Friday, February 5, 2016

Is Bernie Sanders like Ted Cruz an enemy of Science?

Aging, trouble plagued Presidential Candidate, Bernie Sanders, makes no bones about what he thinks of Nuclear Power.  Sanders'  stated about his home state's only Nuclear Power Plant, Vermont Yankee:
In my state there is a strong feeling that we want to go forward with energy efficiency and sustainable energy. I believe that we have that right. I believe that every other state in the country has that right, Sanders said. If we want to move to sustainable energy and not maintain an aging, trouble-plagued nuclear power plant, I think we should be allowed to do that.

Needless to say Vermont Yankee was much younger than Senator Sanders.  Now Senator Sanders appears to be in extremely good shape for his age, but the same could also have been said of Vermont Yankee.  The reliance on the decrepit old age argument to attack Vermont Yankee's continued existence, was but a pretext to hide Senator Sanders' true motive, which lay in his view of Nuclear Power.   His statement below reviews the emotional power of his views.

Unfortunately, Senator Sanders' statement is almost completely devoid of honesty, and offers a level of scientific and factual misinformation that is fully comparable to Tea Party standard bearer Ted Cruz.  On Nuclear power, Burnie Sanders simply lies.  First, the Fukushima Nuclear events, although spectacular were not the utter disasters Senator Sanders imagined.  The disaster was very violent and destructive earthquake, that triggered a 50' high Tsunami that struck much of the east coast of Japan.
Close to 20,000 people died as a result. The primary lesson from these events is that the Japanese were not prepared for an earthquake of such a magnatude, and their lack of preparation lead to all subsequent losses, including the Fukushima events.  Considering everything, the Fukushima reactors stood up very well to both  the earthquake and the Tsunami.   Reactors that were operating shutdown as they were designed to.   The reactors were not damaged by the earthquake, although a nearby dam collapsed.  Nor did the force of a 50' high Tsunami damage the reactors.  What suffered was the back up power systems that were required to keep reactor emergency cooling systems going.  The primary back up system was the grid.  The combined destruction created by the earthquake and the tsunami knocked the Japanese grid down.  Finally, the diesel emergency plant backup system succumbed to the effects of the tsunami on its fossil fuel supply.   Thus, the primary causes of the Fukushima events were the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The secondary cause was the brake down of the conventional grid, and finally, the tertiary cause was the failure of the emergency power generation system.

Are there lessons that can be learned from Fukushima?  There most assuredly are, but by no means do they give aid and comfort to the enemies of nuclear power such as Senator Sanders.  The first lesson is that society needs to prepare for known, but infrequent natural disasters.  Japan had not prepared for the earthquake and tsunami because until recently the potential of such events was not known and their destructive potential was not well understood.  This lack of understanding extended to the design of the Fukushima nuclear facilities, which left a secondary back up system vulnerable to 50' tsunami waves.  Before we judge too harshly we must first look at what else in Japan had gone wrong because of a lack of foresight.  The answer is a whole lot and what had gone wrong cost 20,000 lives.

Senator Sanders' focuses on the supposed lessons of Fukushima, but how can you learn any lesson if you don't know what happened?  The lesson from Fukushima is not that nuclear power is unsafe.  It is that society must be prepared for the worst nature has to offer.  And nature is fully capable of offering us a Fukushima type earthquake and tsunami, especially in the Pacific North West along the Washington, Oregon, and Northern California coast. This is the lesson we need to learn from Fukushima. As long as the name "Fukushima" is used as a cudgel for Senator Sanders' inglorious attack on nuclear power which is based on a very hasty and poorly informed generalization fight  against nuclear power, nothing can be learned. Thus, by resorting to the "Fukushima" argument, Senator Sanders becomes a champion of ignorance.

Either Senator Sanders account of the nuclear safety implications of the Fukushima events is based on a very poorly informed and hasty generalization about nuclear power, or Senator Sanders is simply lying.  Nowhere does Senator Sanders tell us why he believes that Fukushima means that Vermont Yankee is unsafe.  Does Senator Sanders believe that Vermont Yankee is likely to be destroyed by a 50' tsunami?  If not, how can Senator Sanders show that Fukushima meant that Vermont Yankee is unsafe?  Did he consulted with the scientific community before he jumped to his conclusions? Or, is Senator Sanders simply lying?

Senator Sanders argues that there is a big problem with nuclear waste, however he never tells us who is the source of this information and if the argument is backed by the scientific community.  Scientists tell us that there are many potential solutions to the so called problem of nuclear waste and some scientists say that the real problem is the classification of "once through" nuclear fuel as waste.  I doubt that Senator Sanders has the slightest idea what the materials he calls "Nuclear Waste" really are.  He further does not have the slightest idea what can be done with them.  Bernie thinks that he does not need to anything more than say the magic words "nuclear waste" and immediately upset other poorly informed people.  No further knowledge or thought is required.

Bernie also talked about the billions and billions of dollars of subsidies to nuclear power, but never   did a fairly detailed study of spending by the United States government on nuclear technology.  I have defined subsidies as money spent with the intention of benefiting the civilian nuclear power industry, which actually benefited that industry.  This definition precluded spending for purposes related to national defense and spending for research that did not benefit the nuclear power industry.  Thus, only spending by the government that directly benefits the civilian nuclear power industry which was not first intended for defense purposes, is a true subsidy.

Then, I looked at the Price Anderson Act, often sited as a form of nuclear subsidy, but what I found was that the primary beneficiary of Price-Anderson is the United States Government.  Price-Anderson protects the government from the first ten billion dollars of liabilities related to a nuclear accident.  It does this by creating a very large insurance pool, backed by reactor owners.  In other words, the government does not have to pay a cent, until the entire $10 billion pool is exhausted.  Then guess what?  Congress can force the Nuclear Industry to increase the size of their pool to cover further losses.  The United States Government has yet to pay a cent under Price-Anderson.  How much do you bet the government eventually will pay out?  So much for honest Bernie's billions of dollars in subsidies.

Finally, I would like to note that the science community, as a whole, has concluded that we can not win the fight against Anthropogenic Global Warming without nuclear power.  That is what scientists are telling us.  Does Bernie know?  Does Bernie care?  Or is Bernie a closet anti-scientist like Ted Cruz?  Does Burnie only pretend to be progressive?


Unknown said...

Charles, Nicely written and needed. I'd be happy to fix your typing errors in this piece. --Paul Wick

Anonymous said...

(Just as a warning, as environmentally concerned person in my late twenties, my opinion below is very broad sweeping and simplistic view of the past ideologies. However, I think it does elucidate some of underlying motives of the actors that I am describing.)

I think we need to remember that Bernie, along with many other prominent older greens, began their intellectual lives within the ideology of the 1960s hippie movement. Well they may have flown under a banner whose pretense was of saving the environment, the movement was fundamentally a reactionary movement against sudden technological change. The movement was always fundamentally anti-science and anti-modernity. Just as the religious right has been opposed to the core tenets of modernity because they see it as undermining the moral fabric of the country. Neither group rarely states it as such, but that is their core beliefs.

So I think Bernie is being incredibly consistent to the ideology from which he springs. That old green vanguard doesn't care about saving the environment, they care about returning the world to a highly romanticized pre-industrial period of history when our relationship with nature was drastically different. They want to return back to an era where (electrified)horse-drawn carriages are the main form of transport, there is no need for power lines because everyone produces enough energy on their roofs, we all have an immediate connection to nature through the produce we grow in our yards, and everyone participates in labor that is harmonious with the workings of mother Gaia. The fact that this vision is completely unattainable through solar and wind is irrelevant to their ambitions, because they believe that if the ideology feels right and good, then that is all that matters.

So as I see it, there is a group within the green movement that is just as religious in there beliefs about the way the world 'should' be as the religious right. Coming from that perspective, then, Bernie's rigid stance on nuclear is just as understandable as the religious right's rigid stance on evolution. Being progressive doesn't make one immune to getting caught up in emotionally-based ideologies. By which I mean, ideologies that build their foundations upon emotional pleas to how things 'should be' and not upon the evidence from how things actually turn out.

Charles Barton said...

@Paul, thank you for your offer of assistance. I may employ my in house editor, my wife Becky. to do some editing.

@Denpa, I am in agreement with your overall assessment, but may have slightly different views on the background of the Green anti-science ideology, which I will repost.


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