Doomers at it again

Since I first learned about global peak oil and its economic consequences, nuclear catastrophe has been my constant nightmare. It’s easy to imagine the world’s nuclear power plants melting down catastrophically when the monetary system fails, and failure of the electrical grid follows. Assuming we can maintain economic growth forever on a finite planet has us headed straight for global-scale disaster.

So says doomer prophet Mike Stasse.  It’s ‘easy to imagine’… and just like John Lennon’s (more optimistic) song of the same name, we are meant to use the power of our imaginations to fill in the gaps. Mike doesn’t spell out exactly how a GFC makes passive-safety nuclear power plants melt down. What, he thinks they’re all like Fukushima, Gen2 reactors? They’re slowly being upgraded. Modern reactors like China’s AP1000 simply park themselves when power systems fail. Stasse obviously hasn’t heard of pebble beds or ‘neutron leak’ or a number of other clever inventions that basically make modern reactors Homer Simpson proof. It’s called walk away technology. They’ve had this technology for a while, and post-Fukushima the requirement and economics for it are now clearly spelt out.

“Argonne’s advanced fast reactor (AFR) has demonstrated its passive safety conclusively on a working prototype. “Back in 1986, we actually gave a small prototype advanced fast reactor a couple of chances to melt down,” says Argonne nuclear engineer Pete Planchon, who led the 1986 tests. “It politely refused both times.”

Like OZ working his magic behind the emerald green curtain, Stasse dazzles us with Maslow as if somehow this is relevant to his unspoken assumption that a mere GFC is going to melt down all the reactors. Having topped my Advanced Diploma in Social Sciences, I have a lot of sympathy for understanding Maslow. However, it doesn’t have a lot to do with proving that a financial crisis, even a Great Depression, is going to get these reactors to disobey the laws of physics!

Not only that, but notice how he slipped in that anyone who is for nuclear power is also for exponential economic growth on a finite planet? The two go together forever, didn’t you know? If you’re for nuclear power, you’re also apparently for 10 trillion people all driving Hummers and living in huge McMansions, eating cheeseburgers all day long, didn’t you know? 😉  However, some of us see nuclear power as ONE solution. The energy solution. I think if it does that well, then we should thank it and move along to our next topic, which might be how to run a stable state economy in a world with no population increase BECAUSE we provided everyone with everything they need (especially education and empowerment for girls in developing countries). Who can be against that? Well, doomers will have to be. It just might prevent that population bomb going off, and we can’t have that can we? So they’ll find some reason we cannot stop population growth as happened in Kerala, India, when the government provided education and empowerment for women.

Japan, as bad as it is suffering right now, is a harbinger of far worse events ahead. And ionizing radiation is only one of many adverse artifacts of industrial civilization.

This is where Stasse is inconsistent. Let’s be honest here for just a moment. You HATE civilisation! Look at your masthead! “Damn the Matrix, or why the world is going to hell.” Please, give us a break from your phoney concern: all 7 billion of us are going to starve to death soon, remember? What’s there to worry about? You hate the modern world. You hate humanity and see us as some sort of over-breeding virus. So don’t go publishing inconsistent articles pretending that you hate nuclear power because it might hurt some people in some incomprehensibly improbable, physics-defying meltdown scenario you’ve conjured from the depths of your own doomer fantasies: let’s get real here. You only hate nuclear power because it is the one clean technology that threatens to rain on your little doomer party.

Then it just gets better. In rapid fire, Stasse quotes every ‘expert’ he can on Chernobyl and Fukushima. Really, anyone who has a strong opinion qualifies. He does not tell us what their qualifications are to comment: what their data is, and how it relates to the peer-reviewed nuclear science.

The 71 soldiers with radiation poisoning is a real concern, and a very sad story. I wish them all a successful recovery. TEPCO obviously needs a more transparent monitoring agency to oversee the management of all their older reactors.  But what I’m trying to argue is that, despite some risks, the risks from newer reactors are reduced exponentially. I’d rather live next to an AP1000 or GE’s S-PRISM than a coal fired power plant.

There may eventually be deaths from Fukushima’s meltdowns: I’m not aware of any yet. But here’s the thing. A few accidents and few deaths does not rule out using a whole category of technology, or we would have stopped modern aviation because of the Hindenberg. Not only that, but how many people died in Australia’s road toll last year?

According to the Pulitzer Center in the US, 1.2 million people die on the world’s roads every year – and that figure is likely to get worse as the number of cars in service climbs.

In Australia the fatality rate is 6.1 per 100,000, but in poorer countries like the Dominican Republic, Iran, and Thailand, road accidents will soon become the fifth leading cause of death, leapfrogging past HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

In other words, without trying to sound callous, technology has risks. We’re prepared to put up with 1.2 million deaths from cars. Maybe robot cars will decrease this road toll, and maybe increasing public transport like trains and trams and trolley buses will also help. But trying to ban nuclear power because of safety concerns ignores the fact that it is the SAFEST source of large scale electricity there is. Coal kills 4000 times as many people (on a per terawatt basis).
As Monbiot says, “….when coal goes right it kills more people than nuclear power does when it goes wrong. It kills more people every week than nuclear power has in its entire history. And that’s before we take climate change into account.”

Doomers would have us rule out the only baseload, clean, abundant source of energy that we know can supply all our energy needs based on their unfounded fears of some civilisation destroying economic collapse occurring simultaneously around the world. Yet they want us to believe them that collapse and Mad Max and mass starvation are inevitable anyway, because peak oil and climate change are here. Yet when optimists raise nuclear power as a solution, doomers have the gall to say that our only solution to climate change and energy insecurity is too dangerous because they’re worried someone might get hurt? Who are they kidding?

As for the rant about Chernobyl’s wildlife… I think I saw that in a Blair Witch styled movie preview.

Instead the peer-reviewed work on ecosystems in Chernobyl paints a more complex picture. We want to read the critics before just blindly accepting anything these merchants of doomerism say. They might not like you for it, but that’s the nature of peer-reviewed science. See what the data says, and how the other experts are reading the data. And the data is in. It seems that almost anything, even radiation, is preferable to nature than us. Simply by our moving out and declaring it a no-go zone, we have let nature have a comeback.

“Nature in the Exclusion Zone has proven far more resilient than expected. Suddenly and completely free of the humans who had hunted them for centuries and destroyed so much of their natural habitat, however, and despite lingering levels of radioactivity that would be unacceptable for humans, wildlife has flourished. With it has come a gradual return of the land itself to its natural, pre-“improvement” state. Forests are overgrowing abandoned cities and beavers are busily damming rivers and canals, returning hard-won agricultural land to swampy marsh and reestablishing the complex wetlands ecosystem which once thrived there. Much like the Chernobyl disaster itself, the new wilderness of the Exclusion Zone is a stark reminder of human limitations.”

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