[mythtv-users] [Slightly OT] solar power for all our gadgets

Jeff Walther trag at io.com
Fri Mar 20 16:46:29 UTC 2009

> Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2009 07:58:19 -0500
> From: Carl Reynolds <mythtv-users at hyperbole-software.com>

> Jeff Walther wrote:
>>> Date: Wed, 11 Mar 2009 08:29:41 -0500
>>> From: Andrew Close <aclose at gmail.com>
>> And it didn't have to be this way, but misguided or just evil people
>> flat out lied about nuclear power and scared the public.
>> If we had built ten nuclear power plants per year since 1980, none of
>> our electricity production would produce any carbon today.

> I'm reluctant to respond to this e-mail because your argumentative and
> strident tone makes me feel that I'm stepping into a hornet's nest.

And I have been trying to let this topic drop ever since because it really
isn't on topic.  However, I will not allow advocates for a needlessly
miserable life style go unchallenged--mostly.

I apologize for my earlier tone, but please recognize it was in response
to a bald-faced assertion that we are all under some kind of obligation to
take up energy generation as a side-line and that becoming poor is
virtuous.  Blatant foolishness puts me in a bad mood.  I should not have
shared the mood with you, so I apologize.  In my defense, I have seen more
and more of our popular culture picking up these fallacies as an
unchallenged "truth".  It is irritating.

> However, I'd like to point out that even though you have stated your
> opinions with a great deal of self assuredness, they are still only
> opinions and you have not backed your statements up with facts.

In the case of unaffordable and pointless solar panels I did indeed back
up my statements with not only facts, but a concrete mathematical example.
 Unless one is paying about $.35/KWH for electricity, the owner's
investment is foolish.   Society as a whole still loses under that
scenario, because of the subsidy, unless the cost is ~$.70/KWH.   I don't
know whether electricity that expensive would make your life shorter and
miserable, but for most of the folks in this (USA) country, it would.  
Yet, those kind of prices are exactly what the "environmental" movement is

My assertion that environmentalists caused our contribution to global
warming is easily verified.  Approximately 110 nuclear power plants
contribute 20% of our electricity.   Ten plants a year for thirty years is
300 new plants.  If one allows that these plants would be at the larger
side of the curve for plant capacity, (capacity of new construction tends
to increase over time) then this would be enough to eliminate all of our
carbon emitting electricity production, except for that needed for load

Furthermore, with careful planning, much of that waste heat you abhore
could be used by other industrial processes, such as oil refining and
paper milling.

This would not have eliminated our carbon emissions from transportation,
but it would have hugely reduced our overall emissions.  We would already
be beyond the Kyoto goals for ten years from now, if it were not for the
environmental movement.

I did not back up my nuclear power safety arguments with facts, because
the anti-nuclear movement has never bothered to do so.  They simply
advance lies laced with bits of truth to make the lies more plausible, set
up strawmen arguments, and try to get folks to mistake nuclear weapons for
nuclear power.   Attempting to correct their lies (or ignorance) with a
physics lesson is always fruitless.  So I take a page from their book.  I
state the conclusions, without the details.  At least my conclusions are
based on facts.

So let's start with the fact that nuclear power is now our most affordable
carbonless energy source. 

>  Your implications that
> nuclear power is perfectly safe and it is only the rantings of a few
> radicals that have convinced the public that nuclear power can not be
> trusted have no basis in fact.

Because that is not my assertion.  This is one of the anti-nuclear
strawmen.  No industrial process is perfectly safe.  Nothing can meet that
standard.  Heck, walking across the room cannot meet that standard.  I'm
sorry you didn't enjoy your time in the Navy, but that's not our problem.

The assassination of nuclear power in the public's eye was the rantings of
many radicals, mostly left over from the anti-Vietnam War movement.  It's
too bad they lost the honor of having a righteous cause and turned to lies
and ignorance.  The faces have changed over the years, but the rantings
have not.

> The fact is that there have been numerous accidents in US nuclear power
> plants because of short cuts being taken in construction and training of
> the people who run them. Most of the accidents are not serious enough to
> have been brought to the public attention,

I am aware of them.  They are relevant only in the sense that all mistakes
are learning opportunities.  All industrial processes have incidents. 
Commercial nuclear power generation in the western world has one of the
best, if not the best safety record of any industrial process.   Again,
nothing is perfectly safe and to assert that as the standard is a
ridiculous and misleading strawman.

> First, no one has come up with a way of safely disposing of the huge
> amounts of radioactive waste generated by a nuclear power plant.

> have absolutely no way to guarantee that we can protect future
> generations from being exposed to this radiation.

Nuclear fuel waste is a tiny product compared to coal cinders, yet the
environmental movement drove us to coal and away from nuclear power in the
late 70s.   Did they expect us to just give up electricity?  Nuclear
reprocessing, which was abandoned in a misguided confusion with nuclear
weapons proliferation further reduces the quantity of nuclear waste and
recycles most of the spent fuel for future use.

We have absolutely no way to guarantee anything to future generations.  We
can make nuclear waste reasonably safe, and absent a collapse of
civilization, the knowledge of the disposal site's loaction will be known.
 This problem is also overblown by the anti-nuclear movement by setting up
a strawman goal with ridiculous standards.

> We bury it in the
> ground and hope that the ground around it stays stable and put up signs

We do more than hope.  We make careful studies based on the best knowledge
we have.   No, there's no guarantee.  Sorry, that's life.  It's still the
best choice available.  And if we're wrong, as long as we have a strong
industrial society, and not a poverty stricken wreck, we have the ability
to react.

However, I would like to thank you for saying thousands of years instead
of millions or forever.  The environmental movement typically claims that
waste will stay highly radioactive for millions of years, ignoring the
fact that anything highly radioactively is quite rapidly transmuting into
something which is not--because that's part of what highly radioactive

> The second, and possibly more important, issue with nuclear power is
> that it uses the Carnot cycle for generation of electricity.

This is a ridiculous argument.   If you wish to object to our injecting
heat into the ecosystem, we have nothing more to discuss.  Physics and the
need to keep billions of people alive says we're going to do that.  Maybe
we're headed the way of the (fictional) Puppeteers, but that's a problem a
long long way in the future.  Eliminating the carbon from all the coal
burned over the last thirty years, would have done far more good by
allowing more waste heat to escape into space.

A few comments not in response to the above quoted message...

Regarding other poster's comments on waste disposal.  Absent fuel
reprocessing, about 90% of the contents of "spent" fuel is recyclable.  It
would be short sighted to dump that in a subduction zone or shoot it into
space.   After reprocessing, the remainder could be dumped in a subduction
zone, if we could keep it contained until it is subducted.  It's a lot
easier to keep it contained in a nice dry geologically stable area on

Shooting it into space is impracticle.  The cost to orbit (never mind to
the sun or moon) is approximately $20,000/lb.   Yes, you could take lead
into orbit, magically convert it to gold, bring it back, and you would
still lose money on the operation because launch costs are so high.

Regarding historical nuclear accidents:

Three Mile Island--proved the safety of commercial energy generation.
Despite horrible mistakes by the operators, still no one was injured and
statistically, there are no expected cancers.

Chernobyl--Not even relevant and anybody who actually researches this
topic would know why.  There were at least two fundamental differences
between Chernobyl and commercial energy production in the western world. 
First, there was no containment structure around Chernobyl.  Second,
Chernobyl is a very different type of reactor which uses graphite as its
moderator instead of water--western world reactors use water.   So at
Chernobyl, the uranium was surrounded by carbon.   In the USA it is
surrounded by water.  This matters in several ways which I am not going to
discuss.  See above about fruitless physics lessons.

The British Windscale incident was not at a power generation facility and
had issues similar to Chernobyl which make it fundamentally different from
commercial power generation.   In fact, the decades earlier incident at
Windscale should have taught the Russians that Chernobyl style reactors
were a bad idea.

Jeff Walther

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