Thursday, May 15, 2008

When Smart People Say Dumb Things

Sometimes it takes a very smart person to stake out a position that is transparently stupid. Let's look at one from the world of science and one from the world of geopolitics.

I touch on this because we are entering an era of massive change. You need to always remember that the "experts" no longer have a real leg up on the rest of us when it comes to the macro scene. Yes, you should turn to specialists for medicine, law and financial markets, but when it comes to mapping out this new era of change, you are going to have to do the heavy mental lifting on your own - and often question the experts in their judgments.

Kaku - So Smart, Yet So Dumb
Michio Kaku, who is quite a brilliant theoretician, was recently interviewed by the Times of India. One of the topics was nuclear energy. Pardon me while I interject my comments:

TOI: Would you say nuclear energy is the future?
MK: Going for nuclear energy is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Fusion (based on hydrogen) is clean. But fission (based on uranium) generates tremendous waste. Nature uses fusion; for example, allowing the stars to recycle themselves cleanly. But nature does not use uranium, which is filthy.
Bullshit. Now, I'll be the first state that fusion is my future power of choice, but it is a long way from practical development. What really chaps me, though, is the completely uneducated manner in which he speaks of fission. Stating that "nature does not use fission" is a bald-faced lie and someone of his caliber would know that, if he weren't blinded by his ideology. Nature has run her own natural nuclear reactor in Africa in the past and we have the science to prove it. As for the "filth" generated by the fission process, that includes Mo-99, the parent isotope of Tc-99m, the world's most widely used imaging isotope, responsible for saving untold thousands of lives every year through diagnosis of deadly conditions. The fissions products also include a variety of other isotopes used to treat cancer, to use in industry and to leverage in basic research.

Nature only uses fusion, the power of the stars. Like nature, we should go on without uranium power. I can think of four reasons to avoid nuclear energy: 1. Risk of proliferation: the technology of commercial nuclear energy is identical to what is required to make an atomic bomb — there is no wall separating the two.

That's a lie. The technology behind making fuel pellets is vastly different than the technology behind highly-enriched uranium and plutonium metallurgy and the complex systems required to detonate a device. Yes, you can make highly-enriched uranium using the same technology used to enrich for fuel or reprocess plutonium using the technology used to make MOX fuel for plants - but that is where the similarities end. The weapons complex requires a vastly different system for processing the metals, shaping it and maintaining it over time. That's like saying you can't separate the technology for making cars that are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in auto accidents each year from that used to make structural steel for buildings because they both use raw metal. It's a false analogy and someone as intelligent as Kaku would know that, which means he is doing it on purpose.

2. Vulnerability to accidents and meltdowns

He seems to forget that a fusion plant will be "vulnerable" to losing the plasma out of the containment structure, ending in disaster. While we must be vigilant and maintain high standards at nuclear power plants, the risks are tiny and the rewards are huge.

3. Radioactive waste disposal

Sigh. We can reprocess it, pull out the useful stuff and store the rest adequately. Hell, we have the know-how to build fast reactors to burn up the worst portions of the waste stream. He knows that too. Just because we have not decided to nut up and build out a rational nuclear energy structure in the U.S. and the West in general does not mean it can't be done.

and 4. To make any dent in global warming, we would have to increase our commitment to nuclear energy by 10 to 50 times, which is totally impractical. So there is no necessity to go nuclear. No nation is going to multiply reactors 10-50 times because of inherent dangers. The marketplace will eventually decide, especially since the cost of solar hydrogen will continue to go down.

Yes, we'd have to increase our committement to nuclear. Yes, it would require a fast reactor and fast breeder fleet to be built out because the current light water reactors would use up the vast majority of U-235 in five or six decades. We can do it. Will we is the question? And as for hydrogen - uh, where are you going to get it? You have to have a power source to crack it out of whatever molecule it is bound to. Nuclear is actually a prime candidate for that too.

Kaku obviously has an agenda, but it is still galling that a brilliant mind like his would willfully lie and omit facts in an effort to trash a technology he doesn't like.

McCain Issues His Light at the End of the Tunnel Pronouncement

And then we get this from a man who certainly should know better:

McCain: U.S. can win Iraq war within 4 years
MSNBC News Services
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Republican presidential candidate John McCain said on Thursday he believes the Iraq war can be won within four years, leaving a functioning democracy there and allowing most U.S. troops to come home...

...McCain, running in the November election to succeed Bush in 2009, described a scenario he thought he could achieve within his first four-year term.

"By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom," McCain said in prepared remarks he was to deliver in Columbus, Ohio. "The Iraq war has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced," McCain said...

I know this is an effort to give the American voting public some hope, but after all the "cakewalk" pronouncements from 2003, back when the war was "going to pay for itself" and with the rise of the intricate network of 4GW forces in Iraq, the influences of Iran and the fact that we are supporting Badr Brigade scum instead of nationalists like JAM, makes me think that turning Iraq into Southern California (another democracy that experiences spasmodic violence) will take longer than 4 years - and a Vietnam vet should know that. If our time in Iraq ever since "Mission Accomplished" has taught us anything, it should be that making confident statements about the near future of that country should be avoided.


Anonymous said...

Salt water + the right RF = Hydrogen.

Flagg707 said...

Thanks Anon - I assume you mean this idea?

Fire from Salt Water

Very, very cool and potentially very, very important. That would reduce the energy load needed to crack hydrogen down to a very manageable level. I appreciate the tip.