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Bruce Sterling On Lovelock's Pro-Nuclear Stance 693

Posted by timothy
from the whistles-gunsmoke-and-tumbleweed dept.
Robert Berger writes "Bruce Sterling, author, journalist, editor, critic, blogger is also the creator of the Viridian Notes series of emails that comment on articles and websites about global warming. The current Viridian Note 00415: Doom is Nigh (scroll down past the inital links) has inserted his Sterling's pithy comments into Jame Lovelock's assertion that 'Nuclear power is the only green solution.'" (See also this earlier Slashdot post about Lovelock's nuclear apologia.)
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Bruce Sterling On Lovelock's Pro-Nuclear Stance

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:38PM (#9299057)
    a burning, corrosive, glowing green.
    • ...only in Quake.
  • by Skyshadow (508) * on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:41PM (#9299069) Homepage
    Of course nobody likes nuclear energy. Nuclear's some scary shit even if you don't mess it up, and messing it up is what humanity does.

    Unfortuately, coal and oil suck too. Natural gas is better, but also somewhat finite. And the other alternatives suck, too -- solar and wind might be eco-friendly, but they sure ain't cheap. Think the recession in 2000 was bad? Wait until you see what doubling the cost of electricity would do.

    Bruce can make all the "pithy comments" he wants, but unless he has some terrific solution stashed up his sleeve they're ultimately not very helpful or insightful. So, unless you're looking to opt out of using electricity and other sources of power (I was camping this weekend -- it's fun, but it's no way to live), it's a necessary evil.

    • by Johnathon_Dough (719310) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:51PM (#9299150)
      Actually I like nuclear energy.

      The navy has been using it pretty much constantly for years, with no noticeable mishaps at least in the last 30 years(last one I could find was a release of contaminatd water in 1978).

      There is a town not too far from here that has an oil refinery that about every six months has an accident that causes alerts to be broadcast over all news sources. These alerts tell people to stay indoors, keep their wondows closed etc etc. Because of the toxic fumes in the air. This is safe?

      The bigger problem with nuclear power is getting rid of the waste products. If someone could figure out a good way to launch those into the sun cheaply nuclear power would probably be the best solution.

      As other sources dwindle, nuclear power is going to have to be looked at more and more, regardless of the people's inherent fear of it. We as a society are demanding more and more electricity as time passes.

      • by Aglassis (10161) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:10PM (#9299258)
        You said: "The bigger problem with nuclear power is getting rid of the waste products. If someone could figure out a good way to launch those into the sun cheaply nuclear power would probably be the best solution"

        The waste problem is completely political. If it wasn't for cold war/war on terrorism fears (no reprocessing of waste or use of breeder reactors) and irrational fears of storage (not in my backyard syndrome), waste could be safely reprocessed and the minimal high level waste could be safely stowed away.

        I hope you didn't underestimate the difficulty on getting anything to the sun. The Earth's orbital speed is about 30 km/s. Kinetic energy is one-half the mass times the velocity squared. In order to get to the sun you have to cancel out the 30 km/s orbital speed (where 0 km/s is the Sun's 'orbit') and that will require enourmous amounts of energy. Doesn't really make sense.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:49PM (#9299859)
          The waste problem is not completely political. Check out this story [npr.org] about how there are thousands of tons of nuclear waste sludge in South Carolina that simply can't be dredged out and taken to some storage site in Nevada or Washington state.

          What I think this is emblematic of: the people who run our nuclear plants are near-morons who don't think about the fact that eventually the plant will shut down and there'll be a lot of deadly stuff left over that there's no good way to dispose of. (And that's ignoring potential leaks or bigger problems when the plant is operating).

          While we're on the subject, check out this article [cbsnews.com] about fuel rods which some geniuses lost some time between 1978 and now (yes, it's pretty bad not to even know when you lost that sort of thing).

          A few of my favorite highlights:
          "would be fatal to anyone who came into contact with it"
          "In 2002 a Connecticut nuclear plant was fined $288,000 after a similar loss. That fuel was never accounted for."

          Advocates of nuclear power always say, "Well it'd be perfect if it was done right." Really though, we're pretty lucky the shortsighted and careless way in which the nuclear industry in this country operates hasn't resulted in more Three Mile Islands.
        • Re:What about IFRs? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by slickwillie (34689)
          Integral Fast Reactor [anl.gov]? It's supposed to be passively safe, and recycles it's own nuclear waste.
      • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:09PM (#9299607) Homepage Journal
        >The bigger problem with nuclear power is getting rid of the waste products.

        Why?

        How are they different from all the other highly poisonous things we dispose of?

        Arsenic and mercury never decay into something else. They remain toxic in most chemical combinations.

        As a society, we've chosen to allow coal-fired power plants to dispose of mercury in people's lungs. All proposed methods of nuclear waste containment are safer than that.

        600 years, by the way, is how long it would take the waste to be *less* radioactive than the ore it was mined from IF we recycled the usable fuel. Reprocessing has been a non-starter due to environmentalist opposition, expense, additional waste generation, and worries about having purified plutonium around.
        • 600 years, by the way, is how long it would take the waste to be *less* radioactive than the ore it was mined from IF we recycled the usable fuel.

          IIRC, that data point was from a paper by Pigford and Chen - and the timespan has been increased somewhat since the paper was published (a few thousnad years) - and please note that the course I took on fuel cycles was taught by Pigford.

          Your point is valid - by isolating nuclear waste on a timescale that falls within human experience (think "King Tut's" tomb la

    • by Stinking Pig (45860) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:52PM (#9299153) Homepage
      Yeah. Those "pithy comments" were practically all from the list of fallacies we covered back in Logic 101, lo these many years ago. Too bad Bruce didn't take time from his busy schedule to attend Logic 101, he might have been able to stir up so cogent counterclaims.

      I'm no fan of big nuclear reactors, but I am a huge fan of using fossil fuels for materials science instead of energy. It's a limited resource, and it looks to my untrained eye like we're much more able to replace it as an energy source than we are to replace it as a plastics source.
    • At this point... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ttfkam (37064) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:56PM (#9299174) Homepage Journal
      Nuclear is to power what democracy is to political systems. Yes, it sucks. But sucks less than the alternatives.
    • Of course nobody likes nuclear energy. Nuclear's some scary shit even if you don't mess it up, and messing it up is what humanity does.

      I love nuclear energy, and I think Sterling is full of shit. To be perfectly honest, I love my first-world, technologically sophisticated existence, and my research depends on having shitloads of electricity available. But I'm also from the Left Coast, and since we still have some natural resources left unpillaged I'd like them to stay that way. So I'm a pro-capitalism,
      • by cdrguru (88047) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:33PM (#9299399) Homepage
        I think Mr. Sterling's real "solution" is disclosed about 80% through the article:
        (((How about the relatively simple solution of seven or eight billion of us starving to death? Or how about a few massive heat-wave-boosted lethal epidemics? That ought to put a swift kibosh on energy demand.)))
        This is the only real solution according to much of the "Green" philosophy. I agree that it would solve most of the problems - having 1/8 of the population would put us back to where things were in the 1800s (or earlier) and effectively "solve" all of the pollution problems.

        Unfortunately, I do not see many of the "Greens" volunteering to be in the first wave of losses to begin this process. If this is truely the way to a sustainable level of development, I see it coming about only as a couple of Green-inspired governments starting the process. Let's see, if Canada and Norway got together and declared war on Germany, France (nukes! bad!) and the US, could they win? Could they start a world war that would decrease the population by the necessary amount? I doubt it, but it would be a start in what could be considered "the right direction".

        Are we interested in this as a solution?

      • point 1: criticism that does not provide a solution is still valid criticism.

        point 2: just because we didn't come up with another solution doesn't mean nuclear is the only way to go. we have time, and we should damn well use that time to come up with a better plan than nuclear.

        point 3: in order to have more time (like, say, 50 years) we can right now start to make everything more energy efficient. put LED lighting everywhere - it looks as good as light bulbs/halogen, yet uses only 10% the electricity. e
    • by Dachannien (617929) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:23PM (#9299685)
      Some other posters have already disagreed with you, so I'll do the same: I like nuclear energy.

      France derives almost 80% [doe.gov] of its electricity from nuclear power. The rest of its generation doesn't depend on the burning of coal, oil, or gas, so evidently their government feels that nuclear power is a suitable green solution.

      The U.S. [doe.gov] on the other hand generates about 20% of its electricity from nuclear plants and about 40% from coal-fired plants. The damage caused by sulfurous compounds released into the atmosphere from burning coal is well known, and most environmental activists are convinced that the process of burning coal contributes to greenhouse effect. On the other hand, the pollution generated by nuclear plants is entirely containable, and when contained, does not affect the environment at all. Great efforts have gone into ensuring that nuclear waste does not escape the containment and transportation vessels it is placed in, regardless of the situation. The extra generation provided by nuclear power will be necessary if we are ever to switch to fuel cell powered automobiles - building extra coal/gas/oil generation defeats the purpose of fuel cells.

      Also, nuclear plants don't take up the *enormous* amount of space that wind or solar generation would require (a factor conveniently ignored by anti-nuclear activists).

      • There is one waste product from nuclear plants that people seem to always overlook. They raise the ambient temperature of whatever area they are in. This is a small amount, and I'm not even sure that it's noticable anywhere, but it is there, and will affect the environment over time.
        • by William Tanksley (1752) on Monday May 31, 2004 @10:58PM (#9300473)
          Of course it will. This is a universal problem with ALL power generation and use. It can be reduced ONLY by increasing the efficiency.

          Again, this is universal. There's no energy production system that's immune to it. Further, the amount of the increase is related to the amount of power produced, NOT the type of energy source.

          -Billy
        • by Nurf (11774) *
          There is one waste product from nuclear plants that people seem to always overlook. They raise the ambient temperature of whatever area they are in. This is a small amount, and I'm not even sure that it's noticable anywhere, but it is there, and will affect the environment over time.

          This is a side effect of thermodynamics. We extract energy from the temperature gradient between the nuclear pile and the surrounding environment. The efficiency of this operation is dependent on the temperature difference.

          Bu
      • My ecology prof said "Enviromentalists are ruining our enviroment". In context: he was refering to how successful activism in the first world has lead to over exploitation of the third world. We can't cut down biologically un-important boreal rain forest because english majors from the local college chain themselves to trees so they cut down biologically critical forests int he tropics/amazon/rain forests. Pitty really.
  • well... (Score:3, Funny)

    by spangineer (764167) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:42PM (#9299082) Homepage
    It is the "green" power solution... until a plant goes crazy, and it becomes the "yellow [angelfire.com]" power solution.
  • by dfenstrate (202098) * <`moc.liamg' `ta' `etartsnefd'> on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:43PM (#9299094)
    I don't see how this qualifies as a news piece, even by slashdot standards.

    Somebody writes a piece in support of nuclear power. Some blogger fisks it, with as poor or lesser quality than the original article was written. No hard science, lots of hyperbole, and random conjectures.

    Juvenile activity all around.

    What the hell was timothy thinking?
    If he's trying to advance his political views- and I'm not so sure this is the proper forum for him to do so- this is the least subtle and least effective way to do so.
    • by penguinland (632330) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:02PM (#9299213)
      Hear, hear! James Lovelock took the time to research the topic, find his facts, look at the whole picture, and then write a very elegant piece on it. Bruce Sterling's rebuttal is little more than "You're using the word 'nuclear,' so it must be bad." Lovelock even adresses this in his piece:

      "Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources. We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation. Nearly one third of us will die of cancer anyway, mainly because we breathe air laden with that all pervasive carcinogen, oxygen."

      Sterling, without a shred of evidence, dismisses this all. Nuclear power really is very safe and controlled - the only reason Chernobyl happened at all was that some idiot had the bright idea to turn off the control system, and then turn off the back-up control system. Other than that and 3 Mile Island (which was a remarkably similar, easily avoidable situation), I do not know of any problems with nuclear power (feel free to give me more examples; I'd like to learn. Also, if I have any facts wrong, please correct me). Sterling seems to think that power plants and bombs are the same thing, despite the difference in grades of feul, elements used, etc. This just goes to show that people can be really illogical when the word "nuclear" is used.
      Here's a good example of that: When MRI scans were invented, they were called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans, because that's what they are: they look at the magnetic moments of the nucleii that you are made of. But since it had the word "nuclear" in the name, no one wanted to try it out. Since then, they dropped the "nuclear" bit and called it MRI (same process, just a different name). Suddenly, everyone realizes that this is a fantastic process, and deserves Nobel prises (IIRC, 2 different ones were handed out for different aspects of the process).
      The bottom line is, know the facts before you reject something. Nuclear power plants are not going to blow up the world 3 times over. The worst they could do is give you cancer, which happens far more often from smoking (or, as Lovelock points out, breathing). If Sterling actually sat down and learned about the issue, I'm pretty sure he'd change his tune. I'm disappointed that this counts as "news" :-P

      • by Aglassis (10161) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:42PM (#9299458)
        You said: "Nuclear power really is very safe and controlled - the only reason Chernobyl happened at all was that some idiot had the bright idea to turn off the control system, and then turn off the back-up control system. Other than that and 3 Mile Island (which was a remarkably similar, easily avoidable situation),"

        Chernobyl happened for the following reasons:
        1. The Soviet government wanted to perform a test on the reactor's turbines.
        2. The Soviet testers took control of the reactor (not directly--they just gave orders to the operators). The operators, whose job was reactor safety and who knew the reactor the best were no longer in charge or reactor safety. Now the test scientists who knew their test very well but not the reactor plant were in charge of the reactor.
        3. The safeguards on the reactor were *intentionally* shut down in order to operate the reactor *intentionally* in an unsafe way (at low power).
        4. The testers rushed the test because of schedule concerns.
        5. The reactor was operated for full power during the day contrary to the testing schedule. Additionally the test was performed late at night when most of the reactor plant managers and supervisors (who would normally watch the tests like a hawk) were gone.
        6. And the least significant factor, but the one that allowed the reactor to blow up: reactor design (power increases as water boils and a shutdown in the unsafe condition that the testers put it in would cause a brief power spike--coupled together it blew up the core).

        Three Mile island was significantly different. In brief, it was caused by improper maintenance, improper value lineups on reactor safety systems, material failures, an incredibly overcomplicated reactor control and indication system, operators not believing their indications, and improper operator training and operation.

        I'm not against nuclear power at all (I work as a reactor operator), but both of these accidents were mostly due to political reasons. In Chernobyl, the Soviet government did not have adequate respect for reactor safety and rushed a test. In TMI, the NRC (which IMHO had previously downplayed reactor incidents) did not regulate enough the maintenance and operation aspects of the reactor (and in particular the operator training). I think both of these problems have been fixed, but careful attention must be directed at all nuclear plants to not repeat these accidents.
        • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Monday May 31, 2004 @09:40PM (#9300120) Homepage Journal
          Parent is a really good article! Some amplifications follow.

          >Additionally the test was performed late at night when most of the reactor plant managers and supervisors (who would normally watch the tests like a hawk) were gone.

          Take a look at major accidents like Bhopal, Chernobyl and TMI. They seem to happen in the middle of the night. Coincidence?

          >5. The reactor was operated for full power during the day

          For anyone curious, this matters because some fission products absorb neutrons, especially one xenon isotope. Full-power operation means full-rate production of fresh fission products. A short while after you turn off a reactor from full power, it's hard to restart because other precursors decay into absorptive xenon and you have to wait for the xenon to decay. In normal operation, the chain reaction is producing enough neutrons to burn off the xenon as it forms.

          The Chernobyl operators didn't know about xenon poisoning, according to accounts I've read. They noticed the reactor was hard to start and kept pulling out the control rods. Eventually they had them all the way out. (Kinda like pouring more and more gasoline on your barbeque). Meanwhile the reactor was engaged in positive feedback: the more fission happened, the more xenon burned off and the more the reactivity increased.

          >brief power spike

          Up to an estimated 100 times the rated output, in about a second. It takes 30 seconds on that reactor type to do a scram (emergency insertion of control rods). The power spike seems to have been a "prompt criticality" event, driven by the immediate neutrons from fission. Normally reactors keep their chain reactions going only by delayed neutrons that sputter out of fission products seconds to hours after the fission. That's why power reactors are controllable. Prompt criticality is how bombs work.

          >the NRC (which IMHO had previously downplayed reactor incidents)

          They should have handled things more like the FAA and NTSB, with a culture of sharing safety-related information. If the operators at TMI had known about the Davis-Besse incident they might have recognized the situation and let the plant take care of itself.
          • If the operators at TMI had known about the Davis-Besse incident they might have recognized the situation and let the plant take care of itself.

            Which Davis-Besse incident are you referring to? The stuck valve [ohio.com] incident? The corrosion [antenna.nl] incident? Or the Slammer [securityfocus.com] incident? Is there a lemon law for nuclear reactors? How about for energy companies [cnn.com]?

            :w
      • Chernobyl vs TMI (Score:4, Informative)

        by lordcorusa (591938) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:43PM (#9299812)
        One *huge* difference between Chrenobyl and TMI that people often forget to mention is that Chernobyl released tonnes and tonnes of radioactive material directly into the atmosphere, whereas TMI did not. The background radiation levels of the atmosphere were noticably (with radiation counting instruments) higher even hundreds of miles away from the reactor.

        Contrast this with TMI. At the time, my high school Chemistry and Physics teacher lived less than 2 miles downwind of the plant, so naturally he was quite worried. He placed radiation detection badges around his neighborhood. (He was a civil defense neighborhood captain, or something. This was still during the Cold War ;-) After monitoring and replacing them for months, he recorded no significant change above natural background radiation. For all intents and purposes, there was no release of radiation.

        Technically speaking, there was some release of radiation. The reactor did not "blow" and there was no direct release of radiation. However, the fuel vessel did crack and release radioactive water into the reactor chamber, some of which evaporated into the atmosphere. However, as mentioned before, the amount of radiation was statistically insignificant.

        The reason that Chernobyl blew up and TMI did not is a matter of reactor design. Briefly, all nuclear reactors need something called a "mederator" to allow nuclear reactions to happen. They also need a coolant to prevent overheating and meltdown.

        The Soviet reactor used graphite (like in a pencil) for the moderator and water for the coolant. When the water circulation system malfunctioned, the reactor continued running full blast until it overheated and blew. America, on the other hand, uses a kind of reactor that used water for both moderator and coolant. Thus, when the water circulation system malfuctioned, the reactor overheated, but there was not enough water to allow it to keep running full blast, and hence it only cracked the vessel rather than blowing it up.

        Also, the Soviet reactor was housed in only a cheap warehouse building, whereas American reactors are stored in 7-12 meter thick reinforced concrete domes. Chances are good that such a dome would have held the blast of even a Chernobyl reactor.

        So there are definitely major differences between Chernobyl and TMI.
  • by Minna Kirai (624281) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:46PM (#9299115)
    Bruce Sterling's "response" adds no substance to the debate. His rejoiners come in two forms:
    • No, you're wrong.
    • No, you're wrong, and here's a joke.

    Bruce never even touches Lovlock's central thesis: that at current rates of usage and current estimation of reserves, oil will stop meeting our energy needs within just a few decades, and atomic fission is the only replacement we know can take it's place.

    If Sterling's comments are taken at face value, then he wants to see a return to 1700s-style labor-intensive agriculture.

    You'll seriously get a higher quality of discussion just re-reading last week's Slashdot, rather than looking for any insight in that blob^Hg.
  • by dokhebi (89124) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:49PM (#9299133)
    If he thinks switching to a 'green' power will end global warming, he is in for a big suprise. The Earth is just returning to its pre-mini ice age temperature.

    Before several volcanoes spewed greenhouse gasses into the air (several centuries before the industrial revolution), farmers in what is now New Foundland and England grew wine grapes. They will be able to again in another 50 to 100 years...

    Hey kiddies, it's life. The world get hot, the world gets cold. Live with it or die, because the Greens won't allow us to build the technology to leave.

    Just me $0.02 worth.
    • Some differences (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jfengel (409917) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:45PM (#9299825) Homepage Journal
      Mr. Sterling may well be a fool; I've never enjoyed his writing as much as many seem to. But there are a couple of differences to the present period of global warming:

      1. The last time the weather was this warm, we weren't dumping billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. True, natural events can dump even larger amounts of greenhouse gas into the air, but it doesn't necessarily mean we should be helping them along, especially in light of:

      2. The last time, we didn't have such a sophisticated world economy on which we depend. Life, of course, will adapt, including our own species. But in many ways our technological culture may prove less adaptable: hundreds of millions of people living on coastlines, trillions of dollars in immobile physical infrastructure designed for particular climates, and a concentration of agriculture that supports a far larger human population.

      In other words, I can't dismiss the present global warming trend as "live with it or die". I presume your goal was to oppose Sterlings article, and support nuclear power, which would (hopefully) end one source of global warming, so you and I appear to be on the same page there, if for different reasons (I'm much more interested in ending the flow of petrochemical dollars to totalitarian countries). But I do hope that we don't have to move New York three miles inland. That would be really expensive.
  • Pithy comments? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roystgnr (4015) <.roystgnr. .at. .ticam.utexas.edu.> on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:52PM (#9299155) Homepage
    You mean "misinformed wisecracks". The only reason to conflate nuclear power and nuclear weapons, as is done repeatedly here, is because you want to use the fallacy of equivocation to trick your audience into viewing even the safest reactor designs as weapons of mass destruction. You might as well blame gasoline users for the horrors of napalm.
  • What an Asshat (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HeghmoH (13204) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:53PM (#9299162) Homepage Journal
    I was under the impression that Bruce Stirling was a cool guy, although I never read any of his stuff, but he comes across as a total asshat in this article. Here is one teeny example:

    nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources. (((If you don't count the nuclear energy released over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that is.)))

    Yeah, those 300,00 dead in the nuclear attacks on Japan certainly look horrible compared to the millions of air pollution deaths. He continually treats nuclear power and nuclear weapons as one and the same, and generally comes off making no sense.

    I stopped reading halfway through, I couldn't stand it anymore, but he basically says, "What are you thinking? Nukes are bad. I don't care what evidence you have. I don't care what the alternatives are. Bad! Bad! Bad!" It's like a satire or caricature on the wacko ultra-environmental movement. Maybe that's what it really is. If not, then my only response is to say, what a jerk.
  • In other words... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Millennium (2451) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:54PM (#9299165) Homepage
    "Um, nukes are bad, mmmkay?"

    No, really, that's it. "There are risks, so we shouldn't do it". That sums up the entire argument. He equates all nuclear energy with nuclear weapons. I also find it rather amusing that he assumes that the only use for oil is in fuel; this is not true. It would take a lot more than "green energy" to allow us to "leave the oil and coal in the ground"; we would have to completely break our current dependence on polymers as we know them.

    There's plenty of propaganda on the other side, too, don't get me wrong. But I find it amusing to find people who consider nuclear energy "too dangerous" yet push for plenty of other equally-dangerous technologies. Let's have some rationality here, please.
  • by iwadasn (742362) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:55PM (#9299169)
    Ok, this is nice, but neither side gives any evidence. Since when does "no it isn't" count as a refutation?

    Everything that guy has to say is about nuclear weapons. Well, guess what. WE ALREADY HAVE NUCLEAR WEAPONS. There, accept it. Get over it. There is no danger of additional reactors turning the US, or China, or India, or Western Europe into nuclear armed powers. NONE, because they already are.

    It's easy to tear down someone else's proposal when you don't have on of your own and need rely on nothing but juvenile comebacks. Get some actual evidence. And you know what, even if you count the victims of Hiroshima and Nagisaki against nuclear power (but don't count the victims of conventional warfare against fossil fuels) and you throw in Cherenoble, and maybe round everything up by a few hundred thousand just to be sure, Nuclear killed far fewer people per kWh of energy. It is almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which it might be otherwise. Fossil fuels kill tens (hundreds, depending on how you count) of thousands of people each year.

    A nuclear disaster would have to kill tens of millions (at least) in order to even the score. Nobody can even conceive of how that could happen with civilian reactors built to even the most incompetent of standards, like Cherenobl. About the only real possibility is if WW-III breaks out and people start tossing around nuclear weapons (which they already have, and don't need civilian reactors for), and that is far MORE likely if we start fighting over oil.

    Just once I'd like to hear a well reasoned out anti-nuclear position. Include some numbers (you know, dollars and cents, lives lost, that sort of thing) and keep them accurate. Include an honest asessment of nuclear waste dangers (assuming various means of disposal) and honest asessments of nuclear proliferation. I have never seen any evidence that civilian nuclear power leads to proliferation, but it seems to be a given for the anti-nuke types. Japan and South Korea both have reactors, and neither has nuclear weapons.

    The only scenario the anti-nuke types ever argue against is such a complete straw man. They assume we dump all the nuclear waste into the nation's beer supply, give away spent fuel to everyone with a driver's license, and somehow (though nobody can really imagine exactly how this happens) have lots of melt downs in highly populated areas. Seriously. Assume an even marginally competent nuclear program (needn't be perfect) and then try a comparison with our fossil fuel system. See how that treats you.

    It's like comparing against an oil economy where it's assumed that 99% of the oil is dumped raw into the ocean, the rest is burned in the foulest, dirtiest machines imaginable, and that somehow access to oil allows every fool who can rub two sticks together to build a jet fighter with which to kill people. Be serious.

  • The Thing is though (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GrimSean (545405) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:56PM (#9299177) Homepage
    what the hell else are we supposed to do? Sterling is attacking Lovelock based solely on fear of Nuclear weapons - not energy, and a nuclear plant has about as much of a chance of blowing up as my chair does when properly designed. Chernobyl happened because the Soviets let regular Engineers perform a test on a reactor - not Nuclear Engineers who actually would have known what they were doing. Three Mile Island happened because of pure stupidity. A properly designed nuclear plant, with proper safeguards and well trained staff is a fairly safe place.

    I think Sterling's comments would have been decidedly better had they actually proposed something else, instead of attacking an idea that is a feasable solution to significantly lowering the emission of greenhouse gasses. I have to wonder if he would have been among the people objecting to wind power because it ruined the view [go.com], if he lived in Martha's Vineyard.

  • Sad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jmorris42 (1458) * <`jmorris' `at' `beau.org'> on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:56PM (#9299182)
    This piece is sad. The commentary is written by someone who obviously has a working mind and can write (see his published works) but is so blinded by an irrational phobia against anything connected to the N word he is blindly attacking it, and because apparently his mind shuts down in the presence of the N word he isn't even doing a very good job of rebutting the idea.

    This guy can't even tell the difference between fusion bombs and modern reactor designs that are pretty darned failsafe.

    If you are really concerned about global warming, dependence on foreign oil, etc, you have to at least have a rational discussion about fission power. Which is why the ultra greens are having none of that and attacking with such ferocity, to them it ia a matter of religion, not science. Gaia told them in a dream or something that "Thou Shalt not Fission the Atoms that I have given unto thee." That's religion for you though, Galieo wasn't the first to be persecuted by religious intolerance and apparently isn't anywhere near the last.
  • I don't care if this Bruce Sterling person is Albert Einstein, Gandhi or Jesus. Nobody in the entire world can critique anything like that and sound intelligent.

    Not only is he just sitting there with the debating sophistication of five-year-olds saying "I'm rubber and you're glue and what bounces off me sticks to you", he is confusing the issue of nuclear energy generation with nuclear weapons. Nuclear energy can be safe, if treated properly. Nobody will argue that nuclear weapons are anything but dangerous. "Painted with the same brush" is the phrase that pays, here.

    Having said that: he has the right to say what he wants. We have the right to laugh and point.

    HBH
  • by TheGavster (774657) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:01PM (#9299211) Homepage
    Most of the retorts that this guy is making seem to assume that we're using nucelar *weapons* as a power source, rather than a stable nuclear reactor. Particularly this line:
    As opposed to betting our lives on nukes; cuddly objects which have never threatened human survival before.
    I mean, human survival was (and is) threatened by the huge number of weapons produced during the Cold War, but modern nuclear plants have zero chance of damaging humanity, and an infintesimal chance of killing those in the immediate vicinity.
  • by RexRhino (769423) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:02PM (#9299216)
    Even though nuclear energy is relatively safe, environmentally friendly, and the only practical solution to global warming we have right now, getting people of Mr. Sterling's generation to accept it will be impossible.

    These people have grew up their whole lives with the word "nuclear" being associated with the word "Armageddon". Nuclear energy is permanently associated in their brain with "biblical disaster". They have been sold fear of nuclear annihilation from childhood (duck-and-cover propaganda), to adolescence (China Syndrome), to adulthood (The Day After), and are even now being sold fear about nuclear energy (Iraq weapons of mass destruction, anyone?). Baby Boomer response to nuclear energy is like a Catholic priest response to Satanism. They are never going to be psychological capable of viewing the situation rationally. Nuclear power has been their "Satan" figure for their entire lives, and they will never change.

    Once the Boomers start dying off, people will realize the benefits of nuclear power once again. Hopefully global warming won't mess things up too bad before that happens.
    • What a simplistic over-generalization. Are we to assume by corollary that the brave new generation are automatically pro-nuclear? I think not.

      What this post, and many like it, prefer to ignore are things like:

      • The political price-tag of energy. Witness Chernobyl and TMI. And if they lied to John Wayne, they'll lie to you. Plutonium goes missing more often than they'll tell you. Who has it? Noone knows. The first casualty of nuclear power is the truth.
      • Death-rates due to fossil fuel by-products are hidden
      • The political price-tag of energy. Witness Chernobyl and TMI.

        Huh? Chernobyl was caused by idiots deactivating safety systems on a reactor that should have been decommissioned decades earlier. TMI was a partial meltdown, but it was fully contained.

        And if they lied to John Wayne, they'll lie to you.

        WTF is that supposed to mean?

        Plutonium goes missing more often than they'll tell you.

        If they don't tell us, how do YOU know about it? Lack of evidence is the surest sign that the conspiracy is WORKING, ri

  • by malia8888 (646496) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:04PM (#9299227)
    The North Pole, goal of so many explorers, will then be no more than a point on the ocean surface.

    Dang, hope Santa has a contingency plan.

  • by Null_Packet (15946) <nullpacket AT doscher DOT net> on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:12PM (#9299275)
    Bruce Sterling has written some decent material in the past, but I have to say the link to his Blog demonstrates a complete lack of an ability to carry on a conversation. Reading it makes it sound like Lovelock's argument is constantly trailed by smartass remarks and links, with never a solid argument to be found by Sterling.

    For God's sake, this is Sterling's blog? I would expect a paragraph AT LEAST at the end to mark Bruce's idea or assertion, but instead his page/article left me more confused and with the impression Sterling just hates Lovelock instead of having a good counter-point.
  • "So what" all around (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:17PM (#9299310) Homepage Journal
    Electricity generation is only a fraction of fossil fuel use. Industrial process heat, living space heating, and vehicles will produce almost as much greenhouse gas as we do today even if, like France, we go almost-all-nuclear for the power grid.

    We could go to electric vehicles but not with today's generation of batteries. The battery pack in my Prius weighs about a hundred pounds and stores only as much energy as a few ounces of gasoline.

    Things get interesting if we could build small reactors economically and operate them safely with off-the-shelf personnel. Then you could have nuclear cogeneration systems where a factory has its own reactor to generate electricity and generate heat for factory processes. Pebble-bed reactors promise to fill this role, if they work as expected.
  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:18PM (#9299316)
    ...it can also be used in a devastating weapon.
    Gasoline (oil) is therefore also bad, due to the existance of napalm.
    Electricity must be horrendous, because of the electric chair.
    Coal is bad because gunpowder exists.

    Jesus, Bruce...any energy source can be compacted and used as a weapon.
  • Riiight... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rkkwon (784423) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:20PM (#9299325)
    "You know, I sense the makings of a really good, sensible deal here. Shut off the carbon. Destroy the coal companies and oil companies. Use nukes for fifty years while developing sustainable energy. Then shut off the nukes. Become fully sustainable. Legislate that all, worldwide, with global diplomacy."

    Bwahahahahahahahahahaaaa....

    Anyway.

    I think addressing why this guys vision for the future is totally freaking insane is an exercise in futility, akin to debunking the moon landing hoax or creationist websites. It's just not worth the effort, because no matter how well reasoned or cited (to be honest, the article he was ripping was neither) you're dealing with a true believer.

    But regardless, the fact he fails to even suggest a realistic alternative is telling. And while risks of global warming and nuclear power are real, most people seem to be happy enough with the current system i.e. we use fossil fuels until it becomes more efficient to use something else. As the price of gas rises, we increase our usage of alternative energy sources. Until then _very few people actually give a damn_, at least in the sense of "I'll give up my SUV", much less "I'm willing to give up the internal combustion engine."

    No doubt global warming may cause us problems in the future, at which point we will have to deal with them. I don't think it's clear that a massive investment of time and money to completely overhaul our energy policies (and therefore, our economic and social policies) is really any better than dealing with the problem 50 years from now. Who know what will happen between now and then?

    I could be convinced, but present some evidence at least. Even a shred or two would be nice after that boatload ill written and scientifically inept crap.
  • by Bob Loblaw (545027) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:24PM (#9299348)
    ... or just classic misdirection of a discussion to argue the absurd. Both sides of the nuclear debate use this technique.

    Q:"Is nuclear power useful?"
    A:"No, you idiot, nukes are bad!"

    Q:"Is waste from nuclear power managable?"
    A:"Would you hippies rather be breathing coal dust?"

    Never answer the question ... just answer the question that you wished was asked that makes the other side look stupid ... oh and make sure your answer is derogatory.

    How about some discussion regarding breeder vs. non-breeder reactors. Or half-life of waste. Or decommissioning of reactors. Or standardized independent safety inspection and rules ... nope ... everyone would rather spew the same old rhetoric that has been regurgitated for nearly 60 years. Surely we have learned something in all that time to add to the debate?
  • Well (Score:3, Informative)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:27PM (#9299364)
    A couple of statements :

    There are credible statistical studies that show less than 50 people total died from the Chernobyl accident. There were approximately 600 additional cases of thyroid cancer (3 deaths) and little elevation in other forms of cancer, and 38 people who died from direct exposure as well as several hundred who survived acute radiation poisoning.

    While not cheap, it is a relatively paltry human cost, comparable to a major accident with conventional forms of power and industry.

    Bruce Sterling has little of value to add to this debate. He equates nuclear energy plants using different elements and isotopes to nuclear warheads. Conversion is possible, it is true...but Lovelock is not proposing building nuclear plants in countries that do not already have the warheads. The biggest energy user in the world, the united states, already has so many warheads and so much plutonium it has no need to make more using any power reactors built, and China has a considerable amount as well.

    With all this said, solar may ultimately be a better idea. The relatively limited research into creating more efficient solar panels has yield extremely promising results. A panel that is perhaps 50% efficient and wafer thin, mass produced and used to cover vast tracts of unused land might ultimately be cheaper than burning coal.

    It seems clear that were the 200 billion already burned in Iraq used to develop this technology further and built the vast plants to make solar panels of this quality on a large scale one would get better results.
  • by crmartin (98227) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:37PM (#9299428)
    Still a moron.
  • by Malor (3658) * on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:39PM (#9299436) Journal
    Pretty much his whole commentary, the strong point of his whole argument, is two words: "with NUKES!" This is religion, not science. Nukes are bad, unquestionably bad, so bad that they trump all other arguments. They are, after all, NUKES!

    (pause for reader to quake in fear)

    Nuclear power is, like any other energy source, a tool. Like all tools, it can be misused. You can make amazingly destructive bombs with nuclear power, so powerful, in fact, that they've never been used since the first two. But you can also make very, very effective explosives with oil... a fuel-air bomb is vastly destructive. And those, as far as I know, HAVE BEEN used. So which is really worse?

    Mr. Sterling, whether he intends to or not, is playing on the confusion between nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Think how silly his argument would look with a different energy source.... "with FIRE!"

    Humans don't survive radiation very well, we are quite susceptible to it. That does not, however, imply that all of Nature is. In fact, it appears that very few species suffer from radiation as much as we do. The Earth has not always been as cozy and comfortable as it is now, and humans are a relatively recent evolutionary offshoot. We die from even small amounts of the stuff, but most species don't.

    (we argued back and forth about why this is, in another thread... no conclusions drawn. Regardless, Bikini Atoll, the site of 20+ bomb tests, including the first hydrogen bomb, is a lush tropical paradise. It's not safe for people to live there, but Nature is doing JUST FINE.)

    Since humans are the ones getting the primary benefit from nuclear power, it is just that we're the ones who suffer if we blow it. From an environmental standpoint, nuclear power is nearly perfect. If we screw up completely and have some horrid catastrophe that renders the Earth too radioactive for human habitation, it'll be the best possible outcome for most other species, since their most aggressive competitor would be wiped out.

    Now, I did think his comment about how we'll just add nuclear power and keep using oil to be pretty accurate... we'd need a concerted effort to switch power sources, not just supplement them. And of course we'd have to take care of the waste, but that's far from an insurmountable problem. However much it costs, it'll probably take only one prevented major hurricane on the East Coast to pay for it. (which, of course, we wouldn't see directly... but if the weather stopped getting worse, it'd MORE than pay for itself.)

    I do think we'd end up with 'nuclear slums', low-rent districts around most plants. Poor people would be the ones to suffer first, but that's ALWAYS true of EVERY technology. And in this case, it would at least be a deliberate choice.

    I am cheerfully willing to trade nuclear slums for cleaner air, cleaner water, and more natural weather patterns. I'd probably even live in one.... since I'm such a strong proponent, I really oughta be putting myself in the line of fire, so to speak.
  • by 2901 (676028) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:40PM (#9299448) Homepage Journal
    As opposed to the small leakages of nuclear power, which are a kind of health tonic

    This wise-crack got me confused. People sometimes say that there is no safe level of radio-activity, not realising that this is a methodological assumption, rather than an empirical fact. When scientists have tried to investigate this, using the natural variation in background radiation and existing epidemilogical data, they have found that radiation is a health tonic!

    Some scientists have speculated that this might even be a real effect, not a statistical artifact. Their idea is that damage from free radicals is a much bigger deal than damage by background radition. Cells have repair mechanisms that get turned on in response to increased metabolism and the consequent rise in free radicals. Lags in the regulation of repair are responsible for much of the damage caused by free radicals, and if radiation upregulated the repair mechanism that could more than compensate for the actual damage done by the radiation.

    My guess, from having done research on speech recognition, is that most scientists just don't get how hard it is to do statistics right, and the "tonic" effect of radiation will turn out to be an artifact, probably due to incorrect compensation for regional variations in cigarette smoking.

    Meanwhile Bruce Sterling's attempt at sarcasm is a bit of a disaster, revealing that the controversy over the dangers (or otherwise) of low levels of radiation has passed him by.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:57PM (#9299542)
    Stop and think for a moment. What are the problems with nuclear power?
    1. Nuclear waste.
    2. Plutonium falling into the wrong hands => nuclear weapons on a large scale.
    3. Radioactive leaks during operation.
    4. Containing the radioactive waste from the mining operations.
    Radioactive leaks? Not a problem. The only two leaks of any significance were Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Both of those came down to poor plant design combined with operator error (Chernobyl in particular). That leaves waste and plutonium.

    Waste falls into two categories: "low level" and "high level". Low level waste is your clothing, reactor parts, etc. Store them for fifty or so years, and they're no longer a significant problem. High level waste, on the other hand, is the nasty stuff, and it's what causes all the problems.

    HLW includes things like plutonium and other trans-uranic elements (elements heavier than uranium), as well as fission by-products. Those fission by-products are mostly short lived; the long lived products are strontium-90 and caesium-137 for the most part. So the waste problem basically reduces to dealing with the heavy, trans-uranic elements; dealing with the uranium that hasn't fissioned; and dealing with the strontium and caesium. Everything else decays away quickly enough that storage for a year (at most) is adequate.

    Trans-uranics and uranium can be dealt with by reprocessing and turning them into additional fuel for the reactor. The problem then becomes keeping this material out of the hands of those that wish to make nuclear weapons. No, I don't have an answer for that problem; I wish I did. The strontium and caesium... again, I don't know. Solve those two problems, and nuclear power is definitely a viable option. They're big ones, though...

  • Decide for yourself (Score:4, Interesting)

    by moosesocks (264553) on Monday May 31, 2004 @10:05PM (#9300218) Homepage
    Take a look at wikipedia's List of Nuclear Accidents [wikipedia.org] and decide for yourself weather or not we should be using nuclear power.

    The list is either alarmingly long or extremely short depending upon how you look at it.

    Some of the accidents are incredibly trivial. Others are pretty darn frightening. It's all a matter of a chain reaction (no pun intended) of bad events happening in succession. Take this one for example:

    "September 19, 1980 - An Air Force repairman doing routine maintenance in a Titan II ICBM silo in Arkansas drops a wrench socket which rolls off a work platform and falls to the bottom of the silo. The socket strikes the missile, causing a leak from a pressurized fuel tank. The missile complex and surrounding area is evacuated and eight and a half hours later, vapors within the silo ignite and explode with enough force to blow off the two 740-ton silo doors and hurl the nine megaton warhead 600 feet (180 m). The explosion fatally injures an Air Force specialist and twenty-one other USAF personnel are injured."
    • by irix (22687) on Monday May 31, 2004 @10:32PM (#9300329) Journal

      ...doing routine maintenance in a Titan II ICBM silo...

      Bruce, is that you? Seriously, what does this have to do with nuclear power generation ... absolutely nothing. Most of these accidents relate to military and medical use of nuclear radation, which have nothing in common with nuclear power, besides that scary "n" word.

    • by rebelcool (247749)
      Similarly, should we be using natural gas or gasoline?

      I bet the list of horrific accidents involving those two items (natural gas of course, generates much of the US' electricity) is quite a bit longer than nuclear fission's accident list.

      And considering that a new nuclear power plant hasnt been built in the US in *20 years*, reactor designs have advanced considerably in the time.
    • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:34PM (#9300636) Journal
      That's a perfect example:
      "September 19, 1980 - An Air Force repairman doing routine maintenance in a Titan II ICBM silo in Arkansas drops a wrench socket which rolls off a work platform and falls to the bottom of the silo. The socket strikes the missile, causing a leak from a pressurized fuel tank. The missile complex and surrounding area is evacuated and eight and a half hours later, vapors within the silo ignite and explode with enough force to blow off the two 740-ton silo doors and hurl the nine megaton warhead 600 feet (180 m). The explosion fatally injures an Air Force specialist and twenty-one other USAF personnel are injured."


      It's a good example, actually.
      The explosion and subsequent death/injuries are because of the CHEMICAL explosion and, despite the massive blast, there was never any danger of the warheads either going off or being dispersed in dirty-bomb style.

      I'd say that's a testament to the safety of the darn things.
  • by Jakob Eriksson (40438) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:24PM (#9300598) Homepage
    *Look, fella, I get to wisecrack about nuclear power
    to my own email list if I feel like it. I didn't post that thing on Slashdot,
    and not everything that flies off my keyboard into cyberspace
    is gonna be solemn, Asperger-style argumentation intended
    intended to convince a bunch of Linux freaks.

    * If you can't take a joke, take a hike! And if you can
    take a joke, then read the friggin' list and get a clue
    as to what's been going on there for the past six years,
    before you send email to novelists and get
    all teary-eyed about your disillusionment.

    http://www.viridiandesign.org

    bruces

    On May 31, 2004, at 9:35 PM, Jakob Eriksson wrote:

    Hi Bruce,

    I stumbled upon your comments on Lovelock's nuclear power article today. I'd previously read your book "Distraction", and enjoyed it. In particular, I liked your portrayal of the nomads and the political power struggles.

    Because I enjoyed your writing, and thus respected you as an author. I was hoping to read a creative and possibly convincing argument against the use of nuclear power. Instead, to my dismay, I was confronted with a series of immature comments, often with very little basis in fact, far from either creative or convincing.

    Due to my respect for you as an SF author, I was prepared to take your advice to heart, and to give up the hope of nuclear power, had you shown good arguments for your case. Instead, I'm afraid you've spent all your whuffie (see Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out") on this childish flamebait. Given the comments on /., it would seem I am not alone in feeling this.

    You just lost a faithful reader.
    • *Look, fella, I get to wisecrack about nuclear power to my own email list if I feel like it. I didn't post that thing on Slashdot, and not everything that flies off my keyboard into cyberspace is gonna be solemn, Asperger-style argumentation intended intended to convince a bunch of Linux freaks.

      What a dork. If he wishes to reserve the right to look like a fool, so be it.

      * If you can't take a joke, take a hike! And if you can take a joke, then read the friggin' list and get a clue as to what's been going

    • Great response from Bruce, but I'm not sure why you bothered posting it. Bruce is right, his piece wasn't intended to be a "creative and possibly convincing argument against the use of nuclear power." He certainly never advertised it as such. Take it for what it is, some light-hearted jabs at the current embracing of nuclear power as the deus ex machina for all of our energy problems. Did you expect Shrek 2 to be "a creative and possibly convincing argument against using Happily Ever After potions"? Ta
  • by samj (115984) * <samj@samj.net> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:33AM (#9300844) Homepage
    I am somewhat bemused that despite sitting on something like 28% of the world's uranium [uic.com.au], us Aussies don't have a reactor of our own (with the exception of the Lucas Heights HIFAR reactor opened in 1958). We even bitch about mining the stuff, the proceeds of which could be used to deal with real threats to the surrounding environment, like cane toads. We make over 10% of the world's supply of computer grade doped silicon, yet we bitch about upgrading the reactor facility too. Hopefully with some debate people will start pulling their heads out of their asses and making it happen before we end up with some serious problems [world-nuclear.org] on our hands. Before long chernobyl et al will end up being the most catastrophic events we've ever experienced - not because of the local effects but because of the resulting widespread misconception about nuclear power. Yes, where there are more plants nuclear fuel necessarily is more available so there is a greater need for security. However those linking the increased use of nuclear energy with foolish nuclear enabled governments and terrorists ought to spend more time worrying about who [cdi.org]'s got the weapons, why, who pays [brook.edu] and what they are (or aren't [slashdot.org]) doing to protect them.

"Mach was the greatest intellectual fraud in the last ten years." "What about X?" "I said `intellectual'." ;login, 9/1990

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