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31 Comments

  1. Given the medium and the panel, you sound surprised, Rod. I mean, seriously here – you’re talking about people who generally live in a fantasy land when it comes to economics (particularly energy economics), speaking in what amounts to a left-wing echo chamber. The only thing that shocks me here is that they didn’t bring up nuclear in the context of trying to slander it.

  2. @Steve – you seem to forget that I am a left leaning guy myself. I listen to Democracy Now because I generally find myself agreeing with the stances that their guests take on labor, health, environment, business, immigration, and war fighting. (Not always, but most of the time.)
    I strongly believe that a true liberal can find little to dislike about nuclear energy. It is only those who have been either kept in ignorance or who are plants of the fossil fuel industry that object to wise development of a lower cost, cleaner energy source that can make life better for the vast majority of the world’s population.
    True free market adherents and libertarians should also agree with the wise development of nuclear energy and the use of important raw materials that are capable of undergoing fission in useful technology rather than in technology whose only purpose is to kill or frighten people into submission.

    1. I’d agree. Conservatism tries to preserve the extant power structure and the status quo. Liberalism tries to progress beyond that status quo to better serve the public good. Liberalism theoretically uses reason and empiricism to guide its conclusions, while conservatism uses tradition and belief.
      This is a liberal moment. The present status quo in energy has become unacceptable; anyone can see that. We must move up the technology scale using our power of reason to develop and deploy cleaner and cheaper sources of power production. We must consider sources of power on the merits, on their empirical nature, not on what we might believe about them ex nihilo, not on what we might baselessly fear about them, and not on what we might assume about their theoretical ultimate potential.
      We must ask: Which of the alternatives to fossil fuels deliver the energy we demand in the quantities that we need with the reliability that we require with the cleanliness that we seek at the price that we can afford to live the lives that we want?
      I remain confident in the source of power that represents the answer to that question. However, others are welcome to prove me wrong by making something truly better than what I believe to be our only real option. Of course, there must be a level playing field between clean energy sources; no subsidization of one ought to occur without subsidization of all, regulation must be evenly applied to all energy sources in both quality and quantity, and research funding of all clean energy sources ought to be distributed based on the potential of each energy source to supply reliable and inexpensive power on demand in sufficient quantities.

      1. @katana(Dave) — I don’t know that I would paint with as broad a brush about ‘Conservatism trying to preserve the extant power structure and the status quo.’ I have to wonder where people get their information that informs their perspective. Practical life experiences also weighs in on that perspective – owning a business vs always being an employee where someone else ultimately determines your value (where you live, what vacation you take, when you start and stop working, how long your breaks are, etc.).
        In this particular topic, I think we need to separate power plants for electricity generation, plants for process heat and desalination from transportation fuels and chemical feed stocks.

        1. @Doc – I’m not talking about politics so much as I’m talking about broad philosophical tendencies. What I mean is that a philosophical liberal in energy policy wants to see reason rather than blind faith and belief applied to the energy problems that we face. Now, at the moment, there are more philosophical liberals in energy policy amongst the Republicans than the Democrats, though I believe that is changing, slowly but surely, as more Democrats are embracing a “reality based” view of energy rather than one centered on unreasoned beliefs on the capabilities of solar panels and windmills.
          You might say that a good number of ideological conservatives have a philosophically liberal approach to energy policy while a good number of ideological liberals have a philosophically conservative approach to energy policy.

          1. @Katana(Dave) My observation is that most people go along with the party line and opposition or support often depends on what the other side is doing. If we lived in a world where more liberals than conservatives supported nuclear, then perhaps many conservatives would be against it because liberals are for it. The situation now is vice versa of course. I’ve met quite a few republicans that supported nuclear but really didn’t know much and the same for opposing democrats.
            We live in a technological age where physical technology has accelerated past our political technology. The timescale of an election cycle, the need to make political allies, the pressure to “bring home the bacon” for one’s district, etc. are all incompatible with the long term energy policies and planning that needs to take place. Perhaps we should all be asking ourselves if we think our government “technology” is even capable of doing what is required to move us into the next energy age regardless of political philosophy. Some in government, including the president, have stated they don’t want to be picking winners and losers in the energy game. I see the fairness ethic in that approach but now I question if we are beyond the need to be fair. Energy after all is a matter of national security, civilization security, and public health. Picking the best energy source to secure all those things isn’t a matter of fairness, it’s about picking the best technologies to do the job. Just like a job interview, the person who didn’t get the job wasn’t treated unfairly, the employer simply found someone else who was judged to be more qualified.

    2. @Rod: I politically identify as libertarian, and generally think if there’s any realistic way we’re going to continue to grow our energy supplies at any kind of reasonable cost while trying to do something about CO2 emissions, nuclear is pretty much the #1 option. (I’ll avoid an aside on externalities in energy markets that I sometimes think is overlooked by other free-market types.)
      Funny thing; since you posted that one “smoking gun” debate with one of Cato’s energy scholars, I’ve actually been following their blog, mostly to get a glimpse of their direction. While I’d call myself ideologically sympathetic to Cato’s overall positions, and I was a bit skeptical of your characterization of a “smoking gun” when you initially posted it, I am starting to at least get a similar feeling, particularly in the regard that I feel like nuclear energy is frequently sidelined from the discussion altogether (not praised, not criticized – but simply held to the margin) in favor of constant plugging for natural gas.
      It’s difficult for me come to the conclusion that this is somehow a “smoking gun,” but it does seem to indicate to me that there are as much of ideological blind spots as far as energy on the right as there is on the left; or, more particularly, energy seems to be getting as ideological as other policies.
      It doesn’t help though that I think that they’re dead wrong on AGW and really trying to flog the hell out of the notion that “human-released CO2 can’t -possibly- be having an effect upon climate!”

  3. In fact that show has had great exposes of the failure of the free market to address critical issues and is quite good at exposing even Obama but from a left wing point of view. IT’s a critical show that everyone should listen to for the information it gives out and the analsyis it provides. Amy Goodman SHOULD have Rod on her show…it would be a GREAT discussion.

  4. S. David Freeman was the GM of LADWP during the California energy crisis but before that was GM of SMUD working to close Rancho Seco. At the time LADWP electricity supply was 75% coal and was the biggest gouger of customers of at investor owned utilities.
    A few years later, I was reading the latest version of LADWP? annual report which had been sanitized. Looking at the pictures on the cover you would get the idea that LADWP produced electricity with wind and solar. Nuclear and coal were not discussed. With the help of a and search engine knowing the name of the power plants providing the power, the elephants in the room could be found.
    S. David Freeman was never very good at building alternatives.

  5. I think you may be right, Rod, about the choice of words representing some progress. The term “non-emitting” has always been code for nuclear. “Clean” is a little bit less clear, but may also imply willingness to include nuclear (it depends on the speaker).
    I’m a little less sanguine about “clean” meaning including nuclear, given the group involved. On the other hand, why would the say “clean” instead of “renewable”?

  6. I didn’t listen to the show, but when David Brune says, “We need to make sure that we?e chasing out all of the remaining fossil fuels, the tiny bit of oil that? still used to produce electricity.” I’m sure he doesn’t realize that “tiny bit of oil” produces roughly the same amount as all the wind turbines in America about 1.5% of all the electricity produced. These people love to gloss over the details and talk as if all these things are easy to do without providing any concrete plan on how to do it and chase down little fixes that basically do nothing.
    I have a simple plan in mind, close down coal plants and build nuclear plants. Call me a pessimist but all other plans which do not have this as a basic tenet are doomed to fail. We need to replace the first 211 most polluting coal plants to just cut in half the 2.2 gigatons of CO2 produced by them. This would be a 60% drop in coal consumption. This is 107 GW worth of power and may take about 100 big nuclear plants to do it. Any other conversation about future energy plans is just pussyfooting around. Brune, Lovins, et al. aren’t stupid, but rather smart stupid. Their logic and grasp on reality is deeply flawed but they present themselves eloquently and trustworthy. They cut themselves off from even thinking about nuclear because they’ve embraced a certain philosophy which doesn’t allow it. Good thinking often requires thinking outside of one’s comfort zone, not bending reality to suite one’s philosophy.

    1. @Jason — I believe Jim Holm at coal2nuclear.com has pretty well established a priority-based approach to replacing coal-fired with nuclear power plants. The improvement in air, water and overall environmental cleanliness while still producing 24×7, on-demand power is the primary benefit, even if the concerns about CO2 emissions don’t materialize (I read somewhere recently that the oceans absorb 3,300 times more CO2 than the atmosphere – I’ll try to locate the reference).
      These ‘spokespersons’ on Democracy Now seem to be entirely delusional. What practical solutions do they offer to replace transportation fuels? None. What about the chemical feedstocks that produce thousands of products based on petroleum? Nothing.

      1. Doc, Jim’s coal2nuclear site is one of my favorites. He is one of the few sites out there that offers a practical solution.
        We also never hear from these types of proponents anything about preserving fossil fuels for future generations by consuming less of it by using more nuclear. They don’t get it and they are never going to get it.

  7. We do need to reduce/eliminate fossil fuel usage, but let’s not kid ourselves. There’s nothing inherently “liberal” about nuclear energy and nuclear power plants are neither clean nor emissions-free. All nuclear power plants routinely release radioactive gases and radioactive liquids into the environment as a part of their normal operations. These planned releases of toxic and radioactive materials are part of the operation of each plant. (1) The emissions contain radioactive materials that are known to cause cancer and birth defects. While the amount of radioactivity in the emissions might be small, this does not mean that it is safe. This is true because living organisms absorb and store the radiation. Over time, certain toxic and radioactive elements will be found in the life forms at a higher concentration than will be found in the air, soil and water. (2)
    Furthermore, the new AP 1000 is expected to emit between 55 tons/year and 943 tons/year of airborne particulates of an unspecified nature. (3)
    In addition to that,
    The project will also result in the following estimated potential emissions increases from the small service water cooling towers and diesel engines: 25 tons/year of carbon monoxide; 36 tons/year of nitrogen oxides; 4 tons/year of PM, 3 tons/year of PM10; less than 1 ton/year of sulfur dioxide(SO2); and 4 tons/year of volatile organic compounds(VOC). (3)
    1) nrc.com
    Radioactive Effluent Reports.
    (2) http://toxics.usgs.gov/definitions/bioaccumulation.html
    (3) “Application for Air Draft Permit”, FPL, Turkey Point #6&#7, April 2010.

    1. satellitejam, the only person kidding themselves here is you. The amount of emissions described is a trivial amount for a gigawatt power facility of any type, including wind and solar. Check the ExternE study of the EU to quantify external effects, http://www.externe.info/expolwp6.pdf page 17, compare for example nuclear power and wind.

    2. And your radiation / boiaccumulation is meaningless without a similar numerical assessment and specific treatment. There is no point in treating xenon, for example, like caesium, and no point in pretending that every substance bioaccumulates. Radiation released from a nulcear power station does not significantly increase radiation exposure to anyone. compared to the orders of magnitude larger background radiation.

    1. @Jim — Thank you,sir. My education in energy grows weekly (not weakly) and your site has provided a valuable perspective on the practical approach of power plant transformation. While I remain unconvinced of the effects of human-generated CO2 and climate, I am staunchly in support of good stewardship of resources and the expanding of affordable energy. As others here will know, I am involved with some solar and battery back-up systems. I am not delusioned into thinking intermittent power can meet any significant demand for developed countries, but there is application where no grid exists and stringing transmission lines to rural areas runs from $3k – $20k per kilometer.
      Again, at the risk of being a bore, see: http://www.self.org – the “projects” tab – to see where these applications MAY make sense as a ‘bridge until’ rather than a ‘replacement for’ 24×7 power. The 2 billion people without electricity could care less about their carbon footprint. They are more concerned with basic day-to-day survival.

  8. What is needed are energy systems that are inexpensive, clean, and self contained, do not rely on fossil fuels and can be developed and maintained locally. You think I am dreaming I can feel that in my bones! Yet over the past (give or take ) hundred years or so, scientists, inventors and various curious people, have developed ideas and innovations, that would help us move totally away from our reliance on the presently accepted norms of oil, coal and gas ?aka ?ossil fuels? Consider the work of Nikola Telsa and Stanley Meyer for starters!
    If our governments are sincere in their attempt to reduce carbon emissions, and also reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, then why have they hidden this information from us? It is known that they have had knowledge of most of these innovations and scientific discoveries for a very long time. How do you define ?incerity? Or better still can you say ?incerity?and ?overnment?in the one breathe? An oxymoron!
    http://just-me-in-t.blogspot.com/2010/06/define-sincerity.html

    1. @Just ME in T – with a straight face and a sincere heart, I have no trouble telling you that I have worked as a federal government employee for the past 33 years and I have met thousands of fellow employees who are sincere in their effort to do their jobs well and provide excellent service on tasks that no one individual or company will even try to attempt.
      Reagan was wrong – “government” is not the problem. “Bad government” is the problem. In my time in service, I have also met a number of cynical decision makers who have used people’s taught distaste for “government” to reduce staffs and hire contracting companies to provide the necessary people. Those contractors look and act kind of like actual government employees; they report to work every day, they use government owned computers and desks, they wear identification badges that allow them to enter into government facilities, and they attend meetings to represent the government agencies that have hired their companies to provide human beings to perform tasks that only humans can perform. In many cases, these contractors are ex-government employees who learned their skills while working for the government and are now working for contractors for better pay and benefits.
      The key difference between this contracted workforce and real government employees, however, is that the contractors have a separate boss between them and the taxpayers who actually pay their salaries and bonuses. They owe their fiduciary loyalty not to the taxpayers, but to their private employer who is billing the government for their services. This intermediary relationship changes everything and I believe that it results in higher costs for the same amount of work (humans do not suddenly become more productive when they change from being a direct government employee to being a contractor, but they sure cost more money in salary, bonuses, fringe benefits, and overhead charges.)
      One reason that some – certainly not all – decision makers make the switch from direct government employees to contracted employees is that they often are directing that effort to old friends who are now running the contracting companies. In some cases, the decision makers sincerely believes that there is something inherently more productive about the private sector, even in the situation above where the “private” contractor looks and acts just like a government employee. The other reason some take this tack is that they have a fundamental, visceral dislike of having to share decision making responsibilities with employees and their union representatives – typically, public employees are members of unions that often provide an excellent service by identifying incompetent managers.
      If we – the people who elect the public officials that establish the rules and policies under which agencies operate – want better government which actually works for people, we will demand “good government” and work on a daily basis to monitor and provide feedback on its performance.

      1. Rod – If the government agency in question is so bad at managing its contractors, what makes you think that it would do any better at managing its own employees? After all, you mention that there are public employee unions that are involved (meddling?) in the decision-making process. If poor performance and inefficiencies are a problem, an agency can fire a contractor lock, stock, and barrel — particularly when the contract comes up for renewal. Can the agency fire a union?
        Although the “government is a problem” line has been abused as an excuse by bad managers to out-source certain government responsibilities. I think that the majority of those who adhere to this philosophy are more concerned about whether government should be involved in X, Y, or Z, rather than whether a specific government job should be outsourced.
        Certainly, they have quite a number of good examples to bolster their case. For example, the federal government has done a bang-up job of taking care of the country’s so-called “nuclear waste” as it promised 28 years ago — a promise that is still federal law, in spite of the current administration’s illegal activities. Don’t you agree? 😉
        I seem to recall that you have expressed an opinion in the past that you think that “government” is a problem in this case, and the fuel should be returned (along with the money collected to dispose of it) to the private sector.

        1. @Brian – I think you will find that the agencies that were involved in the “nuclear waste” issue had a similar philosophy about government contractors as the agency in which I work.
          Please understand – I do not have an issue with the private sector or with private efforts to compete to perform tasks like handling garbage collection or nuclear waste processing. The issue that I am trying to talk about is where “private contractors” do work in nearly identical ways as public employees but without the ethical rules and devotion to duty that you can get from direct employees who often swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution.
          In the situations that I am thinking about, the “private sector” employees perform tasks that should be done by people without any split loyalties and they do it for companies whose main purpose is making money, not performing a service.
          Yes, when the contract period is up, you can get rid of the contracting company if they are not performing. Often, the issue is not whether or not they are performing, but whether or not they are performing in a cost effective manner for the maximum benefit of their real employer – the taxpayers.
          When it comes to managing employees versus managing contractors, there really is a different skill set, especially when it comes to managing public employees who happen to wear uniforms vice contractors that get paid overtime and collect annual bonuses based on the amount of billable hours they rack up.

          1. Sorry, Rod – I think that I’ll find that you don’t know what the hell you are talking about.
            You might have a ton of experience with the US Navy, but please tell me what experience you have with the Yucca Mountain Project that leads you to so cavalierly paint everything with the same Navy-stained brush.
            Yes, we get it: you’re pissed off at some of the management done by the US Navy and their political superiors. But you need to learn when to be specific and when to generalize, because when it comes to generalizations, you suck. You say one thing one time, and another thing another time, depending on your political leanings, attitude at the moment, toss of a coin … whatever.
            If you think that “government contractors” were the problem with Yucca Mountain, then you have no idea what actually went on with that project.

            1. @Brian – no reason to get nasty. I do not think I said that government contractors were “the problem” with Yucca Mountain. I have written extensively about what I think the problem with the whole Yucca Mountain project was – it was “the right answer to the wrong question” from the very beginning. The whole notion of any monopoly – government or otherwise – on used fuel disposal or reuse was fundamentally never going to work.
              Making any single agency or organization responsible made it way too easy for people who are opposed to the use of nuclear energy at all to work to hamstring the project.

  9. Rod,
    How do you explain the Federal government awarding the M&O contracts for LANL and LLNL to private LLCs after 50 or 60 years of service under the non-profit University of California?
    Not only did the government add roughly $400 million per year to run both labs combined, the LLCs now have various conflicts of interest due to their parent organizations (Bechtel being just one example).
    My explanation is incompetence. It took wrecking two national labs before DOE decided to step back from competing PNNL…

    1. @Guest – was the decision to compete the M&O contracts made by professional government employees or by politically appointed leaders who are schooled in the mantra that the private sector is somehow more productive than any public sector employee – even those that work for a non-profit university?
      The government obviously makes some serious mistakes. It is a never ending source of questioning bemusement on my part when I hear a politician running for office on an anti-government platform. (Think about the irony in that for a moment.)
      I also do not think that the government is a superior provider of services that can be undertaken by competitive private industry. I do believe that the kinds of once in a while competitions for government contracts are NOT representative of competitive private industry where decisions get made on a daily basis based on prices, quality of service, and other measures of real effectiveness. Government contracts are often awarded based on PowerPoint and presentation skills by a team that is not even the same one that will perform the work.

      1. When I said the “Federal government,” I meant just that; not political hacks but career feds. In addition, you should research where the government Source Selection Official ended up.
        It is one thing to make a mistake buying commodity items, perhaps even some expensive military hardware; it is quite another to trash the two (and only) nuclear weapon design establishments of the United States. Shameful…….

    2. The “Federal Government” is not some monolithic thing; it consists of people, some of whom do their job loyally to the taxpayers, some who are incompetent, some who are political hacks, and some who are strongly influenced by people above them.
      Mere incompetence is too convenient an excuse to blame the big, bad government bureaucrat. Certainly, it is a possible explanation, but most people in those positions are generally intelligent, but may be ideologically blinded or subject to external influences. Like it or not, the neo-conservative mantra has been essentially “private good, government bad”. They had been in power for quite some time peaking in the early to mid-2000’s, about the time the LANL and LLNL contracts were put up for bid. A more likely explanation is those who made the decisions were under the influence (career federal employees are not immune since the top is always political appointees) of those in power.
      A cynic would say that those who pushed for the contract rebids were really under the influence of those who most stood to profit should they win the contract. I’m sure the shareholders of Bechtel loves the company collecting its fee for its share of operating LANL. I would be surprised if there was no serious lobbying upon those with connections to the bureaucracy. Sadly, this appears to be just one data point in the pattern of neo-conservative rule: the elites (CEOs and shareholders) doing historically well at the expense of the long-term interests of the taxpayers.
      Those who insist on blaming the faceless, incompetent bureaucrat ignore history. Certainly, bureaucracies can stifle progress, waste resources, and restrict freedom; however, the persistent enemy of liberty throughout history has been the elite oligarchs who have used whatever tools in their disposal (often government) to bolster their positions of power. These seems a far more likely explanation given the context of history.

  10. “Elephant in the room” says it all. Isn’t it a common technique used by group organizers? They say they want to discuss, they ask everybody for input – in this case, energy solutions – but they have already decided what the conclusion will be! Such fake debates are then used to legitimize major decisions lateron.

  11. Rod –
    Based on his writings, it would be foolish to conclude that Lovins is:
    truly interested in outcomes, building consensus based on what we agree upon and recognizing that national security, environment and economy all have a role to play in the prioritization of action . . .
    Lovins’ interests run to concocting almost anything to say against nuclear, as this is a popular party line, and one that must be maintained. In this practice, he has become quite adept at choosing and then repeating curious words and phrases while evading the issues necessary to a full discussion. If needs be, he will just disappear from any challenging discussion when logic and facts are backing him into a corner. This is what happened a couple of years ago, or so, following challenges to one of his anti-nuclear diatribes. He later pops up to repeat the same thing that proved indefensible, before, but does so in some new forum or context.
    One of Lovins’ specialties seems to be coining new terms. These seem to dazzle his followers, many of whom think he is a “guru” of energy anyway (google the word with Lovins’ name to see what I mean). These terms seem to be very handy ways to obscure facts and evade issues.
    One good example is “Non-Biomass CHP.” This is the curious label he developed to describe the primary supply-side component of his alleged alternative to nuclear. One might ask why you name something by labeling what it EXCLUDES instead of labeling what it INCLUDES. Of course, one would have to THINK in order to ask that question, and the whole point of having a “guru” seems to be to evade having to think .
    Lovins seems to have come up with this label because what “Non-Biomass CHP” actually IS, is FOSSIL FUELS, probably overwhelmingly coal. It simply will not DO to go around saying that your alternative to nuclear is coal. Maintaining one’s “guru” status is not assisted by disclosing to your acolytes that your alternative to nuclear is to expand the use of fossil fuels. Ergo, “Non Biomass CHP,” which is fossil fuels, albeit used in a co-generation framework.
    Of course, to effectively use coal to bash nuclear, Lovins must do something with the emissions. To make the emissions from the electricity produced from “non-biomass CHP” disappear, Lovins takes advantage of the “CHP” part, i.e., the fact that the heat from burning the fossil fuels is applied to multiple purposes. Lovins – – without advertising this fact as far as I can tell – – simply quietly ASSIGNS all the emissions to the non-electrical side. By assigning all the emissions to the co-generated component, process heat for an industry, for example, the electrical generation side of the cycle is “cleansed” of the emissions.
    Voila! You now have a fast-growing emissions-free electrical generation alternative to nuclear!
    So, you see, if you understood the brilliance of the guru, you would understand how adding more coal fired power plants is the solution to the climate and emissions challenges. The problem with us pro-nuclear morons is that we simply fail to grasp the brilliance of the guru.

  12. Rod,
    Listening to it twice, I think that you may be being a bit optimistic here: I think that they are using ‘clean’ in conjunction more with *natural gas* – not nuclear.
    Michael Brune mentions ‘going towards clean energy and renewables’ and away from ‘coal and oil’. I think (well I know) that the environmental lobby has the idea that natural gas can be a bridge to renewables – rather than renewables being a bridge to natural gas – and hence they are willing to overlook quite a few of the dirty truths that surround that fuel and brand it clean.
    Anyways, that’s my take, unfortunately. I think that they may finally ‘get it’ – but then again, they may not.
    Ed
    (ps – on a side note, Rod, have you ever considered going on Democracy now? I’d love to see a debate between you and say Michael Brune, I personally think you’d wipe the floor with him.. And I’d love to see the newest cost figures && times on nuclear plant construction from Asia shoved in Mr. Lovins’ face..)

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