earthwitness matters > Recognizing Abomination-Nuclear Energy

I thought that I had posted a reply, don't have time to totally recreate it.

Joel, thanks for your comment. As you say, the question should be how do the dangers of using nuclear power compare to the dangers of not.

Again, I want to be clear that a vote for nuclear is a vote for another low-GHG emitting electricity source. Solutions include higher efficiency, living more richly by living with less, and renewable energy. Some of these will cost money. California will be supplementing federal subsidies of photovoltaic (solar) panels by billions of dollars over 10 years -- by 2017, we hope to have 0.4 nuclear power plants worth of solar energy here. This is money well spent.

Paul, your first question is good. Friends believe in knowing something experientially. Scientists do this. So do non-scientists, but in some cases our experiences mislead us. Newton taught that a constant force produces a constant acceleration, while my students know that a constant force on the gas pedal produces a constant speed. So really understanding the world experientially sometimes requires a challenge, so that we see the conflict in what we have mislearned.

One scientist, or a sort of scientist, or someone who might have taken science in high school, is not an authority unless vested with that approval by the scientific community. Even then, the approval is limited in scope. Scientists and policy experts submit their thinking to the community through peer-review articles. Their ideas are then seasoned by the community and accepted or rejected. That doesn't mean they are all right. But on the average this process will be much more successful than discussions that ignore peer-review and seasoning.

I don't remember the details that convinced me Moyers was not a scientific authority. But the point is, why would I go to Moyers to learn science anyway? I go to environmental groups not to learn science, but to see how well they reflect what scientists believe. (Answer: they are doing better; there is much room for improvement.)

I cover many of your points in my blog, A Musing Environment. Go to the Alivisatos talk to learn more about limits of current solar technology and hopes for the future.

If you argue against centralized electricity, you argue against wind, which will require massive upgrade of the grid. I'm not clear why distributed energy is better any more than I understand why distributed transportation (cars) benefits the poor. I hope that your comments on a consumerist society mean that you don't drive and fly -- we need all of the allies we can get!

Meanwhile, it is easy to say that someone said something, including Harvey Wasserman, who doesn't publish in any of the journals I read -- so I presume his work is not being submitted to the policy community for their seasoning. I encourage people who are anti-nuclear to find if there is any information from the science and policy communities that supports your beliefs. National Academy of Science and MIT's The Future of series are good places to begin. Even better, read them to find the questions and points they find interesting.

There are many sources of background information on the web, for example, The ABC's of Nuclear Science (different from nuclear engineering).

Please, if information exists in the science or policy communities to indicate that nuclear power is dangerous, let alone as dangerous as the alternatives, or that it is easy to return atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations to 400 ppm CO2e (from 430 today), without nuclear power, please find it for me. [Note: even at 400 ppm CO2e, chances are 10 - 20% that the temperature increase over pre-industrial times will exceed 2 C. Policy experts assume that stabilizing at 550 ppm -- 10 - 20% chance of staying below 2 C -- with expanded use of nuclear power will be difficult. No plans exist, so far as I know, for stabilizing at 550 without.]

May 30, 2007 at 06:44PM | Unregistered CommenterKaren Street

I finally found the Moyers story, when looking up information on Helen Caldicott:

Caldicott’s investigative writings had the distinction of being nominated and subsequently chosen as Project Censored’s #2 story in 1990. Citing the research of Soviet scientists Valery Burdakov and Vyacheslav Fiin, Caldicott argued that NASA’s Space Shuttle program was destroying the Earth’s ozone and that 300 total shuttle flights would be enough to "completely destroy the Earth's protective ozone shield", although there is no scientific evidence to back up this claim.

The show, if I remember correctly, was Moyers reporting Project Censored's list of under-reported and unreported stories.

May 31, 2007 at 10:58PM | Unregistered CommenterKaren Street