Nuclear Power


…I am reverting to my .. evangelism for nuclear power: because if there is an answer to global warming, then nukes must be part of the mix, and because we cannot afford to be dependent on foreign gas, and also, finally, because it would help to reinforce the crumbling science base of this country

That is why the nuclear power programme – if and when it arrives – seems to offer hope.

It is not just that nuclear energy is environmentally friendly in itself: it offers a cheap way of producing the energy necessary to produce hydrogen, and therefore to produce hydrogen fuel cells

We need nuclear power and a new generation of boffins

It’s enough to make you weep. Here we are, a nation that once led the world in scientific discovery. Who proposed the theory of gravity? A Briton. Who discovered the circulation of the blood? We did. Where did Faraday hang out, when he came up with the theory of electromagnetism? Right here in Britain.

We are responsible for just about every ground-breaking scientific advance, from the television to the computer to the hovercraft and the trouser press. We worked out DNA and we came up with antibiotics. There was a time when the upper reaches of the British Establishment were populated by scientists: J B S Haldane, C P Snow, you name it.

Before she became a politician, it was Mrs Thatcher’s proudest claim that she had revolutionised the composition of Mr Whippy ice cream, so that it contained more cold air bubbles per quart of vegetable fats. Above all, we were the nation that ushered in the dawn of the atomic age.

That was the subject of the first major essay I ever wrote, and I am happy to confess now, at a safe distance, that I plagiarised it entirely from a Ladybird book. It was called “Atomic Power”, I produced it at the age of nine, and in a spirit of unabashed and exuberant technological optimism I hymned the wonderful things that followed the fission of an atom of uranium-235.

I expect that there were thousands of children like me, who were amazed and enthralled by the pictures of Cockroft and Walton in their Cambridge labs, and the eerie radioactive glow from their tubes and alembics, their hair slicked back, their faces rapt with the concentration of genius.

And who can forget the great Rutherford himself – I can see the illustration even now – and how he worked out that heavier isotopes must be more unstable by looking at a pile of falling books? This is the nation that split the atom and yet now, my friends, how fallen, how changed we are from that position of global eminence.

There is now a growing agreement that for the first time in a quarter of a century we must build nuclear reactors; there can be argument about how many, but they must be a part of the solution to our increasing energy problems.

But here is an awful truth, confided in me the other day by a deputation of engineers and scientists. “If the Government decided to build a nuclear reactor today, there are only half a dozen people who have the experience to do it in this country, and they have all retired.” That’s it, my friends: the birthplace of Newton, and Boyle, and J J Thomson – and we can’t even build our own nukes any more!

The Government is desperately trying to remedy the problem with a £6.3 million nuclear science programme, aimed at keeping nuclear studies going for the next four years in seven universities, but in the short term it will make little difference. If we want a clean, green, nuclear source of energy, we will have to get the French, or the Japanese, or even the South Africans to equip us with the necessary technology.

Unless, of course, students and potential students see what a huge opportunity there is in this field, and start turning back to the subjects – in physics and engineering – that they have been spurning over the past 20 years. I hope I will not be seen as a boss-eyed, propeller-headed nukophile when I say that I hope they do, for all sorts of reasons. As I said on this page recently, I am far too terrified to dissent from the growing world creed of global warming.

But even if it turns out that the worry has been overdone (by the way, jolly nippy today, eh?), then there still seem to be overwhelming arguments for going nuclear. Look at the size of your gas bill; look at the extraordinary growth in the proportion of our energy needs that are now satisfied by gas. It was about five per cent in 1970, and it is about 45 per cent now.

It is terrifying to think that Mr Putin, or any less amenable successor, could have his thumbs on our gas feed-pipe; and it is terrifying to think that we could be perpetually vulnerable to the vagaries of some European gas cartel. We need an alternative, and one that doesn’t just involve crucifying our landscape with wind farms which, even when they are in motion, would barely pull the skin off a rice pudding.

That is why I am reverting to my nine-year-old self’s evangelism for nuclear power: because if there is an answer to global warming, then nukes must be part of the mix, and because we cannot afford to be dependent on foreign gas, and also, finally, because it would help to reinforce the crumbling science base of this country.

We are good at pharmaceuticals, and there are some of the spookier areas – such as the human genome and animal experimentation – where we are world leaders. But we have long since lost our lead in physics and engineering, and if what the engineers tell me is true, the problem begins at school.

We have too few physics graduates teaching physics; we have too few mathematicians teaching maths. The result is that far too much of the first year of university is spent on remedial mathematics, and the result is that it is quite hard to find people who want to be lecturers or tutors in the physical sciences – especially when they can earn double in the private sector.

That’s why science departments have been closing – 30 per cent of physics departments gone in the past 15 years – and without science graduates you can’t get good teachers, and the vicious circle continues. That is why the nuclear power programme – if and when it arrives – seems to offer hope.

It is not just that nuclear energy is environmentally friendly in itself: it offers a cheap way of producing the energy necessary to produce hydrogen, and therefore to produce hydrogen fuel cells, and heaven knows what else. It also offers the hope that we can restore British activity and prestige in the physical sciences, not just as an end in itself, but because if we have to rely endlessly on the Russians for our gas, and on the Arabs for our oil, then no nukes will be bad nukes.

247 thoughts on “Nuclear Power”

  1. There may be only half a dozen people in the UK capable of designing a nuclear reactor, but the trouble is, there is not one that knows what to do with the resultant radioactive waste. That’s the real problem with nukes. As an ex-Greenpeacer, I wish nuclear power were clean, but the waste is noxious and remains so for, unfortunately, many thousands of years. Nuclear power can’t be a viable option until we have either a more efficient reactor system which produces little or no waste, or something useful to do with the waste itself. Anybody want a pile of radioactive slag in their backyard?

  2. What total balderdash Boris! Nukes are hellishly expensive: all we will be doing is taking out a quadruple mortgage on the house with a clause which commits our children to paying it off.

  3. A solar panel on every roof would reduce hot water costs by 70%, a wind generator on every gable end, a water wheel and generator on every weir, more use of the millions of tons of seawater the moon hoists up twice a day, etc., are all good ideas that should be implemented.

    Unfortunately, because we were warned about this 20 years ago and did nothing, nuclear may well be the only option that can now be implemented in time.

    As to the lack of British scientists, maybe grants should be made available to those who want to do science degrees? I can’t help feeling that Physics is a slightly more useful degree for the country than, say, drama and art.

  4. C. P. Snow was the author of The Two Cultures, a slim little book that highlighted the division between one largely artistic and literary British culture, and a scientific and mathematical culture, which spoke different languages, and barely spoke to each other. It struck me as a very accurate description of the state of affairs, and I’m not in the least surprised that the teaching of science has been slowly withering in the face of a near-universal contempt and scorn for science. Anyone who studies it is almost by definition a nerd and therefore a social outcast. And yet the science developed over the past few hundred years has been arguably the greatest human achievement of all time, surpassing anything produced by all our artists and poets and authors put together.

    And science knows no borders. The science developed by Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton was not uniquely British. If anything, it was largely European. And we didn’t invent everything, and certainly not the modern television sets to which we are forever glued.

    As for Margaret Thatcher’s contribution to science, is that why the symbol of the Conservative party looked exactly like a Mr Whippy ice cream cone?

  5. The oldest extant institution (of which I am aware) would be the Jewish ‘church’, allegedly +/-5000 years old.

    Is anyone suggesting that the Nuclear Energy Authority will be knocking about for the 20,000 years needed to keep an eye on the waste?

    By the way, has anyone heard of ‘over-unity engines’?

  6. Well said Boris. We risk losing our expertise in science at our peril.

    Though you can hardly blame our students from shying away from a career in nuclear science if the Government fails to make its support for nuclear power clear – not that the recent wobbles from some in the Conservative Party have helped either!

  7. A 1000 MW nuclear power plant produces 30 tons of spent fuel per year that can be recycled in integral fast reactors or Carlo Rubbia energy amplifiers, leaving behind only short lived isotopes. A 1000 MW coal fired power plant dumps tens of thousands of tons of NOx, SOx and COx to the environment, in addition to mercury, and radioactive uranium, thorium and radium that naturally occur in coal. Every day a coal plant leaves behind a never decaying mountain of waste ash. In fact, coal plants dump more radioactivity than what a nuclear power plant stores on site! This whole issue of ‘nuclear waste’ is a red herring, and so-called renewable enery is infeasible for the base-load power needs of a modern industrial society. Solar power doesn’t work when there is no sunlight. Wind power doesn’t work when there is no wind. With dwindling oil and natural gas supplies, that leaves only one alternative to nuclear power: dirty, nasty coal that kills tens of thousands in North America and Europe every year from lung disease. No radiological event at a commercial nuclear power plant in either North America and Western Europe has either killed or injured any member of the public for the fifty years of its use. But coal – the ONLY feasible alternative – kills TENS OF THOUSANDS every year.

  8. Ok Paul, I’m sold: On coal! (Well, there are about 5 Billion too many people for the planet…along with random disease, this seems like as good an idea as any for reducing population levels).

    Besides, with capitalism being based on a continually expanding market (on a persistantly finite planet) industry’s requirements will become increasingly superfluous as the whole system crashes down around itself.

    The depoplulation, etc., will be greatly accelerated if we continue to let the americans (sorry, they don’t deserve a capital letter in my opinion) run things. In civilization terms, letting the septics be in charge is similar to letting prepubescent teenagers run the world.

    For those thinking of taking to the hills…be careful. I am already there, and i’m not reknowned for being friendly.


  9. Psimon,

    The apparent philosophy your post espouses is the Eco-Imperialism of “Green Power – Black Death”:

    < >

    Robert Heinlein summed this up very well:

    There are hidden contradictions in the minds of people who “love Nature” while deploring the “artificialities” with which “Man has spoiled ‘Nature.’ ” The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of “Nature”-but beavers and their dams are. But the contradictions go deeper than this prima-facie absurdity. In declaring his love for a beaver dam (erected by beavers for beavers’ purposes) and his hatred for dams erected by men (for the purposes of men) the “Naturist” reveals his hatred for his own race–i.e., his own self-hatred.
    In the case of “Naturists” such self-hatred is understandable; they are such a sorry lot. But hatred is too strong an emotion to feel toward them; pity and contempt are the most they rate. As for me, willy-nilly I am a man, not a beaver, and H. sapiens is the only race I have or can have. Fortunately for me, I like being part of a race made up of men and women–it strikes me as a fine arrangement and perfectly “natural.”

  10. Psi and Paul et al

    I see a key point here being an ideological, essentially religious, commitment to propositions that the ideologues do not wish to subject to rational criticism. Boris noted this in his environment article here. Scientists, except for the media glamour boys and babes who often seem more interested in being celebrities, are seen as nerdy. The reason for this may be that scientific reasoning and argument is step by step and often counter intuitive. By contrast celebrities who have things to say about serious issues are more pressed for time and effect and go for rhetoric that pushes the right buttons. I recall RAH making the point about the absurdity of assuming that a sports or film celebrity had anything useful to say about politics or science unless you had good reason to believe otherwise. In fact I think I plagiarised him in a comment last week!

    I guess what makes a view religious is that there is some sense of faith that brooks no criticism. If a Christian tells me that his or her belief is through faith but is not trying to use their faith to browbeat me then we can get along and talk about things. However greens often seem to be a browbeating lot. A couple of friends of mine, originally concerned about the environment, left the local Green party because every non-Green infringement was pounced upon by young singles who didn’t have to travel far to work or ferry kids about.

    I have heard the stories of some friends who were accosted last week by wild eyed animal rights people shouting ‘murderer!’ and witnessed the sharp intakes of breath if you suggest that nuclear power is not a plot by the Illuminati under GWB to blow up the world. What’s the problem we face? None of GWB, nuclear power or animal testing is the answer (to that question I mean – see what I mean by nerdy!).

    Since all these things are seen are seen as the Great Satan by one or more of our great modern (often non-theistic) religions, it often makes critical discussion difficult. Rhetoric is so much more fun and sexy that reasoned arguments that plod from one place to another.

    Of course one of the losses in our education system from the disapperance of physics and maths, and the dumbing down in the name of fun of what remains, is an inability to think logically and critically. I’m not usually a conspiracy theorist – it’s in the hands of one or two professionals on this blog – but I do wonder if there is a real Dan Brown organisation of people making the world safe for people with degrees in media studeies and comparative social skills.

  11. Like Boris I was brought up with the nuclear solution to our energy problems, that was highjacked by the loony lefties and Greens.
    Meanwhile our French industrial competitors with their usual gallic shrug got on with it and now are far less dependant on the whims of our Eastern neighbours.
    Will they be saying “Zut Alors” when the lights go out , no.
    Meanwhile we will be kept in the dark, literally, by sucessive governments delaying making decisions that any free marketeer on supply and demand would see as a simple exercise of GCSE standard.At the same time we will be debating how to educate the Golf Course management MBA students not the engineers needed to cure the failures of their forfathers.

  12. The government declared that the cheapest, safest and easiest ways to combat climate change were “reducing the amount of energy we consume, together with a substantial increase in renewable energy.”

    Investing in new nuclear power stations, they said, is the wrong answer. It would guarantee “that we would not make the necessary investment in both energy efficiency and renewables.” What has changed in 3 years ? Is nuclear safer, more realiable, cheaper ? No it is not.

    Nuclear energy is not the answer for so many reasons. Not least because there is still no way of disposing of the waste safely or reducing it’s impact on the environment. It will still fail to significantly cut CO2 emissions within the necessary time frame, and is sensitive to terrorist attack.

    “Traditionally our energy has been produced by large power stations under a system that wastes most of the fuel we put into it. Two thirds of all energy that goes into any conventional power station is lost as heat. Further loses are made transmitting the energy across vast distance through our old and inefficient electricity grid. Essentially, most of the energy generated by our stations is thrown away before any of us have a chance to waste it.” – source Greenpeace

    The way forward is investing in renewable energy, both locally and nationally. If we had renewable energy mortgages or grants easily available, or incentives where several families or streets could collectively buy and install renewable energy systems, this would be far more economic in the long term, less reliant on foreign energy, and help reach CO2 reduction targets sooner.

    I’m surprised at you Boris and disappointed…

  13. Paul: I have re-read my posts, and i STILL fail to understand where you got the idea i was anti-nuclear. I fear you may have spent too much time near a radioactive pile.

    What i was proposing was a bit of everything, rather than all the eggs in one basket.

    Your failure to see that, and your vitriolic lambasting, lead me to the conclusion that simple arguments are too much for you…And, consequently, your views are likely to be equally as erratic and mis-judged.

    I wasn’t anti-nuclear before, but you are definitely edging me that way!

    I enjoyed your charming beaver metaphor. I’m still racking my brains to think of another species that poisons its environment (well, ALL the environment) as well as humans do, though. 15 Billion population? Make room! Make room! (and water, food, shelter, sewage processors…you really think more humans is better?)

    Much more scared than i was, Henley, Oxon

  14. Psimon,

    I agree with you when you write, “…a bit of everything, rather than all the eggs in one basket.” No one energy source will be sufficient to meet all our needs. However, we should do whatever is necessary to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels due to their devastating environmental impacts and adverse consequences for human health, and due to the wars of foreign adventurism in lands of Islamic fascism to secure reliable oil supplies. This will require whatever measure of renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, hydro-electric, tidal) that we can build as well as advance generation nuclear reactors and clean coal plants whose gaseous and particulate emissions are sequestered from the environment. No one source of energy will be sufficient and nuclear has to be a part of that mix. That being said, the Free Market should determine how much is supplied from all these resources. The job of government should be to ensure public health and safety, not mandate a certain form of energy production.

  15. Adam,

    Your words, “Is nuclear safer, more realiable, cheaper ?” are clearly incorrect. Nuclear generated electricity is cheaper than coal and far cheaper than natural gas, and only government subsidies to so-called renewable energy schemes makes them worthy of construction.

    Kindly read:

    Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors
    < >

    There is a chart near the bottom of this web page that gives a comparison of fatality accident statistics in primary energy production. As always, nuclear is lowest. Now bear in mind that NO fatality at any commercial western reactor has occurred as a result of any radiological event. There have been steam leaks that have killed people in all manner of industries (nuclear and otherwise) as well as electrocutions from energized switchgear, and other type incidences. When these are all added together, nuclear comes out lowest.

  16. Psimon,

    I apologize that my words were taken as “vitriolic lambasting”. But kindly keep the capitol “A” in Americans where you said “americans…don’t deserve a capital letter in my opinion.” Americans kept the people in the UK free from the Nazis in WWII and won the Cold War for them. Don’t forget it.

  17. There are possibly more arguments for, than against, nuclear power stations , but the one thing which they are not , is instantly creatable.

    It takes time to design and build a safe nuclear power station, and it takes time to convince certain sections of the NIMBY population, who , in most cases I suspect,do not understand the real reasons for the objections to the installations in the first place .

    These objections can , again I suspect , be traced to relatively small, but politically powerful pressure groups, of would be nursemaids to the human race.

    Solar power is nuclear power : at a distance ; agreed , but it is just that , all the same .

    Wind power. Only today, according to an interview on radio 4, once more there are pressure groups busy promulgating their short sighted views on the environmental impact of such monstrosities as wind farms.

    The sooner someone in Government actually makes a final decision on these various, non-fossil fuel based, alternative forms of energy the better for all concerned.

    If the money being poured into the lost cause of Iraq were diverted , in total, to developing alternative energy sources, (even including heavily guarded nuclear installations), the problem would be on the way to being solved.

  18. Sorry, but as the americans have done more damage to the world since the war than the nazis (and have no intention of slowing down or stopping until they have consumed all), caused the deaths of more people than the holocaust – and brought us to the very brink of WW3 – they remain, as far as i am concerned, unworthy of any capitals.

    Also, when’s anyone going to realise that the worlds supposedly richest country (apparently that is why we have to do what they say, or something) is actually the worlds poorest country with a great line in spin? Their debts are now greater than almost everyone else put together. Well done. Another fine example of lunacy, courtesy of the septics.

  19. Psimon,

    Your latest post epitomizes “vitriolic lambasting” and is completely untrue. It deserves no response other than this: I am an American and I am exceedingly proud to be a citizen of the strongest, freest, and kindest nation our planet Earth has ever seen. I am equally proud that the United Kingdom has been our closest and dearest ally, and regret that even here in these United States there are people like you who spit in the very face of Lady Liberty – something that your own great country started with the Magna Carta.

  20. Completely untrue?

    American drug companies (america only gets a capital because it’s at the beginning of a sentence) have caused the deaths of millions of Africans, american bombs have recently rained on and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children in areas like Afghanistan and Iraq (to name but 2…this list is VERY extensive!).

    The actions of the american government in the last 6 or seven years have seriously disturbed an area of the world that was just starting to learn to live peacefully.

    Your country is SO free, crossing the road where you want is a criminal offence (i don’t really think you understand the concept of “free”, eh?).

    You mention the Magna Carta. Due to direct american influence in British politics, the current government has now over-ruled this historic and important document, removing the freedoms the document allowed us.

    So, as i said, the americans ARE worse than the nazis, demonstrably, and it is merely your lack of education that makes you believe otherwise. I understand that many of the nazis pleaded something similar at their trials.

    Freedom? You haven’t the faintest idea what freedom even is.

    As a great man once said: “The americans think the world hates them. This is not true. We just want them to go away.”

  21. Psimon,

    I have written my peace. Believe what you wish. We should perhaps now get back to things nuclear than this digression into politics and philosophy on which neither of us will agree with the other. I am very sorry you feel the way you do, but feelings are not reality.

    Sincerely Yours,


  22. Dear Paul,

    It’s really not your fault you are american.

    Better luck in your next incarnation.

    PS. what does “written my peace” mean? Is this a misspelling, or are you imagining stuff? Just wondered.

  23. Paul Primavera, full marks for an entertaining name. No marks, however, for veracity.

    If it is indeed true that so little nuclear waste is produced from each reactor, why then have there been so many tonnes shipped on so many ships, to destinations as far away as Japan and Russia? And an interesting point has been raised that these ships are regular old cargo ships, not some bomb-proof supertanker. One simple explosion and you could turn much of the Atlantic into a nuclear wasteland; don’t think terrorists aren’t aware of this.

    Shipment of Japanese Nuclear Waste
    The high level waste on board the Sandpiper is a by-product of plutonium separation from Japanese irradiated nuclear fuel at the French state-controlled COGEMA reprocessing plant. This waste is among the most radioactive material ever produced – the glass blocks are so radioactive that a person standing within one metre of an unshielded block would receive a lethal dose of radiation in less than one minute. If released into the environment, the waste would be a deadly environmental pollutant for hundreds of thousands of years. The waste is not suitable for making nuclear weapons, but has the potential to be an enormous radiological weapon or ‘dirty bomb’.

    And here is an article about a shipment of 1,000 tonnes of nuclear waste.
    “The European nuclear power industry can’t deal with its waste mountain so it started dumping some of it in Russia. This is illegal and highly dangerous,” said Vladimir Tchouprov of Greenpeace Russia. … only a small fraction, 10%, of this nuclear material is processed and sent back to Western Europe…In total, Greenpeace has collected evidence that over 100,000 tonnes of nuclear waste has been shipped to Russia during the last ten years. Last week, industry officials confirmed Greenpeace’s calculations that some 90% of the waste remains in Russia. In addition to uranium waste from enrichment, contaminated and highly radiotoxic uranium produced during reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel has also been shipped to dumping sites in Russia. European utilities dumping uranium wastes in Russia include: OKG – Sweden, Vattenfall – Sweden/Europe, EoN and RWE – Germany, Electrabel – Belgium, EPZ – the Netherlands, British Energy – the UK, EDF – France, Iberdola – Spain, and NOK/Swissnuclear – Switzerland. The UK and France have shipped the largest amount of uranium waste from their respective enrichment and reprocessing plants. This nuclear waste dumping trade exposes the industry’s cheap attempt to portrait itself as a producer of clean and climate friendly electricity. The reality is that nuclear power is dirty and expensive; it produces vast quantities of nuclear waste for which there is no safe solution. This is another illustration of the deep waste crisis the nuclear industry is facing globally and the ordinary citizen is left with the tax bill to pay for waste disposal.

  24. The notion that nuclear waste is unique in terms of long-term health/environmental risk is a myth. The risk to public health and the environment, tens of thousands of years from now (or whatever timeframe you choose), from coal plants, the chemical industry, and from ordinary garbage (landfills) will all be far greater than that posed by nuclear waste. These other waste streams are generated in vastly larger volumes, are much harder to contain, and contain toxins that never decay away (unlike nuclear waste).

    Coal plants generate ash/sludge, containing toxic elements like arsenic, mercury, lead, and even uranium, in volumes that are more than 100,000 times that of spent fuel or high level nuclear waste. In addition, whereas the tiny volume of nuclear waste is in the form of a highly leach/dispersion-resistant glass or ceramic solid, the coal sludge is in a form that will spread into the environment (contaminate water, etc…) much more readily. Then there is the fact that many of the same toxins are simply dumped directly into the air, where they eventually spread over the land as “fallout”, contaminating the water and soil. In effect, these materials were taken from deep under the earth (in coal seams) and then sprinkled throughout the biosphere. Whereas nuclear waste decays to an activity level less than that of the original mined uranium ore in tens of thousands of years (far less, if we reprocess), it will take far longer for these coal toxins to migrate back down into the earth. In the meantime, the nuclear waste will be extremely isolated/contained from human contact (and the biosphere) while it decays to harmlessness, whereas the coal toxins will spend that time distributed throughout our soil and water, in intimate contact with us.

    Similar arguments apply for chemical wastes, as well as ordinary landfill waste. Thousands of years from now, the residual health risk posed by nuclear waste will be much smaller than most waste streams.

    Rigorous scientific analyses show that, even under the absolute worst-case leakage scenarios, the Yucca Mtn. repository will not expose anybody (let alone a significant number of people) to radiation levels outside the range of natural background, at any time in the future (no matter how long the timeframe). Nuclear is about to demonstrate not only that it does not release any toxins during operation, but that its toxins will remained contained over all time. Thus, nuclear has completed a task that other energy sources and industries have not even started to pursue. Nobody has ever asked them to even try. The double standard that nuclear faces, and has always faced, is so profound it is difficult to adequately describe.

  25. Psimon writes:

    “What i was proposing was a bit of everything, rather than all the eggs in one basket.”

    All nuclear proponents in Britain are proposing is to replace the existing reactors with new (far better) ones, thus merely keeping nuclear’s share of generation the same (at ~20%) if that. That leaves a whole lot of generation to be covered by conservation, renewables, clean coal, and (Russian) gas.

    Rarely do I encounter a nuclear advocate who doesn’t support renewable energy development as well. The favor isn’t returned. It is very common for “environmentalists” (renewables advocates) to be completely unaccepting of any future role at all for nuclear.

    That’s all we’re arguing against; the thought that renewables can do it all, and that no further development of any traditional sources is necessary. We’re also arguing that, among traditional sources, nuclear is a better choice than either coal, or gas imported from Russia or the Middle East. For the portion of energy supply that can’t be provided by renewables (i.e., most of the supply), it really does boil down to those three choices (nuclear, coal, or imported gas).

  26. The favor isn’t returned

    Perhaps you didn’t read my first post in this thread; I’m an ex-Greenpeacer who would happily support nuclear reactors if I believed them to be clean and safe. I believe, indeed, that one day they will be; that day is not yet here. Please don’t characterize everyone who disagrees with you as a logic-defying extremist.

    It seems that Boris is actually proposing to do a lot more than simply replace existing reactors; he’s encouraging the development of the British nuclear industry to a point of world leadership.

    Eventually you’re going to run out of land in Siberia to dump on. I feel this issue particularly strongly because the Canadian Shield is looked at, particularly by the American government, as an equivalent: “hey, there are no American voters there! Let’s use it for a dumping ground!” I mean, I’m not fond of Alberta either, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a country to be forced to deal with its own waste products.

  27. On a more humble note, I have been investigating solar power for our house, prompted by the recent 22% increase in British Gas prices. The results are not encouraging.

    Efficient systems cost £2,000 upwards and can provide (as a contributor states above) around 70% of domestic hot water. Unfortunately hot water is only a small part of our domestic energy needs; the saving amounts to around £50 a year.

    So it would pay for itself in about 40 years – always assuming there are no other maintenance costs, which is unlikely over half a liftime. Of course the manufacturers are at pains to stress the environmental benefits but the fact remains that most people base a decision like this on simple economics.

    The last thing I want to do is rubbish alternative energy. I have been fascinated by the subject since visiting the Machynllech Alternative Technology Centre as a schoolboy and it grieves me to discover that, even today, solar heating is hard to justify economically.

    If we are to encourage a variety of energy sources (it seems to be the one area of agreement in the discussion above) shouldn’t we be looking at much cheaper ways of harnessing natural power at local level?

    Hells bells, I recently bought a superbly engineered bench-mounted vertical drill for £29 from Aldi. There’s undoubtedly sweat labour involved in the manufacture of this tool (friends were guessing it cost £200-£300) but just suppose that same industrial base concentrated on producing small solar and wind systems. Now they would really be worth buying.

    With a little nuclear back-up, of course.

  28. Could you switch to hot water heating systems, ie radiators for the house? It’s unfortunately true that solar and other alternative energy sources work best when built into the house from the beginning. If your heat reservoir is under the floor, you can have practical, efficient heating and energy storage at the same time.

  29. Paul W. Primavera and Psimon

    It might be worth pointing out that the biggest European export – Marxism – has killed about 40 million people.

    America and the UK, and I think Denmark, were the major fighters agianst the slave trade, which was not invented by America funnily enough.

    I admit that listening to Michael Moore can make you take a dim view of Americans but he isn’t representative.

    I can’t help thinking that some folk reasoning in a QA way – if the box is ticked then the truth is arrived at. I was listening to the radio 4 interview with an American lady about Guantanamo Bay. She thinks, rightly or wrongly, that the inmates were arrested in a combat zone and are likely to have information that will assist in the fight against the Taliban and al-Quaeda who have declared war on America. Releases have been made where they felt there was no further threat. I think the problem some Europeans have with the US is that when it decides to do something (and you could been a bit quicker in the 30’s Paul) then it tends to try and carry it through rather than go for the rhetorical and artistic. That’s why German is not my first language. So I’m pretty glad the US is around warts and all!

  30. Jack, I’m surprised at you. Surely you recognize that the Underground Railroad, the runaway slave’s route to freedom, ran from the US to my country. It was operative for several generations, and is why the Maritimes and Ontario have such substantial black populations. I wouldn’t call the US a major opponent of the slave trade, then or now.

    And yes, they were a few years late to WWII. Okay, enough American-bashing for now. They’re all asleep and it’s too easy.

  31. Jack, I promised Melissa i would try and behave.

    The slave trade was around thousands of years before america. I do not dispute this. The US was about 20 years behind us in trying to abolish the slave trade. I’m just not sure why you brought it up!

    As to the war help, i recall a wit saying “The americans are trying to make up for being late for the last 2 world wars by being really prompt for the third one”. And thereby lies my problem with them. For a supposedly christian nation, they do seem to have a bit of a problem as regards “Thou shalt not kill”.

    Bush is a warmonger, Roosevelt was the opposite. And, as the septics made us pay for their help (we have only recently finished paying them back!), their presence in Europe was more akin to a mercenary army than as fighters for European freedom. In the same way as the americans declare the worlds biggest debts are (in their view) what makes them the richest nation, so their “help” in WW2 wasn’t nearly as altruistic as they want you to believe. It’s just spin.

    In a similar vein, the US loves to remind the French of the same supposed debt to them for their freedom – quite forgetting that their very independance was directly due to the help the French gave them!

    America 60 years ago was different to the america of today…as Germany is too (odd role reversal, eh?). 60 year old history is NOT an excuse for what they are doing now.

  32. raincoster

    Didn’t the Underground Railway run from slavery US states to non-slavery ones?

    Wasn’t there some unpleasantness called the Civil War which had more than a passing effect on slavery?

    Would the world be a better place if the US had withdrawn all its armed forces from Europe and Asia during the cold war? (I suppose given the way the EU is going sometimes it would be difficult to know on that one. Velvet Stalinism may be less murderous but I’m sure it can rot the spirit as much as the full blooded item).

    A very good American friend and colleague of mine once found that another colleague had posted on his door an article about modern education. He had added the title “How to be as stupid as an American”. She sighed slightly but said she wasn’t going to bother anyone about it. I offered to replace the word American by Ethiopian or Irishman but she said “I don’t think you should do that Jack”.

    The most obnoxious American person I know is a fully paid up Guardian reader who insists on telling everyone what to do, what to think, how to feel. If it weren’t for her accent it would be difficult to tell her apart from many others on the Labour payroll vote.

  33. Psimon

    I brought slavery up because the US palyed a role in abolishing it even if they were later than GB.

    I have no doubt that the motives of the US are mixed. Nations don’t do altruism. However there are societies that I hope will prevail – the open societies – and they tend to rub along together. I don’t suppose for one moment that the prevalent thought of every US soldier in Iraq is “Goody – another day fighting for liberty”. Somehow I don’t think soldiers think like that (No offense to said soldiers – I had two very decent cousins who joined the army as privates and worked up to NCO’s. Two of the kindest blokes you could meet).

    However if a democratic Iraq can be established this will be a step forward for the people of the region. If Saddam had remained in power then he would have been looking to develop WMD just as Iran is now. It may be ‘unfair’ (You’ve got one so why can’t I have one!) but if it’s a choice between US and the West having nukes or Islamacist and/or secular fascist countries having them then I would rather have the former arrangement.

  34. Certainly outlawing slavery within a state that has previously allowed it is laudable, but it can’t really be categorized as “crusading against slavery.” And the Underground Railway did indeed run to Canada; the Mohawks on the St. Lawrence began a long tradition of people-smuggling, getting blacks across the river under cover of darkness. There are many places in Northern New York state with hidden rooms in which slaves fleeing North were kept from the forces of the US government.

    Here is an interesting site which discusses the history of slavery in the Northern US. Even I didn’t know that slavery wasn’t abolished in New Jersey till 1865!!! And interestingly enough, it turns out that the British were largely responsible for the freeing of American slaves.


    African slavery is so much the outstanding feature of the South, in the unthinking view of it, that people often forget there had been slaves in all the old colonies. Such Northern heroes of the American Revolution as John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin bought, sold, and owned black people.

    Every New World colony was, in some sense, a slave colony. French Canada, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Cuba, Brazil — all of them made their start in an economic system built upon slavery based on race. Slavery was still very much alive, and in some places even expanding, in the northern colonies of British North America in the generation before the American Revolution. That war, however, proved to be the real liberator of the northern slaves. Wherever it marched, the British army gave freedom to any slave who escaped within its lines. This was sound military policy: it disrupted the economic system that was sustaining the Revolution.

  35. Just for the record Psimon, your quip about: “Thou shalt not kill” is a popular misconception. A more accurate translation of this item from the laws of the covenant would be (allegedly) “Thou shalt not murder”, murder meaning to kill unlawfully. (Kind regards to Eliezer Segal: “…The verb that appears in the Torah’s prohibition is a completely different one, “ratsah” which, it would seem, should be rendered “murder.” This root refers only to criminal acts of killing.“)

    The other issue of course is that this is a Jewish, rather than Christian tenet as it derives from the Pentuarch. Jesus, given that you believe he existed, exhorted us to: “love thy neighbour” and so, given we adopt this philosophy, the issue of killing or murder becomes academic unless it’s for their own good.

    From this we can only deduce that he (Jesus) was probably a Liberal Democrat and, along with St. John the Divine, on some outstandingly good sh!t.

    Not that I have any time for this sort of dogmatic nonsense but if you’re going to have a pop at them for hypocrisy it’s as well not to lead with the chin.

    And, before I end up under a scrum of outraged God botherers, I would like to remind anyone offended by these notes that I am entitled to my opinions too.

  36. Fair enough, Jack.

    Although i should point out that there is NO evidence or proof that Iran is trying to develop WMDs…as, indeed, none have been found in Iraq.

    I warn again of the dangers of listening to american spin.

    Iraq was about oil…you know it, i know it, the whole world knows it.

    Iran is selling IT’S oil in euros, undercutting the U$ and threatening the US economy.

    Afghanistan is the proposed route for the pipeline.

    But, if people want to be ignorant of such things, who am I to argue.

    It’s just sad that so many innocents have to die to service american greed.

  37. I’ve always been about as terrified of the nuclear option as Boris is enthusiastic. But just lately I’ve started to wonder if it’s actually the issue that will test the environmental lobby’s ability to adapt as the world changes. There’s no way it’s the answer to all our prayers, but it’s just possible it might play a part in an integrated energy programme that made the most of all the options at our disposal, were such a programme to exist.

    I think that might be what Boris is suggesting, in amongst all that jingoistic twaddle about how we used to rule the world in science. Whather the earth is warming or not, allowing the Russians to take charge of our future energy consumption IS truly terrifying.

    But there are other things that frighten, and we need to give them thought if we do choose a proud new (part) nuclear future. How you get rid of the waste is the obvious question, but just as tricky is how you decide who runs the nuclear industry. In the current climate, irrespective of ruling party, it will doubtless be put out to tender. The tender document will be full of exhortations to deliver ‘best value’ along with a lot of weasely lawyerspeak about risk assessment that’s designed to get the government out of trouble should anything go wrong. In the end, government procurement being what it is, the contracts will go to private companies offering the lowest prices and the blandest promises.

    And then corners will be cut.

  38. Joe…

    Matthew 19:18 “Thou shalt do no murder”

    Mark 10:19 & Luke 18:20 “Do not kill”

    New Testament, old chap! Words (allegedly) of Christ…as were Matthew 5:30-40 “Resist not evil: if a man smite thee on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” As opposed to the nice Christian americans who just blow everyone and everything up.

    Yes, I lead with my chin…but it’s only because i keep a horseshoe in my glove…


  39. Psimon

    I have no desire to remain ignorant of anything (important) I may be wrong about.

    I don’t know that the Iraq war was about oil. I believe that the US government is legitimately concerned about the threat of Islamacist and other extremism, particularly in the Middle East, which has terrorist manifestations. If part of
    the threat were to deprive America of oil then I think that is something the US governement should be concerned about.

  40. raincoster

    I was holding forth on the topic of slavery one day, saying much as I’ve said here, and one of my lucky audience smirked at me and said “But there are more slaves today than there were then”. I have no idea if he was right but I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. However they sure as hell aren’t in the UK or US, except in foreign diplomatic buildings or imported as sex slaves to UK usually by non-UK citizens.

  41. Iraq, though, was one of the more moderate Islamic states. Saddam Hussein was far too fascist to share power with any god. If the US were really concerned with Islam, they’d have gone for Saudi Arabia, which they could easily have done. That, however, would have brought the nukes down on them. Saudi Arabia is, politically speaking, probably the most fascinating country in the world right now. Israel used to be the tinderbox, but I think it’s moved somewhat to the east now.

    The true threat to the US is not Islam (many of the American soldiers fighting in Iraq are Muslim). I do believe that the threat to the US is the independance of the oil economy from the American dollar. I don’t, however, believe that the US went to war for this reason alone: I believe that the US went to war for this reason and to improve the Republicans’ chances of hanging on to the White House through a few elections. Not going after Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War made Bush Sr vulnerable. Cheney didn’t make that mistake.

  42. Of course if the darker greens get their way slavery may be the best source of power we have. I think the US and UK fought slavery just to ensure the potential domination of nuclear power.

  43. raincoster

    Yup – there are worse things that Islamic states. Saddam’s Iraq was one of them.

  44. Going slightly meta for a moment: Wasn’t someone just complaining that this blog was getting complacent and sleepy? Hard to think of a current hot button that hasn’t been included in this thread.

  45. Sorry to be a bore, chaps, but isn’t this thread supposed to be about nuclear power?

    Forgive me if I’ve posted this before: It’s worth a look.

    Mark, how sad that you should accuse Boris of “jingoistic twaddle” (in an otherwise rational posting). I also find it intensely depressing that Britain can no longer produce world-leading, buccaneering scientists and inventors – a situation not entirely unrelated to all the other negative forces at work these days (dummin down, health & safety, human rights, etc).

    If James Dyson is hailed as the pinnacle of our technological achievements we should be bloody well ashamed of ourselves.

  46. Psimon:
    These references are basically JC quoting Moses Laws.

    Jesus replied, “Do not murder, …”

    The word is still murder not kill which is the get out of jail free card for the increasingly Christian fundamentalist state we know as The United States of America.

  47. OK guys – I’m laying down my keyboard, putting my hands up and heading towards the door – you nucophiles and nucophobes can have your thread again – but I’ll be back!

  48. Awww, Jack, that’s no fun. Come back and fight!

    If there are indeed more slaves now than ever before, it’s more of a reflection of the increased population than anything else: there are unquestionably fewer countries in the world where it is legal, even if you count China.

  49. PaulD: if you are implying that we,( GB.Inc), are going through a technological vacuum , with or without a bag; you are probably correct.

    We do have a surfeit of graduates in non productive areas though. Something for “Good old New Liebour” to be proud of.

  50. Joe…as i understand it, the word actually differentiates between the taking of a human life and an animal life, rather than actually being “murder”. Regardless, the new testament was written in greek and latin, not hebrew…fairly irrelevant, as it was destroyed by fire and completely re-written from memory by one man, but still. I always refer any christian that believes in an “eye for an eye” to Matthew 50:30-40 (turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, blah blah), and remind them of Ghandi’s words: “An eye for an eye, and soon the world is blind”.

    Now, i’m off to follow Jack – see if i can talk him round to the idea of the pub…(well, it IS Friday! And Liebore haven’t made pubs totally illegal yet.)

    BUT, not before i point out the stupidity of Bush’s stance on Iran: “They don’t need nuclear power, they have huge oil and gas reserves”. Did he miss the meeting on global warming, and the backlash of burning those fuels? Oh yeah, the yanks don’t DO ecology, they just kill and steal. Sorry.

    Now, i really am on my way…anyone see which way he went?


  51. Nuclear probably has got to be part of the mix in terms of energy production. It may well be that over time cleaner ways of producing energy from Nuclear will be developed but from what I have read and heard there is no way of producing energy economically that is environmentally squeaky clean anyway.

    Interesting side thread on America.
    I think people in the west often have an emotional attachment to hating America. One develops identity in opposition to others and America is about the only safe target for some one who likes to think of themselves as highly moral and left wing.

    I think it’s often a personal or emotional thing.

    I read all the arguments as to why the USA is demon central but it doesn’t wash for me.

    Rich societies tend to be less corrupt societies. They are the people that other people feel safe dealing with.

    It’s a functional way to be. I don’t see what’s wrong with that.

    I also don’t see what is wrong with a country looking after its own interests.

    However, to the degree that we are now globally interdependent that’s not enough now. I think American interventions stem in part from this realisation.

    I didn’t think the war in Iraq was a good idea. Not because I was worried about war or making an intervention but more because I didn’t think the Iraqi’s had the capacity to carry out a democratic project and I figured we would end with a dangerous mess. I thought this based on prejudices I held about inherited character, and culture/precedent. 40% of me still thought ‘don’t confuse the unlikely with the impossible’ it could be a terrific success. Doesn’t look like it will be though.

  52. Back to the topic at hand, the problem of energy sources is always framed in terms of whether to use nuclear or gas or coal or solar or wind or tidal or whatever energy resource.

    What we do with all that energy is seldon questioned. And what are we doing with it? We are, in great part, converting it into work, to power our offices and factories and transport systems. We are enormously busy and industrious. For no good reason that I know of, we think that this industriousness is in itself a ‘good thing’. And our politicians, left or right, without exception, aim for ‘Full Employment in Wealth Creation’.

    And it’s crazy. It eats through energy resources, pollutes the atmosphere and the rivers and the land, and causes enormous injury, stress, and burn-out. Rather than keep ourselves as compulsively busy as possible, we should instead arrange to minimize work, not maximize it.

    If we were to do that, our energy requirements would fall dramatically, rather than keep on rising as they presently do. But we would first have to question our fundamental assumptions about the nature of wealth, the purpose of the economy, and a great many common beliefs about what is good for humanity.

    That requires serious thought, and nobody likes thinking. And so we won’t question our own profligate industriousness. But, sooner or later, we will have to.

  53. Could you switch to hot water heating systems, ie radiators for the house? It’s unfortunately true that solar and other alternative energy sources work best when built into the house from the beginning. If your heat reservoir is under the floor, you can have practical, efficient heating and energy storage at the same time [Raincoaster]

    We already have conventional oil heating and rads, Raincoaster. Any alternative source would have to be a retro-fit which is, as you say, much more expensive than building into new.

    More people would consider solar and wind (and water if they’re lucky) if the price of the kit plummeted. At the moment it’s still seen as a premium product sold by specialist companies who have to survive on low volumes of hand-built components, equating to high prices.

    Wouldn’t it be great if you could go into a DIY store and buy a decent solar system for under £100? Earlier I mentioned Aldi; have you seen some of the gear they sell? Well engineered, industrial scale power tools for under £30. Unbelievable. Recently I bought a 2.5Kw generator for about £130 which powered our office PC network for a week while some major works were being done on the mains supply. It didn’t blink once (no, I don’t work for them!).

    All I’m saying is that on this kind of manufacturing scale the sub-£100 solar system or wind generator could easily become a reality.

    It would be mighty heartening if the Fat Controller took this up as a cause instead spending his time writing laws to ban me from wiring my garden shed.

  54. Psimon and raincoster

    I’m back – nice thought the pub but I would be tempted to take up smoking after 20 years off the weed just to annoy Nanny Hewitt.


    Is democracy in Iraq doomed? I think and hope it’s still in with a chance. The experience of partition didn’t bode well for democracy in India but they seem to be doing OK. That proves nothing of course. The Palestinians have had their first democratic change of leadership for years. Obviously I would have liked it if they had voted for the Israel Isn’t All That Bad party, which strangely didn’t field candidates. However they chose Hamas. I don’t think this is as bad as the Germans voting Hitler in in 193? – can’t find my history book. Of course this could go either way. Maybe Hamas or significant sections will move closer to the overall democratic road away from terrorism. Or perhaps they will take it as a vote of confidence in terrorists and go down the Mugabe preferred theory of democracy – one man, one vote, one time. However given that a large part of the Hamas vote was anti-corruption I am hopeful.

    My information is mainly from books and newspapers so my premises may be at fault. I am encouraged by some of my e-fellows to go to various websites where the truth will be revealed. But hell! I put stuff on websites.

  55. How on earth a political party fo Moslems could call itself “Ham as ” is a mystery to me, but then I don’t speak a lot of Arabic .

    If the Israelis nor the Palestinians are determined not to recognize the existence of each other , how can they be expected to make some sort of agreement to co-exist?

    When will the leader of the Western World finally lose patience and demand that civilized bi-partisan talks must take place , on pain that total withdrawal of the aid to the area would be withdrawn upon non- compliance with the requirement?

  56. Macarnie, I think Bono is preoccupied with Africa, but you can ask him.

    Charlotte, Canadians have special reasons for distrusting Americans, the fact that they’ve already invaded us once being one of them. If Vancouver ever decriminalizes heroin, I literally expect them to pull a Grenada on us and do a lightning invasion to “restore order.” It may seem cynical, but I live forty minutes (in rush hour) from the American border; if there is one country I know better than my own, it is the US.

  57. Further to my diatribe about alternative fuel sources earlier. Nuclear Power Stations generate a tremendous lot of waste heat, which could be used to desalinate seawater, (under a suitably calculated partial vacuum), and thus contribute to the dwindling water supplies, about which, everybody and his dog seem presently to be moaning.

    The limited vacuum mentioned, by the way, is for heat saving reasons;since water boils at a lower temperature in a partial vacuum; not to stop ” radioactive” steam leaks: there is no free radioactivity, ( other than the normal ambient background stuff ), at this stage of the proceedings.

    We are talking about exhaust steam here, after it has been used to drive the turbines, which generate the electricity.

    Steam loses heat with loss of pressure, but the exhaust stem would retain sufficient heat to boil water in a partial vacuum, before being condensed, to be re-used, as pure water, in the boilers.

    The seawater, would boil, and the steam therefrom condensed, giving pure distilled to add to the drinking water supply reservoirs water. The salts remaing , as a deposit on the heating coils,could be used for the chemical industry. A cycle of almost waste free perfection.

    Giant, skyline spoiling, ugly, concrete cooling towers could be a thing of the past, if all power station exhaust steam were to be so used.

  58. PaulD

    Being able to buy your own panels to save money and the world seems like a good idea. Why can’t we? One of Boris’ previous missives or maybe it was in the Speccie, spoke of the local government legislation nightmare involved. There is an attitude of nothing can be done without the government organising us.

    I read a nice little alternative history story about how the Soviets won the cold war and were leading in computers. Their idea was to have a few mega main frames and everything coordinated by them. The idea of individual computers was a hoot to the commisars. We may be rude about IBM and Mr. Gates but popping in to Dixons to buy a perfectly useful machine for £500 or less is one of the things I like about the free market. Actually maybe Bill G, obviously burdened down with dosh, ought to see if he can something about personal solar panels.

    Mac’s comments are also interesting.

    An imaginative nuclear program for the base and a host of free market personal technologies of all sorts to tailor our individual needs. It will never get out of Quality Assurance and Diversity of course!

  59. And you couldn’t install it yourself; it’s the elf and safety.

    We’re lucky here: we can buy small solar panels for less than a hundred dollars at Canadian Tire. Certainly not powerful enough to run your house, but powerful enough to be darn useful; would be perfectly adequate in a shed, for instance, or a playhouse, or for lighting alone. But of course, since at any given moment in my city it is 86% likely to be overcast, solar panels aren’t the very best solution.

  60. I have worked for almost 30 years in the nuclear power field, first as a submarine reactor operator, then as an instrumentation specialist at a pressurized water reactor and now as a plant process computer specialist at a boiling water reactor. As Rodney Adams points out at Atomic Insights (

    Atomic power is:

    • Safe enough to power floating cities with more than 5,000 people living within 1000 feet of the plant. (The US owns and operates ten of these floating cities. We call them nuclear powered aircraft carriers.)
    • Clean enough to operate inside sealed submarines.
    • Cheap enough to provide overnight power for about 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour.
    • Competitive enough to make suppliers of all other energy sources very nervous.

    My experience is entirely consistent with this.

    Now if the serious reader really wants to improve his or her knowledge of nuclear energy, then I recommend browsing the following web sites (there is a veritable wealth of information out there from which the unbiased reader may learn):

    Nuclear Energy Institute:

    NEI Nuclear Notes:

    World Nuclear Association

    The Virtual Nuclear Tourist

    Dr. Bernard Cohen’s Radiation Research Web Site

    Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems

    Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness

    Innovative Nuclear Space Power and Propulsion Institute

    Uranium Information Center

    Thorium Power

    Nuclear Energy Agency

    International Atomic Energy Agency

    Nuclear Energy Research Initiative

  61. The interested reader who has questions about nuclear wastes may want to review the information at the following web pages:

    Nuclear Waste Perspectives Part 1

    Nuclear Waste Perspectives Part 2

    Yucca Mountain: Right Answer, Wrong Question

    Nuclear Waste Mountain: Unnecessary Sense of Urgency

    The amount of nuclear waste to go into geologic repository can be reduced by recycling spent nuclear fuel, which is the process by which 97 percent unburned fuel (U-238, leftover U-235, and Pu-239) can be extracted and re-used. Various methods are available for such re-use that would reduce the amount of long-lived actinides, thereby making millennia-long geological repositories such a Yucca Mountain in the US a moot point. These include the Integral Fast Reactor and the Carlo Rubbia Energy Amplifier. See web links below:


    CARLO RUBBIA ENERGY AMPLIFIER'carlo%20rubbia%20energy%20amplifier

    Until economics force us to reprocess, then maybe we should use a geological repository (e.g., Yucca Mountain in the US) to store the spent fuel. When we need it, then it will be available for reprocessing.

    Additionally, there is far more naturally occurring Th-232 than U-235, and in a reactor Th-232 can be transmutated into U-233 which is fissile. The Indians are working on such a design:

    To put the whole issue of radioactive waste into perspective, consider that a coal-fired plant of 1000 MW releases more radioactivity than a 1000 MW nuclear power plant:

    Coal Combustion: Nuclear Resource or Nuclear Danger

    Consider also from

    Key airborne pollutants of concern in energy generation are – sulfur dioxide (which contributes to acid rain), nitrogen oxides (which contribute to smog), and carbon dioxide (which contributes to global warming) The following graphs and tables compare release levels for these major pollutants from a 1000 MWe plant of each of the 4 energy generation methods – coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear.

    from a 1000 Megawatt Power Plant
    in Thousand Tons per Year
    Coal 70
    Natural Gas 0
    Oil 30
    Nuclear 0

    from a 1000 Megawatt Power Plant
    in Thousand Tons per Year
    Coal 25
    Natural Gas 16
    Oil 14
    Nuclear 0

    from a 1000 Megawatt Power Plant
    in Thousand Tons per Year
    Coal 6000
    Natural Gas 3000
    Oil 5000
    Nuclear 0

    These gaseous emissions never ever decay away. Note that nuclear has ZERO such emissions.

  62. What I have written next describes the lunacy of anti-nuclearism. If you want the full text, then you will have to purchase the book, “Magawatts + Megatons – The Future of Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons” by Richard L. Garwin and Georges Charpak. Space permits me only a summary account. When you read this, you’ll find a remarkable parallel between the 19th century opposition to railroads and our own activist’s opposition to US and UK civilian nuclear power.

    In considering the negative reactions to nuclear energy, we often find a fear of change, an instinctive mistrust of the unfamiliar. This has been the fate of all great technical innovations. It is important to separate myth from reality.

    Nothing illustrates myth better than the way in which railroads were regarded in the early nineteenth century. To quote the Bavarian College of Physicians, dismayed by the unprecedented speed of trains (about 35 miles per hour): “The speed of movement would addle the passengers’ brains, causing a kind of Delirium Furiosum. Even if the passengers are willing to face up to this danger, the State must, at least, protect those who watch the trains go by, because they will be affected in the same way. It will be necessary to construct a high wall on either side of the right of way.”

    One Professor Kips, of the University of Erlangen in Baravaria, Germany, took the railroads to task for the effect they would have on the breeding of horses. He predicted that the army would no longer have cavalry or artillery. In case of an invasion of Bavaria by enemy cavalry, the army would not be able to put up serious resistance except by importing foreign horses at exorbitant prices. The charming book from which we glean these gems also tells us that the budding railroad lobby proceeded to purchase and burn anti-railroad pamphlets that were being distributed so that the population would not be influenced.

    These masterpieces of visionary ecology were not limited to Bavaria. The great French scholar Arago, renown physicist and member of the Academy of Sciences, was totally opposed to railroads. He saw in the tunnels and underground passages the menace of all kinds of diseases for the passengers, such as inflammation of the lungs, pleurisy, bronchitis, colds, catarrhs, and other kinds of diseases brought on by the underground chill following suddenly upon the heat of the sun in open air. And to further blacken the picture, he took to the rostrum and expounded on the terrifying dangers to passengers if the boiler were to exploded in the narrow darkness of a tunnel.

    Arago could not foretell the future, yet he was partly right. Consider the indifference that greets the news from faraway countries of horrendous railroad accidents causing hundreds of deaths. Every year, all over the world, thousands of travelers are killed because of equipment failure or human negligence. Nevertheless, no one suggests that railroads be scrapped. Their benefits are evident and countless, while their dangers are negligible compared with the toll on the roads due to automobile: 8000 deaths and 100,000 injuries in France alone every year; and in the United States 35,000 annual deaths. Politicians are well aware that efforts to reduce the number of victims by imposing speed limits on drivers could practically lead to riots, or even worse, electoral defeat. Recall the uproar when a 55-mph speed limit was imposed in the United States in the 1970s. In no way should there be negligence in operation of the railroads, or that investments not be made to maintain and improve safety. But the elimination of trains because of their toll in death or injury would be far more damaging to society than would be their continuation.

    Our descendants will experience major and minor nuclear accidents. They will continue, nevertheless, to use nuclear power, along with accepting the obligation to correct anything that compromises its safety, as society gradually does for the railroads.

    The shortsightedness of the violent opposition to the railroads in the nineteenth century finds a parallel with regard to nuclear energy in positions held today by some ecological extremists who thereby imperil the valuable contributions of a reasoned ecological movement. Opposition to developments that show no concern for their long-term consequences is warranted, provided that judgment is correct. But opposition based on unreasoning fear and unthinking hysteria does us all a grave disservice.

  63. Does the fact that the US sends its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers into wars which are obviously inconsistent with optimal bodily safety not make you wonder just how safe they’re supposed to be? If the US really believed that nuclear reactors were that safe, they would use them to power land-based cities. That, instead, they use them to power mobile units on which no-one serves more than a few years, seems to me to indicate the support is not unlimited.

  64. Statistics on death from biomass energy, that great darling of the environmentalist left, are given at the following web page:

    A brief excerpt serves to illustrate my point:

    “…An estimated 2.5 to 3 billion people worldwide and up to 90% of rural households in developing countries rely on traditional biomass fuels–wood, charcoal, animal dung, or crop wastes–to meet their household energy needs. Burning biomass fuels in simple stoves, these households typically generate high levels of indoor air pollution that adversely affect health, especially of women and young children. In fact, conservative estimates of global mortality from exposure to indoor air pollution are approximately 2 million deaths annually, with approximately one million due to acute lower respiratory illness (ALRI) in children under 5 years. Chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tuberculosis, low birth weight, cataract, and asthma have also been associated with biomass smoke in epidemiological studies. At the aggregate level, the use of biomass fuels tends to elevate rates of mortality (and subsequently fertility), delaying the demographic transition and potentially impeding economic growth and development…”

    “…Taken as a whole, the results from the macro and micro data support the conclusion that dependence on traditional biomass fuels leads to higher risks of child mortality. On a global level, the health effects associated with traditional biomass fuels are substantial and potentially rival those of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Successful interventions and policies to address this public health risk thus have important implications for the quality of life for billions around the world.”

    Nuclear supplied electricity can eliminate these 2 million deaths annually from biomass energy. Furthermore, there have been NO public fatalities or injuries from the operation of US or UK civilian and naval nuclear reactors in the past 50 plus years of use. Environmentalists obviously cannot say the same about biomass energy.

    So is nuclear power dangerous? Yes. Has its use cause any public fatalities in the US or UK? No. Is biomass energy dangerous? Yes, by about a 2 million deaths annually (over 3 human lives every minute!).

    You decide.

  65. Raincoster,

    No one pays me to post what I sincerely believe to be true. Study the information at the web links I have provided.

  66. Raincoster,

    This is NOT a debate about US wars of foreign intervention. It is a debate about nuclear energy. If you want to hate America, then so be it. The Nazis did, too.

  67. Raincoaster,

    Please forgive me saying this, but I remain unsurprised yet exceedingly dismayed by the number of people in both the US and the UK who with no commercial nuclear power training or experience think that they merit an opinion on the use of nuclear power as a means of industrial production. This is similar to thinking that a person with no medical training or experience merits an opinion on the means of conduction brain surgery. I intend no disrespect to the citizen who has serious questions about nuclear energy (which we in the industry have an obligation to answer), but the idea that the ignorant merit an opinion is laughable. Again, I intend no offense to the serious reader seeking knowledge in order to form an intelligent opinion. This can be done first by self-study at:

    Nuclear Power Fundamentals

    Now remember that the means of industrial production are not up for popular vote at the ballot box. Rather, it is with the pocket book that the vote must be cast. If you don’t want nuclear-supplied electricity, then simply don’t buy it and erect your own wind mill:

    Do not expect the government to do for you what you want done for yourself. To consider that the government must act as nanny or to maintain that the means of industrial production are up for popular vote is nothing other than socialist. Athens was a democracy, and look what its citizens did to Socrates.

  68. Ah, Paul, I wasn’t aware that you controlled the terms of the debate, only that you aren’t, apparently, that good at summing up.

    I am, of course, free to post whatever I like here, regardless of whether or not it meets your criterion. I don’t actually hate America either, as you can see from my posts in this thread and also here. As I state there, I was a charter member of the George Stephanopoulos fan club, and as I do not state there but should have, I met Clinton, Stephanopoulos, and many Secret Service men at the Vancouver Summit, and had the highest respect for them. I have less, however, for those who attempt to bully communities into obedience or agreement.

  69. Well of course people do have the right to an opinion; that’s not socialism, it’s democracy. Surely you don’t think that voting should be the exclusive right of politicians, do you?

    I am a socialist. I’m fine with it.

  70. Raincoaster,

    This isn’t about attempting to bully communities into obedience or agreement. Rather, economics will do that for all of us. When the lights go out in the UK or US as they have been in South Africa over the past several weeks, then we’ll see what does the bullying.

    Yes, you are free to express your opinion even as I am. I am continually baffled, however, over the arrogance of those who have never even stepped foot in a commercial nuclear power plant let only actually studied fission nuclear power think they merit an opinion.

    Being a charter member of the George Stephanopoulos fan club qualifies one in no way concerning things nuclear.

    Do as you wish. Make
    whatever opinions you wish. The facts will not be altered by such. When the lights go out, then we’ll all have regretted not building more nuclear power plants.

    Now study the web links I posted previously.

  71. Paul, I have been in a nuclear power plant, and I have studied fission and fusion on a very basic level at University, although I believe that even those who have not have the right to an opinion.

    The lights don’t generally go out in my country, thanks to abundant hydro power; we even call our electricity company “BC Hydro”. The power has gone out in yours, in Orange County, California for instance, and not too long ago. Orange County now buys its power from British Columbia.

    I brought up the George Stephanopoulos thing not because I felt it gave me nuclear cred, but because you seemed to be accusing me of knee-jerk anti-Americanism, which is false and offensive. It was not an impression I could let stand.

    As I have said more than once in this thread, if nuclear power were clean I would support it. Currently it is not. And the plans for disposing of the waste do not reassure me.

  72. Ah, one more thing. When I signed up for University, McMaster was my top choice, for one reason alone: it had its own nuclear reactor. Surely you must see that I’m not a dogmatic anti-nuke.

  73. Hey chaps! Please make up!

    Karl Popper once said “You might be wrong or I might be wrong or both but by critically discussing the matter maybe we can both move a little closer to the truth”

    raincoster has a point. Lack of information on a topic doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to an opinion. Else I would be opinionless. On the other hand it does mean that maybe you need to listen more than talking when discussing with someone who may have more information. On the other other hand sometimes an uninformed comment can cause new lines of thought.

    We, in the old mother country, find it quaint how you colonial cousins squabble with each other. I am sure that Our Own Dear Queen would be prepared to let bygones be bygones and let the rebel colonies south of the 49th place themselves back under the protection of her sovereignty, along with their still loyal cousins above it.

    Go on – you know it makes sense! No one wants the cheese eaters to come out ahead!

  74. Jack Ramsey,

    Thank you. My apologies to Raincoaster et al.

    Nevertheless, nuclear power is safe and clean, or at least safer and cleaner than oil, coal and gas:

    Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors

    As far as so-called renewable energy goes, the interested reader may want to review:

    Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not “Green”

    We (in both the UK and US) are running out of time. We are depletion our oil and natural gas resources. We are pollution the atmosphere with green-house gases. And renewable energy alone is insufficient to replace fossil fuels.

    Jack, I additionally like your statement:

    “I am sure that Our Own Dear Queen would be prepared to let bygones be bygones and let the rebel colonies south of the 49th place themselves back under the protection of her sovereignty, along with their still loyal cousins above it.”

    I need add nothing to it.

  75. Sorry about the previous misspellings.

    “We are depletion our oil…” should be “We are depleting our oil…”

    And “We are pollution the atmosphere…” should be “We are polluting the atmosphere…”

    I typed too fast and didn’t do a spell-check prior to posting.

  76. By the way, I am in favor of renewable energy wherever it can be economically utilized. But it appears that some people in the UK are as affected by anti-technological lunacy as our own Senator Ted Kennedy and his nephew RFK Jr. here in the Colonies, both of whom oppose a wind turbine installation off Martha’s Vineyard because it might despoil their pristine view (which will mean nothing when the lights go out). Please read the following web link for more of the same lack of understanding in the UK:

    In both countries, in fact, throughout all of Europe and North America, we are all going to need a lot more wind turbines, nuclear power stations, geothermal plants, tidal generators, solar power installations, hydro-electric plants, etc.

    Time is running out and there is no one solution.

  77. Paul W P:
    This very morning there was a programme on BBC radio 4 ,about those living in Cumbria raising objections to windfarms.

    We in the UK are,admittedly, pressed for space , not like our cousins on the other side of the pond.

    If the objection to with building of alternative power sources at Martha’s Vineyard should be the despoiling of Kennedy family’s pristine views were the only problem , there are at least many other places where extensive wind farms could be built in New England: we , on the other hand are left with little aternative to the sea ; i.e. offshore installation of wind farms . Perhaps no mean place to build,( no human NIMBYs), but much more expansive than shorebased stuff after all.

    I agree that there are but few other realistic alternative methods of power generation , but ALL methods need to take off PDQ if , as you say , our sons / grandsons/daughters are not to be left in the dark. Time is of the essence.

    Nuclear waste seems to be the sticking point in this debate, large amounts could be stored, until needed for recycling ,in deep, worked out coal mines,( of which we have a few), where the effects of any possible RA leakage would be able to be monitored and managed by remote controlled, computer steered robots.

  78. Macarnie,

    I agree with you. It takes many, many square miles to produce with wind turbines or solar PV cells what a single 1000 MW nuclear power plant can do on a few acres of land. But what I found entirely ironic with the Kennedy example I had cited before is that the proposed wind turbines were to be built six to 10 miles off the coast of New England in Long Island Sound and would constitute a series of small dots on the horizon. The real objection was that the Kennedy’s would no longer be permitted to yacht in their favorite area. So Senator Ted Kennedy, the liberal lion of the US Democrat Party, would sacrifice energy independence for his ability to yacht off Martha’s Vineyard. The US Republican Party, however, is in much the same boat. I live in upstate NY near where Mr. Golisano hails from. He had run for the NY governorship first as an independent and then considered again such a run under the Republican banner, and he opposes with equal vigor wind turbine farms in upstate NY where there is plenty of room (unlike in the Mother Country) and plenty of need (the same as there is in the Mother Country).


    I do think that nuclear power will become a major part of our energy solution. One of the major reasons is (as I alluded to previously) the fact that a very small amount of uranium is equivalent to a very large amount of oil or coal. Consider what Rod Adams writes at Atomic Insights:

    One pound of uranium contains as much energy as 2 million pounds of oil. Releasing that energy from the uranium results in less than one pound of waste material that can be stored in a simple container for decades with no effect on the environment.

    Burning 2 million pounds of oil will require releasing several thousand tons of carbon dioxide, and varying amounts of sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide, and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.

    A pound of uranium is easy to move while transporting 2 million pounds of oil requires the service of about thirty standard sized tanker trucks.

    The facts above can be verified using any physics book, the implications of the facts are almost never discussed

  79. I am not in principle opposed to nuclear power, but the experience thus far has not been a terribly happy one.

    In the UK, we were promised nuclear power that would be so cheap as to be virtually free. In the event, it was more expensive than practically everything else. For one thing, the nuclear industry hadn’t factored in the costs of decommissioning power stations and storing nuclear waste.

    And there are also a whole string of accidents. In the UK, the Sellafield nuclear facility has a history of radiation leaks. In fact I think its name was changed as neat way of getting people to forget the original accident-prone name. And in my case, the ruse has worked perfectly.

    In addition there has been 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl. The latter has resulted in a large surrounding area having been entirely evacuated.

    I would like to re-iterate my suggestion that, quite aside from providing new energy sources, as a society we might consider how we might simply do less work. If nothing else, if we do come to face an energy shortage, this is going to happen.

  80. idlex,

    First, I apologize that in many instances below I do not have corresponding web links to the UK’s nuclear program; but because the UK is a member of WANO (World Association of Nuclear Operators) in the same manner as the US, then I am certain that there are equivalent UK examples.

    Your concerns are valid ones. First, let me explain that the reactor at Chernobyl was completely unlike any Western reactor. It was a light water cooled, graphite moderated, plutonium weapons breeder. It had a positive void co-efficient of reactivity (something no Western reactor has) and no Containment structure. Its operators violated procedure, over-rode the engineered safeguards actuation systems and that resulted in a reactivity excursion which by the laws of physics is impossible in any reactor in either the UK or US. You may read more at:

    The Accident at Chernobyl: What Caused the Explosion.

    As far as TMI Unit 2 goes, again the operators violated procedure, but unlike Chernobyl, TMI Unit 2 has a Containment structure which kept the radiological by-products secured from release to the environment. And TMI Unit 2 underwent no steam explosion or control rod ejection accident as happened at Chernobyl. The event at TMI showed that when the worse happens at a light water cooled and moderated Western reactor, public health and safety are never in any danger. For more information, kindly read:

    The TMI 2 Accident: Its Impact, Its Lessons

    As far as the UK’s use of nuclear power goes, the idea of using MAGNOX graphite moderated, CO2 cooled reactors is a failed concept. These types are completely different than GE’s BWR or Westinghouse’s PWR. Additionally, third and fourth generation reactors being built in China, India and elsewhere are much safer and more productive than the UK design. Please browse the following for more information:

    Gas Cooled Fast Reactor

    Very High Temperature Reactor

    Supercritical-Water-Cooled Reactor

    Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactor

    Lead-Cooled Fast Reactor (LFR)

    Molten Salt Reactor

    Design Certification Application Review – AP1000

    Design Certification Application Review – ESBWR

    Design Certification Pre-Application Review – ACR-700

    Design Certification Pre-Application Review – EPR

    Design Certification Pre-Application Review – IRIS

    Design Certification Pre-Application Review – PBMR

    I have plenty more information, but the fact of the matter is that no technology is 100% safe. Of all the ones used to generate electricity, nuclear is by far the safest.


  81. And another thing. This whole energy thing sounds like just another scare story along with passive smoking and avian ‘flu and everything else.

    The passive smoking threat was pretty much non-existent, but Parliament was duped into a draconian bill which will destroy the British pub as it used to be.

    The avian ‘flu threat is real for birds, but not yet for humans. And avian ‘flu has been around for decades. Dominic Lawson, writing in the Independent a couple of weeks back, said he’d actually contracted it himself from his own chickens a few decades ago.

    We are, it seems, increasingly being panicked into unnecessary and ill-considered knee-jerk responses to imminent non-threats. Why? Because a few people stand to make big bucks from stampeding us into one course of action or other, most probably.

    Excuse me if I remain thoroughly sceptical about all these supposed imminent doom scenarios.

  82. No way am I going to read all those links, Paul.

    But I note that you claim to have long experience of working within the nuclear industry, in one capacity or other.

    That probably makes you a specialist and authority on it. You’re certainly coming on like that, with this rain of links. But what do you do about people like me who question authority, on the grounds that most authorities on any specialised subject – like nuclear power generation – tend inevitably to see the world in terms of their own particularly highly specialised view, and are frequently entirely ignorant of anything else?

    A specialist, it might be said, it someone who knows almost everything about next to nothing. What we need, for a balanced overview, are generalists: people who know something about everything, and can take into account issues and concerns about which specialists are usually entirely ignorant.

  83. idlex,

    I think intelligent skepticism is good. Always question authority.

    However, fossil fuel burning does release millions of tons of toxins into the atmosphere every year, and oil and natural gas resources are being depleted. As to whether or not we are entering a global warming scenario or a peak oil condition, not even the so-called experts can agree. But divorcing ourselves from mineral slime (oil) and mineral rock (coal), using more renewable energy such as wind and solar, and building more advance generation nuclear power plants that are safer and more productive than the current generation (especially the MAGNOX’s) are all simply in our best interests.

    It is better to start planning now. We had a saying on my old submarine when I was a reactor operator a long time ago:

    “Proper prior planning prevents pi$$ poor performance.”

    My apologies if the expletive offends anyone. But both the UK and the US need to plan NOW. Consider that our dependency on oil has forced your Prime Minister and our President to engage in a war of foreign adventure in a land of Islamic fascism to put up a bulwark of a Western-friendly nation between China and Saudi Arabia and other Mid-East oil rich lands. I realize that is not the stated reason for the war in Iraq, but any review of a global map will show that a Western-friendly Iraq would deter Chinese acquisition of the Mid-East, and they are varaciously hungry for oil – 1.2 billion Chinese want to live like 60 million UK people and 290 million Americans. Who can blame them? Nuclear power can relieve our dependency on Mid-East oil (replace oil with hydrogen and generate hydrogen with nuclear power). Besides, ‘democracy’ can never be spread at the tip of the bayonet or the muzzle of an Abrams Tank.

  84. idlex,

    I can only give you the links to the information. This like the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

    As far as specialists and generalists go, generally (no pun intended) I agree with you. But in nuclear power (as in brain surgery) you need experts, not generalists.

    I, however, claim to be no expert. I was a submarine reactor operator, a nuclear I&C technician then a nuclear I&C instructor, a radiation monitoring system engineer, a digital design engineer and now a plant process computer specialist. I have over 29 years of training and experience in PWRs and BWRs. I know the field. It is safe. I have normal children. There are no radiation side-effects.

  85. But both the UK and the US need to plan NOW. Consider that our dependency on oil has forced your Prime Minister and our President to engage in a war of foreign adventure in a land of Islamic fascism to put up a bulwark of a Western-friendly nation between China and Saudi Arabia and other Mid-East oil rich lands. I realize that is not the stated reason for the war in Iraq, (Paul Primavera)

    So you question authority (in the form of George W Bush and Tony Blair) as well? Well, snap, so do I. It also sounds like you don’t think this oil grab is going to pan out quite like it was intended.

    Once again, this an example of people being duped, and I mean really duped, by the no less than the highest authority in the land (the President and the Prime Minister) into pre-emptive action to ward off an impending non-threat (i.e. Saddam’s WMD).

    I’m sure you’re perfectly sincere in what you say, but when you say we must act NOW to pre-empt another looming threat, please don’t be surprised if I smell a rat. And I hope that as a (former?) military man you are aware that nothing ever goes according to plan. We are always responding, in real time, to new circumstances as and when they arrive.

    In nuclear power, we need to consult nuclear experts. We need to consult lots of other people as well. What we shouldn’t let happen is for experts, nuclear or otherwise, to hijack real, open, and wide-ranging political debate. We only really have to hand matters over to nuclear experts if and when we decide to build more nuclear power stations.

  86. Jack, once again you are the peacemaker. I lay down my sword (it’s very hard to type with it anyway).

    Paul, it’s quite true that nuclear power produces less waste by mass than any other fuel-based form; for that reason, among many others, it’s always been considered an “alternative energy source.” No question about it; the waste, however, remains extremely toxic for long periods of time, longer, for instance, than writing has been around. Given the human capacity for error, this is very worrying.

    I have no doubt that someone will eventually find a way to recycle the waste; it’s so obviously itself a source of power. And I agree with Boris that we’ll have better results in the future if we are properly trained. The nuclear field is a fascinating one, and one we are probably going to be dragged to, willing or not, as our other fuels dwindle, so it’s obvious we should encourage research. If we don’t, we’ll be stuck with what we have right now, making bigger and bigger piles in Siberia, Alberta, and Utah, and as a long-term solution that doesn’t suit anyone.

    Thanks for the link to the Cumberland news; I had read that the wind turbines were turned down for their “impact on the landscape” but I read that wrongly as “for the harm they will do to wildlife and the erosion to come” and it didn’t make any sense, of course. Turning something down because it’s not pretty…all I can say is that I find windfarms to be quite beautiful. And where I grew up in Ontario, every farm had a windmill for power. They were no Brancusis, but you got fond of them over time. The ocean does provide a lot of surface for wind farms, which need not be on solid platforms (ie if you’re going to decommission an aircraft carrier, I can think of worse uses). Off the coast of California there are multiple oil rigs, and while they are not themselves bjects d’art they have a certain visual power; it is to be noted, as well, that the oil industry has managed to succeed at putting its rigs everywhere, regardless of the aesthetics or (in many cases) the voices of the individual landowners.

    As to the undoing of the Treaty of Utrecht, I can only say that if there were no Americans anymore, life would be quite a bit duller. And then we’d have to complain about Greenland instead!

  87. Anyone heard how they are getting on with fusion reactions? I recall they acheived one for 1/3000 of a second or something before the magnetic field failed and the reaction stopped…but that was what, 10 years ago?

  88. Unfortunately, in the most famous cold fusion experiment, the Fleischmann-Pons experiment in March of 1989, the methodology was flawed and it turned out nobody could re-create the results. I know a man who has worked with Fleishmann, and he says he is very well-meaning, very intelligent, but not particularly renowned for rigorousness or skill at documentation.

    Fusion is the most interesting part of nuclear science, for sure, though.

    And Boris neglected to mention the scientists involved were British, from the University of Southampton! If that’s not leadership, nothing is!

  89. On a philosophic note:
    If things do not change , fuel wise,(concerning the proligacy the human race) ,I forsee a bad ending.

    When the still infantile Human animal has gorged itself on the teat of the oil-bearing bosom of the world,
    it will, like all temporarily sated creatures, drop off. In this case ,however , it will not just drop off to sleep the sleep of the innocent. It will drop into the abyss caused by its own greed.

    Unable, because of being hindered by its immersion in the noisome lake of noxious waste products
    of its own making , to escape the ravages of thoughtless consumerism, the human animal, self styled ‘perfection’ in evolutionary terms, will eventually perish.

    I have no doubt that the dinosaurs, if indeed they had any power of reason , would have thought that they were indestructible. Huh!

  90. Someone asked about nuclear fusion power on this message board. I recall scientists saying when I was a boy in the 1960s that fusion was but 50 years away. Almost 50 years have elapsed and fusion is still 50 years away. Fusion power has unique difficulties. It takes an enormous amount of energy to overcome the coulomb repulsion between positively charged nuclei in deuterium or tritium to induce a fusion reaction, and often more energy must be put into the system in the form of particle or laser beams, or magnetic inertial confinement than is received out in the form of heat generated from the kinetic energy of the neutrons released by the fusion reaction. I recommend that the interested reader review the following:

    Fusion versus Fission – Difficult versus Easy

    Nuclear Fusion

    Cold Fusion

    FusEdWeb: Fusion Energy Educational Web Site

    International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor

    General Atomics Fusion Energy Research

    The reader interested in things related to nuclear fission may want to review the following article from the World Nuclear Organization:

    Energy Analysis of Power Systems

    This paper compares the nuclear life cycle with coal, natural gas, solar photovoltaic, wind turbine generation and hydro-electric. In general, nuclear energy has the lowest green house gas emissions, and while its capitol costs are high, its O&M costs are low owing to low fuel costs, and its safety record is better than coal, and far better than hydro-electric. (Interestingly enough, for the first 50 years or so of a hydro-electric facility’s operation, it releases more CO2 than typical natural gas facilities because of the decay of vegetable matter flooded by the dammed up waters.)

    We have fission nuclear power available right now. It can relieve our dependency on Mid-East oil and Russian natural gas by producing replacement hydrogen gas for vehicular use and home heating. It can obviate the need to burn polluting coal for the generation of electricity. With renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydro-electric and tidal, it can ensure the continued wealth and prosperity of both the UK and the US for us and our descendents.

    [OK, I preach too much, or so my wife tells me! ;-)]

  91. It’s hard to believe, but if the world really did go all Mad Max on us, the people who’d suddenly become the elite are the people who are on the bottom now. The ability to make fire would be worth far more than the ability to perform brain surgery or structure complex business deals.

    Although it would still take a fool to bet against Conrad Black. He’d have the firemakers pulling his dogsled inside of a week.

  92. I agree with Paul though what britain does is a drop in the ocean.

    China has just announced the plan to build another 32 nuclear reactors and there are already over 400 land based reactors in the world all working safely
    The oil,coal and gas we’re using are the result of millions of years of natural sequestration of carbon and the quick release of this is obviously going to upset the current equilibrium were playing a dangerous game

  93. The problem PWP, is that most Britons over forty have the music video which accompanies (the band) Europe’s: “It’s the final countdown” subliminally imprinted. Apart from that, I don’t really have a view either way because I’m (probably like most of Britain) technically delinquent when it comes to understanding the operation and ramifications of these devices.

    It seems to me that nuclear power is somewhat like comparing air travel with driving; the probability of a catastrophic failure whilst flying is much lower but, when it happens, the possibility of death is much higher. Nonetheless, given A (probability of failure) and B (probability of death) :

    A(plane).B(plane) (is less than) A(car).B(car)

    (given a large enough sample)

    For the nuclear argument one must, presumably, redefine A to mean amount of waste and B to mean toxicity and also replace plane with nuclear and car with fossil fuel.

    I should add that the former inequality doesn’t seem to stop the vast majority of people from flying!

    One thing I do know is the second law of thermodynamics and that, given that entropy always increases, sooner or later any system will break down. ‘Break down’ in this context is either controlled (shut down permanently) or uncontrolled (catastrophic failure). Given that ‘catastrophic failure’ doesn’t mean tonnes (or even grams) of plutonium being jettisoned into the atmosphere and that neither the pro/con arguments involve God, I’m prepared give the pro-nuclear lobby the benefit of the doubt.

    By the way, given the US’s contemporary pre-eminence in in all matters linguistic, shouldn’t it be spelled nucular now?

  94. Joe Mental:
    Bravo! You have actually said what I did not dare to commit tp paper, as it were . George Dubbya and his Nucular theories have, since the first time I heard his version of the word, always been a thorn in my side

  95. PaulD

    Sorry. Just got back here. I’m standing by my accusation of jingoistic twaddle. Half the trouble with the human race is our tendency to see nationhood as a competitive sport. Why on earth does it matter where a good idea comes from so long as it’s used intelligently?

  96. Joe Mental,

    Your discussion of the risks (i.e., the sum of incident likelihood and consequences as performed in standard failure modes and effects analysis) associated with nuclear power is a valid one. Please consider that the worst nuclear power accident to have ever occurred was Chernobyl, and even its devastating toll is far out-weighed by the benefits nuclear power brings. This may sound oxymoronic, but is not when one considers that two million people die every year from respiratory disease that occur4s as a result of the pollution of biomass burning, and that tens of thousands per year join them as a result of respiratory disease caused by the pollution of coal-fired power plants. While there is a real risk associated with the use of nuclear energy, there are real deaths happening right now as a result of burning fossil fuel, all of which can be obviated by converting to nuclear power. I write those words in part based on the following article that Dr. Richard L. Garwin wrote in November, 2005:

    Chernobyl’s Real Toll

    This toll, by the way, pales in comparison to the very real toll that occurred as a result of the non-nuclear accident in Bhopal, India in 1984 when 4000 people died outright and another 400,000 were injured for life as a result of a small toxic chemical leak:

    TED Case Studies: Bhopal Disaster

    Should we, then, on the basis of this argument of risks versus benefit rid ourselves of the chemical industry? Modern civilization would grind to halt if we were to do so. The same is true of nuclear energy which is far less risky.

    I also remind you that the event that occurred at Chernobyl can NEVER happen at ANY western light water cooled, light water moderated reactor. Chermobyl was a graphite moderated, light water cooled plutonium weapons breeder with a positive void co-efficient of reactivity (as temperature goes, power goes up) and no Containment structure. In comparison, western light water cooled, light water moderated reactors have very strong negative temperature and void co-efficients of reactivity which makes them inherently stable (as power goes up, temperature goes up, water density goes down, less neutrons are moderated and that reduces fissions in the core which in turn reduces power), and all such reactors have Containment buildings designed to withstand the pressures that would occur on a loss of coolant accident with breach (that is why the event at TMI did NOT result in major radiological releases to the environment and why NO ONE was injured or killed).

    Now the reader seriously interested in studying the risks associated with nuclear power vs other forms of energy production is welcome to review the information at the following web links:

    Catalog of Risks
    by Dr. Bernard Cohen

    The Nuclear Power Advantage
    by Dr. Bernard Cohen

    Risk in perspective: Radiation, reactor accidents, and radioactive waste
    An Interview with Dr. Bernard Cohen

    Lastly, in answer to your question, “…given the US’s contemporary pre-eminence in all matters linguistic, shouldn’t it be spelled nucular now?” I would say no since it is the French who seem to be pre-eminent in nuclear power. The French standardized their reactors and now supply 70 to 80% of their country’s electricity with nuclear power. So perhaps we ought to say “nucléaire”. On a serious note, my apologies for any linguistic errors (or Americanized ones) that I may have made.

  97. I made another ‘linguistic error’. My apologies. Please change:

    “…all such [western] reactors have Containment buildings designed to withstand the pressures that would occur on a loss of coolant accident WITH breach (that is why the event at TMI did NOT result in major radiological releases to the environment and why NO ONE was injured or killed).”


    “…all such reactors have Containment buildings designed to withstand the pressures that would occur on a loss of coolant accident WITHOUT breach (that is why the event at TMI did NOT result in major radiological releases to the environment and why NO ONE was injured or killed).”

  98. Why on earth does it matter where a good idea comes from so long as it’s used intelligently?

    Well, when Ronaldinho had the good idea to curl in a ball over Seaman’s head from the halfway line, it was pretty much the end of the goalie’s England career, as well as England’s hopes of winning the World Cup.

    But that is competitive sport, and people get a bit excited about it. But, as for really useful ideas, it’s absurd to care about the nationality/ colour/ religion of their originator.

    And anyway, even though I’m English, I always support Brasil in the World Cup. And why not? I used to live there once. And I saw Garincha play.

  99. Dearest Boris

    Browsed your Article above with great interest old bean and felt compelled as I often do with such things to add my response to you in a manner befitting such a sound website as you have.

    To start with yes I agree with you that the decline of nuclear studies within the British academia is most disturbing, equally disturbing however is the decline of interest in Nuclear energy within International economies. It is governments not the free market which is going to play the Nuclear card and this, perhaps, is another of those great challenges ahead for us.

    We have to convince businesses to invest in the nuclear option as taxation will not pay for this in the long term.Unfortunately with the legacy of the Blairites this might take many years to achieve but let us start now chappy, and soon small acorns will be big trees.

    Kind Regards

    Conal Brophy
    Chairman of
    Salford Conservative Future

  100. Idlex…

    And even though I’m a Chelsea supporter, so at least three of my favourites are likely to be in the England team in Germany, my heart will always follow Holland. Because I like the Dutch, and I (generally) like the way they play football.

    By Boris’s standards, I should be excommunicated or something. But it’s only a game.

  101. Apart from my son’s under 13s the only football team I felt like supporting was the Cameroon footy brigade (not Boris’s boss’s outfit!). They were all part time, having day jobs as waiters and barbers and suchlike. No doubt I miss something here in the beautiful game but there was something joyously splendid about the idea.

  102. Ha! You fail the football test, Jack Ramsey!

    Your deportation papers to Cameroon are in the post.

  103. I’m worried by this “football” test idea…i positively loathe the game. Does this mean i’m to be exported?

    I did have a few ideas that would make the game more interesting:

    1. Goalkeepers should be armed with a single shot pistol.

    2. The pitch should be strewn with randomly arming/disarming landmines

    3. Lions and crocodiles should be released onto the pitch during the second half

    4. All footballers should be banned from talking…EVER!

    With the addition of these 4 simple rules i feel the game would improve immeasurably, the players would actually EARN the ridiculous wages they command, and we would have a good old fashioned gladatorial contest to watch.

    I might take an interest then!


  104. Mark

    Never heard of team spirit?

    (oops, now reading upwards I see I’ve been beaten to it. Can’t stand football either but that doesn’t diminish the value of esprit de corps).

  105. Now we are in the realms of the supernatural: someone else willing to admit to not liking soccer. It has gone from a one time enjoyable amateur kick about, to a money soaked farce. Sorry fellers , but there you are: rugby and cricket for me.

  106. No footballer would last five minutes in a hockey game. Puh-leeze. But one thing your football (soccer to us ex-Colonies) has over our football is that you can at least tell who’s winning. Ours has accurately been described as “thirty men line up, run two yards, all fall down, take 20-minute break, line up, run two yards, all fall down…repeat.” To this day I have no idea how they know the game is over. And basketball? Good game, but it’s hard to respect anything where the scoring routinely gets about 50 even for the loser; it’s like those videogames that give you a “bonus” of 100,000 points just for breathing through your nostrils. I do like polo, though: it’s hockey on horseback, with the added excitement of chasing the ball through the crowd when it goes astray. I have fond memories of a game were some dope set his lawnchair and beach umbrella up right on the edge of the field, despite the warnings of the announcer, only to have the ball shot right between the legs of the chair. He looked up, saw ten thoroughbreds making for him with blood in their eyes, tucked the chair under one arm and the cooler full of beer under the other, and waddled to safety as fast as he could. The announcer said, “I told you to move back, Larry.”

    I believe it was only “Nucular” in the Jimmy Carter era. Now it’s just “nukes,” as nobody has time for two-syllable words anymore.

  107. Raincoaster,

    As I explained above, since it is the French who seem to be pre-eminent in nuclear power, perhaps we ought to say “nucléaire” instead of “nucular” or “nukes”. Remember that they standardized their reactors on the PWR design and now supply 70 to 80% of their country’s electricity with nuclear power.

  108. willing to admit to not liking soccer. (Macarnie)

    Ha! You have failed the football test.

    It is an offence not to like football. To not like football is tantamount to siding with the other side. i.e. the enemy. They don’t like football either.

    It is a further offence to refer to the game as “soccer”. Only illegal aliens refer to it using that awful word.

    You will shortly be receiving your deportation notice. The likely destination in your case will be Australia.

  109. …and most likely the Malcolm MacDonald home for the arthritic but still energetically outspoken elderly, in Darwin.

    At least, that’s what it says in Clause 315e.

    Can’t be helped. It’s the law.

  110. Great! Been trying to save up for a trip to Australia for some time, and this will save me the trouble!

    I’m not an illegal alien, though; I’m an EU citizen as well as a Canadian, so I am legal as well as alien.

    But wait! If I’m going to be deported from the UK, that means they first have to bring me to the UK; supah, two trips in one! Thanks, idlex!

  111. Idlex: I think you’ll agree that hating football is not quite such a serious offence as smoking but it’s still a beautiful conversation stopper.

    If the chat turns to football, I take great pleasure in slipping in a provocative “Hate the bloody game. It represents everything that’s wrong with our country”. Just watch their faces!

    Have you noticed how some politicians, even the stuffy ones, are quick to declare their love of the game or parade their allegiance to a team so as to appear a “man of the people”?

    What about you, Boris? Love it / loath it / indifferent?

  112. If I were to be deported to Australia, there would be a number of pluses in my double entry bookkeeping ledger.
    1) My gas bill would not belong to NASA , as it apparently does now.
    2) It is a mere cockstride to NZ where they have outlawed inheritance tax and adherence to association football clubs.

    I would willingly settle in NZ , despite having to engineer a Colditz type escape from the Australian Home for the Totally Gaga, (which , in all honesty , is where I believe I ought to be).

  113. Todays nuclear stations are saving over 155 million tons of carbon out of the atmosphere every year,It’s the way to go i reckon.

  114. Macarnie,

    You wrote, “My gas bill would not belong to NASA, as it apparently does now”

    The reason why your gas bill is so expensive (I assume that this is what you mean) is in part because during the 1990s utilities in both the UK and US built gas-fired turbine generator plants to satisfy growing electrical load needs. This put a significant strain on natural gas resources over time, for when once natural gas had been reserved for home and office heating, and the plastics industry, now it is also being used for electrical generation. Instead of building new nuclear power plants to satisfy our growing electricity needs, we elected to cave into anti-nuclear fear and hysteria, and built gas-fired generators that were once cheap (on the assumption that since they are less polluting than coal, then they are environmentally benign – a false assumption indeed as green house gas emissions rise planet-wide). The law of supply and demand has kicked in and we are reaping the very fear that we sowed, and we shall pay through the nose for the luxury of having such fear.

    One little tiny pellet of uranium dioxide coated in zircalloy weighing but a few grams is worth thousands of cubic feet of natural gas.

  115. Paul W P:
    You preach to the converted, as I made clear in previous posts.

    There is however , one item which cannot be equated with energy sources per se. The greed of the suppliers of domestic fuel.

    Given that one has to operate at a profit, there is a fine line beteen profit and downright profiteering.

  116. Macarnie,

    You are again correct. We live not in an economic system of Free Enterprise, but in an economic system of oligopolies constantly seeking government favor (i.e., handouts). This is the mixed economy (part socialist, part capitolist) that Ayn Rand in her works on Objectivism found so detestable. And by the way, with fossil fuel taxation, who benefits most? The people? Or their ‘public servants’ receiving the tax revenues?

  117. Mac, couldn’t agree more.

    I’m all for deregulation of industries but also believe the government needs to own and operate (or strictly regulate) critical utilities such gas, water & power.

    CEO’s, the executives of British gas supply companies for example, have an obligation to their shareholders to make a profit. Further, that profit should be more than the amount which would be generated by liquidating the company and putting the money in a 32 day call account.

    Any CEO worth his salt will charge, to put it bluntly: whatever he can get away with. The problem with this is that it means that necessities such as water and power have a component of profit applied to them which will be dictated by market demand and risk.

    I think that this is iniquitous when we have old age pensioners being turned into corpsicles every winter because they can’t afford to turn the gas fire on.

    I’m not suggesting wholesale re-nationalisation of these industries but I do think these companies need to operate within very strict guidelines if they are to operate such utilities independently.

  118. Has anyone else noticed their posts in this thread jumping around? It’s the strangest thing. And sometimes the “X-number of comments” thing shows a number LESS than there are here, only to increase again in a few minutes. Weird. Is Cheney watching? Or maybe Gates?

    In any case, my above post was meant to imply there were a few people making their living off the government around this website, not that there are a ton of Macarnies or Pauls or Joes; you are all originals as far as I can see.

  119. First, forgive my constant Americanized spelling. It is a character defect that I cannot overcome. Now I shall go to the topic at hand.

    I once thought as apparently some do on this message board that nationalization of essential utilities such as electricity, gas, water, etc. was in the best interests of society. The idea was based on the principle that if the people vote for the government and the government manages these essential utilities, then they will be managed in the best interests of the people. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Transfer utilities from state sponsored oligopolies to the state itself and all we will have done is to have transferred the corruption.

    The real reason why pensioners in both the US and UK cannot afford home heating (sometimes here in the US in excess of $400.00 to $500.00 per month which for a pensioner is unobtainable) is (as I wrote previously) we elected (in both countries) to supply both residential / business heating and electricity with a limited supply of natural gas INSTEAD OF encouraging competition with other sources of energy such as nuclear power. It is competition – Free Enterprise – which will drive costs down. The natural gas conglomerates fear nothing more than that they would be displaced by uranium and thorium. That would remove their stranglehold on the pensioners (and the rest of us who have the mouths of children to feed).

    Now I DO agree with intelligent regulation. One of the reasons why civilized society has government is for public health and safety, i.e., for the common defense (and by that I do NOT necessarily refer to things military). Obviously we cannot afford to have a catastrophic reactor accident like Chernobyl again. Indeed, we cannot afford to continue killing tens of thousands of people in North America and Europe from lung disease caused by the pollution given off by coal-fired power plants. More importantly, we cannot continue to condemn two million people per year to death from the after-effects of biomass burning in third world countries. Instead, the regulatory playing field needs to be leveled between nuclear, coal, gas and oil. For example, coal-fired and natural gas power plants currently externalize the cost of their emissions to the environment, unlike nuclear power plants which must internalize the costs by containing all their own wastes and when they do spill something, they have to pay for the costs of cleanup. How much do coal plants pay to clean up the atmosphere that they have already used as their sewer?

    What government must do is require (by regulation) that all electrical power plants internalize all their own costs and sequester all their emissions. Furthermore, all government subsidies (which really is the money you and I pay in taxes to our respective governments) to such utilities must cease. Government must favor no one method of energy production above another. Rather, once every electrical utility is required to abide by the same set of regulatory criteria for protection of the environment, and once subsidies (particularly to non-cost competitive renewable energy schemes) are removed, I wager that nuclear power would come out on top as the most cost competitive and least polluting. Coal would go out of business simply because their poisonous emissions cannot be completely sequestered from the environment, and the same would apply to CO2 emissions from natural gas power plants. Business people espousing the virtues of solar and wind energy would have to demonstrate that without your tax money and mine, they must stand on their own two feet to sell their electricity. This type of arrangement would drive down costs simply because it is based on the Free Enterprise system where business people (not oligopolists) have to compete (fair and square) in a Free market to get you or me to buy their wares (in this case, electricity).

    Instead of this system, what we have done is tied the hands and feet of the nuclear giant (much like Gulliver) and fostered the addiction we now have to petroleum, natural gas and coal.

    Thus, I am absolutely opposed to nationalization. By the way, please consider the following information from the OPEC web site.

    < >

    The people in the UK pay the most in percentage to the government in the form of taxation on petroleum products. More than 50% of the cost you pay for a given volume of gasoline is taxation. And what do you get for it? More promises from your Prime Minister and our President? Another war of foreign adventure in a land of Islamic fascism? And some of you want to nationalize this ENTIRE industry and give the government 100% of the revenue? For another war?

    I think NOT! Free Enterprise is the only way out of this mess, but notice I said FREE ENTERPRISE – Free Market competition between honest business people who are responsible to the consumer and the share-holder, not the state-sponsored fossil fuel oligopolies whose executives are protected by impenetrable golden parachutes. That sadly is the system we have in both the UK and US and it’s our fault every time we buy something or we vote (or fail to vote) in a public election.

  120. Today’s Independent has a long front page article on the report by the Sustainable Development Commission under the banner: NUCLEAR POWER IS DANGEROUS, EXPENSIVE, AND UNWANTED.

    The commission cites 5 major disadvantages to nuclear power.

    1. Lack of long term strategy for dealing with highly toxic waste.
    2. Uncertainty over cost of new nuclear power stations, and risk that taxpayers would pick up the bill.
    3. Danger that the nuclear route would lock the UK into a centralised energy distribution system.
    4. Risk that a new nuclear programme would undermine efforts to increase energy efficiency.
    5. Threat of terrorist attacks and radiation exposure if other countries with lower safety standards opt for nuclear.

    Read more here.


    And two million people dead every year from biomass burning is an example of safety, cost-effectiveness and desireability?

    Who wants to live like this:

    < >

    Just scroll down the web page and see the photos of these wind turbines for individual home use. Sure, they are renewable and de-centralized, and if they supplies electricity for your house for 90% of the year (which is an awful high figure), that means that you’ll be without electricity for 36.5 days per year.

    BTW, what about the millions and millions of tons of toxic wastes coal plants spew into the atmosphere every year? Isn’t that “DANGEROUS, EXPENSIVE, AND UNWANTED”. Does this paper have anything to say about that?

    Or what about the hydro-electric dams that are in a state of disrepair and on failure can drown millions?

    The choice is simple: nuclear or coal.

    Lastly, for all those crying ‘conservation’, will they turn their computers off and conserve electricity? Or will they try to drown us with their cries of nuclear doom and gloom? I am so amused that so-called environmentalists like RFK Jr. and Theresa Heinz Kerry drive around in big gasoline-guzzling SUVs while advising the rest of us to buy hybrid or use horse and buggy.

  122. In purely economic terms, it is far cheaper to let people die prematurely from environmental poisons than to re-engineer the power grid to be eco-friendly; at least, it is where there is no socialized medicine. Which should give us pause when we consider the ongoing efforts to privatize benefits which are currently provided, or at least supposed to be provided by the government.

    As I’ve said before, government is a service-delivery system. Taxes are the fees you pay for this service. If the level of service you’re getting at the price you are paying doesn’t seem fair, you have two options: insist on better service or reduce the taxes you pay. Voting for the party of your choice is one way to make your voice heard.

    Personally, I feel that the profit motive is too often at odds with the good of the people. If we look at it in Darwinian terms, we had free trade long before we had government: goverment itself developed because the market was not meeting all of the needs of the citizenry. Nor does it aspire to, to this day.

    Privatization was what led to Orange County’s blackouts and bankruptcy. They believed that if the price of electricity were allowed to float, it would come down as various companies competed; instead, the companies realized that they stood to make a killing, and the most prosperous county in the United States of America went dark when it ran out of money. Meanwhile, the residents were still paying their utility bills.

  123. Also in today’s Independent, Dominic Lawson savages wind farms. He says that the figures are fiddled so that wind farms can’t fail to sell electricity.

    He also says that “consumers of energy like to have their central heating on when it’s cold, not when it’s windy”.

    In Germany, with 14,500 wind turbines. On 12 September 2004, they contributed 38% of German electricity demand. But on 30 Sepetember they contributed 0.2%. A certain Dr Fuchs said that “At times of stron winds the majority of the energy produced between Oldenburg and Rendsburg sloshes south and in waves. In accordance with the laws of physics it seeks the path of least resistance, escaping eastwards and westwards into neighbouring European grids,.. taking them to the limits of their capacity”.

    I would have thought that in periods of high winds, energy could be stored by using it to pump water into hydro power lakes. But I’m also sure this would be inefficient, with energy losses both in pumping and power generation.

  124. I will now deal with each one of the five points in the Commission’s ‘study. The commission cites 5 major disadvantages to nuclear power.

    1. Lack of long term strategy for dealing with highly toxic waste.

    The 30 tons of spent nuclear fuel produced by a 1000 MW nuclear power plant can be recycled to leave only 1% left over as short lived isotopes that decays away in a few hundred years. This is described at length an article entitled “Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste” within the December, 2005 issue of Scientific American. I will be happy to e-mail this anyone on request. Just send a message to iprimap at my address.

    Be advised that nuclear ‘waste’ (which is really spent nuclear fuel and NOT waste) pales in comparison to the millions of tons of toxic gases and particulates and fly ash that a 1000 MW coal fired power plant discharges to the environment annually.

    2. Uncertainty over cost of new nuclear power stations, and risk that taxpayers would pick up the bill.

    The economics nuclear power is given at some length at < >. When the costs of waste disposal and environmental protection are internalized for all forms of electrical generation, nuclear power comes out as the most cost-competitive.

    3. Danger that the nuclear route would lock the UK into a centralised energy distribution system.

    Nuclear power does not need to be centralized. Small modular gas cooled reactors such as the Pebble Bed or General Atomics HTGR or Rod Adams’ proposal at Atomic Insights would provide 50 to 100 MW de-centralized electrical facilities where they are needed. We already have the PWR equivalent of such facilities and they currently power British and American nuclear submarines. And Toshiba wants to build a 30 MW sodium cooled fast reactor in Galena, Alaska < > to replace their diesel generators. It would last 30 years without refueling and the electricity would keep everyone in the small village toasty warm and well lighted. Imagine that!

    4. Risk that a new nuclear programme would undermine efforts to increase energy efficiency.

    Energy efficiency is never enhanced by cutting off supply. Energy efficiency is enhanced by competition between honest business people accountable to their stockholders and consumers. When natural gas has to compete on the same playing field for a 100 MW facility as Rod Adams’ gas cooled reactor, then efficiency can only go up.

    5. Threat of terrorist attacks and radiation exposure if other countries with lower safety standards opt for nuclear.

    Terrorist would sooner attack undefended targets such as schools, shopping malls, subways, bridges, trains, etc., than a well-defended, impregnable fortress that a commercial nuclear power station actually is. I live but 2 miles from a propane and natural gas depot. A single round from a sniper’s rifle could destroy the entire northern half of the town where I live. By contrast, the steel re-enforced concrete walls of the containment building where I work are three to six feet thick. Not even a jet liner could penetrate. I am sure that since the UK is a member of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), it has security provisions similar to what we in the US have. These are detailed at < >. We have security guards armed with automatic weapons, guard towers throughout the facility, television monitoring everywhere, biometric ID devices at vital area entrances, electronic perimeter intrusion detection devices that’ll detect even a goose or wild turkey flying overhead, continuous security computer access monitoring, etc. ad nauseam. I can’t reveal any safeguards information, but I can assure you that if Al Qaida or any of our own home-grown red-neck fanatics try anything, our security guards will send them straightaway to Allah for judgment.

  125. Raincoaster,

    My view is (obviously) different than yours. You stated that “it is far cheaper to let people die prematurely from environmental poisons than to re-engineer the power grid to be eco-friendly”. Actually, I think it is more profitable to have ALL the people live so that they can buy the electricity in the first place. If the people die, then who is there to eventually buy the electricity? Sadly, however, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that our darker politicians have thought the thought that you wrote down.

    As far as privatization goes, in some respects what we did (in both countries) was have government divest itself of businesses that it gave to state-sanctioned oligoploies. That is NOT free enterprise. Furthermore, California’s electricity woes are due in large measure to its own state government which outlawed the building of any more nuclear power plants after Diablo Canyon and San Onofre were built. Thus, when the need for new electrical generation came about, the only solution was natural gas (since the Californians didn’t want dirty, nasty coal either). Thus, the gas companies such as Enron (now nothing more than state sponsored oligopolies) were able to make an end run on the people’s pocket book.

    I say again: this is NOT Free Enterprise. Let nuclear companies compete fair and square with natural gas and coal, and that situation won’t happen. Make the business men and women accountable to their consumers and stock-holders. Break apart monopolies on natural gas supply. Use regulation for what it is intended.

    Maybe on this point neither of us will agree on the economic details, but on one thing we do agree: what is happening to poor families with little children and old age pensioners is indeed iniquitous, and both big government and big business are responsible. Only we the people can hold them accountable. By voting, By getting involved politically. By watching what we buy and boycotting the unscrupulous.

  126. Melissa,
    How come idlex, raincoaster, psimon and pauld always hijack these debates?

    I don’t object to a bit of diversion but their issues are tangential.

    You need to put your foot down.

  127. I find these posts to be more of a cosy conversation than a debate.
    If you take a direct road you might arrive at your destination quicker , but think of the scenery you’re missing.

    This is my idea of an interesting conversation; this way you get to know the others .

    A conversation’s not one sided; the word itself says so.
    If you want a conversation, let the others have a go.
    Your view; no matter how important; cannot be the only one.
    Start to preach your gospel; and your audience is gone.

  128. Er, scuse me, Gribold. Earlier on I was trying to bring it back on track with a discussion about solar energy but everyone else was hung up on the Iraq war.

    Some of the “diversions” are actually a reference to other debates on this site. They slip in all too easily.

    But I still hate football.

  129. I do not unfortunately know anything about the UK’s nuclear regulatory body, but the one in the United States is quite active and very open. I would therefore encourage the interested reader to review the following speeches by various NRC Commissioners on the topic of new reactor licensing. Even these Commissioners admit that we in the US have a long and difficult road ahead to travel, and from the discussion on this message board I gather that the UK is in the same situation. While the material in these speeches applies specifically to nuclear regulation in the US, there are lessons here that apply to all of us, whether in the UK, France, Japan or elsewhere.

    (BTW, each Commissioner is appointed by the US President and confirmed by the US Senate for a term of 5 years. There are five Commissioners. Two must be from the minority political party and three may be from the majority.)

    A Road Less Traveled . . . a Road not Far . . .Soon, Nils J. Diaz, Chairman
    < >

    03/07/2006 The Challenges Ahead: The Musings of a Pessimist/Realist, Edward McGaffigan, Jr., Commissioner
    < >

    February 2006
    02/28/2006 Facing Safety and Security Challenges, a National and International Perspective, Nils J. Diaz, Chairman
    < >

    02/28/2006 Regulatory Perspectives on U.S. Nuclear Power Infrastructure – Current and Future, Peter B. Lyons, Commissioner
    < >

    02/13/2006 New Plant Design, Certification and Licensing, Nils J. Diaz, Chairman
    < >

  130. We’d be tangenting less if there were more posts by that blond fellow who posts here sometimes. Like today.

    Cuba is lovely; meet you there!

  131. Psimon –

    Cuba is the new Barbados – let’s all escape there for a while and return when these grey skies turn bright and cheery blue again

  132. Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Yesterday (March 7, 2006) I had sent two new posts to the comment section of this blogsite, one on recent US NRC Commissioner speeches at 12:42 AM (03/08/06) and the other answering each of the five points of the Sustainability Commission individually at 02:51 PM (03/07/06). (The date and times given are those indicated by this blogsite, not the actual date and times I sent the posts.) Both went through some kind of moderation process. I have observed that usually (not always) when I include a web link to another source of information (e.g., IAEA, US NRC, NEI, UIC, WANO, etc.), the post containing the reference goes through moderation. This perhaps is wise since it prevents spammers from posting web links to sites that may contain viruses, pornography, or other undesireable material. As far as I can tell, none of my posts have been altered and indeed I have written all of them to support Boris Johnson’s pro-nuclear position (which I adamantly support). I firmly believe that both the UK and the US are in the same situation, and both countries need to work together as equal partners to get out of this energy mess. That is the only way we will be able to prevent future wars of adventurism in lands of Islamic fascism for the purpose of securing reliable access to a steady source of petroleum, and the only way to ensure that our children and our pensioners are kept warm during the winter, cool during the summer, and free from hunger.



  133. It automatically holds the posts for approval when there is more than one link in them. This is to prevent spammers. Discovered that myself a few weeks ago.

    It also explains the peculiarities I was noticing in the thread; every so often I’d come here and POOF there would be one of your posts suddenly appearing retroactively. Given that it was just your posts, and given your position in the nuclear industry, it did tend to bring to mind unwelcome thoughts of cryptocracy. Eventually I just put it down to “Paul Primavera must have a Movable Type account with special superpowers.” As with any decent theory, it accounted for all the data. This new one, however, is more elegant.

    Oh god, we’re off-topic.

  134. I think it also holds up very long posts.

    I got round that by chopping my long post in two and posting up two messages in succession. About a week later, my original post appeared, like a drowned whale washed up on a beach.

    And I approve of the proposed move to Cuba – so long as it is Havana, and not Guantanamo.

  135. Raincoaster,

    The only special superpowers in my life are my wife and two little children. 😉

    As for my position in the nuclear industry, I am simply a lowly plant process computer specialist (i.e., a worker-bee). Having been a submarine nuclear reactor operator a very long time ago, I know a little bit about reactor physics, accident analysis, etc., and I can say “nuclear” and “nucléaire” without pronouncing either as “nucular” or “nuke”.

    But (just ask my wife) I am nothing special (for some reason all wives say that to their husbands).

    I neither seek nor desire any special management status [my brain is already damaged enough! ;-)]

    Keeping a low profile is always best.

  136. PWP I think I’ve been hanging around the conspiracy theorists too long. At first it was funny, but I’d better get out of it before it starts making sense to me and they find me one day wandering the desert wearing brand-new Nikes and a tinfoil helmet.

  137. Be interesting to know what proportion of MP’s have a scientific background. I know there are a few medical doctors in parliament, but are there any physicists ?

  138. When you think about it-it’s insane that the political parties don’t select candidates based on diversity of professional experience rather than outward characteristics like sex and colour.

  139. Charlotte and others have made a very valid point that is equally true for both the US and the UK, and is exactly what I meant when I wrote in a previous post (somewhere on this message board) that those who are not cognizant in the technical, engineering matters of nuclear power cannot be expected to make intelligent decisions regarding nuclear power. Now I do not intend that to mean that politicians have to attend US or UK Naval Nuclear Power School (as I did back in 1976 – 1978). But our elected servants should be required to have at least SOME degree of technical, scientific knowledge and experience when making decisions related to very technical matters such as nuclear power, medicine, airline safety, chemical plant safety, etc. If the elected public servants do not themselves have such knowledge and experience, then they should ensure that their staff includes those who do.

    Again, let me re-emphasize: in a free society such as the US or UK (though I fear both are headed toward a single Empire) individuals have every right and even a duty to speak out on nuclear matters as well as all the myriad non-nuclear matters that far out-number this one small field of human endeavor. Our failure as free citizens to act on our individual right to assembly and petition our elected servants for a redress of grievances, and for improvement in governance is no other fault than OURS. If our politicians are ignorant in matters technical or scientific, then it is because WE elected them! Shame on us (in both the US and UK) for not getting politically involved.

    Apathy is the curse of a well-fed, well-clothed, well-housed populace, and will do more to kill freedom than all the Jihadists in the Middle East.

  140. Charlotte – an excellent point. But how can you expect any party to select on professional experience when most of the candidates have spent their lives in committee rooms?

  141. US NRC Commissioner Jeffrey S. Merrifield just gave a speech about spent nuclear fuel at the 2006 Regulatory Information Conference in Rockville, MD today. I am going to take the liberty of reprinting this entire speech and I encourage the interested reader to study what he says. Of course the UK has no ‘Yucca Mountain’ as a geological repository for spent nuclear fuel, but I am sure there are other proposals. The point is that the public in both the UK and the US has been fed lies about spent nuclear fuel (what the anti-nuclear fringe element of society calls ‘nuclear waste’) that Commissioner debunks so much better than I can.

    “Lessons from Sergeant Schultz”
    The Honorable Jeffrey S. Merrifield
    U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    at the

    2006 Regulatory Information Conference
    Rockville, MD

    March 8, 2006

    Given the potential new plant orders on the horizon, many speakers at this conference are appropriately focused on what this will mean for the energy industry in the United States, and how this second great bandwagon effect will be handled by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Like many of these speakers, I believe that ten years from now, there will be over a dozen nuclear reactors under various stages of construction. I would go even further and say that, absent a major accident, 15 years from now there may be as many as 30 to 40 new reactor orders in process. Now, I know there will be plenty of hand-wringing about how the collective “we” will handle this influx of new reactors. But from my perspective, we can handle this issue. My confidence stems from the fact that our country successfully built and operated 122 nuclear power plants in the U.S., 103 of which are still safely operating and providing 20% of our nation’s energy.

    When discussing new reactors, however, no issue will get more air time than the long-term handling of spent fuel. This issue is a sensitive one that we tend to avoid, with a general expectation that we can deal with it later. Unlike the character Sergeant Schultz, from the television series “Hogan’s Heroes,” we cannot claim to “hear nothing, see nothing, or know nothing,” when it comes to the concerns of the public regarding our growing fuel stores.1 I hope to change this trend, starting with my comments today.

    Spent Fuel? What Spent Fuel??

    At the dawn of the nuclear era in the 1950’s, few members of Congress or other branches of the government were focused on what would happen to spent nuclear materials generated at commercial power facilities or from our atomic weapons program. Most of the scientific community was caught up in the excitement of the new technology and its possible applications. The Atomic Energy Commission, driven by our nation’s aggressive Cold War footing, was directed to increase our nuclear weapons stores at “all costs.” This headstrong effort sowed the seeds of a significant and long lasting environmental legacy at a variety of sites around the country.

    The public, whose views of nuclear power were principally framed by visions of exploding atomic weapons, were understandably nervous about what would happen with the materials needed for this new source of power. Disposal options for spent fuel and radioactive waste were not widely discussed in public fora, and those that were considered would have done little to comfort the fears of the public. The first option involved commercial boats hauling metal drums filled with waste out to sea to be dumped overboard. The second option involved disposal in a geologic repository, an option that is still debated today. The third option was reprocessing, which received the most public discussion and support from the scientific community. “Rest assured” the scientists stated, we can reprocess the material and reuse it in existing reactors. I think it is safe to say, however, that the U.S. had embarked down the nuclear path with no solid answer to the question of how to store and dispose of spent fuel.

    A Public Relations Nightmare

    By the mid 1970’s, the public consciousness had focused more critically on the environmental effects associated with nuclear power and spent fuel. Environmental concerns, first awakened by Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” fostered an environmental movement that engendered increasing public disfavor with industrial practices contaminating underground and surface waters, soil, and the air. This new consciousness, combined with the increasing reluctance of communities to host nuclear-related activities, was a dramatic reversal from the earlier days of the nuclear renaissance. Nuclear power plants, long considered a harbinger of high quality jobs and increasing tax base, no longer received an unquestioning, open-armed greeting from potential host communities.

    What happened? Well, in addition to gaining a new environmental awareness, the public lost confidence that the government, industry and “bright scientists” would do the right thing to protect their neighborhoods. Some of this loss can be attributed to a failure to communicate with the public in a straightforward, common sense fashion. It can also be attributed to fear mongering efforts to quash nuclear power. While those who unquestioningly supported nuclear power can appropriately be criticized for wearing rose-colored glasses when describing this technology, some of the more radical individuals who opposed nuclear power, used smoke colored lenses to paint an overly grim picture of the potential consequences that could result from the use of nuclear technologies. Polemics, not sound science, became the battle tool of the 70’s and 80’s. Add to this the fact that the public witnessed a series of events where people who “knew better than they” simply were not candid about contamination and its consequences, and the nuclear industry faced a public relations nightmare when it came to spent fuel issues.

    Playing Hide the Peanut . . . or Spent Fuel

    This shift in public perception of nuclear power occurred in part because of decisions related to the search for an answer to permanent spent fuel storage and disposal. In 1970, the Atomic Energy Commission announced plans to construct a spent fuel repository in an abandoned salt mine near Lyons, Kansas. The Atomic Energy Commission had generally worked in secret to develop this plan with little to no input from the public or other interested stakeholders. Consequently, they were unprepared for the strong opposition from the public, and state and local governments that this announcement engendered. Despite the time and financial resources spent on development of the proposal, the repository was cancelled due in part to the concerns raised regarding its siting. This demonstrated the new public awareness of nuclear issues. It also showed that the Atomic Energy Commission could be successfully challenged by nuclear opponents and those who were concerned about public health and the environment.

    The next event to raise doubt in the minds of the public occurred in 1977 when President Jimmy Carter issued an order halting all efforts to reprocess and reuse spent nuclear fuel. This decision was driven by nuclear non proliferation fears and a desire to reduce the amount of weapons-grade material produced during reprocessing. While at the time, this was a valid concern, it nonetheless compromised the trust the public had placed in scientists and the government who had previously offered reprocessing as the answer to long-term spent fuel storage. What was once perceived as a resource had been converted back into a waste product with the stroke of a pen.

    Another event of note was the passage by Congress of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. With this legislation, Congress for the first time established in law a comprehensive Federal policy for commercial high-level radioactive waste management that included both interim storage and permanent disposal. This Act established a schedule for the Department of Energy to site, and for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to license, two geologic repositories for permanent disposal of spent fuel. The Department of Energy was directed to assess numerous locations around the country for possible sites, and present a minimum of three finalist sites for each repository. On its face, this legislation was a decisive step forward, and the answer everyone had been awaiting. It was the Department of Energy’s implementation of the act that would raise a public outcry.

    The Department of Energy was accused of acting in secret to identify the sites that would be presented as the finalists for east coast and west coast repositories. One of those east coast finalists was in my home state of New Hampshire, and I can remember quite vividly the negative reaction that this engendered among my fellow residents. I can personally attest to the secretive processes employed at the time. I remember the USGS conducting a variety of tests to characterize underground granite formations. At the time, folks were scratching their heads as to what was up, and we only found out long afterward that this was an element of the selection process. The “Not in my back yard” mentality that was foreshadowed by the proposed repository in Lyons, Kansas, became a widespread sentiment across the country when the Department of Energy finally disclosed its site finalists.

    Most of the public’s fears were allayed in 1987 when Congress amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, and “settled” the high-level waste issue by focusing on the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada as “the” finalist site to be characterized for a repository. I say most fears, because for those residents of Nevada, their fears became a reality. While this amendment nominally resolved our spent fuel problem, 19 years and nine billion dollars later, DOE is still trying to figure out if Yucca Mountain is the appropriate location to place spent fuel.

    So here we are today. I believe that this series of events leaves a lot to be desired in how we have come to this point as a nation. But we are where we are. It is my belief that in order to move forward and come to a reasonable public policy decision on spent fuel storage and disposal, we need to stop playing the role of Sergeant Schultz and get a few more facts on the table.

    OK, So We Do Know a Few Things About Spent Fuel-NRC Plays “myth buster”

    In my mind, much of the discontent related to spent fuel issues can be attributed to failure on the part of the government and the scientific community to engage in an honest conversation with the public about spent fuel and its transportation. As a result of this failure, a number of myths have sprung up regarding the dangers and health risks associated with spent fuel. Now, without passing judgment on particular sites or plans, I would like to try and dispel some of these urban legends by discussing the stringent standards we have in place to protect public health and safety and the environment.

    Myth #1-“Individuals living near a spent fuel repository will be exposed to deadly levels of radiation.”

    This particular statement is one I have encountered many times during my seven and one-half years of service on the Commission. While I understand there will be fears about the safety of any repository, this statement simply is not true. The regulatory standards applicable to a high-level waste repository are very protective of those residing near the repository location. During the first 10,000 years after the repository site is closed, a person at the site boundary can receive a dose of no more than 15 millirem per year from all pathways and 4 millirem per year from the groundwater pathway. These levels of exposure are fully protective of the public health, safety, and the environment. For the time period between 10,000 years and 1 million years after site closure, EPA has proposed a rule which would state that a person at the site boundary would be exposed to no more than 350 millirem per year. This 350 millirem a year value is well within the range of natural background levels of radiation found in states such as North and South Dakota. If we as a nation believe that such levels of exposure are not acceptable, people should not be allowed to reside in these states right now.

    Myth #2-“Spent fuel shipments are the equivalent of ‘mobile Chernobyls,’ and an accident involving one of these shipments could endanger hundreds of thousands of people.”

    One of the biggest concerns about spent fuel deals with the shipping of fuel from the reactor to an interim storage facility or permanent repository. Opponents of such shipments rally around a battle cry that the transportation casks are “mobile Chernobyls” which could cause catastrophic accidents anywhere in the United States. Proponents of this myth claim a scientific basis which is well beyond credibility. Typically, they assume that the entire contents of the fuel package instantaneously vaporize, and that this cloud of radioactive material then blows across the nation causing death and destruction in its path. First, it is physically impossible for fuel in a transportation cask to explode as a nuclear reaction. Energy for such vaporization would have to come from an external source. Second, the fuel is in a robust form encased in a robust structure. It is entirely unrealistic to assume that enough energy is released under any plausible scenario to vaporize the entire contents of a transportation cask.

    Indeed, Sandia National Laboratory has thoroughly tested spent fuel casks through a variety of scenarios, including impact from locomotives traveling at 80 miles per hour, engulfing them in a jet fuel fire, and dropping them from 30 feet onto a concrete surface. The shipping containers withstood all of these tests intact. A very large conventional explosion coupled with a fire might result in the release of a minute amount of radiation, but a majority of the fuel would remain in the general area of the initiating event. In fact, a recently released report by the National Academies of Science concluded that transport by highway and rail is a low radiological risk with manageable consequences when conducted in adherence with existing regulations. Clearly, a transportation event would not result in a “Chernobyl-like” accident.

    This fear is also unfounded given the nation’s track record for transporting spent fuel. In the last half century, the Navy has shipped more than 750 containers of spent fuel over hundreds of thousands of miles without any major accidents. Similarly, since receiving its first shipment in 1999, more than four thousand waste shipments have been shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project without any incident of significance. These numbers are representative of my belief that spent fuel can be transported safely and securely if necessary.

    Additionally, more than 1,300 spent fuel shipments regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have been safely delivered in the U.S. during the past 25 years. Although there were four transportation accidents involving those shipments, it must be noted that none of these accidents resulted in a release of radioactive material. In fact, I rode on the train during one shipment and can testify that the security arrangements and safety procedures were excellent. When you contrast this collective picture of spent fuel transportation with the approximately 800,000 shipments of hazardous materials each day in the U.S., which result in at least two serious accidents per year and 1.6 evacuations per year, it is clear that spent fuel shipments are among the least of our worries.

    Myth #3-“Spent fuel is so dangerous that it cannot be moved” versus “Spent fuel is so dangerous it must be moved to one location.”

    This myth highlights a debate between the two conflicting schools of thought related to relocation of spent fuel. In line with the statement discussed above, one portion of society believes that spent fuel is too dangerous to move, and consequently, must remain at the originating power reactor. Other members of the public believe that spent fuel must be taken immediately from individual reactor sites and moved to a safer, centralized location. To a certain extent, both of these arguments fail. With regard to the first argument, as mentioned above, we have demonstrated that spent fuel can be transported in a safe fashion. With regard to the second argument, it has been demonstrated that spent fuel can be stored safely onsite in spent fuel pools or dry storage casks. While there have been limited leaks at a small number of facilities, overall these spent fuel pools have served well as the principal storage areas for fuel dating back to the early days of the nuclear fleet. Having said all this, there remains a uniform belief that at the end of the day, we cannot have permanent repositories for this fuel at every nuclear generating site.

    So where do we go from here? Wherever it is, we need to revisit our communications strategies and work diligently to answer the concerns of the public using plain language and sound science.

    Many Questions . . . More Than a Few Answers

    It is my belief that building a high-level waste repository is not the only answer to our spent fuel conundrum. As a member of the Commission, I stand firmly behind the concept of storage in a deep, geologic repository. In the meantime, however, there are a number of other options available to remedy concerns that we can provide safe and reliable storage in the near term. As I mentioned above, onsite pools have proven to be safe storage areas for spent fuel, and as a result of re-racking these pools, a larger number of fuel assemblies have been and will be accommodated onsite.

    Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations, or ISFSIs, are a longer term option. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the nuclear industry began to recognize that spent fuel pools were filling up, and other storage options needed to be found. The ISFSI alternative involves placing the fuel in a spent fuel cannister, removing it from the pool, and placing it on an onsite spent fuel storage pad. First utilized at the Surry site in 1986, the Commission initially licensed these facilities for 20 years, but recently authorized 40 year extensions for two sites. To date, we have licensed dry cask storage at 38 sites, and approved approximately 15 different cask designs. In my mind, ISFSIs are a remarkable development in the spent fuel story. Such facilities were not conceived of when we initially licensed the currently operating fleet of reactors. But this option now exists, demonstrating once again that time and technological advancements can provide solutions to long-standing problems.

    One private company is taking the ISFSI concept to the next level. The brainchild behind the Private Fuel Storage site was to create an interim storage site in a very isolated area, the purpose of which was to keep the stored spent fuel in a remote area. The PFS site, proposed to be located in Skull Valley, Utah, is intended to host 4,000 spent fuel storage casks. After a significant period of litigation, the Commission recently issued a license to construct this facility, thereby providing an alternative to onsite ISFSI storage. While some political fights may remain for this facility, our Agency spent a lot of time and effort determining that this site is a technologically safe location to store spent fuel.

    Obviously, these are not permanent solutions, and a geologic repository should be a priority. Nevertheless, a facility like PFS could provide a safe method of storing fuel for 60 to 100 years into the future. In addition, having such stored spent fuel available for future use may be key to meeting our nation’s energy needs. Considering projections that the world’s uranium supply will be depleted in the next 100 to 150 years and given the increasing rate of energy consumption, I believe that it is absolutely unreasonable to consider spent fuel stores as anything other than a potential future energy reserve.

    Such considerations were a driving force behind last month’s announcement of President Bush’s “Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.” One goal of this initiative is to enable expanded use of nuclear energy by demonstrating new technologies to recycle nuclear fuel and minimize waste. Consideration of a return to reprocessing could be the next important step in resolution of spent fuel issues. Yet, a return to reprocessing will raise concerns with regard to nuclear non proliferation, cost, and environmental consequences. But debate on these issues will be necessary if our nation wants to continue nuclear power generation in the future. Clearly, the Administration’s initiative will engender significant interest, and I would expect further Congressional hearings and debates on this latest proposal to deal with a vexing public policy issue.

    Yucca Mountain, New Reactors, and Waste Confidence-A Never-ending Story

    Given these options, where do we stand with regard to Yucca Mountain and the construction of new reactors? Like the ill-fated facility in Kansas, the Yucca Mountain site sometimes appears to be a story with no end. Whether this agency can ultimately approve an application to build a repository at this site is an open question. What is not an open question is that our government has spent an excessive amount of time and money to characterize this site, a track record shared by Administrations of both political parties.

    A more pressing question, and one that I am sure will be discussed at this conference, is the matter of whether new reactors can be built given the lack of a permanent repository. I would envision that stakeholders across the board will look for an answer to this question within the context of our Waste Confidence Decision. Most recently reaffirmed by the Commission in 2005, at its core, the Waste Confidence Decision embraces the view that there is reasonable assurance that disposal in a geologic repository is technically feasible and that such a repository will be available by 2025. It also includes findings that spent fuel will be managed safely until a repository is available that spent fuel can be stored safely onsite without significant environmental impact for an extended period of time, and that onsite or offsite storage capacity will be available if necessary.

    I believe that the issues I have discussed today are a further affirmation that the Waste Confidence Decision is still valid. Spent nuclear fuel is and will be safely stored under the regulatory framework created by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, now and for the reasonable foreseeable future. In my view this not only applies to the current nuclear fleet, but also for any reactors that may be built in the coming years. And given the advancements in technology, it would not surprise me if additional options for the safe storage or reuse of spent fuel present themselves in the near future.

    Final Thoughts

    As we all move forward into this nuclear renaissance, I believe it will be critical to address concerns on spent fuel issues and conduct a national debate on this matter. We need to shed our Sergeant Schultz mentality and focus our attention on the following areas:

    First. We must do a better job of explaining to stakeholders the honest facts about spent fuel.

    Second. We must overcome the hysteria about the dangers of transporting spent fuel, and use real facts to provide real answers to questions.

    Third. We must reassure stakeholders that spent fuel can be safely stored, whether it is temporarily stored onsite or offsite, or in a permanent repository.

    Fourth. The Waste Confidence Decision remains valid for both the currently operating reactors and future reactors.

    In sum, while there may be political battles ahead, the technical issues associated with the storage, transportation, and disposition of spent fuel are resolvable. What we need is a straightforward debate using facts, rather than myths, as a basis. The public has a right to learn more about these issues, and our government, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, should take a more proactive role in these discussions.

    1. The character of Sergeant Hans Schultz was portrayed by John Banner during all six seasons “Hogan’s Heroes” aired on television.

  142. Yes, Paul D. Here’s the short version:

    The US and UK have been safely transporting and storing spent nuclear fuel from their nuclear submarines for the past 50 years. There have been a few transportation accidents. But no one has been injured or died, and no radioactivity from this spent fuel has escaped to the environment in any quantity to affect any living thing. We can do the same with commercial nuclear power.

    Commissioner Merrifield is a bit long-winded, but all ‘public servants’ are that way, both in the UK and the US.

  143. I am going to take the liberty of reprinting this entire speech

    That really is taking a liberty.

    I’m not having this stuff rammed down my throat.

  144. Idlex,

    I am not trying to ram anything down anyone’s throat, and I apologize if it seems otherwise. The unbiased person will review even what he or she may not initially agree with. If after consideration the unbiased person still disagrees, then so be it. However, the truth of the matter is that dealing with 30 tons of spent nuclear fuel per year from a 1000 MW nuclear power plant is a whole lot easier than dealing with the environmental repercussions of dumping millions and millions of tons of green house gases and particulate toxins into the atmosphere from fossil fuel plants. One pound of uranium is thousands of tons of coal. Believe or disbelieve at your discretion, but the laws of physics remain immutable. Nothing is being rammed down your throat. We both live in countries that are still free (but freedom brings responsibility).

  145. Apathy is the curse of a well-fed, well-clothed, well-housed populace, and will do more to kill freedom than all the Jihadists in the Middle East.


    Please note, while reading the following, that my experience with Deputy Ministers extends only to Canadian ones, although I am sure analagous, faceless creatures roam the halls of Westminster and Congress (Senate, think tanks, whatever).

    People aren’t presumed to elect officials based on their expertise in a particular area; what would you do if there was a Cabinet shuffle? You’d be hooped. Couldn’t take an agriculturalist who was elected for her understanding of the Norwegian elderberry and transpose her to, say Defence. Unless Norwegian elderberries are notoriously aggressive.

    Elected representatives are elected (c’mon, work with me here, swallow the premise, okay?) for their qualities of judgement, as well as for the framework they use to make decisions. That’s one reason lawyers have a bit of a lock on the field; they are presumed to have been taught how to make decisions, so people put their faith in that.

    It’s the DEPUTY Ministers who are the actual experts. It’s them that do most of the work, along with senior advisors. And they don’t generally change when the government does; newbie politicians can’t afford to get rid of the only person who has an institutional memory. Deputy ministers are far more powerful than most people understand; it’s sort of a Bertie and Jeeves situation.

    Um, naturally that does not apply to Shadow Ministers, who are of course omniscient.

  146. The permanence of a nation’s civil service is the bedrock on which the Government builds its own style of house, If it were left to the political bricklayers themselves, a house would never get built.

    I believe that, in general, apart from one or two notable exceptions , those people, hand picked by the head of government as Cabinet material, are appointed because of their loyalty to the Party , and not because of any particular expertise they may have.

    Increasingly we are now afflicted with “professional” politicians , who have never really done anything in real life, other than spout politics.

    Whole tranches of these people have never had a day’s experience in the commercial world , let alone the scientific world , and yet we are supposed to listen attentively as they hold forth on global warming and other specialist subjects. We are even expected to believe that the “knowledge” is their own, and not some potted information, neatly paraphrased and delivered, via the ministerial red box, on the day before the intended speech is made.

    Our Government has such an abundance of ‘spinmeistern’
    and experts in just about everything under the sun, that the advisory budget has grown out of all recognition.

    And yet , despite his expensively overmanned army of earthly advisors, our PM has the gall to say that God alone will provide the answer to the question about the rights and wrongs of the involvement in the Iraqi War .

  147. That’s one reason lawyers have a bit of a lock on the field; they are presumed to have been taught how to make decisions, so people put their faith in that.

    Sorry raincoaster, I have to disagree with your premise that lawyers have any (intrinsic) capability in decision making; in my experience it’s harder to get them to make a recommendation (let alone a decision) than it is to get a donkey out of a minarette (See ‘Jingo’, Terry Pratchett)

    At the very least, you have to use a sharp stick!

  148. JOe, please don’t misunderstand me. I would never say that lawyers are good at decision-making. I should perhaps have made it more clear. It is not my belief that they have either intrinsic ability (of any sort) nor actual ability (of any sort). No, no, no, no!

    I mean to say that we are TOLD that lawyers have been trained in decision-making, and thus they constitute the only group in our modern world with even the vaguest public claim to expertise. Because, let’s face it, most people like to have a government make most of their choices for them. They feel more comfortable that way.

    And Mac, I have to say that Tony Blair is quite right. Only God Himself can get Blair out of the mess he’s made of Iraq now. I bet God can’t wait to have a word with him.

  149. Boris was implying that there were a lack of scientists and science related graduates in the UK and this was a factor to a lack of any major UK nuclear power industry.

    I don’t think that it will take more UK scientists to get the ball rolling on nuclear power because if the government voted tomorrow on a nuclear program, the tenders would probably be won by French companies who have the experience and resources to build the power stations.

  150. Doug is correct and his words may well end up applying to the US, too.

    Can you say “nucléaire”?

  151. At least with the French in charge, you KNOW the waste isn’t going to be turned into weapons. The French don’t use them.

    I aughtta know, I was born there!

  152. So the explosions in the South Pacific were just an empty show of force, non?

    TOKYO: The cancer-causing radioactive substance Iodine 131 was detected near Mururoa Atoll after France resumed nuclear testing in the Pacific last September [1995], the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun said yesterday [23 January 1996].
    Data revealing the radioactive leak was disclosed by a French Nuclear Energy Agency specialist at an unoficial meeting last November [1995] of experts from prospective signaturories of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, it said. — AFP

    published in The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday, 24 January 1996

  153. I didn’t say they didn’t test them. I said they didn’t use them as weapons.

    I think they just do that to keep Greenpeace pissed off at them. It’s working.

  154. Bien sur,
    J’ai passe trois annees en Algerie, c’est la langue administratif la bas?

    Ca va?

  155. Raincoaster:
    Anyone found brandishing a deadly weapon, or practicing its use, would be found guilty of threatening behaviour at the very least.

    If you possess such a weapon, it is safe to assume that at the time and occasion deemed right by the possessor,it would be used.

    Nothing else makes sense.

  156. You are claiming the French make sense?

    The French might blow something up, but it’s really only likely if it belonged to Greenpeace. At least for THAT there is a track record.

    Did you hear the joke about how the French military capability was paralyzed? Yes, the white flag factory burned down.

  157. rc:
    Top marks for the military joke.

    But why DID they blow up the Rainbow Warrior? It’s nearly 21 years since they did it , and I still have no real idea why.
    Was it pique?

  158. I don’t mean to diverge from the topic at hand (i.e., the French, their nuclear weapons testing and their ‘fortuitous’ disposal of the Rainbow Warrior), but to get back to things related to nuclear energy itself, I find the following speech by US NRC Commissioner Jaczko
    on public confidence in nuclear power regulation applicable to the US, the UK and Raincoaster’s Canada (I assume from reading other posts that that is what the reference to BC refers to – British Columbia in Canada). I really hope that Boris Johnson himself were to read this one, because I am sure that it points out some of the same problems that the UK’s regulatory agency experiences.

    As a side note, Idlex, I am NOT trying to choke anything down your throat or anyone else’s. If you don’t want to read this, then just skip it. I once did not think that Mr. Jaczko should have been selected as an NRC Commissioner if only because of his association with obstructionist anti-nuclear Senator Harry Reid (having been his science advisor). After reading some of Mr. Jaczko’s writings and speeches subsequent to his appointment a year or two ago, I have found that I was wrong (yes, again). I actually agree with much of what Mr. Jaczko says

    And PaulD, yes, this is long-winded (when is a public servant NOT long winded?). So the short version is this: without public confidence in the Regulator (and that includes the confidence of the electric utilities, the environmental public interest groups, etc.), there will be no new nukes (there, I said it, not “nuclear power plants”, but “nukes”).

    “P.C. for a New Era”
    Prepared Remarks by

    The Honorable Gregory B. Jaczko
    U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    at the
    Regulatory Information Conference
    Rockville, MD

    March 8, 2006

    I am pleased to be here today to address my second Regulatory Information Conference.
    This conference is a good opportunity for us to gather together to discuss the important regulatory work that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does. It is also a good opportunity for each Commissioner to take a step back and reflect on their work and the direction the agency is heading.

    I have enjoyed hearing the thoughts of my fellow Commissioners yesterday and this morning – and look forward to hearing from Commissioner Lyons. Being the fourth Commissioner to speak is not always an easy job, but I have to say it is easier than being the fifth. Sometimes, I think it might be easier to just say “ditto” – but I won’t do that this time.

    So taking a step back, as I reflected on the last year and on the potential for new reactor license applications, the one thing that came to mind repeatedly was the need to be vigilant regarding the safety of the current fleet.

    And one issue seemed to be central to that effort. It is a very “P.C.” issue – I don’t mean politically correct or personal computer – I mean “public confidence.” Just as safety culture is an important environment to foster, public confidence is an important metric for the Commission to be mindful of.

    First, I would like to explain why I think public confidence is crucial. But before I discuss that, I want to be clear about two important definitions: First, who is the public? Too often, we immediately think of the public as only “public interest groups.” That is one important group, but there are others: the licensees and vendors are one. Members of Congress are another. Without this broader view, we think of the public as being critical and I think that is unfortunate because it hurts our communication efforts.

    With that in mind, I believe public confidence is defined as having the trust of stakeholders, the licensees and the Congress. One point I would like to make clear: public confidence is not the same thing as public agreement or public acceptance. I believe the public – in the broadest sense – can have confidence in this agency without always agreeing with it.

    This last year I have seen this agency gain and lose momentum in a number of key areas involving public confidence. Most important, I believe that the need to reassure the public is something that dominates a significant portion of the efforts of the Commission and NRC staff. That is true whether we want to acknowledge it or not. An excellent example was the need to reassure potential license applicants that the NRC’s effort to modify Part 52 of our regulations was necessary. Again public confidence is not just dealing with public interest groups, but it is often dealing with licensees or even potential licensees.

    I must admit I find a lack of complete public confidence in this agency surprising because the Atomic Energy Act basically mandates public confidence. Section 189a.(1)(A) of the AEA states:

    “In any proceeding under this Act, for the granting, suspending, revoking, or amending of any license or construction permit, or application to transfer control, and in any proceeding for the issuance or modification of the rules and regulations dealing with the activities of licensees . . . the Commission shall grant a hearing upon the request of any person whose interest may be affected by the proceeding, and shall admit any such person as a party to such proceeding.”

    This section makes it clear that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has an obligation to provide the opportunity for public participation in every licensing action we take. This is a tremendous responsibility and a unique opportunity for the agency because it provides us with additional situations in which to strengthen public confidence.

    Given the active role guaranteed to members of the public, there should not be a lack of public confidence in the NRC. After all – if anyone disagrees or has concerns with our decisions, they are allowed to raise an issue, present their views, and have their day in court, if you will. If the agency is doing its job well and communicating its actions clearly to the public, stakeholders should not feel the obligation to request hearings on licensing actions. More important, they will be should be willing to accept the outcomes as fair, appropriate, and balanced.

    Now public confidence is not something that the agency should strive to achieve by changing the decisions it makes – these must always be based on safety and security considerations – but it is something the Commission must be mindful of, because a lack of public confidence causes additional work and resources to be taken away from the important safety mission of the agency. I want to focus on this aspect in my talk today, and most important, on why public confidence is crucial as the agency embarks on efforts to review applications for new reactors.

    How can we strengthen public confidence? One of the best ways is by communicating with the public – which means both talking and also listening to the concerns people raise. As made clear in the Atomic Energy Act, we must communicate with anyone who has an interest in the work we do.

    As I have mentioned before, effective communication means open channels between the agency and all stakeholders. It means we listen to the public and explain our actions clearly. It means we listen to the industry and explain our actions clearly. It means the industry and public must listen to each other and explain their actions clearly as well. And it means that members of the public must listen to the NRC.

    The NRC has a responsibility to communicate both with licensees and all other members of the public. We must clearly communicate our processes, intentions, and resource challenges to licensees. And we must make the scientific and technical aspects of our work as accessible as we can to the public. The public deserves clear and comprehensible information because they are the entity we serve.

    Finally, there is certainly strong incentive for licensees to communicate directly with the public – since it is the public that possesses the clearly established ability to challenge licensing actions.

    Yet even with our ongoing communication efforts and a formal role for any member of the public firmly in place, we still find we do not have the full trust and confidence of all members of the public.

    I would like to talk about some examples of where we have eroded – or could erode – public confidence. Public confidence in the NRC is eroded each time we fail to resolve issues in a timely, clear, and transparent manner and it is improved when we do so. Several examples come to mind where the NRC has missed these opportunities, and I will talk about those in some detail.

    The first area where we could lose public confidence involves emergency core cooling systems. NRC regulations require robust back-up core cooling requirements for plants. However, the agency has known for years – no, actually decades – that the sump screens for post-accident recirculation flow could potentially become clogged in the unlikely event that this equipment was needed.

    As I said, we have had ample warning that sump clogging could be an issue. The NRC issued a generic letter entitled, POTENTIAL FOR LOSS OF POST-LOCA RECIRCULATION CAPABILITY DUE TO INSULATION DEBRIS BLOCKAGE. You may think that I am referring to a recent correspondence, but in fact this was the title of a generic letter from 1985. That letter clearly stated that assumptions to which the plants were licensed were not conservative enough. And it appears we were so concerned with backfit implications that little was done at the time.

    It is twenty years later and we are still dealing with the same issue, now further complicated by recently discovered chemical interactions with the reactor coolant and other substances in containment. There are still things we do not know about this issue but we do know that there are sumps with screens that are too small.

    It is time for the agency to establish an appropriate licensing basis and for the industry to finish the job by putting in larger or redesigned sumps in a timely manner. We have an immediate issue that could potentially negatively affect the emergency core cooling systems at 69 pressurized water reactors if they were ever needed, and we should solve it quickly. The safety case has clearly been made, and it has been known for several decades. Now the NRC needs to follow through and resolve this issue. Doing so has the potential to improve public confidence by demonstrating that the agency is working aggressively to continue to ensure the safety of the current fleet of reactors. Failing to act on this in a timely way, consistent with the schedules we have laid out, will erode public confidence.

    A second example of where we have lost public confidence involves decommissioning. We only have to look to the recent events involving tritium contamination inside the fence line of several reactor sites around the country to understand the significance of this issue.

    Many people have made the point that releases of low levels of tritium have little safety significance. That may be true, but the relevant issue here is that we have found preexisting leaks and unmonitored releases and have had to focus our resources on these issues. With better public confidence to begin with, the NRC would have to do less work to describe the true risk significance of these situations. Instead, we have had to do a lot to deal with this issue and this has taken resources away from more safety significant challenges.

    The public is concerned about the operation of these complex facilities, and one of the things that concerns them the most is a fear that there are things happening at the plants that we do not know about. We may eventually confirm that every case of tritium contamination was inconsequential. The fact that we did not know it was occurring, however, weakens public confidence in our ability to quickly discover an unexpected event that does have a significant impact on safety. That is the real public confidence issue tritium poses today.

    Tritium contamination also poses a long term challenge of assuring the public that these sites can be effectively decommissioned. We have repeatedly been told that the best time to deal with contamination is early on. During a recent staff Commission briefing I asked Mr. Kurt Haas, from Big Rock Point, what we could do to improve site decommissioning. He responded by pointing out that it is best to clean up contamination when it occurs.

    Minimizing any on-site contamination reduces future exposure and waste at the end of the plant’s operation. This just makes good sense. It will assure the public that we are doing everything we can to keep reactors operating safely today, to ensure these sites can be returned to productive use once they are decommissioned, and to fulfill an important part of our mission — protecting the environment.

    A third example or where we have lost public confidence is in providing information. I am pleased with the progress the NRC has made toward becoming more open and transparent by emphasizing better communication with stakeholders. We have held more open meetings with more stakeholder participation and the Commission has made a conscious effort to release additional staff papers and other background material.

    I am not satisfied, however, because I believe we still can do better. The entire federal government has struggled since September 11, to deal with the appropriate amount of information to be released. Much information is required by law to be made available. Much is required by law to be protected. In the middle is a vast desert of information that could be potentially harmful, but also is potentially beneficial, depending upon how it is used.

    I firmly believe that information which is classified or protected from release by law should be guarded by public servants. For all other information, we should constantly ask the question “Is there a valid legal or security-related reason why this information cannot be released?” If the answer is a certain ‘yes,’ we should protect the information but also look for ways to summarize and explain our actions. If the answer is ‘no’, we should promptly release that information. Moreover, the agency needs to do a better job ensuring that our answers to these questions are consistent. The reasons for this are clear. The more we do to transparently explain the Commission’s actions, the more we improve public confidence in our decision-making.

    That is no more important than in security. Both licensees and public interest groups have expressed concerns about the actions taken by the Commission following September 11th. Some have called the Commission actions too much. Some too little (I’ll let you figure out which groups go with which concerns). In situations like this public confidence is critical, because the NRC’s decisions and reasoning cannot always be made public due to security concerns. In discussing this issue we inevitably reach a point at which the best we can do without revealing sensitive information is to say “trust us” and that trust must come from public confidence.

    Another facet of “public confidence” is ensuring the industry we regulate trusts us to be able to design an effective regulatory framework. I believe we have lost some of that confidence in the way we have handled the regulation of fire protection.

    The agency’s wake up call occurred with the Brown’s Ferry fire in 1975 and the NRC had new fire protection regulations in place by 1979. Yet all these years later we still find it necessary to clarify the requirements for safe-shutdown electrical circuits and to curtail a rulemaking on allowing the use of manual actions. We have tolerated and worked our way through unclear expectations, misinterpretation of the regulations, bulletins, generic letters, Regulatory Information Summaries and enforcement discretion, and an untold number of exemptions from the regulations.

    We now believe we have a way to cut through this regulatory web by risk-informing the fire protection regulation. I am hopeful that this will be a workable situation. If it is, it will go a long way to restore the confidence of the public and our licensees.

    Why does this matter? It matters because of the situation I mentioned earlier regarding the industry’s skepticism about the need to change Part 52. I counseled caution about this in my vote on the proposed rule and continue to be concerned about our ability to make these changes efficiently and quickly.

    One issue that we can look to as a barometer on public confidence is Emergency Preparedness. This area involves the trust of all levels of government, local communities, and licensees. I do believe, the agency has done a tremendous amount of work in this area over the years – its earliest work even served as part of the foundation for the way the nation structures emergency management efforts. In the past year, we augmented emergency preparedness requirements to ensure licensees provide more timely notification of security-based emergencies, had appropriate security-based emergency classification and action levels, and generally heightened the emergency response planning for security related emergencies. While significant government planning and coordination deficiencies were discovered during this year’s devastating hurricanes along the gulf coast, the NRC’s radiological emergency planning efforts stood out as an example for the rest of the federal government. Credit for that achievement goes to our dedicated emergency preparedness staff, the people in the affected communities, and the licensees. But, I believe the Commission can and must do more.

    It is the NRC’s responsibility to evaluate a licensee’s onsite emergency plan and the agency relies on the Department of Homeland Security to provide recommendations about the adequacy of State and local emergency plans. The NRC has the ultimate authority and responsibility to ensure the adequate protection of public health and safety around nuclear power plants. The Homeland Security Department and the NRC have rules and guidance that detail the format of the plans licensees and state and local governments should have in place. We regularly evaluate these plans through exercises, drills, and information requests. But I am concerned that we have raised unclear expectations about what that means for local communities.

    Our regulations set forth procedural requirements for the development and maintenance of plans but they lack specific criteria about how these plans should work. In other words, we verify that the plans exist and have the required components but we have not perfected a mechanism for verifying whether or not they will be effective. This is a challenge across the emergency management field, but is nonetheless important to our efforts.

    Adding to the confusion is that there is the widespread perception that radiological emergency preparedness is equivalent to evacuation, but evacuation has its own challenges as a protective action. For instance, there is not a strict regulatory standard for the time in which evacuations must be completed. Evacuation time estimates that licensees are required to prepare are informational – they would be used to inform protective action recommendations in the event of an emergency. But because there is such a belief among many members of the public that evacuation is the best option for a radiological emergency, any discussion about recommending alternative actions would seriously erode the public’s confidence in the agency. That doesn’t necessarily mean it would be wrong to have that discussion, but we need to be aware of the difficulties it would present.

    We must move the dialogue away from broad generalizations toward a more-detailed and productive discussion of what goal emergency plans must be able to accomplish, what options there are for achieving that goal, and how quickly we must be able to get it done. Once these issues are decided, we must find a better way to measure and enforce any new requirements.

    Not only is emergency preparedness crucial in its own right, but as I mentioned it serves as a barometer for measuring public confidence in the NRC. Continuing to address this complicated issue honestly, directly, and with the full participation of stakeholders will do more to strengthen the agency’s credibility with the public than any of the issues I have raised today.

    I have talked about the issues we face with the current fleet of reactors. I would like to turn briefly to an area where we have been able to improve public confidence – safety culture.

    The regulation of safety culture is one of the most complex but important issues we have reached common ground on over the last year. We agreed that a strong safety culture is important, both at our agency and among our licensees. We agreed we must reinforce a culture in which everyone feels empowered, emboldened, and encouraged to ask the next question, the difficult question, and not to simply accept what is presented to them. The difficulty, of course, lay in deciding exactly where to draw the appropriate line between management issues that are the responsibility of licensees and health and safety issues that require an NRC oversight role.

    Because this is such a complex and longstanding issue, I am tremendously pleased with the great progress the staff has made over the last year. Staff worked collaboratively with all stakeholders, including the industry, public interest groups and members of Congress, to develop a method to address safety culture as part of the Reactor Oversight Process. The development of consensus on this effort is no small feat and serves as a real testament to the value of public participation in the work of the NRC. I predict this success will pay public confidence dividends in the months and years ahead. I look forward to the implementation of this new initiative beginning this summer and to progress reports next year.

    I have talked a lot about public confidence. Now I would like to explain why it is so important to the future of the agency.

    Public confidence, and again I mean the public broadly, is a prerequisite for a successful effort to review license applications for a new fleet of reactors. These next few years are going to present many anticipated and unanticipated challenges. If we do not establish trust among all stakeholders now, we will have difficultly convincing the public that any new reactors will be safe and secure. If we do not build this trust and public confidence now, the result will certainly be difficult and lengthy hearings throughout any new reactor license review process. Several of my fellow Commissioners have discussed a design-centered approach for reviewing multiple applications. While implementing such an effort will be a staff management issue, I believe it is important that the Commission vet and endorse the method the agency chooses to deal with this challenge. This is another opportunity to strengthen public confidence in the process and I have written a memorandum to my colleagues explaining my views. Again, the more we do now to instill public confidence, the less work we will have to do when any new applications are submitted.

    The more the agency can do now to prove to the public that we can be trusted to do our job of being an effective regulator, the fewer members of the public will feel obligated to do our job for us. That is, I believe, the purpose of the Atomic Energy Act requirement that the NRC allow “any person whose interest may be affected by the proceeding” to participate in the hearing process. The goal of this provision is not to end up with a flood of contested issues but rather to encourage the agency to do the right thing – engage and communicate with all stakeholders early in the process – which will ultimately decrease the number of hearing requests submitted by the public.

    As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, I have been consistently impressed by the professionalism of NRC staff. That expertise and dedication, along with the growing and dynamic participation of all stakeholders, makes me confident that the agency can overcome these existing issues.

    In the end, strengthening public confidence is the only viable path forward that will allow us to successfully address the future challenges we face. I thank you and I look forward to working with you to achieve these goals together.

  159. They blew up the Rainbow Warrior to prevent Greenpeace from protesting at one of their nuclear tests in the South Pacific. It had the blowback effect of turning ALL Kiwis into rabid Greenpeace fans; I’ve gone door to door for Greenpeace and as soon as you hear that accent you know you’re going to be offered beer and a large donation. They are worried Greenpeace will blame them, since the Rainbow Warrior was in their harbour at the time of the attack.

    PWP, it’s a lot of homework you’ve given us, but I do intend to get to it. And yes, BC is British Columbia, the rainforest of North America.

  160. I did a little more research on nuclear regulation in the UK and Canada. Apparently the UK does not have a regulatory body analogous to the US NRC that is the primary regulatory agency for all things related to nuclear energy and radiological protection.

    United Stated Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    Rather, the UK has a Health and Safety Executive for Nuclear:

    UK Nuclear Health and Safety Executive

    It’s purpose is to “To secure effective control of health, safety and radioactive waste management at nuclear sites for the protection of the public and workers and to further public confidence in the nuclear regulatory system by being open about what we do.”

    The UK also has an Atomic Energy Authority which is more or less a corporation:

    United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority

    It’s web states that it is “…a leader in decommissioning and regenerating nuclear sites. We combine proven experience and innovative thinking to deliver safe and efficient clean-up services for our customers. We are also developing fusion as a clean, sustainable energy source for the future.”

    There is also the UK Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs:

    DEFRA Radioactivity

    It includes a Radioactive Waste Policy Group (RWGP) which is “…the UK Radioactive Waste Policy Group on which UK Government departments, the devolved administrations and the principal regulatory bodies (HSE and the environment agencies) are represented.”

    And there are many more organizations which together provide the function that the US NRC serves in the United States.

    Unless I am mistaken, one of the bad things of about the UK arrangement besides the lack of centralized regulation is the apparent mixing of nuclear power promotion with nuclear power regulation. Those two endeavors were separated in the United States in the 1970s when the US Atomic Energy Commission was broken up into the US NRC (for nuclear regulation) and the DOE (for energy development).

    Raincoaster’s Canada, on the other hand, has a Nuclear Safety Commission analogous to the US NRC:

    Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

    Its web site states, “The mission of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is to regulate the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security and the environment and to respect Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

  161. As a side note, Idlex, I am NOT trying to choke anything down your throat or anyone else’s. If you don’t want to read this, then just skip it.

    Done. Although I had to scroll down about a mile.

  162. Idlex,

    Thank you pointing out the article “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Better” by Kenneth Waltz. This brings up a very important point. At least in the United States and certainly in Canada there is NO relationship between commercial nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

    First, commercial reactors (both US LWRs and Canada’s heavy water CANDUs) are not fueled with weapons grade uranium-235. Bomb-grade material requires greater than 90% pure uranium-235. Anything less has too much uranium-238 and would simply fizzle out on detonation. Enrichment in US reactors is not more than 5% (the other 95% being uranium-238) and CANDUs are fueled with natural uranium (having only 0.7% fissile uranium-235). UK LWRs are similar to US LWRs. UK MAGNOX reactors can be fueled by natural uranium owing to the neutron moderation effects of their graphite moderators.

    Second, US and UK LWRs do not produce weapons-grade plutonium. Bomb-grade material is plutonium-239 which must be very pure. Any plutonium-238, 240 or 242 mixed in causes the bomb to fizzle out on detonation. When uranium-238 in US and UK LWRs absorbs a thermal neutron, it can become plutonium-239 after the resultant neptunium-239 beta-minus decays. The problem with this is when the neptunium-239 then absorbs a thermal neutron before decay to plutonium-239, it becomes non-fissile plutonium-240. A LWR core fueled with 5% enriched uranium-235 produces far too much plutonium-240 and any plutonium extracted from it is not useful as bomb material.

    Therefore, LWRs are inherently proliferation-proof.

    That is not true of the UK’s MAGNOX reactors which were designed to be plutonium-239 breeders. I believe that these are all under control of the UK government. North Korea did copy this design for its weapons program. These reactors are a big mistake because they are prone to promote proliferation of weapons-grade materials, because they are very inefficient thermally (and hence generate too much spent fuel), and because when their spent fuel is stored in borated water, corrosion of the magnesium cladding occurs and that makes quite the radioactive waste (unlike spent fuel from US LWRs which after five years of decay can be sequestered in dry cask storage with no corrosion problems).

    As far as CANDU reactors go, being fueled with natural uranium and being moderated by heavy water (i.e., deuterium), they (I would imagine) have a superior plutonium-breeding capability, but as far as I know, CANDUs have never been used to actually produce bomb-grade material (unless that is what the Indians did with the heavy water reactors that Canada built for them).

    There are other methods to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons while using nuclear reactors for electricity or hydrogen gas production. One such method is the thorium breeder. Thorium-232 is about three times more abundant than uranium but is non-fissile, and when thorium-232 absorbs a thermal neutron, it becomes fissile uranium-233. Fueling a reactor with thorium-232 mixed in with uranium-238 (i.e., depleted uranium) in a fertile blanket with a seed blanket of 20% enriched uranium-235 would produce more uranium-233 to extend core life, but the uranium-233 cannot be extracted from the uranium-238 because they are chemically identical. Any plutonium-239 produced would be mixed in with too much plutonium-240 to be useful in bomb materials. A joint US and Russian company is using this very idea in Russion VVERs to consume weapons grade Russian plutonium-239 and HEU (high yield uranium). The Indians are also working on a heavy water version of this design because India lacks sufficient uranium reserves, but has plenty of thorium reserves.

    The Carlo Rubbia energy amplifier is another proliferation-proof idea. In it fuel cells of naturally occurring uranium and thorium are used. These fuel cells are at the bottom of a molten pool of lead. The fuel cells can never go critical because there is not sufficient positive reactivity. A lead plate at the top is used as a neutron spallation target by a proton particle beam. The deficit in the neutron life cycle in the fuel cells is made up for by neutron spallation to keep the reactor critical. The liquid lead by natural circulation would be used as the heat source for steam generators that would produce steam for turbine generators to produce electricity. Such a reactor would last 30 years in operation without refueling. Such a reactor would be inherently safe. For example, cut off electricity to the particle beam and an automatic shutdown occurs because of the inherent negative reactivity in the thorium-232 / uranium-238 core. Cut off reactor coolant flow and the lead just sits there dissipating heat. No melt-down occurs because the coolant is already a liquid metal. At the end of core life, such a reactor would discharge only short lived isotopes that would decay away in a mere 600 years instead of the tens of millennia that it takes for current spent fuel from UK and US LWRs. And none of the discharge is fissile material, having all been consumed during the 30 year operation of the reactor.

    Yes, Idlex, there are many methods of ensuring against the proliferation of weapons grade fissile material. We use some of them currently. It is only the anti-nuclear fringe element of society which claims otherwise. And with ALL of these methods, we have enough uranium and thorium to power human civilization for tens of millennia via the thorium-breeder cycle. We actually are in no energy crisis except one of our own making owing to out addiction to fossil fuel. Being anti-nuclear is equivalent to being pro-fossil fuel and pro-nuclear proliferation. Consider what I wrote elsewhere about President Bush’s proposal for cooperation with the Indians in the field of commercial nuclear power:

    The proposed agreement between India and the United States signed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush is actually a very good sign indeed. The more that countries such as India, Pakistan, China and so on rely on nuclear energy for electricity, the less that they will be willing to use nuclear weapons to secure fossil fuel supplies from the Middle East. By making such countries energy independent, we actually ensure our own security against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This sounds oxymoronic, but it is true. A nation that builds wealth and prosperity using for example nuclear energy will be loath to sacrifice that wealth and prosperity in a nuclear armed conflict in which there would be no winners, only losers. This logic should not and must not be lost on the members of either the Indian Parliament or the US Congress.

    This reminds me of a series of science fiction novels by Isaac Asimov contained in the Foundation Trilogy

    While I will not delve into arcane concepts such as psychohistory or the fictional character of Hari Seldon, the point I want to make is one that Dr. Asimov made decades ago: the use of economic power is often far more persuasive in overcoming your enemies and making them your friends than the use of military power. Again and again one set of villains after another tried to overcome the fictional Foundation on the planet Terminus at the galaxy’s edge, only to be defeated by economic forces beyond their control. Even the Mule’s rule was eventually defeated. This highlights a saying made famous by Dr. Asimov which goes something like this:

    “Violence is the final refuge of the incompetent.”

    I sincerely hope that the Indians and the Chinese understand this as well as our own American leadership. Giving them the power of the atom for their energy needs will prevent them from using that power for destruction.

    Oxymoronic? Perhaps, but read what Dr. Asimov writes – he understood well the human condition and was a far more intelligent and perceptive individual than I.

  163. Paul, forgive me if I’m mistaken, but haven’t the CANDU reactors been discontinued since researchers found a critical flaw in the design (ie one likely to lead to a far graver scenario than TMI)? The existant ones are still in operation, because frankly they cost too much for an elected government to decommission, but I seem to remember hearing, about 1983, about a critical, and hithertofor covered-up, flaw that rendered them unsuitable for continued development. That was the reason given for why CANDU reactors didn’t take over the world, as they were supposed to do. They were supposed to be built in France, the UK, the US, and pretty much everywhere else including the Soviet Union, because they were so much better. Didn’t turn out to be true.

    Forgive me for not finding my own answers here. Been to a wedding today…let’s just say my nuclear research skills are not at this moment such that I would bet the weight of a quark on them either way. The fact that I haven’t had any critical spelling mistakes in this post amazes and heartens me. Then again, maybe I just haven’t noticed.

  164. Raincoaster,

    Information about CANDU reactors can be found at:

    Canadian Nuclear FAQ
    by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock

    The CANDU design is indeed one of the safest:

    However, CANDUs do have a positive void co-efficient of reactivity in the coolant (NOT the moderator), but the overall power co-efficient of reactivity is negative:

    The worst problem I know of with the CANDU design is the neutron bombardment of on-line refueling equipment. This bombardment degrades equipment over time, requiring expensive refurbishment. However, the CANDU advantage of on-line refueling makes for much longer operating times at power between scheduled plant shutdowns than typical US PWR or BWR plants (e.g., 800+ days for CANDUs vs 400+ days for PWRs and BWRs).

    CANDU reactors can be used to consume weapons-grade plutonium in MOX fuel:

    Contrary to what I stated before, India did NOT use the CANDU design to produce its own plutonium-239; rather, it used a “research reactor, CIRUS, based on Canada’s NRX design, a heavy-water-moderated, light-water-cooled research reactor commissioned in 1947 at AECL Chalk River Laboratories”:

    As far as the statement that “researchers found a critical flaw in the design (ie one likely to lead to a far graver scenario than TMI)?”, I have so far discovered no corroboration of this.

    You also stated, “The existant ones are still in operation, because frankly they cost too much for an elected government to decommission, but I seem to remember hearing, about 1983, about a critical, and hithertofor covered-up, flaw that rendered them unsuitable for continued development.” I do not think this is correct. An advanced CANDU design is under review by the US NRC for licensing in the United States:

    Design Certification Pre-Application Review – ACR-700

    The US NRC web page states in part:

    “On June 19, 2002, Atomic Energy of Canada, Limited (AECL) requested pre-application review of their ACR-700 for licensing in the United States. The ACR-700 is a 700 MWe light-water-cooled reactor with two steam generators and four heat transport pumps. Similar to previous CANDU designs, the ACR-700 utilizes a heavy water moderator. This is the first reactor in the CANDU series to have a negative void reactivity coefficient. The ACR-700 also uses slightly enriched uranium fuel, computer-controlled operation, and on-power fueling.”

    Perhaps the design flaw you are referring to is the coolant positive void co-efficient of reactivity which is eliminated in the ACR-700 design. But again, I am uncertain. I will continue to research and ask some of my Canadian friends who can spell “nucular” better than I. 🙂

  165. Raincoaster,

    My previous post had a whole group of CANDU web links, so it is going through Moderator review. The short answer to your questions is that CANDUs have a positive coolant void co-efficient of reactivity, but an overall negative power co-efficient of reactivity that makes them inherently stable, and the design flaw of this positive void co-efficient of reactivity is eliminated in the ACR-700, an advanced CANDU design, now undergoing review by the US NRC. My previous post (which should appear in a day or so) will give the web links to all the necessary ‘techno-babble’ that Idlex finds so irritating. Hi, Idlex! 😉

  166. I cannot provide everything, but I have made a brief list of some of the chief nuclear regulatory agencies with web links [for the interested reader, of course; I assume that Idlex will bypass this list ;-)]:

    Atomic Agency Regulatory Board of India

    Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

    International Atomic Energy Agency

    L’Autorité de sûreté nucléaire

    United Kingdom Nuclear Health and Safety Executive

    United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    I have also listed some industry nuclear organizations with their web links below:

    Canadian Nuclear Association

    European Nuclear Society

    L’Agence pour l’énergie nucléaire

    Thorium Power

    World Nuclear Association

    Uranium Information Center

    US Nuclear Energy Institute

    Lastly, I have listed some nuclear educational web sites below:

    Atomic Energy Insights

    Bernard Cohen’s Nuclear and Radiation Research Papers

    Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness

    Health Physics Society

    Nuclear History

    Pro-Nuclear Space Movement

    The Nuclear Energy Option

    Virtual Nuclear Tourist

  167. “Violence is the final refuge of the incompetent.”

    I sincerely hope that the Indians and the Chinese understand this as well as our own American leadership. (PWP)

    If they understand this as well as the present US administration, then we’re all done for.

  168. This thread is becoming like a thesis and perhaps it is time to lighten up a little folks!

  169. Melissa…

    I TOLD you to fly the thread to Cuba! You should have listened to the hijackers!

    Power to the People!


  170. Paul, we don’t doubt your wisdom, it’s just too time consuming to keep up.

    Enough; enough the maiden cried,
    All interest in this thread has died.
    Not everyone’s a nuclear buff,
    Have mercy now; we’ve heard enough.
    You earned our plaudits way back when.
    Please can we have our thread again.
    It’s not the place to post your theses,
    On destruction of the species.
    We’re all aware; there lurks a danger,
    If mishandled by some stranger.
    Azimov, or Isaac to his nearest friends
    Wrote Sci-fi for is own sweet ends
    Lots of things he wrote came true.,
    But did he write as much as you?

  171. OK, my apologies to all. [Just think of what the reviewers for my 10 CFR 50.59 evaluations or my Safety Software Hazards and Failure Analyses have had to endure! ;-)]. Yes, I suppose that I have diarrhea of the keyboard. I was just trying to explain a very complex subject without using too much techno-babble, and it seems that I have failed on both accounts. Anyone who really wants the technical information behind what I have written may e-mail me at or join:


    I sincerely hope that Boris Johnson can convince the UK electorate of the need to preserve the nuclear energy option.

  172. Please make sure to direct your strikes appropriately; it was me who asked for this latest roundup of links, so hit me!

    Besides, I’ve always wanted to be notorious.

    PWP, this info you’ve posted doesn’t jibe with what I heard back in the day, so I had better check out my old sources of information and see whether they were wrong or they were merely covering up for a Canadian failure of marketing. Either is possible. Thanks for doing the legwork for me!

    Is there any thread, no matter how dry, that cannot be enlightened by the application of rhyming verse? I think not!

  173. Jack, is quality assurance anything like quality control? Lily Tomlin had a great line. She said, “I worry that quality control was invented by someone who thought if we didn’t control it, it would get out of hand.”

    PWP, I am working my way through the links. Thank you for that. I believe, now that I’ve cleared out my rusty synapses, that the problem I was thinking of was the neutron bombardment, although it doesn’t seem to fit the billing as a terrible threat. I do remember a heavy water leak at the Bruce Nuclear Plant, near where I lived (yes, the site was chosen for its godforsakenness, although I remain firm in my belief that, had Trudeau known I was a Liberal, he’d have moved it to Alberta instead) so maybe it was just a simple failure of coolant containment (due to low quality contractor work, if I recall).

    Hmm, now I have to come up with something that rhymes with “Quality Assurance” and try to work Deuterium in there somewhere. Thanks.

  174. I promise I won’t go into a long essay again. This is mercifully short.

    Raincoaster, I did a little more research on your question regarding CANDUs. Please see the following links:

    Interim Report to the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources on “CANADA’S NUCLEAR REACTORS: HOW MUCH SAFETY IS ENOUGH?”

    at web page:

    The full report is at:

    Some past major problems included:

    “On August 1, 1983, Pickering reactor 2 had a loss of coolant accident after a pressure tube suffered a metre-long rupture. The station was shut down and the four reactors at Pickering A were eventually retubed at a cost of about $1 billion.
    On November 22, 1988, an operator error damaged 36 fuel bundles. The cooling system was contaminated by radioactive iodine that was vented into the environment over several weeks following the accident.

    “On September 25, 1990, Pickering reactor 2 experienced large power shifts in the reactor core. Staff spent two days trying to stabilize it before shutting it down. The AECB later criticized the utility for not shutting down immediately.

    “On August 2, 1992, Pickering reactor 1 had a heavy water leak from a heat exchanger that resulted in a release of 2,300 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium into Lake Ontario.

    “On April 15, 1996, Pickering reactor 4 had a heavy water leak from a heat exchanger that resulted in a release of 50 trillion becquerels of tritium into Lake Ontario.”

    CANDUs do not have a stellar record, nor do coal plants which kill more than 30,000 in North America every year from lung disease caused by pollution. But no radiological event at any CANDU has ever hurt or killed anyone.

  175. CANDUs do not have a stellar record, nor do coal plants which kill more than 30,000 in North America every year from lung disease caused by pollution.

    I wonder where that 30,000 figure was plucked from? The same sort of figures are plucked out of thin air for passive smoking.

    Perhaps the numbers just get recycled. 30,000 people die, and you blame it on passive smoking, coal-fired power stations, or Islamic jihadists – tick the desired box.

    I’m all for recycling, of course. Particularly thin air.

  176. Idlex,

    I got the figure of 30,000 deaths from coal plant pollution from here:

    Though the figures vary from 17,000 to 38,000 per year depending on the web site source the reader may go to, corroboration is found here:

    and here

    and here

    and here

    and here

    There’s lots more, but I’ll stop for now. the point is: coal kills tens of thousandsa per year and Western commercial reactors kill no one. Which is safer? It is obvious.

  177. I suppose ; when all you’ve got,
    Is chapters long, and dry as dust
    Few words just ain’t worth diddly squat,
    If understanding is a must.

    But , if the audience does not,
    Appreciate the work in hand .
    Do the bizz , get off the pot.
    You’ll get applause , you’ll see ! It’s grand.

  178. Macarnie,

    I sincerely intend no offense, but Boris said it best and sadly it applies equally to us Americans:

    “It’s enough to make you weep. Here we are, a nation that once led the world in scientific discovery. Who proposed the theory of gravity? A Briton. Who discovered the circulation of the blood? We did. Where did Faraday hang out, when he came up with the theory of electromagnetism? Right here in Britain.

    “We are responsible for just about every ground-breaking scientific advance, from the television to the computer to the hovercraft and the trouser press. We worked out DNA and we came up with antibiotics. There was a time when the upper reaches of the British Establishment were populated by scientists: J B S Haldane, C P Snow, you name it.”

  179. PWP: Nothing personally intended Paul.
    Never apologise for what you truly believe. You obviously have a deep interest in the nuclear subject, not everyone has the same interest however.

    I too, am an ex submariner,( diesel- electric ), from a time when submariners were little better that tube dwelling, smelly troglodytes, washing whenever we hit base; which might have been long past the time when the lack of personal hygiene gave negative olfactory messages to the rest of the crew, because, when everyone is in the same boat , in every sense , the pong is the norm.

  180. “It’s enough to make you weep. Here we are, a nation that once led the world in scientific discovery. Who proposed the theory of gravity? A Briton. Who discovered the circulation of the blood? We did. Where did Faraday hang out, when he came up with the theory of electromagnetism? Right here in Britain.

    I read in the Independent a few days ago that in the 13th century, [a] Muslim medic named Ibn Nafis described the circulation of the blood, 300 years before William Harvey discovered it. No big surprise, their medicine was streets ahead back then.

    And Faraday was an experimenter of genius, but it was Oersted who first discovered elctromagnetism, and Maxwell who came up with a mathematical theory of electromagnetism based on the experimental work of Faraday and Ampere.

    We should simply be glad that these people, whatever their nationality, came up with ideas that have helped the whole of humanity – and leave nationalist conceit out of it.

  181. Idlex,

    I agree with your statement: “We should simply be glad that these people, whatever their nationality, came up with ideas that have helped the whole of humanity.”

    However, citizens of the UK should be proud of their heritage and of the many brilliant people to whom it has given birth and who have done much to enlighten and lead the world. There is no shame in being proud of one’s country, and Boris is correct in pointing out that we are resting on the laurels of the past (i.e., the work of these great men and women) without continuing their example of excellence in science, engineering and technology.

    The same is apparently true of Muslim people given that (as you pointed out) a “Muslim medic named Ibn Nafis described the circulation of the blood, 300 years before William Harvey discovered it”.

    The point is that we are all members of the human species and it is the prosperity of each individual in our species which matters most. The UK has done more than its fair share to ensure that common prosperity, but now (like the US) is resting on its laurels (or as my Dad would say, its hind end).

    It’s time for UK and US citizens to poop or get off the pot. Boris is absolutely correct in pointing that out.

  182. I see no harm in a gentle patriotism. It would be as remiss to forget one’s own country as it would be, say, to forget one’s own parents.

    But at some point, and I’m not sure where, benign patriotism intensifies to become malignant tribalism.

    It seems to involve flags. The more flags, the greater the tribalism.

    (Did Rome possess a flag?)

  183. I would add that perhaps one of the greatest scientists that humanity has ever flowered is your very own Stephen Hawking.

  184. This probably isn’t the time to bring this up but (sod it) has anyone here read Richard Milton’s book: “Alternative Science”?

    Now, before I get a damn good (and possibly well deserved) thrashing from any orthodox scientists reading this (makes it sound like a religion doesn’t it?) let me qualify my position. Milton’s book, in my view, doesn’t claim the offbeat scientific hypotheses he examines are true, so much as it asks why certain lines of scientific exploration are so ruthlessly castigated by members of the scientific community; although, allegedly, the editors of Nature magazine wield about 95% of the vote on these matters.

    It seems that if physics, Newtonian, relativistic or quantum, predicts that something is impossible, anyone examining such a miraculous phenomenon is immediately ostracised; has their tenure or funding cancelled and becomes an object of ridicule. At least they don’t get burnt at the stake as was the habit of previous dogmatic regimes; I suppose I should be thankful for small mercies

    Our planet and its orbit have been described by a number of geometric theorems and only recently settled down into its current, relatively comfortable, configuration. My point here is that just about every invention, discovery or hypothesis was considered wrong, impossible or stupid until some bright spark did a bit of legwork and said: “Hey, look at this!”

    What I am alluding to is that our research has become jaded. We no longer seem to attempt the exploration of new territory. There is an increasing tendency for researchers to look at refinement of understanding rather than exploratory physics. I don’t believe we will ever see earthbound hot fusion systems but, because it’s theoretically possible (exhibit a: the Sun), we’ll probably lob a number of billions more into this (in my opinion) blind alley.

    Whether or not you believe the Fleischmann-Pons cell was fusion (cold or otherwise) there is ample evidence to suggest that some weird reaction was going on which seemed to liberate energy out of deuterium using a couple of palladium electrodes. Stanley Pons reckoned any kid could do it in the bathroom! but my question is: Who gives a rat’s ass if it’s fusion or not? It appears to be cheap energy if it works. The controversy regarding this issue seems to stem more from the fact that billions have been spent on hot fusion and Martin Fleischmann & Stanley Pons built a test bed more or less on their tea and biscuit budget.

    You may also be familiar with some rather odd science called an ‘over-unity’ engine. Semantically, this means you get more energy out than you put in. I don’t accept this as true because the energy must be there to begin with even if it is tightly locked up. If this latter statement were not true then nuclear power stations and internal combustion engines would also be over-unity engines. However, what we are really talking about are devices or mechanisms which liberate energy from sources which are not usually nett energy emitters. Ordinary water is often the fuel in these devices.

    A simple, and demonstrable it seems, example of this involves sending ultrasonic pulses through water (of the correct frequency) whilst it’s being heated. This, allegedly, causes the water to boil using thirty percent less energy than would be scientifically calculated calorifically. The details are here: Over Unity.

    But, let’s face it, water is weird stuff. As I believe I’ve made abundantly (and possibly boorishly) clear, I am am extremely antipathetic to all manifestations of the Abrahamic religions. However, if there was any evidence of God, I would say it’s not the Babel fish it’s hydrogen bonds! I’ve always suspected that we’re on Earth release v1.01 (revision b – Hydrogen bonds) to stop the oceans from freezing. The thing about hydrogen bonds is that when water freezes it gets bigger!?! There aren’t too many materials that do that. I have no doubt, that like any bug fix, it’s possible to exploit the side effects of this phenomenon as any hacker/cracker (or Matrix fan) will tell you. Perhaps the Pons-Fleishmann cell is a manifestation of that.

    Another fascinating book about ‘forbidden science’ is “the Memory of Water” (Michael Schiff) about the ignominious vilification and character assassination of biochemist Jacques Benveniste because of his temerity to demonstrate that water seemed to be able to remember what had been in it after it had been diluted 10^40 times! I won’t go into the gory details of this metaphorical disembowelling but the upshot of the whole thing was that poor old Jacques had to go through his experimental technique with a stage magician (James Randi) who promptly explained that the whole thing was a fake largely because, when he (Randi) attempted it, it didn’t work. Hell, anyone who’s ever tried to cook a soufflé understands that even simple experiments require good technique!

    Anyone, that’s the end of my diatribe. If science remains introspective as it presently appears to be, we might as well get used to coal, gas and solid fuel rockets.

    Maybe we need another big war. That tends to get the more inventive components of our society off their ring-pieces and often equips them with the budget to manifest some more pearls for the swine in government.

  185. Funny you should mention this, Joe.

    I woke up this morning thinking about Eric Laithwaite. He designed a magnetic levitation high speed train, and was a renowned scientist. But then he got interested in the strange behaviour of some gyroscopes:

      He decided to make this the subject of his prestigious Faraday Lecture at the Royal Institution in 1973. He brought with him an array of gyroscopes, including one weighing 50lb that he spun up and raised effortlessly above his head with one hand, claiming it had lost weight and so contravened Newton’s third law. The world of science was scandalised. For the first time in its history, the Royal Institution failed to publish the Faraday Lecture and Laithwaite’s nomination for a Fellowship of the Royal Society was cancelled. BBC

    I actually saw the BBC broadcast of this Faraday lecture, and he had 5-year-old girls raising gyroscopes that were as big as they were. It remains lodged in memory: what on earth was happening?

    As to your wider point, I think there’s a sort of law of the development of any science, which is roughly that they start with a few crazy daredevils ( Kepler, Newton, even Faraday), and then their work becomes formalised and institutionalised and professionalised, and has all the crazy daring knocked out of it. It becomes a new dogmatic certainty, a matter of rote learning, which replaces the old dogmatic certainty that the original trail-blazers subverted.

    I’ve got no comment to make on cold fusion or over-unity engines, but one thing is for sure: we don’t really know very much at all about the wonderfully mysterious universe in which we live.

  186. I always thought false modesty (rather than violence) was the refuge of the incompetent.

    Most likely though it’s: “Incompetence is the refuge of the incompetent” or Pres Dubyabush wouldn’t have been re-elected.

    Incidentally, I just heard an advert on the radio wherein Simon Cowell was extremely rude to some carol singers or similar. This came on just after, what sounded like, a plug for some variant of “The Weakest Link”.

    Why, pray, does 21st century Britain appear to be making a virtue out of rudeness? If anyone even thought of speaking to me like that I’d have the pistols or sabres out before they could say “Anne Robinson”!

  187. I met Eric Laithwaite (more years ago than I care to remember!) He was a really nice guy!

    This was just after he had (allegedly) sent a 20Kg steel sphere rotating at 30,000 RPM though three lecture rooms. Apparently he turned it on, left it to accelerate on some maglev type field and then realised the only way to stop it was to turn off the power. The story may be apocryphal; he certainly didn’t mention it.

    Seemed an extremely down to earth chap though; I really can’t see him making stuff up for self aggrandisement.

  188. This also reminds me of a controversy in which I became very marginally involved.

    About a year ago I was half-watching a TV documentary called “The Girl with X-ray Eyes”, about a Russian teenager who was highly regarded in her native Russia for her apparent ability to diagnose illness by simply talking to people for a few minutes. She had been flown over to the US to be scientifically studied by some outfit (one with which James Randi is associated).

    Her task, in lab conditions, presented with 7 different individuals with 7 different symptoms, was to guess who had which symptoms. As I idly watched, I thought that if it was me doing the test, I’d probably be lucky to even guess one right. But she got 4 out of 7 right – and was promptly declared to have failed the test, because the pass mark was getting 5 out of 7 right.

    I thought she’d done really well, and wondered what the chance of her getting that number right actually was. I wrote a computer program to work it out. It turned out to be less than one chance in 50.

    I then found an online discussion of the program, where I discovered that the probabilities being used by the experimenters, as calculated by three professors, one of them a Nobel laureate, were different from mine (and from a few other people). It gradually emerged that they’d simply got the probabilities wrong. Not much wrong, but wrong all the same.

    I was appalled at this elementary error, and said as much. But, for my pains, I was dismissed as “an obsessive-compulsive mathematician”. Working out the right numbers is, apparently, “obsessive-compulsive”.

    I’ve no idea whether the girl had any unusual abilities. But I ended up thinking that if the experimenters couldn’t even bother to work out the probabilities right, the entire experiment was probably really just designed to discredit her – which, of course, it succeeded in doing.

  189. What’s most absurd is that even if she’d gotten all seven right it wouldn’t prove anything either way.

    My brother always proposes that if there was any truth whatsoever in parapsychology or magic we would be using it in wars and there would be a professor of thaumaturgy at Cambridge.

    You could probably say the same thing about fusion.

  190. Joe Mental…

    Your brother should be aware that both the Russians and americans had/have a “psi corps”, experimenting with such odd concepts as Remote Viewing, Telepathy, Telekinesis, Etc.

    To some degree, therefore, they ARE used in war…

    (adjusts tinfoil hat, retires under desk within a faraday cage!)


  191. Randi is a pretty good debunker, but he can be faulted on being a little too willing to de- rather than bunk.

    The history of science is nothing more or less than the history of explaining the hithertofor inexplicable. I am sure that the founders of the scientific method would approve of its being applied to various non-traditional ideas. In the beginning, ALL ideas were non-traditional. And the true strength of the scientific method is that it holds up, no matter what you apply it to.

  192. Whilst I accept your point raincoaster and agree that the predictive requirement of the scientific method strengthens it’s claim to impartiality, my problem is with the upper echelons of the R&D community immediately damning a line of research because the hypothesis expressed is contrary to their/our current understanding of mechanism.

    When I hear dismissals like: “If this were true we’d have to rewrite all of physics!” It reminds me of people quoting Matthew 19:18, i.e. it’s dogma rather than science.

    Prior to the Renaissance, European artists were pretty much precluded from painting anything except highly stylised representations of JC and the apostles (“’cause it’s written, that’s why!”) and it seems to me that scientific research is travelling down this path in that researchers only get grants for doing research that the top dogs think is legit and valid.

    Did you know that, five years after the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, the Scientific American was still reporting that heavier than air flight was impossible? That’s the level of stupidity I’m talking about.

  193. I don’t know what’s bothering you, Joe. We are all of us always in the grip of dogmatic convictions of one sort or other – although we are usually more aware of the dogmatic convictions of others rather than our own. Why should scientists be any better?

    Indeed, it might be argued that this is how it ought to be: that there ought to be institutional inertia. Because without that inertia there wouldn’t be an established consensus opinion. If we all kept completely open minds the whole time, we’d all believe six impossible things before breakfast. It’s only because of this inertia, this unwillingness to change our minds, that we have any consistent opinions at all.

    In short, we need institutional inertia,. We need an unwillingness to change our minds, just as much as we need people who can shrug off some tiny fraction of their received conventional wisdom, and take a new look, now and then.

  194. >PaulD said:
    March 12, 2006 11:34 PM | permalink



    Yes, true about Mac!

  195. Sorry idlex, I think you’re missing my point.

    Boris started this thread off with:
    “…Here we are, a nation that once led the world in scientific discovery. Who proposed the theory of gravity?…”

    My issue is that it seems institutional inertia, as you put it, is putting the brakes on exploratory science such that the achievements praised by Boris, in his opening paragraph, no longer occur.

    I am not suggesting for a nanosecond that people should be allowed to investigate sentience in earthworms or lunatic theories about electricity being alive or even fifth forces (without a damn good reason or a load of evidence anyway). What I do criticise is when promising lines of investigation are arbitrarily curtailed on the recommendation of a very small number of people in the rarefied heights of academia and publishing who have a great deal of vested interest in the status quo.

    I mentioned Jacques Benveniste in an earlier posting, examples like this outrage me! His research was completely legitimate yet it was torpedoed by a bunch of self-righteous cretins (CSICOP) for no better reason than his findings sound impossible not are impossible.

    The problem is that there are certain theories or fields which researchers are not even allowed to look at! Check out Wilhelm Reich, Velikovsky etc. etc. etc. I am not suggesting the hypotheses these people presented were correct (they may have been complete nutcases), but I do not understand the vehemence and loathing their work has been subjected to by a, theoretically, objective group of scientists! If someone is suggesting something stupid, it’s normally fairly easy to disprove it; the, so called, scientific method is (theoretically) entirely based on this approach. Remember, we are talking about predictive theories here not biblical didactic hearsay.

    There are even, astoundingly, sacred cow theories (like neo-Darwinistic evolution) that have become unassailable. The latter is, in my opinion, largely because of the Gospel of St. Richard Dawkins. I’m not suggesting evolutionary theory is wrong, simply that there are some pretty big holes in it (which the monotheists constantly exploit) and these need to be explained rather than swept under the carpet and ignored. If any theory can’t be examined critically there is, again, something wrong. I would further propose that this kind of critical examination may well result in reinforcing many sacrosanct hypotheses because the examination is performed from such a different angle.

    I’m sorry idlex, it’s starting to sound (to me) like anything postulated in theoretical physics prior to 1925 is set in tablets of stone and anything proposed subsequently, which is contradictory to historical dogma, is ipso facto wrong. Further, I firmly believe that this, more than anything else is the factor causing fewer people to go into the primary sciences: “It’s all been done, we know how everything works, you’ll just be filling in the gaps.”

    That’s just crap!

    Institutional inertia is important to stop silly faddish theories becoming pre-eminent; it should not, however, be instrumental in forbidding exploration of alternate theories. Certainly not to the extent that it does today.

    I am dogmatic. (Gospel according to Richard Milton)

  196. According to science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, there are four stages in the acceptance of any new idea.
    The four stages are:-
    “It’s nonsense.”
    “It may be real but it’s not important”
    “I always said it was important”
    “I thought of it first!”

    “Stones cannot fall from the sky, because there are no stones in the sky,” Antoine Lavoisier, Academie des Sciences c1790.

    Lewis Wolpert, chairman of the Committee on the Public Understanding of Science, was asked by a reporter if scientists shouldn’t be more open minded? “An open mind, is an empty mind,” Wolpert told him.

    Distinguished medical doctor and director Jonathan Miller candidly admitted on TV, “Even if you showed me the evidence for homeopathy, I still wouldn’t believe in it.”

    What chance is there for scientific development outside existing parameters given this level of stubbornness?

  197. Boris started this thread off with: “…Here we are, a nation that once led the world in scientific discovery. Who proposed the theory of gravity?…” My issue is that it seems institutional inertia, as you put it, is putting the brakes on exploratory science such that the achievements praised by Boris, in his opening paragraph, no longer occur. (Joe M)

    Well, it was Isaac Newton who first proposed the theory of gravity – so let’s talk about Newton a bit.

    Did Newton get an SRC scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge to study gravity and optics? Was he funded by BioAccelerate Holdings to study the effects of passive smoking on Cambridge undergraduates? How many A-levels did he have?

    It’s been a while since I read a biography of Newton, but, from memory, he was accepted into Cambridge on the bottom rung, more or less as a servant to more senior scholars. His mother wouldn’t even help out with his living expenses. Newton gradually rose within the university, until he was appointed Lucasian professor. And hardly anybody attended his lectures. He had, by this time, only a few modest duties to carry out, and spent the bulk of his time pursuing his own multifarious interests, which ranged from alchemy and biblical interpretation (he thought the end of the world would come in about 1860, from his studies of Daniel) through to optics and mechanics. Newton was, pretty much, absolutely free to pursue any avenue of enquiry he felt like. There were no requirement upon him to do any research into anything by some funding authority. All he had to do, to not lose his post, was to keep his heretical views to himself: he was an heretical disbeliever in the trinity, which would have cost him his job. Alone in his room, in a sea of papers strewn all over the place, Newton invented his method of fluxions, studied optics, constructed his own telescope, etc, etc.

    What modern postgraduate has such freedom? Most research is funded by government or business with a view to getting results fairly pronto. Researchers are meshed in a web of peer reviews, deadlines, examinations, etc. Nobody gives anyone a sack of dosh and says: “Here, live off this, and think about whatever you like.” But that was pretty much Newton’s circumstance.

    If Boris, or anybody else, wants a few more Newtons, they should provide the circumstances in which Newton flourished: a guaranteed modest income, oodles of free time, and more or less complete freedom to study anything. And this is the only way anybody comes up with new ideas.

    After all, nobody asked Copernicus to come up with a new explanation of the motion of planets. Nobody asked Kepler to figure out the shape of planetary orbits. And nobody asked Newton to sort out optics, mechanics, and calculus. All these people posed themselves these questions. In the case of Newton, somebody (Halley probably) asked him if he’d ever looked at a gravitational inverse square law, and Newton replied that he had – some 10 years earlier -, and he said he’d see if he could dig it out from under his heap of papers.

    And it was only when all this stuff started coming out that Newton was catapulted to fame. Before that, he’d just been secretively scrawling equations in his room, peering at prismatic light, his lectures unattended, almost entirely left to himself.

    Which would all be utterly intolerable in modern universities, whose principal role is now to serve the aims of industry, and produce marketable results fast. A daydreamer and slacker like Isaac Newton would be out on his ear in next to no time.

  198. Well, it was much the same with Einstein, wasn’t it? He did all his really important work as a young man working as a clerk. History is made by obsessives and subversives, which only reinforces the institutional resistance to them. If Hawking hadn’t been as much a genius at leveraging his own publicity as he is at mathematics, he’d be toiling in obscurity right now.

    Your point about the military-industrial complex funding research now is exactly right. I had a long discussion with a friend of mine who is a professor of philosophy, and he says the only way he can hang on to his job is to slant his grant applications so they appear to have military or corporate applications (ie marketing or groupthink). Try twisting your mind around that: “Dear Inc, I would like ten thousand dollars to study the concept of the Platonic Ideal and, um, how it applies to modern, uh, purchasing decisions?”

  199. Yes idlex and raincoaster, I understand your points. Universities today have become institutionalised, production line R&D centres which must be treated as profit (not cost) centres by administrators. Sure, no question about it. But, if they are anything like my company, at least ten percent of our R&D time/effort goes into blue sky, let’s look at something different/stupid, type investigation.

    No-one’s inventive all the time anyway so it seems pointless to put in 100% effort on mad ideas. Notwithstanding this, providing one has the equipment and resources, the odd utterly daft idea can be tried out at a fairly modest cost and some (rarely I admit) reap massive benefits which more than pay for all the ones which failed.

    The difference between what I am suggesting and your observations is that neither Newton’s or Einstein’s research lines were angrily terminated because some University administrator or magazine publisher was unsympathetic to the theorems they postulated. It’s this sort of censorship which I find offensive and deeply suspicious. When Einstein opined that God doesn’t play dice with the universe, Niels Bohr et al didn’t get ejected from the building and told not to come back! Einstein simply disagreed with them; what’s wrong with that? It’s only through the synthesis of different ideas and concepts that we truly gain a greater knowledge of the universe.

    Science, contrary to opinion, isn’t democratic either. It doesn’t matter how many people believe a certain thing or how fervently, it doesn’t make it correct or true or we should still be talking about phlogiston instead of oxygen. (ref. J B Priestly)

    All I’m saying is that the influence of these ‘paradigm police’ needs to be curtailed or we’ll be looking at another five thousand years of advanced (highly sophisticated and accurate) rock throwing.

  200. We do seem to be in a cynical mood at the moment , don’t we? But , without the doubters of this world , there would have been no spur to help the profound thinkers overcome the hurdles placed in their way by their critics. All of the greats in science were seen, at some time in their life , as being slightly cracked. Long may there be such crackpots, of whatever race and creed.

  201. Sorry Mac,
    That isn’t what I’m talking about.

    Doubt is natural, reasonable and essential to progress. Without doubt, everything would probably remain pretty much the same because there is no dynamic for change.

    My bile here stems from the fact that there is a world of difference between someone saying: “I don’t believe you. That’s complete nonsense; you’re talking rubbish!” and saying: “Not only do we think your work is nonsensical, we’re are also going to prevent you from publishing your findings and further, we will do everything in our power to make sure your funding is cut by threatening your establishment/institution with dire consequences if they won’t comply!”

    I’m not in the least bit cynical, I’m angry!

  202. I think that one interesting example of institutional inertia, which involves – quite literally – blue sky thinking, and Newton and Arthur C. Clarke, concerns the Space Elevator concept.

    A space elevator is essentially a geosynchronous satellite attached to the equator by a tether. Space vehicles would be launched from them by hauling themselves up the tether, and releasing themselves into free orbit once they reach the tethered satellite. It’s all a bit of simple Newtonian physics, championed by Arthur C. Clarke. It currently costs something like 10,000 dollars to put one kilogram payload into space using conventional rockets – in part because the rockets need to reach escape velocity of 11 km/sec. The estimated costs of doing the same with payloads climbing a space elevator at 200 metres/sec is estimated to be something of the order of 100th of the conventional cost. There are engineering problems, of course, in that we currently don’t have materials strong enough to use as tethers.

    You’d think that there would be a whole raft of studies exploring ways to get this working. But there aren’t. Virtually all the big money goes into conventional rocket technology. The space elevator concept is largely kept alive by a band of unpaid enthusiasts. And they are regarded with something approaching complete contempt by orthodox rocket scientists.

    This a wonderful contemporary example of institutional inertia. For a whole bunch of people, it is taken as a fact of life that the way to get stuff into space is with giant flaming rockets. Entire industries and careers are built around rocket technology. When rocket scientists look at space elevators, they are looking at their own impending redundancy. No wonder they scoff. The stage coach and mule train drivers who first explored the American west probably scoffed at the railroad pioneers with their improbably long railway tracks.

    But apart from this, rocket science is intimately linked with the military, from Nazi V2s to Polaris missiles. Space exploration has been a by-product of military technological innovation, which is all part and parcel of the past five thousand years of advanced (highly sophisticated and accurate) rock throwing (hat tip to JM). Space elevators may offer a far cheaper way of getting matter into space, but they don’t offer us a better way of throwing rocks at enemies, and they won’t get any funding until somebody figures out some way to use them to throw those rocks. And nuclear power essentially gets big bucks because it offers some very highly explosive rocks to throw.

    Never mind the religious dogmas of the kind that Copernicus and Galileo had to contend with. The greatest of our dogmas, and one that is far older than Christianity or any other new-fangled idea, is the notion that if we want to get rich, we must steal it from other people by force.

    Which is why, incidentally, we are in Iraq.

  203. While it’s true that space elevator research isn’t being “angrily terminated” by unsympathetic administrators,it’s perhaps because such research isn’t funded in the first place.

    And while Jerome Pearson, one of the space elevators principal advocates, hasn’t been arrested and imprisoned, it took him 10 years to find a publisher for his seminal paper.

    Ignoring, ridiculing, and not funding new ideas is simply the first phase of outright suppression.

    New ideas are always inherently subversive of the existing order, whatever it happens to be, and steps are always taken to preserve the existing order – if nothing else because a lot of people’s jobs depend upon it. Copernicus’ heliocentrism subverted the geocentric orthodoxy of his time, and called fundamental religious beliefs into question. Space elevators threaten to subvert the established orthodoxy of rocket science. It is the same, I suggest, for almost any and every new idea.

  204. Absolutely idlex! That’s precisely what I’m getting at. The problem with new (particularly working) ideas is they tend to make proponents of the old regime look a bit dim!

    I can understand why space elevator research (sensible though it is) may be put on the back burner though, it’s bleedin’ expensive! I can’t argue about budgetary rejection, that’s just a fact of academic life. Much as I would like one, I can’t afford a Lear jet and it doesn’t matter how many motivations I put together it is unlikely that possessing one will ever make financial sense. I suspect the space elevator is going to have to wait until someone hits the profit motive button. i.e. there is something in space which would be worth a TON of money on Earth but conventional rocket systems will eat the profit.

    Darwin’s theory of evolution was, more or less, a scientific curiosity until Gregor Mendel’s genetic research provided a mechanism for trait inheritance between generations. My gripe is about research in, for example, bioenergetic fields. A number of people have done experimentation in this subject and any resultant data has been comprehensively stomped on!

    Take this experiment:
    1) Put healthy yeast in one (hermetically sealed) glass test-tube and some yeast (infected with something) in another test tube next to it.
    Result: Nothing, the healthy yeast stays healthy

    2) Put a quartz lens in both test tubes (transparent to ultra-violet electro-magnetic spectrum, glass is opaque)
    Result: healthy yeast becomes infected.

    All things being equal (i.e. the quartz isn’t porous and the test-tubes are sealed correctly) the only conclusion is that somehow this infection is transmitted by an ultra-violet frequency of electromagnetic radiation. Now, I haven’t performed this experiment (although I intend to when I get some time) so this is complete hearsay but, if true, has some rather interesting implications. I readily concede that is sounds bizarre and implausible but then so does relativity when you first hear about it. I haven’t performed the Michelson-Macaulay experiment either.

    This sort of research seems to crop up every 25 – 50 years or so when it is, once again, mugged and buried by the paradigm police and the James Randi’s of the world.
    “He had a test-tube up his sleeve, your honour!”
    “Did you find it?”
    “No… but that’s the only way it could have worked.”
    Is one of Randi’s favourite ploys

    My pet example of this type of intrusive control is Benveniste’s story. The wheels really came of his research when he, almost apologetically, made the statement that the qualities he’d found in high dilutions of certain materials, appeared to be transmittable electro-magnetically. Then they shut him down really fast! You see, it can’t be financial issues in such a case; we aren’t talking about NASA type space budgets; just a lab, some glassware/microscopes and a couple of lab technicians. It seems to be the subject matter which is so distasteful and I cannot conceive why.

    Of course it may all be complete rubbish. It’s virtually impossible to prove a negative (i.e. to prove it doesn’t work) but that didn’t stop a number of institutions saying that cold-fusion is nonsense because they couldn’t reproduce the effects claimed by Fleischman and Pons.

    What I really don’t understand is why none of the victims of the concept cops ever said: “But think of the military applications!”

    “Will you take a cheque or do you want cash?”

  205. Idlex

    I make the probability of putting at least 4 out of 7 pegs in the right place blindfold as 92/5040 = 23/1260 = 0.018 a little under 1 in 50, so in the same palce as yours. However this is not significant at the 1% level. If the null hypothesis were that ‘there is no positive correlation between the subjects guesses and the actual placements’ then this result would be observed in about 2 cases in 100. I think I would like to see the results of a series of such experiments.

    I’m assuming I’ve done my calculations right. So I stick out my neck when I say that many who ought to know better, particularly in health research, do not understand enough probability theory to know what a signifcance test tells the experimenter. Stuart Sutherland devoted at least a chapter of his book on Irrationality to this. If Nobel laureates get the wrong numbers it does not suprise me. I would be suprised if they were wrong in their area of speciality (except of course for those like Pinter who get pseudo-Nobel prizes) because despite all the push to publish, egotism and so on that does infect the scientific community there is still a strong tradition of rational criticism. Regrettably the government’s commitment to science being based on ‘fun’ and ‘accessibility’ is probably not helping matters.

    I’m not a physicist so I couldn’t really say much about the possibility of a space elevator. The bits I do understand seem to make sense – stationary orbit and ultra strong ultra lightweight ‘cables’. Do we know enough to have a Kittyhawk experience?

  206. Jack,

    I agree with your figure. Of 5040 possible permutations, the numbers of occurences of 0, 1, 2, etc right answers are:

    0 – 1854
    1 – 1855
    2 – 924
    3 – 315
    4 – 70
    5 – 21
    6 – 0
    7 – 1

    So the probability of getting 4 or more right answers is 92/5040 is 0.01825. CSICOP’s three professors who worked out the probabilities came up with a probability of 0.01899, which is different – even if not much different.

    It appears that they used the Poisson approximation, which works fine for large numbers, but not small ones:

    P(N = k) = 1/(e * k!)

    Using this with n=7 we get (almost unreadably)

    k P(k) 5040 * P(k) ‘true number’
    0 0.367879 1854.1 1854
    1 0.367879 1854.1 1855
    2 0.183940 927.1 924
    3 0.061313 309.0 315
    4 0.015328 77.2 70
    5 0.003066 15.4 21
    6 0.000511 2.6 0
    7 0.000030 0.4 1

    That said, while I can work out the exact probabilities, their significance entirely defeats me. I am told that 1 in 50 isn’t very significant in a scientific experiment, but 1 in 100 is.

    Which reminds me that the experimenters in this case declared that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”. How on earth does one measure extraordinariness?

  207. I suspect the space elevator is going to have to wait until someone hits the profit motive button. i.e. there is something in space which would be worth a TON of money on Earth but conventional rocket systems will eat the profit. (Joe M)

    I’m sure that there are fortunes to be made out there, mining asteroids or manufacturing stuff in zero gravity, and even stuff as humble as waste disposal (e.g. of nuclear waste). But it’s so prohibitively expensive to get into space that anyone who does the numbers right now is looking at heavy losses.

    But the same must have been true 500 years ago if anyone had done the figures for circumnavigating the world and bringing back spices. One wonders how the Portuguese ever got round to building caravels that allowed them to do exactly this.

    Do we know enough to have a Kittyhawk experience? (Jack R)

    It seems we may. NASA has become interested in them, and there’s talk of trying to get one working in the next 10 or 20 years. The main problem seems to be the cable: they’re proposing to use carbon nanotubes, which have the required strength. But nobody’s figured out how to weave them into a cable.

  208. idlex
    many thanks for your figures – I’ve spent a happy afternoon inspired by them and ‘discovered’ an interesting relationship which was probably spotted by some ancient Greek. Anyway it is related to the observation which lurks in your figures and tables that if you have set of n things with a unique ordering then the probability that a good shuffle puts them all into the wrong position tends to 1/e.

    As far as what it means is concerned…

    Probability is a branch of pure maths. What we mean by ‘probability’ in the real world and hence the ‘meaning’ of significance tests is not something that there is agreement about. It also depends on consequences. If our nuclear power station had a new test and we were told that if there was a major problem then the test would only fail to tell us 2% of the time then we may not be altogether happy with that test.

  209. many thanks for your figures – I’ve spent a happy afternoon inspired by them

    My pleasure, Jack.

    And I’m slightly relieved to hear that ‘significance’ is not a matter about which there is agreement. But then again, I’m slightly disturbed…

  210. many who ought to know better, particularly in health research, do not understand enough probability theory to know what a signifcance test tells the experimenter. Stuart Sutherland devoted at least a chapter of his book on Irrationality to this. (Jack Ramsey)

    This sounds quite an interesting book. Is it about mathematics?

  211. idlex

    It’s not primarily a hard sums book. He’s interested in all sorts of irrationality. I was particualrly interested in the chapter on medical research because in my (then) naivity (how do you spell it) I thought that real researchers in whatever field understood probability theory, despite the interpretation. It turns out that many don’t! If you have access to a uni library you will probably find it there or quite possibly in a good public library.

    It’s also got stuff on how people ignore evidence even when it is to their disadvantage.

  212. jeff

    let me have a list of other books that suck – I’ve nearly finished colouring in my present one

  213. Jack: I’m afraid thet your ascerbic remark must have fallen on cloth ears. Whoever J. Garcia is , his style of literary criticism lacks a certain depth , don’t you think?

  214. Mac

    Certainly I suppose one could call it terse. Possibly he needs to save wear and tear on his keyboard?

    You don’t think he is the J. Garcia, who as we all know never died but is living in a Montana commune with JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Princess Di and the High Guardians of the Holy Grael?

  215. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead? I had not heard that he too still lives, in the manner of Elvis and Jim Morrison.

    But perhaps Boris’ blog attracts spirits from the underworld. Indeed, perhaps all of us here died many years ago.

  216. One never knows Jack.

    If all the non-dead from way back in history were laid end on end . what a “carrion” that would be .

    Sorry about the horrible pun Jack , but I feel slightly jsded at the moment.

  217. idlex

    You read it here first! I usually like to start one undead story or conspiracy theory a day. It’s good for the wind!

  218. Jack; a propos the latest side slip :

    I can’t help but wonder, when the seemingly endless season of repeats of the ‘Carry On’ series of films is once again stirred into motion: is the title ‘Carry On’ a play on the word “carrion”?
    Carrion:(n) A carcass or carcasses; dead and rotting meat, left where the beast died, thus providing food for the less able hunters of live prey, and that universally feared and hated, (though badly misunderstood), bird; the vulture.
    Surely even the worst case of the double entendre phase of any school-kid gets outgrown one day?
    The films were adolescently funny in their day; (mostly, anyway); but we are a little, if only barely, more sophisticated today, and when I see the ‘ nudge -nudge’ provoking scene, for the 100th time , of Barbara Windsor’s so called bosom , freeing itself / themselves , from that horrible towelling bikini top, I think of all the public schoolboy fantasies that must have gone into the writing of that particular scene.

    I wouldn’t mind , but;
    a) they weren’t to be seen , and
    b) I’ve seen bigger ones on a snake.
    But then ; I’ve been around a long time.

  219. Mac

    As a trainee gent I wouldn’t dream of commenting on ladies’ bosoms but from ancient memory I think you’re right about BWs.

    However I have a fondness for Carry On movies. Carry On Up the Khyber is one of my favourites. I recall a very pleasant reminisce of the last scenes with She Who Must Be Obeyed’s cousin’s Pakistani hubby. I was a little worried he might be offended but he seemed to take more delight than I in the awful, in the Biblical sense of course, British humour.

    We, or you, may be a little more sophisticated but I can’t say the same for the comedy. Every now and then I catch a glimpse of Little Britain. It’s always about some poor woman urinating in a supermarket. I think that bears as much relation to comedy as throwing a hand grenade into a river does to fly fishing, not that I’ve tried either.

  220. Jack : Hoo bloody ray ! I have never mentioned that particular programme in any conversation I have ever had, with anyone , for fear of being seen as a person devoid of laughing gear, and now I find another of the same mind.

    I fear that the humour of Little Britain passes me by , as did that supposed mumour in The Office .

    I have , I think , a very healthy sense of humour , but I cannot laugh at what I fail to see as funny.

  221. I find Little Britain cruel rather than comic. And the Office made me squirm, because it was too like a few offices I’ve experienced – only not as funny. Could never stand Carrion films.

    But Absolutely Fabulous worked for me most of the time.

  222. Mac and idlex

    My son has a healthy sod ’em attitude to the establishment, including his old man’s musical and literary tastes, but he fails to find Little Britain funny. I wonder if we have an emperor’s new clothes scenario. We are feed the idea that it is sufficient to be offensive to be clever or funny but whilst some degree of offence is often part of humour it is not enough on its own.

  223. Jack : it seems that there are little enclaves of common sense in the UK after all .

    My brood are all anti Little Britain , and to go even further, they, (and I) , hold the belief that there is ‘comedy’ and ‘alternative comedy’. The latter is mostly not funny, we find.

  224. Mac

    Maybe alternative comedy is short for alternative to comedy – for those that don’t like a good laugh

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