Rod Adams and Alex Epstein on Power Hour
On Atomic Show #230, I talked with Alex Epstein, the author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
Some of the things I told Alex during that show intrigued him enough to ask me to be a guest on his Power Hour show. That show has now been published as Power Hour: Rod Adams on the Secret History of Nuclear Power.
Aside: Atomic Insights readers and Atomic Show listeners might wonder about the word “secret” in that title. After all, I’ve been publishing stories about atomic energy history for the better part of 20 years. It’s only a secret if you haven’t found or read this web site. End Aside.
I think you will find the conversation worth the 54 minutes that you will need to invest to hear it.
Thanks for this post.
I would encourage you to write that book you mentioned in the interview. However, I think a broader overview of the nuclear issue than simply covering radiological effects (or lack thereof) would make a better book. The radiological issues could be a chapter (or three) within the book.
Use lots of pictures, charts and graphs for some of us with a short attention span that need variety from dry text.
To the best of my knowledge, there is no book in the popular Dummies series, such as “Nuclear Energy for Dummies”. This is the closest I have seen: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/the-debate-over-nuclear-energy.html
An unmet opportunity for mass education is definately there. This will also give you access to the mainstream media as a recognized (published) expert. They typically show the book jacket while they are introducing you. Signing tours (alongside Gwynneth?) are expected.
You had better hurry up and write it, before I retire and do it myself! 😉
Does this qualify as that book? http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/index.html
Published in 1990 it’s pretty much spot on even today. It will walk you through the process of how the cost (and time to build) of a new nuclear plant quadrupled from the early ’70s to the late ’80s, making them economically unattractive. Understanding that process is fine, but what does it get you at the end of the day?
Several of the early economically built plants discussed are still operating today, so it is not a matter of “we can’t” or “we don’t know how to do it.”
Understanding the cause of a problem gains you nothing unless you can change that cause. And there in lays the problem.
Understanding the cause of a problem gains you nothing unless you can change that cause. And there in lays the problem.
Agreed. However, having the power to change also does not solve any problem without having the associated understanding of the real root cause.
It is only by understanding the root causes of problem, identifying effective corrective actions, having the power to implement the program, and following through with the program — with mid term course corrections as necessary — that we will be able to make real progress.
Part of the mission of Atomic Insights is to do whatever we can to assist in the effort to bring all of those components together.
Oh yeah, there is one more ingredient missing in my list — there must be a strong desire to improve before any changes will be accepted.
“It is only by understanding the root causes of problem, identifying effective corrective actions, having the power to implement the program, and following through with the program — with mid term course corrections as necessary — that we will be able to make real progress.”
I think we are in total agreement that these steps are the correct path to long term success in almost any endeavor. But why wouldn’t we agree, we were both schooled by the same guy who figured this out early with a new technology.
“Oh yeah, there is one more ingredient missing in my list — there must be a strong desire to improve before any changes will be accepted.”
I would add to this “or even proposed.” Unfortunately in today’s world “improve” inherits the meaning “of my own bottom line.” The progress path you cite above for nuclear is being derailed by folks who see it as a threat to their bottom line. That has to change but will probably will not until the public opinion voice gets too loud to ignore.
And the key to that is education, education, education. For that, a lot of us applaud your efforts. Thanks.
You are clearly knowledgable about nuclear engineering. Please indicate how Tepco should go about stopping the Fukushima nuclear radiation releases?
Thanks for this. I listened once and will listen again when I am stuck in traffic somewhere. I agree that a positive forward looking book will be helpful. I like your positive tone and find your writing attractive. A book that covered the potentials for and history of Nuclear power, and the uses of radioactive materials, with a positive upbeat tone, and documentation on Radiation but not an over emphasis would be very helpful. Theme – how can Nuclear help people today?
A second book aimed at policy makers, that summarize the potentials but deals with the legal obstacles that are currently preventing the potentials from being realized would be helpful. This would be a policy wonk book, diving into the details of specific regulations that hinder the growth of Nuclear Power, with specific recommendations for change.
A third book would be on your favorite “smoking gun” series. Sort of like the “who killed the electric car?” theme.
The ANS energy equivalency card mention in the show can be ordered here:
Great discussions on both podcasts.
You mentioned NRC’s reluctance to *promote* nuclear, which former Chairman Macfarlane made clear several times. That policy is mentioned a couple times in this 8 minute video the NRC just released. http://youtu.be/qZK23MKo4Bk
Well it is great that we have a visit from John Galt, the invention of the sociopathic, and untallented writer Ayn Rand. Her followers come from the ego, not science school of libertarianism.
The problem I have with Epstein has to do with the cost of Nuclear Power. In 2007 I found Per Peterson’s work on Reducing nuclear cost. Peterson argued that by using molten salts as coolants, the cost of Peble Bed Reactors could be dramatically lowered. The cost lowering also applied to standard Molten Salt Reactors. I was able to find many other ways to lower nuclear costs. Alex Epstein is either profoundly intellectually lazy, or he is simply dishonest. Inn either case Epstein simple ignore what is by now well known, namely that the cost of nuclear poower can be lowered by adopting Molten Salt nuclear technology.
Unlike Charles, I like the way that Ayn Rand wrote and thought. However, I believe most of her avowed followers haven’t read her work very closely. They do not recognize that she celebrates human thought and creativity at all levels, from people who make excellent sandwiches to those who create magical metals.
Your own namesake was a guy who invented a very special engine that could provide reliable power without external fuel sources. He dropped out when the owners of the company he worked for failed to understand the value of the invention and the ways that it could empower people who purchased that machine.
The villains in her stories were those who conformed to conventional ways of doing things, set up institutes that would halt knowledge expansion, and worked with their cronies at the top of organized labor unions, other large, established businesses and corrupt government officials to establish laws that only benefitted the already powerful.
The entrepreneurs and true business leaders who dropped out were not motivated by money, but by freedom to create and choose how they wanted to live. The heroes built enterprises that produced valuable products and services that free people wanted to purchase by exchanging either their own creations or the money earned by producing valuable goods and services.
I’ve got dogeared copies of both Fountainhead and Atlas. I go back to those books for rereading enjoyment on a fairly frequent basis. I just wish more of the people who claimed to be her followers would do the same.
Charles, I respect your opinions and agree with your writings on a lot of subjects. But to claim Molten Salt nuclear technology can reduce the cost of nuclear power is ignoring the reality of what has caused the problems of high cost and long construction schedules. It is not the technology type at all. After all, given no external influences affecting cost and schedule, experience in every other industry shows the more you build one type of any technology (like a LWR), the better you get at it, and the more the cost per unit comes down.
The USA can and did built nuke plants at reasonable costs on on reasonable schedules during the late ’60s and ’70s. Were they building junk? Such that all the increased regulatory cost burden was really necessary to insure safer builds and plants? If that is the case how is it so many of them are still running just fine 40 to 50 years later? Yes real problems were found, and real problems were fixed at a cost. But how can you justify a quadrupling (or more) of cost for something on the basis of “safety” unless it was pure junk to begin with? I just don’t believe it.
And yes Molten Salt reactors may provide economic benefit in the future. But you are ignoring the design certification cost via the current regulatory process, which is part of the total product cost. That process sucks in money like a black hole sucks in hot gas and the amount of safety benefit that comes out of it is about the same as stuff coming out of a black hole.
Agreed. You have the right point about costs. Even the best design with massively reduced costs will become expensive when a regulator can request clarifications over and over again for 15 to 20 years before certification. Then that same regulator can stop construction when the design even changes the color yellow to a slightly different shade. This is over regulation, and obstruction. These always add costs and Molten Salt will not be exempted. There are likely 100’s of ways to make a Nuclear Reactor, most will never see light under the current system.
It sounds like you did some convincing of Mr. Epstein on the need for nuclear power. Of course, and he would have to understand, a book titled “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” is not a good ice breaker with pro-nuclear me. But I believe he means that over many past decades, humanity’s use of fossil fuels has been net good and life-saving. I do have to concede that, even with the millions of premature lung cancer deaths and other maladies resultant from use of fossil fuels (mostly from coal) on the huge scale of the last century.
Going forward many decades, however, with the capability for safe, clean power provided by nuclear energy, it is clear that we can (and must) do much more for the human condition through phase-in of broad scale nuclear power for electricity. So I guess we can all agree – nuclear power and fossil fuels should be the predominant sources of our energy looking out over the next few decades.
We should phase-in nuclear to provide nearly all electricity (phase out coal due to its deadly lung cancer effects) and save the other fossil fuels for aviation (oil) and residential/industrial heating (natural gas). Other less-developed nations will still provide a market for U.S. coal for decades after a U.S. nuclear phase-in. [Aside: The only (economic) source of aviation fuel is oil – we must conserve oil to allow air transport to be economical for our grandkids and great-grandkids or until we invent another economic source. End Aside]
Mr. Epstein seemed interested in what changes are needed by our Gov’t to allow it’s broad phase-in of nuclear. Rod, I hope you can continue to work with Mr. Epstein in him more fully understanding nuclear energy, its potential to complement fossil fuels for the next century, and the Gov’t changes needed for that broad phase-in.
I agree with most of what you say. However, there is another possible source for Jet fuel.
The real cost driver is the cost of hydrogen. High temp nuclear could cut that cost.
Fuel for aircraft is a sufficiently small segment that it can be served by biofuels, refuse-derived fuel and other sources of naturally captured carbon. For water- and ground-based applications where batteries won’t do, ammonia is a reasonable compromise. It can be reformed to hydrogen and nitrogen using the sodium amide process, which extends the flammability limits for internal combustion engines.
I sat through Peter Huber’s talk on “Hard Green etc”. Its worth noting that it is a year 2000 talk and so in its day he was quite perceptive. Running through the Q&A afterwards there is a strong tension brought about by his acerbic disposition and the political polarisation or the audience. Both got in the way of honest debate a reflection.
This is the problem not only of nuclear advocacy but also the response global warming. The “John Galt” posting refers to a number of other references that spread religion, not science.
Peter Huber made some excellent points about the inefficiencies of collecting low energy dense resources compared to concentrated forms such as coal but especially nuclear. He even shocked me a fair bit when he pointed out that I emit more CO2 per kilogram moved from my bicycle riding than driving my car – and he is almost certainly correct.
Where things went off the rails a bit was when it became a debate between the libertarians/free marketers versus even a mild tinge of state ownership.
So a few facts.
The French and Swedish built their extremely low CO2 emitting nuclear based electricity generating system by direction from a central government as is China and most other nuclear nations. The USA built its nuclear reactors via a technology developed by central government.
In Australia we have a universal government paid health care system which treats 100% of our population. As a proportion of GDP, Australia’s spent 9.4% of our GDP on health care in 2009 was much less than that of the United States (17.4%), slightly less than the United Kingdom (9.8%), New Zealand (10.3%) and Canada (11.4%), and close to the OECD median (9.6%).
This is all directed by central government which prevents the rent seekers and middle men from profiting excessively from health care and thereby excluding the poor from humane treatment.
Libertarians hate central government and write whole libraries full of religiously inspired paranoia especially aimed at scientists trying to measure the impacts of global warming and educate the public.
So please look at the NOAA website page http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/OC5/3M_HEAT_CONTENT/
The data shown here is a measurable fact and is the greatest reason I know to endorse both nuclear power and its direct implementation by central government.
I apologise for my final sentence. “Rot in hell” is not a constructive comment and demeans the tone of this website. It displays however the sense of bereavment that I and many Australian’s feel towards the loss of our fledgling carbon pricing scheme at the hands of libertarians.
I deleted the last sentence of your post.
Rod-I sent you a direct message via Twitter in response to your ‘Nuclear Power for Dummies’ idea. I think it’s a great idea – I wrote a For Dummies book in 2008 Business Intelligence for Dummies buy your copy today!) – and I’d be happy to help you make that happen if you’re serious about it. The ‘Dummies’ brand is usually a good way to goose sales of a topic that might not see a ton of sales otherwise.
My complaint about Alex Epstein – at least based on what I heard in his first Atomic Show appearance and this interview – is that he caricatures the environmental/conservation approach as 100% absolutist. He complains that environmentalists say thins like ‘don’t do anything that impacts anything!’ – but is that really representative? It seemed like a convenient strawman.
I believe the vast majority of people have a more subtle approach.Epstein made it sound like everyone with a hint of green in their outlook thinks we should give up cars and heaters and refrigerators. In fact I suspect most folks accept and want the benefits of an ‘energized’ civilization, but *at the same time* acknowledge that there are costs, and want to weigh those costs against the benefits. e.g. I want to live in a building but I don’t want to destroy the rain forest. I want to drive a car but I want higher fuel efficiency standards. I want refrigeration and air conditioning and heating and cooking but I’d like to source my power in such a way that doesn’t heat up the planet. I never heard him address anyone but those few purists who want to revert to living like a caveman, so I had a hard time relating to his argument.
I appreciate his general approach – I just got frustrated with the way he modeled people’s attitudes. Maybe his book allows for more subtlety.
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