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05/01/2005

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Nakku

Your comment on CO2 emissions (2nd paragraph) assumes CO2 actually leads to global warming. The jury is still out whether thats true or not. Current science on this topic is dubious at best. Even the "greenhouse" metaphor is incorrect - there are currently no CO2 clouds in the atmosphere that could actually refract heat/light back to the Earth, as the greenhouse argument goes. The metaphor is logical when its argued that water vapor (clouds), dust, or even ash refracts heat/light causing a true "greenhouse effect."

People (including you & Prof Becker perhaps) seem to forget that CO2 is an essential element in human survival; they view CO2 as simply a poison. This issue exemplifies the problems associated group-think and naive acceptance of conventional wisdom.

Having said this, your concerns of nuclear energy are well-founded, especially in this day in age when our country is so hated. But then again, some argue our dependence on oil is perpetuating terrorism by funding terrorist countries.

Our country has taken a step in the right direction to alleviate these concerns. Domestic drilling will reduce our dependence on foreign oil (no matter how small the % is relative to our consumption, it'll still help). We also need to vigorously protect our borders to reduce certain externalities related to domestic nuclear energy production.

I'm not willing to give up my gas-guzzler yet.

hyh

Arguing the pros and cons of nuclear power is a bit like arguing whether beef is a good source of protein in one's diet. The answer is always yes and no.

Perhaps the current younger generations need to revisit nuclear power as a matter of education. But it seems to me that a specific debate over nuclear power without a broader debate about energy production and consumption in our economy is a bit of a wink to the nuclear power industry. Likewise, a debate about energy sources without a concurrent debate about energy uses is only half a debate. It goes without saying that any national energy strategy that relies heavily on increasing domestic energy supplies is only half a strategy.

Yes, there are pros and cons to oil, gas, coal, nuclear, bio fuels, solar, etc. But what about the pros and cons of conservation policies or the pros and cons of developing more efficient use of energy in physical terms (distributed systems, more efficient engines, motors, appliances, et al.), as well as social terms (peak power consumption habits, personal conservation, et al.)? Given the enormous economic and environmental costs of energy (not all unjustified), why are we so reluctant to impose costs on our individual utility?

As a society and culture, we rarely think hard enough about how we use energy. Our addiction to easy, cheap energy just may be our undoing because in many ways, energy use is about economic competitiveness. And don't look to deeply entrenched energy producers to provide sophisticated long term solutions. One would suspect that the energy industry wouldn't mind several decades of increasing demand and constrained supply.

hyh

Nakku, you sound like an intelligent, reasonable person. Please revisit your sources of information on global warming and consider additional sources of information. If you really believe that scientists suffer from group think or are victims of conventional wisdom, then go ahead and keep driving your truck and let the adults worry about the future.

Nakku

hyh, thanks for your kind words. (Are you a scientist?) But I'm sure you're more reasonable and intelligent than I.

So presuming you're an adult, do you think CO2 is causing global warming? If so, I first challenge you to read up on your elementary science. After doing so, show me a study that shows a direct causation between CO2 and global warming. Explain to me how atmospheric CO2 heats the Earth.

If you find something, email me (this goes for anyone else who finds the need to refute my childish comments).

hyh

Nakku,
1. I'm not a scientist
2. this is a post about pros and cons of nuclear energy
3. If you're writing a paper on Global Warming and want research links, ask elsewhere
4. Given #2 above, I'll email to you statements about how CO2 absorbs radiative energy in earth's atmosphere. Source will be a US government website, which you may or may not deem credible.
5. Like the study of most complex systems, global climate science is inferential in nature.
6. Given such complexity, the choice is whether or not wisdom leads us to seek to minimize identifiable risks. If there is a 20% chance that CO2 in our atmosphere is harmful to our environment, then does it make sense for us to take certain actions? What if the chance is 80%? Adults make such calculations and determinations every day.

logicnazi

Judge Posner you make some interesting points but I think you underestimate the negative effects of global warming. While you rightly consider the small risk of a catastrophic nuclear accident you don't include the chance that unrestrained global warming could risk a runaway greenhouse effect by vaporizing frozen methane (as has been suggested as an explanation of one of the great global extinctions). Certainly the public fear isn't as strong in this case but if we are considering extreme calamities with small risks we should do it on both sides.

Furthermore, your argument that nuclear power will have limited effect on global warming does not seem to compelling weigh against nuclear power. Even if you are correct that nuclear power will not be construced promptly or in enough volume to make a significant dent in global warming this does not speak against encouraging it. Since the risks of terrorism or accident are proportional to the number of reactors as is the reduction in CO2 emissions the number of reactors built is irrelevant to the question of whether per reactor the benefits exced the harms. Of course you might rightly point out that global warming is probably non-linear in CO2 emissions but so long as nuclear power is part of a broader effort to reduce emissions this still does not diminish the benefits of nuclear power to global warming.

Moreover, if one truly believed that the risks ot accident and terrorism and the costs of waste disposal for new reactors outweighed the benefits it seems totally inconsistant not to demand the short term decommisioning of our current nuclear reactors. The improvements in reactor design over the past 20 years have lead to much safer types of reactor (literaly they can't undergo a runaway reaction...thermal expansion and air cooling will self regulate the pile) even including some small sealed pebble bed reactors that can be totally buried underground providing them significant protection against terrorists. Advances in breeder reactor technology can also significantly reduce the amount of waste and the schemes sealing the fuel in pellets make handling the waste much safer and more difficult to use in weapons.

Thus I would estimate that in terms of accident or terrorist risk our currently operating reactors are several times (if not an order of magnitude) more dangerous than any new reactors that would be created and I suspect the improvement in waste reduction/management is fairly significant as well. Therefore if you really believe the risk of new reactors outweighs or balances their benefits it would seem you are obliged to think that the harms of older reactors are several times this amount and thus clearly outweigh even the considerable costs of shutting them down and building a new coal power plant (presumably this is the cost of a new coal power plant plus some decommisioning which should be withing several times the price of a nuclear reactor).

In short I don't think the position seemingly occupied by many moderate americans, that current reactors are okay but we shouldn't build anymore is at all tenable. Either even the new safer reactors are so dangerous as to not make them worthwhile and hence the older reactors should be immediatly shut down as eggregious hazards or the old reactors aren't dangerous enough to warrant paying the price of shutting them down and the new reactors are safe enough to make them an important tool against global warming.

Thus on a per reactor basis it seems building new nuclear power has significant advantages and I would argue should be granted the same level of government subsidy as other non-polluting power sources (i.e. estimate the externality of global warming and either tax/subsidize appropriatly to internalize the externality). I would argue that this subsidy (or tax on coal/oil) should be substantial but that is another debate. This then brings us to the other prong of your concern. Namely, that regardless of the harms per US reactor the choice by the US to pursue nuclear energy in and of itself is harmful.

Firstly I think you overestimate the costs of fear. Just as they have with currently existing nuclear reactors I suspect the public would become fairly ambivalent to these reactors once constructed. Moreover, this can be combated with good PR/education and in particular I would very much like to see messages saying 'However bad you think nuclear power is global warming is worse.'

This then leaves us with the quesiton of a US deciscion promoting worldwide nuclear use. While I am still unconvinced this would really make much of a difference, china, iran and other countries seem happy to pursue nuclear power in the abscence of our lead even if it did it isn't necessarily that bad. Of course more reactors would help with global warming but what about the concerns of terrorism or safety in these countries.

Once again I think the improvements in reactor design makes all the difference in the world. For instance a japanese company recently designed a self-contained *sealed* reactor which is installed prefueled and need not provide anyone on location access to the fuel and is physically incapable of overheating. By providing developing countries new reactors incapable of runaway reactions the risks of accidents can be minimized and by using specially designed sealed fuel pellets and the right type of reactors it can be made effectively impossible to use these reactors to produce a nuclear weapon.

This then leaves the final concern about security and theft of nuclear material. While direct attacks against nuclear plants (bombs plains) are concerning I suspect these are far from the most dangerous facilities in third world countries. Quite likely bombs in appropriate chemical factories or other industrial sights could cause considerably more death and damange than blowing up a well designed reactor with fuel sealed in pellets. While theft of material to use in a dirty bomb (we can use fuel which doesn't make nuclear weapons) is a valid concern I suspect the weak point is in hospital or industrial radioactive sources not in nuclear reactors. Thus, unless we are willing to deny the benefits of nuclear medicine or research to these countries I doubt building safe reactors for them would significantly increase this risk. Finally, there is always the hope that increased demand for radioactive fuel would encourage the collection of the loose nuclear material in Russia by increasing its economic calue.

logicnazi

Ohh and on the whole CO2 causing climate change debate I suggest if you are interested you check out realclimate.org (com?) wich is a blog run by scientists which goes into a great deal of detail about all the various evidence that CO2 is responsible. Moreover, the objection that you and I may not personally be up to snuff on the science is not really compelling. As with most facts about science, technology or even world affairs we don't believe things because we ourselves have had them demonstrated but because we have good reason to believe that scientific consensus is a good guide to truth. In particular I think it is somewhat disingenous to demand definitive evidence understandable without spending real time learning and reading the scientific literature in the case of global warming when you don't do it with other scientific discoveries. So if you are happy to believe in DNA, the theory of evolution, that the sun functions by nuclear fusion or plate tectonics on the grounds that smart people who are expert in these matters determined these were the best inferences why aren't you willing to do so with global warming?

In any case there is very compelling evidence linking CO2 to global warming. Using tree rings and ice cores scientists can investigate both world temprature and CO2 concentraion over periods of hundreds of thousands of years and have found a very strong correlation between the two with CO2 changes preceding temprature changes. Of course you might object and instead argue that both of these factors result from some common cause so that intervening and raising CO2 levels will not cause global warming. This is the point you just have to buckle down and read 20 years of climate research where this question has been extensively studied or accept the fact that a consensus of scientists is fairly strong evidence. Just as with solar fusion it could be that the sun's energy and it's nuetrino flux are the result of some other bizzare process that isn't nuclear fusion but the fact that scientists have studied this intensly and decided this was the best explanation seems pretty convincing to me. Ohh and on physorg.com there is a new study where NASA observered the earth's radiation back into space and compared it to the incident radiation and demonstrated that the earth is retaining more heat than it is radiating. In other words not only do temprature measurements indicate rising world temprature but alternative energy sum measurments back this up.

Of course it is *possible* that the undeniable dramatic upswing in tempratures is just coincedental with our release of greenhouse gases. It could be the case that our theoretical models suggesting that CO2 and other gases should decrease thermal radiation back into space are flawed and that it is only a coincedence that when we release a gas known to be historically correlated with temprature increases the earth has started to dramatically warm. I suppose it even could be some sort of massive group thinking affecting climate scientists and the various respected physicists who have entered/commented on the field but don't you think this is unlikely?

Even if you are unconvinced and only think it is a 50% chance that CO2 caues global warming that only means you should multiply the expected harms by half when considering deciscions to reduce CO2 emissions. Even half of the potential harms of global warming are extreme enough to warrant considerable expenditure to avoid these consequences.

Finally no one is advocating the idea that CO2 is inherintly bad or without benefit. Even the most strident and poorly informed enviornmentalists are aware that it is needed for plants to survive. The claim is simply that we have too much CO2 and thus anything we can do to reduce this amount is good.

Anonymous

Judge Posner-

I wonder if you should consider the fact that the marginal economic benefit of nuclear power may encourage the development of electric automobiles.
Much of the greenhouse effect is certainly caused by burning fossil fuels, not to generate electricity, but to run the cars and trucks we drive.
Using nuclear power to generate electricity would have the effect of amplifying all of the positive externalities you mentioned: decreasing emissions and curbing a dependance on foreign oil. In addition, the money spent on electric refueling would be funneled back into the US economy instead of shipped overseas.
Obviously there is a ways to go before a long-range, powerful and reliable electric car can compete with gasoline powered cars (remember that hybrid vehicles burn fuel to generate the power cells that power the car), and it requires a significant economic investment from the manufacturers, but I think nuclear power could and should encourage the development of electric cars.
It should also be noted that this would only work if there is both a development of electric cars and nuclear power in the US. As electric cars are powered today, the electricity the car uses is probably generated by burning fossil fuels, so the emissions are merely displaced from the place where the car runs to the location where the power is generated.

M V Pev

Judge Posner-

I wonder if you should consider the fact that the marginal economic benefit of nuclear power may encourage the development of electric automobiles. Much of the greenhouse effect is certainly caused by burning fossil fuels, not to generate electricity, but to run the cars and trucks we drive.
Using nuclear power to generate electricity would have the effect of amplifying all of the positive externalities you mentioned: decreasing emissions and curbing a dependance on foreign oil. In addition, the money spent on electric refueling would be funneled back into the US economy instead of shipped overseas.
Obviously there is a ways to go before a long-range, powerful and reliable electric car can compete with gasoline powered cars (remember that hybrid vehicles burn fuel to generate the power cells that power the car), and it requires a significant economic investment from the manufacturers, but i think nuclear power could and should encourage the development of electric cars.
It should also be noted that this would only work if there is both a development of electric cars and nuclear power in the US. As electric cars are powered today, the electricity the car uses is probably generated by burning fossil fuels, so the emissions are merely displaced from the place where the car runs to the location where the power is generated.

William Griesinger

I very much appreciate the Posner-Becker blog and what it adds to intelligent debate of the key public policy issues of our day. However, on the topic of nuclear energy and its imminent return to prime consideration as the clean energy source of the future, Posner makes the mistake of mitigating nuclear energy's potential by worrying about its inability to reduce greenhouse gases and thus global warming in the short term...as if global warming actually existed and was/is a forgone conclusion. Note to Mr. Posner: With all due respect, where is the global warming you speak of and fear? It simply doesn't exist by any scientific measure (real science, that is) you care to consider. This debate has been so warped by the non-scientific posturing of enviro-radicals that its tainted the thinking of even some of the most esteemed scholars like Posner into prefacing remarks on the viability of nuclear energy by worrying about whether it will help reduce global warming. What warming??? One would think Posner would be aware of all of the evidence compiled by esteemed scholars in the various fields of climatology, meteorology, environmental sciences and other such disciplines, to know that global warming simply doesn't exist. And, instead of the hopelessly inaccurate computer models of the nonscientific activists of the last two decades, continually tweeked as they were to achieve the "right" result, we have now had over 25 years of satellite measurements of the earth's temperature to enlighten even lay folk that the world just doesn't seem to be warming. These measurements are extremely important because, unlike the flawed computer models where the modelers continually cheat, they are real - not projections, forecasts or guesses. Global satellite measurements are made from a series of orbiting platforms that sense the average temperature in various atmospheric layers. When the lowest atmospheric level is measured, where climate computer models suggest should be warming, nothing of the kind is found. And they are proven accurate to within 0.01 degree Celsius. No bogus modeling with cheating, just the real temps. day in and day out. One would have thought Posner would be up to date on this evidence while expounding on nuclear energy. We have a problem of context and perspective in interpreting Posner's reply in light of this major oversight he exhibits. Further, (as if we needed additional vindication) the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) where global warming alarmists have used politics and bogus numbers to produce their infamous "hockey stick" (by Michael Mann) representation of world temperatures of the last millenium has also recently been exposed as a fraud based on faulty data and misleading statistical methods. Since this factual repudiation is not reported in the major media, I expect the average citizen to be ignorant of its existence. Mr. Posner has no such excuse. So, Mr. Posner, if you want to attempt to mitigate (not sure why) the viability of nuclear energy in our future, please do it with real scientific reasoning and spare us another global warming fairy tale as the linchpin of your uncertainty. It's not very scholarly or scientific and I would expect more from the prestegious Univ. of Chicago.

Thank you

Respectfully,

Bill Griesinger

TheWinfieldEffect

I never understand the assertion that the greenhouse effect does not occur. According to best astronomical evidence Venus once was capable of supporting carbon-based life, but the greenhouse effect has overheated the planet. Are those who dispute that global warming is taking place on Earth disputing that the greenhouse effect has occurred anywhere in the Universe (or in our Solar System, e.g., on Venus) and thus it cannot possibly be occurring on our planet? Or simply that it is not happening on our planet on a large enough scale to impact human civilization? Or rather that there is not enough credible scientific data that the greenhouse effect is happening on our planet to sufficient degree to impact human civilization in a drastic enough fashion that it should be worthy of consideration by respectable public intellectuals?

For information on the greenhouse effect:
http://www.astronomynotes.com/solarsys/s9.htm
http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/object/index.cfm?fobjectid=32528
http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2000/NangMiu.shtml
"Venus, the second planet from the Sun, is the hottest world in the solar system. Because of Venus' extremely thick atmosphere, the planet suffers from a runaway Greenhouse effect. Energy from the Sun passes through the atmosphere to the planet's surface, where it is absorbed and radiated at longer wavelengths as infrared. Venus' atmosphere traps these longer wavelengths so they cannot escape into space. The trapped energy builds up, so the planet grows hotter and hotter."

http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=0300049757 (The book featured here is excellent)

John F. Opie

Hi -

Interesting that the discussion centers around believability.

If one takes Judge Posner's assertion that even a massive conversion to nuclear power would have only limited effect on Co2 warming, what does that say about other attempts to reduce Co2 warming?

It says to me that we are dealing with a natural phenomenon that may or may not be accelerated by human effects: the question then arises whether we try to command the tide to turn back or whether we build dikes instead.

John

Tom

Should we put the waste in Hyde Park, say at 57th and Blackstone? As a resident of Utah, I do not want your waste. Please address the issue of where to put the waste as well as the technical problems. (Actually transporting it seems the biggest problem to me.)

Robert Ayers


For all of the discussants of "global warming": please read the excellent discussion of the science and the economics in "The Copenhagen Concensus".
On the subject of atomic power:
People including many greens are plumping for a "hydrogen" solution to vehicle pollution. If the hydrogen comes from coal-power, H-cars make pollution worse. The power required for America's cars means that wind etc are not viable. Without nuclear power, the promise of H-cars is completely lost.

Paul N

Irrational fears do impose a disutility, but irrational fears can also be abated by improved information and communication. I think Posner underestimates this (although I still agree with him that the economic case for nuclear power is questionable). I believe it's a mistake to assign these irrational fears to human nature instead of circumstances - witness how the French don't seem to inherently hate "nuclear" things as Americans do.

It seems to me that Posner is using "normal risks" as a trump card to argue against nuclear power, but I don't feel that he's applied these consistently across all issues where risk is involved. If stubbornness and public ignorance really do justify wrong-headed policies because of their normal costs, then I fear that this diminishes the value of traditional cost-benefit analysis (much of it Posner's), the results of which often challenge conventional wisdom.

William Griesinger

Ladies and gentleman. Give it a rest. I provide you with the most difinitive source of the last quarter century that warming is not taking place. The real (not computer models and no, not ground thermometers - that's why the satellites are the preferred method throughout the scientific world) measurements of the layers that environmentalists said should be warming, and you still can't bring yourself out of your misguided, politicized funk to even examine the evidence at face value. You simply refuse to be exposed to evidence and common sense. On top of this, all of the sources you have been relying on, including ground thermometer measurements (tainted by the island effect), IPCC, and...eee gads, cheating computer models, and you still refuse to come to grips with real measurements. It's simply amazing. Why, of all the warming that a previous commenter incredulously cites over the last 100 years, did the major part of the the warming occur BEFORE the industrial revolution??? Hello - when the so called man-made sources should have caused massive warming, temps. actually declined. Give me a break. I give up. I am tired of doing your homework for you. Get scientific or forget it.

Tchau

TheWinfieldEffect

Recycling and reusing the waste is attractive, except it results in more plutonium. Unless we rachet up security at our nuclear facilities, more plutonium means more plutonium for domestic terrorists to steal or more nuclear weapons in our arsenal. More nuclear weapons in our arsenal means greater problems on the diplomatic front -- the more nukes we have, the greater the urge of rogue nations to acquire nukes too.

We could simply store the waste in Nevada. But that won't happen with Harry Reid of Nevada opposed to the notion and leading Senate Democrats. Too many MoveOn.org-type activists are against nuclear power in a knee-jerk way. For some reason, nuclear power per se represents fascism to them, the same way corporate corruption does.

It seems nuclear power would have to be packaged as a boon to national security, not a boon to corporate patronage networks. Worse, it'd have to be packaged in a way not to set off extremist Greens and pandering Democrats and not to signal to the international community that the United States is a hegemonic power fixated on global domination. Politics-wise, it appears delicate.

A satisfactory political compromise would be storing nuclear waste in Utah in exchange for permitting polygamy there to be practiced legally. It is an efficient deal because either way the offspring will be deformed.

TheWinfieldEffect

Posner wrote: "However, there is a stronger case for relaxing arbitrary regulatory barriers to the construction of new nuclear plants in the United States, provided that the widespread public fears of nuclear power can be overcome."

Posner is quite a dergulator. In his seminal work on antitrust, he more or less advocates scrapping most of the antitrust statutory scheme and instead prosecuting various theories of monopolization under the section 2 of the Sherman Act, whose language, at least as is historically interpreted, is quite broad. I am not so sure such streamlining can be easily accomplished in the context of nuclear energy and wonder what his basis for this supposition is.

Take for instance the problem of nuclear power plants being erected on public land. I suppose raising dozens of nuclear power plants across the horizon requires relaxing the Takings Clause and permitting greater usage of eminent domain. How precisely to do that without providing precedent for local zoning boards or state legislatures to expand the definition of "public use" to effect more GOSPLAN-style takings is beyond me. I suppose a judge might hold that Congressional authorization is of a different pedigree than authorization by a state legislature, but that kind of argument seems to crush the Tenth Amendment, presume that seperation of powers is teleologically distinct on the state-level (perhaps misconstruing the Republican Government Clause of the Constitution), and suggest that Congress can contract or expand the meaning of the text of the Constitution without the Supreme Court's intervention (e.g., section 2 of the 13th Amendment or section 5 of the 14th Amendment). The Rehnquist Court, at least, hasn't been too keen on such deference to Congress, as it prefers striking down Congressional statutes and upholding state legislation to their converse, and the President seems to desire a federal judiciary officed by economic libertarians who have carefully studied their Richard Epstein (e.g., Janice Rogers Brown and Miguel Estrada, among others). I do not think such Federalist Society nominees, or the current composition of the Supreme Court, would abide by an expansive view of the Takings Clause, unless it was justified by a paramount federal interest like national security. But we will have to await the outcome of Ashcroft v. Raich, Kelo v. New London, Lingle v. Chevron to know for certain.

Of what one can be certain is that Democrats would spin any national security rationale for building dozens more nuclear power plants across the nation as a Republican smokescreen for a corporate welfare distribution from the working poor to modern-day monopolizing robber barons constructing nuclear power plants instead of railroads. I do not think such political obstacles are contained within the irrational fear Judge Posner mentioned and wonder what he thinks of them.

VirginiaLaw

A quick comment about the holistic nature of power production over time: While Judge Posner mentions that in the short-run, subsidizing a bunch of new nuclear plants will not abate the long-term global warming trend, I think this doesn't adequately consider the advances in alternative energy sources in general. Although these latter sources currently make up very little of our power production, I think it is safe to say that there is a burgeoning engineering field there that is improving and expanding their use every day. So you have to consider that it's not a dualistic "nuclear power only" option as opposed to continued use of coal/fossil fuels. Instead, look at it holistically - as we build more nuclear power plants, we are also ratcheting up our production of wind energy, some solar power, etc. See SW Minnesota, North Dakota, and other upper midwest states where farms are being freely converted by their owners to produce grid power from the strong winds over the great plains.

Over time, all I am arguing is that we could significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuel power generation by embracing a medley of sources, and nuclear power is a big one. I can't say for sure, but combined with reduced energy use, more efficient automobiles, and other developments (including possibly new urbanization), it seems as though the benefits from the "holistic strategy" of which nuclear power is but a part, are much larger -- maybe to the point of stopping the continued warming trend, damage to the ozone layer, et cetera.

Consider also, as a final thought, the signaling effect of a great U.S. policy shift in this direction on other countries who may well follow our lead. Actually Posner already did consider this to some degree, vis-a-vis security and deterrence of war; but surely the risk of nuclear proliferation is going to get worse and worse no matter how countries generate their power! May as well get them off fossil fuels, I say...

Corey

So Winfield, do you actually think that nuclear power construction/operation contracts should go to private corporations? You want to bash imaginary democrats in advance for calling that corporate welfare but if not then what would it be called?

I cannot tell from your post if you actually disapprove of the robber barrons of the late 1800s or admit to the massive social disturbance they caused. Or was that just a historical conspiracy on the part of leftists?

You probably drank the libertarian kool-aid on California's deregulating of its power system and what happened when Texas companies like Enron and Duke energy bought most of the capacity. I was in California, rates shot up, Enron was later PROVEN to have been extracting power from the state on the busiest days and then selling it back at 1000 times the price. There were quite reasonable allegations of companies scheduling maintenance during peak demand to artificially drive up prices. In short, it was an economic disaster, poor families could not pay their gas/electric bills. Billions were paid from state coffers to private Texas interests, bankrupting social programs and causing the crisis that led to Gov. Ahnold being elected.

You could argue that the CA voters were to blame for approving deregulation and then trying to fix it with the Terminator, but that doesn't bar the morality lesson about the actual real-life practical effects of unchecked privatization.

Nakku

Certain industries/markets seem to be characterized by factors that could curb the efficiencies associated with privatization, even lead to disastrous consequences as we saw in the energy fiasco in CA. Factors such as the constant need of a minimum supply, or extremely high barriers to entry with only few producers dominating the market (low competition). Perhaps energy supply/production is better dealt by a centralized entity.

I'm aware that CA is also experimenting with privatizing highways allowing investors to buy up highways and charge tolls. Will something as crucial as infrastructure work more efficiently with privatization? I know at least one instance so far in the Oakland area where a private road is losing money.

Our health care system could also be used to argue the demerits of privatization.

David

I have no problem with nuclear energy, as long as safety standards are strictly followed in plant construction, and as long as we have a workable plan for dealing with waste. Otherwise, nuclear power becomes more trouble (and potential danger) than it is worth.

The subtext here is that we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, particularly oil from the middle east. The black gold underneath Saudi Arabia's deserts has turned the world into a nightmare by empowering and enriching fanatics that the world would have otherwise ignored. Nuclear power can help us do that. However, it would be a short-term solution. We should actively expore broader solutions to the oil problem, with active government support and funding. For instance, alternative fuels should be developed (wind, solar, and hydrogen power, to name some), hybrid cars should be encouraged if not mandated, and we need a return to the conservation movement. It is time to take energy policy seriously again and look beyond oil, coal, and natural gas.

TheWinfieldEffect

First, Corey, nothing in your emotion-laden anecdote is relevant to my commentary. I did not express any normative view toward nuclear power or free markets or libertarianism or robber barons or Democrats. By contrast, I said:

"Of what one can be certain is that Democrats would spin any national security rationale for building dozens more nuclear power plants across the nation as a Republican smokescreen for a corporate welfare distribution from the working poor to modern-day monopolizing robber barons constructing nuclear power plants instead of railroads."

I did not attach any conditions to my prediction that Democrats would spin the issue. In other words, Democrats will spin the issue for partisan gain regardless of what the actual content of the specific proposal is. So, the actual content of the proposal -- whether it actually is corporate welfare -- is irrelevant. Even if it were not corporate welfare, Democrats would call it that for partisan political gain. The comment was not intended to be a controversial statement: it is exactly what Democrats are doing on Social Security.

Second, I made no positive claims in favor of "unchecked privatization," made no moral claims, and never mentioned California voters. I did mention deregulation, but only in reference to Posner's belief that it was optimal in regard to federal antitrust policy. I did not indicate approval of deregulation, but instead I said: "I am not so sure such streamlining can be easily accomplished in the context of nuclear energy and wonder what [Posner's] basis for [his] supposition is." In other words, I questioned whether deregulation would be politically feasible in a hostile climate of Democrat spin. An example of such hostile spin is the following:
"So Winfield, do you actually think that nuclear power construction/operation contracts should go to private corporations? ... You probably drank the libertarian kool-aid on California's deregulating of its power system ... I cannot tell from your post if you actually disapprove of the robber barrons of the late 1800s or admit to the massive social disturbance they caused. Or was that just a historical conspiracy on the part of leftists?"

I never "actually" stated, nor did I "actually" imply, that nuclear power construction *should* go to private corporations. I questioned whether expanding the Takings Clause on the federal level could be accomplished without also expanding it on the state-local level to an extent that would in principle conflict with the objectives of deregulatory policy, of which Posner is an advocate. I also questioned whether the present Supreme Court or Supreme Court of the near future would permit such an expansion and I pointed to relevant cases heard before the Supreme Court this term yet to be handed down.

As for "drinking the libertarian Kool-Aid," more than one of the libertarians who argued before the Supreme Court this term was anti-big business. Though I am not a libertarian, it does not take a libertarian to recognize that the libertarian position is not necessarily pro-big business, or supportive of "unchecked privatization". Indeed, one could easily argue that permitting local zoning boards to take your property after being lobbied by a private corporation you refused to sell to is "unchecked privatization" of the worst kind: unconstitutional.

Given how unrelated your unwarranted psychoanalytic critique is to what I actually wrote, I am inclined to think you wrote it because you suspected I am a pro-big business Republican or a member of the vast right-wing conspiracy. I am not. I am a Democrat. But what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If I had to psychoanalyze you, I would say that you are hypsersensitive to the word "GOSPLAN". Just so that others on here know what ineffable idol of yours I may have inadvertently desecrated, let me post a definition:

"Gosplan () was the committee (ministry) for economical planning in the Soviet Union. It was created on February 22, 1921 by the decree of the Sovnarkom of the RSFSR. The word "Gosplan" is a shortcut for Gosudarstvenniy Komitet po Planirovaniyu ( , State Committee for Planning)."

Doug Rekenthaler

Judge Posner:

You miss the most important externality, which is the problem of Mercury (Hg) pollution from the coal-fired power plants. Autism and alzheimers cases, which are likely triggered by exposure to particulate and elemental Hg pollution, are increasing in numbers at an astounding rate. The cost of care for the victims is counted in the billions. The vaccine court has thousands of autism cases pending, each seeking assistance for Hg exposure. Granted that the jury is still out on linkages between Hg and autism, and that there are many other sources of Hg pollution; however, the issues of CO2 and Sulphur emissions pale in comparison to the U.S., and increasingly global problem of Hg. When Hg is factored into your analysis, the merits of nuclear power become irrefutable.

Respectfully,

Doug Rekenthaler

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