The nuclear delirium

About half a year ago I wrote “The collapse of the They/Them empire“, where I explained that feminized Western elites behave like a clique of high school girls, who live under the mistaken impression that physical reality doesn’t matter and only control over the diffusion of information does. Banning Russia from SWIFT was part of an attempt to deal with Russia the way they would deal with Alex Jones: “You’re not allowed to use our platforms anymore!”

It’s the fundamental lack of respect for the limitations of physical reality, that’s going to be our deathbed. Right now, there are essentially two schools of thought on physical reality. On the one hand, there exists the Western upper class, which effectively believes that physical reality is obsolete. Rather, control over the flow of information matters. You decide what people believe and people have to follow your rules to exchange information with others within your network. When you exclude people from those networks, they become irrelevant and obsolete.

And then at the bottom of the social totem pole exist the conservatives, contrarians and dissidents, who are excluded from the networks of information exchange. They have their own school of thought, namely, that seizing control over physical reality is a source of unlimited power.

They happen to be very angry, not just at those who believe reality is decided by controlling the flow of information. Rather, they are really angry at those who point out to them that they can not seize complete control over physical reality and that it will never be a source of unlimited power, that by utilizing their physical power they exhaust its potential. They get into irrational fits of hate whenever they see a picture of a certain Swedish teenage girl, I can imagine the spit flying across the room.

Anyone who like me has been warning that “hey that war against Russia isn’t going to be as easy as you expect” tends to fall for this cognitive fallacy, the idea that Russia might construct our physical reality for us by delivering us condensed sources of energy, but that we could do it all on our own, if only we interacted with physical reality in the right way, by harvesting the power of the atom.

This is a product of industrial era thinking, when it looked as if the only limits mankind faces are technological: His own failure to understand how to most efficiently exploit his environment. To a 19th century man, the power to be gained from nature would have seemed infinite, if only he knew how to harvest it. There were infinite layers of coal beneath the Earth, but they were unreachable, as they were below groundwater. Then came the steam-powered mechanical pump and now he had infinite energy.

Then after the limitations of fossil fuel became apparent, he observed the energy contained within the atom and envisioned a new era of plenty, that of energy too cheap to meter. Now seventy years later, we can see what has become of that: We have two new accidental wildlife reserves, respectively in Japan and the former Soviet Union.

First it would take three years to cleanup Fukushima, then ten years later they were still busy, as the price tag began to balloon. The ultimate cost the clean the whole thing up was estimated in 2016 at 21.5 trillion yen, four times the 2011 estimate. Then in 2017 the estimate became 70 trillion yen, then in 2019 an update arrived at 80 trillion yen, or about half a trillion euro. I wouldn’t call that too cheap to meter. And keep in mind: Most of the nasty shit was blown out into the ocean, they massively lucked out.

But Japan is a big unified prosperous country, that can afford this stuff. Now tell me: What happens if humanity doesn’t luck out and the reactor that blows up happens to be in Greece, or in Belgium? Can you imagine European nations bickering over the cleanup bill of a nuclear accident?

And when you point this out to these types who think it could have all worked out, you get the same reaction as you get from a communist when you point out the awful mess his experiments have left behind: “That’s not real nuclear energy! Real nuclear energy has never been tried!”

It went wrong in the Soviet Union, but they’re communists. It went wrong in Japan, but they built their reactors near a fault line. Where did it work out? There’s no success they genuinely wish to claim, it always lies somewhere in the future. In Ukraine the reactors turned into great devices to hold millions of people hostage: Blow up some of their reactors and it’s over for the country for generations to come. Any terrorist group can now do what people wrongly believe happened to the Carthaginians: You can salt the fields of those nations dumb enough to build these reactors.

Those stupid woke green Germans listened to an autistic Swedish girl and shut down their nuclear reactors, so now they’re dependent on Russia, right? Well, explain France to me then:

More than 75% of their electricity comes from nuclear, you can see how well it’s working. Turns out when the river runs dry or the water simply gets too warm, you have to shut down your plants. And I know what the response to this is:

“That’s what happens when you’re using outdated model XIEREWIFIII plants and don’t update your infrastructure! Real nuclear has never been tried!”

Well it’s kind of strange then that there’s not a single country in the world we can look at that got it right, that built these hypothesized thorium/generationwhatchamacallit plants just around the corner that would solve our energy crisis, even as we have a variety of political regimes, from totalitarian to democratic, none of which seem to be thriving by chasing the nuclear dream.

France faces blackouts this winter, Belgium has faced the threat for a few winters now, Japan is still busy cleaning up its accidental wildlife reserve, Ukraine, which already gave birth to an accidental wildlife reserve, faces fighting around its reactors, but other than that the whole thing works fine. As long as we have uranium of course! Where does it come from?

Oh. Well shit. Kazakhstan is Russia’s closest ally after Belarus, so European reactors run on Putin’s blood-uranium. It turns out having a big country that occupies a lot of physical space, gives you control over all sorts of useful natural resources. Who could’ve seen that one coming? Anyway, we should start sanctioning Putler’s blood-uranium and Kazakhstan’s too while we’re at it.

“But the new reactors!” I’ve seen this claim for over a decade now. First about Thorium, but then it gradually became quiet as the experts opened their mouths. All the hypothesized benefits are inflated, who could’ve seen that coming? You need to remember that all these reactors will require two things:

-A fuel source

-A source of coolant

And that’s where you run into trouble. The source of coolant is generally water, which is becoming more difficult to acquire every summer.

The fuel source is generally uranium, the consumption of which would have to jump up dramatically if you wish to build these reactors everywhere. We would run out of Uranium within a few decades, if consumption increased as massively as the fanboys want.

As Vaclav Smil has documented so well, changing your entire energy supply inevitably takes time. You could gradually nodge up the percentage of electricity your grid gets from nuclear. But just because you can build a single new reactor in ten or twenty years, doesn’t mean you could switch an entire continent to nuclear in ten to twenty years. The construction personnel with the proper expertise needs to be there too.

The problem here is just a mentality: A refusal to accept that there are limits to human prosperity, that you can’t have everything your heart desires. And as you dig your heels deeper into the sand, it becomes more embarrassing to admit that you blew the chance we had to avoid this catastrophe, by refusing to acknowledge the existence of limits.

The same crowd peddling the “it could have worked if nuclear” story, is the crowd that refused to accept we had a problem to begin with. These are the same people who insist that fossil fuels would last forever and that we can just dump carbon into the atmosphere without consequences.

The fluxes of energy we could capture would always be limited however. Even if we had transitioned to renewable energy, our energy consumption would have had to go down: We don’t have any proper material to build all of the batteries necessary to store the electricity we capture at any significant scale. Everything we’re doing is subject to economies of scale. The first solar energy you add to your grid is pretty useful. By the time you want to add enough solar to have enough electricity in the middle of winter in Germany, you’re well beyond the point of diminishing returns.

I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind, nor does it genuinely matter at this point in time. But to be a constant witness to human ignorance and delusions of omnipotence becomes frustrating after a while.

14 Comments

  1. 1. The nuclear industrial accidents are not intrinsically expensive. They do not need to be cleaned up to that degree. The high price tags are due to regulatory belief that no radiation risk may exist, anywhere, even if that risk is much smaller than other, tolerated risks from things other than radiation.

    2. France is required by EU law to sell its electricity in an EU electricity market, subject to transmission infrastructure, so you are not seeing a France-only cost. Why do you think the price would rise otherwise?

    3. Uranium, unlike oil/gas, can be stockpiled in reasonable space and expense to power a whole nation for years. It does not need to be continuously imported.

    Nuclear would not work to fuel continuing exponential population growth, but in TFR 1.4 European countries it is a solution, both a physical solution and a geopolitical solution.

    • >The nuclear industrial accidents are not intrinsically expensive. They do not need to be cleaned up to that degree. The high price tags are due to regulatory belief that no radiation risk may exist, anywhere, even if that risk is much smaller than other, tolerated risks from things other than radiation

      Yeah the nuke story always requires at some point to come up with the idea that the effects of low level radiation are exaggerated. This has never been conclusively demonstrated however.

      >Why do you think the price would rise otherwise?

      Because a large number of their plants are down for maintenance right now. It’s not reliable.

  2. “Yeah the nuke story always requires at some point to come up with the idea that the effects of low level radiation are exaggerated. This has never been conclusively demonstrated however.”

    Regulators drastically overprice radiation risk even assuming their estimates of unmeasureable deaths at very low (lower than environmental) radiation exposures are correct (there’s no evidence either way because they’re unmeasureable!).

    This was sold to the public with stories of “China Syndrome” and unstopped melting cores entering deep aquifiers and poisoning the entire world water supply. In reality, even the maximalist claims are only on the scale of non-nuclear industrial accidents that no one particularly cares about.

    “Because a large number of their plants are down for maintenance right now. It’s not reliable.”

    Even you know this is bullshit, unless you believe French electricity prices routinely spike 400% over the years without any international pressure.

    • >“Because a large number of their plants are down for maintenance right now. It’s not reliable.”

      >Even you know this is bullshit, unless you believe French electricity prices routinely spike 400% over the years without any international pressure.

      Um.

      https://www.brusselstimes.com/274261/controlled-blackouts-france-braces-for-winter-electricity-shortage

      >According to Laveyne, the sky-high price hikes have been exacerbated by the fact that more than half France’s nuclear power stations (which normally provide over 70% of electricity) are out of operation – partly for maintenance, partly to address potential compromises to their safe operation, and partly because water levels are too low on the rivers where they are situated to keep the reactors cool.

      >”EDF is doing everything possible to get as many power plants back on by the winter, but there is a lot of uncertainty for the time being,” he said. “There is a high chance that there will be a shortage of electricity.”

      • You were suggesting that the price rise is primarily due to unreliability of plants i.e. unscheduled maintenance.

        What your link is saying is that the price rise is exogenous but may be worsened if mostly scheduled maintenance cannot be canceled in time for winter.

        If the plants were simply unreliable, as you claimed, and France’s electricity prices were not due to wider EU energy market, you would be able to point to similar spikes in the past that only affected France.

        According to rte-france, France is currently using 10% gas generation, mostly to load match wind and solar (I.e. they would not need this gas generation if they hadn’t decided to displace nuclear with wind and solar). https://www.rte-france.com/en/eco2mix

        • >If the plants were simply unreliable, as you claimed

          If you have to shut down 32 out of 56 plants simultaneously, they’re unreliable.

          • They did not have to shut them down. They chose to shut them down at the point of minimum demand.

            Probably in part to let the otherwise redundant renewables (and their natural gas spinnign backup!) to stretch their legs…

          • >They did not have to shut them down.

            “They didn’t fire me, I quit!”

            They had to shut them down at some point.

            If you think shutting them down for maintenance while you’re dealing with a record heatwave and drought is the time when they’re least needed, well…

          • Why would a heatwave and drought increase electricity use in a country that doesn’t use air conditioning as standard?

            What looks to me is that France has been trying to push renewables (and their necessary natural gas backup systems!) for unclear reasons because the generation they displace is equally low carbon (lower carbon when considering the necessary natural gas backup systems!). Nuclear generators are then trying to think of any useful thing to do with their capital, given that the electricity can’t be sold.

            In any case, this isn’t my description or my claim. It’s what your chosen source states. I am not going to investigate the claim in any greater detail because this is a waste of my time. If you have specific evidence that most of these plants were shut down unexpectedly and involuntarily, please show it.

          • >Why would a heatwave and drought increase electricity use in a country that doesn’t use air conditioning as standard?

            Wrong question.

            The heatwave and drought reduce opportunity to generate electricity: With warm rivers you have to shut your plants down.

          • For the sake of power, people will allow the discharge of hot water from the plant into water sources, which is restricted to protect nature.

  3. Another approach, as used in most U.K. reactors: CO2 coolant. This is also not perfectly reliable. For instance, much CO2 is produced during fertiliser production, which is currently being cut. Still, as a product of an industrial process, it is probably more amenable to being made reliable, than is the supply of natural bodies of cool water. Obviously, it all comes down to cost and I don’t know the details of CO2 production economics.

    I wish the ESA’s plan, Solaris, for space-based solar power made economic sense, but I doubt that it does.

    • Even in the worst case it’s clear that coolant (which is also required for gas turbines and ANY heat engine) is not a particular and fundamental limit to the use of fission power.

    • Yeah there’s the thing:

      -The cost of cleaning up all the nuclear pollution is high, but you don’t have to clean it all up.

      -We will run out of uranium eventually, but you can extract it from the sea at a higher price.

      -You’re limited in the supply of coolant water that you can use, but at a higher cost you could use alternative methods of cooling the reactor.

      There are solutions to every problem caused by nuclear energy, but those solutions increase the cost of nuclear energy.

      And so then you face a situation where it becomes economically non-viable.

      That’s why there are no major economic powers on the planet that are moving towards a fully nuclear grid: It’s a technology subject to diminishing returns.

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