Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, June 29, 2013

No Nukes Twitterscrum

I think I've gotten this right. This exchange involved multiple participants over several days, and for that matter may resume again any time, so please do not assume errors or exclusions in its reconstruction indicate bad faith. By all means bring errors in sequence or additional responses to my attention.


Summerspeaker said...

Given that radiation exposure is all cumulative, saying that nobody has been harmed by nuclear waste strikes me as implausible. Tons of folks have certainly been harmed by radiation through uranium mining. I can think of various sites here in New Mexico Michael should come visit. Tens of thousands of people across the planet have gotten cancer because of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, but Michael would probably call that different animal.

On the other hand, currently ever form of electricity generation involves considerable human suffering. Coal is probably the worst.

Dale Carrico said...

Sweeping declarations about all forms of energy generation causing human suffering disables the necessary critical capacity to grasp differences that make a difference. Solar/wind/geo/tidal/energy efficiency savings are FAR from as bad as extractive energy like wood-petro-coal-gas burning. The difference between sustainable energy infrastructure and unsustainable infrastructure is all that matters and that is the difference we are talking about when we distinguish renewable/extractive energy.

I daresay your blanket anti-statism discourages your attention to this difference since it is one that depends indispensably on public regulation and subsidization, on an insistence on the accountable administration of common and public goods. You should think about that some more.

Now, as you say, obviously people have been harmed by nukes. Hello, Chernobyl, Fukushima, superfund sites? Again: Obviously.

Anissimov is being provocative here, a la Sarah Palin, hoping to be a big fish in an even smaller self-styled pond of a new openly assertively Reactionary white-racist patriarchal corporate-militarist plutocratic Robot Cultism rather than, you know, the stealthily racist/sexist evodevo and stealthily militarist plutocratic hyper-consumerism of the existing Robot Cultism (with which you abjectly identify yourself, I must add, despite your so-called radicalism, providing token criticism with which the transhumanoids advertize their "openness" without ever impacting the structural reactionary eugenicism consumerism reductionism embedded in the root of that discourse). Of course, Anissimov has been a Robot Cult shill since he was a kid and as he drifts into middle age and discovers transhumanoid/ singularitarian crazytown is as marginal as ever and that he doesn't seem to be personally positioned for one of the comparatively lucrative muckety-muck positions in the Robot Cult archipelago (you mostly have to have a foot in the academy or tech-company worlds to manage that and the train's left the station for Mikey the Good Soldier) he is making a bid for a splash in a new niche.

For years I've been exposing Anissimov's militarism (eg, his SDI boosterism), his racism (eg, his Bell Curve and evodevo apologetics), his anti-environmentalism (the latest episode is hardly new, he has long lampooned the so-called hysteria of Bay Area greens), all the while he whined and whined about how extreme and unfair I was because he was a good liberal or a good moderate or good civil libertarian blah blah blah. His latest shenanigans represent his full-throated testimony to what I have always discerned in him.

I'm right about you, too, Summer. I'm hard on you precisely because I think you are reachable. The Robot Cult is not a revolutionary but a counter-revolutionary discursive/practical vector. You can figure it out sooner or later, but until you do you are fighting against the equitable-and-diverse outcomes you claim to care about most.

Summerspeaker said...

You should know better than to jump to conclusions, particularly when you've got opposing evidence. I haven't converted to primitivism just yet. I favor the same forms of electricity generation as you. I was mainly thinking of coal becuase I've just been reading about the hundreds of thosuands of premature deaths it causes worldwide each year. It's an unforgivable tragedy China, India, and company followed the same industrial path as the West when much better technologies existed.

I would encourage you to remember the Southwest when describing the dangers of the nuclear complex. The 1979 uranium mill spill was perhaps the worst nuclear accident that's happened within the jurisdiction of the United States (the Navajo Nation).

Just because you're right about a few things doesn't make you right about everything. The Robot Cult contains a variety of political, social, and epistemological positions.

Dale Carrico said...

You're just entirely laughably wrong about the reactionary pseudo-scientific Robot Cult and I won't help you feel better about that. About coal, I agree it's a planetary menace -- and believe me I agree the grotesque disavowal of radiation cost/risk through its displacement onto native American lands (or one recalls the incomparably evil Larry Summers proposal that shipping toxic and radioactive waste to Africa would be "win win") is rage weeping vomit inducing -- though it is beginning to look like the methane plumes and tarsand spills of the Brave New World of extractive energy are actually, if anything, worse. One just has to keep pushing for subsidization and encouragement of soot filters, solar rooftops, geo thermal pumps, front porches and attic fans, energy efficient appliances, bikeshares, public transit, r&d toward nontoxic solar and battery tech, and so on, all the while taxing and regulating extractive energy into unprofitability -- since that's finally the only thing that will stop it before it destroys the human habitable world.

By way of conclusion, let me add that I am far from thinking I am right about everything. But when I am writing or instructing I tend to have very good reasons for saying what I do. Hence my conviction. But when I have been shown to be wrong I am well pleased to find new and better reasons for the convictions that result. As it happens, I was a very foolish and parochial fellow even as an undergraduate and many of my present beliefs are the opposite of beliefs I once forcefully held in ignorance, and my beliefs were changed almost always because of the arguments and example of wonderful brilliant teachers and activists who saw more in me than I would have done and to whom I will always remain indebted. My convictions were hard and often painfully won and were utterly transformative and are the furthest thing from a testament to closed-mindedness.

Whatarewe said...

Dale, your claims are laughable; for example, far more people have died from hydroelectricity generation plants than nuclear. Hydroelectric dams fail rarely, but when they do, they fail catastrophically, much as nuclear plants. Off the top of my head, 170 000+ died from the Banqiao Dam burst alone, similar to or exceeding deaths from all nuclear power activities in the last century. I won't even touch the much higher death rate from solar per unit energy generated than nuclear.

Out of curiosity, what would it take to convince you that nuclear power is safe and sustainable? You claim open mindedness, I'm curious as to what your criteria is to see nuclear in a favorable light.

Is it the actual safety of nuclear power, or the fact that it is, by its nature, usually centralized and concentrated into the hands of the capitalist bourgeoisie and thus the marginalized tend to suffer disproportionately for its extraction, that makes it so unfavorable in your eyes? (if the latter I would point out the incredible amounts of toxic materials that must be extracted and processed, and are done so at the expense of marginalized at very unfair wages in unsafe and dangerous factories, for solar energy. Same for the deaths resulting from all the various so-called "green" energy sources).

Or is it perhaps its close connection with nuclear warfare, humanity's ultimate singular act of violence?

Genuinely Curious

Dale Carrico said...

one: A susceptibility to laughter is one of the prices of the ticket whenever one makes an assertion for public scrutiny.

Dale Carrico said...

two: Hydroelectric dams can indeed be a terribly risky and damaging way to generate power -- often quite as catastrophic to local ecosystems as those pharaohnic monuments to unsustainability that are international airports -- and like many environmentally aware and concerned citizens there are many dams that I think should be demolished. Perhaps you didn't notice that hydroelectric dams were not included among the renewable options I highlighted in my responses above? I spoke of energy efficiency, wind, tidal, solar, geothermal (pumps in residential basements).

Dale Carrico said...

three: I'm guessing you've read Popper, or more likely read someone who has read Popper, and like many online (pseudo?) intellectuals have fetishized his falsifiability criterion -- which is fine as far as it goes, but impoverished as an account of actual scientific practice or the range of proper critical thinking. Anyway, what would it take for me to change my mind about the comparative safety of nuclear energy in the face of the alternatives? It would take me not actually knowing anymore what I know about it. Nuclear waste would have to be not as threatening as it actually is for as incredibly long as it actually is. Containment of that centuries dangerous waste would require infrastructure that can be shown to last longer than any infrastructure ever has, facing contingencies at timescales nobody has ever actually accounted for. Actually dangerous nuclear plants would have to be regulated and monitored in ways that are well nigh inconceivable in corrupt, short-sighted, greedy America (perhaps French plants are in better shape, though still not enough in the longer view) -- as evidenced by the interminable exposure of badly stored waste, plants on fault-lines and in flood-plains, crumbling facilities, not to mention the scope of damage that happens in one of these damn nuclear plants every decade or so around an actually finite planet that cannot afford to lose too much geography to Chernobyl and Fukushima variety death-zones.

What is that I hear? Still chuckling? Still finding all the death and destruction "laughable," are you?

Dale Carrico said...

four, I have already indicated that I believe nuclear energy is favored by elites because it replicates the highly capital-intensive investment and centralized/broadcast model of resource provision that enables control by incumbent-elites, while distributed rooftop solar, residential geothermal, energy efficiency gains and so on might (there's no necessity about this outcome, only an opportunity) loosen these incumbent controls. I think this is a factor in the elite preference for nuclear, and their investment in the endless pro-nuke propaganda dissemination that has likely bamboozled you, but it is not a converse preference for distributed energy provision infrastructure that determines my preference for solar/geo -- after all, there are some more massive solar, tidal, wind delivery plants that I would regard as eventually indispensable to a sustainable civilization compatible with present, if less idiotically wasteful, lifeway diversity. To repeat, nuclear energy is flabbergastingly obviously unsafe -- it is unsafe in principle and it leaves a legacy of ghastly accidents demonstrating this danger in fact.

If you laugh at this or evade it or deny it or dismiss it, perhaps there is nothing to be done with you but to defeat you utterly and ridicule you into harmless marginality.

Dale Carrico said...

five, As for your culminating insinuation via grade-school psychologizing, I daresay that America's guilty conscience in the aftermath of Hiroshima did indeed yield the compensatory postwar "atomic-age" vogue of cheerful atomic designs on kitchen curtains, dreams of sooper-cooking and sooper-health via radiation, not to mention, of course, energy "too cheap to meter." Of course, none of the daydreams materialized to salve the wound of America's awareness of what genocidal acts it is capable of behind its pep rallies, Pepsi summers, and Pepsodent smiles... and every dead dream yielded a nightmare of cancer patients, crap food, and fantastically expensive endlessly taxpayer-subsidized incomparably cost-externalized absolutely unsafe monumental boondoggles presiding like gargoyles over the landscapes they threaten, should anything else go wrong, to irradiate into uninhabitability.

Still laughing, Mr. Just Curious?

Whatarewe said...

Well said. I must apologize for the way I came off, in hindsight it was a bit emotionally charged and perhaps somewhat condescending, but I suppose I took
your seemingly absolute dismissal of nukes as purely reactionary as opposed to well thought out, as is the norm.

Also, my bad for conflating your position as pro-hydro, I saw the solar, geo, etc, etc, and my mind threw in hydro. Dam bursts were simply the most graphic way to make
my point; although really, it's far less likely to happen in a western (pseudo-)democracy than even 10 chernobyls.

Anyways, if for the moment we define safety simply in terms of total human lives lost due to a particular method of power generation, including the entire life cycle of the method, than
nuclear, very counterintuitvely, is still somewhat safer than solar and wind (and yes, I'm including Chernobyl, Fukushima and the like), because of their very low power densities. It takes a massive
amount of work to produce and install thousands of square miles, and simply because of the low level fatal accident rate of all these activities the accumulated deaths will tend to be higher
than the combined from nuclear releases, as well as the construction, mining and operation of nuclear.

Whatarewe said...

So it's not a matter of blanket statements like solar/geo/tide being far safer than nuclear, it's how do we assign and accept risk. Of course, it's not really fair to add all deaths caused by
by solar/wind and compare it directly to nuclear, since the people involved with the energy production would be working in similar
industries anyways, so perhaps solar/wind deaths are closer to zero. On the other hand, something like 30% percent of people eventually die from cancer, and all the excess deaths caused by nuclear
catastrophes are the result of the cancer death rate increasing by maybe a percent for the near by irradiated population.

There's also an additional factor, that of harm to the ecosystems, etc. The idea of the tidal power, and the like (ocean current power, etc) is nice, and I'm for it where feasible, but there simply
aren't enough reserves to supply a large portion of our required power. As for solar, if centralized it will require around half a million square km's of land, with the resulting damage to ecosystems (although
zero land effectively if urban footage is reclaimed, but with the resulting massive increase in resources that must be extracted, etc). It's similar for wind, but almost zero for geo (although at best geo could supply
a third of our current power usage). Ignoring the high level waste storage problem for a sec, nuclear lacks this sort of land usage problem. Even with a full melt down, nature
is scarcely effected; what difference does a 5% lifetime cancer incidence rate increase matter to any species, as opposed to thousands of square kms of land effectively destroyed.

Also, although nuclear is technically extractive, and solar/geo/wind etc are not, if you assume a 20-30 year lifespan for solar, for instance, than the materials extracted for solar are similar to the extraction of materials and fuel for nukes, (and wind is
similar), making them all essentially "extractive".

Whatarewe said...

As for the problem of high level nuclear waste, yes, it's horrendous, except if you take into account fast breeder reactors. I understand how much you dislike futurist-utopian technology (and rightfully so), but this exact type of reactor has been running since
the 1960's for over 30 years, so it's hardly pie-in-the-sky. What this allows you to do is burn fuel much more thoroughly, leaving only medium term nuclear waste. In 300~400 years its radioactivity is completely gone. While this is less than ideal, we've had plenty of
structures survive in pristine condition for double that time, and it's a far cry from the impossible task of keeping poisonous crap sealed 'till the end of time.
Furthermore, even with full loss of coolant (it's been tested), the heat up of the fuel actually causes the nuclear reaction to stop. Of course, I'm not completely naïve, it does have risks, of, say, sodium fires, so it's far from perfectly safe.

Anyways, what I'm trying to get at is that I'm not sure it's completely fair to lump nukes with coal, oil, and the like, and claim that solar/wind are infinitely better in a reactionary matter. It's more a question of what our priorities and wants are:
do we determine that one form of death and suffering is far worse than another, how do we value large swaths of land and their habitats, etc. And on top of the deaths caused by nuclear, nuclear causes social and culture destruction through irradiation of inhabited land;
ok, but why can't we place nuclear plants far from civilization. After all, centralized solar and wind will require transmission over long distances anyways, and right now we can pipe electricity over 1500 miles (far greater than even the Chernobyl exclusion zone of 50 miles).
As for the horrendous task of deciding whether we want marginal increases in cancer death rates to save a bit of uninhabited land, we already do something similar when we decide that, say, 10 000 premature deaths from throat and mouth cancer are acceptable for something as
trivial as finding cavities via dental x-rays.

Whatarewe said...

Of course, I'm actually not even pro-nuclear the way it is now, at least in many western countries: industry in bed with regulatory agencies, regulations that exist to merely give the impression of any sort of safety control, flagrant disregard of proper risk assessment and laws with
zero or little penalty, claims of "perfectly safe", hidden subsidies, etc. But since things will have to change anyways, in order to switch over from carbon, and this will entail (something approximating) democratic action, can we not at least entertain the idea of government run nukes, at least to
complement renewables, were feasible? Electric utilities being publically run are hardly new, why is reasonable safe nuclear totally by the government so infeasible. Of course, it might be the case that it's not economically feasible to consider unsubsidized, so this entire conversation might
be moot... And as you say, with the political climate the way it is in America, this sort of rationalization may just give industry more power and freedom to pursue its dangerous unregulated whims, but the political climate
does vary even in the west as you acknowledge.

I guess the whole point of my incoherent rambling is that nuclear may or may not have a role, and there are few measures by which renewables are infinitely safer and better, period, end of story.

As for as my "psychologizing" in regards to atomic weapons, I simply wanted to know if one of your main objections was the weapons/proliferation issue, although you never did state that (Shouldn't have assumed),
but I guess I shouldn't have tried so much to come off as eloquent.