A nuclear Britain


by Rumbold
6th November, 2007 at 8:14 pm    

Gordon Brown seems to be heading for a big increase in nuclear power:

“The plans, part of Gordon Brown’s first programme as PM, are said to be aimed at cutting carbon emissions and getting the best energy mix for the UK.

It would be for the private sector to initiate, fund, construct and operate new nuclear plants and cover costs of decommissioning and waste management.”

What do people think about this? Is this our only option if we want to cut down on oil and gas, or is it too dangerous?


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  1. Michael Paddon — on 6th November, 2007 at 8:26 pm  

    As soon as I see “private sector” I can’t help but think that this is an accident waiting to happen judged on previous private sector enterprises and feel it will be more a case of “when” and not “if” a major security or safety breach would occur at any of the proposed nuclear energy facilities.

  2. sonia — on 6th November, 2007 at 8:27 pm  

    i want to know if he has considered decentralised renewable energies, and why he is not going down that path, if he has some good reasons, i want to hear them.

  3. Leon — on 6th November, 2007 at 8:31 pm  

    I think Michael Paddon has summed up my initial reaction…

  4. Katherine — on 7th November, 2007 at 11:38 am  

    I’d love to see, in black and white, an actual cost-benefit analysis of nuclear versus renewables. I am always reminded, when people talk about the relative cost of electricity generated by nuclear versus renewables, of the decades of government subsidies of the nuclear industry. But I’ve never seen any figures.

    Sad to say, I do suspect that there’s a small element of exciting green bubbly stuff versus boring hippie stuff mental attitude involved, but that’s just a feeling.

  5. douglas clark — on 7th November, 2007 at 12:01 pm  

    Katherine,

    I know folk are going to shout at me, but, if we want to give up our Carbon Dioxide dependency, I think we are going to need both nuclear and renewables.

    And with petrol heading towards a pound a litre, almost anything is going to be more economic than that. Again, it is a case for doing the reseach, but hybrid electric vehicles and their required power sources need enormous investment, right now.

  6. justforfun — on 7th November, 2007 at 12:27 pm  

    doug – identifying the items to add in the debit side of the C02 emmissions for an ‘idustry’ is very much thinking of ‘whataboutery’ ;-)

    the protocols for how to measure these, what to include etc are still in their infancy as far as International Standards go. I am grappling with them myself for work I am doing in the engineering field and there is no guidance that Engineers who make ‘stuff’ can get to grips with. People keep wanting us to design ‘ethically’ but then don’t fund the research and documentation and protocols to allow us to just get on with making ‘stuff’ – its very annoying. Seriously – “Standards” and “Design Guides” are boring but someone has to do the research and it is still very nebulous at this stage so alot of “whateraboutery” is around.

    Talking of ‘whataboutery’ – no need to state how nuclear power is a very engineering intensive business and the whole infrastructure to maintain safety, accountability, supply the fuel and dispose of the fuel etc etc is vast and rightly so. This infrastructure has a hidden CO2 footprint that tends to be ignored when calculating the CO2 of the nuclear power cycle. Its common knowledge that nuclear power does not create CO2 – or perhaps it does in the background? That’s the first ‘whateraboutery’. I’ll think of others ;-)

    Justforfun

  7. Tim Worstall — on 7th November, 2007 at 1:43 pm  

    Re. nuclear and CO2. The entire cycle (including mining the U and enriching it) produces about the same CO2 -e emissions per unit of electricity as do windmills and hydro power. That’s less than half what solar does.

    “or is it too dangerous”

    Given that the worst nuclear accident possible (Chernobyl) killed fewer people than coal does each year, perhaps we might need to revisit the definition of “too dangerous”?

  8. justforfun — on 7th November, 2007 at 2:05 pm  

    Thanks for that Tim – can you point to the papers that support the notion that the infrastucture for nuclear power, which is a necessary requirement and will not be lessened much by technology, is the same per kW as the infrastucture for wind and hydro. I want to see if they include all the “whatabouteries”

    Certainly coal kills ,and kills many, and nobody wants to live by a coalfired powerstation, however once a Chenobyl happens on the UK, where will we live, in the short term while the area is decontaminated.

    Justforfun

  9. Kismet Hardy — on 7th November, 2007 at 2:17 pm  

    Relax everyone. As long as we set our washing machine to 30 instead of 40, the planet will be just fine

  10. Dave S — on 7th November, 2007 at 3:43 pm  

    Please hear me out on this: Nuclear power is a giant white elephant. It’s not going to save us. There is no way out!

    Even if we did build sufficient nuclear reactors to meet our “power needs” (whoever decides what those are), what are we going to fuel them on?

    The vast majority of the world’s relatively plentiful Uranium reserves are of absolutely zero use for nuclear power, because only 0.7% of them are the U235 which can be used in existing reactor designs.

    Other reactor designs have been proposed and tried out, and have all ended in failure – meaning too dangerous or simply not viable. To the best of my knowledge, there is not a single working example of a reactor that could be created on a mass scale to make use of the other 99.3% of the world’s uranium reserves.

    I used to think (as a self-described “green” minded person) that nuclear could be part of the answer – I really did! (No, I can’t believe it either!)

    Since then, I’ve thought that it’s not only not a part of the answer, but that it’s so completely not a part of the answer that I’ve actually almost stopped worrying about it as anything other than a temporary blip or distraction – because there will not be any fuel for the reactors to run on anyway!

    I went to a talk by a chap called Paul Mobbs, who is probably the most well informed person I have ever met when it comes to the subject of Energy Beyond Oil. You could actually say he wrote the book on it, because, well, he did write the book on it, with that exact title!

    I bought the book on the spot, and although I’ve only really dipped into it here and there, it’s a very good book, and relatively quite easy reading for the subject matter discussed. So, I’m going to quote from it, because he words it better than I do. Luckily, I type fast and will undoubtedly make use of this again, so, here goes…

    Recently with the arguments over carbon dioxide and climate change, the nuclear industry have argued that only nuclear power can address the coming gap in energy supply. Consequently, the nuclear industry have put a lot of effort into lobbying governments across the globe to develop more nuclear power stations [Guardian, 2004n]. However, this argument masks the fact that nuclear power does produce carbon dioxide, but as part of the whole nuclear fuel cycle rather than from the power station itself.

    A study from the UK put the greenhouse gas emissions from British nuclear power stations at 3.9kgC/GJ (kilos, expressed as carbon, per giga-Joule of energy produced), about one-tenth of the emission of modern CCGT plants [ETSU, 1990]. A more recent German study puts this figure at 9.4kgC/GJ for German nuclear reactors, but cites a range of other figures quoted in international studies between 8.3kgC/GJ and 17kgC/GJ [Öko-Institut, 1997]. So nuclear power not only produces greenhouse gases, but the level of those emissions are only an order of magnitude (one-tenth) of a gas-fired plant, not a minute fraction of them.

    Like oil and gas, the uranium that is used to produce nuclear fuel is a finite resource. The availability of uranium is graded according to the cost of producing it from uranium-bearing ores. There are just over 1 million tonnes that can be recovered for less than $40 per tonne, nearly 1.4 million tonnes for between $40 and $80 per tonne, and just over 700,000 tonnes for between $80 and $130 per tonne [IEA, 2001]. In total, in terms of all extractable reserves, irrespective of costs, it is estimated that there are 3.4 million tonnes of uranium reserves, although other sources put this at 2 million tonnes [EC, 2001].

    Nuclear electricity currently makes up 17% of the world’s electricity production, supplied by around 440 nuclear reactors in 30 countries. However, this is only 6.1% of the world’s total energy use [BP, 2004]. Some countries, such as France and Lithuania, supply over 70% of their electricity from nuclear power. In 2003, the UK supplied 23% of electricity production [DTI, 2004a] from nuclear power, which represents 8.6% of the UK’s primary energy supply [DTI, 2004b].

    The problem with the existing thermal nuclear power stations is that we only use 0.7% of the uranium resource to produce usable energy. The rest is wasted (see Box 15 - on another page which I’m not going to type out here, but might quote the relevant bits at the end). This creates a problem of perception because some analysts will use the 0.7% figure when expressing what is available from nuclear energy, while others assume that the the entire resource is usable (which, using current technology, it is not). At the current level of utilisation, there are 100 years of nuclear fuel left to use, but if the world significantly expands nuclear power this 100 years figure will rapidly diminish.

    This confusion over how much energy nuclear power can provide has led to confusion between political policy makers and energy analysts. For example, the British Prime Minister’s think tank, the Downing Street Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU), described uranium in their review [PIU, 2002] of potential power sources for the recent energy white paper as:

    “…plentiful, easy and cheap to store, and likely to remain cheap. This means that nuclear power is essentially an indigenous form of energy.”

    The use of the word plentiful sounds as if the UK has a lot of uranium. We do, but it’s nearly all depleted uranium left over from the production and reprocessing of nuclear fuel, and it’s useless in thermal reactors. In fact, uranium is only abundant in the USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Namibia, Uzbekistan, Khazakstan and Russia. Plus the fact that the PIU report doesn’t give a time-scale over time which this abundant energy supply will produce usable energy.

    Others take a different view of the availability of uranium. As energy demand grows, and if states begin to take the nuclear option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then the number of nuclear plants must grow significantly. Research published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD, 1999b] states that, for nuclear power to keep its current proportion of electricity production and to replace fossil fuels for energy production, then,

    “…the number of nuclear power plants would need to increase 30 times, leading to a total of 12,000 plants… Known uranium reserves would then last only for about a decade unless the reactors presently employed are replaced by breeder reactors.”

    So the nuclear option would not in itself be a solution with current nuclear technology. The reserves of uranium would run out as quickly as oil and gas. Instead we would have to develop fast breeder reactors.

    I’m going to skip part of a paragraph here, but he goes on to say:

    Fast breeder reactors use the fast neutrons directly and so don’t need a moderator. This makes the core much smaller – perhaps 1.5 metres high and 2.5 metres in diameter – even though the power output would be the same [as a PWR - pressured water reactor, which would typically have a core of around 3.6 metres tall by 3.4 metres diameter]. This means that the power density of the core is more than four times higher. This creates a major engineering problem. If there was an interruption in the cooling of the core of a thermal [PWR] reactor it could melt down and explode in an hour. A fast breeder reactor could melt down and explode in a minute.

    He then goes on to talk about the problem of waste, and that there is still no way to safely dispose of it – not least because the engineering requirements (even only for storing it) are very difficult, since during it’s decay, the waste can change phase from solid to gas.

    Now, in my opinion (from having been at Paul’s talk) – anybody who has the facts available to them and still thinks nuclear is in any way a viable option (in any context of the word “viable”) is utterly delusional, or lying for short term gain.

    That’s before we even get as far as the ethical considerations of burdening future generations with the waste legacy.

    At very best, I view nuclear power as a very short-term (one decade) stop-gap distraction that isn’t going to dodge the question or help us in any way, and one that creates an ethically and technically unfeasible waste problem.

    Assuming we’d like ourselves and future generations (if they’re lucky) to survive, our only even remotely realistic option is to drastically reduce our consumption of the Earth’s resources and ensure we live in harmony with our natural environment, FOREVER.

    The best time to take drastic action on this would have been at least 100 years ago, so we’re already far behind.

    Maybe people wonder why I have such a “radical” stance on the environment, but to be honest, I expect future generations (if they exist at all) will view the stance of even people like myself as indefensibly pathetic. I really hope we’ll somehow pull it together and prove them wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

  11. justforfun — on 7th November, 2007 at 3:47 pm  

    Relax everyone. As long as we set our washing machine to 30 instead of 40, the planet will be just fine

    Oh for a young wife.

    Justforfun

  12. douglas clark — on 7th November, 2007 at 3:57 pm  

    Justforfun,

    Et tu Brutus! “Whataboutery” indeed. ;-)

    You are obviously right in what you say about Nuclear Power having a ‘hidden’ CO2 footprint.

    What I am really arguing for – seems to be todays’ theme for me – is huge investment in the tools that you say you want.

    Also, as one of these really odd people who is nostalgic, not for the past, but for the future that we never seem to actually reach, I’d also like to see a lot more investment in fusion.

  13. Dave S — on 7th November, 2007 at 4:11 pm  

    Douglas… from Paul’s book again:

    …to date, self-sustaining nuclear fusion has only been maintained for a fraction of a second, and a viable fusion power plant may be fifty to one hundred years away. Consequently, fusion power is well beyond the time scale of Peak Oil and Peak Gas.

    Although fusion is usually portrayed as a clean form of nuclear energy, it is not – but compared to fission, you could probably call it grubby. Although it would produce inert helium gas as a by-product it would make the reactor vessel and equipment around it radioactive, albeit to an intermediate level of activity rather than a high level. Once built, the reactor would need constant maintenance to keep the inside of the plasma chamber in good order, so a constant stream of radioactive waste would still be produced. All this material would have to be stored for fifty to one hundred years to allow this activity to decay before it could be disposed of as low-level radioactive waste.

    be it coal, gas or nuclear, a large part of the UK’s primary energy supply is used to generate electricity. Even so, the majority of the energy used in the UK economy is not used as electricity, but as fuels that power machines and industrial processes. Therefore, any discussion about the merits of nuclear versus gas-fired generation is ignoring the greater issue – how will we replace those fuels?

    Theoretically many of the uses of fossil fuels could be replaced by electricity. In the transport sector electric cars could be charged from the national grid, but as electricity is the second smallest form of direct energy consumption in the UK replacing the energy produced from petroleum and gas with electricity would require massive expansion of electricity generating capacity. Also, as electricity generation is often less efficient than direct use of gas or petroleum, the primary energy consumption is likely to increase overall – converting from fossil fuels to electricity would not necessarily save much energy.

  14. douglas clark — on 7th November, 2007 at 4:50 pm  

    DaveS,

    Thanks for the quotes. I knew some of that, but by no means all.

    The author is perhaps a little pessimistic. ITER hopes to have a demonstration power plant by 2040.

    Nuclear waste that only lasts 100 years is a vast improvement over fission.

    Perhaps the electricity could be used to split water into Hydrogen and Oxygen, with the hydrogen being a direct replacement of the petrol we currently use? There are developing technologies out there for harnessing the hydrogen before use, so every car or lorry would not be a potential Hindenberg. I agree that this is no quick fix, but I do think we need to do something soon.

    I do think that for static domestic power generation renewables can make a major contribution. I think the final sentence of your extract misses the point though. It is the non generation of CO2 or other greenhouse gasses that is important right now, is it not?

  15. Dave S — on 7th November, 2007 at 5:32 pm  

    Douglas, I think you’re missing the point slightly too.

    It is the non generation of CO2 or other greenhouse gasses that is important right now, is it not?

    Right now – and forever too.

    Regardless of my personal stance that nuclear waste (from fission) is utterly immoral, I think it makes zero sense to build a new round of current-technology reactors when we know full well that they should they ever come anywhere near meeting our power requirements (which they probably won’t), then the usable fuel for them is going to run out within a decade or so anyway.

    As for fast breeders (again, regardless of the heinous waste legacy) – with no viable, working reactor, we can’t regard the rest of the uranium as fuel – because it isn’t.

    As for fusion – you can pin your hopes on a future techno-fix, but until it’s here, we can’t make any use of it. Speculation on what may (or may not) exist by 2040 is no use to us in the here and now. Bear in mind there isn’t even a working prototype to demonstrate the principle yet, so any predictions about when it’s going to be ready and working are pie-in-the-sky at best.

    Future techno-fixes are not going to help us. Right now, we are facing a tripple whammy catastrophe: climate change, peak oil and peak gas.

    Arguably all three could already be here, and two of them almost certainly are.

    My only hope is that a world recession and economic depression comes along just in time to maybe buy us a little time.

    But really, in the here-and-now, the answer is staring us in the face, and to be honest, pardon my language, but it’s absolutely fucking obvious: we *MUST* consume less!

    There is no wriggling out of this.

    Politicians and business leaders are not the ones who will be affected. It is you and I who are fucked – though there are plenty of people who are more fucked than we are.

    I don’t know about you, but I want my kids (if I ever have them, which is about 51/49 in the balance at the moment – much because I don’t know what kind of life I’m sentencing them to) to have a habitable planet to live on.

    If that means making some sacrifices in my life and stopping consuming things I don’t even need, then so be it, because I’m not such a scumbag that I will steal resources from my neighbours children, let alone my own, just so I can live it up at their expense.

    We must scale our lives down and be utterly realistic about our resource usage. We have a population boom of which we can’t do anything about (unless you’re a fan of genocide, which I’m guessing you’re not?) so what we have to do is distribute the resources we use fairly, taking into account that future generations will require them too.

    I don’t want to sound like a kill-joy, but I think within a decade or less, that’s going to mean almost no personal automobiles (let alone SUVs), probably very few flights (sorry, there’s just no getting around it), growing as much of our own food as we can possibly manage, and ultimately, a scaled down economy that puts the needs of people (ALL people) and planet before the wants of corporations.

    It’s either that, or collective suicide by default.

    Personally, I think there’s an extremely high chance we’re going to almost die out (probably mass starvation leading to war and disease, within about 50 years or so) – but that’s not to stop me sitting here today in my house with a wooly hat and jumper on rather than the central heating.

    I should probably turn my computer off too (actually, I’m working on measuring and reducing it’s power consumption at the moment) but it’s a case of “if I don’t get out there and say the things that need to be said, who will?”, so for the moment it’s a necessary evil.

    My ultimate point is: we can re-structure and re-design our society to live in harmony with each other and the Earth, leaving behind enough resources for future generations, as well as animals and plant life. Or we can “business as usual” it to our own extinction.

    Personally, I think it’s a no-brainer – but millions of die-hard capitalists, politicians, advertising agencies, sceptics and consumers disagree.

  16. Don — on 7th November, 2007 at 7:22 pm  

    Damn, damn, damn. Twenty-five years ago I had this sorted. Anti-nuclear, went on the demos, had the badge.

    Now I’m going to have to actually think about it again.

    As Mike Skinner put it, ‘I have enough trouble remembering my opinions, without remembering the reasons for them.’

  17. Tom Donald — on 7th November, 2007 at 7:23 pm  

    Put nuclear waste into the rain forest (keeps the humans out), let capitalism destroy itself (we’re all going to die anyhow), accept that the human race is nature’s most adaptable product, and hey! the survivors will all go and fuck in the bushes.
    Heaven.
    When “civilisation” rises again, perhaps it will have some better ideas than endless “growth”, and a billion Roman Emperors watching TV while the planet burns.

  18. Refresh — on 7th November, 2007 at 8:38 pm  

    What about the developing world having some nuclear energy?

    Now there is a whataboutery!

  19. Refresh — on 8th November, 2007 at 11:15 am  

    No nuclear energy for the rest of the world?

  20. Dave S — on 8th November, 2007 at 3:51 pm  

    Refresh,

    I suppose it depends if you think it’s a good idea to encourage “the developing world” to “develop” in the same way that we have… down an unsustainable path currently accelerating over the cliff towards collective suicide?

    Personally, I think that’s a bad idea, but then I don’t believe “development” is done for the benefit of the people anyway.

    What’s so wrong with subsistence? We’d all be a lot happier, with a lot more free time, and far less likely to destroy our only life support system, if we hadn’t “developed” a cosy-but-delusional false sense of security called “industrial capitalism”.

    Realistically, once the supply of cheap energy runs out, subsistence is going to be our only option.

    We should encourage the “developing” world not to make the same catastrophic mistakes we have made. Nuclear power practically defines the epitome of what’s wrong with our crazy society.

  21. Vasey — on 8th November, 2007 at 9:56 pm  

    Yes, I’m sure we’d all be very happy with a subsistence lifestyle. After approximately three quarters of the world’s population has died. Yes. Quite wonderful.

  22. douglas clark — on 8th November, 2007 at 10:10 pm  

    Well, is Dave S right? Is there insufficient Uranium of adequate quality?

    If he is right, then we have to think up something else.

    I would not preclude fusion as an answer, and personally, I’d have thought investing tax dollars, pounds or Euros into it was a good gamble. But, and I accept, it is a gamble. There might be a real bottleneck, quite apart from the obvious petro lobby.

    Dave, have kids. They would be a good thing. Don’t let your life be led by the doomsayers. It is not healthy.

  23. justforfun — on 9th November, 2007 at 9:18 am  

    Refresh – your going to have to do your own research ;-) – google Thorium Cycle, de-salination, India and you will get a feel of where one aspect of nuclear technology might be going. I’ll let you form your own opinion but think of it as the weekends homework and get back to us.

    Justforfun

  24. Dave S — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:25 pm  

    Vasey:

    Yes, I’m sure we’d all be very happy with a subsistence lifestyle. After approximately three quarters of the world’s population has died. Yes. Quite wonderful.

    You just don’t get it, do you Vasey?

    How did we manage to get the resources to feed that many people already?

    We are living on borrowed resources – actually, “stolen” would be a more accurate word. Perhaps stolen from future generations, or perhaps (and I suspect this is much more likely the case) stolen from our future selves.

    We have written a cheque we can’t cash, and the debt collectors are on their way. When the oil runs out, we are going to starve – YOU are going to starve – unless we’ve managed to put in place something bloody spectacular to make sure we can go on supplying ourselves with food.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, there is no way you can use uranium to make a field grow more food. (That oil-based fertilisers only do this temporarily before wrecking the soil ecology, leaving barren wasteland behind is also going to cause us huge problems quite soon, because when the oil runs out, the damaged soil will not be able to support us.)

    Organic, small-scale, sustainable solutions, probably based on a permaculture approach are going to be the only way we can feed ourselves.

    You have a choice: subsistence, or starvation.

    So by all means, scoff away at any ideas that we should perhaps scale our lives down to a permanently sustainable (aka. “subsistence”) level, but if we don’t, we are fucked – YOU are fucked.

    Do you have a better suggestion? Preferably one that’s based in the real world – where resources and capacity for pollution aren’t infinite?

    I don’t think you do.

    We scale down NOW (and to be honest, we’re still going to need a lot of luck to pull it off), or we carry on as we are, and crash in the most horrific way imaginable.

    What’s it to be? Death by delusion?

    If you really give two shits for that 3/4 of the world’s population (as I do), then you will stop stealing the resources that they are going to need in order not to starve.

  25. Rumbold — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:31 pm  

    Dave S:

    I understand your arguements and respect them, but presuming people do not take your advice, what do you think should be done instead?

  26. Dave S — on 9th November, 2007 at 5:18 pm  

    Rumbold… I don’t know. I really think there’s quite a high chance we are completely fucked, even if we do pull out all the stops as of this moment on.

    I’m usually very optimistic about most things, but to be honest, anything less than total panic on this one is nowhere near alarmed enough. (I’d like to point out that I’m not even talking about climate change here – this is for peak oil alone, with no mention of climate change.)

    I know what I am personally doing about it, but what difference will that make in the grand scheme of things? Still, I’m going to do it anyway.

    Eventually, once people stop deluding themselves that we can just carry on as we are now and realise that we have no time at all to take huge steps to sort things out, then maybe their self-interest will kick in and somehow – by some huge stretch of luck – we’ll make it through.

    I really hope so, because I don’t want huge swathes of humanity to starve, but unfortunately I think that’s where we’re heading.

    We need to start putting the infrastructure in place now, so that we will be able to feed ourselves locally and sustainably over the years to come. (Which is why I live my life as if supermarkets don’t exist, because again, supermarkets = suicide.)

    The thing is, the people who are causing the problem don’t think it will affect them. It’ll be somebody else… and maybe it will, but there’s only so many somebody-elses, and a problem of this magnitude is going to take a long time to resolve – if it can be resolved at all.

    Can you believe I’m actually a hedonist? I can’t believe it sometimes, but I really am.

    There are thousands of places I’d like to take a cheap flight to, or cold rainy days where my life would be easier if I had a car, or techno-gadgets I’d love to rush out to the shops to buy… but to do so, and just carry on as if everything is OK, amounts to suicide.

    I’m not done partying until I’m done partying, so I’m learning to party sustainably, and get my kicks from things that don’t destroy the Earth. I hope to die of old age, after having lived a long and happy life doing just that.

    Less really is more, once you get your head out of consumerism’s vice (or guillotine, more like).

    But we ALL have to do that, or it’s not going to work.

  27. Refresh — on 9th November, 2007 at 5:33 pm  

    Justforfun, I was being provocative. Trying to flush out the neo-cons. Obviously they are keeping well clear.

    Not even the sound of Morgoth’s jackbooted millipede.

    Is it safe to google for anything nuclear?

  28. Dave S — on 9th November, 2007 at 6:46 pm  

    Refresh:

    Is it safe to google for anything nuclear?

    “Nuclear family” is probably a relatively safe Google…

  29. Rumbold — on 9th November, 2007 at 8:30 pm  

    Dave S:

    “I know what I am personally doing about it, but what difference will that make in the grand scheme of things? Still, I’m going to do it anyway.”

    Pretty much the only way one can live- you cannot let others’ behaviour condition how you behave.

    “I really hope so, because I don’t want huge swathes of humanity to starve, but unfortunately I think that’s where we’re heading.”

    Though not an expert, the starvation scenario does not seem realistic to me, especially with the rise of GM crops.

    “We need to start putting the infrastructure in place now, so that we will be able to feed ourselves locally and sustainably over the years to come. (Which is why I live my life as if supermarkets don’t exist, because again, supermarkets = suicide.)”

    I agree to a certain extent, but the result of this would be that poor places would lose out on valuable trade if we stopped importing goods.

    “Can you believe I’m actually a hedonist? I can’t believe it sometimes, but I really am.”

    Then your behaviour is even more commendable.

    “So I’m learning to party sustainably.”

    Ha ha ha ha- what a brilliant turn of phrase; I’ll have to use that one sometime.

  30. Refresh — on 9th November, 2007 at 9:22 pm  

    Dave S,

    Nuclear Family Cycle it is!

  31. Dave S — on 10th November, 2007 at 1:14 pm  

    Rumbold, thanks for the reply.

    Pretty much the only way one can live- you cannot let others’ behaviour condition how you behave.

    To a point I agree with you, but where I disagree is where others’ behaviour prevents (or if allowed to continue, will prevent) me from being able to live the really quite simple existence I wish to live.

    Really, the only reason I am politically engaged is because I want to be left the hell alone to get on with my life, and I think everybody should have that inalienable right (which should only be challenged when an aspect of your behaviour means you’ll prevent someone being able to do that).

    That’s anarchy – there are no rules, just be nice to each other.

    That’s not a perfect all-cases wording, but for the most part, I hope it explains my angle of approach.

    Though not an expert, the starvation scenario does not seem realistic to me, especially with the rise of GM crops.

    Well, first off, GM crops have never, ever been about saving starving people. We already have enough food to feed everybody – it just gets left to rot or thrown away by some, while others starve. It’s not the quantity of production that’s the problem – it’s the distribution. Returning to localised food production would drastically improve this situation without going down the GM route.

    I’m afraid the real reason for GM crops is to maximise corporate tie-in to (and thus profits from) industrial agriculture, because farmers are specifically prevented from seed saving and a whole bunch of other farming practises that have been used since the dawn of agriculture.

    GM crops still won’t address the centralised food production that results in rotting “food mountains”, or do anything to deal with the issue of food transportation that is also one of the biggest wastes of resources we currently experience.

    As far as I know, it will also be much harder to produce or distribute GM crops without oil, so I think they are still pretty dependent on abundance of oil.

    Finally – and this is the real threat of GM, and why I am absolutely against them – once GM crops are widely in use, it will be impossible not to use GM crops. Simply because diverse native varieties of plants will be marginalised and made unable to grow by their more aggressive mutant GM cousins.

    As a libertarian, I would expect you to be concerned about the external imposition of decisions affecting personal freedom. What of the farmers (or subsistence growers, like I hope to become) who do not want to grow GM crops, but who are forced to deal with them because of the way nature works – pollen and so on not respecting fences? What about their liberty, their livelihood? Is that simply to be subjugated to yet more corporate domination?

    We’ve already seen the disastrous effects of monoculture crop production. Biodiversity is absolutely essential for a healthy, resilient ecosystem. Yet GM monoculture will eliminate that for everybody, even those who don’t want to partake in it, putting us all at risk. (That’s not very libertarian, is it?)

    When corporate control is already a large part of the problem, the last thing we need is more corporate control! We need more varieties of food, not less, and the only way this is going to happen is to eliminate corporations from the equation.

    There are cases in Canada where farmers who had no wish to grow GM were actually sued by the GM companies (who actively “police” this, even conducting covert tests on crops) over “intellectual property rights” because their crops had become contaminated with GM strains.

    It is also impossible for many to guarantee that their crops are not GM contaminated, so they lose their livelihoods, again meaning that once GM is here, nobody has a choice in the matter any more.

    That’s what GM is really about – absolute corporate lock-in, control and removal of free choice for everybody (even little allotment holders), for profits, and nothing more.

    If that’s something a libertarian can be in favour of, then I’m the king of France.

    I agree to a certain extent, but the result of this would be that poor places would lose out on valuable trade if we stopped importing goods.

    But why do they need valuable trade? I think the only reason is to try and compete on a level footing with rich western interests. This is obviously never going to happen – we can’t all be rich and powerful (well, in some bizarre way, we can actually – it’s called anarchy) but it’s the illusion they use to sell it.

    In a world based on fairness and sustainability, farmers in poor countries would stop growing food to feed the rich west, and would simply return to feeding their locality.

    They only “need” our trade because currently, they have no choice in the matter.

    Again, not a very “libertarian” thing to be in favour of, I’d say.

    But then, this is my major problem with libertarianism – probably of all market-based strains of it. I simply don’t believe it is libertarian in anything other than name, because it completely ignores the obvious truth that unless everybody is free, then nobody can really be said to be free.

    I won’t put words in your mouth, but I suspect your “libertarian” freedoms would come at the expense of other people, who would be considerably less liberated and in control of their own lives than you would be.

    Libertarianism without universal economic liberty is only libertarian for those individuals who are lucky enough. The rest of the world would still get trampled on under it’s heels, thus making it still inherently un-libertarian for the majority of people.

    That is why I’m an anarchist, not a libertarian – because my freedom absolutely depends on the freedom of all.

    Then your behaviour is even more commendable.

    Thanks! But really, I’m not doing it out of altruism – I’m doing it because I don’t feel I have a choice in the matter, if I want to sleep at night.

    Ha ha ha ha- what a brilliant turn of phrase; I’ll have to use that one sometime.

    You’d be welcome to not just use it as a turn of phrase, but to join in any time you want! (Remember, I promised to cook you a meal some time ago? We might as well go out and party while we’re at it!)

    Cheers!

  32. Rumbold — on 10th November, 2007 at 7:27 pm  

    Dave S:

    “Really, the only reason I am politically engaged is because I want to be left the hell alone to get on with my life, and I think everybody should have that inalienable right (which should only be challenged when an aspect of your behaviour means you’ll prevent someone being able to do that).”

    I could not agree more.

    “Well, first off, GM crops have never, ever been about saving starving people. We already have enough food to feed everybody – it just gets left to rot or thrown away by some, while others starve. It’s not the quantity of production that’s the problem – it’s the distribution. Returning to localised food production would drastically improve this situation without going down the GM route.”

    In historical terms, this is precisely the wrong approach. Famines in Western Europe were incredibly rare after the Middle Ages (c.800-1450), because of the rise of the Dutch as a maritime nation and their ability to get grain quickly from the Baltic/East European grainfields to Western Europe. Localised production in famine-ridden areas would not be much help.

    “Finally – and this is the real threat of GM, and why I am absolutely against them – once GM crops are widely in use, it will be impossible not to use GM crops. Simply because diverse native varieties of plants will be marginalised and made unable to grow by their more aggressive mutant GM cousins.

    As a libertarian, I would expect you to be concerned about the external imposition of decisions affecting personal freedom. What of the farmers (or subsistence growers, like I hope to become) who do not want to grow GM crops, but who are forced to deal with them because of the way nature works – pollen and so on not respecting fences? What about their liberty, their livelihood? Is that simply to be subjugated to yet more corporate domination?”

    “There are cases in Canada where farmers who had no wish to grow GM were actually sued by the GM companies (who actively “police” this, even conducting covert tests on crops) over “intellectual property rights” because their crops had become contaminated with GM strains.

    It is also impossible for many to guarantee that their crops are not GM contaminated, so they lose their livelihoods, again meaning that once GM is here, nobody has a choice in the matter any more.”

    But that rests on the assumption that every non-GM field will be near a GM one and so will be liable to contamination. I am not saying that it will never happen, but I still think that you are being a bit pessimistic.

    “If that’s something a libertarian can be in favour of, then I’m the king of France.”

    I knew it- you are Rex Christianissimus (the most Christian king). Your Majesty, at your service (are you an Orleans, Bourbon, Valois, Capet, Carolingian, Merovingian or none of the above?).

    “In a world based on fairness and sustainability, farmers in poor countries would stop growing food to feed the rich west, and would simply return to feeding their locality.

    They only “need” our trade because currently, they have no choice in the matter.

    Again, not a very “libertarian” thing to be in favour of, I’d say.”

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but who are you to say what they need? They sell food to buy things like medicine. The drug companies are not going to turn over their patents to them, so if they don’t trade with the West, they won’t have the money to buy non-food items.

    “But then, this is my major problem with libertarianism – probably of all market-based strains of it. I simply don’t believe it is libertarian in anything other than name, because it completely ignores the obvious truth that unless everybody is free, then nobody can really be said to be free.”

    That seems a somewhat self-defeating approach. Surely the best thing to do is to recognise that some people are free, and some are not, and work to improve the level of freedom that the latter group enjoys? I believe that market-based libertarianism is a fundamental cornerstone of our liberty. We have to have free markets. I am all for helping the environment, but don’t believe that this has to be done at the expense of the free market. People should just choose to consume less/use less power.

    “You’d be welcome to not just use it as a turn of phrase, but to join in any time you want! (Remember, I promised to cook you a meal some time ago? We might as well go out and party while we’re at it!)”

    I’ll bring the dead animals to cook (next climate camp?).

  33. Dave S — on 12th November, 2007 at 8:04 am  

    Rumbold:

    I could not agree more.

    Hooray! :-D

    In historical terms, this is precisely the wrong approach. Famines in Western Europe were incredibly rare after the Middle Ages (c.800-1450), because of the rise of the Dutch as a maritime nation and their ability to get grain quickly from the Baltic/East European grainfields to Western Europe. Localised production in famine-ridden areas would not be much help.

    But knowledge about ecosystems and so on has come a long way since then.

    Perhaps I didn’t make this clear before, but I’m not saying localised production should be the only way we produce our food – just that I think it has to be quite a large part of the solution to several fast-approaching inescapable problems (peak oil and climate change).

    But that rests on the assumption that every non-GM field will be near a GM one and so will be liable to contamination. I am not saying that it will never happen, but I still think that you are being a bit pessimistic.

    But the thing is, once the cat is out of the bag, there’s no going back. Using GM commits us to using GM forever = corporate control of agriculture, forever (and that’s the least of the problems).

    I’m not an expert on GM really, but this seems like a pretty good round-up of the issues.

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but who are you to say what they need? They sell food to buy things like medicine. The drug companies are not going to turn over their patents to them, so if they don’t trade with the West, they won’t have the money to buy non-food items.

    Who am I to say – fair enough.

    But I think it’s no less arrogant than to say (for example) “we need GM foods to help feed starving people”, when in actual fact those GM foods are almost all destined for rich foreigners, and what would actually do a lot more towards feeding those people, buying them medicine and so on is to change to a society that isn’t based on corporate greed.

    I also disagree with corporate ownership and withholding of medicines. To quote a the lyrics of one of my girlfriend’s favourite songs: “it’s sick the price of medicine”… too right!

    I know somebody has to put in the work to do the research, but the knowledge is currently used to extort profits from ill people, not to help humanity. If that’s not sick, then I don’t know what is! I think this could (and should) easily be changed in a move away from corporatism.

    That seems a somewhat self-defeating approach. Surely the best thing to do is to recognise that some people are free, and some are not, and work to improve the level of freedom that the latter group enjoys?

    Well, that’s something I can agree with on paper, but I’m just not sure the realities of free-market libertarianism would really take us there.

    Plus, sorry to bring it up again, but the free market is one of the main driving forces behind resource depletion and environmental destruction, so no change there in a libertarian society. We need to conserve resources, not exploit them as quickly as possible. How would the environment and resources be protected (and I mean real protection, not just the token “protection” and greenwash we currently get spoon-fed), under the type of society you favour?

    I believe that market-based libertarianism is a fundamental cornerstone of our liberty. We have to have free markets. I am all for helping the environment, but don’t believe that this has to be done at the expense of the free market. People should just choose to consume less/use less power.

    What is more important – selling things, or having a habitable planet? Free market capitalism virtually guarantees us environmental devastation.

    As for people “choosing” to consume less – that will never happen on a radical enough scale in a consumerist, marketing-driven, more-more-more society… precisely where the free market takes us (and has already taken us, even in non-libertarian form).

    Without the social awakening that would be necessary to create anarchy (rather than just libertarianism), the environment is still toast.

    I’ll bring the dead animals to cook (next climate camp?).

    As long as it’s roadkill, no problem! (Though I think it would be better to cook it somewhere other than Climate Camp – a few too many militant vegans, and militant anything is never a winner.)

  34. Oli — on 12th November, 2007 at 1:08 pm  

    I have very few qualms about nuclear power, though it would have to be well regulated. Most of the previous nuclear disasters have come from human choice, not error. Ie deciding to see what happened when all the safety measures where removed.

  35. Dave S — on 12th November, 2007 at 1:35 pm  

    Oli – so you don’t have any qualms with the fact we can only make use of 0.7% of the world’s uranium reserves for fuel?

    Meaning that any substantial shift towards nuclear power would mean we’d run out of usable uranium in about a decade or so? (It takes more than a decade to even build a nuclear power station!)

    That’s not my reason for objecting to nuclear power (no, that’s because I think it’s hideously wrong to burden future generations with our radioactive, toxic, unstable waste), but it IS the reason nuclear power is not going to save us from resource depletion or climate change.

    (See my posts, numbers 10 and 13 above for the details.)

    There is no way out of the fact that we are just going to have to use a LOT less energy in the near future.

  36. sonia — on 12th November, 2007 at 5:49 pm  

    human choice/not error? well i suppose that explains hiroshima and nagasaki, but what about Three Mile Island and Chernobyl?

  37. sonia — on 12th November, 2007 at 5:51 pm  

    also, having worked in the environmental sector as i have done for the last 3 years, you come to realise the ‘behind the scenes’ workings of supply chain management and the related costs, and then you see why Local Authorities don’t manage to recycle plastic bags very easily. the waste supply chain is complex – we can’t get rid of plastic bags easily, we’ve made a mess of that, despite that, we still have targets, but are failing to meet them, but hey if its a plastic bag. And then we talk about nuclear waste, and some people seem to dismiss the reality of the difficulty of getting rid of it. “its someone else’s problem” sure it is, and those ‘someones’ aren’t going to do a very good job of it.

  38. sonia — on 12th November, 2007 at 5:52 pm  

    i suppose everyone’s forgotten about three mile island?

  39. douglas clark — on 12th November, 2007 at 6:16 pm  

    Dave S,

    Follow up justforfuns suggestion at 23. Thorium would seem to be a way around the Uranium bottleneck.

  40. Dave S — on 12th November, 2007 at 7:12 pm  

    Douglas – thanks for re-posting that, I hadn’t realised it’s relevance to the discussion.

    I’ve started looking into it and it sounds interesting, and indeed, maybe could provide a source of fuel.

    I’m not someone who worries immensely about another Chernobyl or Three Mile Island accident. I do believe modern reactor designs are considerably safer – particularly the gravity drop and pebble-bed modular reactors, from what I read up on a couple of years ago.

    However, I still have major concerns with the storage and disposal of waste, and I think that’s really the issue here:

    Is it morally acceptable to force future generations (who will almost certainly have less natural resources at their disposal than us) to deal with a radioactive, toxic, phase-changing waste problem of our creation, because we simply couldn’t be bothered to stop consuming so much?

    Would we really lose so much by going the sustainable, renewables route, and having a bit less power to burn?

    I think if we change the way we regard energy, and treat it with respect – something not to be wasted, but to be used carefully – we’d need considerably less power, and thus renewables (particularly localised microgeneration) would be a far more viable option.

    As with most things, the real problem is changing people’s attitudes – which is probably not going to happen until we stage an all-out war on capitalism and consumerism. I think that’s what’s actually needed here… far more than nuclear power

    But of course, politicians of any colour are unwilling/unable to change the status quo, so it’s up to us to decide to consume less. I think it will actually happen, but it’s a question of “will it happen soon enough?”, and to that, I think the answer is no, probably not.

    Nuclear power can’t save us from ourselves.

  41. Rumbold — on 12th November, 2007 at 8:17 pm  

    Dave S:

    “Perhaps I didn’t make this clear before, but I’m not saying localised production should be the only way we produce our food – just that I think it has to be quite a large part of the solution to several fast-approaching inescapable problems (peak oil and climate change).”

    Sorry, I misunderstood.

    “But the thing is, once the cat is out of the bag, there’s no going back. Using GM commits us to using GM forever = corporate control of agriculture, forever (and that’s the least of the problems).”

    As a believer in the free market, I do not think that the introduction of GM would mean corporate control anymore than usual. Corporations are motivated by profits, and so if there were still demand for non-GM goods (which there would be), people would step forward to supply them.

    “But I think it’s no less arrogant than to say (for example) “we need GM foods to help feed starving people”, when in actual fact those GM foods are almost all destined for rich foreigners, and what would actually do a lot more towards feeding those people, buying them medicine and so on is to change to a society that isn’t based on corporate greed.”

    I am not sure why all GM crops would be destined for rich foreigners. I agree that we could help in other ways though.

    “I know somebody has to put in the work to do the research, but the knowledge is currently used to extort profits from ill people, not to help humanity. If that’s not sick, then I don’t know what is! I think this could (and should) easily be changed in a move away from corporatism.”

    However unedifying the situation, the truth is that most drugs probably would not have developed without the backing of the drug companies. If there was a way to ensure these drugs got to the people that needed them for free, and at the same time ensured that such drugs continued to be developed, then I would support it. Unfortunately, I think for the moment these two things are contradictory to a certain extent. Government can buy drugs from the drug companies, but if you forced companies to turn over drugs for free then those would be the last drugs we ever see developed by private firms, who tend to be the great innovators/inventors.

    ” How would the environment and resources be protected (and I mean real protection, not just the token “protection” and greenwash we currently get spoon-fed), under the type of society you favour?”

    Even most libertarians believe in a bit of government regulation. Individuals can also purchase natural features in order to protect them, and cut back on their ‘carbon footprint’. Surely anarchism would be even less able to enforce environmental rules?

    “What is more important – selling things, or having a habitable planet? Free market capitalism virtually guarantees us environmental devastation.”

    I disagree. As I say above, I do not believe that the two are contradictory. The reason that we are doing more damage to the planet than before is not because we live in a capitalist society, but because we have developed more powerful technologies (such as the jet engine) and there are more of us. It does not follow that in a non-capitalist society we would be better off planet-wise. Just look at the environmental damage in the old USSR (the prime example of a non-free market society).

    “As long as it’s roadkill, no problem! (Though I think it would be better to cook it somewhere other than Climate Camp – a few too many militant vegans, and militant anything is never a winner.)”

    What if I told you it was roadkill? Succulent Aberdeen Angus rib eye steak roadkill? Militant vegans? “Oi, he’s got a cheese sandwich! Get ‘em!”

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