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Pandora's Promise and the Problem of "Solutionism" 293

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the blind-faith dept.
Lasrick writes "Kennette Benedict of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reviews Pandora's Promise, a new documentary that focuses on environmental activists like Stewart Brand who have gone from vehemently anti-nuclear to vehemently pro-nuclear views. Good points brought up by Benedict that weren't really addressed in the film." From the article: "The flaw in the film's approach is its zealous advocacy of one solution — one silver bullet — to meet the tremendous challenges of providing for some nine billion people by 2050, while also protecting societies from the ravages of climate disruption. The kind of thinking that led some of these environmentalists to single-mindedly protest nuclear power plants during the 1970s and 1980s leads them to just-as-single-mindedly advocate a push toward nuclear power 40 years later."
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Pandora's Promise and the Problem of "Solutionism"

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  • NIMBY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:24AM (#43984681)

    Of course they want nuclear power -- they just don't want it here.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      while also protecting societies from the ravages of climate disruption.

      This is based on a flawed assumption- that the only way to protect society is to prevent disruption of climate. Climate will, ultimately, become disrupted through some mechanism or another. The goal should be to evolve our various societies to the point where humans are mobile enough that civilization can shift to follow the climate. The current goal of keeping the planet in perpetual stasis is foolhardy and unrealistic.

      • Re:NIMBY (Score:4, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:39AM (#43984817)

        The current goal of keeping the planet in perpetual stasis is foolhardy and unrealistic.

        Yes, let's grow gills and learn to live with less food. I think radiation will help with the first part, so I think all parties agree nuclear is the best of all worlds.

      • Re:NIMBY (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MozeeToby (1163751) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:41AM (#43984837)

        You want to evolve society so that 50% of the population can pick up and move? So that we not only grown enough food to feed everyone but also store enough to give us a couple years to switch plots and establish new farm land? So that we can all move toward the poles when the average temperatures at the equator are 2-5 degrees C more than they are today? Or will you just install 5 ton central AC in everyone's home, including all the people living on $2 a day? Or did you just mean the rich people? Or do you honestly think we can uplift the 9 billion people on the world so that everyone can afford the ludicrously lavish lifestyle that we all consider normal?

        • by goombah99 (560566) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:55AM (#43985613)

          The summary paints this picture that it's defective motivations that lead people to go from anti nuke to pro nuke. Au contrair. In the 1970s and 1980s it made a lot of sense to be anti-nuke just as it now makes sense to be anti-GMO. Those people did us a huge favor. They forced these industries to account for the unpaid externality costs that they were free ridiing on. The nuke industry was a headlong rush to market paid for with public bonds going into private investors pockets with very little accounting for the costs of downstream waste disposal, the risks of faclities, and under appreciated environmental costs (such as the tennessee rivers being sterilized by excessive heating).

          The protestors forced the nuke industry to face a large regulatory and captical risk hurdle to develop new plants. This forced a better accounting even if the actual costs they were including were only proxies for the real costs. IN the mean time the technology has advanced remarkably.

          We also have a better grip on the future costs of peower production and an attentiveness to conservation of power that we did no have then. Fracking has come online, renewables are forming a competitive market.

          Nuke power now has a good role to play as a major part of a power mix, especially in china where demand is insatiable and the olny alternative is coal.

          It makes complete sense to start developing nuclear power under these safe, sober conditions with the externalities properly built into the costs.

          thus this is not "soluionism" as a reasoning defect. It's simply good reasoning in both cases. changing your mind as conditions change actually shows these people were not simply hung up on nuclear = evil but rather the nuclear plants of the time in the market of the time were potentially a bad idea.

          I'd say GMO and Fracking are at the same level today. There's a gold rush for these with very little accounting for the true external costs (e.g. water aquifer destruction, fugitive methane, and maybe earthquakes, all being uncosted while wars are driving up the price of oil faster than alternatives can replace it. This means market forces now are out of balance and could cause imprudent envirnmental destruction).

          But fracking can be done safely eventually but may have to be done away from aquifers and with better technology.

          GMO is going to be the next green revolution. But it's fraught with perils. Even the risk of excessive monocropping leading to a potatoe famine like disaster is not absurd. GMO is oversold right nowand is dangerous because of the unkown risk exposure but will be very important later. We need to let a generation of beta testers pass by at very low levels of introduction of GMO before we allow it to spread. By then we will know how to monitor it's hazzards better.

          • by babymac (312364) <[ten.retrahc] [ta] [d33hp]> on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @12:33PM (#43986007) Homepage

            In the 1970s and 1980s it made a lot of sense to be anti-nuke just as it now makes sense to be anti-GMO. Those people did us a huge favor.

            Absolutely wrong. Those people allowed the use of fossil fuels to proliferate and poison the atmosphere for DECADES out of a misguided fear of radioactivity. The blame for global warming can largely be placed on their shoulders. Those people made the world a worse place for everyone.

            • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

              You are assuming that they were arguing in favour of burning fossil fuel. Even back in the 70s and 80s there were a lot of people calling for more renewable energy.

              This mistake seems to be made time and time again in these debates. If you are against nuclear you must be for burning fossil fuels or living some kind of agrarian lifestyle.

          • by EdZ (755139)

            Even the risk of excessive monocropping leading to a potatoe famine like disaster is not absurd.

            That has nothing to do with genetic modification. Remember the Gros Michel?
            We've been genetically modifying organisms for millennia, in various haphazard methods: from selective breeding, to cross-breeding, to (accidentally or deliberately) infecting crops with certain organisms, etc. The difference with GM is that we have a good idea of the outcome before starting, and we can minimise unwanted side-effects. The downside is that companies attempt to pattern genetic codes, but that's tied up in bigger IP law

      • Agreed, no matter what we do the climate is going to shift drastically. Unless we're light enough on our feet that we can adapt as things change, it's going to cost more in the long run, lives and money. That's going to need a rethink of how we operate on a lot of levels but needn't lead to a reduction in quality of life. I have some difficulty imagining such a society in fact, but recent technological advances will make it much easier, ubiquitous communication and computing, the unification of many devices

        • by rioki (1328185)

          Come back to me when you invented FTL and found a suitable "M class" planet. Yea then we can all just "move away".

        • I have some difficulty imagining such a society in fact, but recent technological advances will make it much easier, ubiquitous communication and computing

          If you're facing the need to relocate X billion people from place A to place B in a matter of three to five decades or so, your iPhone 13 will do you a fat lot of good.

          • Re:NIMBY (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:35AM (#43985401)

            On the contrary, portable computing (albeit of a larger form factor than the phone) is a tremendous help to a population on the move, because it represents access to both instantaneous news, weather reports, supply points and so on, as well as a vast depth of knowledge, which allows skills to propagate and spread with ease. Think of a question - google the answer. Need to fix a car, search for the schematics and instructions. I did just that last week, never touched the internals of a car beyond the basics before in my life, next thing you know I was crimping electrical wiring together and diagnosing problems, and it worked fine.

            You have the largest library, trade school, and university ever imagined right at your fingertips, and believe me knowledge is power. We haven't even begun to realise the implications of this as a society.

            And don't ever underestimate the power of communication - Genghis Khan didn't conquer most of Eurasia because his troops were super badass ninjas, he won because his forces had far superor communications than the opposition, due to his fast riders. People able to communicate are people able to work together, and there's not much that can't be done with enough people working together.

            I'm not worried about the basics, food, water, energy, we have and will always have a surplus of those. Mostly due to the last part there, with enough energy you can easily get food and fresh water, and we are drowning in energy.

      • while also protecting societies from the ravages of climate disruption.

        This is based on a flawed assumption- that the only way to protect society is to prevent disruption of climate.

        Does it actually say that?

      • Re:NIMBY (Score:4, Insightful)

        by blueg3 (192743) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:30AM (#43985343)

        If you think curbing CO2 emissions is expensive, wait until you see the cost of relocating New York City.

        • by slim (1652)

          You're absolutely right about that. But the position (I'm not sure whether it's *my* position) is that we're going to have to move NYC (and London, and Rio, etc.) eventually, whatever happens. So why not stop throwing money at preventing the problem, and start throwing money at mitigating it instead?

          James Lovelock is convinced that CO2 has passed the tipping point, the damage can't be undone. He's suggested abandoning all efforts to stop/slow it, and go all out in building flood defences, inland settlements

        • by lgw (121541)

          Sure - which one is more expensive? Show me some actual economic data. Plus proof that reducing human CO2 emission will do more than delay matters a bit.

          Relocating New York City just isn't that bad, on the scale of world economies. Heck, it seems half of London is torn down and rebuilt in place every 10 years as it is. Major cities built on coasts is a legacy of time when manufacturing mattered - no reason modern cities need to be near shipping ports.

          But climate going the other way? A glacial period re

      • Lets take that approach to medicine. "Yes, you are suffering from tuberculosis, but if it weren't for that, you'd just get sick from another disease, so just make yourself immune to disease."

        The two goals are not mutually exclusive, and we will be better able to evolve to whatever it is you're suggesting if we have to spend less effort dealing with the effects of climate change.

        Also I suspect you're only callous to the effects of climate change because your home doesn't happen to be a low-lying isla
      • Climate will, ultimately, become disrupted through some mechanism or another. ... The current goal of keeping the planet in perpetual stasis is foolhardy and unrealistic.

        Well, ultimately, yes, there's no real way to stop the heat-death of the universe, or the sun's eventual demise, or the tectonic plates from eventually taking all of our known landmarks and recycling them back into their molten depths. And the climates around earth will change. But it'd be a lot better if the climate slowly changed over the next eon rather the next decade. Water levels rising a foot in the next decade would have some very severe consequences. Like homes being lost and massive economic suff

      • by sjames (1099)

        Isn't that a bit like declaring that it is better we learn to eat shit and like it as a solution rather than using the bathroom instead of the kitchen table?

    • In the 1970's there was no PROOF we were going to hold PRIVATE INDUSTRY accountable for nuclear safety and waste. Given the last few years of hits and flaws found, overall the engineers that said Nuclear power was safe have had time to be proved right. Even moreso if we would throw big money behind cutting edge reactors not designed to also produce weapons material.. Get rid of that Cold War mentality.

      Since then the main problem is getting the government to follow through on the safe disposal plans. It's

    • Re:NIMBY (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Charliemopps (1157495) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:54AM (#43985605)

      I lived next to a very large nuclear power plant for about 15 years. About the only problem is causes was the warm water from its exhaust caused plants to flourish in that part of the lake. But since my father and I liked fishing it was a great spot. Fish spawned there and their was plenty of cover.

      Did it cause problems? Environmental damage? No...
      Do I have cancer? no...
      Would I be worried if they built one near my home? I'd review the plans, and as long as it wasn't some design from the 1950s I'd be cool with it.
      If they were building a coal plant near me, I'd be out in the streets with picket signs the next day.

  • by Andrio (2580551) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:28AM (#43984715)
    The "you can only skip six times an hour" does indeed suck!
  • by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:32AM (#43984731)
    It is the power of the stars, thousands of times more dense than any other energy source. Nuclear alone CAN stop the lights from going out as fossil fuels run out or become untenable due to the huge world population.

    If that doesn't happen, it will be because solar undercut the price of nuclear without the waste or security problems... in that case, even better!

    • Creaating nuclear power efficiently today requires uranium, something that is very limited on this planet.

      If Fukashima has not occurred, we would be currently looking at a global uranium shortage in the next 5 years as existing major sources (re-purposing from old warheads) dry up and are not replaced with new mines.

      Whenever production of power plants comes back on track, we will once again be facing such a shortage.

      • by dcmcilrath (2859893) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:51AM (#43984937)

        If Fukashima has not occurred, we would be currently looking at a global uranium shortage in the next 5 years as existing major sources (re-purposing from old warheads) dry up and are not replaced with new mines.

        Whenever production of power plants comes back on track, we will once again be facing such a shortage.

        Yes there are limited reserves of uranium like everything else on the planet, but there is a lot more than 5 years... more like 200 according to this article. [scientificamerican.com] This is important because it buys us time to get technologies which are actually clean (looking at you, solar energy researchers) up to the speed of our current energy sources. Or find something else

        • The article in question has two stipulations that make its conclusion unrealistic:

          1) Current energy use. In reality, world energy use doubles about every 30 years. That alone drops the uranium supply under 100 years.

          2) Current energy mix. Not changing the percentage of total energy that fission contributes. If you're advocating more fission energy from its current 6% for environmental or depletion of other supply reasons, that 200 years will drop dramatically. 100% fission at today's energy use would b

          • by Firethorn (177587) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:50AM (#43985571) Homepage Journal

            1. You're assuming unlimited exponential growth. In the developed world, power use per person has actually been dropping slightly due to efficiency increases. Population growth has also slowed to pretty much replacement only, so the current increases are only from industrialization of previously undeveloped populations. We'll run out of them sometime as well.
            2. You're assuming that the 200 year figures don't take changes in energy sources/growth into account.
            3. They're only known reserves at a fairly low price point. Double the price per pound of Uranium and a lot more reserves suddenly appear. Double it again and we have the technology to distill it from seawater economically. It's still an insignificant cost for nuclear power production even at 4X the price. Oh yeah, at around double the price reprocessing and breeding look a lot more economical, so the efficiency at which we use it can increase almost an OOM.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        With Uranium and something more efficient than the USA's once-through fuel cycle, we have well over a thousand years of energy given current known reserves at roughly today's economic recovery costs. Allow for thorium and breeders and we easily have 10,000 years of energy, all without needing any vast new reserves to be discovered.

        In short, you are grossly misinformed. Stop spreading your ignorance around.

        • Let me know when somebody actually runs a commercial thorium or breeder reactor.

          The much hyped Indian "thorium reactors" are actually going to be run as conventional light water reactors for the foreseeable future.

          Most breeder reactors have been for experimental research, not actual commercial production. France shut theirs down.

      • by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:59AM (#43985045)

        Very limited?
        You can recover it from seawater.

        Mines will open before the shortage occurs. Markets are pretty going at this.

      • by Phanatic1a (413374) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:56AM (#43985623)

        "something that is very limited on this planet."

        Bullshit. Uranium is ridiculously abundant. There's more uranium than silver, or tin, or cadmium, or antimony.

        "If Fukashima has not occurred, we would be currently looking at a global uranium shortage in the next 5 years as existing major sources (re-purposing from old warheads) dry up and are not replaced with new mines."

        Utter and total nonsense. Old warheads are not major sources of uranium, because warheads are fabricated from *plutonium*, not uranium, which is produced in reactors specifically so we can build warheads out of it. There are billions of tons of uranium dissolved in seawater, with another 32000 tons being carried into the oceans by rivers every year. With breeders and/or sane fuel cycles/reactor designs, there's enough uranium to provide our present electrical demands for, literally, millions of years.

        And there's three times as much thorium as there is uranium.

        "Whenever production of power plants comes back on track, we will once again be facing such a shortage."

        Only someone who completely fails to understand what constitutes ore reserves would say such a thing. As uranium prices rise, ore reserves increase, because a higher price for uranium means other sources become economical to exploit. There will only ever be a shortage of uranium *at a given price*, and once that price gets high enough to make extraction from seawater economical, supplies become effectively limitless. And since nuclear fuel is so energy dense, orders of magnitude moreso than chemical fuels, the raw price of ore contributes very little to the cost of electricity coming out of the plant.

    • by 50000BTU_barbecue (588132) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:45AM (#43984883) Homepage Journal
      Hello, nuclear fusion in stars actually has a very LOW power density. It's just that stars are very large. This is why getting fusion to produce power on Earth is so damn difficult, we are not trying to RECREATE the conditions inside a star, we need to SURPASS those conditions.
    • Money. Well, to be fair, the real answer is externalities and how poorly our system copes with them. In fact, you can say that about almost every major problem we face today: if people would look at the externalities and factor their costs and benefits into the equations the world would be a much better place. Until you factor in the costs associated with pollution from fossil fuels, nuclear won't be cost effective. In fact, that's what cap and trade is supposed to do: put a price tag on the damage poll

    • It's not a silver bullet because of the biggest risk of fission power technology: nuclear proliferation.

      If the nuclear energy is the one solution to the worlds energy needs, then ALL countries, including Iran, Syria, and every single state in Africa will need its very own nuclear power industry. And every one of those countries realizes that a nuclear weapon would be the trump card that prevents them from being invaded by hostile neighbors, and it would make even GWB think twice about an attack.

      With orders

      • by JWW (79176)

        And no handwaving about how some new and untested reactor technology is going to make that impossible, or somehow today's dysfunctional international regulators can be fixed. All of that is just rehashing the No True Scotsmen line.

        Oh yeah, right. Basically you're saying that since new reactor technology that doesn't cause nuclear weapons proliferation does not exist yet, we should not research new reactor technology.

        • There is no way to make tampering with the process impossible.

          Like most geeks, you seem to think that some air-tight technical solution exists that will fix this political problem.

        • Oh yeah, right. Basically you're saying that since new reactor technology that doesn't cause nuclear weapons proliferation does not exist yet, we should not research new reactor technology.

          No, he's saying that since it doesn't actually exist today, you can't claim it solves today's problems.

          The problem with CO2 buildup is happening *today*. To solve it, we need to use *today's* technology. We can't wait 35 years for the first of these designs to be built to see if it works and then start building them. Too late.

          If you want to offer nuclear as a solution to the problem, it has to happen *now*. And for that to happen, you need to use proliferation-risky designs. If you're happy with that, fine,

  • around 2000 there was a huge push for natural gas. lots of greenie talking heads on TV and ads on TV saying how natural gas was awesome and oil was evil
    demand surged, prices surged. people spent lots of money converting from oil heating
    we got fracking which the same environmentalists now say is evil along with natural gas which now causes global warming. but it didn't 13 years ago.

    Ethanol had the same story a few years later

    i would be looking to invest in some nuclear power. these people aren't rooting for

    • by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot@nosPam.keirstead.org> on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:50AM (#43984935) Homepage

      Natural Gas burns clean. Environmentalists are not against natural gas produced conventionally. They are against fracking because it affects the water table and has been shown to affect seismic activity as well. States that are heavily fracking are playing with fire.

    • I think you are distorting environmentalist’s views on natural gas and global warming. I don’t know of a single environmentalist who every believed that natural gas did not cause global warming. The argument was always that natural gas was less damaging then coal.

      Then add the fact that the time period you are referencing, 2000s, fracking was a new, novel concept, and the amount of gas it produced was low.

      • Fracking has been going on for about 100 years in the oil industry. Fracking shale for gas is new. It used to be uneconomical.

      • by mbkennel (97636)

        "The argument was always that natural gas was less damaging then coal."

        In combustion, yes, because gas has more hydrogen to burn than coal.

        But in production, even the small % of methane which is inevitably leaked escapes to the atmosphere unburnt where it has a much more potent greenhouse effect (per molecule) than CO2, and could cause substantial climate forcing. Methane though does have a much shorter atmospheric lifetime than CO2.

    • along with natural gas which now causes global warming. but it didn't 13 years ago.

      If you absolutely had to be shot, would you rather be shot in the shoulder with a .45 or a .22? Ok, here we go! What do you mean you don't wanna be shot, you just agreed the .22 was the better option!

    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

      which the same environmentalists now say is evil

      Do you know this for a fact, or are you idiotically assuming all environmentalists are legitimate and all believe the exact same things?

      Actually, it sounds like you believe environmentalists are responsible for the nation's energy policy and the choices of billion dollar energy companies. Bless your heart.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:35AM (#43984769)

    The most important thing for us to be spending our money on is trying to avoid that 9 billion, or at least trying not to go beyond it. Universally available (heavily subsidized) contraception is the first place to start. Secondly try to counter those who actually WANT to increase population numbers, like Erdogan & Romney and their respective religions. Once that's done there'll still be plenty of money left to pay for nuclear power.

    • by alexander_686 (957440) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:01AM (#43985061)

      Unless you are talking about forced sterilization, free contraception has little impact on population growth. The biggest effect it has is to delay when a woman has their first child, not how many they have.

      Wealth is one of the better ways to curb population. When people move from abject poverty to poverty child births go up. When people move from poverty to middle class their child births go down. This effect is magnified if you have educated women in the work force. You hit the replacement rate about when everybody needs a college education and said college education costs about as much as a house.

      Of course, to produce wealth you need a vibrant economy, which implies a lot more energy use.

    • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:09AM (#43985119)

      Contraceptive access is a requirement for controlling population growth, but not sufficient in itsself. It needs education and a cultural change too - the original goals of feminism, to give women an equal status in society where they can (and are expected to) study, work, and have a career of their own. In much of the world this still isn't an option - women are treated as property and incubators. It's no good providing access to contraception if the local culture insults the manhood of any man who uses it, and women are afraid to seek it out for fear they will be labeled as promiscuous.;

      • I think that the biggest (and possibly hardest) link in the chain will be creating and artificial Creche that can bring a child to term safely.

        right now we have very talented (and intelligent) women not giving birth due to not wanting to deal with the problems of being pregnant.

        (of course if somebody gets one going we most likely will find out that the kids turn out to be "Joker looks like Mr Rogers" crazy)

        • by slim (1652)

          right now we have very talented (and intelligent) women not giving birth due to not wanting to deal with the problems of being pregnant.

          Good. Fewer people is fewer people. Don't worry, we've a long way to go before there are so many people refraining from breeding that we can't find "talented (and intelligent)" offspring anywhere.

          • by mdielmann (514750)

            right now we have very talented (and intelligent) women not giving birth due to not wanting to deal with the problems of being pregnant.

            Good. Fewer people is fewer people. Don't worry, we've a long way to go before there are so many people refraining from breeding that we can't find "talented (and intelligent)" offspring anywhere.

            So actively dropping the median is okay, then. Gotcha.

        • We kind of have that today. You can rent wombs and have a 3rd party deliver your baby. IIRC a American couple outsourced their twins to 2 Indians.

          And I don’t think that is the limiting factor. It is the cost of raising the kids that is the big deterrent. As we get wealthier we put more resources into fewer kids. (There is a sound evolutionary bias for this – I think it called high / low K (as in care) but I can’t find a link)

    • Population doesn't correlate well with carbon emissions. The US for example was the leading emitter of carbon until recently despite being only fourth in terms of population. Moreover, I suspect limiting population growth will be too little too late when discussing climate change: we're on track to change the climate in less than a generation.
  • Ironically, my mind has almost done the same but in reverse. As a sci-fi buff, and futurist, I love the idea, and have since the '70s, but the potential for megadisaster, though incredibly low, is severe if it ever happens.

    Maybe the US and Western Europe can do it right, or right-er, anyway, but what about plants popcorning up all over the world? Will they follow the latest and greatest? Especially if it involves nationalism by local politicians to design it themselves.

    • Disasters (Score:2, Insightful)

      by SirGarlon (845873)
      Chernobyl. Fukushima. Two megadisasters in my lifetime doesn't count as "incredibly low potential" in my book. Though frankly, I am more concerned about the lack of long-term storage facilities for high-level waste. Meltdowns can only happen while the reactor is operating; radioactive waste is a disaster waiting to happen any time in the next 10,000 years.
      • Re:Disasters (Score:5, Informative)

        by asifyoucare (302582) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:53AM (#43984971)
        Fukushima = Megadisaster? None killed, none sick.
      • Re:Disasters (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ducomputergeek (595742) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:55AM (#43984989)

        Really, those two disasters are some how worse than the tonnes of crap we've been pumping into the air unfiltered the past 150 years and continue doing today and at an increasing rate (here's looking at you China).

        And there is a thorium fuel cycle that would use up most of that waste while providing plenty of affordable power for next 500 years. Yes it would probably take 20 years to get the first thorium reactors up, running, and certified for commercial use, but politics happen the be the biggest barrier here, not technology. In particular non-proliferation treaties.

        • I think thorim reactors [wikipedia.org] have a lot of potential. It's frustrating if non-proliferation treaties are in the way because thorium reactors don't produce bomb material. You still have the waste-storage problem, though.
      • Re:Disasters (Score:5, Insightful)

        by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:06AM (#43985095)

        How is fukushima a mega disaster?

        Chernobyl was not an accident, they did everything they could to destroy that reactor. Negligence sure, but no way accidental.

        High level waste is not that hot after 10 years, much less 10,0000. Things would those kind of half lives are not that radioactive.

      • by Nemyst (1383049)
        If Fukushima was a megadisaster, then we should also ban solar panels, coal power plants, hydro dams and just about every other source of power because there have been a lot more deaths for individual "disasters" with those than with Fukushima. Fukushima was a consequence of one of the worst tsunamis ever recorded, and didn't even kill anyone. There were more injuries from hydrogen explosions due to buildup than from radioactivity. Fukushima was transformed into a gigantic backlash because the media played
      • Re:Disasters (Score:4, Informative)

        by confused one (671304) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:18AM (#43985223)

        Review those designs and accident reports. Two too many failures; but, they could have been mitigated.

        Graphite moderated reactors were considered too dangerous for commercial use by the late '50's or early '60's by every country except the U.S.S.R. It was cheap and they needed power so they built quite a few of them. It is difficult to know exactly what happened; but, it appears an ill advised and unauthorized experiment was run on the system, with all the safeties turned off. When the reactor crashed, the operator(s) panicked and they tried to do something which was known to cause explosive power surges which could result in catastrophic failures. And it did. This should not have happened.

        Fukushima Diachi was a 1960's design that is considered quite dated and had a few known failure modes. The company operating the reactors basically refused to do all the expensive updates to improve the reactor's safety. They also ignored warnings that the sea wall was inadequate for worst case tsunami, which happened. It flooded their electrical system(s) and generators, which were at or below grade level. Because the earthquake knocked out their grid power supply, they had zero options for power. This led to the loss of cooling. Then, for political reasons, the operator tried to downplay the damage, rather than ask for help when they desperately needed it. It did not have to be this way.

        Frankly, with the aging inventory of reactor systems operating in the world, I do not expect these to be the last. Having said that, for the purposed of full disclosure, I live near two large power reactors, a major naval base, and one of the two shipyards where they build, overhaul and test nuclear powered ships in the U.S. I don't fear it.

        Waste storage is something we do need to solve. Either through re-use or through deep storage somewhere. I don't have an answer for you that's based on real engineering.

        • I think we're drawing different conclusions from similar information.

          Fukushima Diachi was a 1960's design that is considered quite dated and had a few known failure modes. The company operating the reactors basically refused to do all the expensive updates to improve the reactor's safety. They also ignored warnings that the sea wall was inadequate for worst case tsunami, which happened.

          You seem to be saying nuclear power is safe because the risks were known, but nobody did anything about them. I say nuclear

          • by Firethorn (177587) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @12:20PM (#43985847) Homepage Journal

            You seem to be saying nuclear power is safe because the risks were known, but nobody did anything about them. I say nuclear power is unsafe, for exactly the same reason.

            It's more along the lines of "Stop pointing at accident performance for 1967 VW beetles when we want to build modern cars".

            I want new nuclear plants so we can finally shut down the end of life plants, as well as the nasty by design coal systems.

  • How about one BIG bullet and multiple smaller ones?
  • by guanxi (216397) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:42AM (#43984845)

    The review doesn't disagree that nuclear is a big part of the solution, it just complains that the authors sweep aside all other considerations and doesn't like their attitude toward anti-nuclear activists. In other words, it wants the anti-nuclear activists to have a voice.

    What is disingenuous about Pandora's Promise is the way the new judgment is conveyed. The film mocks groups that continue to protest nuclear power, treating one-time colleagues as extremists and zealots. An audience discussion after a preview at the University of Chicago made it clear I was not the only one who sensed the self-righteous tone of the newly converted in the film's narrative. In the end, by dismissing the protestors and failing to engage them in significant debate about the pros and cons of nuclear energy, the film undermined its own message.

    Nobody loves nuclear power, but what else can provide sufficient power to the world without damaging the climate? Burning carbon, including natural gas, will cause a catastrophe. Wind, solar and geothermal can't ramp up fast enough to meet power demand, AFAIK. Only nuclear power provides sufficient energy without causing more climate change.

    • by Rockoon (1252108) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:50AM (#43984921)

      In other words, it wants the anti-nuclear activists to have a voice.

      ..as if they didnt already?

      The anti-nuclear activists have destroyed the prospects of widespread nuclear adoption in more than a few countries, including the United States.

      The problem is that their voice has been the only god damned voice, so fuck em if they are crying now about not being able to continue to drown out any discussion.

  • What is this, 1950? I'm leaving these old timers behind and hopping on the pro-random-matter-fusion energy plant bandwagon. Yeah, the project is like 3x over budget and congress wants heads to roll but I want my Mr Fusion damn it. Also, I'm pre-pro-antimatter/matter reaction-based energy too. As in it hasn't technically been formally invented yet but I'm still all for it.
  • by spectrokid (660550) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:54AM (#43984977) Homepage
    Best to have a diversified diet. The government needs to do only 2 things: don't subsidize, and make sure every energy form pays for its REAL cost. And that means one motherfucking hefty CO2 tax, and a big piggy bank full of money next to every nuclear plant to pay for dismantling when the time comes.
    • by nojayuk (567177) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:16AM (#43985205)

      And that means one motherfucking hefty CO2 tax

      So you want a War on Coal, do you, throwing thousands of miners out of a job? Heartless bastard. Raising the cost of a gallon of gas? Unthinkable!

      and a big piggy bank full of money next to every nuclear plant to pay for dismantling when the time comes

      A Lie That Will Not Die, the taxpayers have to pay for decommissioning nuclear power stations. False.

      That "piggy bank" you speak of already exists, and has done so since the 1980s in most Western nations that have nukes. Operators of nuclear power stations in the US have to pay into a fund to cover future decommissioning of individual plants. It's more than the coal-fired station operators, wind turbine and solar generators do to clean up after themselves and after forty or fifty gigawatt-years of generating power for a given reactor it adds up to quite a large amount, including interest. The San Onofre nuclear power station, even though it's being shut down only 30 years after being built, has about 3 billion bucks in its "piggy bank" for decommissioning, and using a long-term custodianship system (aka SafStor) it won't spend much of that for another fifty or sixty years meaning more interest accruing into the fund.

    • by Zobeid (314469)

      Yeah, let's keep the government out of it... except, of course, for the massive distortions of the market that you happen to favor and advocate. :P

  • Doesn't matter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dbIII (701233) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @10:55AM (#43984995)
    Doesn't matter if you blame the hippies - the bankers are the ones that are not going to let nuclear happen.
    • Why do you say that?

      I agree with the statement but I am going to guess for different reasons.

      If I am a banker, you are asking me to underwrite a 30 year loan that is based on the assumption that you will competitively produce electricity for the next 30 years. Trying to figure out what the market for electricity is going to do for 10 is hard. 10 years ago it looked like with high fuel prices that Nuclear would be profitable. Fracking came along and natural gas prices, and the electricity it produces, droppe

  • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:10AM (#43985139) Homepage Journal

    people selling snake oil or people whining about "solutionism".

    Since when is a documentary required to promote every possible agenda? I haven't seen the documentary, but I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that it does not ignore nuclear power's downsides, especially considering its focus on previously anti-nuclear environmentalists.

    "Solutionism" is a thought terminating cliche [wikipedia.org], a way to dismiss any solution because it doesn't encompass every possible solution. It's a ploy for people who only know rhetoric and politics to wrestle control of the debate from people who know science and engineering.

    Consider the vacuous absurdity of the closing of the article:

    A more powerful approach to this complex threat to humanity would be to film a fact-based, passionate debate that explored the alternatives, trade-offs, and consequences of various energy options. Such an exploration might move us from the usual politics of zealotry to new habits of thought, and perhaps to new forms of action based on all the facts.

    No one is under any obligation to please you, the head of an anti-nuclear activist group, which is no stranger to zealotry [wikipedia.org]. If you want other options, make your own documentary to promote them. You can make it "fact-based" too!

    • by JWW (79176) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:36AM (#43985413)

      Yep. So many of these naysayers, when asked "what do we need to do" advocate drastic reductions in energy use, drastic draconian policies to make it happen, and always in the end come out with the root solutions of "we need a whole lot fewer people on this planet." Their final answer is eliminating BILLIONS of people.

      Anyone who advocates that has lost all credibility with me. We can create cleaner power, and we will be cause we need to. Necessity is the mother of invention after all. Getting everyone in the world to go along with "less, less, less" isn't going to happen. We've solved complicated problems before, and we can do it here. I completely agree with the premise that anti-nuclear advocates need to go the heck away.

  • We need more like him: Stewart fuckin' Brand [longnow.org].

    See also Long Now Foundation [longnow.org].

  • by tp1024 (2409684) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:39AM (#43985443)

    Solutionism?

    Seriously?

    How deprived of all faculity of thinking must a movement become to come up with the idea of "solutionism" as a critique? There is a problem and people think about solutions. Any solution would, of course, be reason for existential difficulties of the problem. But the problem is the basis of power of said movements. When the problem goes away, so does the power that came with it, when the movement came into existence and so does the only solution the movement sanctioned: complete austerity and refraining from any use of technology and any interaction with nature as much as in any way possible.

    "Solutionism" is the latest, most ludicrous and hopefully last, attempt at defending the only solution "environmentalism" ever came up - by denying the adequancy of any solution of their problem whatsoever. Thus perpetuating their claim to power indefinitely - you know, the UNSOLVED PROBLEMS of technology.

    Go and rot in hell.

  • by DMJC (682799) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @11:54AM (#43985603)
    So much money spent chasing different solutions... Billions into solar etc. Why can't we get $200 Million for a 100 megawatt Polywell Fusion plant? It'll either work, or fall on it's ass. Compared to the billions spent on the other pipe dreams a $200 Million dollar yes/no crapshoot seems pretty reasonable to me. The reward is worth it. The risk is pretty minimal. $200 Million that would be wasted in any other area of government.
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @02:13PM (#43987663) Homepage

    Nuclear power is useful, but as a technology, it's frustrating. The power reactor technology that works is basically a simple water-cooled device with a lot of external plumbing. It's a mediocre approach, but everything else is worse.

    Many fancier reactor designs have been tried - sodium cooling, pebble bed, gas cooling, breeders, etc. The track record of alternative designs is very poor. Anything with moving parts inside the reactor, which is a very hostile environment, tends to fail. Sodium cooled systems have sodium fires. Pebble bed reactors have pebble jams. Gas cooled reactors leak. Breeders have trouble with the fuel changing mechanism. Anything that fails inside the reactor means a complete cold shutdown or worse. The failed German pebble bed reactor which had a pebble jam can't even be fully decommissioned.

    That's why we're stuck with big, dumb water-cooled reactors.

Those who do things in a noble spirit of self-sacrifice are to be avoided at all costs. -- N. Alexander.

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