Nooooclear POWER

Continuing from:

You asked me to consider the following:

Not sure whether you were referring to your own comment here or the followup from another poster with the SciAm article.

But your comment here does show at least one huge flaw in your analysis:

The reasons it’s not in as wide use as it could be is mostly political and economic…rather than technological.

This is a distinction without a difference – political systems and economic systems are themselves technologies. Currently, the world produces plenty of food to feed every human on being on earth, and still thousands (millions?) starve. There is sufficient capacity to produce medicines and other life-saving material goods that would save thousands (millions?) more every year.

Why do we not do these things? Lack of will? Many very talented, very driven people believe in the goals of saving these lives. We do not do them because our political and economic systems do not provide the mechanisms needed to distribute food, medicine, etc. in the most life-saving ways.

You can blame externalities, but that really doesn’t help you. (Sounds a little like blaming original sin for the existence of evil to be honest.) The fundamental facts of the matter are these:
-no one has demonstrated the viability of a centrally planned economy
-capitalism demonstrably does not provide the means to do some things that we might really want to do – including massive world-wide deployment of nuclear power

So you need to either invent an economic system that can solve your problems, or reform capitalism to the point where it can solve your problems. Either of these would be a technological problem that we human beings do not even have a scientific language we can use to describe yet because we do not have social theories that can help us design governments and economies the way we have physical theories that let us design nuclear reactors.

No, “France” has not shown that. I haven’t yet had a chance to investigate the specifics of France’s nuclear program, though I do generally know it’s very successful. But a few problems here:
-It wasn’t just France – France was able to draw on resource flows from all across the globe to build its nuclear program.
-France did objectively experience an increase in risk. They may not have experienced an increase in accidents, but that is different from risk.

To rephrase more accurately: “The entire world working together has shown that the entire world working together can handle a massive increase in use of nuclear power in France without any significant increase in the number of nuclear incidents in France.”

France could not have done this in isolation. The creation and maintenance of nuclear reactors is reliant upon a global supply chain which is in turn dependent on fossil fuels. It’s not clear that this is feasible on a worldwide scale. Especially since I’m fairly certain France is a net drain on the EU economy due to subsidized farming, e.g. Spaniard and Greeks are going hungry so that French farmers can get their lighting from nuclear power.

First, you can read this on the requirements for spent fuel ponds:

The worst case scenario is a partial or total collapse of the electrical and water grids, preventing the maintenance of spent fuel ponds. Spent fuel ponds require cooling and maintenance of water quality. Without cooling, they heat up and start spewing radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere. Without the water being replaced, the material eats at the cladding around the pools allowing it to spill into the environs and work its way into the biosphere.

As with building nuclear reactors, maintaining nuclear reactors requires a vast infrastructure. To simply assume that this infrastructure will always be in place and intact enough to prevent disasters is probably not great risk management. You have to consider what will happen if they are not maintained properly. Do you know?

As I already mentioned, we’re talking about nuclear deployed at a larger scale than fossil fuels are currently deployed (probably significantly larger, since we’d have to find substitutes for liquid fuels and there would probably be conversion inefficiences involved).

Yeah…I very carefully phrased that statement so as not to imply otherwise…

Depends on a lot of factors. If you’re worried about climate change, then the amount of CO2 is the only relevant factor, though, and less fossil fuel use translates directly into less CO2 produced, even if you get more soot in your mix.

Note this is not actually a rebuttal to what I said: “no deaths directly attributable to climate change”. The increases of extreme weather events so far have been so minimal that it’s pretty arguable that they’re a statistical fluke (I don’t believe this, but a good case can be made).

I’ll accept a statistical argument: give me the consensus figure on increase in extreme weather events and the average deaths from extreme weather events per time period and then we can do some algebra to get a particular figure. I don’t think it will be very high – which is the point. If you restrict your reasoning about nuclear disasters to statistical arguments based on prior observations, then to be consistent you should do the same for global warming. Neither one is much of a risk in that light.


Fossil fuels are a cheap source of energy. Nuclear power is an expensive source of energy. The per-unit cost of energy derived from nuclear power is simply higher than the per-unit cost of energy derived from fossil fuels. (I’ll deal with the concept of externalities below. For now, I’m only considering direct costs.)

Economic activity happens when people produce things. Most things that people produce require energy to produce. Since fossil fuel energy is cheaper than nuclear energy, goods that are produced using fossil fuel energy can be sold more cheaply than goods produced using nuclear energy.

Since goods produced using fossil fuel energy are cheaper than those using nuclear energy, people can afford more of them. Therefore, an economy that grows by producing goods with fossil fuels grows faster and larger than an economy using nuclear energy to produce those same goods.

Externalities! are necessarily indirect costs. You can say that fossil fuels are only cheaper because externalities aren’t taken into account, but that argument ignores the fact that the default state of the economy is to ignore externalities. The only way to force economic agents to pay for the externalities they produce is to impose regulation on them – and regulation can always be gamed, especially if the thing being regulated is necessary to the economy (umm, like fossil fuels). So they’re really irrelevant to the question of whether a fossil fuel economy grows faster than a nuclear economy or vice versa.

That’s a really simplified version. The problems for nuclear are actually much bigger than this suggests, although this analysis is enough to show that replacing fossil fuels with nuclear power all at once would necessarily cause a significant recession.

Nuclear is not special here – since there is not a single source of energy as cheap as fossil fuels, there is no way you could replace fossil fuels without causing a recession

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