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Thanks for a nice article. I have 3 comments -

1) The "low level leak" from the recent earthquake hit plant in Japan was about 1/10th to 1/5th of a cubic meter of a typical soil. Or it was the same hazard as if a dozen humans jumped into that sea the spill went to. It is ludicrous to even mention such a nuisance.

2) Normal civilian nuclear plants do not produce plutonium usable for nuclear weapons. For that special reactors are a necessity - such as the one North Koreans have, the heavy water moderated NRX-like reactor Pakistan used and Iran is constructing or the infamous RBMK used in Chernobyl. These are fundamentally different construction from the current PWR/BWR fleet deployed world wide, or from the GenIV designs.

3) Nuclear fuel can be recycled, it is a matter of national policy. President Carted banned recycling, effectively killing the related industry for good. However the US had developed a concept of fast reactor with on-site reprocessing, which can utilize the uranium about 200x better than contemporary designs. At the same time, as it recycles the fuel on-site, no fission fuel ever leaves the plant, thus it poses zero proliferation risk.

Google for "Integral Fast Reactor".


I guess I am in the dark about why everyone is so worried about terrorists and nuclear fuel. Certainly it would require quite a bit of expertise to generate a nuclear bomb from plutonium, not to mention expensive raw materials, precision manufacturing equipment and the huge problem of delivery.

It seems to me that a rational (maximizing damage/dollar) terrorist would go after bio-chem weapons every time. Refining several gallons of Botulinum toxin has got to be orders of magnitude simpler, cheaper and more effective than trying to build a nuclear bomb.

This is not to say that proper precautions should not be used, but nuclear weapons clearly have much more military than terrorist utililty. The argument that we would make it easier for terrorists to acquire WMD by more broad use of nuclear power seems to be quite hollow.


What about the recent nuclear deal between the US and India? Where does it take the nuclear energy market?


I have a friend who is building a small cabin in the woods by hand for a retreat spot. What does that have to do with nuclear power?
One of the first things he built was the outhouse. Nuclear power
operators should do the same.


A brief comment; I am assuming the method of waste disposal Prof. Becker mentions is the subductive waste disposal method, which would involve burial a few thousand meters below the ocean floor in a subducting tectonic plate (where, theoretically, the waste would be incorporated and cycled through the earth's mantle). This then would produce an environmentally safe, effective method of permanent disposal. However, some digging on the internet yielded little about the actual process and costs involved; clearly, this projected solution is still in its theoretical stage. What exactly are the risks and monetary costs involved, and is this actually an economically feasible solution, even for wealthy countries?

Dallas Weaver

Interesting blog and comments. One of the few times I have read such politically incorrect, but scientifically correct comments. The concepts of national security and CO2 emissions along with reasonable comments on nuclear power all in one blog -- amazing.

With some friends, we have calculated the tradeoff between oil and capital intensive alternative energy at about 1 million BBL / Day of oil production = about a 100 billion dollars in Capital cost. With the cost of this war, we could have displaced about 25% of our oil imports, which would have helped the US and world a lot more than the war and hurt the funding of the terrorists. We estimated that about $3/gal oil tax + $25/ton CO2 tax (on all carbon emmissions) imposed in a revenue neutral manner (say reducing payroll taxes -- making labor cheaper relative to capital), should be enough to turn us around


You fail to mention renewable energy. One renewable energy policy that is not discussed here and, in my opinion, meets both concerns is a renewable portfolio standard. By utilizing renewable energy sources, we will reduce our dependence on imports - most notably natural gas - and simultaneously reduce emissions.


Gads, Americans are considering corporatism; oh well, go check out Brazil's autarchic energy policies re: Alcohol fuel for autos; also South African Liquid Oil (SASOL). Sasol was unprofitable outside boycot positions (roughly 3 1977 dollars per gallon, at best, more realistically 5 1979 dollars per gallon of gasoline produced). France tried going nuclear; I don't think it's the way to go. Of course all these corporatist ruminations are not free market solutions. Best approach is to let the market decide, really: that would likely be for solar as it has become about 300% more efficient over the past 20 years and likely will get more efficient as materials science (unlike semiconductors...) has not yet "peaked".

Mark Shapiro

Current national security and energy policies do conflict. Subsidies for oil consumption harm our environment and our security. But as you suggest, good energy policy is good national security policy. It always will be.

Good energy policy means efficiency, renewables, and conservation. Amory Lovins has been promoting efficiency at the Rocky Mountain Institute for decades, particularly ways to reduce market barriers to efficiency. He has also demonstrated how effiicency and distributed power contribute to national and international security, while building wealth. He is always worth reading.

A carbon tax would certainly move us in the right direction. And already efficiency, wind, and solar are the fastest growing sources of energy services.

But does nuclear power deserve high marks on national security grounds? Throw out all the liberal arguments against nuclear so we can see the conservative case more clearly. Nuclear power is anti-market, anti-freedom, and anti-security. Consider the regulations, bureaucracy, and subsidies that nuclear power requires. A free market in nuclear power is neither possible nor desirable. Is anyone happy that North Korea, Iran, or Iraq were developing nuclear power? How transparent is our nation's nuclear security policy? How much freedom have we recently paid to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism by some unknown amount?

And if the benefit of reducing the threat of nuclear attack from Iraq might have been as much as one trillion dollars, as you argue in your next blog entry "Comment on cost benefit analysis applied to the Iraq war", doesn't that suggest a trillion dollar cost of nuclear power?


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