Nuclear energy and society

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by Keln, Feb 4, 2011.

1. lightgiganticBannedBanned

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16,330
I am talking about DU as a hazardous material
actually I am talking about it being a consequence of the nuclear industry, and hence part of the cost in dealing with it as a fueling option

You understand how the special characteristics of spent DU ammunitions provide unique health issues outside of these commercial applications, yes? (and I am not talking about being shot by them)

And regardless of how much is stockpiled, it doesn't make the cost in terms of health or money any cheaper in dealing with the problems of DU ammunitions on the battlefield
regardless of your estimations of need, there are others who do feel the need, hence quite a few of them are in operation

I meant to say unenriched reactors make it easier for weapon proliferation.

It was how india managed to score (and test) its first nuclear weapon in the 70's, skirting the guidelines of the UN security council

Sheesh.

Not even in international politics are they so idiotic as to advocate the nuclear energy industry and the nuclear military industry as mutually exclusive

:shrug:

3. SkepticalRegistered Senior Member

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1,449
LG

I accept you were talking of DU as a hazardous material. I am not sure, though, that you accept that DU has to be fired as a missile or bullet in order to become hazardous. You could build your bed out of DU, and sleep on it for 40 years, and not experience any added health hazard from the DU. It is only when DU fragments enter your body as shrapnel, or DU dust is breathed into your lungs that DU becomes a significant health hazard.

5. SarkusHippomonstrosesquippedalo phobeValued Senior Member

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The point is that it need no longer be a cost of dealing with it as a commercial fuelling option.
The issue here is not the health issues of spent DU ammunition, but the strength of the connection you are making from spent DU ammuniction to the commercial nuclear energy industry that can happily operate without the need for DU as a byproduct.
There are quite a few because the technology to use unenriched uranium for nuclear power stations is relatively new.
Ah yes, like requiring lead for roofing makes the manufacture of lead-bullets easier?
They are in terms of technologies and materials, the same way that commercial airlines and military aircraft use the same technology and materials. But I guess you'd lay at the feet of the commercial aircraft industry all the risks that come from having military aircraft, right?

Nuclear energy has inherent risks due to the materials they use, not because of the use to which others may put those materials.
To argue otherwise, and not to argue similarly against all other technologies, is to have a rather obvious and biased agenda.

7. MirceaRegistered Member

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70
The Integral Fast Reactor solved those problems, except that the Environmentally-Challenged Dynamic Duo Clinton/Gore cut all research funding on IFRs.

Not entirely. You would have to put a sheet on the DU bed, but then I guess most people would actually do that.

DU does "rust" ie it oxidizes and the "rust" particles floating in the air could potentially be hazardous if you were breathing them for 40 years (maybe).

It isn't even a health hazard then. Lead would be more hazardous than U238.

Well, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that you have never fired or handled "DU" ammunition.

I think that needs to be qualified.

A nuclear reactor isn't necessary to build nuclear devices.

A country like Iran that is sitting on a huge lode of uranium ore only needs to separate the U235 from the U238. It takes a few months to get a mix of U238/U235 that consists of 90% U235 and 10% U238, so apparently the Iranians are using the "Tweezers" separation method and separating one atom at a time. They'll have enough for a 0.01 kt device in about 3.86e10+38 years.

Most reactors run with a U238 mix enriched to 15% U235. The reactor process results in U238 + n --> Np 239 - β --> Pu239 and Pu239 + n --> Pu240.

If you're really sloppy, you also get Pu240 + n --> Pu241 and Pu241 + n --> Pu242.

When you pull the reactor fuel, you have to separate the Pu from the U238. It's a little more difficult, time-consuming and costly. After that, you'll have to separate out the Pu242 (if you're a sloppy operator). You can have a little Pu241, but the Pu242 will ruin your weapon and the electronic systems that activate it.

Lead has a lower ignition point, but it doesn't burst into flames.

I'm certain you did your flaming uranium experiments in a controlled laboratory environment and it was peer-reviewed.

Are you sure it isn't the armor or masonry that is igniting?

I don't know this to be a fact, but I've heard that some ammunition labeled as DU wasn't really DU, rather it was "reactor waste."

If that is true, and I'm not saying it is, that would be a different issue entirely.

DU is safer than Uranium ore, because DU has had U235 (and U234 which is worse than U235) stripped from it during the separation process (I'm going to assume that everyone understands that no process is 100% efficient and therefore DU still has some trace amounts of U234/U235 in it).

However, reactor waste is something entirely different. That would include any number of things, including Pu-series in greater than trace amounts. If it has Pu240, then it has U236 and when U236 undergoes internal transition, the gamma coming off that is incredibly powerful (about the same energy as radioactive Aluminum) and it wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration to say that a gamma coming off U236 would knock you on your butt.

Are you kidding? It's been ingrained in the culture since Hiroshima/Nagasaki. The anti-nuclear message appears in film, television, the media, literature, music and the education system (especially in the US).

Didn't you ever see the Amazing Colossal Man? They're doing a nuclear test and the troops are in trenches. A single engine Beechcraft crashes in the test area, and one of the troops runs out to save the pilot when the bomb goes off. He turns into this colossal giant running around in a loin cloth eating tomatoes and terrorizing people.

It doesn't matter who's responsibility it is, because you can never overcome the anti-nuclear culture. You'll just have to adopt an "in-your-face" attitude, build them, run them safely without issues, and maybe after a generation or two, people will come to [grudgingly] accept it.

A total lack of openness and no meaningful punishment.

I like nuclear power, but I will never support it unless there is open on-demand inspections with meaningful punishment for transgressions.

That means any government agency at any level of government, and any organized group, like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, a local NIMBY group can go to the facility at any time, day or night, on weekends, on holidays, and gain access for inspection merely by asking without any notice.

Stiff fines, $10 Million per violation of safety or operational procedures. Paperwork not complete,$10 Million fine, if it's a corporation running the facility, a $10,000 fine is levied on all stock-holders/share-holders. Non-functioning equipment not tagged, another$10 Million fine, another \$10,000 for all share-holders, and that's two violations, the facilities director is arrested and jailed to await trial and the CEO has to step down within 72 hours. 3 violations is more fines and the CEO goes to jail with the facilities director to await trial.

That might sound Stalinist or Nazi-like, but if that is the only way to guarantee that corners are never cut and short-cuts are never taken, then so be it.

And that is the only way you'll ever gain the trust and support of people for nuclear power. Corporations policing themselves or the government policing corporations has repeatedly proven to be a total failure.

Allowing 3rd Parties unrestricted inspection access is the only way to overcome the negativity and gain rapid support (plus ensure the facility doesn't turn into Chernobyl Junior or the Mother of All Chernobyls).

That's a great idea, and it will work, right up until a meteor smashes into it and destroys it.

That is absolutely right. In my opinion, the governments and corporations have forever forfeited the right to police themselves.

Then the obvious answer is Breeder Reactors whose waste is fuel for other Breeder Reactors. The minuscule amount of unusable material, call it "true waste" can be launched into space and sent to another galaxy (instead of the Sun).

People whine over the Cassini Probe and its plutonium fuel, but nearly all satellites launched (including Voyager back in the 1970s) use plutonium. Cassini was just a good example of whiney people being very loud and whiney and not much happening in the world at the time so the media seized on it to increase their advertising revenues.

They would probably be made of recycled people, since there wouldn't be any resources left. Human bone is quite sturdy. You could fuse a few hundred femurs together for the boom.

Po-210 has a half-life of 138 days. The other Polonium isotopes have a half-life of less than a few minutes.

There is a high probability that many smokers during the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s got lung cancer from Polonium because of US nuclear weapons testing.

That is no longer an issue. In any event, it isn't really relevant since I met 7 of 8 of my great-grandparents (one died in an auto accident) and 6 of 7 smoked (since they were 11-13 years) and one dipped snuff and they all died in the 90s and none died of cancer.

My grandfather smoked since he was 14 and died at age 87 of pancreatic cancer not related to smoking and never had lung problems. According to the media and "science" my grandmother who did not smoke died of um, "second-hand smoke" 30 years ago but the funny thing is that she is still alive and lives (in Florida) and just turned 98 in December.

The government's claim that "Smoking causes cancer" is an outrageous lie.

If you want to be morally, ethically and scientifically truthful, you should say that "Smoking may cause cancer in certain persons who are genetic weaklings."

Uh, wut? Iran does not need the dual-reactors at Bushwehr to build "the bomb." It needs only to separate U235 from the tons of uranium ore it sitting on and it doesn't take 5 years to enrich U235 to 90% for weapons use.

As far as North Korea, Bill Clinton authorized the sale of not one, but rather two nuclear reactors to North Korea.

You do need nuclear reactors if you want to build plutonium nuclear devices.

I guess I should impress upon people that uranium and plutonium are not the same thing. The largest uranium-based nuclear device you can build is 60 kt. That's it. If you want to go bigger than 60 kt, you'll need plutonium (or deuterium/tritium but that would be daft). Plutonium also has a limit, around 200 kt. You want to go bigger than that, you'll need to go thermo-nuclear. Limitations exist because of inefficiency.

Pakistan's devices are all uranium-based, so what does that tell you about their warheads?

Okay, hint: Pakistan has no bombers.

Pakistan used to have B-57Fs and at least one RB-57B (a recon aircraft), but those have been out of service for 2 decades at least (and they only had 4 flying at that time).

A Pakistani F-16 might be able to carry a 20 kt warhead, but not the J-6/J-7 since those are Chinese licensed MiGs. You're not going to mount a humongous (and it would be huge) 20 kt warhead on the wing pylons. The J-7 might have a center-pylon, but I don't think you'd be able to mount it there either.

That should give you a big clue as to what type of nuclear weapons Pakistan has and how they would be used.

India has both uranium and plutonium based warheads. India doesn't have any bombers either, but the Su-30 and MiG-29 can carry heavy payloads. In fact I imagine that's why India keeps its British Jaguars operating (some of those are configured for anti-shipping), at least until it can find a suitable replacement for the Jaguar.

South Africa? Oh, please. Where are you getting this nonsense, some conspiracy web-site?

South Africa dismantled its measly 3 nuclear low-yield devices decades ago.

I suppose next you're going to tell us that a US B-52G carrying South Africa's 3 nuclear devices crashed off the coast of Somalia. Right.

I fell asleep and drooled all over a nuclear warhead once. I was tired, it was cold, a very long day, a very long flight, and the rotors droning overhead kind of help put you to sleep anyway. The warhead container was nice and warm (thanks to radioactive decay). Couldn't help it.

That is in large part because no sound epidemiological study has been done.

I'm not insensitive. I've seen the photos of Iraqi children with birth defects and I will accept them at face value without questioning the authenticity.

Having said that, why do people automatically assume it is DU and not dietary?

A very poor diet, especially one that is deficient of critical vitamins can cause birth defects. I mean we're talking about Iraq who was on the UN-food-for-aid program. For how many years after the Gulf War did we hear that Iraqi's were starving to death, blah, blah, blah, blah.

There's kind of a disconnect between starving population and good diet.

How do we know that some are not sitting on the Iraqi version of Love Canal?

Saddam's regime spared no expense to ensure that hazardous waste materials were properly disposed? Yeah, sure they did. They just dumped hazardous waste where ever they could.

8. DywyddyrPenguinaciously duckalicious.Valued Senior Member

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It does if it's dust (or flakes).
The fact is that DU is classed as pyrophoric.

Yup:
(Page 19)
(Page 19)
(Page 37)
Peer-reviewed?
Well does a DOE PRIMER ON SPONTANEOUS HEATING AND PYROPHORICITY count?

9. KelnRegistered Member

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Never heard of the NRC? Yes, they are VERY Gestapo-like. We have to deal with them constantly.

10. SkepticalRegistered Senior Member

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To Mircea

You posted an excellent item, full of fact, and I appreciate the factual content.

However, just to show that I am not entirely a suck-up man, I do have a couple of quibbles.

1. Inspection of nuclear facilities. You do realise that organisations like Greenpeace have a long history of acts of sabotage, and an equally long history of 'massaging' the truth in order to promote their dogmas?

If I were to get an inspection team, I would want dedicated professionals, rather than a bunch of loose cannons who might well take it into their heads to plant a device to cause a melt-down - just to prove a point.

2. You said smoking does not cause cancer. Wrong. The epidemiological evidence is incontrovertible. Sure, the results are statistical and do not necessarily apply to individuals, since each person varies in resistance to cancer and a wide range of other ways. Smoking does cause cancer, and also emphysema, heart disease, and strokes. In fact, about half of all heavy smokers die young as a result of their smoking.

3. You said : "That is in large part because no sound epidemiological study has been done.

I'm not insensitive. I've seen the photos of Iraqi children with birth defects and I will accept them at face value without questioning the authenticity."

Obviously, the research must be done.
However, it is best not to take things at face value. Just because a whole lot of Iraqi children have birth defects does not indicate the cause.

I recall the Erin Brockovitch case. She is still, wrongly, regarded as a hero. In fact, later research showed that, in the area where she claimed cancers caused by chromium 6 pollution, the overall cancer rates were pretty much exactly the same as the rest of the USA. She got it wrong. That is what comes from jumping to conclusions before the studies are complete.

11. iceauraValued Senior Member

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25,318

Every one of those countries tapped into the spread of nuclear power generation capability as a cover and a source for the skills, technology, and materials for building weapons. Some were curbed, some came to their senses, some built bombs and have them now. The spread of nuclear power has led directly to the spread of weaponry, planetwide. It continues to do so, in Iran most famously but not uniquely. It will continue to do so, and there is no realistic way to prevent it, because the skills, technology, and materials are so closely related.

Why do official agencies assume it is not DU? If people are going to make ill-supported assumptions, they should at least not be official positions of State.

See it again:
Aside from misrepresenting the issues there, the post has the deeper flaw of missing the central point: the studies were too late. The people making the illegitimate assumptions were the people who built the power plant and the fuel processing facilities and so forth, in more or less complete denial of the potential consequences. Once the economic and political power is installed, it's way late for "studies".
Hence the malign political influence of the industry. It demands authoritarian government with centralized control over power generation. It leads to secrecy and deception and manipulation of info.

Not one power plant in my range of information (upper midwest Mississippi and Ohio river valleys) has run ten years itself, let alone "a couple of generations" of an entire industry, without safety issues - some of them near misses of disaster. Not one of them has safely disposed of any of its waste. None have been safely decommissioned. All of them represent unfunded and uninsured risks of unknown likelihood and enormous proportions - national scale.

Continual failures of control and prediction, continual surprises and unanticipated events, whether eventually handled without disaster or not, are not indicators of safety. Huge piles of hazardous waste not dealt with, even if contained so far, are not signs of competence and prudence. The people who advocate for nuclear power have absolutely no credibility left. Whether self-deceived or deceptive, whether sincerely optimistic or shilling for the enormous economic powers involved, they cannot be trusted nor their assurances depended upon.

12. billvonValued Senior Member

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That's true of all forms of power. The number of people killed by coal and natural gas plants dwarfs the number of people killed by nuclear. Not one coal plant, ever, has contained its own waste. Not one has been safely decommissioned and cleaned up. Not one has had its nuclear waste removed and buried somewhere proven to be stable over geologic time periods.

So the question becomes - which is worse? 20,000 actual, provable deaths a year in the general populace from coal power, or fantasy nuclear deaths that come from fear rather than actual experience? You can argue that fantasy deaths are far scarier (after all, no one makes action movies based on coal plant failures) but that's a pretty hard sell anywhere outside Hollywood.

13. Fraggle RockerStaff Member

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24,690
How about the people who are killed simply mining that coal? A bunch of guys were squashed in West Virginia not too long ago. Or the deaths caused by pollution from coal fires, before anybody even realized it? The famous "London fog" turned out to be a high percentage of smog!

Or the giant carbon footprint from all those coal mine fires in China, that absolutely nobody can figure out how to extinguish?

How long has it been since the last death from a natural gas explosion at the consumer end of the chain? Seems like a building in the U.S. blew up just last year, although there were no fatalities.

14. Me-Ki-GalBannedBanned

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I am worried about environmental fall out. I realize there are many fail safes built into the systems and so much of the media disinformation abounds , but even the smallest of chances of contamination puts a knot in my stomach. Sacramento is were I grew up and the voters Me included voted to shut down Rancho Saico ( Spelling < I bit ) It was shortly sometime after Channoble < more spelling? I didn't read all the other threads . It gives me a head ache and a ringing in my ears to read some of that stuff. Mainly the stuff I think is disinformation

15. Me-Ki-GalBannedBanned

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You would be surprised what people die from. Building houses is extremely dangerous. Several of my family members are retired Coal Miners. The conditions have changed considerably over the years . Safety programs are very important in America and continue to develop. All endeavors in human activity are dangerous. Look out !!! for that piece of paper it will cut you. No Funny Funny I don't mean to make small of it . Sorry

16. Me-Ki-GalBannedBanned

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The buildings blow up all the time from natural gas. One blew up in Montana last year I believe. The law suit is still going on . That might be the one you refer to , but I think there has been other building blow sense then

17. SkepticalRegistered Senior Member

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Here in New Zealand we just had 29 people die in a coal mine. An unpredicted gas seam leaked flammable gas into the mine, resulting in a devastating methane explosion. The safety measures used were international standard, and 29 miners still died. It is a shockingly dangerous vocation.

Nuclear contamination?

This is a bogie man used by the anti-nuclear lobby. Truth is that only very major contamination is truly disastrous. Minor nuclear contamination happens all the time. For example : if you build a traditional cottage from granite rock, and live in it, you will be exposed to minor nuclear contamination. Granite can contain up to 20 parts per million of uranium, and will emit radon gas.

I remember the time a soviet satellite crashed in Canada, and had a small nuclear reactor on board. You can imagine the hysteria at the time! In fact, no measurable harm occurred, and no-one even became sick, much less died.

There was another situation, when soviets pumped nuclear waste into the Arctic Ocean. After the fall of the iron curtain, American teams of experts went there to measure the harm. They could not! No measurable damage could be detected.

The point of all this is that life can handle, without harm, quite substantial increases in radioactivity. As I pointed out earlier, on average we get exposed to about 2.6 millisieverts per year, including all sources. In Hiroshima, those who were exposed to up to 80 millisieverts in one hit showed no increased mortality compared to the rest of Japan.

It is simply paranoia to assume that minor contamination represents some kind of disaster.

18. iceauraValued Senior Member

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That's a poor argument for creating another, even worse, mess on top of the coal one.

Because nobody is claiming the coal mess is going away any time soon.

Without even noting the scarcity of coal Chernobyls, coal bomb terrorists to worry about, etc.
The inability of governments to establish reasonable safety in practice for even simple and comparatively harmless stuff like coal and gas, with hundreds of years of experience and little intrinsic large scale threat, is not a reason to expect them to exhibit the much greater reliability and more diligent oversight necessary to keep nukes from creating disasters.

And that radon gas - a small increase in the background radiation - kills tens of thousands of people a year in the US.

And radon is voluntary exposure, in large part - people can actually avoid it, with reasonable effort. It's not something dumped on everybody without their consent, because the captains of industry make more money that way than by obvious alternatives.

That's your argument in favor of widespread and unavoidable nuclear contamination being accepted as a reasonable cost of electricity?
Bullshit. Not even cockroaches suffer no harm.

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Oh, much more recent than that. There's been several this year already (and it's only February). Wasn't there a big explosion in Chicago or somewhere a few weeks back that destroyed like 5 houses and killed a bunch of people? And a house exploded in my county just yesterday. Gas explosions are so common that they aren't even reported outside of local news, unless they're spectacular enough to take out something like an entire city block and rack up dozens of deaths.

20. SkepticalRegistered Senior Member

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iceaura

You clearly subscribe to the repudiated no-threshold model of radiation harm. Sorry, but it is bulldust. Researchers have found a very real threshold exists. I have referred to this several times with my note of the no-harm of 80 millisieverts experienced by Hiroshima survivors.

Radon is considered a risk factor for lung cancer, but this is only significant at the high end of exposure and the total number of people who get lung cancer from radon exposure is rather small. It is way, way lower than tobacco smoke as a cause. Small amounts of radon do not cause lung cancer. There is a definite threshold.

I am aware that Greenpeace and various other crackpot organisations preach a no-threshold model. They are wrong. Humans and other life-forms are adapted to coping with normal background radiation levels and any reasonable variation of that. Since normal background varies up up to 200 times, this means we are adapted to coping with quite a lot of radiation - more than any minor contamination.

The fact that large doses can kill, or cause cancer does not mean that small doses are harmful. That is crappy logic.

All the rational logic, and all the clear cut empirical data shows that nuclear energy is a much less harmful option than coal. I do not think anyone here would be happy promoting more coal burning to generate electricity. But the rational and sensible ones here would be delighted to suggest replacing coal with nuclear. Less coal and more nuclear will result in less harm to human health and to the natural environment.

21. iceauraValued Senior Member

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The official US government estimate is over 20 thousand a year.

That's just lung cancer, and just the lethal cases.
The adaptation is what? To not get cancer until past breeding age? That's true - most people killed by radon are past breeding age.
No. It means that we can survive - without immediately significant harm - the upper ends of the "normal" spectrum.

We could almost certainly survive, for instance, living in the hot zone around Chernobyl. We would be sickly, damaged, short lived, and so forth, but we could live there.

We could cope. And no one here is suggesting that we couldn't cope with the damage and affliction of a generally contaminated landscape in the entire Mississippi. But since it can be avoided, we should avoid it.
If you are planning to replace coal, a good idea no one appears to be entertaining in real life, why not with something cheaper and safer than nukes?

22. SkepticalRegistered Senior Member

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iceaura

You keep ignoring data counter to your ideas. There is no data that suggests that exposure to the high end of the normal variation in radioactivity causes harm, even well after breeding age. For example : if you compare the people in America living on the prairies with the people living in Colorado, exposed to at least 20 times as much radioactivity, you will discover that, on average, Colorado people live longer.

There is even a suggestion (called radio-hormesis) that exposure to more than normal radioactivity stimulates the cellular repair mechanisms, and this causes people to live longer and stay healthier. This idea is controversial, and the data is variable, so I am not claiming it to be definitely correct. However, the data does show zero harm at low levels of radioactivity.

On living at Chernobyl
The exclusion zone is 100 km wide, and the greatest bulk of that area now has a large wildlife population. While close to Chernobyl ground zero is not healthy, it appears that most of the exclusion zone, if that wildlife is anything to go by, would be 100% healthy as a habitat.

Replacing coal.
The only cheaper options, compared to nuclear, are hydroelectricity, gas, and geothermal. Hydro and geothermal are in very limited supply, and gas has many downsides, such as contributing to greenhouse gases, and having a limited raw material which will eventually be used up. There is a very good argument to say that natural gas should be reserved for transport fuel. Wind is 50% more expensive, and solar even more so.

There will come a time when alternative energy sources are better than nuclear. When that time comes, I will support them. Right now the best practical alternative is nuclear.

23. Fraggle RockerStaff Member

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I agree. But my worry is that once we build the nuclear infrastructure, everyone's going to stop looking for the better alternatives. The suggestion that was made more than 40 years ago, of building giant solar collectors in orbit, may very well turn out to be the best possible. But it requires more international cooperation and a longer attention span than our species has ever proven itself capable of. We'd have to undergo yet another Paradigm Shift, and then perhaps this energy infrastructure would fit the new paradigm. Or perhaps the Paradigm Shift that we're currently living through, from the Industrial Era to the Electronic/Information/Post-Industrial/Whatever Era will lead us to that paradigm.

It's always impossible to predict how one of these things will turn out. Who could have imagined that figuring out how to grow our own food in order to transcend the natural famine cycle would lead to the creation of cities and governments?