What Does NAS Say About the Safety of Nuclear Power

According to Bruce Alberts in an interview on what it was like to head National Academy of Sciences for more than a decade, that’s just one of the questions they haven’t succeeded in getting anyone to ask, neither Clinton nor Bush. For many legislators, opposing nuclear power is environment-lite — pleases a few constituents (scores high on “environmentalist” scorecards), and affects relatively few businesses that might lobby on the topic. The other big environmental topic out there, climate change, is harder to address. The interview was in the May 20 Science magazine. The comments are mine, Alberts only said, “I don’t know why they aren’t interested.”

China and the US have boucoup coal power plants planned, and oil use is expected to double over the next 15 years. I’d like to see our legislators address expected increases in carbon emissions. If we asked for and got a clear answer on nuclear power safety, then it would be more difficult for legislators to hide that they aren’t addressing the big stuff.

Comments that go beyond praise and nays

Michael had questions about the November 15 post, see his comments to Climate Change Threat to Cool North Europe Recedes.

The Science article downgrading threats from a shutdown of the thermohaline circulation, a threat to cool north Europe while pushing southern areas to grow even hotter, was the result of a workshop on abrupt climate change held in Aspen. The general, but not unanimous, sense is that too much computer time is being devoted to what looks increasingly like a small probability event. Their reasoning is that yes, there is a slowdown, but to shut off the current would require about ten times as much fresh water as models predict. If there were more fresh water available, in the form of even more water tied up in glaciers, such an event would be more likely:

At the workshop, geophysicist Richard Peltier of the University of Toronto, Canada, argued that abrupt shifts “have something to do with ice,” noting that all of the Northern Hemisphere’s glacial ice melted away shortly after the last abrupt climate event 8200 years ago. Ice might have done its work by producing fresh meltwater fast enough to put a lid on the North Atlantic.

I don’t know current estimates on probability of other types of abrupt change. Most other types are not considered likely in our lifetime, but some may become inevitable in the next decade or so. I believe the quote on relative dangers of various abrupt change scenarios indicated that cooling in North Europe should move to the list of one of the concerns from the list of immediate concerns.

I haven’t read Doctor Calvin, but Richard Alley has been part of the discussions.

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