Sunday, May 19, 2019

Former NRC Chairman: "I Oversaw The U.S. Nucler Power Industry. Now I Think It Should Be Banned"

This view should absolutely be taken into consideration--though, of course, we don't want to weigh an op-ed too heavily. It should direct our attention to more serious arguments for the view that nuclear plants are a lot more dangerous than we think.
   I'm skeptical. It seems extremely unlikely that both of the following can be true:
  • [a]  Anthropogenic climate change is such an emergency that we must [do whatever it is we're supposed to do...cut carbon emissions in half?] in a decade or [CATASTROPHE!]
  • [b]  Nuclear is so dangerous that we shouldn't rely on it even given [a].
The stronger the case for [a], the less likely it is that [b] is true. If [a] is true, we should be willing to accept extremely risky alternatives to fossil fuels. We should, e.g., be willing to accept a fair number of major nuclear accidents
   I like the planet-killer analogy:

Suppose we discover a planet-killing asteroid that will hit Earth in ten years. One (ridiculous, science-fictiony) way to stop it is to build a shit-ton of nuclear plants (or some similarly risky technology) to laser-beam it out of the sky (or whatever). Or, we can try a moonshot in which we transform some safer technology (like solar, or whatever); but this won't work at current levels of technology; it requires massive technological leaps forward--leaps that may well elude us.
Seems prima facie crazy to take the second course of action. If we really are facing the end of everything if we fail, then we should go with proven technology--almost no matter how high the costs. How many Three Mile Islands...or Fukushimas...or even Chernobyls...would it be worth to save the Earth? Answer: a whole damn lot.
   Second, I doubt Jaczko is right about the cost/risks of nuclear. By some estimates, nuclear is the safest means of generating power, with fewer deaths per terawatt hour than even solar. Of course nuclear doesn't poison us gradually and steadily the way coal does; but every now and then it will likely poison us a lot. It's good to keep that in mind--comparison is a bit tricky. However, what the numbers tell us is that, thus far, even given the risks of occasional disaster, nuclear has been very safe.
   I spent about a year in high school reading a lot about energy independence for debate, and focused a lot on nuclear. That doesn't make me all that well-informed...but I did read and think about it a lot, and it's something I've sort of kept my eye on to some extent since. I don't have and don't deserve a real position on the issue, and I'm not really a nuclear enthusiast. But I'm inclined to accept a conditional: if the climate catastrophists are right, then we should go nuclear. Jaczko's op-ed motivates me to read more about it, but it doesn't change my mind.
   One reason I'm skeptical of such arguments is: I'm skeptical of contemporary progressivism generally, and especially of its views of anthropogenic global warming, including the Green New Deal. I think it's clear that leftier progressivism (painting with a broad brush, yet again...) is using climate change as a stalking horse; it doesn't even believe its own hype about the subject. This op-ed coheres with my doubts. Progressives have always wanted to develop alternative energy. Along comes AGW. We're told that it's the greatest emergency humanity has ever faced. We have ten years to make massive changes to energy production. But somehow that ends up also meaning: adopting a long list of progressive policies...policies they've already long-wanted...including (a) alternative energy and (b) stuff completely unrelated to climate change. The latter include, just to name a few: universal health care, paid vacations, "healthy food initiatives," "free" college, affordable housing, family medical leave, a $15 minimum wage, some strange stuff about "indigenous rights" name matter how unrelated it is to climate change, if progressives want it, it's in the GND. This is obvious bullshit. One (slightly less obviously BS) aspect of using AGW as leverage to get what progressives already want for independent reasons is: using it to get alternative energy. As with the other stuff, it makes no sense (though at last this one makes a little sense); if we're actually trying to avert catastrophe, it's utterly irrational to overlook nuclear (coincidentally: antecedently disliked by the left) and gamble on solar (coincidentally: antecedently liked by the left).
   Obviously the GND is not a plan that would be advanced by someone who actually believed we had ten years to save the Earth. Such a person would put all other progressive projects on hold for the next ten years, focusing exclusively on "saving the planet." The last thing he would do would be to water-down the initiative and scatter his energies by trying to achieve completely unrelated pet goals like better school lunches. He'd also prefer proven technologies to uncertain ones--e.g. nuclear to solar. He'd make a deal with conservatives: back me on climate change and I'll give you everything else until the problem is solved. But somehow, magically, even thought we must, allegedly, immediately go to CLIMECON 1, progressives need make no concessions whatsoever. In fact, climate change magically and inscrutably becomes a reason to adopt everything they want.
   So, no. I don't buy it. And it'll take a lot of evidence to convince me of Jazko's conclusion--that the nuclear objection to the GND is unsound because, hey, we suddenly realize that nuclear is way more dangerous than we thought it was! Despite being responsible for more-or-less 0 deaths ever in the U.S. More people are probably going to die installing rooftop solar panels next year than are going to die from nuclear power...

   Generally ranting: I've come to think that contemporary progressives live in a fantasy world, and the climate change stuff is just one aspect of it. They've eagerly accepted exaggerated tales of climate catastrophe. And the GND is a joke; it isn't an even vaguely serious proposal. And even the most patently obvious objections are dismissed--no compromises are necessary in the face of inconvenient facts. And that's just the tip of the rapidly-melting iceberg. There's also "the patriarchy," "rape culture," pervasive "privilege," pervasive and  "systemic" racism, intense prejudice by all whites/men/straight people all the time, speech as violence, Donald Trump: Russian spy...Donald Trump: Fascist...Donald Trump: psychopath...Donald Trump: urine enthusiast..., a surge in "hate crime," sex-change by fiat and the rest of transgender mythology, race as social / non-biological, the wage gap, progressivism as pro-science, campus rape-crisis hysteria, immigration regulation as unnecessary and even immoral, social constructionism, blank-slatism, Putin stole the election, the fiction that IQ is a fiction, the production and acceptance of numerous rape and hate-crime hoaxes, Antifa as good guys, "communism has never really been tried," Western culture and/or the Enlightenment as the root of all evil... Not to mention that all this is punctuated by the acceptance of fleeting, laughably bogus mini-myths, e.g. the Jussie Smollett incident, the vilification of the Covington kids, the Rolling Stone/UVA rape hoax, that weird John McEnroe/Venus Williams freakout... The big myths might be hard to see your way past--but each of those mini-myth incidents was as obvious as it could be.Yet huge numbers of progressives jumped on the bandwagons shrieking for blood, ideologically blinded to obvious facts and obvious hoaxes. And look, man...this shit just ain't normal. I mean...I was really upset by that election...really upset. But get a freakin' grip, Holmes.
   Groups have their myths and mistakes. Conservatives certainly have theirs; and they've been the more-delusional group at many points in the past, and will be again at some points in the future. Hell, I could be wrong, and they could be the more delusional group right now; but the comparative point doesn't interest me that much. I'm more interested in how delusional the vocal left is, and in the fact that they seem entirely oblivious to it. They seem to think that they're unusually clear-headed--that they are, as they say, "woke." (Man, that word has become really irritating...) My general points stands (to the extent that it stands at all) regardless of how the comparative point turns out. But I'm not sure I've ever before in my life seen one end of the political spectrum talk itself into--apparently largely by the power of groupthink and dogmatism--such an astonishing array of fictions. (Though: the right has the religious right...and that's a pretty extreme case of myth-making/consuming. That's a clear objection to my view.)
(It goes without saying that there is racism and sexism, Trump's a mess, there are advantages of being white in America, there are sexual assaults and rapes on campuses, there is global warming...and so on; but those are different than the reigning progressive hyperbole and mythologizing about them. One sign of the severity of the problem is that this has to be said.)
   My guess is that the proliferation of myths and delusions among extreme progressives is largely a result of their suppression of dissent. Suppressing dissent is a sure-fire route to groupthink, error and extremism. Especially online, they've developed a subculture that encourages uncritical extremism by encouraging ostentatious "virtue-signaling." And dissent is rabidly rejected as not merely erroneous, but morally repugnant. Even using slightly unfashionable vocabulary can provoke vicious dogpiling. I don't see the far left breaking out of their fantasy world by their own power. The paleo-PC era came to an end only when more centrist liberals got fed up and stopped defending the extremists. And when they started speaking up and criticizing them. Liberals are cowardly when it comes to criticizing their left wing; and their left wing is crazy and shrieky. Ergo said left wing easily silences moderates, who already tend to accept the No enemies on the left dictum. This is to say: I don't see the neo-PCs saving themselves. The NPCs can only be saved by criticism from the outside--if it comes at all. And they hate and deride conservatives. So it'll have to come--as it did before--from liberals. If any still exist...
   We can be sure that at least some of the above is wrong, even if I, personally, can't be sure of which bits. But that always goes for everything. Still, it's worth saying.
   I also note that the above suggests that Jakzco is a progressive--which I have no reason to believe. It also suggests that he has overt or covert political reasons for opposing nuclear power, which I not only have no reason to believe, but rather doubt. I suppose I'm thinking more about the reception of his arguments by the left; though, now that I think of it, I'm not sure what I'm thinking, if anything.
   Finally, I recognize that the vocal vanguard progressivism isn't perfectly representative of the average progressive in the street. (Here's something encouraging on that topic...though I think it's too quick.) But I do think that the web of myths and hyperbole advocated and advanced by the vocal vanguard does do something like anchor common opinion on the left. E.g.: even progressives who know nothing whatsoever about climate change are often passionately convinced of it, and view any skepticism as false and repugnant.
  Really finally, I'm being honest when I say that I do think that AGW is real, I just don't think it's certain to be catastrophic if not fixed in ten years. And I'm not particularly pro-nuclear. And I think renewable energy is cool, and wish it were currently practical.
   Extra finally: the "Copenhagen Consensus" is of interest to me, and might be to you, too. You wanna save the world, maybe work on micronutrient interventions, fighting malaria and other infectious diseases, immunizing and deworming kids, and expanding tuberculosis treatment. Anthropogenic global warming's a thing; we shouldn't ignore it, and we should work on it. But I personally and currently doubt that it's the looming, near-unstoppable existential crisis the left makes it out to be.


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