Monday, October 15, 2007

Nuclear powered Tunnelvision

blog action day

Sciurus drew my attention to BAD, blog action day, so I decided to write about the environment.

History seems to show that the level of carbon dioxide follows the temperature of the athmosphere with an average delay of 750 years. This means that the current rise of carbon dioxide originates in the global rise of temperature of 1250 AD. Because when the sea heats up, it releases more carbon dioxide.

According to some papers 95% of the greenhouses gases consist of water vapor. That raises the question "how important can human influence be, relatively?".

However it may be unlikely that the current warming is caused by humans, I don't like the idea of releasing smoke in any form in the athmosphere anyway. From that point of view, I'm happy with the current hype.

Whether it is caused by humans or not, I have two problems with the current hype of global warming:

I don't trust nuclear power plants.
If you calculate the need for power and you compare that with the "green" power we can generate, you will see an enormous shortage. So if you set your goals of carbon dioxide reduction high, nuclear power is inevitable. Being pro CO2 reduction will become being pro nuclear power. Mark my words.
I have been in a nuclear power plant lately, and I was shocked to notice that the safety measures are quite insufficient. The human role in the safety is way too big and the stuff is much too complicated for the human brain, so it is very easy to draw the wrong conclusions when something goes wrong, thus administering the wrong remedy. What use is it to delay the burning of electrical insulation with half an hour when it will burn anyway, causing unexpected circuitry? What use is a protection against a downfalling plane from 1965 when the planes are 3 times as big, nowadays? So it is just a matter of statistics when a major accident will hebben.

I don't like tunnelvision among scientists.
I remember very well the hype of acid rain in the eighties. A few scientists came out of their lab, counted a few needles from a pine tree, plotted 3 points in a graph, drew a straight line through it and predicted that there would be no pine trees in 2015. Only much later they discovered it was only autumn. . .
The problem with scientific research is that someone has to pay for it. This makes that the resulting scientific report is often colored by what the principal wants to hear. Those who base their work on such reports in good faith often take over the color unnoticed. After many years this results in tunnelvision. Where everybody seems to agree with everybody. Right now I simply can't get rid of the feeling that tunnelvision has replaced an open mind.


  1. Well said. Regardless of what the topic is - global warming or how to get better at our pastime of choice, chess - it is important to be open to the opinions of other people, to new things in general, and to not take things for granted.

  2. A problem with arguments about global warming (whether it is human caused or a natural rhythm) is that it is very difficult to do controlled experiments. We work with correlations from which it is harder to draw conclusions about causality (though not impossible, as recent work in Bayes' Nets has shown). Controlled experiments can only be done in little simulated environments which don't contain all the complexity of the full system. Because of this, it is easier to cast doubt on the consensus that exists.

    That said by sampling air from ice caps we can see natural cycles up to 400,000 years into the past, and while there are natural cycles revealed, we don't see C02 levels approaching anything like what we observe since the industrial revolution. Your claim about CO2 and temperature is interesting, but temperature rise is not the only cause of C02 increase! Again, you can compare natural cycles from ice caps to C02 rise since the industrial revolution.

    An analysis of the literature on global warming, which documents the scientific consensus, can be found here. The actual data and arguments are given here. Wiki has a good entry on global warming, but not much on the anthropogenic question, here.

    One nice thing about science is that it rewards rebellion. Most scientists would love to overthrow the dominant theory like Einstein and Schroedinger did. It is usually people advocating fringe-science or pseudo-science that like to claim scientists insulate themselves from criticism. If they had theories with robust predictions that were born out, they wouldn't be on the fringe anymore.

    Note I am not an expert, far far from it, on global warming, and I'm largely playing devil's advocate. That George Bush now concedes anthropogenic global warming is a problem makes me want to reconsider.

    Nuclear energy is something the environmentalists need to think about more in my opinion.

  3. Blue,
    I have not really an opinion about the matter myself. I would say that it doesn't matter if we are the cause or not, take measures just in case. But since my visit to a nuclear power plant, it is evident that on that road a disaster is just waiting to happen. Hopefully we get another warning before that. It's just not a safe alternative.

    I assume that scientists behave like the guinea pigs in your video.
    video about conformity.

  4. It's true, there is a good degree of conformity, especially before graduate school. But you also have lots of iconoclasts. Most of us would love to overthrow orthodoxy. It's like checkmating your competition. But to do so requires kick-ass ideas and experiments. Skepticism is not enough.

  5. Good point about the causes: even if we aren't the cause, that doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything!

  6. acid rain was very real. I've grown up in town where you couldn't dry loundry outside, because if it rained, the water burned holes into the cloth after a few such incidents. nothing but poplar trees would grow because everything else dies. pines looked like they grew on tundra.

    I fully agree about nuclear plants though. as a chess players, we know how easy it is to make a stupid 'human error', even in such a controlled and well defined environment as the chess board. the ramifications of missing a 'forced mate in two' in a nuclear plant are just mindboggling. and contrary to the pro-nuclear hype, we have statistics to show we have even statistics to show that it does happen.

    I once counted all nuclear reactors on earth, took the amount of serious accidents with long time contamination, and calculated the probability of something really bad happening to a single reactor during an average life time of 50 years. it didn't look good at all. and then there are the questions of the mining and long time stability of ground deposits. it turns out the 'stable' bed rock isn't that stable in a 1000 year period. (then again, small scale local contamination isn't really that big a problem in the big picture. unless of course someone would be stupid enough to place such a deposit under a heavily populated area, and we're back in the 'mate-in-two' scenario)

    I also agree with everything that bdk said. it's a constant source of amazement for me that the certain financially motivated folks in u.s. have managed to create an illusion of doubt against global warming, and spread it globally.

    then again, when people can do the same thing about creation vs. evolution, it's not really that surprising what you can do with less of a fairytale type of scenario like global warming. it takes a lot of effort to look into the matters deep enough to have any better grounds to criticize the 'doubts' than 'yoor stoopid', and not a lot of people are willing or even able to do that.

    but the consensus have been there for 20 years, and the evidence is piling up by the year, not dissipating. I wish the media companies would take more responsibility on fighting disinformation, by providing established scientific research rather than tabloid-type 'exposure journalism'.

  7. Wijk aan Zee, the most famous chess village, lies near Corus. About 8 times a year there is an accident on the Corus terrain, causing the spread of graphite all over Wijk aan Zee and its laundery. The Corus tournament causes a lot of goodwill in Wijk aan Zee, which is a seaside resort, attrackting lots of people in the winter. My ugly mind is supposing that a chess tournament is way cheaper than to prevent those accidents.
    So I'm a fan of pollution!

  8. Too bad J'adoube isn't around. I'm sure he'd have a strong opinion :)

  9. Wormwood mentioned bad quality journalism and puts water on my mills... Ever since I moved to the US I am quite shocked about the low-quality of the news. It is more like entertainment than serious reporting. But one should not blame the journalists for all of that - after all they are producing what the majority of the consumers want to see. And most people simply do not want to see something that requires something stressful as thinking (but I guess the chess improvement crowd is different there, after all we are devising self-torture schemes just to achieve some miniscule ratings increase some unknown day in the future :-)

    And psychology also plays into this. People see what they want to see. There have been interesting studies where pharma companies have been forced to write things like "does NOT help against cough" on the package. People read it and many will remember only that it has something to do with cough and will buy it for that... Same with news. The more it is written that there were none of the infamous weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the more people believe that tons of them have been found. I sometimes wonder if humankind is simply not evolved enough for modern life...