Friday, June 01, 2007

The Nuclear Temptation: The Perils of Pushing Atomic Energy as the Climate Change Panacea - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

The Nuclear Temptation: The Perils of Pushing Atomic Energy as the Climate Change Panacea - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

This article leaves me frustrated. There's nothing new, and the anti-nuclear slant gets old. Even the title is annoying. "... the Climate Change Panacea ..." Anybody who uncritically uses the word "panacea" in a sentence containing the phrase "climate change" ought to be shot, not only because there is no climate change panacea, but because nobody with half a brain claims that there is.

Uncritical association of "panacea" with "climate change" is suitable for setting up a straw man, and nothing more.

What might have been new would have been some sort of analysis of exactly how humanity can expect to obtain the energy needed to replace depleting energy presently liberated from polluting fossil sources, all the while providing vast quantities of new energy to meet the needs of expanding economies and many millions of new people (two or three billion of whom already exist in squalor).

But no. The question is acknowledged as pressing, but that's about it.

The article acknowledges the "largely carbon neutral" nature of nuclear energy, but only as a back-handed explanation that the fact "allows the industry to accept and promote the worst-case climate change scenarios while simultaneously presenting itself as a potential solution to the problem of global warming."

In a variant of the "panacea" fallacy, some activist doctor is paraphrased as saying that "Nuclear power simply doesn't have the ability to influence global warming decisively..."


Does the good doctor actually think that any option could be individually decisive? Human dieoff would be decisive, but that's not much of an option. I wonder if this doctor has considered the decisiveness of battle deaths in resource wars, the likelihood of which is some function to energy availability?


1 comment:

jj mollo said...

The word "panacea" is more than annoying. It's a flag indicating that the person has no idea how serious the problem is. The words "last resort" would be a lot more appropriate. The social structure is not responding in any meaningful way to global environmental issues that are on the near horizon. The ideal policy, IMO, would be rapid transition to non-greenhouse technology and CO2 sequestration as soon as possible. Does anybody really believe that? I do.

But I can tell you, I also know that it's not going to happen. You've got a hundred power centers around the world who think that they, alone, should be exempted. You have fifty percent of the US population who doesn't believe the science, and another 30 percent who don't care anyway. Societies do not respond, do not change, without major pain being administered. Creeping disaster is just invisible to them.

Can we change the social response? Earth First efforts are not just ineffective. They are counterproductive. No one listens to a fanatic. And besides, they don't take the problem seriously themselves. Al Gore has taken a pretty good swing at it. It was a good try. ... But he also is insufficiently serious, thinking that his own actions don't matter in the grand scheme of things, and refusing to speak the N word.

Nuclear power is risky, but reasonable. Or it can be. It is certainly better than sitting around waiting for the hammer to fall. It worries me somewhat that the French are processing plutonium at the Hague. Isn't that on the North Sea coastline? Hell, it worries me that the French Army is in charge of defending the huge French investment in atomic power. But it worries me more that Paris is getting too hot in the summer and will need air conditioning before long.

The one telling point in the article is that breeder reactors are needed to make this nuclear energy thing really work as a going concern. The French are encapsulating plutonium as a waste product! That is not good. We are afraid to allow other countries to master the breeder reactor technology. Fine, so be it. There are good reasons for that, but somebody's got to do it, and I can think of worse candidates than India.