Friday, April 12, 2013

31. Risk vs. Benefit and the Best of Intentions

Pro-Nuclear Advocates vs. Anti-Nuclear Crusaders

Simplifying Unverified Assumption (NOTE: not always true):

The motives of advocates on both sides of this issue are pure, and are not driven primarily by greed nor generic financial interests.

The above, somewhat grossly simplified, Unverified Assumption (UVA for short) is simply for the purposes of this discussion. Independently exploring the frequency of the truth of this assumption for each side would make for an excellent homework assignment for anyone that happens to read this post, and could possibly be the subject of future postings here. Determining the accuracy of the assumption is far from an easily-completed task, particularly in cases of either undisclosed motivations or sources of funding (emphasis fully intended).

Aside: If you don’t mind thinking with an open mind and would be interested in exploring some thoughts about some possibilities for some of these undisclosed items from people fighting against Nuclear Power, I would recommend reading some of Rod Adams’ “Smoking Guns” series of posts as a starting point. I would not recommend accepting any of Rod's theories without critical thinking, but I don't think they should immediately be dismissed without a fair amount of further thought.
/End Aside

So, assuming that both Pro-Nuclear Advocates and Anti-Nuclear Crusaders are each driven by “pure” motives, what are the primary arguments forming the basic building blocks that each side stands upon?

This again requires some simplification and an ideal situation of people thinking through the issue rationally, but my view is that arriving at a strongly held position should fundamentally come from an in-depth weighing of the Risks of the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Power vs. the Benefits derived from the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Power.
Risks on one side               Benefits on the other
Or, if you prefer, like a see-saw.

The oversimplified position of Pro-nuclear Advocates (such as myself) is that the Benefits side of the ledger outweighs the Risks side (by a significant amount, in my case).  

The oversimplified position of Anti-nuclear Crusaders is that the Risk side outweighs the Benefits, and one would have to think that the staunchest of those Crusaders think that the margin is widely in their favor.


For an example of the benefit of Abundant Energy, I present this excellent video that has completely no mention of nuclear power. In case you aren't able to watch it at the time of reading, the video shows the progression of all the countries of the world's average wealth and average life expectancy from the year 1810 to the present. Based on the years that I have studied and given deep thought to energy-related issues and on my knowledge of the progression of energy sources that have been at our disposal, I couldn't help but watch the upward progression of both wealth and life expectancy over the past 202 years and note that the upward progression correlates essentially perfectly to people gaining more and more access to increasingly dense sources of energy at their command.

I highly recommend reading this post regarding human ingenuity that has been one of the most pivotal influences in my thinking regarding the issue of our need for nuclear power.

Recently, I was referred to on Twitter as a “Nuke True Believer” and a dreamer. I take NO offense to either term. I still believe in the future. I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the limited nature of fossil fuel resources in comparison to the "for all intents and purposes inexhaustible" nature of fission fuels, once Generation IV designs are ready to be built (which is admittedly, probably 9-14 years away). I watched as increasing gasoline costs provided the needle that burst the housing bubble in 2008. Without greatly increasing the amount of energy utilized from fission fuels, I see practically no way that the 2 Billion people in world presently lacking access to electricity will be able to move to that upper right quadrant in the video above.


Given the simplifying UVA at the beginning of this post, Anti-Nuclear Crusaders must truly believe that the risks of nuclear power generation outweigh the benefits.

Do I think that Nuclear Power Generation is a completely risk-free endeavor? Absolutely not, but neither is virtually anything on this planet we call Earth. Not to be callous, but the eventual death rate of people here on Earth is a rather staggeringly high 100%. Yes, Chernobyl was a horrific occurrence. Yes, the Earthquake and Tsunami in Northeast Japan were also terrible. Avoiding the areas of highest contamination that resulted from both of these occurrences is the right thing to do. I don't really see any major points of disagreement between either Pro or Anti-nuclear people on the relative scale of these incidents (outside of one particular piece of work, which may have been rather short on usage of the scientific method).

From my vantage-point, however, the major point of disagreement in regards to the risks of Nuclear power result from views regarding to the risks of lower levels of radiation. Much of the rhetoric that is the primary tool I have seen used by Anti-Nuclear Crusaders to convey their conclusion of weighing the Risks vs. Benefits is based on the use of adjectives that attempt to give the impression that any single ionization caused by radiation will absolutely cause a cancer. This is simply not the case. Whether the LNT hypothesis is true or not, at low enough doses of radiation, the increased cancer risk incurred from very low radiation doses is grossly outweighed by the numerous other cancer risk factors that we are faced with in our normal every day lives.

It may go without saying, but I have arrived at my position of being a Pro-Nuclear Advocate based on my weighing of these factors.

1 comment:

  1. Hi EN,

    Nice article, and I completely agree with you.

    I gave a presentation in which I started off by showing that the performance of fossil fired electricity generation in the EU has improved remarkably over the course of the last century, because today only 18.000 Europeans die every year as a direct result of it's pollution.

    I paused to let that information sink in and it was clear from the expression on people's faces that they really had no clue about relative risk and relative environmental effects of power generation. I think it was a good way to get people up to speed on what we are going to be talking about, when we talk about clean energy and external effects, and why it's important to compare risks, rather than simply listing them for a single source - such as nuclear power - and then trying to form an opinion about such a list without comparing to similar lists for alternative options. There's a lot of explaining still to do.