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Guess Who?


I’ve been putting together a lecture for tomorrow’s U.S. Environmental History class on atomic nature and I came across this ad, which I just could not resist sharing with you.


Good times.

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  • postmodulator

    Nuclear energy: enjoying a fifty-year nonconsecutive safety record.

    (The techie in me thinks that the problems with fission plants should be solvable. The misanthrope in me has mostly accepted that humans will inevitably fuck it up.)

    • Honoré De Ballsack

      With notably rare exceptions, nuclear power is completely safe.


      • postmodulator

        That popped in my head right after I clicked Submit.

    • Four Krustys

      The number of people who die due to other types of energy is several orders of magnitude higher. Nuclear power is the worst possible form of energy, except all the others.

      • Hydroelectric? Solar? Wind?

        • Theobald Schmidt

          [citation needed]

          • Sev

            Also, over what time period? 10 yrs? 100 yrs? 100,000 yrs? It’s the back end that could be a problem.

        • joe from Lowell

          I remember this from a few years ago.

        • A Hubbard


          Nuclear and Hydro are about even. The statistics for each are utterly dominated by a single accident. Further, those accidents were a long time ago, in places with shitty standards. Certainly in the case of Chernobyl they have no relevance to modern construction. So it is hard to rank the two, safety-wise. However, we don’t have many places left to build hydro.

          Wind and Solar are noticeably more dangerous (a lot more construction per MWh, and construction is always risky). Further, Wind and Solar cannot drive a grid on their own. As a result, since they also don’t win on a cost or safety basis they don’t actual have a place at the grid-scale.

          All fossil fuels are ludicrously more dangerous than nuclear. See my calculations for Chernobyl below, which, even counting after malfunctioning killed fewer people than a US coal plant would have operating normally.

          • joe from Lowell

            The stronger argument against nuclear is in the realm of worst-case scenarios. Flooding the basement of a coal plant isn’t going to make 1/10 of Japan into a no-go zone. A wind turbine in the hands of a squad of terrorists isn’t going to sicken an entire region.

            • Lee Rudolph

              The stronger argument against nuclear is in the realm of worst-case scenarios.

              Well, that, and the whole waste-disposal thing.

              • Brett

                The waste disposal situation is because they go for ludicrously long requirements on security, like 10,000 years. Does any other waste have a 10,000 safety requirement? Does anyone think the US will last 10,000 years?

                That said, arguing over the technical merits of nuclear power is rather pointless – it’s why I mostly stopped engaging with pro-nuclear enthusiasts. It’s expensive to put in place, has all kinds of safety barriers that slow down implementation in the present, and there’s no sign of being able to change the politics of that any time soon. So it’s Team Solar/Wind/Hydro/Tide for the next couple of decades, at which point the new renewable systems will have path dependency on their side.

            • Ahuitzotl

              A wind turbine in the hands of a squad of terrorists isn’t going to sicken an entire region.

              although I’m seeing a Bruce Willis vehicle taking shape, there

          • Warren Terra

            Nuclear and Hydro are about even. The statistics for each are utterly dominated by a single accident. Further, those accidents were a long time ago, in places with shitty standards.

            1) “a single accident” ignores Fukushima, a does the rest of your text.
            2) You can criticize Japan’s regulations and enforcement, but as a society it’s not intrinsically sloppy or careless in the way the Soviets are often accused of having been, and it had the money to build a good system.
            3) Deaths aren’t everything – had no-one died, the economic costs of Fukushima would remain immense.
            4) I’m not sure your link covers all the Fukushima deaths (the evacuation is credited with killing more than a thousand people, and long-term effects, especially on first responders, aren’t clear).

            I’m not against nuclear, necessarily, if done right – but there are a lot of reasons to think it’s rarely if ever done right. Done wrong, it’s a disaster waiting to happen, or (given issues with waste) already happening in slow motion.

            Further, Wind and Solar cannot drive a grid on their own. As a result, since they also don’t win on a cost or safety basis they don’t actual have a place at the grid-scale.

            This isn’t completely clear – the liquid sodium solar plants store up solar energy for use in shade and at night. Though it’s quite possible liquid sodium can’t work, because it turns out that focused solar rays powerful enough to liquify sodium ignite birds in flight.

            • A Hubbard

              Fukushima is in the handful of deaths range. WAY better than any fossil fuel plant. Well, more than a handful once you count the pointless evacuation. But the emphasis there is on the word “pointless”. The evidence for risk in areas of modestly elevated background radiation is nil. People have looked (Brazilian beaches, that region in India…). It isn’t there. Even counting the evacuation, try running the counterfactual where Fukushima was a coal plant. We are talking about a multi-GW power plant running for well over 30 years. Well over 1000 TWhs of power produced. It took catastrophic tsunami to make Fukushima do anything bad. In its place, operating by design, a coal plant would have killed well over 10k people. When an obsolete design of nuclear power plants (a modern passive-cooled plant would have survived) gets hit by century-class natural disasters (most don’t), well, it merely reduces it from ridiculously safer than fossil fuels to, well, still safer than fossil fuels.

              I can most certainly criticize Japan’s needless evacuation and the resulting pain and suffering. But putting the blame of those pointless deaths on Fukishima is as silly as putting the blame of the tens of thousands of deaths that will result from Japan and Germany moving from nuclear to fossil fuels on Fukushima (not to mention the greenhouse gasses issues).

              Solar thermal smooths out the day/night cycle (a bit, don’t ask it to handle a cloudy week). It is laughably inadequate at smoothing out the summer/winter cycle.

          • I’m not sure how you get “ludicrously more dangerous.” In the Grants Uranium District between 1950-1979, a uranium miner died on average, every three months (actually they die in clumps as regulators ease up, and then clamp back down but you get the idea). I know because I counted them, and read every fatal mine accident report of their deaths. That’s one uranium district in the US, which tends to have the safest mining practices. The link you provided did not seem to have comparable international stats for uranium mining (which is mostly in the former Soviet Union and Africa these days). However, they seem to have done an excellent job researching coal mining deaths at the link (at least for two countries US and China). There’s no reason to believe that a ramp up in reactors which would require a ramp up in supply would lead to safer uranium mining practices.

            • A Hubbard

              Volume. Nuclear fuel has an insanely large power density, so you don’t need to mine much. To feed coal plants you need to destroy mountains. Quite literally.

              But your “1 miner/3 months” is about 100-150 miners over 30 years. A single 1GW coal plant (tiny!) expects to kill than many people in a year. Slight difference there.

              • That’s just work place accidents. It didn’t count lung cancer deaths for miners from radon daughters, deaths related to improper disposal of radioactive tailings, or deaths associated with the Churchrock tailings dam spill, the one that’s the real nuclear disaster of 1979. Nuke advocates are really good at counting deaths from coal. But they suck at counting deaths from nukes. In part because above ground testing makes it hard to figure out and in part because it’s such a hard research project to construct. And I don’t want to lose the idea here that coal is bad because it is. But uranium mining sucks worse than coal mining and disposal of waste products is a disaster that is not solved Yucca Mountain or elsewhere.

    • Davis X. Machina

      I say we go heavily into fission, and get in another, non-cocked-up species in to run the plants.

      Vulcans would do nicely.

      • postmodulator

        get in another, non-cocked-up species in to run the plants planet.

        Even better.

    • Brutusettu
  • joe from Lowell

    Juan Cole put this up a while ago. Pretty awesome, huh?

    • In both research and teaching, I appreciate bits from the past that make me laugh.

      • He really really really had a punchable face.

  • Malaclypse

    Wikipedia tells me the first electricity from nukes was Sept 3, 1948. Three Mile Island went wrong March 28, 1979. So there’s a real narrow window for your ad.

    • PhoenixRising

      Does the wiki also tell you when the Shah stopped being in charge of Iran? Cause I think it’s narrower than that, but can’t be bothered to look it up…

      Awesome. In every sense.

      • Malaclypse

        Good point – Feb 11, 1979.

        • Honoré De Ballsack

          “Apres moi, le meltdown.”

          • Davis X. Machina


            • tsam

              Mmmmm avocados.

              • Porlock Junior

                Hey, waitaminnit, everybody know mole sauce is made with chocolate, not avogadros.

                • Warren Terra

                  Not with moles?

      • sanity clause

        And “he wouldn’t build the plants now if he doubted their safety”? Did the Shah stay up nights worrying about the safety of the people of Iran?

        Color me doubtful. They had a revolution for a reason, even if they wound up worse off for it.

    • Hogan

      They’re referring to a vote in Plymouth, MA to build a second plant, so it’s after 1972, but I can’t find any reference to a second unit ever being built at Pilgrim.

      • I didn’t bother looking up the date because I’m not actually using it, but the font and language alone, not to mention the Shah’s age, clearly places it in the 70s.

        • keta

          Yep. I was sure it was from National Lampoon magazine at first glance.

          • AlanInSF

            A long time ago, I worked for a public interest ad agency that did a campaign of sometimes informative, sometimes attention-getting and satirical, anti-nuclear power ads. Had to look twice to make sure this wasn’t one of them.

            And visually, most definitely mid-70s. Our ads looked exactly like this.

        • tsam

          This ad has a Wiki page of its own

          Confirms 1970s–I would assume that since New England Gas and Electric bought the ad, it would coincide with them making the case for building their own nuclear plants.

    • postmodulator

      I bet anything they’re counting from that very first fission pile at U of Chicago.

      • Linnaeus

        Or maybe some experimental power plants from the late 1940s and early 1950s, with a bit of rounding off depending.

        • Porlock Junior

          This is doubtless right. After all, they couldn’t count from the Handball Court Reactor, because that didn’t generate any electric power–they wouldn’t do something dishonest, would they?

          Then again, in the ’50s power reactors were all experimental, unless you count prototypes and pilot plants as working experience. The Vallecitos plant was the first to deliver a useful amount of power to the grid — useful, but not economically viable — and it went on line in 1957. So those 30 years of operating history are actually 20, and only if you stretch the facts to the breaking point.

          I am shocked, shocked I tell you!

    • Three Mile Island was scary but even the highest estimates of its impact don’t come close to bringing nuclear power’s safety record down to the level of fossil fuel generation. You have to get up to Chernobyl in 1986 for that.

      As someone who still believes in the promise of nuclear power, though, the real stake in the heart is Fukushima. TMI was a low-impact scare, Chernobyl can be written off as ancient tech being catastrophically mismanaged during the USSR’s twilight, but Fukushima happened in one of the world’s most technologically-advanced societies and was responded to with the best international resources available — and it was still an excruciating slow-motion disaster.

      • A Hubbard

        To understand how ludicrously safe nuclear power is in comparison to coal (or, really, anything else) we can use Chernobyl.

        While googling doesn’t come up with any definitive total electricity produced, going by the commission/decommission dates for the reactors, I’m estimating about 51-reactor-years of service. At a modest 80% capacity factor, that is about 357TWh of total power produced. Give or take a bit.

        Using the extremely pessimistic LNT hypothesis, Chernobyl’s accident killed about 4k people. Scary. However, we can estimate that 357 TWh of power would have cost about 32k people in China (as a stand in for Soviet safety practices) or 5k people in the US.

        So….. if a nuclear power plant which was designed to insane safety standards and got unlucky and malfunctioned (Chernobyl had sister power plants which didn’t malfunction), killed less people than coal plants operating normally do, clearly nuclear is waaaay too dangerous to allow. Or something.

        • solidcitizen

          And the land around Chernobyl will be useable again when?

          And I know that you blah, blahed solar and wind upthread because something, but help me understand again how using a technology that, when it is working properly, creates waste that we have no idea how to deal with other than buring it and assuming that humans 10,000 years from now will understand that we had this problem with capacity to store energy for future use, so we just went ahead and left them a mess.

          • A Hubbard

            It is usable now. As witnessed by the wildlife.

            And let’s not forget, nuclear waste is relatively benign. Yes, if you hug it you will die. But it is solid and compact. You can put it in a barrel on a concrete pad and walk away. Unlike coal particulates, it won’t try to follow you. Nuclear fuel has a very high energy density, so the waste volume is small. Unlike coal ash, which you struggle to put in a pond, and frequently breaks free because there is just too damn much of it.

            Sure, if you run water past it for a long time, you’ll get some leaching, but so what? Compared with various heavy metal pollutants associated with other forms of power (excepting hydro), we’re talking small potatoes.

          • Raven667

            Does that really matter? How much of your daily life (or your descendants) is really affected by a couple of hundred miles of polluted exclusion zones in the world? How much of your (descendants) daily life will be affected if CO2-induced global warming is left unchecked? I think there there is an argument worth having that accepting a couple more Fukushima scale accidents is a small price to pay given the consequences of continuing to use coal and oil for base power generation and energy intensive lifestyle that the wealthy nations have grown accustomed to.

            The environmental damage that we are accustomed to with pipelines, oil tankers, tar sands refining, mountaintop removal and global warming shouldn’t be given a pass just because it is familiar and nuclear pollution is damaging in a silent and more emotionally terrifying way. If you are going to bring up nuclear power deaths from mining to reactor failures you need to compare those numbers per unit of power generated to the mining and environmental pollution including CO2 of the competition. We should be able to logically compare the risks and accept that thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds or millions are going to die because of those risks, not that one technology can cause death and the other gives everyone ponies and rainbows.

            I would love to see wind and solar perform the majority of power generation at some point in the future, this would have a side benefit of greatly de-centralizing the power grid and making it more robust against failure, but I don’t think we can build enough worldwide to stop the need for burning things in the time needed. We should be building all of the available power generation technologies as quickly as possible, let the cheapest and cleanest technology win out, a world filled with idle nuclear plants because solar comes out on top is still a win-win scenario. The alternative of course is to keep burning things, dabble around the edges with “green” energy sources to feel good about ourselves and ride the world down into flames.

    • JDM

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_and_radiation_accidents_and_incidents#Nuclear_power_plant_accidents has a list of nuclear plant accidents; Three Mile Island is about halfway down the list. Mind you, this assumes that all such incidents were always reported in full (maybe, but I wouldn’t want to bet too much on that).

  • keta

    That is awesome on so many levels it’s…AWESOME!

    • Linnaeus

      It’s meta-awesome.

  • SP

    How can you not trust someone with so many ribbons and medals? He must be a really great guy!

    • Warren Terra

      Yeah, that was my reaction. Must’ve been about the bravest most heroic guy ever!

      • keta

        Well, compared to some the Shah was a piker.

        • AlanInSF

          That’s some medal collection on Idi. But it’s Erik Loomis who’s the piker; the Shah was always more of a pliers-and-blowtorch kinda guy.

          • tsam

            Idi’s self imposed titles were a thing of scientifically artistic mastery.

            “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”, in addition to his officially-stated claim of being the uncrowned King of Scotland

            • Snarki, child of Loki

              How did this important information get left out of the Scottish Independence referendum?

    • witlesschum

      I’d help him overthrow a democratic government!

  • SIS1

    The Iranian desire to have a working civilian nuclear program not only clearly predates the current regime but also has universal support in Iran, even from internal opponents of the regime – one reasons the calls for demanding that Iran completely undo any nuclear ability have always been so absurd.

  • Hogan

    So it turns out Iran has been six months away from developing a nuclear weapon for a lot longer than we realized.

    • Thom

      But did Republican Senators write a letter to the Shah? I think not. By the way, who are the Republican senators who did NOT sign the letter we just learned about?

      • Bufflars

        Lawrence O’Donnel listed all 7 of them off tonight on his show tonight, but I cant recall them all. Flake, Snowe, Murkoski for sure.

    • Thomas Friedman

      So it turns out Iran has been six months away from developing a nuclear weapon for a lot longer than we realized.

      I find this idea very interesting, and may have some use for it.

      • JustRuss


      • tsam

        This just in: The Mustache of Knowledge has no idea.

  • Linnaeus

    “…it has enjoyed a remarkable 30-year safety record.”

    The 9000 series has a perfect operational record.

  • tsam

    Every girl crazy ’bout her sharp dressed Shah.

  • Murc

    I like how the person writing the copy assumes, completely justifiably, that people will think we burn oil to make electricity. Because without people believing that the entire thesis falls apart.

    • Just_Dropping_By

      I like how the person writing the copy assumes, completely justifiably, that people will think we burn oil to make electricity.

      Yes, where would people get the crazy idea in the 1970s that at least some part of American electrical generating capacity used oil?

      Oh, wait: “The Anclote Plant is a two-unit oil-fired steam plant located at the mouth of the Anclote River, one mile west of Tarpon Springs, Fla. Anclote’s first unit began commercial service in 1974, and its second unit followed in 1978.” http://www.duke-energy.com/power-plants/oil-gas-fired/anclote.asp

      See also: “The Suwannee Plant is located on the banks of the Suwannee River near Live Oak, Fla. It contains three oil-fired steam units, capable of generating a total of 129 megawatts, which went into operation in 1953, 1954 and 1956.” http://www.duke-energy.com/power-plants/oil-gas-fired/suwannee.asp

      Google “oil fired power plant” for additional examples.

    • Oil power plants were fairly common until the ’70s oil shock, which shifted things over to coal and gas.

  • Just_Dropping_By

    Tangentially related, but Herblock did a cartoon in 1975 questioning the US supplying nuclear assistance to Iran: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/herblock-enduring-outrage/middle-east.html

  • tsam

    Does everyone else hear Woody Woodpecker laughing and pecking his name into the tree when you hear “Guess who”?



  • Lee Rudolph

    This article from The Tech (the MIT student newspaper) may be of some interest.

    Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice frequently questions why Iran would need nuclear reactors when it has some of the largest oil reserves in the world.

    But in 1974, US officials made the opposite argument, urging Iran to invest its windfall oil profits in expensive US nuclear technology, according to former MIT students and professors and letters found in the MIT and State Department archives.

    “There was a push to say, ‘Hey, now you have a lot of money but the oil is going to run out eventually. Why don’t you build nuclear power plants?”’ recalled Marvin M. Miller, a professor who taught some of the Iranian students.

    Mohammad H. Kargarnovin SM ’79, a graduate of the MIT program who now teaches mechanical engineering at Sharif University of Technology in Iran, recalled: “All of a sudden, the [Iranian] government decided to have nuclear power, so in order to operate things, they needed human power and they started to send students for education outside. We were told, ‘You are responsible to take on this, to take the needle from zero to 100.”’

    In March 1974, the shah announced plans to build more than 20 reactors — beginning with two at a site called Bushehr — arguing that they would cover domestic energy needs and free up oil for export.

    The Nixon administration was so eager to help that it sent Dixy Lee Ray, the chairwoman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, to Tehran in May 1974 to offer up her agency as a “clearinghouse” for Iranian investments, according to a recently declassified State Department memo.

    Ray’s team “urged the Iranian side to get on with the job of site selection [for the reactors] as soon as possible,” the memo said.

    A few months later, MIT got a request from the shah for a large number of Iranian students to be accepted into the next year’s nuclear engineering class — nearly doubling the size of the graduate program — recalled Edward Mason, then the head of the nuclear engineering department.

    Great days, great days.

    • tsam

      Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice frequently questions why Iran would need nuclear reactors when it has some of the largest oil reserves in the world.


      • Latverian Diplomat

        Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    that’s not bowser bauman

    or burton cummings for that matter

  • nasser

    Yes, the Shah supported nuclear power, but I’m not fully on board until President Camacho endorses it.

  • Brett

    It’s rather weird seeing the nuclear power enthusiasts in the comments threads talking up about how Solar and Wind can’t be scaled fast enough to stop climate change versus . . . nuclear power, one of the slowest-to-build, heavily regulated power sources there is. Does anyone but them seriously think we could replace even a third of our power output with more nuclear power plants in the present political environment faster than we could with build-outs of solar and wind in said political environment? I don’t.

    • A Hubbard

      France built up their nuclear power in 10 years. The ability of nuclear to be built fast is documented fact. The safety of nuclear power is documented fact. Yes, the insane resistance of the Greens to what is probably the cleanest, safest power source out there is also fact, but then, so is the insane resistance of the conservatives to the entire concept of climate change. If you are willing to fight against one problem group, why not be willing to fight against the other.

      Or you could lie to yourself and build up Solar and Wind. Which should be though of as (Solar & Wind)+(Baseline power for when the renewables cut out), and will cap out at a few tens of percents of power generation. If you are worried about public health, or climate change, a planning for a few tens of percents, at great cost, is planning for failure. Remember, while Wind and Solar isn’t that much more dangerous than nuclear, (50% wind+50% fossil fuel) is a lot more dangerous directly (particulates) and indirectly (climate change). On the other hand, if you combine Solar+Nuclear, well, the Solar only serves to increase your capital costs, and you are better off with pure Nuclear. Betting on Solar & Wind is betting on a miracle improvement in energy storage. Because of the effective cap on the unreliable power sources, yes, nuclear can be built much, much faster.

      So which is it: a demonstrated zero-carbon, zero-emission, affordable, rapidly buildable power source, or betting the planet on a scientific long-shot? I would have thought the answer was obvious.

    • Ahuitzotl

      In a word, yes.

      Nuclear reactor building only faces local opinion and thickets of regulation. Solar and wind face the unscalable granite face of the GOP, a far harder barrier to surpass.

      Which is not to say I agree with them in general, but on this point, definitely.

      • Area Man

        Wind and solar are currently growing at an exponential rate, while nuclear hasn’t grown appreciably in 30 years. The idea that the former face more barriers to build-out than the latter is observably false.

        Utility-scale solar capacity is currently doubling roughly every 18 months. Any argument to the effect of “we can’t build it fast enough” turns reality on its head.

        • A Hubbard

          Exponential growth from a small scale is slow. A few percent, and already the tragedy-of-the-commons aspect is rearing its ugly head. The unreliables aren’t being forced to buy backup power for when the sun doesn’t shine/the wind doesn’t blow, and instead off-load that cost on everyone else. Further, the unreliables are still a small enough factor (a few percent) that the spare capacity of the electrical grid can compensate for their follies. Barring an energy storage miracle, it is relatively easy to estimate the maximum penetration that the unreliables can have: 1/capacity factor, give or take a factor of 2. Being generous, we can call it 50%. That would play a role in reducing the deaths from fossil fuels… but the number would remain criminally high. If you are worried about climate change, any number below 90% amounts to planning for failure: the electrical grid is the easy part.

          Solar and wind don’t aren’t arrayed against a granite face of the GOP. Barring a miracle in energy storage technology, they are faced against the much less yielding face of the laws of physics.

          • Malaclypse

            the unreliables

            You totally don’t sound like a shill when you write this.

  • Depressingly enough, I made the exact same comment nine years ago.

  • Mayur

    The issue, as others have noted, is addressing base load. A balance of renewables can meet many swings in demand but only hydro, nuclear, and fossils can generate consistent base power. If we win at fuel cells, flywheels, or some other efficient storage tech, that changes everything, but for now that is nuclear’s strongest basis of justification.

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