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Monday, December 31, 2007

Growing Up In The White House


Yesterday I was intrigued by the new nineteen year old Bhutto heir being put forward to possibly influence the fate of the World. No kidding. He even has a new slogan, "Democracy is the best revenge."

Then I watched some of the interview with Huckabee and Obama by the increasingly transparent and despicable Tim Russert. (How sweet it would be to see someone waterboard Mr. Potato Head.) Huckabee and Obama both did a fairly reasonable job on their job interviews. Like any job applicant, all the candidates want to get their foot in the door, get the job, and then figure out what they will do with it.

They, like the nineteen year old Bhutto, have their little product-differentiation routine. For instance, good old Hucks uses the old aw-shucks type of thing. Barack is a vision guy.

Well, Barack Obama has no more of a "vision" than Huckabee, McCain or Tancredo or the nineteen year old Bhutto. After being elected, the system will quickly whip the new President into line. They will find their means of governance whether they like it or not. Events will overwhelm vision and with time, experience and fate will determine how it goes. With luck, they may become a good President. Did that happen to George Bush?

Of course it did. The change in Bush over the last twenty four months is quite remarkable. If he knew then what he knows now, he would make a good President. Now that Bush knows what he is doing, but is being transferred and retired, we will have to train another new second lieutenant and call him General.  "Democracy is the best revenge."
_____________________

Long, Gone Neocons

The Bush administration is no longer influenced by neocons. Instead, it's governing the way its predecessors have.

Michael Young | Reason December 27, 2007

Maybe 2008 will be the year when we will finally be rid of that vacuous belief that "the neocons" are in control of the Bush administration's foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. Habits are hard to break, particularly lazy ones, but if anyone bothered to look more closely, they would see that the United States has not really engaged in what we might call a neoconservative approach to the region since at least 2004, when the situation in Iraq took a sudden turn for the worse.

What are, or were, the highlights of a neocon approach to the Middle East and the world before 2003, when American forces invaded Iraq? Looking back at that most prominent post-9/11 neocon statement of purpose, the administration's National Security Strategy released in September 2002 (an assemblage of contradiction in which neocon ideas were recorded alongside classical liberal internationalist ones), they were roughly the following: a desire to maintain American paramountcy at the expense of the more traditional concept of a balance of power; greater reliance on the use of force and unilateralism in America's defense, through preemptive measures if necessary; and a more activist bent in spreading democracy, freedom, and free markets throughout the world.

But the truth is that soon after the takeover of Iraq, the administration gradually began acting in the Middle East pretty much like its predecessors. It was compelled to rely on the multilateral institutions it had spurned in the run-up to the Iraq war, implicitly accepting that U.S. military might was not enough to resolve all problems. As for its commitment to an agenda of democracy and freedom, while officially this was at the heart of American concerns after Bush's second inaugural address, in reality by then it was already in decline as a policy guide.

For example, in May 2003, the U.S. was compelled to seek an international resolution to govern its military presence in Iraq. While the Security Council, in Resolution 1483, recognized Coalition forces as a ruling authority, it labeled them an "occupying authority", with both the legal obligations under that status, and the stigma. The resolution was a compromise: the U.N. pragmatically acknowledged that it had to work with the U.S. in Iraq, and used this to try shaping political outcomes in its favor; the Bush administration realized that it needed international cover, even if in September 2004, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan again reminded Washington that its invasion had been "illegal."

Only days after the Security Council authorized the creation of a United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq on August 14, 2003, a bomb attack targeted U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing the organization's representative there, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and almost 20 other people. The U.S. was then still trying to rule over Iraq on its own, with Paul Bremer as high commissioner. Yet it was immediately clear to the Bush administration that the attack had harmed American efforts to normalize the situation on the ground in Iraq. The subsequent dramatic drawdown of U.N. personnel denied the U.S. a valuable partner in distributing much-needed aid to an impoverished Iraqi population, as well as an often useful mediator with Iraqi leaders who refused to meet with American officials.

By 2004, the U.S. was resorting to the U.N. in other Middle Eastern crises as well. For example, the Security Council was the preferred route for U.S. efforts in 2004 to push for a Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon. Far from going it alone, the Bush administration, in collaboration with France, its bitterest foe over Iraq, sponsored a Security Council resolution to that end. The U.S. didn't try to impose the resolution by force, even though American troops were on the Syrian border and had every reason to attack Syria because of the way it was infiltrating fighters and Al-Qaeda suicide bombers into Iraq. In fact, under even a loose interpretation of the National Security Strategy, the administration would have been justified in preemptively striking against the regime in Damascus for what it was doing to its eastern neighbor. But the U.S. held back.

Whenever Lebanon circa 2005 is mentioned, images of a "popular revolution" come to mind. The mass demonstrations against Syria after the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, were a powerful democratic moment for the country, and for the Arab world as a whole. The term "Cedar Revolution" was even coined by an American official looking for a serviceable tagline to compare what was happening in Beirut to democratic uprisings elsewhere in the world.

But the reality is that the Bush administration only latched onto the democracy imagery after the anti-Syrian rallies had started, then used these to bolster the argument that, together with the parliamentary elections in Iraq earlier that year, a democratic wave was sweeping Arab societies. Between the moment in September 2004 when the U.S. backed the U.N. resolution demanding a Syrian pullout from Lebanon and the moment of Hariri's assassination in February 2005, Washington had no clue how to implement the resolution. Lebanon was not an American priority, Iraq was. The administration didn't even realize that Lebanese democracy was something it could seize upon until the Lebanese took advantage of the American democratization mood (and military presence in Iraq) to buttress their own demands for a Syrian withdrawal.

In other words, for all the talk of a neocon cabal advancing Middle Eastern democracy, the administration was mostly unaware of the democratic potential in Lebanon until the Lebanese took to the streets. Only then did the U.S. provide the vital push, with others, to force the Syrians out. The moral of the tale: that you didn't necessarily have to believe the American democracy message to profit from it, was one that Arab liberals elsewhere ignored. Most amusing, American indecision in the period before Hariri's murder resulted from Washington's adhering to the consensual internationalism it had dismissed before the Iraq war.

One can go on. Since 2006, the Bush administration has all but abandoned the democracy agenda to rally the despotic Arab regimes against Iran. Containment is the new catchword and, no surprise, it is pretty much what the Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton administrations spent two decades applying to post-revolution Iran. The U.S. has also returned to an old "realist" template in selling sophisticated new weaponry to the Arab Gulf monarchies to partly balance Tehran's power. Neocon aversion to Saudi Arabia, a focal point of post-9/11 disputation (even if it was never as significant as some imagined), has evaporated.

Similarly, the Bush administration now finds itself back in the oldest gig in town: the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. That a settlement is necessary goes without saying, but how unexpected that the most bureaucratically cautious operator in the Bush administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, should have tied her fate to resolving what many regard today as an irresolvable conflict. In so doing, Rice has applied a lesson taught by her realist predecessors: that the key to normalcy in the Middle East is peace between Israelis and Palestinians. That may be true or not, but it was always rubbish to the neocons.

So maybe it's time to stop referring to the neocon policies of the Bush administration. The neocons are gone, many for so long that no one seems to remember their leaving. What we now have in Washington is a mishmash of old political realism and improvisation, topped with increasingly empty oratory on freedom and democracy. That should please quite a few of Bush's domestic critics. He's returned to the futile routine in the Middle East that they always urged him to.


Reason contributing editor Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon.



30 comments:

  1. Back to the maintainence of the status que as the driving force of US policy.

    That was decided in 2003, when the Iraqi elections were cancelled and the US Military hunkered down behind blast barriers.

    The Bush democracy rhetoric not matching reality after 23JUN03.

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  2. That was decided in 2003, when the Iraqi elections were cancelled and the US Military hunkered down behind blast barriers.

    We were worried that the people would vote in an Islamic Theocracy beholden to Iran, which is what they still did, a couple years later, but at least by then Madison Avenue had come up with the sexy "purple thumb" meme.

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  3. Yesterday, Ash pointed out the absurdity of an appointed nineteen year old son being representative of democracy. The US, proponent of world-wide democracy, has a system that prevents ordinary citizens from accepting money in necessary amounts, from other US citizens, in order to run for president. The same US non-democratic ayatollahs, permit a Daddy Warbucks to spend a billion or so of his own pile to run for president.

    Look at that for a moment. Under US law, a financial autocrat can make unilateral decisions to spend and spend and run for president. A group of private citizens that band together to spend their cumulative pile are prevented from doing so.

    Where are the pitch forks?

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  4. Look at that for a moment. Under US law, a financial autocrat can make unilateral decisions to spend and spend and run for president. A group of private citizens that band together to spend their cumulative pile are prevented from doing so.

    You accept as axiomatic that it should take millions of dollars to run for President. However, the airwaves have been essentially nationalized ever since the Radio Act of 1927. It would take little more than a memo from the White House to the FCC to require broadcasters to offer free air time to all candidates who poll in the double digits. But the media would have to kiss all that money goodbye, so they would fight such a decision tooth and nail. It's going to take another Ronald Reagan to give us another PATCO moment.

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  5. I would prefer the market to be open. No spending limits and no donation limits from individuals. All with full immediate disclosure as to source. NO BS corporate or tax-exempt fronts.

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  6. "The Bush administration is no longer influenced by neocons."

    As the Bush administration is on its way out, the question to ask is, "Who is?"

    The warmed-over Brezhnev Doctrine is not dead.

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  7. Bush should have bombed al jazeera in the beginning when he had a mind to, but was talked out of it by his handlers. Been on a lease ever since.

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  8. I'd go just the opposite way, I'd stick spending limits on everybody and everything. Everybody can donate x amount--a small amount--and that's it. No Romney or Bloomber spending personal fortunes. It was the US Supreme Court has let that happen a long time ago. Freedom of speech, writing a check.

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  11. The Empires Strike Back:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I8M1T-GgRU

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  12. From some of the pictures and videos going around yesterday it looks like Benazir wasn't done in by the sunroof, only an exhumation will tell.

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  13. Via EURSOC (same as link above)

    .
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    In 2006, 155,000 Germans left their country. Since 2004, the number of ethnic Germans leaving has been greater than the number of new immigrants coming in.

    Belien - who edits The Brussels Journalnotes: "While the emigrants are highly motivated and well educated, "those coming in are mostly poor, untrained and hardly educated," says Stephanie Wahl of the German Institute for Economics."

    The same is happening in the Netherlands, where emigration has exceeded immigration since 2003. 2006 saw 130,000 leave the nation of 16.5 million.

    "Elsewhere in Western Europe immigration currently still surpasses emigration, though emigration figures are rising fast. In Belgium the number of emigrants surged by 15 percent in the past years. In Sweden, 50,000 people packed their bags last year -- a rise of 18 percent compared to the previous year and the highest number of Swedes leaving since 1892. In the United Kingdom, almost 200,000 British citizens move out every year", he writes.

    EURSOC can't speak for the Swedes or Belgians, but while Australia remains a favourite destination for Brits, thousands go to France or Spain, which is hardly fleeing Old Europe. Nevertheless, the motivations Belien lists for Dutch and German migrants is interesting. Some complain of high taxes and social charges, which make it difficult to set up business and lead to depressingly high unemployment, especially among youngsters.

    Others, however, say that their countries are changing beyond recognition: "The rise in Dutch emigration peaked after the assassinations of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh." Belien says, "This indicates that the flight from Europe is related to a loss of confidence in the future of nations which have taken in the Trojan horse of Islamism, but which, unlike the Trojans, lack the guts to fight."

    It is difficult to quantify the influence of militant Islam in driving Europeans away. The figures don't always tell the full story. While it is definitely true that thousands of Europeans are seeking new lives in Canada, Australia or the US, there are many more, particularly youngsters, who are taking advantage of cheap travel and working visas in order to spend a year or two working overseas. They may come back, as many thousands of French people living in London say they will do if Mr Sarkozy succeeds in reforming the economy.

    Older citizens, certainly, may have no plans to return to their native country: But in the absence of a survey which says "I'm leaving because of Islam = 60 percent" we can only go on anecdotal evidence. EURSOC has friends who have "fled" areas of London and Paris because they feel like strangers in their own cities. But we also know plenty of Germans and Dutch who have moved to Provence and Tuscany - in countries where there is no shortage of Muslims - basically because they are wealthy enough to enjoy the pleasant lifestyle.

    That said, there is something in Belien's claims. It is clear that those leaving from the "top" are not being replaced: Think of the time and money it costs to train the kind of MBA-level / Surgeons / Programmers who leave.

    Belien quotes Sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn: "The really qualified are leaving. The only truly loyal towards France and Germany are those who are living off the welfare system, because there is no other place in the world that offers to pay for them... It is no wonder that young, hardworking people in France and Germany choose to emigrate," he explains. "It is not just that they have to support their own aging population. If we take 100 20-year-olds [in France or Germany], then the 70 [indigenous] Frenchmen and Germans also have to support 30 immigrants of their own age and their offspring. This creates dejection in the local population, particularly in France, Germany and the Netherlands. So they run away."
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  15. Deep-sea oil rigs inspire MIT designs for giant wind turbines at sea:

    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2006/wind.html


    How to build an offshore wind farm:

    http://fogonazos.blogspot.com/2006/12/how-to-build-offshore-wind-farm.html

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  16. Nice post. I like your observations.

    Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all have a safe, healthy and prosperous year.

    It's been a pleasure being a part of the EB this year and I look forward to continuing it in '08.

    whit

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  17. Toronto, Canada-based Trillium Power Energy Corporation announced the plan. The site, to be known as Trillium Power Wind 1, will consist of up to 142 of the latest multi-megawatt wind turbines and will have a total installed capacity of up to 710 MW -- enough clean, renewable power to satisfy the electricity needs of more than 200,000 homes.

    http://www.renewableenergyaccess.com/rea/news/story?id=45079

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  18. The site, to be known as Trillium Power Wind 1, will consist of up to 142 of the latest multi-megawatt wind turbines ... enough clean, renewable power to satisfy the electricity needs of more than 200,000 homes.

    Or maybe not. First, the wind does not blow all the time. Experience is that actual electric production averaged over a year is around 25% of the wind capacity which was bought & paid for.

    Then there is the problem that sometimes the wind blows when we don't need the power, and sometimes it doesn't blow when we really do need the power. E.On, the German utility, reckons (from its extensive experience with wind generation) that it has to run conventional power plants equal to 90% of installed wind power capacity to ensure that there is electricity when the customer needs it.

    Think about that! The customer is paying both for a wind turbine and for running a conventional backup power plant at the same time.

    Trying to use intermittent wind power to provide on-demand electricity is like running horse-drawn wagons down the fast lane of a freeway -- you can do it, but it is pretty dumb.

    Smarter approach would be to forget about (subsidized) wind electricity for the grid, and instead use intermittent wind power for some intermittent demand. Like the Dutch did for centuries.

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  19. Kinuachdrach,

    I'm not an engineer but, I do know that like money, energy is fungible.

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  20. Yes, under some circumstances, energy is fungible. But not like money.

    If we choose not to spend that $1 bill today, it will still be there tomorrow. However, if the kiloWatt produced by a wind turbine right now is not needed at this very moment, it is lost for ever. Gone.

    We can use coal, gas, nuclear, oil (or even wind) to generate electricity -- they can substitute for each other within certain limits. But we can't practically today use electricity as a transportation fuel in place of oil -- even though they are both forms of energy.

    Big problem with so-called "green" energy sources like wind & solar is their intermittency -- they may not be there when we need them. The costs of intermittency are huge, which is why ship-owners in the 19th Century gave up using "free" wind and instead converted to expensive coal-driven steam ships. Sometimes we can't afford "free".

    To deal with intermittency, we would need very large scale energy storage. Except for (geographically-limited) pumped hydro-power storage, we don't have the technology for large scale energy storage. Big batteries with their exotic metals are not affordable, and not at all "green".

    If we were serious about replacing fossil fuel energy sources, we would be pursuing nuclear power with a vengance. Out actions prove that we really still are not serious.

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  21. "But we can't practically today use electricity as a transportation fuel in place of oil.."

    Why not? When excess energy is available reduce the price at the "pump". You'll fill up your electric vehicle when the price is low.

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  22. "To deal with intermittency, we would need very large scale energy storage."

    Decentralize the problem. Electric cars is just one example. Require each household to not only have solar panels and solar water boilers, but storage cells to store excess energy as it's produced. Most households should see 70 to 90 percent of their energy needs self produced. This should be a mandated requirement, and it will set about a different mindset to deal with the problem.

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  23. If we were serious about replacing fossil fuel energy sources, we would be pursuing nuclear power with a vengance. Out actions prove that we really still are not serious.
    Ex-act-ly!

    Bar-keep, a round for Kinuachdrach.

    I've been preaching this gospel for years. Welcome, friend! And Happy New Year to you, Sir!

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  24. Bob,

    Who's going to take care of the waste for the next 10,000 years?

    Who's going to guard that waste for the next 10,000 years to make sure it's not used for weapons?

    No, nuclear is bad news. Ocean wind farms is a much better way to go.

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  25. from Dr. Bill's web page to you, Mat------

    MYTH: Nuclear plants emit dangerous radiation.

    TRUTH: Have you ever known anyone killed in a car accident? I have — two uncles, a roommate, and a girlfriend from college. How about anyone killed from radiation, or maybe even injured slightly? If you’re like me and nearly all other Americans, you can’t name a single person you know who has been injured by radiation.

    The fact is, nuclear power plants emit less radiation during normal operation than do coal-fired power plants. In an article published in 1993 in Oak Ridge National Laboratory Review, ORNL physicist Alex Gabbard pointed out “that coal-fired power plants throughout the world are the major sources of radioactive materials released to the environment.” According to Gabbard, radiation from coal combustion “is 100 times that from nuclear plants.” Yet even at that level, radiation from coal is completely negligible. Nuclear reactors emit much less radiation than coal-fired power plants.

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission limits radiation at the plant boundary to 5 millirems per year. (It seldom gets anywhere near that.) If you were to stand unclothed at the boundary for 120 years, you would receive as much radiation as a person living on the Colorado plateau does in one year from natural background radiation.

    Moreover, the U.S. capitol building has long been known to emit too much radiation to be licensed as a nuclear power plant.

    Consider too that unlike coal- or oil-fired plants, nuclear power plants do not have smokestacks spewing pollutants into the atmosphere. In the case of nuclear plants, the wastes are contained within the plant itself. Often mistaken for smokestacks, some nuclear power plants, like some coal- or oil-fired plants, have cooling towers that emit water vapor.

    Finally, it is important to keep in mind that radiation is all around us every day. According to the Department of Energy, the average American receives 300 millirems of radiation each year from natural sources, but that amount is higher in some places. For instance, in Denver, Colorado, because of the proximity of the Rocky Mountains and because there is less atmosphere overhead to protect from cosmic rays, residents receive almost double the national average background radiation. I wonder, does the EPA know about this? Perhaps Coloradans should be evacuated!

    MYTH: Radiation, even in small doses, is deadly.

    TRUTH: For more than 50 years, government regulators have based radiation precautions on radiation’s likelihood to cause cancer. In determining cancer rates and deaths associated with radiation, the government uses something called Linear No-Threshold Theory (LNT). And LNT theory has been overstating the risk associated with radiation exposure.

    To illustrate how LNT theory works, think about it this way: if 100 people jump off a 100-foot-tall building, we might expect them all to die. If they jump off a 50-foot-tall building, perhaps we can expect 50 to die or be seriously injured. To keep following the pattern, if the same 100 people jump from a height of one foot, under LNT theory, we would expect one person to die. It’s a linear formula. But do one out of 100 people die from a one-foot jump? Of course not — there is a threshold below which death will no longer occur. But the LNT hypothesis pretends that thresholds like this don’t exist.

    The same holds true when LNT theory is applied to radiation. Consider an exposure of 100 rems of radiation over a short period of time — as in the case of Japanese bomb survivors. These unfortunates were found to have a relative risk of cancer death of about 3 percent above their unexposed peers. Following LNT theory, then someone who had been exposed to 1 rem (1,000 millirems) would have an increased risk of 0.03 percent. Continuing the linear relationship, an exposure of 100 millirems would result in a 0.003 percent increase, and an exposure of 10 millirems a 0.0003 rise over an unexposed person. To put that in perspective, 10 millirems is the radiation dose that airline passengers get from cosmic radiation during a round-trip, coast-to-coast jet flight. According to the LNT hypothesis, if 100 million passengers fly from New York to Los Angeles, 300 of them would die from cancer (0.0003 percent x 100,000,000 = 300 cancer deaths). But as has been proven, LNT theory does not apply to radiation.

    Moreover, not only do the thresholds ignored by LNT theory exist, but below those thresholds, low-level exposure to otherwise dangerous substances have proven to be beneficial. We don’t die when we get tiny amounts of arsenic, selenium, and other poisonous elements — we must have them to live. Likewise, we must drink water to maintain good health — but too much water can result in potentially deadly water intoxication. Similarly, in proper amounts, vitamins are vital to good health. But even vitamins have a threshold over which they are harmful. In the case of radiation, even though a massive dose can kill you, it can benefit you in small amounts. This beneficial effect is called hormesis. Interestingly, those Japanese at Nagasaki and Hiroshima who received fewer than 70 rems (about 200 times the average U.S. background exposure) had less cancer and are outliving those who were not exposed.

    MYTH: We can’t handle all that deadly nuclear waste.

    TRUTH: The supposed difficulty presented by nuclear waste has long been a point of emphasis for environmentalists and other critics of nuclear power. As far back as 1975, Ralph Nader was warning it would take an army to guard the nation’s nuclear industry and its waste. “Some people believe there may be a million people with direct and backup assignments to guard the nuclear industry by the year 2000,” Nader warned then. Of course, this army of guards never materialized.

    In fact, such wastes as are produced are small in scale. Because very little fuel is required in the generation of nuclear energy, there is correspondingly little waste. What wastes are produced, moreover, aren’t necessarily wastes at all. In the United States we have been led to believe that spent fuel rods are nuclear wastes. Not so. They contain valuable uranium, plutonium, and other important medical and industrial isotopes that we currently spend considerable sums to have transmuted from other elements. With appropriate reprocessing facilities, these can be successfully recovered and reused from the supposed nuclear waste.

    Both France and the United Kingdom operate reprocessing facilities. These take in spent fuel rods and strip away built-up wastes while recovering the vast majority of the still-useful fuel. In the UK, for instance, according to BBC News, the Sellafield reprocessing center “receives waste nuclear fuel from 34 plants around the world. The metallic outer casing is first stripped away and the spent fuel is then dissolved in hot nitric acid. This produces three things — uranium (96%) and plutonium (1%) and highly radioactive waste (3%).” Both the recovered uranium and plutonium are turned into fuel pellets that can be used to create more energy in nuclear plants. And it is a lot of energy. According to the BBC, “each six-gramme [plutonium fuel] pellet holds the equivalent energy of one tonne of coal.” This from a process that reduces nuclear waste by a whopping 97 percent!

    The United States was to have a commercial reprocessing facility at Barnwell, South Carolina, but the plant was nixed by the Carter administration. Had it been built, the amount of spent nuclear fuel stored by U.S. nuclear power plants could have been reduced by that same 97 percent. As far as the danger posed by the remaining three percent is concerned, its disposal is not nearly the problem it has been portrayed to be (see next myth).

    MYTH: Nuclear waste will always be dangerously radioactive.

    TRUTH: Shortly after it is produced, high-level nuclear waste is very toxic, but radioactive waste becomes less toxic over time through the natural process of radioactive decay. By convention, scientists measure the rate of this decay in terms of “half-life” — that is, the amount of time it takes for a radioactive isotope to lose half its radioactivity. Radioactively “hot” isotopes lose radiation quickly and so have short half-lives. With half-lives measured in days or less, they soon emit too little radiation to pose a health threat. Substances that lose radiation very, very slowly and have correspondingly long half-lives present little danger to people from the get-go.

    The disposal of wastes from a nuclear power plant has often been criticized as a gargantuan problem because of the belief that the waste may be dangerously radioactive for many thousands of years into the future, but as you can see, after a relatively short “cooling” time, the waste poses little health threat. For this reason, some nuclear wastes could even be diluted with water and dumped into the oceans (oceans are already naturally radioactive!) without causing a health problem. It sounds outlandish, but it’s something the British have been doing for years at their Sellafield reprocessing plant. Compare this to the 1,000 tons per day of ash, including arsenic and other toxic heavy metals, that are sent to landfills by a 1,000 megawatt coal power plant. Those landfills stay toxic forever.

    MYTH: Chernobyl and Three Mile Island proved nuclear energy is unsafe.

    TRUTH: The great nightmare associated with nuclear energy is the “meltdown.” Anti-nuclear activists love to point to a scenario in which a reactor would lose its coolant allowing the fuel rods to melt through the reactor vessel, through several feet of high-strength concrete, and through hundreds of feet of earth till reaching an aquifer whereupon a steam explosion would ensue. Consequently, they eagerly seized upon the accident at Three Mile Island as the embodiment of all their fears — or at least of the fears they wanted the public to have.

    The problem was that Three Mile Island was a demonstration of the safety of nuclear plants. Beginning at 4:00 a.m. on March 28, 1979, a series of mishaps resulted in the partial meltdown of the reactor core. By 7:45 a.m. that morning, according to the Smithsonian Institute, “a molten mass of metal and fuel — some twenty tons in all — is spilling into the bottom of the reactor vessel.” Yet that reactor containment vessel worked as designed and by 9:00 a.m. the danger was past: “The reactor vessel holds firm, and the molten uranium, immersed in water, now gradually begins to cool,” the Smithsonian Institute says in its timeline of events at the damaged reactor. Perhaps the final word on Three Mile Island comes from Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore. In October 2006, Moore wrote in Popular Mechanics: “At the time, no one noticed Three Mile Island was a success story; the concrete containment structure prevented radiation from escaping into the environment. There was no injury or death among the public or nuclear workers.”

    It is common to mention Chernobyl and Three Mile Island at the same time in debate over nuclear safety, but the two events are substantially different. Chernobyl was the feared “worst case scenario” envisioned by critics of nuclear energy. Whereas at Three Mile Island the nuclear chain reaction was stopped in the first 10 seconds of the event, at Chernobyl the chain reaction continued well into the accident. Although there is almost nothing flammable in a U.S. power reactor, Chernobyl’s was constructed from graphite, a form of carbon that is difficult to ignite, but burns with a very hot flame once ignited. Not only that, but Chernobyl did not even have a containment structure for the reactor, unlike American plants that are built with containment buildings designed to withstand the impact of a jumbo jet. Because there was no containment vessel enclosing Chernobyl’s poorly designed RBMK-type reactors, when the plant exploded, chunks of radioactive material were ejected from the annihilated plant and exposed to the environment.

    And yet, the aftermath of Chernobyl was not as bad as many expected it to be. According to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), “The accident caused the deaths within a few days or weeks of 30 power plant employees and firemen (including 28 deaths that were due to radiation exposure).” No one wants to see loss of life, but as large industrial incidents go, this was relatively unexceptional. The 1984 gas leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, killed at least 3,000 people and, according to some estimates, may have caused the death of 15,000. At Chernobyl, by contrast, fears of mass casualties from the effects of radiation have not been realized. According to the UN, “There have been eleven deaths between 1987 and 1998 among confirmed acute radiation sickness survivors.... There were three cases of coronary heart disease, two cases of myelodysplastic syndrome, two cases of liver cirrhosis, and one death each of lung gangrene, lung tuberculosis and fat embolism. One patient who had been classified with Grade II acute radiation sickness died in 1998 from acute myeloid leukaemia.”

    Though tragic, these deaths do not amount to the devastation of much of Russia and Western Europe that was predicted. Among the broader population, even under the microscope of a media that seeks out disasters, the only detectable heath effect was an increase in childhood thyroid cancer. But some have pointed out that this might be an anomaly caused by extra screening after the accident. If you screen more children every year, you will detect more cases of thyroid cancer, Chernobyl notwithstanding. It’s noteworthy that Russia’s childhood thyroid cancers did not go off the scale. In Finland, 2.4 percent of children had thyroid cancer — 90 times that of all persons in the Bryansk area of Russia who were less than 18 in 1986 — at the time of the accident.

    The most detrimental effect of Chernobyl was the forced relocation of residents. Ironically, the fallout from the accident emitted less radioactivity than the local soil.

    MYTH: There are so many critics of nuclear power that there must be something wrong with the technology.

    TRUTH: There have been a lot of critics of nuclear technology, and many of them, maybe even most of them, have been sincere in their concerns. After all, if you are a parent and someone builds a massive power plant somewhere in the region in which you live and you are told that, in an accident, the plant could wipe out life in the entire area, you might be willing to conclude that building the plant is not worth the risk.

    But leading critics, those who often have set the terms of the debate, have, unfortunately, been wrong in their assessments of the risks. Three Mile Island proved the effectiveness of the safety measures designed into every Western power plant — and technological advances make modern designs safer than Three Mile Island. This has been known to leading critics of nuclear energy. But they oppose nuclear power not because it is unsafe, but because it is too useful. Cloaked in the garb of “environmentalism,” they use the anti-nuke movement to promote big government and harass productive capitalistic enterprises. Among these is Paul Ehrlich, who is known for his outrageous (and wrong) doomsday predictions. In the May-June 1975 issue of the Federation of American Scientists’ Public Interest Report, Ehrlich wrote: “Giving society cheap, abundant energy … would be the moral equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.” Amory Lovins, another critic and one-time British representative of Friends of the Earth, agrees. “If you ask me,” Lovins said in an interview with Playboy magazine in 1977, “It’d be a little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it.”

    Ehrlich, Lovins, and almost all of the “green” leadership rightly recognize that nuclear energy would lead to prosperity. From their standpoint, that is the problem. Again quoting Ehrlich: “We’ve already had too much economic growth in the U.S. Economic growth in rich countries like ours is the disease, not the cure.”

    In fact, to turn our backs on nuclear power may be to court disaster. With growing demand worldwide for energy, we may suffer supply disruptions in some of the fossil fuels that currently support our modern way of life. To fail now to rebuild our nuclear infrastructure would be to court disaster, something one of the chief scientists responsible for the development of nuclear technology was already warning about decades ago.

    In 1979, in the wake of the incident at Three Mile Island, famed nuclear scientist Edward Teller issued a prophetic warning that now sounds as relevant today as it did then: “The citizens of the United States have just begun to recognize the impact of the world’s growing energy shortage. Gasoline lines, electrical brownouts and higher prices are minor irritants. They are nothing compared to what may lie ahead. In a struggle for survival, politics, law, religion, and even humanity may be forgotten. When the objective is to stay alive, the end may seem to justify the means. In that event, the world may indeed return to the ‘simpler’ life of the past, but millions of us will not be alive to discover its disadvantages. When our existence is at stake, we cannot afford to turn our backs on any source of energy, we need them all.”

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  26. Bob, from the link above:

    Deep-sea oil rigs inspire MIT designs for giant wind turbines

    An MIT researcher has a vision: Four hundred huge offshore wind turbines are providing onshore customers with enough electricity to power several hundred thousand homes, and nobody standing onshore can see them. The trick? The wind turbines are floating on platforms a hundred miles out to sea, where the winds are strong and steady.

    Today's offshore wind turbines usually stand on towers driven deep into the ocean floor. But that arrangement works only in water depths of about 15 meters or less. Proposed installations are therefore typically close enough to shore to arouse strong public opposition.

    Paul D. Sclavounos, a professor of mechanical engineering and naval architecture, has spent decades designing and analyzing large floating structures for deep-sea oil and gas exploration. Observing the wind-farm controversies, he thought, "Wait a minute. Why can't we simply take those windmills and put them on floaters and move them farther offshore, where there's plenty of space and lots of wind?"

    In 2004, he and his MIT colleagues teamed up with wind-turbine experts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to integrate a wind turbine with a floater. Their design calls for a tension leg platform (TLP), a system in which long steel cables, or "tethers," connect the corners of the platform to a concrete-block or other mooring system on the ocean floor. The platform and turbine are thus supported not by an expensive tower but by buoyancy. "And you don't pay anything to be buoyant," said Sclavounos.

    According to their analyses, the floater-mounted turbines could work in water depths ranging from 30 to 200 meters. In the Northeast, for example, they could be 50 to 150 kilometers from shore. And the turbine atop each platform could be big--an economic advantage in the wind-farm business. The MIT-NREL design assumes a 5.0 megawatt (MW) experimental turbine now being developed by industry. (Onshore units are 1.5 MW, conventional offshore units, 3.6 MW.)

    Sclavounos estimates that building and installing his floating support system should cost a third as much as constructing the type of truss tower now planned for deep-water installations. Installing the tethers, the electrical system, and the cable to the shore is standard procedure. Because of the strong offshore winds, the floating turbines should produce up to twice as much electricity per year (per installed megawatt) as wind turbines now in operation. And because the wind turbines are not permanently attached to the ocean floor, they are a movable asset. If a company with 400 wind turbines serving the Boston area needs more power for New York City, it can unhook some of the floating turbines and tow them south.

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  28. Bobal is right on this. And Matuela, sorry, you are a victim of false doctrine.

    Oil fields can pay for expensive tension leg platforms because oil is a dense valuable source of energy. Wind power is too diffuse. Like trying to pay for a mansion while living on social security.

    But we have to be philosophical. The history of the world is one of constant change.

    China led the world until the Emperor made a decision in the early 1400s to close the borders and turn China's back on the world. China stagnated, while pissant Europeans squabbled their way into world domination and founded the USA.

    Now the US & the Euros are world leaders. But we are chosing to turn our backs on technology. Meanwhile, China is furiously building nuclear power plants. The wheel turns. The human race will move forward -- with or without the ill-informed western liberal environmentalist.

    Happy New Year!

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  29. Kinuachdrach,

    Discounting all the other problems with atomic energy, using this poisonous 1950's technology to solve our energy needs, should not be anyone's idea of moving forward.

    We are on the precipice of an information and technology revolution. The harvesting of renewable energy resources will see major benefits from that. What we need is more investment in research, more urgency in finding new solutions, and a decentralized solution to the problem.

    Your centralized, massively expensive, nuclear mega project, is the Communist way of approaching the problem. China being a prime example. This is a fundamentally pessimistic approach, and it not only lacks in imagination, but is also very injurious to our future.

    As for "ill-informed western liberal environmentalist", I'm an ultra-nationalist libertarian, of eastern, and western, background. Environmentalist, I would hope everyone on the planet is an environmentalist. :)

    Cheers!
    Here's to a better 2008!

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