Monday, February 16, 2015

The zeal of Helen Caldicott and her followers

Just the other day, I was called a "zealot" by an anti-nuclear activist named Cecalli Helper. Not only that, she took the trouble to turn one of my tweets into a joke to mock me in my debate with her about the merits of the thorium molten salt reactor. When I called her on it, she turned and blocked me from viewing her tweets or communicating with her.

So I did some research and found, just through an incognito session with Chrome, that she likes to tweet the message from Helen Caldicott. As I mentioned in a previous post, Caldicott seems to have trouble with certain facts about the nuclear industry and from what I can tell, she is not very responsive to a reasonable line of questioning.

Take this example here, with what appears to be a debate between George Monbiot and Helen Caldicott. Here we have a man who is openly questioning the assumptions made by Caldicott and from his wording and line of reasoning, posted reassuringly enough, in the Guardian, and he has an open mind and is willing to consider new information. At the end of the article, I would expect to see some updates to see if Caldicott even bothered to respond. She does not.

Zealots have a hard time responding to facts that contravene their opinions. I know that I have taken zealous views in the past myself, so when I see one, I know what they look like. But on the issue of thorium molten salt reactors, I'm willing to yield.

For example, during that debate, I learned from Cecalli Helper that "base load", although a real term with real numbers, is slowly being made obsolete by new technologies that make it possible to deal with variations in power output from wind and solar power. New technology, mostly computers, software and sensors, make it possible to adjust power output so that the grid doesn't get fried with a surge of wind. I was not arguing against wind and solar, as I believe they are valuable sources of energy, I just don't believe that they are going to be able to satisfy our power needs into the future alone. Perhaps not in the near future, but as the technology matures, we may actually be able to harness enough energy to make every other technology obsolete.

I also learned that there is an effective limit to how much energy we can produce and use without heating up the atmosphere. Every technology that uses electricity generates waste heat. That heat goes into the atmosphere, warming it. Some have estimated that by 2300, we will be using 5000TW of power a day, a number that dwarfs our current use of 16TW today. If we use 5000TW a day, then we will warm the atmosphere by 3 degrees C with waste heat alone. That might not seem like much, but in planetary terms, we're going to see a lot less snow.

This assumes that we can capture even a tiny slice of the 172,000TW that falls on the earth from the sun. When discussing solar power, I asked Ms. Helper, what are the implications of diverting 20% of the energy from the sun to solar power? At that point, she turned my tweet into joke and share it with her friends. Even the Tesla Channel was retweeting some of her tweets to give the impression that I never answered any of her questions. I'm a big fan of Tesla, but even if I might feel alienated by their actions, I still admire their products.

At that point I called her on it and then she blocked me. I never did get an apology, but at least I'm now clear that Ms. Helper doesn't mind enjoying herself at someone else's expense in a debate, just to win that debate. Perhaps she has received some of the same treatment by other people who have mocked her, so she could not resist dishing it out on someone else. [For those who read the previous version of this post, I did find the tweets that I thought were missing. Not sure why they're there now when I thought they were gone.]

It is worth noting that in any debate, once you go down the path of mockery, you deviate from the goal of dispensing with opinions by providing verified facts. I've spent some time on stage and have performed standup comedy. I understand the power of humor, so I avoid the path of mockery because I understand that when people laugh in a debate about a serious subject, they get emotional and then thinking goes out the window. Then they use the laughter to dismiss the object of the joke.

So Ms. Helper thinks that I never answered her questions and blocked me as a sort of punishment. For someone who is so quick to block and disengage, I find the text of her profile on Twitter rather ironic:
"Took Cecalli 2 MIT : Agriculture/Forestry Winner. Nomad and Avid Nuclear & Climate News Messenger for humanity. Sometimes Suspended w/Out Cause."
Hmmm. "Sometimes suspended w/out Cause." So when people block her, that's bad. But if she blocks someone, that's OK? I've seen that some of her tweets suggest that she will block someone who doesn't answer questions. So if we don't meet her demands, then BAM!, we're out. Well, I guess that's one way to win a debate. I do receive notifications her retweeting tweets that mention me, but I don't mind if she follows me or can see my tweets. I prefer to keep communications open.

I also note with interest that Caldicott isn't the only one not responding to critics. I did some searching and found a review of Pandora's Promise, a documentary discussing the benefits of the thorium molten salt reactor. I haven't seen the movie yet, but plan to watch it now that I see that it's on Netflix. I'm still a big fan of thorium for many reasons, which I've explained before on this blog.

I read the article and read the comments on the article. Scientists featured in the movie who found the review and questioned the author, were not worth much of a response by the author of the article. When pressed for justification for some of his comments, the author parried with a request for more information. When presented with contravening evidence, others responded for him. Some with a smidge of vitriol. But Mr. Lyman seemed noticeably absent. To wit:
"I think it would be great if the author of this article would oblige the reader and participate in discussing the article in this space."
So, even though anti-nuclear agitation has cost consumers billions of dollars in added expense, some anti-nuclear activists do not feel compelled to answer questions or respond to contrary factual information when presented. Better to dismiss the opponent, mock him or write him off as someone who won't change his mind.

In every debate I've read on the subject of thorium molten salt reactors, and even nuclear energy in general, the pro-nuclear side has been very thorough in responding to their opponents in the debate. But the anti-nuclear side seems reluctant to carry through the debate when presented with factual evidence to the contrary of their theories and ideas. A zero tolerance position, an extreme position, can be difficult to support.

I believe that the diversity and expression of human opinion is essential to our survival. But I also believe that if you have an opinion, be ready to back it up with facts.

I would also like to make a distinction. A zealot is someone who is not just a believer, a zealot has conviction, a sense that what he believes is true despite any contrary information. I see this with religion quite often, but I also see it with people who profess themselves to be activists. This trait might be necessary to carry on with the crusade in every sense of the word.

While I find that the evidence for the use of thorium molten salt reactors compelling, and I promote their use, I am willing to consider the possibility that renewables might catch up and meet the demand now serviced by carbon. I simply have faith that thorium can carry the day yet, I'm open to new information.

Even if renewables like solar and wind capture 90% of the energy market, a theoretical possibility, there will still be a need and use for thorium molten salt reactors (MSR). The MSR can burn nuclear waste, provide valuable isotopes for medical and industrial uses, and provide power where solar and wind can't meet the prevailing needs.

The question is time. Can renewables beat nuclear? Sure, if agitators work hard to limit the access of nuclear power to the market. Thorium power is not a theoretical possibility. The technology is here, and it works else why would anyone like Martingale, Inc., tell us that we'll have a working 250Mw prototype in four years? Why would Alvin Weinberg, inventor of the uranium light water reactor and the molten salt reactor, tell 3 administrations (Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon), that molten salt reactors are the way to go?

I take the position that every option option should be considered to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Nuclear power is and will remain one of those options until it effectively ruled out by a renewable option. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening anytime soon, neither does the EPA.
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