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April 29, 2005

Nuke Gaia!

Don't ever let anyone tell you that the editor of the Earth Island Journal is afraid to take on the leading lights of environmentalist orthodoxy!

Posted by Chris Clarke at April 29, 2005 02:38 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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You're dead-on, with one small exception. If we keep treating the planet like toilet paper, there will be no occcupied cities, coastal or otherwise, to abandon in a couple hundred years. An unenlightened western civilization can probably muddle through for another ten years, perhaps even twenty, but thirty to fifty is pretty unlikely. Either we change, and relatively soon, or we can kiss our lives of materialistic myopic gluttony goodbye.

At the same time hope springs eternal, and I prefer to focus on humanity getting its collective act together before we hit the point of no return.

Posted by: tost at April 29, 2005 03:27 PM
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If I may offer some minor corrections:

"But Lovelock's call for a nuclear renaissance is based on mushy, ill-informed thinking.

For one thing, nuclear power is not climate-neutral. Uranium fuel reprocessing plants are responsible for a large fraction of atmospheric chloroflurocarbons (CFCs), chemicals best known as ozone-depleters but which are also powerful greenhouse gases..."

CFCs are not used in the uranium fuel reprocessing process. However, they are used in one method of fuel enrichment (gaseous diffusion). Gaseous diffusion is being phased out in favor of gas centrifuges. The use of CFCs is not intrinsic in the nuclear fuel cycle.

"Coal power is horribly dangerous to the environment, as is oil. But point out a coal-fired power plant that has rendered an area the size of Ukraine essentially uninhabitable, as did Chernobyl."

A 10 kilometer exclusion zone exists around Chernobyl. Ukraine appears to be much larger than that on my Rand McNally map. Admittedly I am not aware of a individual coal-fired plant that has made a 5-mile area "uninhabitable" (see ). The effects of coal burning are generally more diffuse. According to some, the fine particle emissions from coal-fired plants cuts short the lives of 30,000 people annually. If you are looking for a more acute example, there is the contamination of streams associated with mountain top mining where the peaks are bulldozed over to expose the coal seams.

"What Lovelock advocates is, essentially, killing specific ecosystems with radioactive waste in order to save unspecified ones. "

If I may ask, what specific ecosystems do you think would be killed by the opening of Yucca Mtn.?

"And the worst part of it is that even if nuclear were safe, new plants would be unlikely to produce energy for another ten or fifteen years - unless Lovelock also advocates gutting environmental and worker safety regulations. The earth cannot handle ten or fifteen years of continued carbon emissions without serious resulting damage."

Although no new plants have gone on-line in the USA since the 1996, nuclear plants have continued to be constructed worldwide. In Japan, for example, nuclear plants are built in 5-6 years. The next generation of plants will take advantage of modular construction and other techniques that will both improve quality and speed production. For all the hype about wind turbines, the total actual electrical generation added annually by new nuclear plants world wide, coming on-line or through uprates, far exceeds the actual generation from new wind turbines.

"Oddly enough, there are technical fixes readily available that could replace TODAY the same amount of energy that would be produced ten years from now if industrial societies went all out to build nuclear power plants. Here's just one: the compact fluorescent light bulb. Switching two thirds of the incandescent bulbs used in the US alone - which could be done in less than a year, given the social will - would reduce energy consumption by seven gigawatts..."

Given social will, people would floss their teeth regularly, eat healthy foods and exercise. It would reduce the need for dozens of hospitals.

Lenny Sueper

Posted by: Lenny Sueper at April 29, 2005 04:05 PM
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Chris, how old is Lovelock now?

Posted by: beth at April 29, 2005 04:38 PM
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I've been feeling very pro-nuclear for awhile. I found this Web archive of 1997 PBS Frontline documentary on nuclear power to be a great resource. It more or less transformed my attitude.

Posted by: murky at April 30, 2005 10:20 AM
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Lightbulbs, schmightbulbs. How about just doing without shit? The Amish get along without electricty; during power outages, so do we. The Great Northeastern Blackout two years ago forced a lot of people to go outside, sit around and talk, read books, get to know their neighbors. Most of them rose to the occasion. In the long run, things like earth-sheltered, passive-solar homes would help. I mean, I'm sure we have the technology to build a saner society right now. I don't think it's ever been a question of technology. People are justifiably afraid of what would happen, that's all. Hell, I admit I don't relish the thought of giving up blogging...

I got all excited when I saw your link - I thought maybe you were going to poke holes in the Gaia hypothesis. Maybe next time?

Posted by: Dave at April 30, 2005 11:08 AM
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About those CFC emissions in the article: Is that for all reactor types? Is that something that can be rectified with current smokestack technology and regulation? With respect to a lot of things, the only insurmountable problems are cost-inefficiency and overwhelming negative PR.

Posted by: murky at April 30, 2005 02:16 PM
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P.S. Even though I cryptically jumped straight to the question "Is that for all reactor types?" I did appreciate that the emissions come from U reprocessing and not from the reactor. It's just I also know vaguely that reactor types differ profoundly with regard to fuel supply (e.g. the "Candu" (sp?) type is "regenerative" with respect to fuel in some sense?) and so it occurs to me that perhaps not all types require reprocessing of the polluting sort alluded to in the article.

Posted by: murky at May 1, 2005 06:58 AM
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