1. Obviously, Amanda doesn’t read Atomic Insights. Putting out the waste and water “issues” as barriers to expansion is the sign of a lazy researcher. Has she not heard of passively cooled reactors or the thousands of miles of coast line with plenty of cold sea water or grey water effluent that cools Palo Verde? Is she not aware that a simple robust container can hold used fuel rods for years of safe keeping until we need it? Has she not heard of waste vitrification, or recycling, the WIPP site, all of which are viable and commercial solutions to “waste”. Furthermore, if droughts are a problem for thermal plants to the degree that she implied then we all might be in a heap of trouble regardless of nuclear expansion.
    She also makes the uneducated error of calling waste radioactive for eternity. As for living near Yucca mountain, well that will never happen, nor should that even enter into the discussion as to whether Yucca would be a suitable place to store it. It would be, but is completely unnecessary. Though I’ve not been to Yucca, I have been to the Nuclear Test Site area nearby and desolate only begins to describe it.
    Rod, my only suggestion is that you should have said “… I think the biggest problem that COAL has is that every time we built a nuclear power plant, we removed a market for 4 million tons of coal per year.” It seems from what you wrote that she then responded facetiously as though you had given her a reason for nuclear’s victimization. Since I wasn’t there, I’m just guessing of course, but that’s what it reads like.
    Reading this post gives me a thought. Rod Adams should be the one with a book and lecture circuit. I have no doubt that you could run circles around Amanda Little in this arena. There are quite a few energy books and nuclear books but you bring a unique perspective and you have a head start with 100’s of pages of blog posts to draw from.

    1. I don’t think that Ms. Little’s a dyed in the wool anti. She – like a majority of the American people – merely need more education on what nuclear power has to offer, and how it works. The problem is that nuclear power is a rather esoteric field and there’s just so much educating that needs to be done and so many who need to be educated.
      I’m reasonably certain that the overwhelming majority of the US population would strongly support nuclear power if they had more than a surface level understanding of the technology involved – just as I’m reasonably certain that the overwhelming majority of the US population would reject wind turbines as a primary source of energy if they had more than a surface level understanding of how electricity is generated, transmitted, and distributed.
      This is because the surface is the only place nuclear is frightening – and the surface is the only level on which wind turbines make sense. In fact, a good slogan for nuclear would be “The more you know, the less you fear.” Knowledge IS power, and I feel reasonably confident that the vast majority of people who understand the value proposition of nuclear will become supporters of it. The problem is that so few do.
      How do we change that?

      1. Good comment Dave. Though Amanda Little may need A LOT MORE education on nuclear, it’s a glaring omission of intent, not neglect, to not include nuclear in her book about energy. The table of contents, viewable on Amazon, contains chapters like “EARTH WIND AND FIRE How Renewable Energy Will Dethrone The Powers That Be.” Oh please, this is nothing more than rehashed Al Gore-ish drivel. Even Al Gore included a chapter on nuclear in his latest book though it reads like a ghost writer from Greenpeace wrote it. We’ve seen nuclear ignored intentionally time and time again like the black sheep of energy.
        Nuclear has 3 mentions in the index under “clean” p. 276, nuclear power p. 230, Three Mile Island attack p. 230, and Nuclear weapons p. 99. That doesn’t seem like anyone who did research on the subject. I would expect a published author to do a thorough job of discussing all types of energy in a book that tours energy. At the very least she could have read a few books on the matter, which she obviously hasn’t, for far less than the carbon producing airplane trips she took on her tour. The index references to renewable energy are quite extensive with at least 24 pages devoted to wind and solar. I’m sure she’s a crafty writer who makes a good read but that’s about it.
        You ask how do we change this? Maybe Gwyneth Cravens could send Amanda a copy of her book to get started. We need more people like Amanda to come forward and admit they were wrong about nuclear. And many other answers that I couldn’t possibly begin to cover in a simple comment.

          1. Brian – It seems to me that this position “anyone who at any point on their life held a political view contrary to mine is not to be considered or talked to” is unhelpful to the extreme. Combined with another position of “nuclear energy is inevitable because we are the atomic priests who tell you so” is a recipe for disasters. It invites many people – with perhaps much less knowledge about (nuclear) energy systems but certainly more social aptitude – to prove you wrong in reality, while having a lot of fun and make large heaps of money in doing so. This seems to me to be a part of the story how the First Nuclear Era ended in a disaster and disillusion.
            Energy needs to be recognized as a fundamental non-partisan issue, and a practical common grounds with political opponents has to be sought through rational discussion. We already experienced the alternative and it was not pretty neither useful for anyone but the fossil moguls.

            1. M. Bison – It seems to me that you are terribly confused. Frankly, I have no idea why you are burdening me with these two “positions.”
              If I were really guilty of the first of your faux accusations, I would be dismissing Gwyneth Cravens instead of highly recommending her latest book.
              As for the second … well … can I just say pot, kettle, black? Anyone who makes such sweeping, dismissive statements about “deniers” and “skeptics” and who makes such self-assured and self-righteous claims about what is and is not valid “science” (all without any substance to back it up, I might add) should not be so cavalier about lecturing others on the dangers of claiming to be “priests who tell you so.”
              As far as Amanda is concerned, Jason speculated on the reasons why she wrote what she wrote, and I provided one answer. Nevertheless, I was probably too terse in my comment, since I assumed that my audience was smart enough to catch on to my meaning, so please allow me to clarify: she still writes as though she were writing for Grist. Is that better?
              Anyhow, I don’t worry about being proven “wrong in reality,” because I am not wrong. If you think I am, then please explain what and how.
              Instead, I’m the one “having a lot of fun,” laughing at the ridiculousness of claims like “how renewable energy will dethrone the powers that be” (chapter 8 of Power Trip). If there ever was a misguided belief that played into the hands of the “fossil moguls” it is this one.

              1. Brian – thank you for the answer, I misunderstood your comment, which I guess does qualify me as “confused”. Therefore I would like to apologize for burdening you mistakenly. The “proven wrong in reality” was intended to describe the situation when the coal and naturally-sour-gas interests capitalized on killing nuclear power expansion, proving wrong the idea of nuclear power inevitability. I wholeheartedly agree that the idea of renewables as saviors is wrong and serving the fossil fuel interests, though I consider denying the human influence on the contemporary climate change to be similarly errorneous and unhelpful. Massive expansion of nuclear power IMHO necessitates a broad coalition of supporters. I recently came across Joe Romm’s statements which were surprisingly positive about nuclear energy. There is a hope in educating people.

              2. Brian:
                Amanda wrote “Power Trip” with the perspective of a Grist writer, but that was a while ago. She obviously completed the book well before beginning a new journey around the country promoting it. During that new journey, she has apparently been questioned enough about her nuclear position and knowledge that she may be starting to question it. It is one thing to be challenged about a topic while writing in an echo chamber like Grist. It is another thing entirely for a human oriented person like Amanda to be met face to face by people who ask reasonable questions. As demonstrated in her response to my question – mentioning her discussion with another submariner on an airplane – she is quite unlike some of the dedicated anti-nuclear activists like Helen Caldicot.
                Many engineers that I know hate the work involved in changing minds – they prefer to work with technology and solve physical problems like improving the reliability of wind turbines or batteries. I prefer to spend my time trying to change minds – I find that a lot easier than overcoming the laws of physics. (Minds can change; the wind will NEVER be reliable.)

    2. If we get the public into a position where it has the capacity and the knowledge to evaluate energy sources on the merits, and the merits alone, nuclear power will win. Doing this is a long, long, long struggle, the struggle of a lifetime.
      The only way we’re going to get people to understand why nuclear power is better is through educating them. I assume that most of the people on here have seen the same surveys I have and know that US adults are pitifully educated about history, for example. If one was to do a similar survey about knowledge of energy technology, you probably would have far worse results than the pitiful results that we have for history. I would guess that probably less than 20 percent of adults could tell you the difference between alternating and direct current. Perhaps less than 5% of the population could tell you how many phases of AC there are in general service in the world. Perhaps 50 – 75% of that 5% think that the three wires coming to their house each are a separate phase. Of the remaining 25 – 50% of the 5%, perhaps only 50% of those could explain why we have separate phases. As for the hydraulic analogy, THE KEY to understanding electricity, I was never taught that in school. I doubt anyone is taught the hydraulic analogy except in vocational school classes for electricians. I can assume the same about thermodynamics, phases of matter, heat transfer, and just so many other scientific concepts that people might know of but don’t really understand.
      Yes, your honors students will have the capacity to express how much volume increases assuming pressure remains constant when temperature increases within an ideal gas. But though they might be able to express it as an abstract thing, a number, do they understand that when temperature goes up, either the gas expands in volume or if the volume be fixed, the pressure goes up? Can they connect the abstraction of the formula to real-world phenomena? I’m afraid that our science education system produces very good equation pluggers who have mastery of plugging named variables into formulae – but – though they might know that PV = nRT, they don’t really *get* why their propane tank has less pressure during the winter than it does during the summer. They know that their more technically inclined colleagues laugh when talking about perpetual motion machines, but they don’t *get* why perpetual motion machines aren’t possible, why, for instance, when the wind dies down, you can’t have a big fan driven by a battery power that wind-mill. They don’t *get* energy density, and that batteries – though they might have enough juice to power an iPod or a eKindle – don’t have enough energy to power their apartment – unless you have tens of thousands of dollars to burn – never mind an air compressor or an arc welder. They don’t *get* why all the nerdy boys are laughing so hard at the concept of a portable USB-powered toaster or a FireWire-powered hairdryer that you plug into your iBook – why this is such a very, very, very, very bad joke. (Some of the boys don’t get it either, but they still laugh!)
      Obviously, the author of the book probably was told tales about nuclear power by antis playing at environmentalism who have grandiose visions of windmills stretching across endless prairies. People are susceptible to propaganda – intelligent people – when they don’t understand the reality and the rules behind that reality (whether social rules or natural laws, like those governing electricity) that makes things the way that they are. People are susceptible to propaganda – intelligent people – including people who you’d think would know better, especially when their friends act as influencers upon them.
      The only way to counter propaganda effectively is to explain the reality that makes the propaganda either wishful thinking or an outright lie.

      1. Jason:
        One of the reasons for my optimism is that Amanda – and many other people in the world – actually like reality. She is someone who took the time to visit both an off shore oil drilling platform and a NASCAR race. In fact, she admitted that she rather enjoyed both experiences and gained a new appreciation for the powerful machines involved.
        I wonder if she has yet stood at the foot of a large wind turbine?
        Teaching people about energy density is not hard – there are so many good examples to use and many people now have daily experience with the limitations of batteries, the power actually needed to operate a device like a hair dryer, and the amount of gasoline that it takes to move a vehicle a certain distance.
        Truly curious and learning focused individuals can obtain new knowledge. I hesitate to talk about the need to “educate” them. That sounds too preachy and demeaning, especially when the target is someone who certainly feels like they are already educated and has earned a degree or two. I prefer exposing people to experience and reality so that they can educate themselves.

        1. Rod, you and Gwyneth both make very good points about leading without being condescending. This especially works well on and individual level or a small captive audience.
          My concern is that after 40 years of anti-nuclearism clouding over a very non-vocal industry, the fallacies about nuclear have permeated the fabric of our collective conscience so thoroughly that people accept them as unchallengeable facts. “Facts” which Amanda seems to accept as well. That said, I hope you can have her as a guest on your podcast, but I don’t expect her to be doing any 180’s on nuclear anytime soon.
          People look at me like I’m nuts when I tell them that nuclear “waste” is not a huge issue. Very seldom is there a “well that’s a huge relief” type of response. Not that I expect such a response, but its interesting to see people cling so hard to beliefs about something which they actually know very little about. So a few enthusiastic, smart and inquisitive individuals who write blogs, books, podcasts and sometimes give lectures has a very difficult upstream task of educating anyone when set against the backdrop of an industry that does a piss-poor job of promoting itself. Add to that the few crazed loudmouth idiots that get invited as “the balance” to any on air news story/commentary. Sorry to be so blunt today but I think that’s an honest viewpoint. Fission technology should count itself as very lucky to have so much voluntary support, it reminds me of Apple Mac fans but without the supportive and promotional backup.

          1. Psychology experiments indicate that when people are told the same wrong thing over and over again, they eventually accept it as truth.
            The antis managed to do this about nuclear power using images, story, and song for decades. And industry missteps–and a lack of interest in correcting misperceptions–inadvertently supplied the antis with the seemingly factual basis for their fearmongering. Example: “We Almost Lost Detroit”. Entertainers and anti-technology groups and people afraid of the atomic bomb became activists because they truly believed that anything nuclear should be feared. (An exception: the reactor-powered Starship Enterprise.)
            Based on what I have seen and heard today, the news coverage about the delivery of water to thirsty, traumatized Haitians from the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson does not mention that the energy to desalinate that water is supplied by the nuclear chain reaction. If reporters did keep mentioning that fact, indirectly more people would probably begin to think that maybe there was some benefit to nuclear power after all.
            Interestingly, anti-nuclear folks tend not to oppose nuclear medicine, even if you tell them those isotopes are made in reactors.

      2. Dave, I think that in addition to education there is another angle, and it is described rather well by scientist Randy Olson in his entertaining new book “Don’t Be Such A Scientist!” : emotion has to be a part of communication. Yikes! The very thing scientists are trained to avoid!
        When I interview scientists off the record, they’re usually as emotional as anyone else–enthusiastic, annoyed, indignant, delighting in their pet project, etc. But the more controversial the subject I bring up, the more likely the scientist is to revert to lab mode: to use technical language, acronyms, the terse, passive voice. Example: “A nuclear plant cannot be penetrated by an airliner” instead of: “Good luck breaching a containment wall five feet thick with re-bar as thick as a man’s arm. Check out this film of a fighter jet, much heavier than any airliner, being catapulted at 500 mph into a concrete wall and see how it pancakes. In any case, power plant reactors are usually 30 meters underground and they automatically shut down when jolted.”
        In order to get out of the us-versus-them paradigm (I was a prisoner of it myself), it is useful to remember that when a scientist faces an unfamiliar risk–say, exposure to HIV-AIDS prior to discovery of a cure– he or she is likely to be just as nervous as a lay person facing the prospect of a nuclear waste repository or a nuclear plant down the road. To obtain clarity, we need perspective.
        So it’s a good idea for us all to try to walk in the other person’s moccasins sometimes. I could not have listened to the explanations about nuclear power that Dr. Rip Anderson began to provide if he had been in lab-mode all the time. He answered my angry accusations in a mild tone and carefully led me away from bias as the first step in educating me. Fortunately I believed in the scientific method, and he used that as a foundation. His colleagues say he gets his savvy about communication from having had a dad who was a horse whisperer and from herding sheep and cattle as a youth. Whatever the reason, he is careful not to spook people and to use humor and everyday analogies and examples. He observes what interests the person and what the two of them have in common, and takes it from there. And as an oceanographer, he cares tremendously about the environment and about increasing ocean acidification due to anthropogenic CO2.

  2. “…every time we built a nuclear power plant, we removed a market for 4 million tons of coal per year.”
    I don’t think there’s a clearer, more concrete counter message to coal’s anti-nuke marketing anywhere. It needs to be on a billboard, along with a clear, glancable comparison of comparative fuel mass between coal and nuke. It needs to be on hundreds of billboards, just within PA.

    1. Bryan – I am afraid the billboard would not last long in PA without being defaced or destroyed. It is a true message, but might be considered a bit “in your face” in certain parts of your state.

  3. Rod, this was again a wonderful story. I enjoy the way you approach the issue. I usually like the “…my air, my power, my heat, my motion, my water…” sort of rendition but you were speaking from the audience. Well done. I think anyone in these liberal and ‘green’ type audiences who hears this, even ONCE, starts to reconsider long held beliefs.

  4. Kit wrote:
    We are a long way from not needing coal.
    No argument from me. However, do you really believe that coal companies are interested in selling even just a little bit less every year as coal fired power plants in Florida begin shutting down? I am no expert on the electricity supplies in the other areas, but I used to live in the Tampa Bay area, where one of the largest suppliers is Tampa Electric. That company produced more than 95% of its electricity by burning coal, even though the closest mine was at least 500 miles away. OUC in Orland is also more than 50% coal and it does not even have the excuse that its fuel can be delivered cheaply by ship.
    So, Kit, how do you think Burlington Northern Railroad would like the idea of shipping less coal as plants that are a long way from their fuel supply make the logical decision to follow Jim Holm’s coal2nuclear.com advice?
    Oops – that might step on some of the richest toes in the country!

  5. It’s always a bit easier for me too, to show patience with a renewable supporter when she is a comely and obviously personable young woman, than with a middle-aged, bearded social misfit haranguing everyone for consuming too much, or a smoothly lying renewable industry flack, telling the crowd solar-roofs are the solution to all our energy problems

    1. DV8 2XL – I have to admit that I am VERY impressed by Power Trip so far. It is a bit like a fast paced “The Prize”. Amanda has a good grasp of history and the importance of petroleum – now if I can just arrange to show her a fuel pellet or give her a tour of a nuclear plant . . .

  6. Carter talked a lot about wind and solar. He even sent a token amount of money their way. Carter also took action that enabled coal consumption to double on an annual basis and laid the groundwork for that alteration in our energy consumption to last for at least 3 decades.
    Talk is one thing; action is another.
    One thing to remember about Carter – though he was never a nuclear submariner, he was a submariner. Like all of us, he learned the value of deception in a battle.

    1. Kit P – you are correct. In 2008, the PUC finally denied a permit to TECO to build a new plant so that it could continue to consume coal coming out of its own mines, washed in its own coal processing facilities and transported on its own company owned barges, all the while being able to pass the cost of that fuel – and any increases needed due to economic conditions – directly on to customers through a device known as a fuel adjustment surcharge. Fossil fuel burning utilities long ago successfully convinced public utility commissions that they “make no money” on fuel – they buy what they have to buy at the market price; use it to create their real product of electricity and then charge customers a rate that includes the cost of fuel without any mark up.
      What most people do not understand, because it is complicated and requires a lot of research, is that rate regulated utility companies like TECO are perfectly free to purchase unregulated companies that are in the fuel supply business. Those wholly owned subsidiaries can charge the parent company a slightly higher than market rate for fuel and transportation services, knowing that the parent can simply include those costs in the rate request. Of course, they have to be a bit careful, but it is not hard to do this in a way that keeps everyone – save the ignorant (through no fault of their own) customers – happy.
      TECO has been able to continue burning subsidiary company supplied coal and dumping its waste products into the environment for more than 40 years after it should have seen the handwriting on the wall as Florida Power Corporation and FPL built nuclear plants at Crystal River, Turkey Point and St. Lucie. It did not invest in nuclear because it recognized that the business structure was completely different. Instead of making money from a disposable commodity like coal, nuclear plants use very little fuel and need to pay a lot of people reasonable salaries in order to keep the plant in top condition.
      Rich people who enjoy their positions of wealth often do not like to deal with pesky, intelligent, well-educated workers. Coal does not talk back, it does not turn into a whistleblower if corners are cut, and it does not demand higher compensation based on increased training and productivity.
      There are plenty of logical – if somewhat distasteful – reasons why companies like TECO continued to burn coal, even when there was a better alternative. There is even logic in my assertion that those powerful, well connected companies who understand the political process have worked behind the scenes to do all they can to slow down nuclear. They paint the CWIP as a terrible subsidy, but never talk about the much larger financial benefits they obtain in similar manners based on the fuel adjustment surcharges.
      I am not promoting conspiracy theories. I am try to share a bit of thought provoking information about the way that business people get their way at great cost to all of the rest of us.

  7. Amanda Little: “It’s not just about the environmental and political implications. It’s about a change in consciousness, a change in the way we live. A change in the very intuitive wonderful emotional trip that was happening in this one woman that was not supposed to be the target consumer for these high tech innovations. But she was. And she understood it better than anyone I have ever met in my reporting.”
    Apparently, it’s about toy “eco-houses” built by Brad Pitt’s charity and given to people who could not afford such homes even before their own homes were destroyed (and most likely will not be able to afford to maintain them in the future).
    While the altruism is commendable, this little bit of charity is hardly relevant to planning a rational energy policy. On the other hand, I guess these stories make for a nice, cute little book that tells its audience exactly what they want to hear.
    I wonder whether she would support a new nuclear plant if it was built by a foundation set up by an A-list Hollywood actor.

    1. I have been saying this now for a few years: nuclear needs support from some high-profile celebrity or two. It isn’t because the public is stupid, or even because they are easily swayed by fame, although these are indeed factors for some. It’s because it is very difficult to get a message through the general assault of information that we all subjected too, almost continuously and that is why we need messengers that will be noticed.

    2. Part of me screams “Not scientific!” Another part says “We need any help we can get.” And besides, there are some celebrities who are *very* tolerable. Angelina Jolie, for one, Natalie Portman for another.

  8. Dave – Encouraging humans to change their minds is not a scientific endeavor. It is an important one that is worthy of study and can result in great benefits if properly implemented – with a healthy dose of good fortune and patience required.
    You know, nuclear does have its share of celebrities and thought leaders. Paul Newman was quite a strong supporter in his last decade or so. James Hansen, Patrick Moore, Mark Lynas, James Lovelock and Gwyneth Cravens are effective spokespeople who get people thinking hard about the topic due to their well established standing among people who care deeply about the environment and the fact (for all but Lovelock, who has always been pro-nuclear) that they can share stories of conversion based on asking hard questions and actually listening to the answers with critical, skeptical thinking. I often wish I could share similar stories of conversion, but I am disadvantaged by having had a father who was a engineer and taught me pretty early in life why nuclear energy was so darned exciting.

    1. Stewart Brand, in his new book “Whole Earth Discipline”, describes how he changed his mind about nuclear power as a result of a trip to Yucca Mountain. He’s influenced friends in key positions in the environmental movement and others who were anti, as the blurbs on the book jacket attest.

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