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Nuclear waste goes the hole way

Richard Black | 17:52 UK time, Monday, 13 September 2010

First week back from holidays last week, and straight down a big hole in the ground at the BBC's behest.

Onkalo - no ordinary hole...

It's no ordinary hole.

It's where Finland will store all of the high-level waste from its nuclear power programme, if things go according to plan.

I last visited the Onkalo facility four years ago, when the entrance tunnel snaked about a kilometre down into the rock.

Now it's four times that length. It slopes fairly gently downwards because the rock that's being excavated has to come up by truck, so the bottom level is now about 400 metres under the surface - just about the depth at which the canisters of waste would be placed.

The purpose of this visit was recording material for a radio documentary centred on the UK's plans for geological disposal of nuclear waste. (It'll be broadcast next week, and I'll be writing a longer feature then.)

To be honest, the hole in the ground is not quite as interesting at present as the social questions that go alongside it.

And these are questions that are being asked in many countries. 26 have so far opted for geological burial, although no-one is quite as far along as the Finns, who hope to send their first canisters of waste down the Onkalo tunnel in 2020.

Some governments have adopted the approach of deciding where the waste should go and then trying to fight through the legal and political storm that inevitably erupts when people realise what is to go down a hole in their backyard.

It's an approach that doesn't seem to work. A legal judgement derailed the UK's attempts in the 1990s, and in the US it now seems unlikely that the Yucca Mountain repository will store anything more than empty hopes.

In Finland and Sweden, governments took a different tack. They invited communities to come forward and offer to host the long-term disposal facility; when several did, there was a kind of "beauty contest" between rival sites, with the victor in the Finnish process being the Eurajoki district on the west coast, which hosts the Olkiluoto nuclear power station.

Barrels with nuclear waste outside the German parliament

Some countries, such as Germany, are less enthusiastic about nuclear power

Although the volunteering process clearly worked, it does throw up some difficult questions.


Any other such issue that a council might deal with - deciding whether to approve a new supermarket, or waste incinerator - has implications that don't go much beyond the generation making the decision.

But here, the consequences of a bad decision might not materialise for a few thousand generations.

Who knows whether there will be a Eurajoki by then - especially as the already cold tract of Scandinavia could be in the grip of an Ice Age by then?

Can anyone really speak for a locality that far in the future?

Perhaps the current generation of local councillors will be the only one to have to make this decision.

By the time this repository is full, in a century or so, perhaps nuclear technology will have evolved to such a stage that reactors produce virtually no waste - something that US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu floated when discussing the suspension of Yucca Mountain.

Or maybe humanity will have adopted an energy strategy based entirely on renewables. Or maybe someone will have made carbon capture and storage work so well that it becomes the dominant technology.

Who knows?

In an attempt to find communities interested in hosting a repository, both Sweden and Finland offered the possibility of compensation - "sweeteners", if you want to be cynical.

But what could governments realistically offer that would bring benefits to the locality for as long as the store lasts?

These are the kinds of question that make nuclear power qualitatively different from just about every other part of the energy and climate puzzle that many governments are struggling to solve at the moment.

And as Stephen Chu hinted, projecting what solutions improved nuclear technology may bring is even harder than forecasting what may happen to a tube of nuclear waste buried in rock as an icesheet several kilometres thick spreads overhead.

Finland, where people appear to pride themselves on their pragmatism, is happy in the face of these uncertainties to make its choices - "yes" to new nuclear reactors, "yes" to a hole in which to bury the waste.

The electricity keeps flowing, the greenhouse gas emissions from producing that electricity stay low.

Other countries find it harder to take such decisions. Is that just shilly-shallying? Or, given all the unknowns, is that actually the pragmatic approach?


Comments

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  • 1. At 8:18pm on 13 Sep 2010, BluesBerry wrote:

    No one is going to listen to me, but I say NO!
    No nuclear waste into holes.
    No ugly surprises for our ancestors.
    No!
    I know that nuclear waste can be recycled. I've read that the process is somewhat expensive at present. I know that France recycles; I thought that Britain did too - at least to some extent.
    Why bury what can be reused? If we keep recycling, the process will keep get better and cheaper.
    Something to think about - more & more countries are venturing into nuclear power = more waste and more chances for some awful repercussion.

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  • 2. At 10:43pm on 13 Sep 2010, John_from_Hendon wrote:

    #1. BluesBerry wrote:

    précis: disturbed by waste in holes.

    Nuclear waste? The problem of waste is that we concentrate it. If it was, for example, dispersed in minute particles throughout the planet it would (I guess) not be noticeable above normal background radiation. But we insist it is concentrated and must remain so!

    "No ugly surprises for our ancestors." (assume you really mean descendants as ancestors would require a time machine.)

    Is it better to bequeath a devastated planet covered in windmills with no extractable carbon fuels left or a little nuclear waste - our 'lifestyle' (combined with overpopulation - see the Pope about that) is destroying the planet, let alone the effects of changes in the climate - be they natural or man-made. All in all I think I'd rather go for nuclear fission until (and unless) nuclear fusion is developed. There are no good options just least bad and that is a fine judgement.

    PS Where did I leave that cold fusion experiment? Must have another go.

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  • 3. At 11:06pm on 13 Sep 2010, Jack Frost wrote:

    Well one thing is certain, its lights out for us in the UK in the not too distant future because of our failure to invest in todays technology of nuclear power.

    I've lived 40+ years in the shadow of steel works, chemical works, gas power stations. Recently biofuel plants (once shut down by Environmetal Health, oh the irony), planned waste burning plants and coal plants. All withing a 3 mile radious. Basically my life is inside a piss yellow haze that can be seen when entering the area.

    I'd gladly erase the lot for a breath of fresh air, a clear sky and a hole in the ground.

    PS
    Another happy freezing Arctic winter to you all.




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  • 4. At 00:45am on 14 Sep 2010, Stephen wrote:

    On a playful note...
    Richard's comment referring to the brink of a aforementioned ice age, coupled with it's potential to excavate the 400m deep tunnel where the nuclear waste is set to be buried, I find slightly paradoxically anecdotal and whimsically contradicting.. The rhetoric governing the burial of nuclear waste to offset global warming may ironically cause an entirely new unintended positive feedback in itself, in that the exposed nuclear waste caused by ice-sheet excavation could create environmental risks of its own, that would subsequently play into wider environmental conditioning we originally intended to downplay...

    I find John's(^) comment about the advocacy of simply distributing the waste rather than concentrating it in holes slightly bewildering? It sounds like he's not considering the fundamental physics and properties behind what nuclear waste constitutes. I'm affirmed by your digression that you're a man of knowledge, but for the purpose and status quo ante of the rhetoric I too wish to digress: the products from nuclear waste such as Uranium-234 and tritium etc have an existential half-life which degrades the waste over thousands of years, subsequently emitting harsh beta radiation that has secondary impacts on the Pharmacokinetics of the discourse. This would ultimately cause environmental and biological turmoil if mistreated or left exposed. Now if this 'waste' were to be redistributed all over the world, yes, you do subdue to intensity of potential impacts, granted, but you open the proverbial door of discontent to a menagerie of other disingenuous feedbacks - there was a quote used in the past few decades referring to the problem of oil spills, and the solution to their environmental impacts was that "the solution to pollution is dilution" which in all fairness I can relate to how people could associate this same agenda with nuclear pollution, but there is a reason, rather a multitude of reasons why we don't pursue such a narrative.
    By redistributing and spreading the effects of the waste, you not only cross national boundaries but the political, economic and ethical boundaries too. Who's going to clean up the mess if an impact of mistreated waste puts developing countries at risk, they're certainly not going to have the resources? And accessing future resources would be put into question too. By spreading the waste, you dilute the severity of the potential impact, but concentrate the level of risk on wider global impacts. Playing counterfactual to that old pun "think local and act global" - you certainly would end up acting global.
    It comes down to the semantics of risk and the hermeneutics of prioritisation. By constituting what people perceive to be a risk to them, they can subsequently offset their own risks to others (be it generational or geographical), often to someone that maybe less equipped to deal with such undeserved risks. What constitutes 'severity' and 'risk' is a question of semantics, but it is that disparity between aligning the pro's and the con's of a situation which is at the heart of what Richard calls Finnish 'pragmatism'. What is needed is not only a re-evaluation of the political and environmental agendas that encompass the nuclear debate, but we must approach it with the acknowledgement that the constitution and recognition of long-term preservation of assets and ethics far outweighs the short-term liquidation of downplaying environmental and societal importance. In the long run it is the former that always governs the latter. We need to realign our agendas to recognise that the reason for our challenges and threats in the first place are solely based on the rhetoric's that govern ethical and moral discourses and how we respond to subsequent challenges. Society and the environment are cascading systems, all of which flow into one another, actions in one cause metastable-equilibrium and re-organisation in another, and how we organise our system governs how we influence the others.

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  • 5. At 03:32am on 14 Sep 2010, jr4412 wrote:

    Richard Black.

    "But here, the consequences of a bad decision might not materialise for a few thousand generations ... what may happen to a tube of nuclear waste buried in rock as an icesheet several kilometres thick spreads overhead."

    no real problem, as long as it's buried deep enough not to be impacted (or should that be crushed?) and the chosen location is tectonically stable, and the facility remains inaccessible to 'interested third parties'. obviously, stopping the use of high-level radioactive materials as fuel and weapons would be preferable but 'we' don't get a say anyhow.



    John_from_Hendon #2.

    "The problem of waste is that we concentrate it. If it was, for example, dispersed in minute particles throughout the planet it would (I guess) not be noticeable above normal background radiation."

    are you sure about this? already there have been reports from Iraq, where DU munitions were used, about "significant increase in cancer and birth defects in the region".

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  • 6. At 06:34am on 14 Sep 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    Welcome back Richard. And thanks for a good laugh:

    "And as Stephen Chu hinted, projecting what solutions improved nuclear technology may bring is even harder than forecasting what may happen to a tube of nuclear waste buried in rock as an icesheet several kilometres thick spreads overhead."

    This would deserve some kind of Chicken Little Imagines Preposterous Future Threats award, but it is too simplistic and silly to qualify.

    Perhaps if Chu's brilliant concept of painting all rooftops white was discarded, the planetary fever will save us from these remarkably thick and heavy icesheets?

    With experts like this, who needs experts?

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  • 7. At 08:44am on 14 Sep 2010, LabMunkey wrote:

    Welcome back Richard- i trust you had a few cold brewski's while away!

    I'm confused, i know they UK had the capabilities to recycle nuclear waste up until very recently (Thorpe plant at Sellafield) and that other countries did/do the same.

    AFAIK the technology vastly reduced the quantities of the waste and the half-life making underground storage a real possibility, it was so succesful in fact (Thorpe) that we imported other peoples waste to reprocess. Unfortunatley the plant was shut down a few years ago (i think it was due to the political reasons associated with importing nuclear waste- but correct me if i'm wrong).

    So to meander back to the point, nuclear plants are an absolute must at the moment- especially if we are to maintain the pretence that carbon emmisions matter (but more to protect the uk from the impending power cuts). This taken as read, why aren't we looking at more plants like Thorpe to go alongside the (required) new nuclear plants to reprocess the new waste (though importantly the next generatiuon of nuclear plants are far more efficient)??

    This would seem far more sensible than the ususal bury and forget method.

    Also, nice joke on the carbon capture technology ever producing anything useful. Made me chortle :-)

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  • 8. At 09:14am on 14 Sep 2010, JunkkMale wrote:

    'are you sure about this? already there have been reports from Iraq, where DU munitions were used, about "significant increase in cancer and birth defects in the region".

    Whilst one erring on being a tad concerned about the 'we'll have a fix figured by the time it gets critical' method of 'live now, others will pay later' from the school of thought (currently popular in certain leadership elections, conference halls and edit suites), and even more dubious of spreading out poisons thinly to mitigate effects by way of dilution, I have read of other factors that may be worth considering in this instance.

    And it's mostly relative.

    But I think there's enough for a proper investigation to be warranted. Though not one where the words 'could', 'believe', etc, get inflated into the rather selective, often definitive agenda-fests that one does tire of being subjected to on other topics across certain media.

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  • 9. At 09:21am on 14 Sep 2010, Dave_oxon wrote:

    Some very sensible suggestions above regarding re-processing of waste which is (or at least will soon become) as much an economic benefit as an environmental one. Unfortunately, there will naturally be unusable radioactive "leftovers" that will need to be dealt with.

    There is, however, an alternative to simply burying this waste: Fusion-hybrid transmutation. Essentially using the high energetic neutron flux from a fusion reactor to force transmutation of the problematic radio-nuclides into daughter elements that have far shorter half-lives.

    This idea has been around for at least 30 years (click for ref. 1) and has been (and continues to be) an ongoing topic of research (ref. 2, ref. 3, ref. 4)

    Granted this doesn't deal with low and intermediate level waste (e.g. contaminated clothing, tools etc) which will still need long-term storage, but does reduce the problem to the timescale of decades rather than tens of millenia.

    [P.S. if the links are broken, or for further information, search for e.g. "fusion nuclear waste transmutation" on a famous scholarly search engine]

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  • 10. At 12:49pm on 14 Sep 2010, Richard Black (BBC) wrote:

    #7 LabMunkey - yes, thanks, a few glasses were downed, and very welcome they were too.

    The UK does indeed re-process spent fuel rods, from UK reactors and from other countries on a commercial basis. The Thorp plant is currently in operation, having been closed after a leak was discovered inside the facility back in 2005.

    Finland, by contrast, does not re-process - it intends to store the spent fuel rods pretty much intact, after they've spent a few decades in cooling ponds.

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  • 11. At 12:54pm on 14 Sep 2010, plutoscot wrote:

    A little bit of history should inform this discussion - the reason that the NIREX enquiry led the Env. Minister Gummer in 1997 to abandon plans for geological disposal in Cumbria was due to the evidence of fractured geology being unsuitable for long term safe disposal - not surprisingly nothing has changed in the geology since then - the current efforts to find a "solution" in the UK are driven by political and economic interests not science - and its much the same worldwide; and don't be fooled into thinking the Finns and Swedes have resolved the technical obstacles. For those citing recycling - read the operating history of THORP and the newest reprocessing plant at Rokkasho-mura in Japan, or the recent French government report on its much trumpeted "recycling" operations at la Hague ([Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]) and you would not be quite so confident that separating tons more weapons usable plutonium is any solution. Energy Sec. Chu's knowledge of generation IV reactors, in particular breeders that "produce no waste" could be scribbled on the side of an atom. And then there is that old chestnut of transmutation - nice physics but technically and economically not achievable and therefore utterly irrelevent in terms of dealing with nuclear waste anytime soon (and that means this century) The image of the nuclear industry being promoted worldwide is that it has resolved or is close to resolving its historical problems - the reality is very different.

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  • 12. At 1:16pm on 14 Sep 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    Welcome back, my 6 week 'holiday' was at home with the children..
    I think I need a holiday...

    Nuclear power by thorium, is somethin we do not see get a mention much, possibly because the existing nuclear providers have so much invested in the alternative technology...

    Oh

    And a heads up for the BBC...

    Andrew Montford's (Bishop Hill) report for the Global Warming POlicy Foundation, on the 'Climategate Inquiries is out'

    I expect the BBC, will be taking a look soon....


    and reporting on it....

    There is a link here...

    http://thegwpf.org/climategate/1532-damning-new-investigation-into-climategate-inquiries.html

    "The report The Climategate Inquiries, written by Andrew Montford and with a foreword by Lord (Andrew) Turnbull, finds that the inquiries into the conduct and integrity of scientists at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia were rushed and seriously inadequate.

    In particular, the report finds that:

    none of the Climategate panels mounted an inquiry that was comprehensive within their area of remit
    insufficient consideration in the choice of panel members led to a failure to ensure balance and independence
    none managed to be objective and comprehensive
    none made any serious attempt to consider the views and submissions of well-informed critics
    terms of reference were either vague or non-existent
    none of them performed their work in a way that is likely to restore confidence in the work of CRU."

    And:

    Lord Turnbull, who wrote the foreword to the GWPF report, said:

    "The report by Andrew Montford clearly demonstrates that all three inquiries have serious flaws. The result has been that the three investigations have failed to achieve their objective, ie early and conclusive closure and restoration of confidence."

    "The new House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, which has rightly reopened the issue, would do well to study Andrew Montford's report and take evidence from him. It needs to satisfy itself as to whether the criticisms made are valid and whether the exoneration claimed is justified."

    "Only if the integrity of the science is re-established and the strengths and weaknesses of the main propositions are acknowledged will there be the basis of trust with the public which policymakers need," Lord Turnbull said.


    Lord Turnbull:Andrew Turnbull was Permanent Secretary, Environment Department,1994-98; Permanent Secretary to the Treasury 1998-2002, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service 2002-05. He is now a Crossbench member of the House of Lords and a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.



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  • 13. At 1:24pm on 14 Sep 2010, LabMunkey wrote:

    @ richard#10 glad to hear it!

    Ah i see, i wasn't aware it had been re-opened. Excellent stuff. I wonder then, why the finns didn't look at this (a thorpe equivalent) as an alternative (or did they)?

    Also, i'd be interested to know just how much more efficient the current/next gen reactors are, the amount of waste they produce and just what proportion of that can be re-processed.

    If it's as i think, although waste is still obviously a concern, the use of nuclear power is significantly safer and produces far less waste than before. If that's the case, is there any real argument against using it, other than the purely ideolgical one?

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  • 14. At 9:45pm on 14 Sep 2010, Yorkurbantree wrote:

    Am looking forward to the program. The new coalition government has so far shown a rather inconsistant approach to planning, so it will be interesting to see what happens when they try to get these projects through the process. Responding to public pressure from many of their rural suppporters, the Government has really reigned in the power of developers to do stuff, which is clearly something of a mixed blessing. The last Government was throwing its backing behind the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which would have delivered this sort of thing. Now its future is up in the air, so things could get very complicated.

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  • 15. At 10:01pm on 14 Sep 2010, Cheema wrote:

    There is now an excellent understanding of nuclear power generating technology, and there is substantial engineering that goes into safety proofing the plants themselves. As coal and natural gas become scarce, i believe nuclear energy will become the main source of power regardless of concerns with it.

    Recycling the waste may be possible to a degree. Surely the radioactive material will need to be stored for prolonged periods of time somewhere though?

    I think it makes more economic and environmental sense to have it stored far underground. While i'm all for recycling the waste to an extent, it will probably become uneconomical to do this at some point.

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  • 16. At 10:03pm on 14 Sep 2010, Yorkurbantree wrote:

    Barry @12: You'll be pleased to see that here is already an article up about it on the BBC website.

    "Andrew Montford's (Bishop Hill) report for the Global Warming POlicy Foundation, on the 'Climategate Inquiries is out'"

    Which roughly translates as: bunch of elderly neo-Thatherites pay internet blogger to write report telling them what they want to hear after three independent inquiries do the opposite...

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  • 17. At 08:58am on 15 Sep 2010, LabMunkey wrote:

    @ 16

    and as usual for a harbain article it's so unbelievably one sided and full of assumptive conclusions as to be actually insulting to the intelligence to read.

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  • 18. At 11:11am on 15 Sep 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 19. At 11:59am on 15 Sep 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 20. At 12:33pm on 15 Sep 2010, Jack Hughes wrote:

    Coal, oil, and uranium are all finite resources.
    But irony is infinite.

    Last week my eco-friend (Meg) announced she was going to make a better future for her children, by ... not having children.

    Remember the enviros of the 80s driving their hippy-cars each with a
    NUCLEAR - NO THANKS sticker ?

    Fast forward to 2010 and they sit in the board rooms of nuclear power companies proclaiming CARS - NO THANKS.

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  • 21. At 12:33pm on 15 Sep 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    sorry for the direct link to a pdf, above..

    Ross Mckitrick's take on the Inquiries, is comprehensive and available here.

    http://climateaudit.org/2010/09/14/climategate-inquiries/

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  • 22. At 12:40pm on 15 Sep 2010, jr4412 wrote:

    Barry Woods #12, #18, #19.

    three posts, well over 1,000 words, not one of them on topic.

    "Lest we forget.."

    indeed.

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  • 23. At 12:41pm on 15 Sep 2010, Illogicbuster wrote:

    What has amazed me for a few decades now is how stupid governments, news media & enviro (political activists) people are. Hello, ever hear of submarine subduction zones?

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  • 24. At 1:01pm on 15 Sep 2010, spectrum wrote:

    Yes, nuclear power is the environmentally friendly option. Just how thick are environmentalists ?

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  • 25. At 1:46pm on 15 Sep 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 26. At 2:02pm on 15 Sep 2010, Guy BB wrote:

    I always get concerned about debates on complex issues when government policy appears to be steered by public opinion rather than the views of those who have expertise in the issue. If you ask a collection of physicists or nuclear engineers you will get pretty good consensus view that waste should not be buried underground but should be stored ready for future use in the 'new' generation of fast breeder reactors which can convert 95% of the fissile material as opposed to the 5% currently converted in conventional reactors. Of course these reactors are not new and indeed were largely developed 20-30 years ago in the UK before we gave up and let the French and the Japanese take the lead.

    Fast breeder reactors are a running today but are not yet big enough to show up on some of the industry forcasts. Therefore in the eyes of some policy makers they do no exist even though it is possible to actually see them in operation. It is always best for policy makers to check with experts before forming a view on how to move forward.

    A good analogy is this. You have a broken leg and you are in a room with a taxi driver, an accountant, an orthopedic consultant, a shop keeper and a lawyer. Do you find the average opinion of all those present on how to fix the leg or do you politely ask four people to leave the room so that you can talk to the bone doctor? This is not undemocratic but rather is simply common sense.

    In defining policy, We have to trust experts while being careful to avoid individual bias which often arises when vested interests are present.

    Guy (PhD Physicist).

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  • 27. At 2:06pm on 15 Sep 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    I forgot about the BBC's adversion to direct links to pdf's again....
    sorry, bbc

    All articles, removed above, to be found here..
    http://www.futerra.co.uk/revolution/leading_thinking

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  • 28. At 5:16pm on 15 Sep 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    Seems that the skeptics will not accept climate change because of what they call questionable data, yet they profess the safety of nuclear waste storage with no real data. Makes you wonder.

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  • 29. At 5:24pm on 15 Sep 2010, Sparklet wrote:

    "Or maybe humanity will have adopted an energy strategy based entirely on renewables. Or maybe someone will have made carbon capture and storage work so well that it becomes the dominant technology."

    Lots of 'maybes' in your piece above Richard - but as you say

    "Who knows?"

    Someone once commented that if our ancestors had worried about providing for our power needs today then they would have legislated to ensure we had a huge supply of horses. Fortunately they didn't and guess what happened - technology - and now we have cars/tractors/buses etc. instead. We simply came up with a better way of doing things.

    And do we really need carbon capture?

    It seems to me that the IPCC with its remit of assessing the science behind human-induced climate change only has significantly skewed the scientific debate.

    The evidence released of scientists at the heart of the IPCC reports manipulating graphs, preventing access to data, deleting mails requested via FOI, preventing alternate views from being published does not augur well for the state of the science behind CAGW.

    When we're being asked to accept hugely inflated energy bills and endure the desecration of the countryside under massive windfarms we need to know we're doing the 'right' thing.

    Unfortunately we don't!

    The so-called Climategate Inquiries were a farce (what use a trial where the defendent gets to provide the evidence, his testimony is accepted without any proper investigation and the prosecution is refused admission!) and have simply exacerbated fears that we are simply wasting billions of pounds at a time we can least afford it.

    Maybe, just maybe this present generation will be know as the 'Age of Stupid' for relying on over-simplified computer models instead of actual empirical evidence.

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  • 30. At 6:59pm on 15 Sep 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:


    Guy BB #26 wrote:

    A good analogy is this. You have a broken leg and you are in a room with a taxi driver, an accountant, an orthopedic consultant, a shop keeper and a lawyer. Do you find the average opinion of all those present on how to fix the leg or do you politely ask four people to leave the room so that you can talk to the bone doctor? This is not undemocratic but rather is simply common sense.

    It's neither democratic nor common sense. Experts are familiar with their own a specialized area, but familiarity with a subject of study is quite different from trustworthy knowledge of a branch of reality. A shaman or phrenologist can be extremely familiar with his subject, yet know nothing about the branch of reality his subject purports to describe. The more specialized and/or theoretical a subject of study is, the less confident anyone can be in what it says. That includes the expert. If an expert thinks his own familiarity with the subject is the same as knowledge of the reality it purports to describe, he is making a very serious epistemological mistake. Most good scientists do not make that mistake -- they are generally well-aware of the highly speculative, hypothetical, epistemologically "risky" nature of their discipline.

    For example, we can all be pretty sure that light is shining in through a window, because we can all see it with our own eyes. We can be much less sure that that light consists of photons, or of non-particulate waves, or of something else that no one has even thought of yet. Science simply does not yield certainty, but depth of understanding -- a depth that is bought at a cost: speculation is riskier than direct observation.

    Your analogy is better than you think. For most of its history, medicine has been a source of danger rather than a source of safety to those it has treated. Medical experts of the past were no doubt very familiar with blood-letting, bad air, animal spirits, what have you -- the patient of the past would have been better advised to consult the people from ordinary walks of life who use common sense: keep the broken leg still or immobilized. That's just pretty obvious.

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  • 31. At 7:10pm on 15 Sep 2010, rossglory wrote:

    no need for nuclear and with the usual delays no new nuclear would be online for a decade or two which would be way way too late anyway......roll on renewables.

    #12 barry woods

    "I expect the BBC, will be taking a look soon....
    and reporting on it...."

    what, on a report by an arch climate sceptic, with a foreward by lord climate sceptic, criticising enquiries that found against their prejudices......where's the news angle?

    maybe we should have enquiries into the enquiries into the enquiries into.....

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  • 32. At 9:24pm on 15 Sep 2010, Sparklet wrote:

    BBC Earthwatch comments

    Re #31

    But then the 'Independent' Inquiries were hardly 'independent' were they?

    Lord Oxburgh - CEO of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association and Chairman of the wind energy firm Falck Renewables, both with strong vested interests in promoting climate policy (and interesting that during the Inquiry the letterhead bearing his crest indicated that any correspondence should go to the UEA!!).

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  • 33. At 10:05pm on 15 Sep 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 34. At 00:38am on 16 Sep 2010, RobWansbeck wrote:

    Surely the term 'nuclear waste' is an oxymoron?
    The 'problem' with nuclear waste is that it emits energy, something that we want.

    As Guy BB noted at #26, it is only the lack of facilities to harness this material that is the real problem.

    Burn it, don't bury it.

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  • 35. At 06:42am on 16 Sep 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #28. ghostofsichuan wrote:

    "Seems that the skeptics will not accept climate change because of what they call questionable data, yet they profess the safety of nuclear waste storage with no real data. Makes you wonder."

    Yes it does.

    It makes one wonder why some people keep saying "skeptics will not accept climate change" when that is patently false. Change is the only constant. The climate always changes and always will. The question is whether or not human activities - specifically human CO2 contributions - are now a significant or any factor in that process. The Orwellian shift from AGW to "climate change" in this context doesn't fool anyone anymore, except those who choose to be fooled.

    And it makes one wonder why some people keep saying "questionable data" about AGW when that term is no longer used for the "questionable data" about Iraqi WMDs - except for those who choose to be fooled.

    And it makes one wonder why some people claim that there is no "real data" on the safety of storing nuclear "waste" (see #34 for the reason that word is inappropriate) when there is plenty of nuclear "waste" stored safely now, and for decades. Moreover, contrary to Chu's ludicrous Chicken Little concern quoted by Richard, anything buried a kilometer deep in the right rock is as safe as the original uranium deposits it came from - unless someone chooses to tunnel down there and roll around in it, or an asteroid hits that bullseye... in which case its a moot point.

    Indeed, your comment makes one wonder how some people ever manage to leave their basements to venture out in the unsafe world without their nanny.

    P.S. Barry Woods - Thanks for your continuing efforts. At this point the only people who don't 'get it' are the fundamentalists who rely on faith rather than rational and/or informed thought or those with a vested financial and/or political interest in perpetuating this project.

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  • 36. At 09:02am on 16 Sep 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    Richard Black
    I am so glad you are back. I hope you had an enjoyable break.

    Most people generally think about their concrete present reality.
    The future is more abstract and uncertain.

    What will shift present perceptions:
    more power outages
    loss of certain freedoms
    restrictions of choice
    rationing of energy use
    cold

    When people loose their accustomed freedoms then they will opt for anything to return them. Better to have some prefabricated components handy just in case the population suddenly wants to return to nuclear energy. Hold on a minute! Where is the nuclear fuel going to come from? Surely there is only a finite amount of nuclear fuel available? We have plenty of mine shafts to dump the waste down. Hold on a minute! Is the mine shaft in our back yard?

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  • 37. At 09:07am on 16 Sep 2010, LabMunkey wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 38. At 10:01am on 16 Sep 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    33#

    Why am I removed for further consideration..

    I merely quoted Professor Judith Curry, where she state in a reply on her blog, that AGW is only a hypothesis...

    (Judith is a very well respected climate scientist, who Roger Harrabin BBC, and Fred Pearce Guardain refer to, as someone trying to bridge the gap in the sides of the AGW debate)And then I put my comment onto this blog...)

    see here at Judith Curry's blog, am article titled doubt.

    http://judithcurry.com/2010/09/15/doubt/


    for Judith's and mine reply..

    This is on topic, as we would not be discssing anything about nuclear (ie no co2 emmission) without the political driver of the hypothesis of man made global warming..

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  • 39. At 10:07am on 16 Sep 2010, JunkkMale wrote:

    '22. At 12:40pm on 15 Sep 2010, jr4412 wrote:
    Barry Woods #12, #18, #19.

    three posts, well over 1,000 words, not one of them on topic.


    There's a degree of irony there, not least as this post remains up. Plus mine in turn.

    See if we all survive:)

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090523112953AAaXIEY


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  • 40. At 10:13am on 16 Sep 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    This is worth a look:

    "I am increasingly convinced that freedom, not climate, is threatened"

    Václav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic

    As the czech president, with its history, th e'freedom' perspective, is particulary interesting.

    http://motls.blogspot.com/2010/09/klaus-i-am-increasingly-convinced-that.html#more

    Speaking following an e-update of his book.

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  • 41. At 11:59am on 16 Sep 2010, Sparklet wrote:

    "In an attempt to find communities interested in hosting a repository, both Sweden and Finland offered the possibility of compensation - "sweeteners", if you want to be cynical."

    Interesting that it was the communities who were offered the choice, and it should be all about choice. Here, in the UK the 'sweeteners' are offered to the companies peddling renewables eg. windfarms - many of the communities here are simply landed with the ugliness of massive tubines that may well blight the local economy if its dependent on tourism, as well of course as the higher energy bills to pay for them!!

    Which is why of course they should have the choice but it should be a well-informed choice. One of the most concerning factors to come out of the Climategate affair was the attempts to restrict information and the censorship of those scientists with different views.

    This was glossed over by the various 'independent' inquiries but has again been brought back into sharp focus by Andrew Mountford and Ross McKitrick in their highly detailed forensic analysis of the Inquiries. So attempts to highlight their reports by Barry Woods are very welcome, though it is very disappointing that several outlets in the media try to divert attention from the actual reports by concentrating on the messenger rather than the message.

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  • 42. At 1:12pm on 16 Sep 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #30 Dr BB Guy PhD wrote:

    Do you find the average opinion of all those present on how to fix the leg or do you politely ask four people to leave the room so that you can talk to the bone doctor?

    You would be well-advised to "ask around" before getting treatment from a dentist or a "bone doctor" (who might be an orthopedic surgeon or a chiropractor -- i.e. a quack). Asking a range of ordinary people from your wealthy accountant or lawyer to your average "working Joe" taxi driver also seems a good idea, because you want someone who treats his patients in the same way, without regard for their income or reputation.

    Please note that the most reliable judges of who is a trustworthy "bone doctor" are the general public, exercising their own experience and common sense, not some quack waving his credentials about!

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  • 43. At 1:21pm on 16 Sep 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 44. At 2:45pm on 16 Sep 2010, LabMunkey wrote:

    "It would HELP if the BBC allowed people to comment on other articles...
    Why do Roger Harrabin's articles have no options for comments, there clearly is a public interest in his subject."

    Simple- Roger Harrabin's pieces wouldn't last 5 minutes with a comments section they're that politically skewed.

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