Thursday, December 17, 2015

Naomi Oreskes and the Pseudoscientific War on Nuclear Power

Professor Naomi Oreskes is a Harvard historian of science who has made a career studying the pseudoscientific opposition to  the AGW Hypothesis.  This is useful work.  Her work has undoubtedly been of value in exposing what are less than honest motives of the anti-AGW pseudoscience community. However, Professor  Oreskes' recent attack on four distinguished members of the community of science which acknowledges the truth of the AGW Hypothesis is shameful.  Professor Oreskes claims:

There is also a new, strange form of denial that has appeared on the landscape of late, one that says that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs.  
Lets look at this. First while the professor is familiar with the history of AGW skepticism, she appears to be far less familiar with the history of AGW awareness.  This is most unfortunate, because The energy issues which the scientists raise were first raised by Alvin Weinberg over thirty years ago. In the paper I link to, Alving Weinberg demonstrates amazing historical insight into the likely consequences of a reactor building moratorium in the United States.  Given what France demonstrated was possible with nuclear power, and the subsequent Asian turn to coal for electrical generation, Weinberg's foresight has proven to be amazingly accurate.

In "Can the Sun Replace Uranium" Alvin Weinberg argued that Breeder Reactors could produce electricity at a significantly lower costs than solar and/or wind generated electricity with adequate storage and transmission.   Numerous researchers have tested Weinberg's hypothesis, and there are numerous studies that appear to confirm Weinberg's findings.  A number of these papers are posted on Barry Brook's blog BraveNewClimate.  Brook, after initially supporting the 100% renewables position, came around to a pro-nuclear position.  He has posted a considerable number of papers that tend to support the Weinberg position.  BraveNewScience adopted the open science model. Frequently papers that test the 100% renewables hypothesis, only to demonstrate that it produces high costs, and inadequate energy received hundreds of comments.  Many comments were by scientists and engineers.  The comment pages are of course completely open to pro-100% renewable participants.  Although their ability to answer the anti-100% renewable arguments has proven to be weak, and after discovering that their observations have received critical responses, the anti-nuclear greens usually withdraw from the debate.

Professor Oreskes appears to hold the work of professor Mark Z. Jaboson in high favor. Jacobson's attitude toward nuclear power would appear to be far from objective.  Jacobson claims that the acquisition of civilian nuclear power plants increases the likelihood of a nuclear exchange every 30 years.  There is no historic evidence that this is in fact the case.  In fact, with the possible exception of India, no state has acquired a nuclear weapon after developing a civilian power reactor installation.  Thus from the historical perspective, acquisition of nuclear weapons precedes acquisition of civilian nuclear power, rather than the other way around.

Thus Jacobson's assumption that civilian nuclear power will probably lead to nuclear war, lacks historic evidence.  Once we demonstrate the weakness of Professor Jacobson's case for including the carbon emissions of an imaginary nuclear exchange, in any rational evaluation of the carbon benefits of nuclear power, we find that Professor Jacobson's evaluation of nuclear power as a tool for fighting climate change is fatally flawed.  

As for Jacobson's most recent project, the 100% state by state study, Jacobson, of course, excludes nuclear power.  Why?  "The Chemist" explain the justification.  Jacobson relies on circular arguments that lead back to an old friend, his energy source review. My review of Jacobson's "Review." offers an extended discussion of Jacobson's treatment of nuclear power. Needless to say, Professor Jacobson has not seen fit to challenge my critique of his reasoning about nuclear power.  As "The Chemist" points out, the argument, that the United States should not acquire new reactors because this will lead the Congo and Algeria to engage in a future nuclear exchange, is irrational.  Yet, every other time Professor Jacobson tells us that we should not build nuclear power plants, he points back to his 2009 "Review paper.  In addition to the irrational and circular arguments, Jacobson also relies on a paper by Benjemin Sovacool, which offers a metastudy of a number of highly selected papers, including the notorious StormSmith nuclear lifecycle "fudge".  When one reads of the hedges which Sovacool offers to his study, one is forced to conclude that this paper is worthless if used to formulate anti-nuclear arguments.  But hey, most people have to make do with Sovacool's far more biased online summery.    Unfortunately, in ordinary science, sources don't always say what other researchers say they say.   I would hope that Professor Oreskes knows this.

"The Chemist" raises further questions about Jacobson, "100%, state by state."  (See here, and here.)  

A paper By Jacobson and Delucchi, titled A path to sustainable energy by 2030”was reviewed by 

BraveNewClimate in November 2009.

There were 199 comments on the BraveNewClimate post, one by Jacobson.  None of the commenters felt Jacobson's response was adequate in response to a detailed paper and even more detailed comments.  Electrical utility engineering professionals  felt that Jacobson failed to appreciate some of the challenges to grid stability that his approach would impose.   For example, Peter Lang, an electrical industry professional,  linked to a personal paper on solar costs.
The reason is simple: experience shows that nuclear power is slow to build, 
expensive to run and carries the spectre of catastrophic risk. It requires
technical expertise anorganization that is lacking in many parts of the 
developing world (and in some part of the developed world as well). As one of 
my  scientific colleagues once put it, nuclear power is an extraordinarily 
elaborate and expensive way to boil water.
Except, of course, you do not need to boil water. You can provide heat to an air breathing turbine and drive a generator with the turbine.  If you pull power off the turbine and use it to run a generator, you have a nifty generator system without water. And, if you wanted to get twice the heat that a water cooled reactor would produce (and high heat is useful in running an air breathing turbine engine) you can use molten salts to cool the reactor and transfer the heat from the core to the turbine. With heat efficient molten salts, you can build a really small core, and it will be very cheap to build. A lot cheaper than the big old water cooled reactors, but has the good professor payed the slightest attention to what was said in the White House Conference on Nuclear power last month?  That is very doubtful indeed.

So wqhy is the good professor so down on Nuks?  It would seem that she has embraced a new religion, one which holds that it is unquestionable that Renewable energy is all good, and all powerful.  Mark Z. Jacobson is the infallable prophet of renewable energ.  Anyone who douts the all powerful nature of renewable energy, or the all knowing nature of Mark Z. Jacobson is the most evil sort of human low life, a denier.  Any scientist who questions the gospel of mark Z. Jacobson, is to be instantly of the rank of respected scientist, and condemedto be cast out into outer darknes because he or she is a denier.

Well there you have it.  One more thingf.  considering the low quality of trhe faculty of Harvard and Stanford University, it is highly recomended that you not send your offspring to either of those schools.


John in the Lot said...

Thanks for bringing up the background to these two anti-nuclear sources. I read the article that you quote from, written by Naomi Oreskes, in the UK Guardian on-line newspaper and checked some of her sources including Jacobson's renewables "100% state by state roadmap". That didn't seem to have any serious numbers behind it, but maybe I never found them. Unusually all of the comments on her article that I read were against her position. Perhaps the shoot from the hip brigade didn't read it.
Unfortunately her position is taken on faith, and quoted as dogma, by many greens that I know here in France. They are not open to debating the issue of the value of nuclear power in reducing CO2 emissions, or the relative safety risks in utilizing different energy sources. It is after all a subject that requires an unbiased treatment of statistics and projections along with an understanding of the technologies involved. That isn't possible for most people so they just look at headlines and summaries.
They never address the issues that confront renewables such as the lack of a viable grid scale energy storage technology, securing the base load with backup generation and the stability of electrical supplies. They also seem to all think that ever greater energy conservation in the West will provide for the growing energy needs of rapidly developing countries like China, India and Brazil.
Anybody bothering to read your blog is probably already a convinced pro-nuclear campaigner on these issues but if they are in a position to convince others I recommend Mark Lynas's book "Nuclear 2.0". It's short, well argued and he has actually done some arithmetic to support his case!

Andrew Jaremko said...

Thanks Charles for this post. Your external links are leading me to very interesting, thoughtful and thought provoking posts. I'll be looking at more of A Chemist in Langley's ( posts, in particular.


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