The Nuclear Comments Section

In Pandora’s Boxes, I discussed a debate (available on Youtube) between Pandora’s Promise Director Robert Stone and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. A recent Dot Earth article features another critique of Pandora’s Promise by Dr John Miller:

When I saw “Pandora’s Promise,” I didn’t believe a word of it. I served as a submarine nuclear engineering officer for my four-year stint in the Navy years ago. I qualified as an Engineering Officer of the Watch (a guy who’s in charge of the plant and its other technicians during four-hour shifts) on two different sub reactors. I know the truth about reactors, and the movie replaces it with the demonstrably false Nuclear Dream, a just-so mythical story claiming that nukes are safe, clean and cheap.

Almost 500 commenters, many identifying themselves as from within the nuclear industry, quickly lined up to take ad hominem shots at Miller’s sociology degree. I used to have a great deal of interest in the additional viewpoints added by comments, but in many sites I feel stupider the more comments I read. Nevertheless in my opinion two comments do bear reading:

GolddiggerSydney, Australia

As a geologist, I can unequivocally tell you that the bitter end at Fukushima was easily predictable: Tsunami of that size must be recorded in the inland hills surrounding the plants location. However, greed led to compromised decisions, which led to a total disaster.
Nuclear power may be theoretically safe, but the execution of it will always be flawed. One simple example of that is our current inability to deal in a meaningful way with waste. A good geologic isolation area is available, but politically motivated groups have stopped implementation of Yucca Mountain. If nothing else we should not move forward on the reactor side of the issue until we pony-up to dealing with the waste (are you listening Mr Reid?). No accurate economic calculation of costs can be done until we know what the cost of long-term isolation is.
We have alternatives, good ones, that are more cost effective, and have fewer political and human issues attached. Sadly, greed seems to give them the back seat, while we recklessly plunge headlong into building untested models. We will reap the seeds we sow, but unfortunately it is not just humans we destroy.

Dr. L. Harrison, PhDAlbany NY

Nuclear power is very complex. The safety issues of both the reactor itself and then the waste handing are remarkably complicated, and there are very difficult corrosion chemistry issues which dominate the question of what are (and aren’t) practical reactor systems in many cases.

Glib claims from either “side” are almost universally wrong, depend on it.

As a practical matter, the current APS reactors started in the US are “nuclear power’s last stand” in our generation, in the US. If these can be brought in reasonably on time and on budget, then there may be a ‘second round” for nuclear power in the US. If they get into trouble, then I think nuclear power is done … except for cleaning up the mess.

Update 20130823: Wired article Comment Sections Are Wastelands Ruled by Trolls. Here Are Alternatives:

A decade or more ago, Internet publishers entered into what now seems like a collective delusion: That a comments section is a necessary component of a web page. Granted, that notion is a relic of an era predating social media, when there was no effective way to talk publicly about what we read online. But it persists with zombie determination. We’ve bought into the fallacy of comments so completely that they remain nearly universal—and universally terrible. A lot of people have tried to fix them. Yet, as Digg CEO Andrew McLaughlin says, “everyone who runs a commenting system ends up killing themselves or shooting up a post office.” It’s hyperbole, sure, but trying to wrangle online conversations is a messy, frustrating, and typically thankless affair that involves more time than most people have. Even a dedicated team of moderators can hardly compete with legions of trolls and spambots. Nonetheless, lots of people are trying to make you read the comments again—because in those rare moments when comments are great, they are some of the best parts of the Internet.

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