The USS Quad Damage

Weighing in on the nuclear debate

Everyone can relax. I now have opinions on the nuclear debate; so you'll know what to think.

This is sheer insanity, but everyone is in shock: Who knows what will happen.

OK fellas, I need to come in and chastise people for regurgitating the opinions from the pro and anti nuclear camps, and set the record straight on nuclear. Seeing as I am the world’s foremost nuclear authority1, clearly you can read my opinions and copy-paste them verbatim into your own opinion pages. Nuclear problem: Solved!

Firstly, let me get to this image (from Seth Godin, the marketer ):

Deaths by coal?

People have been using this as some sort of justification for nuclear. This is of course bullshit, and you all really ought to know better. If you look at the stats and take a look at China, you’ll see why. China looks at coal production in a fairly cold hearted way, and basically do a cost-benefit analysis on the lives lost for coal production. In short, they have a shitty track record for mine safety. I know because an unrelated documentary I cannot recall said so.

There are a few points to make here: first, China could make a similar decision with nuclear, and this could make nuclear look just as bad, if not worse. Second, this is legitimate death rate, not necessarily including having thyroid cancer or similar. Add 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer in children if you want a more realistic graph. According to the original blogger, it’s just not that important. Thirdly, the dude’s taken some liberties with deaths from air pollutants. Fourthly, um... China. People live in awful conditions in that country, and many factory workers live near coal power plants and probably die from living near coal power plants. Exclude China and I bet the graph will look more reasonable.

The nuclear industry is (rightly) tightly regulated and the coal industry (wrongly) is not. What should be clear from this is that this isn’t an issue of which type of power you use, but about effective regulation and good government. This is the story the data tells, but it’s not the story the dude (or Seth) tells. They need to cut the crap.

Next, I’ve been using the MIT NSE website to get information about the nuclear disaster. It’s been by far the most factual source I’ve read. I can tell because when my brain poses questions or calls bullshit, this website explains it where news sources seem to be in well over their heads. The original article was apparently written by a mechanical engineer who titled it “Why I'm not worried about Japan's nuclear reactors”.

A couple of points to be made here: This was an article written by someone who doesn’t really know a lot about nuclear power (but who was a knowledgeable dude) trying to give out “feelings” regarding stuff that was happening. He basically talked about who was involved, what they’d be doing, and why that gave him confidence. I thought it was reasonable. If you were going to take bets on if any of the plants at Fukushima were going to go into meltdown, most people who know what they’re talking about would say “highly unlikely”. If you were going to ask them if they would reach critical while in shutdown, most of them would say “fuck no”. I don’t mean from a maths perspective, I mean from a feelings perspective. That sort of thing is just plain old unthinkable in a reactor that’s well managed.

That it’s happened is shocking. Shocking. It should be for everyone. There’s no “I told you so” here. A lot of stuff has taken place that if you knew what was in place stopping it from happening, you’d be like “OK I see how that should never happen”. People are now entertaining the thought that the reactor (2 I believe) may go critical again. This is sheer insanity, but everyone is in shock: Who knows what will happen. So much has happened already2.

On the other hand, the kind of cavalier look at it as “but nuclear is still safe as fuck” is a ridiculous attitude to have today. If I haven’t said it enough, the events that have unfolded at Fukushima are shocking. You shouldn’t know what’s real any more. I understand there are reactor designs that should be completely safe, but fuck who knows what’ll happen. The nuclear industry as a whole needs to take a step back and just re-think everything. Governments are already doing stuff to check for safety. Germany was in the process of extending the lifetimes of their plants when this happened. I think even people in the nuclear industry know that making a plant do what it wasn’t designed to do is a bad idea. Don’t give me “nuclear is safe”, don’t give me “I told you so”, give me “we need to think long and hard about nuclear”.

The other thing about nuclear energy is that it’s a global issue. Kevin Rudd wanted to find out about it, and everyone chided him until we realised that situation... err... went nuclear3. If a coal plant explodes in Japan, I am saddened by loss of life. If it’s spewing out chemicals, I’m saddened by that. However, I’m not worried for my own safety. There’s little to no chance that I’ll need to care about a coal plant in Japan. As it is, I am worried about the nuclear plant in Fukushima. Who knows how much nuclear material is being put out into the sea, into the air, and into food and other goods. If I buy things from Japan, I’ll need to think about it. I need to worry about prevailing wind conditions or ocean currents, and I need to worry for many many years.

I need to think about it even though I’m in a completely different country. Add China to that mix and tell me nuclear is safe. Having said that, it’s likely that while almost all of Japan will be affected, other countries will not. I don’t need to worry, but I do need to care.

So I want both sides to cut the bullshit. All of you know the real score, but you cover it up with bullshit. And I don’t know why. Ultimately if both sides work together we end up with proper decent solutions. This is a time when the nuclear industry can do some soul searching and think about safety and the anti nuclear guys are the best ones to do that. This is also a time when the anti nuclear guys can push for a reasonable nuclear industry and get to a real, global solution to nuclear power. Bullshit graphs don’t solve anything.

1 This is completely false. I thought that would be clear, but clearly you needed a footnote. I am disappointed in your lack of critical thinking.

2 Keep in mind that I’m shocked as well, so I really don’t know what will happen here. But feelings wise if you’d told me this sort of thing before the reactors seemed like they were melting down I’d have laughed at you. Going critical while in shutdown is a very bad thing for a reactor to do, and takes the long term consequences to a whole new level.

3 You deserve that pun. You deserve it because you’re making me write this article.