Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science Technology

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.)
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Bruce Sterling On Lovelock's Pro-Nuclear Stance

Comments Filter:
  • by ClausCCC (733333) on Monday May 31, 2004 @05:46PM (#9299114)
    What is so inherently stupid about fission is that you need lots of fuel at one place in order to sustain the criticality of the reactor. A fission reactor is critical (the normal state of operation) when the number of produced neutrons is equal to the number of lost neutrons. Since neutrons are lost through the surface and produced inside the core you want the ratio of volume to surface to be large. That means a huge reactor core. In contrast to the fission reactor which stores the energy for millions of households for a couple of years there is only a few grams of Hydrogen-isotopes in a fusion reactor. Even in a run-away scenario the fuel is used up very quickly and nothing spectacular happens.
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:12PM (#9299272)
    Because when you factor in the waste storage and decomissioning costs, the nuclear option looks damned near stupid. BNFL for instance is desperate to offload it's decomissioning costs to the government and hence the taxpayer, it's the only way it could be remotely profitable.

    e.g.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2091561.stm

    Solar and wind power in comparison are being rolled out by already privatised power companies, they can make a profit running onshore and offshore wind farms.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:19PM (#9299319)
    What you are thinking about is Cherkenov radiation. This is due to particles travelling through a substance faster than the speed of light in that substance (and leaving a bow shock of atoms excited and now emitting gammas). Typically its blue, not green though.
  • by Doppler00 (534739) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:19PM (#9299322) Homepage Journal
    I think you have your terms confused. Nuclear reactors are sub-critical, meaning that the fusion reaction is not exponential like it would be in a nuclear weapon where you want all the energy released at one time.

    Also, the way fusion reactors are designed, I assume that a critical reaction would be almost impossible given the grade of material used.
  • Re:Are you kidding? (Score:2, Informative)

    by iminplaya (723125) <iminplaya.gmail@com> on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:23PM (#9299344) Journal
    That's capitalism for you.

    Looks a little [google.com] like [daviesand.com] socialism [greenpeace.org] to me...Maybe I'm not sure what capitaism is, but from what I was taught in school, this doesn't look like it.
  • Viridian RSS (Score:2, Informative)

    by Torgo X (784442) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:25PM (#9299353) Homepage
    I hereby festoon you all the Viridian RSS feed [interglacial.com]. Much handier than getting the Viridian list in email.
  • Well (Score:3, Informative)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:27PM (#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.
  • Re:No.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by RayBender (525745) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:35PM (#9299417) Homepage
    I believe what Mr. Lovelock is saying is that in the next 50 years or so we're going to deplete our supply of fossil fuels to the point where they can't cover our power demands, and that nuclear fission is the only current method we have of replacing the huge gap that's going to be left.

    I'm not sure if he's saying that or not, but it's not quite true. The fact of the matter is that while supplies of cheap oil are indeed limited and will likely run out in something like 50 years, there is ample coal available to sustain us for at least 1000 years. Now, the consequences of burning all that coal will be staggering. Think multiplying current CO2 levels by factors of 5; no reasonable scientist would argue that such extreme levels won't lead to serious warming and climate change. At that point you're talking shutdown of the Gulf Stream, 20 to 50-meter sea level change and the release of methane clathrates, among other things. Real fun stuff.

    Mr. Lovelock is correct in that nuclear power will be needed in the near future if we are to avoid damaging our climate system. However, it won't be required because we run out of fossil fuel (coal). The Saudis on the other hand are screwed - or at least their children are. Not that I'm all that sympatheitc to their plight, mind you. I'm sure they'll survive off of investments...

  • by Aglassis (10161) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:42PM (#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 ttfkam (37064) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:49PM (#9299492) Homepage Journal
    There is a bigger issue with solar and wind than simply cost: total power output. Demand for electricity is not going to drop dramatically and in all likelihood will continue to increase.

    Now what about wind... Allow me to direct you to The Earth Policy Institute, an organization with a decidedly alternative/renewable energy bias. (Not a bad thing, just making it clear that it has no reason to artificially lower their numbers to make wind look bad.) Their examination of wind power [earth-policy.org] is quite optimistic. Pay special attention to their expectations: gathering hydrogen for fuel in cars, halting coal usage, etc. Now let's look at the data [earth-policy.org] they used for that. They cite a total U.S. potential (not current, but potential) of 1,221,191 megawatts. With that comes, I assume, the expectation that every possible free tract of land had a windmill farm stuck on it.

    ~1kW per square meter is what you have to work with in solar energy. When you have 8-12% efficient solar panels, that means you can get up to 80-120W per square meter...for six hours per day in the desert without trackers...on a cloudless day... In areas with more cloud cover, shorter days in winter, etc. the numbers drop off dramatically. Then we calculate that consumer solar cells degrade by 2-5% every year of use and have a life span of ~30 years. Then keep in mind that you have to keep all of those cells clean -- more energy used for something besides keeping the lights on. Don't forget that you have to actually manufacture those solar cells which of course means clean rooms (the real reason behind the costs) and the aquisition and refinement of requisite building materials. And to top it all off, when you cover large tracts of land with solar cells, that land gets less sunlight. So yeah, we can all put solar panels on our homes, get by on what we get, and then deal with the health problems after a year with more than average rainfall causes refridgerators to cease functioning and food to rot.

    Repeat after me: large-scale power cannot be a "good enough" proposition where a 5% shortfall is acceptable.

    So I want to get a pencil and paper and work out the total amount of land area needed to sustain 3,848,000,000,000 kilowatt-hours [doe.gov] (Yes! That's 3.848 trillion!) of electricity -- of which 53% of that currently comes from coal. Now if you come up with a calculation that if you completely covered the sunny state of Arizona with solar cells, it would still not be enough to replace just coal, you're on the right track. To top it all off, it costs about $30,000 on average to fit solar panels sufficient to power a typical house. How much would it cost to cover Arizona will solar cells?

    Repeat after me: It doesn't matter how much you are willing to pay. Solar and wind alone cannot do the job.

    Solar and wind are excellent candidates for supplementary energy sources. They are great for providing primary electricity to many residences (provided that folks can afford the $30K price tag). However, most folks will still need the grid as a backup and supplement. Hell, I'd be bullish on solar if for no other reason than the effective elimination of large-scale blackouts. But it still remains a supplementary energy source. There is far more to electricity demand than making sure the microwaves and personal computers have power.

    So what can produce that much power? Coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear. In the US, we have hundreds of years' worth of coal. Oil and natural gas reserves are far more finite and are needed for materials (plastics, vehicles, etc.). And that leaves us with nuclear. Existing models will blow through our uranium reserves in less than a century. However, models that aren't just a one-pass design can not only use existing nuclear waste, but also nuclear weapons material. AND they extend the pote
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:59PM (#9299549)
    A simple search on google (of course) give us a huge amount of assertions that we are just coming out of a mini ice age. I don't have the expertise to judge the veracity of any the claims but I know how operate a search engine.

    This link claims to have the scientific providence: Testimony of Thomas Gale Moore based upon "Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn't Worry about Global Warming"

    http://www.stanford.edu/~moore/HouseTestimony.ht ml

    We have a good bit of evidence on the effects of a warmer-wetter world. As the attached charts show, the globe's climate has fluctuated greatly over time; but over the last 100 million years, it has gradually cooled (see chart 1). The last intergalcial period, about 125 thousand years ago, was considerably warmer than today (see chart 3). Since the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, the earth has enjoyed two periods that were warmer than the present (see chart 4).


    The Climatic Optimum

    About 4,000 to 9,000 years ago, as chart 4 shows, the world enjoyed what historians of climate have dubbed "The Climatic Optimum." According to their best estimates, the earth was about 4 degrees warmer than currently, a little higher than the average of the various predictions for global warming by the end of the next century. Tree lines reached farther north and farther up mountains. Rain fell regularly in the Sahara desert. Plants and animals thrived and so did people. During this period many cultures shifted from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age.


    prove the above incorrect if you can but it won't change the fact that fossil fuels are still killing us and nuclear is inherently dangerous.

  • by mc6809e (214243) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:03PM (#9299565)
    Actually, the grocery store is a good place to start. Did you know the largest single cost of a big grocery store is the electricity bill ? It can easicly exceed $100,000 a month, more than labor.

    Hmm. I don't think this is true. Go to bizstats [bizstats.com] and check out the costs of running a grocery store. Utilities consume just 2% of revenue. Most of the money a grocery spends is on obtaining the products to sell, about 75%.

    It may be true that much of that 75% goes to pay for producers' energy to make those goods sold, though. Farming takes a lot of energy and so does making producing AL from bauxite like you mentioned. So I suppose you're correct in spirit.

  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:09PM (#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.
  • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:21PM (#9299677)
    This is completely untrue. Fusion has similar constraints to fission. Fusion requires an enoumous ammount of compression in order to increase the chances of neucli interaction. Fission is easily induced simply by sticking enough U235 or plutonium together. Of course, you could achieve fission with just a few grams of plutonium if you compressed it enough, the difference is that you don't have to. In order to achieve fusion just by sticking enough hydrogen together, you'd need a mass similar to the mass of the sun in order to achieve enough compression. That's a pretty big reactor core! So no, the main advantage of fusion is the abundance of fuel. Fusion even produces radioactive waste (though it is short lived).

    In the end it makes no sense to pomote a far-off technology that has never been successfully implemented over an existing and proven technology that could be implemented now. Sure, fusion research should continue, but to do so to the exclusion of all other nuclear research is foolish at best.
  • by Dachannien (617929) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:23PM (#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).

  • Re:No.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by tonyr60 (32153) * on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:31PM (#9299734)
    "The real problems with nuclear energy, however, are that we can't get rid of the waste and the consequences of even minor mistakes are catastrophic."

    Agreed, much the same as other sources of thermal energy such as coal, oil etc. However to date the evidence suggests that deaths, injury and illness associated with the use of other thermal sources is greater per kwh generated than for nuclear energy.

    Even production of hydro enegy has caused more deaths, due to dam creation and failure, flooding etc. than nuclear.
  • Chernobyl vs TMI (Score:4, Informative)

    by lordcorusa (591938) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:43PM (#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 Dyolf Knip (165446) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:19PM (#9300022) Homepage
    Orbital dynamics is fun stuff. Think of it this way. You reach earth orbit with your cargo, point your rocket at the sun, and fire away. Now you have imparted some sun-ward motion onto your ship. _But_, you have not cancelled any of the lateral motion you had to begin with. So now you are still in orbit, just a slightly funkier one. The only way to take your simple approach is if your starting point is one with little or no relative motion to the sun, which would make this a moot point since the sun would start pulling you in regardless. As the parent said, to correctly plunge yourself into the sun, you have to remove your movement relative to it. This causes your orbit to degrade and you fall into the gravity well and stabilize at a new orbit dictated by your final speed. You officially dead when this orbit lies inside the photosphere.

    (By Larry Niven. Written assuming the direction of your orbit is west to east)
    East takes you Out (gives you a larger orbit)
    Out takes you West (ellipsizes your orbit)
    West takes you In (gives you a smaller orbit)
    In takes you East (ellipsizes your orbit at 90 degrees to the other)

    When NASA sends a probe out, they don't actually 'send' it anywhere (Engage!). They just screw around with its orbit at the right time and the right way so that they get one that takes the probe where they want it to go. This often means applying thrust in what seems like the wrong direction.

  • by random_static (604731) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:34PM (#9300087) Journal
    the way it works is this: your rocket, before you fire it up, is going around the sun already. (can't help this, you've gotta start from earth, and it's going around the sun, so...) it's going around at a given speed, same speed as the earth's going - about 30KM/sec.

    that speed can't just disappear. you can point at the sun and fire, but when you fire, you'd still be going sideways at those 30 klicks per sec. after you fired, you'd also be going forward at some other speed - whatever your engine gave you - but the sideways speed'd still be there.

    your forward speed would be getting you closer to the sun, at least at first, but unless it was absolutely insanely huge a forward speed, it wouldn't be enough - the sideways speed would still make you miss the sun. you'd still be orbiting it, just more elliptically than before you lit your candle.

    the way to break orbit is to eliminate that original, orbital velocity you started out with. just "point at the sun and shoot" isn't the best way of doing this. you want to point sideways to the sun, in the opposite direction from where you're already heading, and shoot.

  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:40PM (#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.
  • Re:No.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yoda&etoyoc,com> on Monday May 31, 2004 @09:05PM (#9300216) Homepage Journal
    Yes, coal shoot out more radiation than nuclear power. In terms of what your average Joe is exposed to. Another way to double your radiation exposure is to drink a few extra cases of beer a year. People, the radiation amounts we are talking about are negligable.

    And for the record, not all of us yanks have forgotten about fuel efficiency. I snicker every time I pull up to the gas station in my lil' Ford Focus. Made in America. Well, the drive train was made in Mexico, and the rest of the major components in Canada, but I think they still paint it here...

  • by Methuseus (468642) <methuseus@yahoo.com> on Monday May 31, 2004 @09:27PM (#9300312)
    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 irix (22687) on Monday May 31, 2004 @09:32PM (#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.

  • Davis-Besse incident (Score:3, Informative)

    by More Trouble (211162) on Monday May 31, 2004 @09:42PM (#9300366)
    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
  • Re:No.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by MushMouth (5650) on Monday May 31, 2004 @09:46PM (#9300397) Homepage
    That is not the case any more, there are reactors in production in south africa that can't melt down, even if they don't have any coolant. I think they are called pebble bed reactors.
  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Monday May 31, 2004 @09:47PM (#9300402)
    "Come back after you've passed 7th (?) grade."

    I've been awake for 40+ hours and haven't touched on A/V since first semester calculus.

    At any rate, k/x is still a hyperbola with the x axis as an asymptope and quickly reaches a point where even an obnoxiously large increase in x still only nets a negligible decrease in k/x. It's a losing man's game beyond once x > k and you're better off manipulating k (i. e. play with the shape, which is what I said before).

    "You can make it as save as possible but judging from human history Chernobyl won't remain the only catastrophe and if something goes really wrong in a fission reactor it goes *really* wrong."

    The problem at Chernobyl had almost nothing to do with nuclear energy and had everything to do with the lethally Byzantine bureocracy of the Soviet Union, to which I really don't think there's any possibility of a modern equivalent. It was a reactor design that wouldn't have even gotten on the drawing board, let alone built, except in a system where Party membership counted more than technical skill and a job-producing construction project was more important than what was being built. Chernobyl was a poorly-designed, poorly-built reactor core powering a poorly-designed, pooly-built steam plant that simply wasn't designed to handle the steam pressures possible in a crisis situation (and I'm not talking "not designed safe enough," I'm talking "never bothered to consider safety"). I wouldn't want to live near an LNG-burning steam plant built and operated by these guys, nevermind a fission-based steam plant.

    "The problem with fission reactors is that you have much extremly dangerous material around and hope that nothing goes wrong."

    You mean like liquified natural gas, liquified propane and coal? Uranium does't get hauled around the country by the ton and doesn't flatten small towns when exposed to a stray spark.

    Iran and North Korea both have some sort of commercial nuclear capability, and may or may not even be working on weapons. Coincidentally, both countries have also surfferend horrendous railroad explosions in the past few months, each of which have killed hundreds (perhaps thousands in the case of DPRK). Guess what was on the trains. Hint: it wans't radioactive.

    But what about the great grand-mother of nuclear accidents? Sure, the people who wrote it have an agenda, but these facts [uic.com.au] are still pretty damned interesting:

    The accident destroyed the Chernobyl-4 reactor and killed 30 people, including 28 from radiation exposure. A further 209 on site were treated for acute radiation poisoning and among these, 134 cases were confirmed (all of whom recovered). Nobody off-site suffered from acute radiation effects. However, large areas of Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and beyond were contaminated in varying degrees.

    ...

    Several organisations have reported on the impacts of the Chernobyl accident, but all have had problems assessing the significance of their observations because of the lack of reliable public health information before 1986. In 1989 the World Health Organisation (WHO) first raised concerns that local medical scientists had incorrectly attributed various biological and health effects to radiation exposure.

    An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) study involving more than 200 experts from 22 countries published in 1991 was more substantial. In the absence of pre-1986 data it compared a control population with those exposed to radiation. Significant health disorders were evident in both control and exposed groups, but, at that stage, none was radiation related.

    Subsequent studies in the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus were based on national registers of over 1 million people possibly affected by radiation. These confirmed a rising incidence of thyroid cancer among exposed children. Late in 1995, the World Health Organisation linked nearly 7

  • by William Tanksley (1752) on Monday May 31, 2004 @09:58PM (#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) * on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:11PM (#9300780) Homepage
    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.

    But:

    1) Coal and oil-fired stations also produce said heat, as do any other heat engine based systems.
    2) If the nuclear pile operates at a higher temperature than the boilers in a conventional powerplant, then the nuclear power station will produce less environmental heat for a given energy output.

    So, relative to a large patch of nothing, a nuclear power station will heat up its environment. However, we do not currently generate our power from large patches of nothing.

    [ Have a look here [gsu.edu] for some info on Carnot cycles and heat engines ]
  • by Minna Kirai (624281) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:39PM (#9300865)
    At best, all you've listed is productization. Some things get invented many times over, and don't become widespread until there's a real need.

    Far and away, the "mother" (reason it was invented then, and not earlier) to all those inventions was simply whatever precursor technology was needed as the prior building block.

    Invention: Atom bomb

    Can you tell me who "invented" the atom bomb? You can't, because it's irrelevant. Multiple phsyisists worldwide had already worked through what was (to them) obvious results internationally-published work. Actually building an A-Bomb was hard, but building!=inventing.

    Invention: Rockets

    Sorry, rockets were invented in North America circa 1905, and Britain wasn't shooting at their planes at the time.

    Whoops! My mistake... rockets were invented in Manchuria, circa 400 BC... and the British weren't shooting their planes either.

    Invention: Tanks

    Who "invented" tanks? You probably don't know, because it's almost to obvious to qualify as an "invention".

    Nessicity: Trenches from world war I were a bitch

    Lessee, World War 1 started in 1914... but the tank was invented in 1507. You've got a problem there, unless you can tell me when the flux capacitor was invented (1985 [imdb.com]?)

    Nessicity: IF we don't the damn ruskies will do it first...

    Rockets you listed already. But space modules? Umm... the Russians did do it first.
  • Re:Are you kidding? (Score:3, Informative)

    by ElGuapoGolf (600734) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:20AM (#9301184) Homepage
    Well.. you could go to this url to check it out...

    http://www.taxpayer.net/TCS/whitepapers/SUVtaxbr ea k.htm

    And I was slightly wrong.. it's 6,000 lbs, not 7,000 lbs. Line them Chevy TrailBlazers up too.
  • by S3D (745318) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:21AM (#9301188)
    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.
    Only specially designed reactors can produce weapon-grade plutonium. (BTW Chernobyl was one of them). We are talking about completly civilian design. All modern civilian design are not capable produce weapon-grade plutonium.
  • by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:18AM (#9301838) Journal
    It is actually quite common to not include the cost of the goods sold in expenses.
  • Re:Are you kidding? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dun Malg (230075) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @10:01AM (#9303335) Homepage
    Well.. you could go to this url to check it out... http://www.taxpayer.net/TCS/whitepapers/SUVtaxbrea k.htm And I was slightly wrong.. it's 6,000 lbs, not 7,000 lbs. Line them Chevy TrailBlazers up too.

    Interesting. It's not an actual subsidy, though-- it's a tax deduction resulting in lower revenue. Still a bullshit loophole, if you ask me.

  • by belg4mit (152620) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @10:53AM (#9304032) Homepage
    *sigh* It's amazing how much disinformation and malinformedness there is out there.

    We are not running out of fossil fuels any time soon. I repeat, we are not running out of fossil fuels. That, of course doesn't mean we should stay the course.

    Most modern reasonable and respectable estimates peg existing reseves at several centuries (depending upon fuel, geographic boundary of analysis, and energy use patterns). While the US may have decades of petroleum or natural gas left, the world has plenty. Likewise, the US has unfathomably expansive coal deposits.

    The economics of power systems is not as most people expect. For any sane alternative energy system the sticking point is infrastructure, not the enabling technology. Assuming hydrogen is such a great idea (it's not, at least as currently envisioned by most) the problem is supporting infrastrucure (pipes and pumps), not the cost of fuel cell (even if though it uses platinum).

    We have a vast existing system which supports fossil fuels, and this is a huge hurdle for anything else to overcome. Leaving things up to the market many alternatives, even if free, could not comepete. And how did we get into this situation? This network of fossil fuel arteries did not spring from the earth overnight. No, we invested in it, and we paid for it. Largely through hidden costs such as subsidies (but you'll be branded a commie-bleeding heart liberal if you suggest we give even a tiniest fraction of that money to alternative energy systems). The other means a lot of this has been paid for is to work it into the unit cost -- this has been part of the problem with deregulated energy markets.

    I recently wrote a brief essay on the readoption of nuclear, it's available at http://pthbb.org/natural /17_32-nuclear.pdf [pthbb.org].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @08:54PM (#9310961)
    Maybe the grandparent is too polite to point out what a retard you are, but I'm not.

    First of all, you forgot to multiply by the 100 square miles. So you're off by a factor of 100.

    Second, s/he said a 100 mile square, not 100 square miles. So you're off by another factor off 100.

    Fourth, an average of 6000 Wh/sq.meter per day is the same (for the purposes here) as your 1.367kW*6 hours*250/365 days, so your "rocket scientist" sarcasm serves no purpose other than to make you sound like an even bigger jerk.

    Fifth, if you had read the article s/he linked to, you would have seen the calculation carried about by someone who knows enough not to keep fifteen significant digits when doing an order-of-magnitude calculation and you wouldn't have had to take the time proving what an idiot you are by doing the exact same calculation incorrectly.

    Sorry for such an obnoxious response, but 1) you're really asking for it with the "oh this is gonna be good" attitude and 2) you didn't take the obvious step of figuring out why your calculation didn't agree with the sources the grandparent quoted, instead forcing readers such as myself to get to the bottom of it.

    PS. $30k is a lot, but keep in mind that replacing a roof will cost $10-15k without solar panels.

The reason that every major university maintains a department of mathematics is that it's cheaper than institutionalizing all those people.

Working...