Thursday, March 10, 2022

Nuclear Power ... [Insert blank stare here]

Way back when I was shorter, I thought nuclear power was the future.  Then I learned more and I realized it had serious problems and I jumped on the anti-nuke bandwagon.

But then I learned more about nuclear energy and radiation and pollution and ecology and, believe it or not, became hesitantly pro-nuke.

That however was many years ago, and since then I've not only learned more about nuclear energy and radiation and pollution and ecology, but I've also learned a lot about human behavior, economics, business, and politics.  There have also been two big nuclear accidents in that time.

Now when I hear someone say "We need nuclear power to take up the slack while we transition to renewables to stop global warming," ... and I don't know about you but I've heard this a lot over the past few years ... I'm liable to stare at them and wonder about what they've been smoking.

If I feel like making the effort, my answer to them would be along the lines of, "No.  We really don't."

The Problem

Odds are I don't have any information off the top of my head and can't google and read fast enough to counter the gallop that would follow, most of which seems to be the "everyone knows" kind of stuff that sounds suspiciously like it was written by the National Atomic Boosters or some such group.

So ... this post is for future me to point them to.

Two of the biggest and most common arguments for why we need nuclear power are:

1.  We don't have enough space for all the solar panels and wind generators.

2.  We need extra, reliable power for when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine.

The short answers for these are:

1.  Bunk.

2.  Bunk.

Of course that won't go over very well as it's uninformative and not very friendly.

1. How much do we need?

That's a tough question, and I'm sure if you ask a dozen politicians you'll get five hundred answers.

A quick search got me a number for 400GWh for the annual power consumption in the US.  That's a lot.

It got me thinking about where would be a good place to put solar panels that wouldn't be adding to negative environmental impacts (a lot of pro-nuke people bring this up like it's some kind of "gotcha" and like somehow nuclear energy has no effect on the environment).

You know what we have a heck of a lot of here in the US?  Roads.  Specifically, the Interstate Highway system.

So, look up some numbers, do some math.  Not trying to solve problems, mind you.  I just want to make sure I'm thinking on the right scale.

We've got 46,876 miles of Interstate Highway (an oddly specific number, eh?).  A 3' x 6' solar panel on average puts out around 250W.  That means if we put a row of solar panels in the median, in both directions, [ math math math probably got some stuff wrong math ] it comes up to around 40GWh.  Yes, that's about 10% of what we need, but it includes using zero new land and would be pretty easy to tie into the existing grid because all roads lead to the grid.  That's a new saying I just made up.  Feel free to use it.

What that really means is the scale is right.  We might not want to actually do it but we've got a lot of other options as well so I'm very sure 100% renewable is both possible and feasible.

Is there anyone else out there that says it's possible and backs it up with better numbers?  Turns out, yes.  An article was published in Nature last year saying 100% could be met using just rooftop solar alone.  Do I understand all the math in it?  Hell no.  Did I look for articles to the contrary?  No, but to be fair I really didn't look hard for this article either.

2. How much do we need?

This line of thought is much less about the numbers and more about just plain easy.

"Yes, we need X units of power per day, but demand isn't evenly spread out.  So with the variability of renewables how are we going to fill the gaps?  We don't have any way to store sunlight or wind for when we need it."  Notice how they've wrapped two arguments up into one?

Well first, we don't have to limit ourselves to X units of production.  Here's a really neat chart I found.  It shows that for the cost of nuclear power we can build a heck of a lot more renewables.  

So instead of developing enough sources to generate X units of power, we make it 2X, or maybe 1.5X, or whatever.  We end up with plenty of power and it's still a hell of a lot cheaper than building new nuke plants.

And storing the extra power?  We don't have to try and keep sunshine and wind in our pockets.  We can actually use electricity generated by renewables to make hydrogen, which I suspect can be stored in ways similar to natural gas, and can be burned on demand to generate electricity in ways similar to natural gas ... and if you're going to complain about efficiency for that step just bump the factor up for X a bit and all is good.

We need nuclear power?   No. We really don't.

Disagree with me?  Cool.  Show me the consensus of experts in the field and I will change my position.

Want to just call me a poopyhead?  Fine.  Do it somewhere else though.  I don't have time for that.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Immigration

Continuing my recent theme of stating positions that I know a heck of a lot of people aren't going to like, today I thought I'd alienate people by talking about immigration.

As with all of my viewpoints, I'm happy to entertain the possibility that I am wrong, and if presented with a cogent argument supported by the real world there's a good chance I will admit my mistakes and change my position (it's happened before, and I hope it will again because that would mean I'm still learning and growing).

With that said, here we go ...


Way back when, before any of us were alive (specifically before 1875) , the immigration policy of the US was pretty much, "Welcome to the United States."  There were some vague requirements about being "of good moral character," and non-whites only got the right to citizenship five years earlier, but that was pretty much it.  If they found their way to the US, they could become "one of us."

Of course we all know such a state couldn't last long, and a steady stream of restrictions were added to just who could and couldn't immigrate.  Some of these seem reasonable on the surface, such as the bans on criminals or people carrying contagious diseases, but others start to edge into the category of "keeping out undesirables".  Polygamists, anarchists, and beggars quickly made the list.

Then in the early 1920s, as the sources of immigration shifted from northern Europe to other regions, all sorts of caps and quotas were implemented.

From that point on it's pretty much all down hill.  Whether intended or not, US immigration policy was (and essentially still is) geared towards maintaining a degree of whiteness.

There have been attempts to reform the policies with the stated aim to "help reunite families" or improve "border control," but unsurprisingly they haven't been that successful.

My viewpoint is that the reason attempts at reforming the process have failed is that they're like trying to repair a broken clock by changing when you have lunch.

Yes, the current system is expensive, problematic, and somewhat ineffective.  It's also unnecessary.

If you do a web search on "economic impact of immigration" ... heck, I'll even make it easy on you, go ahead and click the link ... you get references to countless studies (well, I'm not going to count them) all saying the same thing: immigration is great for the economy.

Not to surprising really if you take a moment to think about it.  If you bring in more people then there are more people who need food, clothing, housing, etc.  With more consumers you get more business, and that means more employment, and more more more more more.  Life is good, right?

Whaddabout ... ?

What about crime?  Searching for "crime and immigration" (I'm so helpful!) returns heaps of studies showing no causal link between the two (thought I've seen some that show recent immigrants are more likely to be the victims of crime).

Ok, how about protecting our vaguely defined "Cultural Identity"?  Ugh!  Setting aside that this is usually used as a euphemism for "whiteness," just what kind of identity are we talking about here?  The US is a bunch of people from all over the world living on land taken by force from those who lived there before.  A lot of the people sent over from Europe were criminals, exiles, debtors, religious nutcases, and people who were just trying to get away from where they used to live.

The only real cultural identity we have as a nation is that of the scrappy, mixed breed dog that will continue to chase huge trucks because one day it's certain it will catch one and win.

Why isn't anyone concerned that
we're all being boiled alive?

Our national language?  No.  Just don't.  Remember that Benjamin Franklin wanted the national language to be German?  If we're going to pick one single language for everyone in the US, I would propose either a language that originated on the frickin' contenent, like maybe Zuni, or one that's completely made up and isn't anyone's native language.  But really, no.  Just no.  We don't need to declare an official language or keep people out who speak something else.

The "Solution"

When you find yourself doing something that is both counterproductive and incredibly stupid, most often the solution is to cut it out.  In this case that would probably work.

1.  No more quotas, limits, or restrictions.  The officer at the border looks at your papers, runs a quick check to make sure you're not on a terrorist or most-wanted criminal list or whatever, takes a photo, gives you a green-card number, and sends you on your way.

If you're not a terrorist or wanted criminal, why wouldn't we want you to come in and spend money? 

If you're going to be in the US, why wouldn't we want you to be allowed to work and pay taxes on your income?  (and no, they're not taking jobs away from hard-working real Americans.  It doesn't work that way.  Go back and read all the stuff at the economics link above)

2.  Um ... actually that's it.  There is no step 2.


The part that really gets me is what this saves us.  I mean, aside from all the good brought about by the economic boost immigrants bring, and ignoring the really cool cultural stuff like great restaurants that serve something other than cheeseburgers (which I love, by the way!  Cheeseburgers are awesome!  But have you ever had Thibetan food?  ZOMG that stuff is awesome!).

As a bonus our government doesn't have to spend money looking for "illegal immigrants" to deport.  We don't have to keep a small, permanent, specialized military force to have roam the country, busting down doors, breaking up families, and in general being horrible people.

We also don't have the absurd humanitarian crisis of people camped out on our boarders because they're fleeing war, crime, persecution or anything else, but we want to be sure they're really deserving of asylum and not really just trying to sneak into the country to build a better life.

It would even speed up things for citizens coming back from abroad.  Right now they look at everyone's documents to make sure you're really you and not someone trying to sneak into the country to build a better life.  Instead it would be "Yup, the picture looks like you, and you're not on the bad list. Reason for visit?  Who the heck cares!  Have a nice day.  Next!"

Do I really believe this is what should be done?  Pretty much, yes.

Do I think it has a snowball's chance in hell at actually happening?  Nope.  It would let too many brown people into the country.