Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lorna Salzman

One of the common cognative errors of selfstyled envirinmentalists, is adoption of an attitude of histile biase against nuclear power. This biase seldome reflects even a ssuperficial understand of the nature and history of nuclear reactor technology. Nuclear critics, for example, present themselves as qualified to make expert judgements about nuclear safety, while at the same time they do not appear to have familirized themselves with even the most fundamental concepts of nuclear safety. One such nuclear critic is environmental activist and writer Lorna Salzman. Salzman was a onc time associte of the godfather of environmental anti-nuclear ac tivitism, David Brower. Salzman is a founding mother of the United States Green political movement.

Salzman is what I call a pseudo-liberal. Am individual who pretends to sympathize with the desires of the poor, the disadvantage and minorities, while offering them dashed hopes for a better life, via a Brower-Club of Rome ideology of scaricity and poverty for all.
minority leaders like Ennis and Jones are not aligning themselves with those demanding real solutions to slow down and mitigate global warming through DRAMATICALLY REDUCED CONSUMPTION OF ENERGY AND GOODS is truly tragic. That their followers are being duped into supporting the American Dream of increasing consumption of energy and goods – Compassionate Capitalism – including a demand for cheaper oil, is testimony to the tragic gullibility that characterizes all Americans, not just the poor and the minorities.

In a nutshell, we don’t have a tough uncompromising movement or leadership with curbing global warming as its focus. We have anti-poverty and social justice groups and campaigns posing as green but with a “plentiful lack” of serious proposals to overhaul the entire capitalist/consumer society. It is quite clear that marginal and incremental economic reforms will not slow down the economic growth beast much less threaten its existence.

It appears that even those members of society who have lived at the bottom are not ready or willing to admit that this society is neither sustainable nor reformable. Perhaps they are whistling in the dark. But it is more likely that these reformist groups are being encouraged in their schemes by funders and forces cemented to the concept of economic growth and to capitalism at all costs who welcome the emphasis on jobs and renewable energy as a distraction from the daily reports of accelerating climate change. The revolutionaries, however, are nowhere to be seen.

I’ve got news for them. Nature doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor.
Needless to say Salzman regards anything that might actually improve the material well being of the poor and minorities, like nuclear power as an outrageous horror. During the 1970's and 80-'s Sazman wrote and delivered lectures on a number of nuclear power related issues, none of which reflected an in depth understanding of nuclear technology. For example, Sazman does not refer to fundamental nuclear safety concepts in her discourse. Sazman's discourse is, however, littered with anti nuclear myths
commercial nuclear power development quickly diverged and accelerated, with the help of vast Federal subsidies, tax benefits, economic incentives, and exemption from liability; according to a Battelle Laboratory study, these subsidies total to date well over 40 billion dollar, even though nuclear energy provides at this moment less energy than firewood in this country.

In fact much of the money from the so called subsidy did not flow from the treasury to the civilian nuclear industry. In fact most of "subsidy" did not go to help power reactor manufacturers, electrical utilities, or electrical customers of civilian nuclear power. Much of the so called subsidies went to support research that was not related to the technology used to generate electricity using light water reactors.

Salzman offers us a stunt often seen from anti-nuclear advocates, of attributing to the civilian nuclear power industry as subsidies, large amount of money spent for purposes that had nothing to do with civilian power reactors. In other instances nuclear critics coult theoretical obligations which have never cost the tax payers a dime of money, as if they are benefits flowing from the treasury to nuclear plant owners. It is probably the case that the actual subsidy for civilian nuclear power was a little more than 1o% of the $40 Billion dollar figure which Salzman mentioned. Nuclear critics like Salzman prefer to toss around words like huge subsidies but the reality is far more modest, and the anti-nuclear types come close to outright lying with their claims about nuclear subsidy.

My problem with Salzman and other followers of David Brower including Amory Lovins is that they do not write and speak as members of reality based communities. I believe that Ron Suskind's famous interview with a Bush aid put a finger on the central problem of knowledge in the 21st century. The Bush aid was nothing if not post-modern, and what he said to Suskind faithfully reflects not only the belief system that dominated the White House between 2001 and the 2006 election but the belief systems of numerous social and political communities that are interesting in controlling reality, not understanding it:
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

We can see how far Salzman has departed from the standards of a reality based community in a recent comment on Gristmill:
The coven of disgruntled witches is reconvening over the black kettle marked ""4th Generation Reactors". Not being content with the witches' brew of radioactivity released by Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the reconstituted nuclear gang is now repackaging their poison just like Philip Morris did by changing its name to Altria. But instead of rehashing the dangers of nuclear power, we need go no further than the issue of cost and time. A new reactor will cost, minimally, $10 billion, hence the witches' beseeching of congress to grant them loan guarantees, since Wall St. is shunning them as it does all purveyors of voodoo. To replace all our existing coal plants with nukes would not only take decades (when we have only a handful of years to fend off the worst impacts of global warming) but would cost trillions of dollars that could be spent on wind turbines and various forms of solar power and which could be producing power in a few years. It is not surprising that nuclear engineers have pounced on the uninformed public and media, who are desperately looking for a silver bullet that will enable them to continue using energy in the same way and to the same extent as the last fifty years. They are looking in the wrong place, as usual. Energy efficiency , if mandated, could reduce our energy consumption by 30% within a few years, and thus buy us the time to seriously convert to a renewable energy economy. But the nuke nuts don't think in these terms. And neither does our government, sad to say. So we are doomed to useless schemes like Waxman/Markey and unachievable ones like nuclear power. As the late John Gofman said when told that coal plants were worse than nukes: I prefer a choice that doesn't offer me death by guns or death by knives. We need to make this clear to the nuclear gang too.
Note that that Salzman does not begin with facts and proceed to draw logical conclusions. She resorts to Karl Roves's tactics, name calling, mud slinging, demonization of nuclear supporters, fear mongering. Salzman is looking for someone to hat, and rather than rational argument, and her entire effort is designed to encourage hate for nuclear power and its supporters. Salzman's statement drew two very powerful responses from the reality based nuclear community Rod Adams who is always the master of fact and reason observed:
James Hansen is far more correct than Al Gore on this issue. Perhaps that is because he is an honest scientist with an impressive record of achievement who reveres the truth rather than an opportunistic politician/businessman/salesman who appears to revere financial rewards here on earth. Hansen is a career government scientist with a modest middle class lifestyle while Gore lives an expansive, carbon intensive lifestyle with major investments in the kinds of energy companies that will directly benefit from the bill. It is no surprise to me that a number of "environmental" groups and spokesmen favor the Waxman-Markey bill in its current form. They have been representing the interests of companies like GE, Siemens, Shell, and Vestas for decades.

I am one of those witches who is "desperately" looking for a silver bullet. I strongly believe that supplying clean, reliable, affordable energy is a respectable calling. I have dedicated a significant amount of time to sharing what I know about the amazing, natural qualities of heavy metal fission.

It is a process that produces vast quantities of controllable heat with tiny material inputs and almost miniscule waste volumes. It is well known that we can turn that heat into electricity, but we have also proven that we can used the heat directly for industrial processes that otherwise would consume gas, oil or coal and we have shown that we know how to push very large ships around the ocean using the same kind of heat to power conversion process. Those ships would all otherwise be burning oil and creating a greater demand for that already high demand, high profit product.

In the fifty years that the US has used commercial quantities of atomic fission, we have produced a grand total of 60,000 tons of waste material. A single coal fired power plant takes about 2 days to produce that amount of material.

All of the atomic fission byproducts are carefully stored and inventoried in containers that keep the material out of our common environment. Coal power plant waste is immediately released via tall smokestacks to our shared atmosphere or piled up in enormous, unrestrained piles or uncovered ponds with earthen dams that have a history of failure.

In just a brief period during the 1960s and 70s we started enough nuclear projects to eliminate coal from the US electrical power market. Unfortunately, about 60% of those projects were cancelled, partially as a result of pressure from people like Salzman and partially as a result of protective action by the coal and gas industries that pointed out an "oversupply" situation that was threatening their very existence. Fortunately, we did complete enough of the started projects that we now produce more than 800 terrawatts-hours of electrical power each year with fission, more than 20 times as much as wind and solar combined.

By the way, Salzman, I have never worked for the nuclear industry. I learned my nuclear trade as a professional naval officer and continue to work for all of you. My career has no dependence on the success or failure of the commercial nuclear power industry, but I believe that the future prosperity of the nation for my children and near future grandchildren is very dependent on expanded use of heavy metal fission as a fossil fuel replacement.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast
Kirk Sorensen tagged Salzman's irrationality:
What a hateful and utterly inaccurate comment, Ms. Salzman.

You'd be harder pressed to find a technology that has done more to reduce CO2 emissions over the last fifty years than nuclear power.

Your characterization of nuclear engineers as "witches" over their "black kettle" waiting to release their "brew of radioactivity" is absolutely the opposite of what nuclear engineers do. We work to protect the public from dangerous levels of radiation while releasing the awesome power of the atom to drive our modern society in an environmentally friendly way.

The fission products generated from fission are very radioactive but decay quickly to stable nuclides. I've modeled this process extensively myself and it is quite remarkable just how quickly most fission products achieve complete stability and harmlessness.

Fourth-generation nuclear reactors like the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) are specifically designed to improve public safety (by making an exceptionally improbable event essentially impossible) and to reduce the amount of long-lived radionuclides generated through energy generation.

It would behoove you to learn more about something this important before you belittle and insult the very people who are doing the most to save the planet we all love.

(note that I said "dangerous level of radioactivity"--because radioactivity is natural and all around us, and was here long before man ever learned anything about the atom)
I doubt that Salzman will learn anything from this exchange or give up on her goal to persuade the poor to go along with the anti-nuclear environmentalist intention to oppress them with even greater poverty.

4 comments:

George Carty said...

How do we crush the Club of Romers?

Charles Barton said...

The argument with the Club of Rome advocates should be conducted by Resource Economists. Many resources are available in sustainable amounts. For example, human society will never run out of iron. Alvin Weinberg long ago argued that substitution and recycling will pick up the slack for materials that are in short supply.

An immediate answer to Club of Rome arguments is to demand proof that resources are in short supply. In fact, the Standard Club of Rome argument suggests that Textbook resource figures reflect material reality. We should demand that Club of Rome faux experts actually prove that.

Jim Baerg said...

So Lorna Salzman is promoting an anti-nuclear witch hunt.

Presumably the standards of evidence would be similar to those of the original witch hunters.

George Carty said...

Is refuting the Club of Rome's lies enough though? Don't we have to destroy their ability to do harm by removing them from any position of power?

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