Author Topic: Nature versus technology  (Read 12474 times)

J Thomas

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Nature versus technology
« on: January 16, 2011, 08:17:39 am »
Our dear narrator said,

"nature wants to kill you and eat your children for lunch. I trust technology a lot more than nature".

The trouble is, new technology doesn't have all the bugs out of it yet. For example, we have more than 2 million brand new chemicals that didn't exist in nature (except perhaps in tiny amounts in places we didn't notice). Which of them cause cancer? Which of them cause birth defects? Which of them are subtly like hormones we haven't discovered yet? We just don't know. We know about a few of the most important things, the grossest examples. For the rest, we have 2 million chances to lose.

We have old technology that mostly works for dealing with nature. There are a few glitches. Like, we don't know what causes Multiple Sclerosis. It seems to happen pretty much in the places where we grow potatoes, but what does that mean? Coincidence? Every now and then somebody eats a rotten potato that causes it? Nobody knows. Mostly we know ways that keep nature from killing us and eating our children before they make grandchildren.

But it doesn't work great for 7 billion people. We need more land and water than we have, so we're stuck with inventing new technology to wring more crops out of the ground than ever before, and it depends heavily on fossil fuels, etc.

Logically the solution is to reduce the population to a sustainable number, say 200 million, and keep it there until we are sure we have a sustainable new technology. But it's completely understandable that instead we bet the world that we will get something that works, that can keep 7 billion people alive. After all, if it fails there's a chance we won't all die. Maybe failure wouldn't kill many more than the rational plan would....


CrystalDragonSpaceMarine

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2011, 05:50:06 pm »
I think we have quite enough food, land, and water for the current population.

We're just horribly inefficient at using it.

And it's not like this is an apocalyptic deal where the whole world is starving from overpopulation.

Also, you're "logical" and "rational" idea seems to be kind of arbitrary. Logically, why don't we just kill everyone? All problems ever, solved.

Brion Foulke

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2011, 09:10:34 pm »
From what I know, it seems like food has generally been getting cheaper relative to increases in technology and things like high yield farming.  Right now we have the cheapest food in history.

I remember hearing about a guy named Norman Borlaug who invented high yield farming, which basically doubled crop yield or something like that and saved millions of lives in third world countries.  But yet, some environmentalists were against his techniques because of a general fear of genetic manipulation, even though there's no scientific evidence of any harm. 

J Thomas, I think you're making the mistake of taking a one sided view.  You're concerned about potential "glitches" which could be responsible for things like Cancer and Multiple Sclerosis, but you're neglecting the millions of lives that these chemicals and genetic manipulations save by making food so much cheaper.  This seems silly in light of the fact that there is basically no evidence to connect these things.  People seem to jump to a lot of conclusions about cancer in particular, and are willing to believe that all sorts of things cause it, like that scare awhile back with cell phones (even though that proved to be based on some faulty study and was completely wrong.)

It's sort of like the people who rail against Nuclear power plants.  They focus on the dangers of Nuclear power and are completely ignorant of the dangers of the leading alternative, Coal.  Nuclear is not without it's downsides, but compared to Coal it is far safer, especially with recent technological advances.  All the other alternative power sources are good as supplements, but can’t be solely relied on.

I agree that we should keep an eye on things, and if someone proves that a chemical causes cancer, then stop using it. But until that evidence is out there, it’s well worth the risk to use every advantage we can to produce food as efficiently as possible.  That means using chemicals and genetic manipulation.  That’s why I personally try to never buy anything that says “organic” on the label, because I personally think it’s a trend that’s bad for the world and I don’t want to support it.

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2011, 01:27:43 am »
Population is the primary issue for food provision.  I think the scientists have rated the Earth's sustainable population much higher than 200 million though.  I seem to recall about 1 billion, so we're still over.

I remember it getting explained to me like this.  Population has exponential growth.  It doubles on a fairly regular basis.  So imagine that the world is a single test tube, we begin as a single cell organisim in it and by doubling every minute we will fill the test tube in 60 minutes.  Now how soon before we notice that we're getting close to the limit of the test tube's capacity?  Well after 55 out of our 60 minutes, we will occupy about 3% of the test tube.

So, naturally, with a mere 5 minutes left to solve the population, supply and sustainability problem, some people will be shouting that something needs to be done quickly but they'll be laughed at because we're only using a mere 3% of the test tube.  Even with only 2 minutes to go we'll only be using around 25% then the two minutes pass and its panic stations.

Now, imagine if science does come up with some wonderful solution that effectively gives us an extra THREE test tubes to expand into.  JOY TO SCIENCE!... except... that only gives us an extra 2 minutes.  So the advances in science to get more food are just prolonging the time we have before the core problem bites us in the backside.

Outside and beyond that, I don't generally have much of an issue with the technologies and chemicals, heck there's no problem with controlling population AND still using technology to assist in production.  I agree with Brion that you can get problem ones that make it through the tests, but they get caught and the benefits of the good chemicals and technologies are worth it.  Although I also understand that some of the environmentalists are more concerned about the chemical's toll on the surrounding environment than dangers they might pose the human population.  With all the floods around Queensland the runoff chemicals from farmlands have become a bit of a problem with the local water supply, adding to the death of a good many river fish together with the existing mud and sludge's effects on them.

For our own health, it can be a bit of a balancing act.  Obviously, chemicals and preservatives in food create a less than ideal situation compared to natural food.  You simply need to understand the basic principals of preservatives to understand that their purpose is to prevent food from breaking down and decomposing while your digestive system's job is to break down and decompose food for digestion.  However, what you're balancing that against is the threat of pests and germs which can cause a great deal more immediate harm if they've made it into food not protected by chemicals and preservatives.  Then you've got sudden famine, even with a sustainable population, caused by a sudden disease which sweeps through masses of crops, or plagues of animals or insects that suddenly reduce an expected yield and leave you short for the existing population.  A quick spray of chemicals or genitically engineered crops and farm animals can prevent it from having such a devastating effect.

On another note, it should be realised that Australia produces an incredible amount of food and has a small population, but we are the most arid and infertile continent on Earth, with very poor soil.  We produce the food thanks to fertilizer which is dependent on natural gas reserves or coal.  More natural resources which will eventually run out.

Nuclear power, I'm in agreement for the most part, but as suggested, I think it needs to be really pushed as a backup to a combination of wind, solar, hydro, tidal and other renewable power suppliments, not as the primary source. Coal is much more filthy than people think. We don't see it so much in Australia here, due to bigger space but England is so black with soot that a native breed of moth has become primarily black as opposed to it's original, dominant white colouring.
CLAN OF THE CATS IS MAKING A COMEBACK! JUNE 8th.  BE THERE!

Brion Foulke

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2011, 03:45:50 pm »
Well, I looked it up, and at the moment the doubling rate of our population is about 50 years.  So at about 2050 the Earth's population will have doubled from 6 million to 12 million.  I personally think that the Earth can hold a lot more people than just 12 million... just think of all the stretches of land in the U.S. alone that are barely inhabited.  We also don't know what advances there will be in technology in the next 50 years.  Certainly there will come a day when overpopulation is a concern, but it's a bit of an overstated problem right now.

Food is not much of a concern at the moment, the biggest resource concern has to be oil.  The solution to that is probably alternative technology, but I don't think the government should try to push it, as the price of oil rises then alternative solutions will naturally come from the free market.  The government is already slowing this process by subsidizing oil, which is why we still have some of the cheapest gas prices in the world... those prices are artifically low.  So it's no wonder that alternative energy sources can't compete yet.

Nuclear power is also a very good indirect solution to the oil problem, because it makes energy cheaper, and therefore makes electrical cars more viable, (as I understand it.)  So in a weird way, the best solution to the oil problem may just to get more Nuclear Power Plants.

It's a shame that we have so many coal plants in this country, and that we're so behind on Nuclear Power.  This is mainly because of irrational hysteria and anti-nuclear propaganda in the 80's... which is somewhat understandable because of things like 3 mile island.  But those disasters were actually some of the worst possible disasters, and were still not that bad.  We also have better technology now to prevent them.  You have to remember that coal power plants are just as dangerous, people get trapped in them, they make people sick from radiation, and they cause a TON of pollution.  Even France uses mostly nuclear power plants now.

Charles, I think we already have about as much wind, solar, hydro and tidal as makes sense to have.  Those power sources simply can't compete with Nuclear or Coal power... if they could, it would have already happened because it would make money, and you can always trust people to try to make money.  It's detrimental for the government to push those things, in my opinion.  The free market doesn't always work, but in this case it's better to trust it.  What we need to do is get rid of those horrible coal plants and replace them with nuclear, asap.  That's a very expensive investment, but it's definitely well worth it.


J Thomas

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2011, 07:55:48 pm »
I think we have quite enough food, land, and water for the current population.

We're just horribly inefficient at using it.

Well, get efficient without having to use a lot more resources for the efficiency, and we'll be fine until the population increases. Right? Sounds so simple....

Quote
Also, you're "logical" and "rational" idea seems to be kind of arbitrary. Logically, why don't we just kill everyone? All problems ever, solved.

I can see how it would look arbitrary. I'm a conservative. So I want us to minimise the chance that humanity goes extinct. The longer we survive, the longer we have to figure out how to solve our problems. We don't have to go for broke with approaches that might kill us all but might solve everything quick.

Anything we do that's supposed to keep 8 billion people surviving will require a lot of risk. But to keep 200 million alive, or maybe even 1 billion, we can do with pretty much certainty -- except that we might tear things up pretty bad in the process of getting the population down.

To my way of thinking, killing everybody is a nihilist approach. Supporting a population that's sustainable with proven technology is a conservative approach. Trying to support a giant population by betting that untested technology will work is a radical approach. The differences among these don't look arbitrary to me.

Brion Foulke

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2011, 08:13:18 pm »
But what you define as "sustainable" depends on your outlook.

Do you think the government should step in and control population?

J Thomas

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #7 on: January 17, 2011, 08:59:33 pm »

J Thomas, I think you're making the mistake of taking a one sided view.  You're concerned about potential "glitches" which could be responsible for things like Cancer and Multiple Sclerosis, but you're neglecting the millions of lives that these chemicals and genetic manipulations save by making food so much cheaper.  This seems silly in light of the fact that there is basically no evidence to connect these things.

We are risking all of humanity on the assumption that nothing too terrible will come from massive numbers of people doing things which have not had much testing. Concern about that does not seem silly to me.

Quote
People seem to jump to a lot of conclusions about cancer in particular, and are willing to believe that all sorts of things cause it, like that scare awhile back with cell phones (even though that proved to be based on some faulty study and was completely wrong.)

The last I heard, the issues about cell phones were still unproven one way or another. You say cell phones have been proven safe now?

Quote
It's sort of like the people who rail against Nuclear power plants.  They focus on the dangers of Nuclear power and are completely ignorant of the dangers of the leading alternative, Coal.  Nuclear is not without it's downsides, but compared to Coal it is far safer, especially with recent technological advances.  All the other alternative power sources are good as supplements, but can’t be solely relied on.

Suppose we make enough nuclear power plants to satisfy our power needs. Then in 5 years or so we will have more experience with nuclear power plants than we have had in our entire history. You think we have enough experience that we know the worst that can happen? I agree with you that coal has predictably bad effects, in addition to whatever climate change it might lead to which is not yet predictable. If we need lots of energy for 7 billion people then we have two bad choices there. Both are tremendously expensive, both have predictable and also unpredictable dangers. Saying that radioactive power is better than coal is praising with faint damns. And it might not be better. We won't find out how bad it is until after we're totally committed.

Quote
I agree that we should keep an eye on things, and if someone proves that a chemical causes cancer, then stop using it. But until that evidence is out there, it’s well worth the risk to use every advantage we can to produce food as efficiently as possible.  That means using chemicals and genetic manipulation.  That’s why I personally try to never buy anything that says “organic” on the label, because I personally think it’s a trend that’s bad for the world and I don’t want to support it.
[/quote]

Di-ethyl stilbestrol was a medical drug that appeared to have no bad side effects. Pregnant women used it. Eventually they found that it caused reproductive abnormalities in the children, which left some of them sterile. They noticed that around 20 years after they started using it.

Various new chemicals are analogs of human hormones and could have big effects on human development. I spray an analog of an insect hormone to reduce bugs in my house. Insects have a hormone that keeps them from developing into the adult form. When they are ready to become egg-laying adults they stop making the hormone, and their next molt they become adults. Spread it around and they turn into big immature forms that can't reproduce. So we never get many insects. Our own hormones work very differently. I hope. I know we don't have a juvenile hormone like insects do, but could we have a hormone that does something else, which the bug spray interferes with? I'm betting my children that we don't.

If that one works out well, as I hope, there are 2 million other chances to fail. 2 million brand new chemicals, each of which should have been tested on volunteers and their children for at least 20 years before anybody else got exposed to them. But they're all loose.

Brion Foulke

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #8 on: January 17, 2011, 11:25:52 pm »
We are risking all of humanity on the assumption that nothing too terrible will come from massive numbers of people doing things which have not had much testing. Concern about that does not seem silly to me.

It's not like there is no testing, though.  Testing is being done all the time.  And I think it should.  But I don't think that we should jump to conclusions without evidence.

The last I heard, the issues about cell phones were still unproven one way or another. You say cell phones have been proven safe now?

It's impossible to "prove something safe."  Can you say for sure that lemons are truly safe?  Of course not.  But there is no evidence whatsoever linking cell phones to cancer, so in that sense we can say that cell phones have as much chance of giving you cancer as lemons.

Suppose we make enough nuclear power plants to satisfy our power needs. Then in 5 years or so we will have more experience with nuclear power plants than we have had in our entire history. You think we have enough experience that we know the worst that can happen? I agree with you that coal has predictably bad effects, in addition to whatever climate change it might lead to which is not yet predictable. If we need lots of energy for 7 billion people then we have two bad choices there. Both are tremendously expensive, both have predictable and also unpredictable dangers. Saying that radioactive power is better than coal is praising with faint damns. And it might not be better. We won't find out how bad it is until after we're totally committed.

It's not true that we don't know.  It's not like there are no nuclear power plants in the world.  Ask France... they get over 70% of their power from Nuclear.  Everything we know points to the fact that nuclear is safer than coal.  So why defend coal?  There really aren't any other available options that can provide enough power, it's either one or the other.

Di-ethyl stilbestrol was a medical drug that appeared to have no bad side effects. Pregnant women used it. Eventually they found that it caused reproductive abnormalities in the children, which left some of them sterile. They noticed that around 20 years after they started using it.

Seems like double blind studies showed no evidence that drug had any beneficial effects, but they kept using it anyway.  That's kind of beside your point, but remember that chemicals can also have benefits, and sometimes those benefits are worth the risk.  In that case, since there was no evidence of any benefits, we can easily say it wasn't worth the risk.  But it depends on the circumstance with each chemical... many probably are.  Man-made chemicals provide a huge amount of benefits to us as a whole, and overall it is worth the risk to use them.  Although I agree that more testing would probably be a good thing.

CrystalDragonSpaceMarine

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2011, 08:42:48 pm »

I can see how it would look arbitrary. I'm a conservative. So I want us to minimise the chance that humanity goes extinct. The longer we survive, the longer we have to figure out how to solve our problems. We don't have to go for broke with approaches that might kill us all but might solve everything quick.

Anything we do that's supposed to keep 8 billion people surviving will require a lot of risk. But to keep 200 million alive, or maybe even 1 billion, we can do with pretty much certainty -- except that we might tear things up pretty bad in the process of getting the population down.

To my way of thinking, killing everybody is a nihilist approach. Supporting a population that's sustainable with proven technology is a conservative approach. Trying to support a giant population by betting that untested technology will work is a radical approach. The differences among these don't look arbitrary to me.

I think killing off 7 billion+ people just to keep the human race alive...something you wouldn't even personally benefit from...is a pretty bleak solution.
Really, that's just being sentimental.

Brekkjern

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #10 on: January 19, 2011, 07:36:37 pm »
I will begin this argument with SCIENCE!

The earth is a more or less enclosed environment. What is here is what we have as resources. When we take some resources out of the earth, it is lost for more or less eternity. It wont magically appear again. Its just gone.

Now, farming is an example. When you plant seeds, the plant will grow. It does this by taking nutrients (which is energy in chemical form) out of the ground. We ourselves cant benefit directly from those nutrients so we refine them through the plant. When the plant is fully grown, we cut it, refine it and eat it. Lets look at what has happened:

Energy: soil -> plant -> us

We have now got benefit of this energy. What happens next is in our digestion. We pretty much shit out everything that we cannot use. This goes back into the ground, but now it is less than what it started with as some of the energy we used from that plant has gone over to heat, momentum and in general is lost. What little is left in our shit is absorbed back into the ground and the cycle begins anew.

Basically this means that for every person that eats, there will be less left of our reserves. Chemicals don't draw energy from the same area. It uses electrical energy and other chemicals. This means we can synthesize energy and other nutrients that a human being can consume. Negatives of this is as you say, incompatible chemicals with some of our bodily functions. That is why testing is important. We have to look closely at what every chemical does. Some of this can only be done on a theoretical level and as such, some chemicals that are dangerous might slip through, but they are easily identified.

But back to the earth does not get more nutrients argument. At some point our population will grow to a size that the earth just cant sustain. It may well be that the nutrients in the ground does not recuperate fast enough or they don't at all. What do we do then? Migrate to another planet? Use chemicals? Die?

I'm leaving this part open as I have no idea how to answer it...

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #11 on: January 19, 2011, 07:44:05 pm »
i would like to point out, that through various chemical reactions, everything we use is converted into something we can't use, and ejected out as urine, faecies or sweat, which then returns to the ground, no matter is converted directly into energy, we gain energy as a byproduct of the reactions between the chemicals in our bodies, 100% of the material we consume is released back into the enviroment once we die. the only thing that does not fill in that cycle is energy, which is slowly spredding, nothing we do will stop that, if we went extinct tomorow, the rate of that would, on the scale of the universe not change, it would barely register on the energy loss scale of the solar system (big ball of fire in the sky loosing energy at an astronomical rate), and no matter what happens, the universe will one day be a uniform temperature, this is proven by the laws of thermodynamics

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #12 on: January 19, 2011, 08:27:43 pm »
That was actually the point i was trying to make.

J Thomas

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #13 on: January 19, 2011, 08:40:41 pm »
We are risking all of humanity on the assumption that nothing too terrible will come from massive numbers of people doing things which have not had much testing. Concern about that does not seem silly to me.

It's not like there is no testing, though.  Testing is being done all the time.  And I think it should.  But I don't think that we should jump to conclusions without evidence.

That's because you're a radical. I'm a conservative, and I say we should introduce new technology after thorough testing, and not the minimal testing that we now do. It wouldn't hurt us to allow 20 years of testing for new organic chemicals.

Quote
The last I heard, the issues about cell phones were still unproven one way or another. You say cell phones have been proven safe now?

It's impossible to "prove something safe."  Can you say for sure that lemons are truly safe?  Of course not.  But there is no evidence whatsoever linking cell phones to cancer, so in that sense we can say that cell phones have as much chance of giving you cancer as lemons.

It's interesting you take that view. There is considerable research in canada, britain, western europe, eastern europe, russia, and japan that finds peculiar biological effects of gigahertz microwaves. But there is none in the USA. All US studies have shown microwaves produce no effects except the heat from their absorption. I don't know why the research comes out like that.

Quote
Suppose we make enough nuclear power plants to satisfy our power needs. Then in 5 years or so we will have more experience with nuclear power plants than we have had in our entire history. You think we have enough experience that we know the worst that can happen? I agree with you that coal has predictably bad effects, in addition to whatever climate change it might lead to which is not yet predictable. If we need lots of energy for 7 billion people then we have two bad choices there. Both are tremendously expensive, both have predictable and also unpredictable dangers. Saying that radioactive power is better than coal is praising with faint damns. And it might not be better. We won't find out how bad it is until after we're totally committed.

It's not true that we don't know.  It's not like there are no nuclear power plants in the world.  Ask France... they get over 70% of their power from Nuclear.

I think if we choose to make new nuclear plants we'd do well to carefully study the French designs. They have had a lot of minor accidents but no major ones. But still when you talk about nuclear power being safe you are depending on current statistics. A single accident could result in more problems than everything so far put together. How likely is that accident? Nobody knows.

Quote
Everything we know points to the fact that nuclear is safer than coal.  So why defend coal?  There really aren't any other available options that can provide enough power, it's either one or the other.

Everything we know about the safety of nuclear power is just not actually very much. We don't know how bad the worst accidents will be because they have not happened yet. Coal is more predictable. We might have an accident where a few hundred miners get killed. That isn't great but it's acceptable. We know that burning coal releases radium (plus longer-lived isotopes). We could reduce that by reducing the air pollution, but we consider that too expensive. It's fairly predictable, we can get a clear sense how much radioactivity we will release per million tons of coal. It isn't good, but it is predictable. The nuclear approach is not predictable.

But I don't defend coal. Coal is bad. Nuclear power is likely to be a lot worse but we don't know. You say we have to pick one or the other. I say, we don't know whether we have to pick one or the other. Let's hold back on both of them while we look for alternatives. We use vastly more power today than we did 100 years ago, and a whole lot of it is wasted. So cut back on the waste and conserve energy and do research. We don't have to choose between two alternatives that are both potentially disastrous.

For example, let's cut way back on air travel and air freight. You can fly from coast to coast in around 7 hours, plus 2 hours for security. You are likely to get a respiratory infection. You will be jet-lagged. It's inherently expensive because the fuel is expensive. Today you can get there by rail in 3 days. No special security checks needed. If we bothered to create high-speed rail, better still.

Quote
Di-ethyl stilbestrol was a medical drug that appeared to have no bad side effects. Pregnant women used it. Eventually they found that it caused reproductive abnormalities in the children, which left some of them sterile. They noticed that around 20 years after they started using it.

Seems like double blind studies showed no evidence that drug had any beneficial effects, but they kept using it anyway.  That's kind of beside your point, but remember that chemicals can also have benefits, and sometimes those benefits are worth the risk.

Until sufficient testing has been done, you don't know what the risk is.

Quote
In that case, since there was no evidence of any benefits, we can easily say it wasn't worth the risk.  But it depends on the circumstance with each chemical... many probably are.  Man-made chemicals provide a huge amount of benefits to us as a whole, and overall it is worth the risk to use them.  Although I agree that more testing would probably be a good thing.

We still don't know what risk we get from plasticizers in most of our plastics. It isn't just pharmaceuticals, it's all the new chemicals we have released into the environment over the last 40 years. Over a million new ones, added to the million from the previous 100 years. A lot of them get degraded reasonably fast by micro-organisms. Some of them get concentrated as they work their way up the food chain. Some of their degradation products likewise. It's predictable that we'll face some big disaster from all this. It isn't predictable just which disaster we'll have or which chemicals will start it. If we delayed the new products by a generation or so while we did testing, would that be a big problem for humanity? Not at all. We've gone the last million years without them, what's a few decades more? But we get so much convenience by wrapping our food in poorly-tested plastic, and storing leftovers in plastic containers, and cooking with nonstick utensils, and burning new additives in our gasoline, and new insecticides and herbicides and trash can liners and special coatings on cardboard boxes and new pigments for paper and on and on.

Each of them is an unknown risk, and each risk looks like it ought to be small by itself....

Brion Foulke

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #14 on: January 19, 2011, 09:43:21 pm »
That's because you're a radical. I'm a conservative, and I say we should introduce new technology after thorough testing, and not the minimal testing that we now do. It wouldn't hurt us to allow 20 years of testing for new organic chemicals.

Hey, labels aren't important.  You have a good point.  I don't know if the 20 years thing is actually necessary for all chemicals, I'd have to hear some expert opinions from chemists about that.  But I do believe you that, in general, more testing is probably needed.  Not so radical now, huh?  Unless you meant radical in the cool way...

It's interesting you take that view. There is considerable research in canada, britain, western europe, eastern europe, russia, and japan that finds peculiar biological effects of gigahertz microwaves. But there is none in the USA. All US studies have shown microwaves produce no effects except the heat from their absorption. I don't know why the research comes out like that.

Really?  I haven't heard of that.  "Peculiar effects" sounds a bit vague, though.

II think if we choose to make new nuclear plants we'd do well to carefully study the French designs. They have had a lot of minor accidents but no major ones. But still when you talk about nuclear power being safe you are depending on current statistics. A single accident could result in more problems than everything so far put together. How likely is that accident? Nobody knows.

Aren't you just guessing at how "dangerous" nuclear power is?  Seems like movies may have skewed your opinion?  Remove these hypothetical disasters from the equation and suddenly nuclear looks a whole lot better than coal.  Besides, how long have nuclear power plants existed in the world?  At this point, it's what, 30-40 years?  And the worst disaster is *still* 3-mile island!  And that was with older technology, in a badly managed plant, and was pretty much a worse case scenario... and it still wasn't really that bad!  Compare that to the massive amounts of pollution from coal plants, and large number of people killed in them?  I guess you can see why I feel strongly compelled to favor nuclear power, right?

J Thomas

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #15 on: January 20, 2011, 10:22:48 am »
That's because you're a radical. I'm a conservative, and I say we should introduce new technology after thorough testing, and not the minimal testing that we now do. It wouldn't hurt us to allow 20 years of testing for new organic chemicals.

Hey, labels aren't important.  You have a good point.  I don't know if the 20 years thing is actually necessary for all chemicals, I'd have to hear some expert opinions from chemists about that.  But I do believe you that, in general, more testing is probably needed.  Not so radical now, huh?  Unless you meant radical in the cool way...

We'd need a lot of legal changes. Like, currently patents run out quick enough that the big profits from new chemicals would be gone before they got out of testing. Right now, it's important to get the testing out of the way as quickly as possible. And we mostly test things that are intended to be consumed by humans, and not things that get into humans by (predictable) accident.

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It's interesting you take that view. There is considerable research in canada, britain, western europe, eastern europe, russia, and japan that finds peculiar biological effects of gigahertz microwaves. But there is none in the USA. All US studies have shown microwaves produce no effects except the heat from their absorption. I don't know why the research comes out like that.

Really?  I haven't heard of that.  "Peculiar effects" sounds a bit vague, though.

OK, inside your cells, individual proteins can be vibrated far more than the norm by particular frequencies of microwave. Since cells have so much water, this matters most at the frequencies that water doesn't absorb as much. When individual proteins get coagulated that's one sort of effect. When an enzyme gets activated and catalyses reactions at a much higher rate than usual that's a different sort of effect. Some microwave frequencies are absorbed particularly well by DNA, and some by RNA, and the effects of that vary. Some particular effects have been replicated in Canada and in Britain and in Germany, but a lab in New York that was built specifically to test such things was unable to repeat the results of the other labs.

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II think if we choose to make new nuclear plants we'd do well to carefully study the French designs. They have had a lot of minor accidents but no major ones. But still when you talk about nuclear power being safe you are depending on current statistics. A single accident could result in more problems than everything so far put together. How likely is that accident? Nobody knows.

Aren't you just guessing at how "dangerous" nuclear power is?

Yes. And so is everybody who tries to guess at that. 

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Remove these hypothetical disasters from the equation and suddenly nuclear looks a whole lot better than coal.

That's right. It could be a "gambler's ruin" thing. Here's a game you could play. Find somebody to match pennies against, who will let you do double-or-nothing. You each flip one penny, and if the results come out the same you win a penny from him, but if they come out different he wins a penny from you.

The strategy is, if you win, you win a penny. If you lose, you double. Next time you win or lose two pennies. Then if you lose next time, you double again. Keep doubling until you win. That ends the run. Next time you bet a penny.

When you play this game you are guaranteed to win a penny every single run, unless you get such a run of bad luck that you can't double because you have nothing left.

If you look at the results over a short time, or a medium time, it looks like you can't help but win. But if you play long enough you are pretty much guaranteed to lose everything.

Gambler's ruin. You can't judge the odds by playing the game and keeping statistics, because the losses are concentrated in rare events that come up so seldom your statistics won't include them.

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Besides, how long have nuclear power plants existed in the world?  At this point, it's what, 30-40 years?  And the worst disaster is *still* 3-mile island!

No, the worst is Chernobyl. Of course you could say that Chernobyl happened because they used bad procedures; they did things that we'd never do. And that's kind of true. But the way you find out how bad our procedures are, is when we have an accident that's worse than Chernobyl and then we go back and analyze why we had an escalating series of mistakes that we weren't supposed to make. And people will be outraged that things were done so wrongly, and everybody will agree that it should never have happened and we will agree about new procedures which ought to keep it from ever happening again -- just as the old procedures should have kept it from ever happening.

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And that was with older technology, in a badly managed plant, and was pretty much a worse case scenario... and it still wasn't really that bad!

Maybe we were lucky. At the time, the experts who were trying to handle it didn't know they would be that lucky. 

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Compare that to the massive amounts of pollution from coal plants, and large number of people killed in them?  I guess you can see why I feel strongly compelled to favor nuclear power, right?

Say we have two choices. Either we build more bigger coal plants and burn coal until it's all gone. Or else we build more bigger fission plants and we run a lot of giant fission plants until we get something better.

If that's the choice then I'll go along with you on it. Better to build giant expensive fission plants and hope that we don't get great big disasters from it. Because the coal option is a guaranteed disaster.

Say we have the following two choices: One way, half our cities get nuked. The other way, somebody flips a coin and if it's heads all our cities get nuked and if it's tails none of them do. Which do you choose? I'd tend to make the second choice. Because that way we have a *chance* we'll all come out OK. If half our cities get nuked it will be real real bad for everybody, and nobody will come out OK.

But for both coal versus nukes and nukes/2 versus P(nukes=.5), I don't want either choice. They're both bad. We don't even have to argue about which is worse. "You should play russian roulette, because it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick." No thank you. I don't want either one.

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #16 on: January 20, 2011, 11:00:11 am »
OK, inside your cells, individual proteins can be vibrated far more than the norm by particular frequencies of microwave. Since cells have so much water, this matters most at the frequencies that water doesn't absorb as much. When individual proteins get coagulated that's one sort of effect. When an enzyme gets activated and catalyses reactions at a much higher rate than usual that's a different sort of effect. Some microwave frequencies are absorbed particularly well by DNA, and some by RNA, and the effects of that vary. Some particular effects have been replicated in Canada and in Britain and in Germany, but a lab in New York that was built specifically to test such things was unable to repeat the results of the other labs.

Okay, I looked it up, and here's what I found:

http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cellphones

They list all the different studies.  There was a large one done last year across many countries that shows *no increased risk* of cancer from cell phones.  Overall the studies conclude that RF energy produced by phones is too low in amount to cause cancer, even over long periods of time.  They also explain why certain inconsistent studies in the past may have been caused by bias.

That's right. It could be a "gambler's ruin" thing. Here's a game you could play. Find somebody to match pennies against, who will let you do double-or-nothing. You each flip one penny, and if the results come out the same you win a penny from him, but if they come out different he wins a penny from you.

It's not the same.  The potential disaster of nuclear power plants is a known quantity.  I'm sure if I were a nuclear physicist I could explain this better to you, but alas, I am not.  And you certainly don't sound like one, either.

Say we have the following two choices: One way, half our cities get nuked. The other way, somebody flips a coin and if it's heads all our cities get nuked and if it's tails none of them do. Which do you choose?

Nobody gets "nuked."  Again, the Chernobyl and 3 Mile Island disasters were pretty much worst case scenarios.  They certainly did not result in a nuclear bomb exploding.  You seem to have a very cartoon Simpsons kind of view as to the actual dangers of nuclear power.

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #17 on: January 20, 2011, 10:46:14 pm »
OK, inside your cells, individual proteins can be vibrated far more than the norm by particular frequencies of microwave. Since cells have so much water, this matters most at the frequencies that water doesn't absorb as much. When individual proteins get coagulated that's one sort of effect. When an enzyme gets activated and catalyses reactions at a much higher rate than usual that's a different sort of effect. Some microwave frequencies are absorbed particularly well by DNA, and some by RNA, and the effects of that vary. Some particular effects have been replicated in Canada and in Britain and in Germany, but a lab in New York that was built specifically to test such things was unable to repeat the results of the other labs.

Okay, I looked it up, and here's what I found:

http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cellphones

They list all the different studies.  There was a large one done last year across many countries that shows *no increased risk* of cancer from cell phones.  Overall the studies conclude that RF energy produced by phones is too low in amount to cause cancer, even over long periods of time.  They also explain why certain inconsistent studies in the past may have been caused by bias.

I tend to agree with you about cell phones. It's clearly true that they don't cause enough heat to give people cancer. Statistical studies tend toward bias of various sorts, for example only choosing one or two sorts of cancer to study, but the NIH data that shows no big increase in brain cancer in the USA between 1987 versus 2007 seems to indicate that the risk is low. Since we did not have an epidemic of brain cancer, it must be true that cell phones did not give us an epidemic of brain cancer.

The other issue -- that US researchers have consistently found no effects from any microwaves except the heat, while researchers in many other countries have found other effects, is still unexplained.

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That's right. It could be a "gambler's ruin" thing. Here's a game you could play. Find somebody to match pennies against, who will let you do double-or-nothing. You each flip one penny, and if the results come out the same you win a penny from him, but if they come out different he wins a penny from you.

It's not the same.  The potential disaster of nuclear power plants is a known quantity.  I'm sure if I were a nuclear physicist I could explain this better to you, but alas, I am not.  And you certainly don't sound like one, either.

The potential disaster from nuclear power plants is known to be very very high. Think of it this way -- if you were a nuclear physicist and you were given six months to figure out how to sabotage a nuclear power plant to maximise the damage, and then you were allowed to carry out that plan, you could do a *whole lot of damage*. That's the theoretical potential disaster. But it won't ever be that bad because no real power plant operators will ever do things in the worst possible way. What's the worst that can happen in practice? It depends on what they actually do. We don't know how badly nuclear power plant employees can mess up. If they never make a mistake, there will never be a nuclear power plant accident at all, ever. Unless there is intentional sabotage.

So what's the worst possible mistake that nuclear power plant employees will ever make? We don't know. What's the worst possible sabotage we might be subjected to? We don't know that either.

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Say we have the following two choices: One way, half our cities get nuked. The other way, somebody flips a coin and if it's heads all our cities get nuked and if it's tails none of them do. Which do you choose?

Nobody gets "nuked."  Again, the Chernobyl and 3 Mile Island disasters were pretty much worst case scenarios.  They certainly did not result in a nuclear bomb exploding.  You seem to have a very cartoon Simpsons kind of view as to the actual dangers of nuclear power.

Sorry, I'm making a fanciful analogy. Coal and nuclear power are two bad choices. We can pretty much tell how bad coal is, apart from "global warming" which is a wild card we can't predict very well. We don't know how bad nuclear power is. Maybe it will be no worse than we've already seen. But there could be rare accidents that turn into true disasters. It's a gamble. I already gave the analogy of the coin toss game where you never lose any money until all of a sudden you lose everything. At any time before the end you could look at your statistics and see you're winning. But the math shows you can't win in the long run. The difference is that with the coin toss game we know the odds, and with nuclear power we don't know the odds. Maybe it's deadly. Maybe we could use nuclear reactors for 50 years until we find something better, and have a very good chance not to lose anything much. We don't know. In my fanciful story I made it a 50:50 chance of no damage versus lose everything. Really we don't know the odds at all. How likely is it that a series of small mistakes, each of them individually not serious, will give us an awful result? No telling.

So if we have to do coal or nukes, one or the other, I'll gamble on nukes. But we don't have to make that devil's bargain. We can find a third choice that's better than either of those.

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #18 on: January 20, 2011, 11:56:56 pm »
Hydrogen plant.... Nope...
Solar farm... Not yet at least....
Windfarm... Not really efficient...
Gas Power... Well, better than coal, but still not ideal...
Wavepower... Nice idea, but probably not feasible...
Thermal power... Works great, albeit not efficient enough...

The reason nuclear power is up on these debates is because it is the best choice to give lots of power with relatively small impact on nature. Windfarms are dangerous to birds. Loads of eagles have been killed in norway and they also look ugly. Solar farms are way too big to be efficient. Seeing as the panels are only 5% effective. Hydrogen plant... No point at all. First you use power to create hydrogen, then you burn it... If it is efficient at all, it is marginally so. Wavepower is a nice idea on paper, but to harvest that energy you need massive amounts of pontoons to collect the energy. Imagine having one of these things circling an entire country to give enough power to one major city... Thermal power. Well, it works... Kinda... Gas Power. This is the only viable choice other than nuclear power. It is relatively efficient. Dont release that much CO2 and other stuff. And it is above all safe. However, it is still not ideal.

The reason powerplants are up for debates is that they make one form of energy into another. This creates waste and you just cant get around it. This is embedded into physics. The reason nuclear power is so clean is that the reaction happening in the reactor is a reaction that can happen in nature. We just boost it up a crapton to make it worthwile.

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #19 on: January 21, 2011, 12:00:29 am »
I tend to agree with you about cell phones.

Cool.

So if we have to do coal or nukes, one or the other, I'll gamble on nukes. But we don't have to make that devil's bargain. We can find a third choice that's better than either of those.

If you find one, make sure to let everyone know.

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #20 on: January 21, 2011, 04:13:33 am »
I think the 1billion population limit was for a combination of sustainability, allowance for diversity in the ecosystem and living the lifestyle we have now.  So sure we're over 1 billion and there seems like a lot more room to grow into, but you'd have to wipe out a good deal more of mother nature to do it.  Heck, even now we still need to cut into old growth forests to keep up with demand for wood but obviously thats not sustainable as we'll eventually run out just like we'll run out of oil, coal and various minerals as we require them more and more with our higher population and greater demands to live better lives.  Sure they fit over a billion people into India, but the lifestyle is shocking.  Thats a billion people managing to survive and a good many of them aren't even managing that.

Obviously this calls on some efforts which need to be made in order to control population.  China has taken a hardline approach but I actually like a more passive one that I noticed here in Australia.  For a few years the birthrate in Australia was supposedly lower than the death rate (our population was only increasing due to immigration).  To fix this, the government introduced a few subsidies and, effectively, incentives to encourage people to have children.  Effectively people were deciding not to have children because it was deemed too expensive but once incentives and concessions were made our birthrate skyrocketed.  To control population (at least in western nations) you pretty much just need to remove a lot of the financial incentives and people will simply regard it as too expensive to bother with.

Solar and wind power are viable options but they don't work in the traditional sense that power plants do.  With power plants you have a sort of mainfrain type system (computer reference sorry) where there is a giant power plant that powers a lot of terminals both near and far that consume it's resources.  With wind and solar, its much better to have a sort of beowulf cluster or node situation (computer terms again) where instead of centralising the sytem by having some mass amount of land set asside to install wind turbines or solar panels, you put smaller solar panels on the roofs of all homes and small wind turbines with them.  Costs go down a good deal because you're actually generating much of your own electricity rather than taking something you need to pay for.  This is already something thats been happening in Australia for some time with solar power.  Prices have been going up for users of mains but those with the panels are in a better position since they generate a good deal of their own.  Now obviously clouds will sometimes cover significant areas and some days the wind will die, but it'll shine or blow in other areas and some days it'll be windy but dark while others will be still but sunny.  You obviously have nuclear plants installed in key locations to provide extra energy as required (something that America is already doing with about 9 or 10 large nuclear power plants to backup other coal and nuclear plants when demand surpasses their capacity).

There are a number of other things you can do to decrease power consumption as well.  Australia had a scheme to install insulation in all homes lacking it and made it law to put insulation into new homes which reduced energy usage in heating and cooling in many homes.  I believe its also passed law to force the use of energy effecient light bulbs (although there are exceptions).  Legislation can do a good deal with this and it encourages markets in the right directions.  Imagine a law that required solar panels to be installed on all new homes and a wind turbine.  You'd have a massive growth in the market and see significant sized manufacturers begin to churn them out like cars, making the panels and turbines cheap enough to actually compete with the similar costs associated with coal and nuke.

I think you made a good point about oil subsidies.  The automotive industry in America has identified that one of its key problems is that it isn't creating fuel effecient cars that the overseas markets demand.  Americans have cheap fuel thanks to those subsidies so there isn't a lot of incentive to look at alternate fuel cars or fuel effecient ones with many preferring a guzzling SUV.  But look at Europe where fuel is up to three times more expensive and fuel effecient cars are all the rage and their industry has been prompted by this to produce some of the best technology which has left the American automotive industry lagging behind and struggling to catch up.  The same works for Solar and Wind or any alternate energy sorce.  Encourage or allow the market to prosper with good legislation and the technology will flourish to follow making it both better and cheaper to produce.
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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #21 on: January 21, 2011, 05:31:18 am »

The reason nuclear power is up on these debates is because it is the best choice to give lots of power with relatively small impact on nature.

Yes, assuming there are no important accidents. One reason that the USA is slow on nuclear power is that the US government is trying to keep other nations from getting nuclear weapons. So it wants them to use power plants that are useless for nukes. Those power plants are expensive and inefficient, so we haven't built them ourselves. If we built breeder reactors etc ourselves for power we would be admitting the others are no good. Once the USA accepts that anybody will have nukes who wants them, nuclear power will be easier.

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Windfarms are dangerous to birds. Loads of eagles have been killed in norway and they also look ugly.

Yes. Those problems will scale up, the more windfarms we build the worse they'll get. Also a bad enough storm can wreck a whole windfarm. How likely are those storms in each place? Not very, but we have to measure it for a long time in each place before we know how long a given windfarm will last. And if we are facing climate change the storms might get worse. We might find windmill designs that are cheaper and work better, but not yet.

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Solar farms are way too big to be efficient.

There's potential there. Some solar panels are real efficient now, but they're too energy-expensive and expensive to build, and some of them use rare earths etc that we just don't have enough of.

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Hydrogen plant... No point at all. First you use power to create hydrogen, then you burn it... If it is efficient at all, it is marginally so.

That might be useful to move power around. We lose 50% getting electricity from one place to another, which is not so bad. If we wind up with some efficient way to make power where we'd lose a lot converting it to electricity and then lose on the electricity too, we might do OK converting it to hydrogen and shipping the hydrogen.

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Wavepower is a nice idea on paper, but to harvest that energy you need massive amounts of pontoons to collect the energy. Imagine having one of these things circling an entire country to give enough power to one major city...


Yes, if we find a better way to collect that power it could be useful.

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Thermal power. Well, it works... Kinda...

It's good for some places, it doesn't look like a major source.

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Gas Power. This is the only viable choice other than nuclear power. It is relatively efficient. Dont release that much CO2 and other stuff. And it is above all safe. However, it is still not ideal.

And it will run out pretty quick. We didn't think about it much until they figured out ways to shatter bedrock and then suck methane out of the cracks. That can be done a lot of places, but the side effects are potentially bad.

There's a whole lot of energy available in ocean temperature, but if we collect it -- particularly if we get a lot of mixing between surface and deep water -- there's no telling what it will do to the fish. And more important, the algae.

We don't have any really good choices available right now, so it's worth it to do the research to find a good choice.

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #22 on: January 21, 2011, 06:54:17 am »
But you cant plan to figure something out. You have to plan to use something you already have. We have nuclear power. I see no reason not to use it. The only reason we are not using it is because it is percieved as unsafe. However, Japan got a couple of these built in an earthquake prone area. And they survive the earthquakes without any form of issue. You just have to design it to take whatever punishment that is likely.

Chernobyl was a worst case scenario. It was bad, but the only reason it happened was because the plant was faultily designed and the designers knew this because they wanted it cheap. It wasnt even fire insulated!

We can not stagnate progress because a potential side effect is there. We have to put resources into finding ways around these side effects. We need to research more about the nuclear plants, but this is to make them even safer than they are today! Since we are not building new plants, old and more unsafe plants are being strained to the limit. I would rather have more new plants than more old plants... The latter is the current trend.

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #23 on: January 21, 2011, 07:25:47 am »
We have oil.  Many see no reason not to keep on using it.

At some point you've got to turn things around and make a major push in the direction you want to go.  While I'm fine with using Nuke as a backup and support to renewable energy, I simply think a push needs to be made by government money or legislation to significantly encourage renewable energy over fuels.  Heck, take the subsidy provided to oil and/or other fuels and apply it to renewable energy instead.  Suddenly you turn the costs around and see a significant boost in renewable energy usage.

Its progress in renewable energy technology and usage that we should not be stagnating by relying on the same old energy sorces that need to, not so much be avoided as much as preserved for use in more important and dependent areas and to backup the renewable energy systems in times of crisis or need.
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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #24 on: January 21, 2011, 12:09:03 pm »
To be fair, alternative energy sources are viable... as *supplemental* energy sources.  We absolutely should use them, and we *do.*  But unfortunetly, even *combined* all of the alternative energy sources don't produce as much energy as coal or nuclear.

There aren't any other magic solutions.  Sure, someday we may well discover an awesome new source of energy, but we can't count on that, nor can we force it to happen.  Counting on it to happen, well I would say that's a REAL case of gambler's ruin.

Charles: You know, nuclear power makes electrical cars more viable.  They've seen that happen in France.  Just pointing it out as one way to handle the oil problem.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2011, 12:10:49 pm by Brion Foulke »

J Thomas

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #25 on: January 21, 2011, 12:57:16 pm »
But you cant plan to figure something out. You have to plan to use something you already have.

No, we only have to plan to use what we already have, if we are in a hurry.

So look at it. We have 5% of the world population and we use 25% of the world's human energy.
Do we need more energy right now?
Do we need more energy enough to use inherently dangerous and extremely expensive methods to get it?

I say, no.
Find ways to use less energy to do the things we need to do.
Look for better ways to get energy.

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We have nuclear power. I see no reason not to use it. The only reason we are not using it is because it is percieved as unsafe. However, Japan got a couple of these built in an earthquake prone area. And they survive the earthquakes without any form of issue.

Maybe they have designed well enough for the earthquakes they will face. Maybe they haven't had the big one yet.

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You just have to design it to take whatever punishment that is likely.

Notice how we keep revising our idea of a hundred-year flood? We have a concept of how high a flood is likely to get, but everywhere we get floods, we are getting big ones sooner than expected. There are several possible explanations for that. But anyway, if we get good conservative estimates of the worst damage a radioactive power plant might get, and if we spare no expense to prepare for that, we ought to come out OK. Barring sabotage.

Similarly, we can prepare for accidents and mistakes. Do everything possible to make our power plants foolproof, so they will do the right thing no matter what the operators tell them to do. If we just think out every possibility ahead of time, and program the computers so they will always do the right thing with no mistakes, we ought to come out fine.

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Chernobyl was a worst case scenario. It was bad, but the only reason it happened was because the plant was faultily designed and the designers knew this because they wanted it cheap. It wasnt even fire insulated!

Chernobyl is not the worst case. Chernobyl is only the worst case that has happened so far.

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We can not stagnate progress because a potential side effect is there.

We can if we want to. It's a choice, not a destiny. We can progress at the rate we choose. More, we can progress in prototype as fast as we choose to advance prototypes, and we can mass-produce stuff after we are sure it's reasonably safe.

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We have to put resources into finding ways around these side effects. We need to research more about the nuclear plants, but this is to make them even safer than they are today!

Yes! Build prototype nuclear power plants and run them in deserts etc, and do whatever we can to reduce side effects. We won't find out about what's unsafe as fast as we would if we had thousands of radioactive power plants having accidents all over the country, but we'll find out about the most common things.

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Since we are not building new plants, old and more unsafe plants are being strained to the limit. I would rather have more new plants than more old plants... The latter is the current trend.

The number of old plants can't increase until we build new plants and they get old. And every new plant we build will get old. It's a big deal to learn how to decommission old plants -- we aren't very good at it yet. We aren't that good yet at building new radioactive power plants that will be easier to make safe after they are obsolete, either. Doesn't it make sense to do research now, and build lots of radioactive power plants after we know more about how to deal with them?

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #26 on: January 21, 2011, 01:12:43 pm »
Maybe they have designed well enough for the earthquakes they will face. Maybe they haven't had the big one yet.

J Thomas, if you have to say "maybe," then maybe your knowledge of nuclear physics and technology isn't quite educated enough to be a good judge.  Instead of saying "maybe this could possible happen," wouldn't a more accurate statement be "I have no idea what will happen?"

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #27 on: January 21, 2011, 01:25:23 pm »
To be fair, alternative energy sources are viable... as *supplemental* energy sources.  We absolutely should use them, and we *do.*  But unfortunetly, even *combined* all of the alternative energy sources don't produce as much energy as coal or nuclear.

We don't use other forms of energy much, therefore they don't produce as much energy as coal. Some of them are inherently limited. For example we've pretty much run out of places to put new hydroelectric dams. We get more energy from that than from nuclear plants, but we can build more nuclear plants and we can't build more dams. Other sources are less limited.

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There aren't any other magic solutions.  Sure, someday we may well discover an awesome new source of energy, but we can't count on that, nor can we force it to happen.  Counting on it to happen, well I would say that's a REAL case of gambler's ruin.

We use around 300 million BTUs per person per year. We used 15% more before the recession. This is almost twice what Germany or Japan use per capita. Do we need to?

If we were to cut back our per capita energy use to that of europe, we would have a breathing space to figure out what to do. But some of us aren't willing to do that. Instead they say we need to make a lot of radioactivity so we can get more power.

J Thomas

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #28 on: January 21, 2011, 02:11:38 pm »
Maybe they have designed well enough for the earthquakes they will face. Maybe they haven't had the big one yet.

J Thomas, if you have to say "maybe," then maybe your knowledge of nuclear physics and technology isn't quite educated enough to be a good judge.  Instead of saying "maybe this could possible happen," wouldn't a more accurate statement be "I have no idea what will happen?"

The issue here isn't knowledge of nuclear physics. It's knowledge of earthquakes.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/16/AR2007071601712.html

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The Associated Press reported that Tokyo Electric did not reveal the accident for hours after a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Japan's northwest coast. ....

Experts were cautious about accepting Tokyo Electric Power's assurances. Japan's nuclear power industry has a history of covering up incidents. In March, Tokyo Electric Power, Asia's biggest utility, said it would delay completion of two nuclear reactors after admitting that it covered up an accident in 1978. In 2002, the company shut all 17 of its reactors after admitting that employees had falsified nuclear safety documents since the late 1980s.

Safety concerns are one reason the company's plants have operated at less than 70 percent of capacity. At the time the quake hit yesterday, three of the seven units at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa were shut down for inspection. The other four units shut down automatically after the quake, the company said.

Here's one review on the topic.
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf18.html

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Japanese nuclear power plants are designed to withstand specified earthquake intensities evident in ground motion.  These used to be specified as S1 and S2, but now simply Ss, in Gal units.  The plants are fitted with seismic detectors.  If these register ground motions of a set level (formerly 90% of S1), systems will be activated to automatically bring the plant to an immediate safe shutdown.  The logarithmic Richter magnitude scale (or more precisely the Moment Magnitude Scale more generally used today) measures the overall energy released in an earthquake, and there is not always a good correlation between that and intensity (ground motion) in a particular place.  Japan has a seismic intensity scale in shindo units 0 to 7, with weak/strong divisions at levels 5 & 6, hence ten levels. This describes the surface intensity at particular places, rather than the magnitude of the earthquake itself.

The revised seismic regulations released in May 2007 increased the Ss figure to be equivalent to 6.7 on the Richter or Moment Magnitude scale - a factor of 1.5 (up from a magnitude of 6.5).  PGA is measured in Galileo units - Gal (cm/sec2) or g - the force of gravity, one g being 980 Gal.

After an earthquake that was larger than expected, they increased their standards by 50%.

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Larger earthquake ground motions (PGAs) in the region, considering the tectonic structures and other factors, must also be taken into account, although their probability is very low. The largest conceivable such ground motion was the upper limit design basis extreme earthquake ground motion (PGA) S2, generally assuming a magnitude 6.5 earhtquake directly under the reactor.

Note -- "largest conceivable ground motion". ;)

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After the magnitude 7.2 Kobe earthquake in 1995 a panel was set up to review the safety of nuclear facilities in Japan and the design guidelines for their construction.  The Japanese Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) then approved the panel's report.  Building and road construction standards were also thoroughly reviewed at this time.  After recalculating the seismic design criteria required for a nuclear power plant to survive near the epicentre of a large earthquake the NSC concluded that under current guidelines such a plant could survive a quake of magnitude 7.75.  The Kobe earthquake was 7.2.

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Following a magnitude 7.3 earthquake in 2000 in an area where no geological fault was known, Japan's NSC ordered a full review of the country's 1978 seismic guidelines (which had been adopted  by the NSC in 1981 and partially revised in 2001).

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In March 2008 Tepco upgraded its estimates of likely PGA for Fukushima to 600 Gal, and other operators have adopted the same figure.  In October 2008 Tepco accepted 1000 Gal (1.02g) PGA as the new Ss design basis for Kashiwazaki Kariwa, following the July 2007 earthquake there.

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Japanese nuclear plants such as Hamaoka near Tokai are in regions where earthquakes of up to magnitude 8.5 may be expected.  In fact the Tokai region has been racked by very major earthquakes about every 150 years, and it is 155 years since the last big one. Chubu's Hamaoka reactors were designed to withstand such anticipated Tokai earthquake and had design basis S1 of 450 Gal and S2 of 600 Gal.  Units 3 & 4 were originally designed for 600 Gal, but the Ss standard established in September 2007 required 800 Gal.

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Hamaoka units 1 & 2 had been shut down since 2001 and 2004 respectively, pending seismic upgrading – they were originally designed to withstand only 450 Gal.  In December 2008 the company decided to write them off and build a new reactor to replace them.  Modifying the two 1970s units to new seismic standards would have cost about US$ 3.3 billion and been uneconomic, so Chubu opted for a US$ 1.7 billion write-down instead.

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NISA released its assessment of the safety significance of earthquake damage in November.  The worst of the damage rated zero on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), having no safety significance.  Other damage was deemed not relevant to nuclear safety.  The seven main reactor units themselves were still being checked, but appeared undamaged.  In May 2008 Tepco adopted a new standard of 2280 Gal (2.33g) maximum design basis seismic motion for Kashiwazaki Kariwa units 1-4, over five times the previous S2 figure, and 1156 Gal (1.18g) for units 5-7, in the light of local geological factors.  This standard will be reviewed by NISA and NSC.  Meanwhile construction works will be undertaken to bring all units up to be able to withstand a quake producing PGA of 1000 Gal.

Tepco posted a loss of JPY 150 billion (US$ 1.68 billion) for FY2007 (to 31/3/08) due to the prolonged closure of the plant, followed by JPY 109 billion loss in the first half of FY2008.  While no damage to the actual reactors has been found, detailed checks continue, and upgrading of earthquake resistance is required.

What I see from all this is that according to their own reports, Japan has acted responsibly. They started out with minimal standards, and every time they get an earthquake that comes close to causing problems, they increase their standards and rebuild at great expense to meet them. Then the next near-miss gets them to increase their standards again. They estimate disastrous earthquakes as unlikely and do not plan for them, but they are ready for problems a little worse than they expect to actually happen.

If they ever do get a bad earthquake that causes a serious nuclear accident, they will investigate themselves and say "We had every reason to think that this would only happen every 1500 years. We did the right thing to not plan for it."

But suppose such things happen randomly. (They probably aren't random but it's hard to predict them, so -- random.) If a reactor lasts 50 years before it is decommissioned, what is the chance of a single horrible earthquake within those 50 years? Roughly 50/1500 = 1/30 ~ 3%. (This ought to be an exponential distribution, and you look at the chance of not getting a hit within the first 50 years. But it's close.) And can a big earthquake cause problems after the structure is decommissioned but still very hot? Yes, but not as bad.

The problem is, if Japan prepared enough to reduce the chance of a disaster to less than say 0.5%, it would be prohibitively expensive.

Churba

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Re: Nature versus technology
« Reply #29 on: January 22, 2011, 12:01:52 am »
Chernobyl was a worst case scenario. It was bad, but the only reason it happened was because the plant was faultily designed and the designers knew this because they wanted it cheap. It wasnt even fire insulated!
You're missing a bit - that bit being that the engineers were conducting an unauthorized experiment, with insufficient staff, late at night, Under unsafe conditions that should have immediately ended the experiment before it even began and had poisoned the reactor core with Xenon-135. Instead, they proceeded with the experiment, under ludicrously unsafe conditions, which - because of their foolish mismanagement of the experiment - caused the reactor to embark on a positive feedback loop, which was only exacerbated by the slow moving, graphite tipped control rods, allowing the reaction to actually increase mightily in the lower half of the core. Because of a massive power surge caused by the experiment, a small explosion occurred, fracturing fuel rods, and sticking many of the control rods in place, out of the way. Fuel temp shot up, rupturing steam channels, causing a massive buildup of steam pressure in the core, which is what was responsible for blowing off the 2000 Ton upper plate, which was rapidly followed by the rest of the coolant flashing to steam, and a Nuclear excursion - AKA, the core built up enough energy to go supercritical, AKA, It blowed the fuck up.

Chernobyl was a somewhat poorly built plant, it's true - but it still would have gone the distance without problem, if not for human error.