, Rod!
Maybe there is no way for Rod to improve what he said.
If I were making the point, I’d bring up the video of the Phantom crashing into the block and say any terrorist who was planning to fly his next hijacked airliner into a nuclear reactor containment building would have to admit his chances don’t look good. The engineers who conceived the test obviously thought that by doing it they would learn what they needed to know.
I thought I’ve heard Rod make the point before on an archived Atomic Show podcast and I thought I remembered he talked then about a concrete block. The fact that I thought the line in this interview was different caused me to actually look at the video and look at the NRC document. Its a small point, anyone may disagree, but attention to detail is what got Rod where he is.
The proliferation point is more complicated. I am Canadian, living in the US on a green card, and hence I am a citizen of a country that doesn’t have any nuclear weapons although Canada could have built them at any time after WWII it wanted to. If I had Rod’s experience and citizenship perhaps I’d say the same things he does. What seems clear is this is a serious issue. If I were attempting to answer the question posed to Rod in the interview, I would obviously at this point have to say I can’t answer it as I am still researching and thinking things over
Let me also add my congratulations on a very fine interview, Rod.
(Tiny positive comment) – At one point in the interview you said in regards to proliferation that history suggests that building bombs precedes building reactors and not vice versa. While this is true of the majority of atomic states there are exceptions the most notable being India.
India used technology passed to them in the Atoms for Peace program and more specifically Canadian experimental reactor CIRUS (Canada India Research U.S.) technology which was a version of the Canadian Chalk River National Research X-perimental NRX reactor and US heavy water to breed enough Pu-239 for their first nuclear test (Codename Smiling Buddha) in 1974.
Atoms for peace was supposed to only involve peaceful uses of nuclear energy and the U.S. supply contract for the heavy water explicitly specified, that it only be used for peaceful purposes. CIRUS produced India
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