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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 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 dfenstrate (202098) * <dfenstrate@gmail ... minus physicist> 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 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:51PM (#9299148)
    He's just picking on the poor bastard for saying what must not be said: we're screwed, carbon burning is bad, nukes are looking more and more the safer alternative, etc. Why does he bitch about nukes getting to everybody's hands? There's no reason we couldn't build nuclear energy plants that couldn't be used for weapons grade plutonium production.
    Just starving to death is what's going to happen if we don't do anything. And in that scenario, some idiot starting a nuclear holocaust is much more probable than in "World Government or bust, screw sovereignty"-scenario.
  • 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.

  • Pithy comments? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roystgnr (4015) <> 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.
  • Hold on a second. You just said
    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.
    Correct me if I'm misinformed, but aren't the greatest users of electricity the large corporations, plants, etc. and laboratories owned by the government, the largest corporation of all? While this might cause a small hit into the profits of those corporations, average Joe isn't going to go to the poorhouse because he has to pay more for electricity. Example, I'm a graduate student. I make roughly $1400 a month after taxes. My monthly electricity bill comes to about $50 per month. That's about 3.5% of my salary. If I can afford to pay 7% to electricity instead, we can use solar and wind, as you say. Doesn't sound as terrible as what the article says are the alternatives. And do you really think when we run out of coal, oil, and gas, we'll go back to living in the stone age? Please. Necessity is the mother of invention, and although it may not be as cheap as what we have today, I'm sure that when the time comes, we'll be able to make do.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris&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.
  • by gzerod (229293) on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:59PM (#9299191)
    ...the point of this story. All I saw was a bunch of smartass comments by someone who I guess is respected for his opinion. Anyway the whole thing reads like an Anonymous Coward with ADD.
  • Warheads? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @06:59PM (#9299194)
    Does Bruce Sterling even understand the difference between nuclear power and nuclear weapons? He seems to have them confused, and I'm not sure what his point is. It's just some drunken, rambling attempt to shout someone down.
  • by nacturation (646836) <nacturation&gmail,com> on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:00PM (#9299203) Journal
    While this might cause a small hit into the profits of those corporations, average Joe isn't going to go to the poorhouse because he has to pay more for electricity

    This won't cause any hit in the profits of corporations because they'll simply pass on the cost of electricity to the consumer.
  • No.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Skyshadow (508) * on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:01PM (#9299210) 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.

    He's right. Unless there's a fantastic amount of oil and coal someplace that we can get at reasonably soon, or unless all the cars in the world start getting 90 MPG Real Soon Now, the price of gas is going to go to a place where it's not usable anymore.

    Try to understand: We're not just talking about those evil SUV drivers paying $80 to $100 at the pump. The depletion of the world's fossil fuel supplies will mean a breakdown on a global scale if it isn't planned for *well* in advance. We're talking about a collapse of the global economy and a return to a way of living that can't support the global population. Famine, disease, abject poverty, devistating wars, genocide. A return to a feudal economy, a breakdown of our civilization and another dark age for my children and grandchildren to live in.

    While some of the more frustrated environmentalists might suggest that this is what we have coming to us, I'd rather see it avoided. You can't wait for it to happen and then start responding -- humanity has got to get on this one now, and pie-in-the-sky "what if we could increase the yield of solar cell" shit isn't going to cut it.

    Once you devise a method of generating power that can compete on an economic level with nuclear, of *course* the world will switch. It only makes sense that we'd switch -- it's basic economics. But we can't count on the tech genie popping up at the last second to save our bacon.

  • 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 the gnat (153162) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:02PM (#9299212)
    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, pro-industrial-society environmentalist. It's really not much of a contradiction; I support sustainable development. And I think it'd be great if the rest of the world could have the same happen.

    Over here we have it a little easier because of hydroelectric power, which I think is generally the best source we've found so far (although also the most immediately destructive to the environment). Most of the world doesn't have this luxury, and such projects are anathema to environmentalists and can be a huge pain in the ass in general (Three Gorges Dam).

    Sterling's objections seemed pretty incoherent to me. The first is that nuclear power is unsafe, which has become a religious rather than scientific argument at this point. (My own impression is that Three Mile Island is one of the most overblown "disasters" in history, and Chernobyl was due to Soviet incompetence. But I'm sure there are plenty of hysterical leftists who will claim otherwise.) The second is that nuclear power == nuclear bombs; or at least that's what I got from his invocation of Hiroshima. This isn't really worth debating; we'll have to worry about nuclear bombs anyway. The third is that we're not doing enough about climate change, and adding a new energy source will make things much worse.

    I have no objection to making fossil fuels obsolete; I wouldn't mind seeing a reduction in cars either. (I don't own one; I walk to the grocery store and work, and use public transportation or carpool.) I'm sure as hell NOT going to give up living in the 21st century, though. The claim that nuclear power is a "necessary evil" makes it sound like something we should get rid of ASAP, and Sterling says something similar. This only works if you believe in some dream world where we all grow our own organic vegetables and soybeans, bicycle to work at sunlit offices, and don't need any industrial goods. (That includes medicines, although some leftist environmentalists sound like they're actually endorsing shorter lifespans and global die-offs.)

    I get the impression that Sterling would rather see us reverting to candles and typewriters than embracing nuclear power. I guess at least we'd be spared his ridiculous Internet rants.
  • 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 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.
  • Are you kidding? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Skyshadow (508) * on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:09PM (#9299255) Homepage
    You've got it backwards -- the only reason that wind and solar plants exist is because the government (a) heavily subsidizes them, (b) gives power producers a tax break for buying power from them and (c) in some cases mandates that a certain percentage of power delivered by the power industry be from renewable sources.

    Of course, in the end, this means that we (taxpayers) are paying more money to fund wind and solar producers (*not* wind and solar research, BTW, but to pay off people to have these plants).

    If wind and solar were really reliable and less expensive, what in God's name makes you think we'd be relying on fossil fuels? The oil lobby is powerful, sure, but the rest of the economy would crush them like a bug if a cheaper source of energy came along. That's capitalism for you.

  • 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 Null_Packet (15946) <> 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.
  • by sbszine (633428) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:14PM (#9299286) Homepage Journal
    Somebody writes a piece in support of nuclear power. Some blogger fisks it [...]

    The reason it's of interest (news for nerds, even) is that Sterling is not merely some blogger (you're a geek, you've read The Hacker Crackdown []). TFA is not even a blog entry -- it's a tongue-in-cheek mailout to people interested in pragmatic and / or humorous solutions to global warming.

    As for no hard science etc., fair enough, point taken, but have a look at this chunk:

    Okay == let's say your argument has convinced me. So get me a written quid pro quo that actually cuts carbon emissions way past Kyoto limits, and I'll risk the Chernobyls.

    This to me, is the point of the article. The global warming debate is not presently a scientific dialogue about which form of power strikes the best balance between productivity and safety. Right now it's about getting fossil fuel producing countries to even acknowledge that something is wrong. When Australia and the US ratify the Kyoto treaty, then the scientific debate can begin.

    Disclaimer: I have a couple of Sterling novels and think solar power is pretty neat. Hey, and fusion would be even better. See .sig for details.
  • Um, duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by emarkp (67813) <> on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:18PM (#9299314) Journal
    Add this to the logical fallacies. How do you think the grocery store refrigerates your food before you buy it? Now, how much would refrigerated goods cost to you (the average Joe) if refrigeration costs doubled?

    You might even notice other goods and services increase in cost. It's silly to think that the cost of electricity is only reflected in your electricity bill.

  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:18PM (#9299316) 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."



    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.
  • Re:No.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:23PM (#9299340)
    "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"

    No. He's saying that global warming will pose a significant threat to humanity and the only way to minimize its effect is to minimize greenhouse gas creation. Nuclear power doesn't make greenhouse gasses, therefore it is the logical choice. Alternative sources can't scale up economically enough to provide a solution, otherwise they'd be the better solution. But since the global warming threat requires immediate action, there isn't enough time to make the alternative sources competitive with nuclear power. In effect, build nuclear power now to significantly cut C02 output.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:24PM (#9299346)
    Just as a few cents change in the price of corn sugar changes your grocery bill considerably for someone who never buys corn sugar, a change in the price of electricity will hit you in a lot of ways.

    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.

    The price of aluminum is essentially tied to the price of electricity, because the electrolytic regfining of bauxite to aluminum costs more than the ore itself. That's why bauxite is shipped around the globe to where ever electricity is cheapest -- usually big hydroelectric areas such as our own Pacific Northwest.

    So while your electric bill might go up by twice, a lot of other things will go up by 10 to 25 percent.

    Even 10 percent is huge. Remember, Alan Greenspan creams his pants if consumer spending changes by a tenth of one percent from month to month. What's he going to do if it drops 10 percent, as everyone cuts back in small ways to make that extra $200 a month ?
  • 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?
  • Re:No.... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by flossie (135232) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:25PM (#9299350) Homepage
    Once you devise a method of generating power that can compete on an economic level with nuclear, of *course* the world will switch.

    The nuclear industry (in the UK at least) is *heavily* subsidised by tax-payers. It has to be, it wouldn't be competitive otherwise (and that is before you consider the cost of decomissioning). 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.

    If the amount of money that has been spend on the nuclear indusry had been invested in renewable energy sources, we wouldn't now have an impending crisis. We would still have people complaining about wind farms being a blot on the landscape, but that is a much easier problem to solve.

  • Re:No.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by shaitand (626655) * on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:28PM (#9299367) Journal
    That's great and all, but we haven't put that money toward renewable sources. And as such we have to work with what we DO have NOW.
  • by DarkZero (516460) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:31PM (#9299386)
    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 problem is that until someone finds a way to teleport matter into space, we're never going to find a safe way to launch nuclear waste into the sun. No matter how safe the solution is, it's always going to come down to the same thing: if something ever goes wrong, the waste will be released and thousands or millions of people will be covered in nuclear waste. Even if they could stop it from leaking into populated areas, which is very difficult once the waste reaches a certain height, the best case scenario is that it will coat a piece of the Earth in nuclear waste and ruin that area's ecosystem.
  • by Yokaze (70883) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:34PM (#9299402)
    > Think the recession in 2000 was bad? Wait until you see what doubling the cost of electricity would do.

    What makes you think that would result in a recession? Where does the money go?
    Doubling the costs of energy would require most companies to invest in improvement of energy efficiency or to bankrupt.
    Obsoleting a lot of technology does not necessarily mean the break-down of economy. Quite the contrary could be the case. There is no industry as thriving as the computer industry, which obsoletes its products roughly every 5 years. The record labels were in heaven after obsoletion of the vinyl records. And AFAIK, the automobile-industry is also not shedding tears about the increased oil prices over the last ten years. In some countries, old cars with bad mileage are unsellable and are replaced by brand new ones.

    > 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.

    How about energy conservance? Even in a heavy industry nation like Germany, the energy consumption is half of the US (relatively to the GDP). In Japan, it is a fourth of the US. And I wouldn't say that living in either Germany or Japan is anything like camping.
  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:40PM (#9299449)
    Actually I propose that if we are going to wipe out a good chunk of the population anyway, we might as well start by taking out the churches and other religious institutions on religious days and holidays.

    I don't mean any one specific religion of course, that would be wrong. I mean ALL religions. If we take out the religious zealots worldwide, we've not only reduced the population and solved the energy crisis, we will also be raising the average IQ SEVERAL notches.
  • by Mac Degger (576336) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:43PM (#9299461) Journal
    Thing is, things aren't so simple as just the cost of power. One of the projects I had as a first year applied physics was 'sustainable energy'. When you actually look at the facts and figures, and are not just reacting to your gut reaction, nuclear is for the next 50 to 100 years the only way to go.

    Wind power just doesn't cut it: reason being for one that it can't provide power all the time, and can't provide power when the wind is too slow or too hard. There's a number of nifty calculations you can make, but all you have to do is look at Finland, I believe it was: they invested heavily in wind power and are now regretting it heftily. Not only is power not being produced when it's needed, but it's being overproduced when it's not needed, and /it costs them bigtime to sell that power over the border!/ I know this sounds strange, but that's the way the world energy market works (well, call it a localised energy market, seeing as 'green energy' can be bought and sold like stock globally [but that's only on paper], but the actual electricity can't be transfered worldwide).
    And to boot, it's way more expensive than any other from of energy except solar.

    Nice segue into that, eh? Solar energy is prohibitively expensive too. And appart from that, it's not very efficient. And (again), it can't provide power when needed. Which is not just important for cost reasons [so you don't have to buy from other countries] but more importantly it's important for getting the current to stay at a stable voltage so your equipment doesn't explode.
    Not only that, but solar cells are notoriously poluting in their manufacture.

    Then there is tidal energy, which sounds nice...but there has been little to no research about it's environmental impacts (you know, the lack of which got us here in the first place?) like reducing tides, or maybe removing so much energy from the ocean tides that certain ocean streams will stop/reverse/whatever. BTW, none of this research has been done for solar and wind either: whilst there is research that says that localised heating up of the atmosphere might be enough to change tornado's from their path, we have no idea how we will affect the trade winds/whatever with these forms of energy. Oh, and again, to top it off, tidal energy is expensive.

    I'll skip fossil fuels. Go look up the research yourself.

    Now the two drawback to nuclear power in the form of fission (fussion won't happen for 50 to a hundred years, at least in a viable, mass-enough form) are the waste and risk of meltdown. Nuclear weapons are not a problem, unless we start enriching the radioactives just for powergenerating...and there's no reason to do that. As for terrorists? They don't have the resources to do that in secret. Hell, not only am I studying applied physics, but I used to study mechanical engineering: you need mayor funding and little bells will be going off in all the security agencies in the world when you start to try amasing the materials neccessary (which is one reason I started laughing when Powell went before the UN with his story about "tubes of such high tollerance" story...the tollerances he was talking about where a)used in many, many appliacations and b) in all probability not sufficient for cyclotrons. Anyway...).
    Back to the watse and meltdown. Let's have a look at the latter: meltdown will be pretty much a thing of the past when the new generation (IV) of reactors come online. These are (amongst others) those pebblebed reactors you might've heard of. Not only that, but if something does go wrong (and with the new designs, it's not very likely, but we must assume a worst case scenario) it will be contained. We are a long way away from the not-up-to-standards, bad-maintenance reactor of Chernobyl; current standards mean that if something does go catastrophically wrong, only a square mile or so of the earth is rendered uninhabitable. Which is much preferable to rendering the whole earth uninhabitable as we are with the current fossil fuels.
    And then there is t
  • Re:No.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cheesybagel (670288) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:46PM (#9299474)
    Yes. And I would like to see the recomissioning/refurbishing costs of wind turbines as well. If you want whole cycle costs, at least use the same metric on everything you test. Nothing is everlasting.
  • by philge (731233) on Monday May 31, 2004 @07:51PM (#9299499)
    Drop the waste into well in a subduction zone. That way it will bediluted into the magma where came form and will have decayed by the time it comes back up
  • 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...

  • Re:Well (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:02PM (#9299556)
    "Unless you, or someone you love is one of the 50 that died, or one of the 600 that came down with thyroid cancer."

    Appeals to emotion and other fallacy aside, that's not a bad number. More people die of air pollution related illness in one city (Houston, TX, USA) *every year* than died from the Chernobyl accident.
  • by ttfkam (37064) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:02PM (#9299558) Homepage Journal
    The US has coal reserves for about 250 years at current consumption levels. Not trivial to be sure, but not quite 1,000 years.

    On the other hand, newer nuclear plants can extend the life of existing uranium reserves to a length of time longer than the entire history of humanity up until this point. And the use of IFR/AFR and other modern designs can do so without mining another once of uranium for some time by processing existing weapons and waste.
  • by cheesybagel (670288) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:02PM (#9299559)
    It is cheap, compared to renewables, even after the decomissioning costs. Don't be surprised that the nuclear power plant operators don't want to pay the decomissioning. No private corporation wants to pay any taxes and all want the most benefits they can get.
  • Only problem (Score:1, Insightful)

    by SteveXE (641833) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:06PM (#9299587)
    The only real problem with Nuclear Energy is sooner or later we will fail at keeping it contained. Sooner or later either we or the machines will screw up again, that cant be denied, its already happened twice. If more reactors are built it means more chances for it to happen. I dont know if it will happen tomorrow, or in 200 years, but it will happen sooner or later. We have proven as a species that it will happen.
  • by ttfkam (37064) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:15PM (#9299640) Homepage Journal
    But we aren't talking about coal or oil. No one (or at least very few) is saying that they are preferable. The discussion is about nuclear energy which incidentally has higher power yields and comparable environmental costs to wind.
    The trouble isnt that Wind is more costly, just that we allow the Plutocrats to keep polluting our communities.
    Not exactly. The trouble is that the US consumed 3.8 trillion kilowatts of electricity in 2003. Wind can't even approach that number. Run the numbers for a windmill farm times the area in the US fit for wind power...and notice how it's not even close enough to pretend. This isn't rocket science. Simple arithmetic should suffice.
  • by Minna Kirai (624281) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:30PM (#9299726)
    I think this comment misses Bruce's point.

    Maybe so. I certainly couldn't detect a point in there- he just likes to bash on nuclear power, and the article was a fine target.

    and that Lovelock offers no practical solution to actually make any of this happen

    Wha? Sterling is the one who has no inkling of a concrete solution. Lovelock at least gives a partial solution- Bruce does nothing but attempt to knock it down with invalid objections.

    Sterling: Do you have the clout to give us one of those

    Of course no one human has the "clout" to accomplish anything like realigning the international economic/industrial system. Lovelock isn't Superman. All any individual can do is share his views and try to convince others of the same.

    Lovelock believes that nuclear power is the only energy source that can come close to replacing petrofuel, and he's honestly saying so. But Sterling comes along and yells "No! Nukes bad Nukes BAD! []"- how does that help anything?

    And then, at the end of the piece: ... what we need is genuine industrial policy agreed on by the powers-that be. A new Kyoto, genuine international agreement with coherent steps to deal with the menace.

    So what he essentially says is "We need somebody to solve this problem". Uh, duh... can you say "Content-free platitude"? Of course we need a solution, and somebody will have to figure it out. That doesn't mean that anyone who isn't the president of an industrialized state is forbidden to talk about it.

    The only way we'll get a "genuine international agreement" is if the people of earth start to care about solving it- and while Lovelock has tried to advance the debate, Sterling is the one knocking him down with a pessimistic attitude: "You can't do everything, so why do anything?"
  • by random_static (604731) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:41PM (#9299794) Journal
    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.

    No, you don't. This might be true if you were trying to gently land on the sun.

    nope, grandparent is right.

    think of it this way: if you could ignore the gravity of the sun, then cancelling out the earth's orbital velocity would leave you stationary in space. you'd be sitting where the earth was when you fired your rocket, and one year later you'd get hit head-on by the planet at a godawful speed.

    since you can't ignore the sun's gravity, you'd actually end up accelerating towards the sun at whatever rate the sun exerts out here; some time after you finished your engine burn, you'd hit the star head-on at an even more mindboggling speed. (well, technically we're already accelerating towards the sun that way, that's what keeps the planet's orbit curved into an ellipse... but ignore that for now, we don't want to get that egg-headed.)

    if you cancelled out only part of the earth's orbital velocity, you'd go into a more-or-less elliptical orbit around the sun. if it was elliptical enough, you might get dragged in due to to aerodynamic drag by the outer parts of the corona, but it'd take a while.

  • 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.
  • Re:No.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by flossie (135232) on Monday May 31, 2004 @08:48PM (#9299855) Homepage
    Even production of hydro enegy has caused more deaths, due to dam creation and failure, flooding etc. than nuclear.

    That's probably true, but there is potential for far greater catastrophes from nuclear plants.

    No source of energy is without risk/cost. Most people (outside the US?) now realise that the cost of fossil fuels is too high and would support governmental action to reduce CO2 emissions (as long as they don't have to do anything personally). I think that most people also deem nuclear energy to be too risky (Chernobyl did a lot to convince Europe of the risks). Many hydro-electric plants are ecological disasters, but not on the same scale as Chernobyl.

    The problems with fossil fuels are becoming very clear. Nuclear energy could possibly be an excellent solution, but I certainly don't trust my government enough to truly value safety over cost. I am also very concerned about the complacency that usually develops in any organisation which routinely has to deal with safety critical issues. At least if a wind turbine fails, we don't have to worry about the impact on food production thousands of miles away.

  • Re:Well (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @09:23PM (#9300042)
    Well, to take fossil fuel as a reference point: half a million people die in China every year from air pollution. Since Chernobyl occurred 1n 1986, about 9 million people have been killed in China by breathing polluted air. That's 180,000 times as many as died from the worst nuclear accident in history.

    God knows how many cancers were caused along the way.
  • by RedWizzard (192002) on Monday May 31, 2004 @09:28PM (#9300061)
    Being able to use salt water is a huge plus though.

    Ultimately I think biodiesel and the waste-to-oil process are the only solutions that look workable. Expecting the world to suddenly stop using oil is hopelessly naive IMHO.

  • Re:No.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Ronny Cook (725228) on Monday May 31, 2004 @09:52PM (#9300173)
    Nuclear (fission) is better than coal... but it's not much better.

    Firstly, carbon cost. Nuclear fission *does* have a carbon cost; this is chiefly the cost of fabricating the plants (which is substantial) but also includes the cost of mining and safely transporting the uranium used (and disposing of wastes safely). Once all this is factored in, the carbon cost isn't all that much better than coal. It is better, but the margin isn't much. (I wish I had the study to back this up, but it's something I read years and years ago).

    Secondly, sustainability. Uranium supplies are limited. If all power generation switched to nuclear, uranium supplies would last 50 years or so: Global Uranium reserves [] says existing reserves are sufficient to cover existing reactors for "several decades". Coal will outlast fission by something like a century.

    The third problem with nuclear is that the uranium and plutonium used for fuel *can* be used to fabricate nuclear weapons. Care in transport has so far prevented this, so far as we know, but there are other legs in the ABC trilogy that are much more cost-effective for terrorist purposes. The actual risk represented here is very difficult to assess; personally I suspect that warheads from the former Soviet bloc are a much bigger risk.

    Pollution doesn't enter the picture IMO. Coal is *very* bad for pollution. If pollution is a factor, don't use coal. As others have said, recent studies indicate that *low-level* radiation may have beneficial effects, although there isn't enough evidence yet to be certain.

    Nuclear *Fusion*, if we can get it going, would be great of course, and the technology is almost there - there have been test fusion plants with positive energy output. There have also been some promising developments in solar technology recently, almost doubling the efficiency of previous designs. A combination of solar and other renewable resources is pretty much the only way to go in the long term.

    I agree that Sterling comes across poorly in this article. The sheep-like chorus of "Nuclear baaa-d!" without presenting a viable alternative (and continually referring to nuclear weapons as if a device designed to explode is the same as a plant designed *not* to explode) does not impress.

    There are entirely legitimate reasons to avoid nuclear; it's not the panacea that other respondents here have represented it as, but neither is it the bogeyman that Sterling would have us think. Personally I think it's better than coal but worse than genuinely renewable sources such as wind and solar. ...Ronny

  • by nosferatu-man (13652) * <> on Monday May 31, 2004 @10:07PM (#9300230) Homepage
    If wind and solar were really reliable and less expensive, what in God's name makes you think we'd be relying on fossil fuels?

    A good point, but equally as important to consider is that coal, oil and gas producers pay nothing for their obvious externalities. In fact, unproductive fossil fuel plants are kept running through massive government subsidy. The best solution -- and as a certified ranting leftist loon I find some amusement in my belief of a pure market based system -- is a carbon tax. Carbon output is a reasonable proxy for environmental damage, and taxing carbon is therefore a reasonable method of assessing the true costs of each megawatt produced.

    Nuclear STILL wouldn't be cost effective, but it'd certainly look a lot better than coal, for instance.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2004 @10:11PM (#9300245)
    While your guess is as good as mine, I think that the beneficial effects of small amounts of radiation above typical background are actually real...

    Hormesis has been shown for many different biological stressors, from radiation, free radicals (through exercise, for example), through to heat. It's been demonstrated in everything from yeast, drosophila, etc. through to rats and humans.

    The key is that the hormesis effect requires a short-term temporary increase in the stressor that will kick off the biological response pathways, without long-term damage.

    A balance is needed, too much stress and you're worse off than none at all :)
  • Re:No.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iwadasn (742362) on Monday May 31, 2004 @10:47PM (#9300403)
    don't be foolish. Any idiot will just tell you to run everything on Hydrogen, which you can make from the electricity. So in a way, everything could be nuclear powered.

    Speaking of which.....

    I haven't heard much about it yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were big projects in the pentagon to consider hydrogen powered tanks and planes and warships wherever possible. If you had a nuclear flagship (aircraft carrier) it could use its reactors to generate all the hydrogen it needs. Then it doesn't have to carry fuel for the fighters, the other escort ships (currently diesel) wouldn't run out of fuel, etc.... You would completely eliminate the fuel costs and weaknesses from the equation. Same thing for tanks. Just park a carrier or other nuclear vessel nearby, make hydrogen from the water it's sitting in, and have all the fuel you need to run your land campaign.

    Also, fuel cells would probably get better mileage than the standard parts for tanks and ships at least. Aircraft might be much tougher.

  • by Willard B. Trophy (620813) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:02PM (#9300491) Homepage Journal
    > Wind power just doesn't cut it

    Them's fightin' words. I design wind farms.

    > it can't provide power all the time

    Neither can any other power source, but there's nearly always somewhere windy in a country. Wind can contribute to baseload, and does in several countries.

    I could be mean and point to Ontario's CANDU reactors, some of which provide a 30% capacity factor. That's about the same as wind, which of course can't provide power all the time.

    > can't provide power when the wind is too slow or too hard.

    The low windspeed bit is true. As regards high windspeeds, even in extreme sites the wind very seldom goes too high -- a matter of a couple of hours per year.

    > all you have to do is look at Finland, I believe it was: they invested heavily in wind power

    Finland has only ever modestly invested in wind energy. They did do some sterling work on wind energy in cold climates.

    > the actual electricity can't be transfered worldwide).

    So why did a powerline failure in the US affect Canada? Many countries are interconnected.

    > And to boot, it's way more expensive than any other from of energy except solar.

    Wrong. We're cheaper than any new generation except gas. Of course, when you get obvious fudging of nuclear costs like we did with the Manley Committee [] (who grossly overstated the cost of all other forms of generation to make a nuclear restart look viable), we're not dealing with fair opposition.

  • by nikster (462799) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:04PM (#9300508) Homepage
    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. etc. there are a zillion ways to save energy, and we are using none of them so far.

    as energy becomes more expensive, the ways to save energy become more economically viable. witness germany: gas there costs $4.20 on average, and new vehicles get 40MPG _on average_. see the connection?

    point 4: shit happens. you can't prevent it. you have not been in europe when chernobyl happened. 300 million people were staying inside for a week, just because one (1) reactor failed. planes crash despite our best efforts to make them not crash. and nuclear plants will leak radiation despite our best efforts. who in their right mind would place our entire future on a technology that has zero tolerance for failure? where large-scale catastrophe is always only just a human error away?

    i don't trust the technologists that say they can build error free systems. there never has been one in the history of technology. chances are that a single plane crash, terrible as it is, will not affect me. chances are that a single catastrophic failure in a nuclear power plant _will_ affect me.

    add to that the terrorist threat (which some people seem to completely misunderstand): nuclear power plants can be attacked. easily. effortlessly. in a million different ways. from good old fashioned sabotage to brute force attacks.

    we have not yet found a viable and large-scale alternative to oil. so let's focus on looking for that instead throwing our hands up in the air and running around like headless chickens, jumping at the first dumb idea coming along...
  • by ewe2 (47163) <> on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:16PM (#9300563) Homepage Journal

    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 behind insurance company premiums. Natural radiation is actually a component in insurance in the eastern United States. To say nothing of what the premium for unnatural radiation.
    • We shouldn't put up with any process that leaves undesirable by-products. Especially not ones that are dangerous for 250,000 years. Don't make excuses for it. Noone is going to pay for the incredibly expensive process to make it safe.

    If the foregoing makes me a head-in-the-sand Boomer Anti-Nuclear Satanist, then at least I'm older, wiser and sadder than you young idiots. It's no wonder they send boys of your age to war, you're too stupid to accept that you'll die.

  • by freejung (624389) * <> on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:21PM (#9300585) Homepage Journal
    the only reason that wind and solar plants exist is because the government (a) heavily subsidizes them

    That may well be true, but what you're not addressing is that the government does also heavily subsidize the oil industry, with direct subsidies designed to lower the price of gas so we will all buy more. Perhaps we would not switch to other forms of energy without these subsidies, but we would definitely use less oil because we simply couldn't afford to drive as much. This would drive more alternative energy research.

  • Re:No.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Firethorn (177587) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:35PM (#9300644) Homepage Journal
    Huh, it looks like that the Uranium reserves are just a matter of price point per kilogram. Did you figure on the $80 a kilogram, or the $130 a kilo? I think that it'd be just like oil. We're still finding new sources of oil, so if we switched all the coal to nuclear, I think the same thing would happen with Uranium. New technologies would drop the cost of mining, as well as finding new sources.

    Also, one point many people don't realize is that if you're looking to make an actual atomic bomb the hardest part isn't getting ahold of the uranium/plutonium, it's purifying and enriching it. This is the process they look for in the spy sats to figure out if other countries are pursuing a nuclear program.

    In the USA right now, we are forbidden by law from building breeder reacters, which would solve our waste problem almost overnight. Not only is the most conservative figure I've heard for the power generation 10 times what the original plant recieved from the fuel, the resultant waste has a shorter half-life. Which means that it doesn't need to be stored as long.

    Wind & Solar have problems with scalability, and the fact that it can't respond to demand like other plant types can. A solar plant isn't going to be producing power at night, and wind plants require wind, where there are limited areas with the constant wind needed.

    We have the technology to build efficient, safe, and cost effective reactors if it wasn't for the people being scared of the radiation bogeyman.
  • by XavierItzmann (687234) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:35PM (#9300647)

    It is the *propellant* that blew up, not the nuke!

    In fact, the nuke flew 600ft as a result of the *chemical* accident, with NO CONSEQUENCES. This is a testament to all the failsafes built into untriggered nuclear bombs.

    Bruce... what's wrong with you? Still mixing up energy with armament?

  • Re:No.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Firethorn (177587) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:42PM (#9300682) Homepage Journal
    Run a death scenario for the Hoover Dam breaking...

    Sure, you can come up with doomsday scenarios for nuclear plants, but how likely are they? All US reactors that are not small-scale experimentals are built so that a Chernobyl style meltdown isn't possible. The meltdown process physically triggers events that shut the reaction down, stopping the meltdown.

    If you want to talk about what ifs, how about blade breakages hitting cars/buildings for wind, mirror mis-alignment hitting an aircraft for solar, coal mine collapes/accidents/fires (already happen), and explosions for natural gas.

    If I had my way, I'd replace every coal plant with a nuclear one. Preferably a breeder.
  • by king-manic (409855) on Monday May 31, 2004 @11:47PM (#9300698)
    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.
  • by Firethorn (177587) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:11AM (#9300781) Homepage Journal
    It's kinda like how people talk about Libertarians, Republicans, Democrats, Gun-Owners, Lawyers, Executives, CEO's, and Politicians.

    People tend to see the extremists. Go to the green party's website, and see some of the wierd (to normal people) things they suggest. Heck, I'm mostly a libertarian, and look at some of the kookie stuff my 'leaders' espouse.

    I'm 'kinda' green too. I drive a 30mpg car, recycle cans, and try to avoid wasting stuff (I won't take a bag if I'm only buying a couple items). But what some of the greenies suggest... They're as bad as the PETA people.
  • by samj (115984) * <> 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 [], 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 [] 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 []'s got the weapons, why, who pays [] and what they are (or aren't []) doing to protect them.
  • Re:Well (Score:2, Insightful)

    by the pickle (261584) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:01AM (#9300946) Homepage
    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.

    ...and such a panel is about 3-5 times more efficient than anything we have today, or are expecting to see within the next 10 years.

    Don't forget that most of the Amazon basin counts as "unused land." You f*ck with the supply of solar energy to Earth's lungs, and you're going to cause problems. "Unused by humans" does not mean "ecologically bulletproof." There's something to be said for the tremendous energy density of nuclear power.

    Next idea, please...?
  • by Dun Malg (230075) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:40AM (#9301048) 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.

    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 on there for the past six years, before you send email to novelists and get all teary-eyed about your disillusionment.

    He does have a point, I must say. I just read a fairly large random sample of his 400+ "notes", and sure enough, pretty much everything he says illustrates what a fuckin' joke this clown is. His editorializing is always in the form of a snide remark with the occasional assertion of unsubstantiated "facts". He might as well just resort to calling everyone he disagrees with a "fucking NAZI". I mean, if you're going to be an impertinent jerk-off, why beat around the bush? Does he really think people are particularly interested in his "thoughts" when they consist mostly of wisecracks and non sequiturs? I like his fiction, but his blog is a load of crap.

  • by n8_f (85799) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:57AM (#9301102) Homepage
    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"? Take it for what it is. Hope you are still a fan.
  • by bogomipe (78283) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:40AM (#9301256)
    Seems our Bruce cannot see the difference between nuclear weapons and nuclear power. One does not imply the other. What a waste of bandwidth.

    If someone has a better realistic solution than nuclear power, please speak up.

  • by ModernGeek (601932) * on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @03:13AM (#9301369) Homepage
    ... over 95% of this "waste" still holds it's energy, so we have only used a little bit of it. Once we learn how to refine and utilize it, we can become more efficiant with nuclear power, and grasp it. The nuclear powerplants we have are from the 80's, if we built new ones, we could start to research and fund ways to make nuclear power even more clean and efficient. Nuclear power is the best way to go. I want to see a Nuclear/Hydrogen economy. Eletric cars and nuclear power == bad for 3rd world countries. Electric cars are very practical, look at and the TZero, if it hit mass production, and similar cars did, think of the possibilities!
  • by 16K Ram Pack (690082) <> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:08AM (#9301666) Homepage
    It's the lack of joined up thinking that annoys me.

    If someone could show me a blueprint for a more environmentally friendly world, I'd be happier. What I hear instead are vague solutions that are not.

    There are many proponents of wind power, but it ignores the fact that the UK can't sustain itself on wind power. Solar? Great. Now, who's going to pay to fit cells on the houses. We could get out of our cars, but some trips in the UK are crap without a car.

    What many environmentalists and environmental cheerleading politicians also fail to do is to raise the point that what's really required is for people to also change their lifestyles. Instead, we have sticking plasters - wind farms and recycling centres.

  • by merky1 (83978) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:10AM (#9301669) Journal
    The waste problem is not completely political. Check out this story 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.

    I'm not sure if you read the article in the link you provided, but the "sludge" you are referring to comes from the Nuclear Weapons programs, which for some reason seem to have gotten a lot of free passes when it came to safety and environmental issues. And the whole TMI thing is blown way out of propotion. I lived 30 Mins from that reactor and there was no evacuation, no mass deaths, none of that. Of course there have been hundreds of refinery fires, but I guess that the massive release of CO2 and god knows what from those must be safer than TMIs increased radiation levels.

  • by sql*kitten (1359) * on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:16AM (#9301832)
    criticism that does not provide a solution is still valid criticism.

    While this is true...

    who in their right mind would place our entire future on a technology that has zero tolerance for failure?

    ... you just threw away your argument with this sentence. Nuclear power does not have "zero tolerance for failure". The one noteworthy nuclear accident was Chernobyl, and that was caused by deliberate operator action, not a flaw in the technology, and even then, if there was "zero tolerance" we'd all be dead now; in fact history shows that there is quite a lot of tolerance.

  • Re:No.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Eunuchswear (210685) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:23AM (#9301846) Journal
    Nuclear power generates -huge- amounts of water vapor. Guess what the number one greenhouse gas in our atmosphere is? Water vapor causes 60% of the world's greenhouse effect.
    1. Nukes make generate no more water vapor than any other steam based generation: coal, oil, wood...
    2. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas at high altitudes, the vapor produced by power plants doesn't get that high.
  • by Jeppe Salvesen (101622) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:24AM (#9301849)
    That's the scientific way. You're not a real green. You scaremongering, or just a victim of scaremongering.

    chances are that a single catastrophic failure in a nuclear power plant _will_ affect me.

    What?! You REALLY need to read up on statistics. You might say that if there is a one in 100 000 chance a year of a catastrophic failure in a nuclear power plant and there's 100 000 nuclear power plants in the world then there will we one catastrophic failure a year. (The numbers are lower. Much lower.). Even if you live to be a hundre years old, there will only be a .3% chance of a catastropic failure in your neighborhood. And btw - Chernobyl proved to be less harmful than were forcasted.

    The terrorist attack? Those structures have a LOT of concrete around the nuclear core where the dangerous stuff happens. The concrete is meant to contain accidents inside. But they also mean that crashing a plane into a nuclear reactor is a bit like crashing a car into a mountain - spectacular but ineffective.

    I agree with Lovelock. We know that global warming is a global catastrophic event. Let's work on nuclear energy and green energy - the results of our failure to do anything about the problem right now are greater than a few large-scale catastrophes. Cynically put.
  • by HeghmoH (13204) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @07:43AM (#9302050) Homepage Journal
    Advocates of nuclear power always say, "Well it'd be perfect if it was done right."

    I'm an advocate of nuclear power, and I don't say that. What I say is this: "Even as done today, it's better than every method of generating power that burns stuff, and more practical than every other method that doesn't." That is good enough for me.
  • by brainstyle (752879) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @09:07AM (#9302398)

    All this bickering over nuclear power being the only environmentally-friendly solution in the next 50 to 100 years has me thinking of another solution: oribital solar power [].

    Okay, there's the cost. It'll be expensive.

    But if we put that aside for the moment, the orbital solar power seems to make more and more sense for the near future. The idea is to have vast arrays of solar cells in orbit, which can collect solar energy the vast majority of the time (since Earth will block their view of the sun only a small percentage of the time) and then beam that energy back down to earth.

    One of the big advantages some see in this is that you could, feasibly, transmit energy to regions that needed it on an on-demand basis, much moreso than we have today.

    And it'd get more stuff happening in space. But that's a different story...

  • by taharvey (625577) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @09:11AM (#9302422)
    So much misinformation, so little time.

    When you have 8-12% efficient solar panels

    8-12% is a little low. Current product cell efficiency are around 14-18%, and Concentrators w/ multijunctions get 30%. But who cares? Your car gets 15% efficiency in average use, nobody complains about that even thought you pay for the gas. Sun is free. The question is does 15% efficiency do the job? Yes. Even if it gets no better, it wouldn't matter.

    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.

    Wrong. The average insolation in the US is 6 hours of peak sun per day, no desert required (ie 6000 Wh/sq. meter per day). For a flat panel, the deviation from the best southern nevada site to the worst northern washington state site is only 2-to-1! The rest of the country is suprisingly small devation within this. See []

    Solar cells degrade by 2-5% every year and have a life span of ~30 years

    Wrong again. Silicon solar cells degrade less than 10% over 25 years, and are garanteed by the manufacturer to not exceed this over a 20-30 year guarantee [] - compare that to any other product guarantee! Though, they are guaranteed for 20-30 years, their life isn't limited by it. (see [])

    Then keep in mind that you have to keep all of those cells clean

    Wrong. If you clean them verses do nothing you get a whopping 4% increase. Few people clean PV panels.

    And to top it all off, when you cover large tracts of land with solar cells, that land gets less sunlight.

    My roof doesn't seem to mind. What land? The average roof has 4-6 times the generating capacity of the average house. 1600 sq ft house = 148 sq meters. 148 m x 150 watts x 6 hours = 133 kWh/day. Average house power consuption 24kWh/day. Beat that with some other form of energy.

    after a year with more than average rainfall causes refridgerators to cease functioning and food to rot.

    Wrong. When is the last time you noticed the sun failed to come up (yes you still get power in overcast conditions). Further, home PV systems are designed using statistic based on the past 30 years of weather data (see []). Ask somebody with PV, their power is WAY more reliable than the grid. In fact, most of the comminucation repeaters throughout the western US use PV for this reason.

    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.

    Wrong. Solar is a reasonably dense form of energy wirelessly transmitted through a light "grid" in a usable form almost everywhere on the earth. If you wanted to compare space needed to produce all the electricity consumed in the US it would be a small 100 mile square (see picture for scale []). In fact studies have shown coal uses as much space due to the space required for strip mining. Try strip mining on top of your roof!

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

    Wrong. What would it cost to pay for solar electricity? Try the cost of the Irag war. Seriously, do the math (including new military spending) and that would be enough over the next 3-5 years to t

  • Otherwise, good post, I'm sure Pavel's used to getting his name misspelled, and SlashDot won't let anyone put a cedilla on top of the C anyway. It's a nice blue [].

    Bruce Sterling needs to learn a lot more about nuclear power than he evidently knows. He seems to be stuck in a Chernobyl culture.

    My own answer would be to go off-planet in search of energy, but we can't break that down into small enough pieces to sell to anyone with enough resources to actually do it.

    In the absence of that sensible but grandiose solution, I'll quite happily swap the local coal-fired power station (Muja) that burns 12 tonnes of Uranium every year for one that reacts maybe half a tonne of the stuff every year, less than a tenth as much radioactive material involved and the results carefully captured and rationally stored for reprocessing instead of being spewed into the atmosphere.

    This says nothing about the Radon and other radioactives released in the mining and processing of the coal, nor about the miners killed and injured in extracting it, nor about the huge amounts of diesel burned in mining and transporting it, nor about the enormous tracts of bush turned over so the miners can whip the coal out from underneath it.
  • by Suidae (162977) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @11:20AM (#9303597)
    Even the Exxon oil spill and Iraq oil fires were fixable

    Fixable? 11 million gallons of crude oil spread over 1300 miles of coastline is fixable? Go walk on some of those beachs and you can still find plenty of oil and plenty of animals that show the effects. The waves did more to remove the oil from the beaches than the 10,000 people involved in the clean up, and all they did was wash it into the water.

    The same goes for oil well fires. Do you think they flew around and collected all that smoke with its sulphur, mercury, dioxins and other toxins? Or that they scraped up the millions of gallons of sludge that soaked into the ground around there?

    Thats not what I call fixed.

    If nuclear waste was properly reprocessed to remove all the 'hot' material, which is useful as fuel, the remaining waste would be fairly easy to deal with, and there would be far less of it than the billions of gallons of oil that have been spilled in the last few decades. Dispursed over the same area as those spills and it probably wouldn't even be detectable.

    Not that I'm gung-ho about nuclear power buildups, those plants are very expensive, and the public is still way too gun-shy of nuclear. I'd much rather see more money dumped into applying technology to using less power and using it more efficently.
  • by Fly (18255) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:37PM (#9308757) Homepage
    Your NPR story clearly states, "The DOE says the material, left over from nuclear weapons production, won't pose a hazard." Please do not confuse the waste from our weapons program with the waste from power plants.

FORTRAN is for pipe stress freaks and crystallography weenies.