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Do Both Sides Do It When It Comes to Stopping Climate Change Action?

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tmi-plant

No.

But of course that’s not going to stop a contrarian article from arguing that liberals also have anti-science views that stop action against climate change.

And yet even as progressive environmentalists wring their hands at the G.O.P.’s climate change denial, there are biases on the left that stray just as far from the scientific consensus.

“The left is turning anti-science,” Marc Andreessen, the creator of Netscape who as a venture capitalist has become one of the most prominent thinkers of Silicon Valley, told me not long ago.

He was reflecting broadly about science and technology. His concerns ranged from liberals’ fear of genetically modified organisms to their mistrust of technology’s displacement of workers in some industries. “San Francisco is an interesting case,” he noted. “The left has become reactionary.”

OK, if you want to make this argument, using the half-assed argument of a Silicon Valley capitalist may not be your strongest talking point. But that’s where we are at. But what is getting in the way of this climate change action in San Francisco? Morons who don’t vaccinate their children? Chemtrail conspiracy theorists? I guess that’s some left-leaning anti-science thought, but I don’t see the connection.

Still, liberal biases may be most dangerous in the context of climate change, the most significant scientific and technological challenge of our time. For starters, they stand against the only technology with an established track record of generating electricity at scale while emitting virtually no greenhouse gases: nuclear power.

Oh, so that’s what this is. A big feint for another article on nuclear power. Yawn. Look, here’s the deal with nuclear. One can make a case for it as part of a solution, I guess. But there are so many problems. First, these plants are tremendously expensive to build. Second, the global supplies of uranium are far from limitless. At best, nuclear power is a relatively small part of a clean energy future. Third, the nation still lacks, 71 years after the nuclear age began, a decent place to store nuclear waste. Fourth, while there’s no question of the damage done to the planet by coal, if a nuclear accident happens–which it will, someday–it will leave an area uninhabitable for up to hundreds of years. Fifth, the problems with nuclear plants are mostly kicked down the road. Effectively, they need to be kept running or carefully dismantled at some point. If they shut down on their own, i.e., the core melts down, you have little Chernobyls everywhere there’s a plant. Someday, during a war perhaps where you have long-term power outages, this sort of thing can and probably will happen. Might be 500 years in the future, but that’s still a real debt we are telling the future to pay.

There’s a lot of problems with nuclear! There are problems with every energy source, yes. Society does have to make choices about energy. But there are some pretty big issues here. To be concerned with the effects of nuclear does not make people on the left anti-science. But that’s a useful epithet for Silicon Valley capitalists interested in investing in nuclear power.

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  • Orphos

    But but, I’m sure absolutely nothing will go wrong at Indian Point! Those obstructionist leftists are just getting in the way of Progress.

  • the ordinary fool

    I’m probably more bullish on nuclear than you, but at this point it’s almost a moot point. As you note, nuclear is expensive, and solar and wind are becoming cheaper every day. And improvement in batteries/storage makes it even better.

    Even if someone is pro-nuclear, obviously some people are opposed to it. Certainly more people than are opposed to wind and solar. So why even both fighting that fight? There’s nothing to be gained by arguing about whether nuclear is on balance positive when we have other options that are clearly net wins.

    • Davebo

      True. But nuclear could be done much cheaper with standardized plant designs rather than the way we do it now.

      I’m certainly no expert, but I’d think emulating France’s success might be a good start. It’s not a solution but it could be part of the solution.

      • SamChevre

        Agreed; the only analyses that show the French model as unworkable take the politics as entirely external factors.

        One thing that highlights the activist foolishness on nuclear power, to me, is existing nuclear plants; most of the problems in the OP either don’t apply to existing plants, or aren’t made much worse by continuing to operate—but the “worried about climate change” crowd was notable by it’s non-involvement in the closing of Vermont Yankee.

      • Lost Left Coaster

        Has France had success in solving the nuclear waste disposal problem? Because honestly, I don’t think that the USA is ever going to solve it. And if they don’t solve it, then building new plants would be insane.

        • Davebo

          Oddly enough, the biggest obstacle to solving that problem or at least ameliorating it seems to be to a lesser extent locals and to a greater extent those who oppose nuclear power in the first place.

          It’s sort of self enforcing paradigm.

          • Jordan

            No, this is wrong. The problem with nuclear waste is that absolutely no one wants it anywhere near them. They don’t even want it traveling near them. This is the *greater* problem. Its about as likely to get solved as we are to enact amazing voting reform proposals. And without a good solution there, nuclear isn’t really a good forward looking option.

            • Lurker

              Not quite absolutely. The citizens of the Swedish municipality of Forsmark and of the Finnish municipality of Eurajoki have agreed in a democratic manner to the construction of spent fuel final disposal facilites into their communities.

              • ColBatGuano

                What about the citizens one railstop up from them? Have they democratically agreed to have trains full of highly radioactive material travel through their town?

        • Judd Rogers

          France’s solution is quite good at managing the waste problem but quite bad for limiting nuclear proliferation.

          France runs fast breeder reactors which convert spent fuel into new fuel but produces quite a bit of plutonium. Not bomb grade but easily refined to bomb grade.

          So, since President Carter, US policy is to not use breeders to make it easier to sell other countries on not making nuclear bombs.

          (all this is entirely from my recollection of the politics of nuclear power. If you can prove me wrong I welcome the information)

          • Snarki, child of Loki

            Not so much “fast breeders”, but simple reprocessing of used fuel from power reactors to produce mixed-oxide fuel.

            Still a non-starter in the USA, because of fear.

          • Lurker

            The French MOX use carries a pretty minimal proliferation risk. France is a nuclear-weapon state, and it is pretty difficult for anyone to get their hands on the fissile marerial in a nuclear facility.

            Plutonium presents a proliferation risk only if the state fails.

            • MaxUtility

              Luckily, states never fail. Particularly not nice ones in Europe and certainly not during the expected lifetime of a block of plutonium.

              I see your point, but there’s good reason to think just having a lot of excess bomb making material lying around isn’t the “ideal” solution.

      • DrDick

        Right, if Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Hanford, WA, demonstrate, it is that nuclear is the way of the future.

    • apogean

      The primary response to that in my mind is that if we keep investing in solar and wind without solving the baseline power load problem, it’s going to bite us in the ass and discredit renewables, so we need to be proactive. Now, there are theoretically other ways to solve that problem without nuclear, but it’s one of the strongest arguments in favor.

    • delazeur

      I used to be a strong nuclear proponent, but what finally changed my mind is the realization that even if everyone suddenly went pro-nuke overnight the design, permitting, building, and testing will take long enough that wind/solar/tide would have already reached the point where the generation capacity and reliability made nuclear obsolete. (And that includes energy storage mechanisms that solve base load issues.)

      • Jordan

        ya, this also basically is my thinking too.

      • apogean

        Solving baseline power load with energy storage is far from complete on the technology front. We probably wouldn’t have technology problems implementing the adaptive grid solution, but it would require massive infrastructure investment and R&D (one of the same pitfalls as nuclear has, for that matter). Nuclear is more mature than either; building and permitting might take a while, but design is done and testing and certification straightforward. Modern reactor fleet designs in use around the world are more than good enough for our needs.

    • Rob in CT

      My take is this:

      1) I think more modern plant designs really lower the meltdown risk. I wouldn’t be particularly worried about a nuke plant nearby me. This, however, is part of why the plants are so expensive.

      2) The waste issue is unsolved. Even if you go the French route and reprocess, you then end up with highly radioactive weapons-grade plutonium that you have to store for… how long again? We’re going to do this right because why?

      #2 is the killer, I think.

      I’m not anti-nuke, and actually think we should be doing slightly more b/c it’s a good source of baseload power, but I can’t fault anyone for disagreeing, particularly if the plans involve storing the waste near them.

  • joel hanes

    I am close to a former board member of a major midwestern regulated electrical power utility. They had nuclear plants at one time, but reconsidered in the 1990s and sold their remaining plants to a company that specializes in operating nuclear facilities.

    She has told me that the important factors in that decision were:
    1. A liability exposure that was too difficult to compute with any degree of confidence, and might be enormous.
    2. The cost of maintaining a cadre of specialists for a small number of plants. Nuclear engineers are not common, and the company felt exposed in the wake of retirements and other kinds of attrition.
    3. Looked as if it were not going to be long-term cost-competitive with natural gas, at least in the midwest (this was prescient; fracking had not yet taken off).
    4. The safety fears and anti-nuclear attitudes of the communities near the sites. As a regulated utility with a mission statement that includes citizenship and community, they had to count this even if they thought the people were wrong.
    5. Liability
    6. Liability
    7. Liability
    8. Liability
    9. Liability
    10. Liability

    • Davebo

      Nuclear engineers are not common

      Actually, they are pretty common. The Navy pumps them out nearly every day.

      • Jordan

        You think its easy to recruit the aircraft carrier and/or sub engineers?

      • joel hanes

        I should have said “not common compared to the electrical power engineers that the company is accustomed to recruit and employ in large numbers”

        My alma mater, one of America’s great land grant colleges universities, once had a research fission reactor and a well-regarded nuclear engineering program. That went away decades ago.

    • Victor Matheson

      My understanding of federal law regarding nuclear energy is that the federal government caps the liability of utilities at $550 million per incident. In the face of the problem Joel is talking about, this was the only way to get utilities to sign on to nuclear.

      Of course, this is another big example of socializing the costs of private industry in the face of potential disasters (see Lehmann Bros or AIG).

      I was very bullish on nuclear as bridge to renewables until about 3 years ago. But given the plummeting price of solar and storage, it’s hard to imagine nuclear having much of an expanded role in solving climate change at this point. No need for a bridge when the renewable future is already here.

  • petemack

    Yes to all that, but the basic premise stands: Nuclear power will have to be a big part of the energy mix, since solar and wind really do have limits. That said, the only feasible reactors in the long run are “slow breeders” that allow consumption of all the fuel. Without that, nuclear power is destined to have disposal problems for all times.

    • Gregor Sansa

      Those are great. If you’re not afraid of having significant amounts of plutonium as a temporary byproduct. But if that doesn’t terrify you, you have a lot more trust in our ability to keep track of it than I do.

      If you give me enough un-purified plutonium and a 5 figure budget and a grudge and a year and no morals, I could build a nuke that would probably work. And the highest physics course I took was freshman physics and I flunked it. With low-grade uranium, I couldn’t do it for any amount of money, especially not without catching the notice of Certain People.

      Plutonium can be purified to weapons grade with chemistry. For uranium, you need specialized gas centrifuges.

      So nobody wants a world filled with breeder reactors. Yes, climate change is as scary to most of us as a few amateur nukes, but not if you’re president or Israeli.

      • petemack

        No. Building a Pu bomb is not simple. Building an enriched U bomb is relatively simple. For Pu, you need to make explosive lenses, which is crazy dangerous, and you need to make a high speed timing circuit, which is tricky. And you need to model the explosion. No way are you doing it for 5 figures.

        • Gregor Sansa

          Well, I guess I was wrong then.

          But I have been told by people who should know that the Pu/U thing is a big part of why certain reactor designs are effectively verboten even though otherwise they would be better (cleaner and more fuel-efficient).

          • Gregor Sansa

            Hmmm. I’ve looked into it briefly. I am certainly no expert but I can imagine that there could be multi-gun designs that could work without explosive lenses, especially if you were willing to live with a chance of a low-efficiency fizzle (which would still be far worse than 9-11 if it happened in a major urban area). Yes, it would still require timing circuits but that kind of thing is far far easier today than back in the day.

  • jake

    This is just “both sides do it” applied to energy sources.

    There’s no good place to store coal plant waste as can be seen by the number of people killed by collapsed slurry ponds. Uranium reserves are far from limitless but contain many times as much energy as fossil fuel reserves. Etc.

    • CP

      This is just “both sides do it” applied to energy sources.

      Can “the left is becoming just like the right” be a subsection of “both sides do it?” It’s so ubiquitous. “Political correctness and reverse racism have become just like the white supremacism they used to fight!” “Unions have become the new robber-barons, the unholy alliance of politics and money!” “[insert almost any left of center movement here] is the new McCarthyism!” Etc.

  • addicted44

    Also, are people okay with every country in the world sitting on a stockpile of nuclear material, and technology? Do we really want Afghanistan to run on nuclear? I guess what the Nuclear FTW people think is that the countries we are okay with should switch to nuclear, and the remaining are backward shitholes we don’t care about anyways, so they can do without power.

    • Gregor Sansa

      Especially true for the otherwise-safest and cleanest kind of reactors; see above.

    • jake

      Depends on the alternative, right?

      If the alternative is “runaway global warming causes sea level to rise three feet flooding hundreds of millions of homes in southeast asia, and then causes the gulf stream to stop rendering agriculture in northern europe infeasible” then a bit of nuclear proliferation may not be so bad.

      • Gregor Sansa

        3 feet?

        I’d give even odds of seeing 3 feet in the next 50 years, and 3 meters is not out of the question by 2100. We could well be already past the tipping point for both and the process of reaching the new equilibrium could be something that accelerates so that the last foot happens in only a few years.

  • Phil Perspective

    “The left is turning anti-science,” Marc Andreessen, the creator of Netscape who as a venture capitalist has become one of the most prominent thinkers of Silicon Valley, told me not long ago.

    He was reflecting broadly about science and technology. His concerns ranged from liberals’ fear of genetically modified organisms to their mistrust of technology’s displacement of workers in some industries. “San Francisco is an interesting case,” he noted. “The left has become reactionary.”

    Is there a disclosure of Andreessen’s investments? Or is he just another whiny Silicon Valley fan of Ayn Rand? I’d love to hear more garbage from him on why the left is anti-science. Is Andreessen admitting he doesn’t care about unemployed people? Does he plan to vote for Trump? I’m curious who Andreessen is backing. It would explain a lot.

    • UserGoogol

      His political opinions are entirely within the range of what you’d expect of a computer programmer with lots and lots of money. There’s no reason to suppose ulterior motives, there’s tons of nerds who support glib vaguely libertarian politics who don’t have even a single million dollars.

    • Lost Left Coaster

      I highly recommend reading the New Yorker profile of Andreessen, which came out sometime, if I remember right, over the last year. It’s a great profile. He’s completely full of shit — talks on and on and on about how Silicon Valley is going to change the way we live in so many transformative ways…and then spends his days investing in companies that are trying to find new ways to sell ads on the Internet.

      • CrunchyFrog

        I wish I could find the profile of this bozo back in 1996 or 1997. Forget now who published it, but it totally nailed him. First, the founders of Netscrape realized that VCs believed that every corporation needed a boy wonder supergenius technologist, and they didn’t have one, so they got Andressen to pretend to be that for the VCs. By the way, this was a serious problem during the dot com era and for the decade after – the worthless CTO who actually was a technological buffoon but who could con the marketing folks who had taken over VC firms and silicon valley boards. These guys weren’t too bad as long as you gave them the corner office and let them talk to the press a few times per month, but usually some Marketroid CEO who was addicted to the CTO’s soothsaying trooths would put the CTO in charge of engineering, thereby destroying their R&D organization.

        And that was Andressen. It’s lost in the annals of time now, but Netscrape’s business plan was selling web servers. They more or less gave away copies of Netscrape Navigator 1.0 on floppies for the cost of shipping them. The actual stock market value of Netscrape was based on the web traffic to Netscrape.com. No one actually bought their server software cause it utterly sucked. Andressen was bragging to Fast Company, and anyone else who’d grovel at his feet, about how his company did things fast and they only hired young programmers and how anyone who ever worked at a big company only knew how to do things slow and he’d basically changed the world by doing stuff fast. What he actually was doing was building a volcano of spaghetti code that no one could ever unravel – basically he and his fellow 22 year olds programmed like a college kid on a term project, without any concept of the notion of designing for maintenance or integration or reuse or anything beyond getting the code to work at the end of the term. By throwing enough testers at it they could get Navigator to sorta work most of the time, and their early adopters didn’t mind since the fix would come next week in version 1.1wz, but the much more complicated server code never worked at all.

        Netscrape software development was the most successful pile of crap ever in history. They sold out to AOL before their utter fraud was completely unveiled. Their value was entirely based on their position as the first commercial web browser and the fact that it’s homepage was Netscape.com.

        And yet, for 10 years afterwards non-technical managers in silicon valley hired ex-Netscrape developers like they’d graduated #1 in their class at MIT – assuming that they must be great if they worked at Netscrape. For years as an Engineering executive I had to weed these guys out of organizations I inherited – some actually had talent, but none were ever close to worth their inflated salaries.

        In the anti-trust suit against Microsoft two CEOs – AOL and Intuit IIRC – testified that they really wanted to use Netscape and not Microsoft as their browser (with suitable branding of course) but that Netscape could never actually deliver a product so they went with Microsoft. Yes, as bad as Microsoft is … and their software is always amongst the buggiest … Netscape was far worse. By the time Navigator was rebranded Communicator the spaghetti code was so massive and entangled that the simple request to replace the Netscape logo with an AOL logo was almost impossible to implement because it was hard coded in so many places – whereas Microsoft, with all their problems, actually uses object oriented design so that kind of change was simple.

        Then after that massive technical failure Andressen got associated with Loudmouth – sorry, Loudcloud -at a time when those sort of ASPs were all dying. They survived, barely, because his name carried enough cache that they got enough customers to survive, but it certainly wasn’t due to anything special they did technically. From that point forward he’s been the Silicon Valley’s Chancey Gardner … never getting the blame for his stupid moves and always getting credit for being in the right place at the right time.

        In short his opinions are worse than useless. On top of all that he’s developed a sense of how the world works massively distorted by his own experience. If he opines something, you can be sure that he’s wrong.

        • Linnaeus

          Interesting background. Thanks for that.

        • leftwingfox

          Did autocorrect go mad on that post, or is misspelling “Netscape” intentional?

          • CrunchyFrog

            Intentional. Eventually stopped doing it to get autocorrect to stop flagging it.

            • leftwingfox

              Some grudges never die, I guess.

              • CrunchyFrog

                Yeah, it was an amazing era. For years whenever I provided a development estimate on anything – no matter how big or small – I was told that Netscape proved you can do things faster. Today they are forgotten except for those of us who had to deal with their fallout. The dot com era in the valley was fun and exciting – never would have missed it – but the Netscape aspect was something else entirely.

          • Back in the day, the kool kidz called it “Nutscrape”. And let’s not forget “Internet Exploder”.

        • Lost Left Coaster

          Utterly fascinating. Thanks for the background.

        • Matt McIrvin

          In the late 90s I spent a lot of time messing with my little hand-coded static website, and I was really interested in CSS, which was just getting started then. I remember that the single biggest obstacle to using CSS for anything was that Netscape 4’s implementation was so buggy that using correctly coded CSS would actually destroy your site, just reduce it to completely unreadable garbage. Internet Explorer in the succeeding years would become legendary for its buggy CSS implementations, but it was actually good compared to Netscape 4.

          And Netscape 4 hung around for a long, long time, because the effort to come up with a successor version was such a failure that they chucked the whole codebase and started the Mozilla project, which much later begat Firefox. Mozilla actually had decent CSS standards implementation, but hardly anyone except web nerds used it until Firefox came out.

          In the meantime, you had to put all these hacks in your HTML that exploited browser bugs and implementation differences to detect which browser was rendering the code, and serve up different CSS for the different cases. If the user was using Netscape 4 it was usually easier to just serve no CSS at all.

        • Tyro

          That’s a bit harsh. Andreessen developed NCSA Mosaic, the first web browser that came into wide use. Netscape was a commercialized rewrite that lots of early adopters of the web HATED because it made simultaneous connections to the web server for each picture or other piece of media on the web page, instead of loading them serially, which was greedy but ultimately better on the user end.

          The server software wasn’t great, in that it did nothing you couldn’t do with the free software that was available, but this was the nascent days of the web when no one was thinking really long term. Netscape was basically “a better web browser than Mosaic and IE,” so people used it until Mozilla. Andreessen mostly landed at the right place at the right time, having wrote a webbrowser that everyone used early on and started a company with it from there.

          His political opinions basically come down to “a guy who is rich and probably reads the news regularly and thus thinks that he has special insight.”

          • weirdnoise

            His political opinions basically come down to “a guy who is rich and probably reads the news regularly and thus thinks that he has special insight.”

            And thus his endorsement of Carly Fiorina…

    • iliketurtles

      From Business Insider in 2012:

      Sometimes libertarian-leaning Silicon Valley titans even almost allow themselves to be called Republicans.

      Take Marc Andreessen, for example.

      He has contributed $100,000 to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign via a SuperPAC.

      Andreessen is the biggest fish there is in Valley right now. He’s on the board of Facebook and HP. He’s already a huge investor in startups through his VC firm, Andreessen Horowitz, and he still has billions more to seed.

      In this CNBC clip, Andreessen says he supports Romney because he is a “dyed-in-the-wool” businessman who understand that “regulations” get in the way of business.

      Andreessen says he used to support Democrats – like Clinton/Gore, for example – but “I turned 40 last year and so I figured it was time to make the switch.”

      • Linnaeus

        Andreessen says he used to support Democrats – like Clinton/Gore, for example – but “I turned 40 last year and so I figured it was time to make the switch.”

        Hard to argue with that Silicon Valley genius reasoning there.

        • Brad Nailer

          Sounds like my ex-mother-in-law: “Sooner or later, everybody becomes a Republican.”

          Wrong on the facts, wrong on the law.

      • Chetsky

        Sorry, that m5f5 (mother-f….r — you do the math) has a lot to answer for. His bitcoin idiocy …. ffs, let him forsake all police protection, and after everything he holds near and dear …. crikey. I can’t continue. He needs to be teleported to the glibertarian utopia he so clearly dreams of inhabiting, sigh.

        Leftist? ffs!

        –chet–

    • LosGatosCA

      He’s got a bit of the flim-flam man going for him.

      I was at a TIE conference during the dotcom era and his advice was to focus on ‘time to market domination.’

      He’s on the Hewlett-Packard board which hasn’t exactly distinguished itself.

      • postmodulator

        So, what did Andreessen actually do?

        He wrote, with a guy named Eric Bina, a graphical web browser called NCSA Mosaic. NCSA is, of course, the National Center for Supercomputer Applications, a government agency. The work on Mosaic was funded by the Gore bill. Yes, that Gore — this is the “took the initiative in creating the Internet” he was referring to.

        Andreessen figured out pretty quick that Mosaic had commercial potential — people liked using it. But it would be wrong to commercially exploit code that the government had paid for, wouldn’t it? That’s right, it would. That’s why Andreessen lit out for the Bay Area and hired a bunch of young programmers to recreate a graphical web browser from scratch. That was Netscape.

        Now, Netscape really did massively expand the popularity of the web, primarily by making it sort of cool. Nerds really liked Mosaic, but everybody could like Netscape. But Netscape’s flagship product was a copy of some trivial code paid for with tax dollars, and their business model never got much past “and then a miracle happens.” The history of Netscape after the first year, year and a half or so is a laundry list of tech fads being grasped at like straws. Rewrite the whole browser in Java? Push thin clients? Count on a desktop presence for Linux? Release the source code as “open source” and hope a bunch of Comp Sci freshmen will fix it for you? Sell out to AOL Time-Warner? Check, check, check, check, and a big check.

        Ex-Netscape employees are fairly bitter about Microsoft using their monopoly to crush Netscape, but Netscape used to openly talk about its plans to establish their own monopoly and monetize it. So while they have a point I’m less than sympathetic.

        Andreessen voted for Clinton/Gore? I figure basic human decency compels one to vote for the vice presidential candidate whose foresight made you a multimillionaire. And now that you’re a multimillionaire you figure regulations are bad? Amazing! Fantastic! Incroyable!

        Fuck him. Fuck him right in his terrifyingly egg-shaped head. He’s the poster boy for every libertarian idiot I’ve ever encountered in IT, standing on the shoulder of a giant and figuring “You know what we ought to do is murder the giant.”

        • [frantic applause]

          All it takes is reading Jamie Zawinski’s stuff to get an idea of what a clusterfuck Netscape was — even the stuff he’s nostalgic for is clearly dysfunctional.

        • BubbaDave

          He’s the poster boy for every libertarian idiot I’ve ever encountered in IT, standing on the shoulder of a giant and figuring “You know what we ought to do is murder the giant.”

          I am stealing this like I’m Jamie Dimon and it’s a million workers’ pensions. Well, well phrased.

        • N__B

          He wrote, with a guy named Eric Bina, a graphical web browser called NCSA Mosaic.

          You buried the lede. Paris/Bruce Banner cowrote Mosaic?

        • Halloween Jack

          Andreessen doesn’t even deserve primary credit for Mosaic; even he acknowledges that Eric Bina did most of the work. His real genius is in self-promotion.

    • Aaron Morrow

      Marc Andreessen?

      The same Marc Andreessen who wrote “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?”

      When you’re using a bigot as a source for your “the left is turning anti-science” thesis, aren’t you making it obvious your foot is on the scale?

  • Pseudonym

    Effectively, they need to be kept running or carefully dismantled at some point. If they shut down on their own, i.e., the core melts down, you have little Chernobyls everywhere there’s a plant.

    Huh? Chernobyl was caused by a runaway reaction due to faulty reactor design. I’m not saying that better designs are impervious to accidents, but in no way is a shutdown equivalent to a core meltdown, and even a core meltdown (though a disaster) doesn’t necessarily lead to Chernobyl.

    • heckblazer

      In addition to poor reactor design, the runaway reaction was caused by the operators disabling the automatic safety systems while running experiments on the reactor. The lack of a containment vessel then meant that the resulting radioactive shit didn’t stay contained.

      • Pseudonym

        This lack of understanding of how reactors work is how the left gets a reputation for being anti-science. Many reactors require active cooling while running and for several days after shutdown as the short-half-life isotopes in the fuel rods decay, but not indefinitely. Normally the cooling systems are powered by the reactors themselves, but they are also connected to the electricity grid and backup on-site diesel generators. Damage to the cooling system as the result of the tsunami led to the core meltdown at Fukushima I even after the reactor underwent emergency shutdown, but the containment vessel prevented most of the core material from escaping. The accident clearly demonstrates that even modern reactor designs aren’t intrinsically safe from meltdown and release of radiation, but equating a reactor shutdown with a core meltdown with Chernobyl is scientifically ignorant.

        (At least that’s my understanding of it; I’m not a nuclear engineer myself, but maybe there are some lurking in this thread.)

        • heckblazer

          They weren’t really modern designs. Fukushima Dainichi reactors 1, 2, and 3 (the ones that melted down) were generation II boiling water reactors with mark I containment buildings, the newest of which went critical in 1976 (current commercial reactors under construction are generation III+). When the earthquake hit reactor 1 was already past it’s planned lifespan and was operating on a 10-year license extension.

          I’d also note that the problem of a tsunami taking out the emergency generators was foreseeable and foreseen. TEPCO had received multiple warnings but did nothing to correct the problem.

          • Pseudonym

            Good point. Would a generation III/III+ reactor be vulnerable to the same sort of cooling system failure if the emergency generators were to be flooded?

            • heckblazer

              The AP1000 reactors supposedly don’t need any power source for cooling for three days after shut-down. This is accomplished by having a big water tank over the core that has valves that automatically open when the core shuts down; after three days someone needs to refill the tank with more water. I’d hazard that they’re immune to the particular failure mode of emergency generator flooding that happened at Fukushima.

          • rea

            TEPCO had received multiple warnings but did nothing to correct the problem.

            Well, that’s the problem with nuclear power in a nutshell, isn’t it?

    • delazeur

      While I am in general agreement with Loomis, this post doesn’t scream “technical understanding of nuclear power.”

    • Tyro

      The thing about nuclear reactors is that I worry that there is a failure mode that we don’t know about that is just waiting to reveal itself.

      Yes, Chernobyl had a “faulty” design. But we only know that it was faulty because it failed the way it did.

      • Pseudonym

        No, flawed aspects of the RBMK design like the positive void coefficient and graphite-tipped control rods were already known from previous incidents but not shared because they were considered state secrets in the Soviet Union. The problem of lacking a containment vessel was obvious to start with. The primary cause though was manually disabling all the automated safety systems to carry out a poorly-planned test with insufficiently trained personnel. I agree that nuclear reactors are still more prone to catastrophic accidents than solar panels or wind turbines are, but I think it’s important to be scientifically accurate about why that is, lest nuclear skeptics get discounted as anti-science.

        • heckblazer

          The way I’d put it is that Western reactors can’t produce Chernobyls any more than a Tesla can blow up like a Pinto.

      • Pseudonym

        Incidentally, apparently today is the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster: https://twitter.com/AFP/status/724894689963442176

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        “The thing about nuclear reactors the Earth’s Climate that I worry that there is a failure mode that we don’t know about that is just waiting to reveal itself.”

        FIFY

  • Steve LaBonne

    Oh, not this shite again. Sorry, nukeophiles, nuclear power has a great future behind it.

  • The Dark Avenger

    ROM: I’m working as fast as I can, brother, but there must be some kind of interference disrupting our translators.

    QUARK: What kind of interference?

    ROM: I’m not sure. Could be solar flares, or maybe ionic interference. Or I suppose it could be beta radiation, but that’s only produced by nuclear fission.

    QUARK: Don’t be an idiot. Nuclear fission doesn’t happen within planetary atmospheres.

    NOG: It does here. In the twentieth century humans used crude nuclear reactors as weapons. They called them atom bombs. They used to blow them up all the time.

    QUARK: They irradiated their own planet?

    ROM: If Nog says so, they did. He knows all about Earth history.

    QUARK: You’d better fix those translators fast. The sooner we start talking to these savages, the better off we’ll be.

    • Matt McIrvin

      Beta radiation isn’t only produced by nuclear fission, but I suppose Star Trek writers listening to their tech advisors is too much to ask for.

      • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

        Beta radiation is produced when you reverse the polarity of the neutron flow!

        Sheesh.

        • The Dark Avenger

          DOCTOR 3: Well, I’ve reversed the polarity of the neutron flow, so the Tardis should be free of the forcefield now.

    • Halloween Jack

      Love that episode, and especially when Quark realizes what smoking cigarettes is all about: “If they’ll buy poison, they’ll buy anything!”

  • Phil Perspective

    I can’t wait for Loomis’s and Lemieux’s reaction to this:

    https://twitter.com/trevortimm/status/724756677145272320

    Not Thomas, but what he highlights.

  • endaround

    And exactly where is this great big demand by electricity generators to build nuclear plants that mean liberals are stopping? We live in a world where the government of Oklahoma has OK’d fracking companies creating earthquakes to get gas out of the ground (yes what was once though of a super villain weapon is now just the “cost of doing business”). If there was a push we would have nuclear plants all over the place.

  • ASV

    Anti-vax attitudes are not left-leaning, for the record.

    • Davebo

      Anti-vax attitudes seem to be somewhat universal on the political spectrum.

      • rea

        idiocy knows no politics

      • witlesschum

        The highest correlation is not either left or right, but belief in (other) conspiracy theories, per the opinion research-based studies Chris Mooney has often highlighted. However, more of people who reported being antivaxers were also conservative than were liberal. Other people point to zipcode-based data that shows antivaxers are more common in liberal-leaning areas, however.

        I think the conspiracy theorist bit is almost 100 certainly the most important part, though.

    • I believe Chemtrails are more of an Alex Jones thing.

  • Marc Andreessen, the creator of Netscape who as a venture capitalist has become one of the most prominent thinkers of Silicon Valley…

    You should have known the bullshit was deep when you read that.

    As for nuclear power, the Navy seems to be pretty good at operating nuclear power plants. I know, because I did it for over a decade. The problem with civilian nuclear power can be traced to one thing: $$$.

    • Davebo

      Bingo! And one can hire a person with 20 years of experience running a reactor for less than an operator at a oil refinery earns.

      http://www.navynukejobfinder.com

    • There’s your answer: Offshore nuclear generation plants that can be towed far out into the ocean & sunk when the third shift effs up & melts it all down.

      • Ken

        I think there was once a proposal to dispose of nuclear waste by dropping into subduction trenches.

        In our slightly-more-sane reality, the Navy sends the fuel rods to the Idaho National Laboratory, and the low-level waste to several storage sites – at least, if the top ten Google hits are to be trusted.

        • Brett

          You probably could sink them into subduction trenches, given that you put them in a water-proof version of this beforehand.

  • Linnaeus

    He was reflecting broadly about science and technology. His concerns ranged from liberals’ fear of genetically modified organisms to their mistrust of technology’s displacement of workers in some industries.

    Critically assessing the wider social effects of science and technology is not the same as being antiscience. Some of those critiques can be based on flawed reasoning or incorrect information, to be sure, but that’s not a reason never to make them.

    • trollhattan

      Paying attention to shit and asking questions is the new pinko plot.

    • JustRuss

      Let’s compare, shall we?
      1. Climate Change–alleviating it threatens the business model of the fossil fuel industry, one of the hugest industries on the planet. Coincidentally, the few scientists skeptical of climate change science are often found to have ties to said industry.
      2. GMOs. Developed and marketed by big ag, another of the biggest industries on the planet. Who have every incentive to lie about their safety. If you’re not a little skeptical, you’re an idiot. Also, pest -resistant crops have to be planted with normal crops to avoid breeding resistant insects. This is expensive and a PIA so, surprise, some farmers skip this step. It’s a real problem.
      3. Mistrust of technology’s displacement of workers. OK. Is Andresen suggesting this doesn’t happen? Are we just supposed to trust that everything will work out great for displaced workers?

      So conservatives’ denial of climate change is just like liberals saying “Here’s some issues to consider before we plunge blindly onward”? I am so sick of the Both Sides song.

      • mark

        GMOs. Developed and marketed by big ag, another of the biggest industries on the planet. Who have every incentive to lie about their safety. If you’re not a little skeptical, you’re an idiot.

        I don’t think “both sides do it” but this particular line about GMOs should give you an idea of why global warming is a hard sell to those who doubt the government and liberal elites. It really is a mirror image of the “well, I can’t figure out the science but if you don’t know the government wants excuses to tax and control you’re an idiot” tribalism.

        There are legitimate questions around GMOs, mostly around control and environmental impact, but a lot of the left goes all in on nonsense health risks, and others try to dodge the issue by saying mistrusting corporations is natural.

        Whether you distrust government or corporations more viscerally is pretty much a question of style. I’ve started viewing the problem of convincing a knee-jerk global warming denier (not the paid shills) that this is real as equivalent to convincing someone on the left that GMOs really are harmless.

        • witlesschum

          Whether you distrust government or corporations more viscerally is pretty much a question of style. I’ve started viewing the problem of convincing a knee-jerk global warming denier (not the paid shills) that this is real as equivalent to convincing someone on the left that GMOs really are harmless.

          Yeah, viewing corporations as dogmatically evil is just as bad as viewing them as harmless. They’re organizations, run by people, which encourage a certain amorality in those people by their structure.

          Vague-ass conspiracy theories about Big Ag are just as unconvincing as vague-ass conspiracy theories about everything else.

  • Murc

    You know, I feel like there’s a tiny soupcon of a point in articles like this when it comes to GMOs.

    Because I see a lot of agitation against them from the left, and not of the form of “Monsanto is using IP law and science to fuck over both farmers and consumers” although of course that’s present as well.

    I’m talking shit like “Big Ag is feeding you Frankenfoods” and people breathlessly trading stories about freakish chicken monsters bred to produce twenty drumsticks each and suchly.

    • If eating a GMO chicken would make me grow wings, I would. (Already tried that Red Bull shit: They’re lying.) Although I’d prefer nice leathery bat wings.

      • NBarnes

        (Already tried that Red Bull shit: They’re lying.)

        +1

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          I hear you have to mix the Red Bull with Mountain Dew to get the effect.

    • Anti-GMO is maybe 60/40 left/right, although that’s just based on cultural identifiers (since many people aren’t recognizably either left or right). The impression I get is that it’s less true in Europe, where there’s a tradition of right-wingers being obsessed with purity of food and suspicious of international corporations.

      I would say that anti-GMO is only a “lefty” thing in the US because cultural positioning has made healthy food/natural food/crunchiness a “left” signifier.

      • Purity of food & ESSENCE!!!

        • witlesschum

          This is what I hear whenever I hear the phrase “eating clean.” It’s, paradoxically, gross and disgusting to me to hear that kind of magical bullshit.

    • witlesschum

      Recently a story about a guy in Spain who died from eating the tomato with fish genes bounced around the internet. It was a pure hoax, first of all because the tomato with fish genes was never actually created, only talked about a bunch in the media.

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    I recall Dick Cheney making this same point on the op-ed pages of the WSJ. So it’s liberal priors are well-established.

  • Warren Terra

    I thought I read someplace that the construction of a nuclear plant involves so much concrete and steel that if you priced in the carbon debt of the construction process you might as well burn coal for the power instead of building the “zero emissions” nuke plant.

    • Matt McIrvin

      I’ve seen claims like that but I don’t see how they can possibly be true. Could the construction of a single nuclear plant really produce as much carbon as running a gigawatt coal plant for half a century? Because that’s what we’re talking about here.

      • Pseudonym
        • Matt McIrvin

          As a general rule, for any alternative to fossil fuels there’s somebody out there with a lifecycle analysis purporting to show that it’s worse than fossil fuels, and a lot of them are bogus. I’ve also heard it claimed that wind turbines are net energy-negative, which is also false, with the important exception of the little toy ones you can put on your house (turbine efficiency increases with size).

  • petesh

    If you want a real debate, consider that Edward Teller, a major proponent of nuclear power in the early 1950s, publicly discussed the cost/benefit ratio of a failed nuclear power plant that made a watershed uninhabitable; in his view, the rest of us came out ahead. He doesn’t quite say that here:

    It is clear that no legislation will be able to stop future accidents and avoid completely occasional loss of life. It is my opinion that the unavoidable danger which will remain after all reasonable controls have been employed must not stand in the way of rapid development of nuclear power.

    That was in a 1953 letter to a Congressman. Somewhere I have an ancient print-out from microfilm of him saying so in even more direct terms. (He did not say “too cheap to meter,” btw.) Or, as Kubrick put it a decade later, we might get our hair mussed.

    • Don’t forget Project Chariot, which is genuine mad scientist shit.

      • leftwingfox

        What the everloving shit?! I’ve found new ways to be horrified.

        • Schadenboner

          That even makes Project Pluto look reasonable and well thought-out.

          • rea

            On the other hand, Operation Plowshare made Chariot look relatively sane.

          • Schadenboner

            Following my link caused me to spend most of my shift re-reading “A Colder War” (Reagan and Ollie North tamper with Things Best Not Thought Of and lulz result).

            • Halloween Jack

              Have you read Stross’ Laundry Files books? If not, they’re highly recommended.

  • leftwingfox

    Nuclear is a mid-term solution at best.

    Short term, renewables are easier and faster to implement, with less regulatory hurdles and risk. We can build solar and wind capacity faster, cheaper and safer than nuclear.

    Long term, I expect we’ll probably wind up moving to fusion power, but that’s still a gigantic question mark regarding viability.

    So that leaves the medium term, and the environmental/health costs and fossil fuel requirements for mining uranium, and disposal of waste. Gen IV reactors are still mostly in the planning stages, I think the closest one to production is 2021. By the time we’re ready to move to thorium, we might have enough storage technology and renewable capacity to make them redundant.

    • apogean

      Charles Stross’ Accelerando has the sickest burn on fusion power. Decades from now, in the midst of the Singularity, there’s a brief expository passage on humanity’s rapid technological progress, concluding with: “Fusion power is still, of course, fifty years away.”

      • leftwingfox

        Yeah, I’m not even bothering to stamp a time on fusion. I’m sure it’ll happen _eventually_ but hell if I know when.

        Ultimately the only “sustainable” system is one that uses the solar/geothermal energy budget effectively and efficiently. If civilization relies on a limited resource to exist, then it ends along with the resource.

        • apogean

          everything is a limited resource on a long enough time horizon. Deuterium is not meaningfully more so than solar.

      • Brett

        Timing is what will kill fusion, unless we discover a net-positive, cost-effective fusion reactor in the next 10-15 years. Once you’ve built out a grid around using solar, wind, and tide, then where does nuclear fusion fit in down the line? Unless it’s insanely cheap in terms of the produced electricity, it would be nothing more than a curiosity and lab project.

        And of course, I always take some amusement from the fact that nature is no helpful guide here. The fusion reactors we know about – i.e. the Sun and other stars – are extremely inefficient and produce absolutely pathetic power per cubic meter.

        • njorl

          There is an order of magnitude difference between the energy suppliable from renewable sources and the energy we will demand. When every Indonesian decides they want central air conditioning running 12 months per year, renewables won’t be able to cope. In the long run, the average human will use more energy than the average American uses today.

          We will have fusion energy or we will have a global war of the rich against the poor.

          • Brett

            Not if the electricity isn’t there for it, or isn’t cost-effective. In which case they’ll economize, running either more efficient versions of said air conditioning or running it selectively. Not that I think that will be necessary.

            And “order of magnitude” difference? Please. We haven’t even tapped a fraction of the renewable energy out there, and that’s just with fairly conventional solar/wind/tide/geothermal power.

    • mark

      There’s a maximum short term upside with solar. Crudely put, you can’t generate more than the difference between day/night usage until you get good storage. Otherwise you need to spin up other reactors every night, which is not at all efficient.

      I think nuclear might be the best “immediate” option to take coal plants off line (ie, next decade plus.) I’d be more willing to embrace nuclear advocates if they were also willing to consider heavily subsidized infrastructure projects that weren’t nuclear, like massive pneumatic storage systems.

      Personally I would bet large amounts of money the cheap storage necessary for solar to take over is commercialized long before fusion practical.

      @apogean: Awesome. Brin had a similar dig in “Earth” but moving it post singularity is great.

      • SamChevre

        Thing with storage is that it is a well-solved problem already–pumped water hydroelectricity will work fine, and has been used for over a century.

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          “Thing with storage is that it is a well-solved problem already–pumped water hydroelectricity will work fine”

          There’s just some tiny little problem with it in such solar-rich places as Nevada and the Sahara, but I can’t quite put my finger on it…

          • The Dark Avenger

            They are working on other storage solutions, but the most obvious that comes to mind is using the electricity during the day to create hydrogen, then use that hydrogen for power when the sun goes down.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      “By the time we’re ready to move to thorium”, which would be approximately “never”.

      That opinion is not based on political or technical prowess, but on the halflives and neutron capture cross-sections of the isotopes in the thorium “power cycle”.

      Fusion is GREAT! and it’s EASY! Just take pile up 0.2 solar mass of hydrogen and you’re good to go for the next 20Gyr.

  • Tracy Lightcap

    Two things:

    1. Thorium reactors are a lot more likely to be the future design. They’re still on the table, but not for long.

    2. The real solution here is fusion energy. It is likely that we’ll get these reactors in the close order of 25 years, maybe even sooner. Now that’ll be nuclear!

    • Pseudonym

      Economically viable fusion reactors have been 25 years away for 50 years now. Passively safe thorium reactors do seem promising however.

      • njorl

        You didn’t even get the lame joke right.
        Nobody said fusion reactors were 25 years away 50 years ago. Also, such statements assumed we would actually try to make fusion reactors. We didn’t even start serious research until the late 1970s. Even then the US research money always got partially diverted to non-destructive weapons testing.

        Despite the low levels of funding, there is real progress being made. The NIF achieved energy surplus in 2013, for example. Advances in HTC superconductors will allow for much hotter containment vessels than were believed possible in the 1970s.

        • Pseudonym

          I’ll defer to your expertise, but I’m skeptical of any claim that a certain technology is some number greater than ten years away, because technological development isn’t that predictable.

    • Brett

      1. Thorium’s harder, though. If regular nuclear plants aren’t cost-effective, thorium reactors won’t be either unless they’re heavily subsidized. And you have all of the same problems as a uranium reactor (thorium reactors need some uranium to get things going).

      2. They’d better get here in the next 25 years. Otherwise we’ll be well underway in reconfiguring our grid to run on solar, wind, tide, and geothermal power. A fusion reactor developed after that would have to have huge advantages in power generation to become more than a laboratory project.

      • leftwingfox

        Yeah, there was a brief burst of excitement for Thorium reactors a couple years back, but I think the significant technical issues have started to settle in.

        • Pseudonym

          I don’t know enough to say that thorium reactors are viable, but liquid-fluoride thorium reactors and other molten-salt-fueled reactors seem like a much bigger step than solid-fuel thorium reactors would be.

          • Snarki, child of Loki

            Yeah, there’s something about all the radioactive fission products in an operating reactor, when combined with multi-thousand-degree high pressure liquid Fluorine, that just screams EXCITEMENT!

            Pro tip: live in a different hemisphere.

            • BigHank53

              I strongly suspect that the first prototype fluorine-cooled reactor will also be the last fluorine-cooled reactor. Quite likely without ever having been switched on.

            • leftwingfox

              Molten Salt systems aren’t under pressure, that’s part of the appeal.

              And there already has been one experimental 8Mw system back in the 60’s. It worked, but it was really expensive to decommission because yeah, radioactive fluorine.

  • Chetsky

    Hum …. I wonder what this means …

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5lg73SDYUw

    Certainly not an expert, but sheesh, one presumes that experts might have a judgment.

  • pianomover

    Lets build a nuclear reactor next to Anderrsens house. On a fault line even. No problemo.
    I think he’s jealous because his time is past.

    • Warren Terra

      Your plan seems sound, but obviously we’ll have to name site it’s well within the flood zone of a possible tsunami.

  • “The left is turning anti-science”

    Susan Faludi’s Backlash, a book I love, spends some time on the news media’s love of trend stories. There’s a section where she just collects headlines along the lines of “MORE AND MORE, WOMEN LOVE TO BE SUBJUGATED” and then quotes research showing “women like independence, having jobs, not being menaced by roving cock”.

    This is a classic example of an unprovable quote that is designed to be used as an anchor point for a completely unjustified trend piece.

    • mark

      Q: What makes something a trend to a journalist?
      A: Two examples plus a deadline.

  • Sly

    He was reflecting broadly about science and technology. His concerns ranged from liberals’ fear of genetically modified organisms to their mistrust of technology’s displacement of workers in some industries. “San Francisco is an interesting case,” he noted. “The left has become reactionary.”

    While there are some strains of anti-science thinking in various leftish causes, or leftish approaches to certain causes (i.e. anti-vax), all that calling these strains “reactionary” does is let everyone know that you have no idea what the word “reactionary” means.

  • twbb

    “But there are so many problems.”

    Yeah but they are frequently not the problems that a lot of critics on the left are talking about. There is an intelligent conversation to be had about the feasibility of nuclear power, but it’s not going on.

  • A deeply silly column.

    Whatever you think of the case against nuclear power as a fossil-fuel replacement, it has nothing in common with the case for global warming denial. There is actually a case, based on meaningful evidence and a responsible weighing of competing imperatives, for opposing nuclear power. It’s not like the right wingers throwing out “sun spots!” and “1997 was hot!” just to muck up the science.

    • plarry

      Exactly. There’s a case for (and against) nuclear power, but this article doesn’t make it. It says that just because “liberals” are against nuclear power, liberals do the same thing as those who say global warming is a hoax and climate scientists lie and conspire to conceal the truth. It is ridiculous that the NYT ran this article.

      • Ron Bailey, the Chief Global Warming Denier at Reason Magazine, once wrote a piece admitting the global warming denial exists, then turning around and accusing liberals of “GMO denial,” “nuclear power denial,” and my favorite, “capitalism denial.”

  • ajay

    If they shut down on their own, i.e., the core melts down, you have little Chernobyls everywhere there’s a plant. Someday, during a war perhaps where you have long-term power outages, this sort of thing can and probably will happen.

    The risk is that normally-functioning nuclear power plants will shut down because there’s a power outage? How’s that going to happen?

    Yes, nuclear power stations have emergency diesel generators. But they’re for use when there’s a failure of the reactor systems themselves, coinciding with a loss of grid connection. Supposing that a power cut can deprive an otherwise functional power station of power betrays confused thinking.

  • Lager Lout

    What was the death toll at Fukushima? Has it reached 1 yet?
    And at Three Mile Island?

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