Atomic Welfare

Jerry Taylor echos my point I made last week that supposedly conservative supporters of nuclear power are ignoring the problem of huge government subsidies.

There is an interesting phenomenon in public discourse that I don't have a name for.  Take nuclear power.  Many of the people who oppose nuclear power do so for some pretty flawed reasons.   I think there is a natural tendency to take the other side of the argument when one sees this happening, even if by first principles one should joining the opposition to nukes but for different reasons.

I know I was pulled into having some initial sympathy for the Iraq war for just this reason, because the war-opposition arguments seemed so stupid (e.g. France won't like us as much!)  The correct argument on Iraq was not that Iraq didn't suck (it did) but that so many countries suck just as bad it was an impossible task to start knocking them off using large portions of the US Military, thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars each time out  (I call it the "cleaning the Augean Stables argument).


  1. NJConservative:

    How much of the huge total cost is as a result of the hysteria that was created in this country by the anti-nuclear lunatics? Building a series of standardized reactors would obviously drive the cost per unit down significantly. The problem is that the regulatory, PR, and other costs are borne in full by each project. Fix that, and the cost of nuclear power will drop.

  2. John Moore:

    The strongest argument for the Iraq war was that Iraq posed a significant danger to us and our interests. Had we not gone into Iraq, it is very likely that by now Iraq would have had nuclear weapons (from the program in Libya that Qhadaffi gave up the day after he saw that Saddam had been captured). A. Q. Khan would also have still been operating his international trade in nukes. Saddam's out-of-control scientists might have sold bio or chem weapons to terrorists.

    David Kay (NBC interview):

    I think Baghdad was actually becoming more dangerous in the last two years than even we realized. Saddam was not controlling the society any longer. In the marketplace of terrorism and of WMD, Iraq well could have been that supplier if the war had not intervened.

    Look, I found no real connection between WMD and terrorists. What we did find, and as others are investigating it, we found a lot of terrorist groups and individuals that passed through Iraq.

    The danger that has been clearly visible since at least the early 90's, is that of Jihadis acquiring WMD's - chemical (kill a few thousand), nuclear( scare millions and ruin real estate through 'dirty bomb'), and biological (kill millions). In other words, WMD technology, like much other technology, has become more accessible and less expensive due to technological progress. That combined with the increase in Jihadism, a lethal ideology which justifies the killing of millions of innocents, represented a very real threat in 2003, and still does.

    The whole "WMD stockpiles" argument was a straw-man. Terrorists are unlikely to use hundreds of tons of nerve agent, but they can quite dangerously use a few liters (put in bug sprayer or better aerosolizer, spray into air intake of large building).

    Whether all of this is enough to justify our involvement is an open question, but to ignore these issues is to mis-characterize the situation.

    The same argument applied then, and more-so now, to Iran, although Iran's government might be more rational. Iraq, however, was a far easier target, having a significantly smaller population.

  3. Methinks:

    The correct argument on Iraq was not that Iraq didn’t suck (it did) but that so many countries suck just as bad it was an impossible task to start knocking them off using large portions of the US Military...

    That argument is not correct. It's as bad as the France won't like us anymore argument.

    There are lots of countries that suck just as bad as Iraq, but they aren't all sitting atop a critical commodity, lead by a someone who openly declares that when he gets the chance he will acquire nuclear warheads so that he can take over his oil producing neighbours and was actively working to pursue that end. The rest of the world (including the occupied countries) would have been at his mercy if he were successful. Thus, it is easier to fight him now than it will be in the future (and a fight we were getting). That is the "correct" argument for the war and the only reason I supported it. Mugabe sucks, but he simply lacks the ambition and ability to wreak such havoc on the whole planet and that's why your argument falls flat.

    Basically, I'm saying that war sucks. However, if war is unavoidable (and it looked like Saddam was going to have one sooner or later), it's cheaper to fight it while the enemy is relatively weak. Is it actually cheaper to do what we did instead of another alternative (mostly attempts at containment)? We will never know for sure. But, that is the nature of decision making - you only know the path you took.

  4. Evil Red Scandi:

    I've heard it alleged that a significant factor in the cost is the regulatory aspect and legal wrangling / red tape - that this actually exceeds the cost of the actual construction. Does anybody know anything about this?

  5. Quint X:

    The United States essentially put Saddam Hussein in power to be a foil for Iran. He was serving this function quite well. Now that he is gone, Iran has surged forward to occupy the power vacuum his toppling created. Iran is far more dangerous than Iraq ever thought about being. This is the primary reason why, IMO, attacking Iraq was a bad idea.

  6. John Moore:

    The United States essentially put Saddam Hussein in power to be a foil for Iran.

    Does ignorance have upper bounds? The idea QX just stated is absurd. It is not true, not even close to true. The only faint tie to reality it has is that, when Iran became a threat to us, we gave the already-in-power Saddam intelligence aid which he used against the Iranians. We also sold the Iranians anti-tank missiles which they used against Saddam (the TOW missiles of Iran Contra fame).

    But, arguendo, let's assume that the absurd assertion is true. Would it make any difference to the rightness of the policy of getting rid of him?

  7. Pat Moffitt:

    Someone should really come up for a name for this phenomena perhaps the latrans syndrome. The public seems to be offered but two choices distilled down to a fallacy "If he's wrong I have to be right"
    It fits with the benefits afforded by group cover--and many of the abuses endemic to the right and left.

    The water issue in California is an example. The right spins it as the lunatics left concern over a small fish depriving farmers the water they need to survive. The left defends their position by citing the importance of each and everyone of life's species. Both sides are rent seekers. The public pays the bill no matter who wins or loses.

    Subsidized water is used callously to grow rice in a desert. The rice has no real market value. The rice would not nor could not be grown without rice subsidies. The water subsidies perversely justify the rice subsidies and vice versa.

    The control of water is also at the heart of this problem (the movie China Town gives a good flavor) and the fact that if any user stops wasting water it is punished by losing its rights to future water. So the public is asked to pay for subsidies for the water, pay for the rice, pay for the law suits over the lack of water and the studies to save the fish. The only loser in this system is the taxpayer.

    Were even the slightest market costs applied to water we would go a long way to providing sufficient water for the high value crops, development and for the fish.

    Perhaps we should stop seeing each issue as them against us and look closer at the issues to see if in reality it is in reality -Them and Them Against Us.

  8. epobirs:

    What George Friedman of STRATFOR argues in his book on the events leading up to the war, is that Iraq was chosen as a place to set about changing the Islamic world and creating an opposition to Bin Laden and his ilk. Perhaps ill conceived, and definitely ill executed, the conflict was about the larger problem of Islam vs. Everybody Else rather than any specific offense Saddam might commit.

  9. IgotBupkis:

    > Does ignorance have upper bounds? The idea QX just stated is absurd.

    Indeed. QX is a blatant moron. Hans Blix (hardly a Bush shill) himself openly stated that, at the start of the war, that Saddam had the capacity to be producing both Botulism and Anthrax within 180 days of the lifting of sanctions. Those sanctions were being rapidly eroded by the billions and billions in bribes that Saddam was stealing from Oil-for-Food moneys. The sanctions would not possibly have lasted another two years, and likely not another single year. So that means that, as of early 2006, had Saddam not been removed, he would have profligate quantities of both BT and Anthrax to provide to terrorists, while retaining plausible deniability. "What? No, we didn't give anyone any of that! How do you know it was from our supplies? What? Clearly derived from our strains? Oh, well, then, they must have stolen it!" And so we would have had a major WMD attack in the USA within another year or two, so 2006, 2007, or 2008 -- if not sooner than that, since I've been using the "best case" numbers to get to this point.

    Let us also not forget that, of the six known terrorist training camps in the world, three of them -- 50% -- operated out of Iraq.

    In the meantime, it's 2010, and Iran is STILL not yet a direct threat. Ergo. Iraq *was* the correct target of the two.

    Further, if Obama was doing as he should be doing, and providing as much support as possible for "regime change" in Iran via the protests, then Iran might not even be a threat at all at this point. That's an "if", granted, but it's not an unreasonable assertion, and there IS, in fact, still time for that to take place and for the Iranian people to step back from the nuclear brink.

    Because the real fact of the matter is that Muslims fail to grasp that we are, indeed, rich and indolent and lazy, but that's a veneer, not a deep rot. If they attempt to go toe to toe with the West, they will lose, lose badly, and the results will be most unpretty. And The West will feel Real Bad About That after we go all medieval on their asses. But Go Medieval we will.

  10. John Cheek:

    I would propose "Maudlin Govt Meddling",but I worry about an underlying agenda.What better way for enviros to control the nuclear industry that they hate.How about"Back Door Fascism"?

  11. rxc:

    @evil red scandi: You should read my comments in the earlier post about these subsidies. There were increases in costs due to "regulatory issues" during the first round of building, but that was not the only reason. Anti-nukes were responsible for a LOT of the cost overruns, as they drove the builders to install additional equipment that they (the anti-nukes) thought was important, and because of the litigation that this involved. A lot of the extra costs came from the fact that the plants were not completely designed when construction started, were not standardized designs (there are essentially 103 different nuclear power plants operating in the US, compared to a handful of different designs in France), and interest rates in the late 70s/early 80s were outrageously high.

    The anti-nukes are not going away. I saw one of their leaders come to every important meeting at the NRC where the new designs were discussed. He made sure that he heard and understood all of the discussions between the designers and the regulators, and he will certainly use those disagreements against the new plants.

    In addition, there are still a number of technical issues that are not resolved for these new designs, and there are a number of significant systems whose design is not complete (I&C, for example). FInally, there is a need for nuclear-qualified suppliers, who just do not exist in the US. Many of the delays in the first generation of plants arose from whistleblowers who complained about lack of quality. The Finns and the French are having problems getting contractors to pour nuclear-grade concrete, and if you have whistle-blowers complaining about concrete voids, you are bound to have delays and increases in costs.

    The nuclear industry needs to be revived because it is a good source of energy. It can be used to convert coal and water into liquid fuels that cannot be replaced by electric power from windmills. It can be used to replace gas-powerplants, which are burning a very valuable resource as a dumb heat source. But the nuclear industry cannot be revived by attempts to throw money at it. It needs a decision by the country that it is going to support it, and not allow nay-sayers and second-guessers to stand in the way. And here I include both the anti-nukes and people like Mr. Taylor, who want to just leave it to the market, which can be manipulated by people who have their own best interests at heart to make anything seem like a bad idea. His use of the phrase "light water breeder reactors" shows that he has no idea what he is talking about, because none of the proposed plants are light water breeders - in fact, the only light water breeder was the Shippingport Plant, designed by the Rickover organization.

    Once the country decides to build these plants, it needs to be done by organizations with experience constructing and operating them, and not by anyone who can write a check or con a banker into signing one. It will take time to build up the infrastructure to support it.

    The waste issue is a red herring – someone should ask the anti-nukes what they are going to do with all of those fiberglass windmill blades when they need to be replaced – the metal parts can be recycled, but I don’t know of anyone who recycles fiberglass. And there are a LOT of windmill blades out there. I just read an article about the abandoned windmills in California, and it is not pretty.

    Sorry to take so much space, but this is not a simple matter that can be resolved with words or money. It will take committment and a long term view of the world, which is not common in the US.

  12. Kris:

    This kind of reminds me of the argument that global warming can't exist because it's a cold winter. Or that we should find alternatives to fossil fuels because of global warming. One winter in the pool of data is almost negligible, and as I understand it, colder winters and/or increased snowfall aren't necessarily opposed to the theory of climate change. And we should move away from fossil fuels because they are limited, and a real alternative would make fortunes. I don't know why people support otherwise legitimate positions with bullshit arguments, but it seems to happen a lot.

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