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Comment Re:great news for corporations and politicians (Score 1) 703

How about we put forth the effort to improve our K-12 system instead? You are correct that college is worlds apart from what kids are learning by grade 12. There is no reason that kids can't get the practical value out of their current K-12 education done by the end of their Sophomore year. Let the last 2 years of high school be for CC equivalent classes for those so inclined or for an apprenticeship in the trades and crafts.

Comment Re:So? (Score 1) 599

The isotopes with the 250K year half-life do not produce much heat. You can hold uranium in your hand and it is not radiologically dangerous nor is it any warmer than than any other rock. The reason why freshly discharged spent fuel needs to be cooled in a pool is because of all of the short-lived isotopes. After 1 year the fuel is safe for dry cask storage, though it is often kept in the pool for at least 5 years just to be safe.

The great thing about the dry cask storage is that the casks do include shielding and you can stand right next to them, give them a hug, and be just fine. There is no possible way for any animal or insect near the cask to pick up any contamination and transport it. The waste at Hanford is not contained in storage casks plus there is contamination in the dirt. This contamination is what the animals pick up and transport.

Spent fuel is actually quite stable and does not readily disperse in the environment. Combine that with the insane engineering that is incorporated into the casks and there is little danger of contamination spreading from the spent fuel.

Comment Re:It takes 20+ years to build a nuclear plant (Score 1) 599

Here is a good article that covers mortality rate by power source. The comment section is also insightful. The numbers that are included in the survey do include TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Part of what keeps the death rate so low is how heavily regulated the industry is. Just to use a ladder to change a light bulb you have to go through training and be a certified ladder operator.

Comment Re:It takes 20+ years to build a nuclear plant (Score 1) 599

Solar pricing has a lot of perks. On many grids it is guaranteed sale. This means that if the solar plant is producing electricity it has priority option and gets purchased, even if the supply is not needed. This screws over all of the other utilities that have to sell their production at a negative price point. If solar was predictable then the other providers could adjust their output accordingly. Solar isn't predictable, other providers get screwed.

You then talk nonsense about your magical electric grid. I say it is nonsense because any grid that has that kind of storage would be magical. There is no provision for large scale storage of excess electricity on our grid. Now, we have the technology to build storage, but that would increase the cost well above your quoted 9 cents. In addition, you would have to increase your solar capacity to charge the storage. Typical figures indicate that if you wanted a solar grid you would have to install 4-5x the generation that is required (ie. you want 1000 MW you need to install 4-5000 MW capacity). Again, there goes your 9 cent figure.

Just for an idea of the cost of storage, look at the battery system in Fairbanks Alaska. It is 2000 sq meters, 1300 tonnes, 400 MW, and will provide enough power for 12,000 homes for 7 minutes. All for the low cost of $35 million.

Comment Re:Topsoil-based fuels are wrongheaded in every wa (Score 1) 238

The economics of food prices around the world isn't the only reason to abandon biofuels. The problem with biofuels is that they don't make sense from an energy balance point of view. Photosynthesis is horribly inefficient, we have solar panels that do a lot better (mandatory xkcd ). However, plants are amazing, they can gain additional energy for growth from the ground. We have found a very good way to supercharge plant growth by giving them growth enhancing energy drinks in the form of fertilizers.

This use of fertilizers to aid plant growth is the big problem. Fertilizers come from fossil fuels. Converting fossil fuels to fertilizers to be used to grow plants to be converted to fuel is a lot less efficient use of energy, land, water, etc. than just using the fossil fuels as fuel directly

Aside: this is one of the reasons I like electric vehicles. We have the technology to put them on the road today and then we only have a few large, stationary fossil fuel "engines" to focus on instead of millions of small mobile ones. /Aside

There is a wonderful article that has been written on the inefficiency of biofuels pdf warning

Comment Re:$24 (Score 1) 347

I agree with your list of changes but would make a couple of adjustments. Renewing a copyright every year would be a hassle. I agree with your idea of limiting the duration of the copyright based on the type of work and think that copyrights should be initially granted for the full term. With that said, there should also be a stipulation that the copyright ends with the death of the creator. I think it is an abomination that works are still not in the public domain decades after the creators death.

Somehow though, I think these kinds of changes would be hard to push through. The best that I can hope for is that copyrights terms will be limited to 20 years max and then after that will be allowed for free release for "non-incidental use" but that any commercial use would still be subject to royalty payments. While that would still suck, it would at least be an improvement.

Comment Re:Get rid of some (Score 1) 615

There is no way we can morally demand countries like North Korea and Iran not develop nuclear weapons unless we do all in our power to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

When it comes to countries with nuclear weapons I imagine an old West saloon scene after a gun fight has broken out. Bullets have been fired, many of the customers have pulled their guns and all is still as everyone is looking around the room waiting to see who is going to fire the next shot. In the calm, people are beginning to realize that everyone drawing their guns is a bad idea and will only result in chaos. Those that have their guns drawn are trying to keep everyone else from drawing and just adding to the tension. Since those with guns drawn don't completely trust each other they won't put their own guns down, but as signs of good faith they are starting to remove bullets from their cylinder.

Right now, this is about where the world is at. Those with nuclear weapons realize that it really isn't a good idea to have every country pointing nuclear weapons at each other. If we can convince those without nuclear weapons to not develop then we can work on reducing our own inventory. I agree that it seems hypocritical for the US to have nuclear weapons and tell another country that it can't, but I think it can be agreed that the fewer nuclear weapons that exist, the better off everyone will be.

Comment Religion is more than Bible stories (Score 3, Insightful) 388

The problem that many non-religious folks seem to have trouble grasping is that religion is more than just the stories from the Bible. Religion is a code of ethics that define a way of life. Religion is not something that can be proved with science, so why bother trying. The few scientists that try proving religion through science just end up looking crazy.

Religion is a lot closer related to the social sciences and as such isn't tested the same way that we would test a hypothesis in chemistry of physics. The real test of religion is, do my beliefs make me a better, happier person? If so, then the test comes back positive then I can say that the religion is good for me. Even if at the end of my life I were to discover that my religion was completely false and that there was no God I would still be glad that I practiced religion. Having a set of ethics that I subscribe to, encouraging me to treat others kindly, to be a good parent, to be honest, to work hard, complete with a support group has made me a better person.

Religion doesn't have to be a repressive organization. If the religion is trying to get you to adhere to certain standards out of fear of some punishment then the religion can't possibly make your life better. However, if the religion develops in you love for your fellow humans and all creatures and makes you want to be better out of love, then it is a good thing.

Sorry for such a long response but I get tired of the non-religious classifying religion based on the few loud-mouths that seem to crop up on TV or the internet. Religion doesn't have to make a mockery of proper science since both are addressing different questions. And yes, I am an actively religious scientist.

Comment Re:Nuclear energy could be a great boon if... (Score 1) 255

I agree that conserving energy is a good thing, there is no point in being wasteful. However, conservation will only get you so far. You can only insuate a house so tight, energy efficient appliances can only go so far, etc. The question is where do we get the rest of our energy from? Two major factors in considering where we are going to get our energy from are cost and pollution. You can become as efficient as possible, reduce your monthly consumption by 25%, but if your energy costs are doubled then you are still paying more. Likewise, if you go for cheap and replace nuclear and renwables with coal then even with conservation you still end up polluting more.

As nations increase their standard of living the demand for energy will only increase. Nuclear is the best option we have to provide clean, affordable energy.

Comment Re:Nuclear energy could be a great boon if... (Score 1) 255

For us as consumers it is better to save energy. It costs less and the money is spent improving our homes and our lives directly.

I agree that we should not be wasteful in our energy usage, but why should I have to give up some comforts that I enjoy just because we are too afraid of the unknown (nuclear)? I enjoy having a home that gives my kids room to run. It is nice to be able to run a dishwasher to do my dishes for me. It is really nice to have a clothes dryer for all of the laundry that inevitably comes with having young kids.

Nuclear can supply us with inexpensive, clean energy. Everyone talks about the extensive nuclear subsidies, but the subsidies are nothing compared with what renewables get. And it is nothing compared to the indirect subsidies that coal and natural gas yet by not having to deal with their waste stream. The very fact that nuclear plants are able to be reasonably competitive in price (current low natural gas prices aside) is absolutely amazing considering that nuclear plants are paying a "tax" to cover the cost of waste disposal. In addition nuke plants are required to maintain a decommissioning fund to cover the cost of cleanup when the plant shuts down.

Compare that to coal, gas, and renewable sources. Coal and gas emit tons of pollution freely. There are abandon wind and solar farms where the owners just walked away leaving their crap to pollute the land. Yet these costs have never been added into the subsidy calculation.

If we want cheap, affordable, clean power then nuclear is the only way to go. Unfortunately the public is largely ignorant about the realities of nuclear and instead has been fed a steady diet of Hollywood and environmentalist propaganda that over hypes the terror potential and completely misses the boat on even the most basic technical points.

We also have a Congress and NRC that includes a bunch of ignorant louses that also fail to grasp a basic understanding of the way a nuclear plant works or the actual effects of radiation. The result is insane regulations that cause plants to spend millions and millions of dollars on safety equipment to protect from 1-in-a-million type scenarios. They are able to push through endless regulations but can't manage to assess and promote new technologies in reactor design and waste management to deal with the real problems that do currently exist.

The science and technology is there to make nuclear a great asset. Unfortunately we are stuck with ignorant politicians and public that are driven by smarmy propaganda and hype.

Comment Re:That stopped being true 50 years ago (Score 1) 221

However, the waste issues at the Hanford site are nothing like the waste issues that arise from commercial power plants. The Hanford waste is an agglomeration of all kinds of sludge from different processes. No tank has the same composition as another tank. This diversity of content makes designing a remediation system difficult. It isn't that no one wants to clean it up, look at the billions of dollars being invested in clean up. It isn't that people are dragging their feet on the plant since it is a cash cow. There are technical issues that are difficult to overcome.

Contrast this now with waste from commercial power plants. Waste from commercial plants is in a solid form and almost all of it is contained in zirconium rods (steels and other materials have been used to fabricate fuel rods, but these are not common and are no longer in use). The UO2 fuel form is quite stable, just look at Pena Blanca in Mexico, it has large deposits of uranium oxide exposed to the elements and yet it is still there after millions of years. The waste is actually one of the points that people should be arguing in favor of using nuclear energy. The waste is extremely regulated and so the nuclear plant operators have to make sure that they contain all of their waste. The waste form is stable, and despite all of the politicizing, we can contain waste for the duration of its hazardous life. How many other industries have such stringent controls on their waste streams and have their hazardous byproducts become less hazardous with time?

Comment Re:My understanding (Score 1) 221

The thing is that there are still a number of technical issues to work out. Yes, the vitrification technology is old, heck France has been doing it for years. The difference is that in France, there feedstock is consistent and known. In the Handford tanks, the junk that is in there is neither consistent from tank to tank and all the details about what is in them isn't necessarily known. One of the biggest issues that they are facing is how to pump the sludge in the tanks through the pre-treatment facility. Often, the contents of the tanks are described as liquids, but this is a gross over simplification. Many (if not most) of the tanks have a hard salt layer on top that has to be broken up. There is also generally a layer of nice Newtonian fluids, but there also tends to be a significant volume of thick, sludgy, non-Newtonian fluids that make modeling the flow of this stuff a nightmare.

As some of these issues have arisen the question of the viability of vitrification has been raised. However, they are so far along in this plant that it is nearly inconceivable that they would scrap the project and start again with a different technology.

Comment Re:In my physic course we could have anything (Score 1) 233

But by the time that you take physics, you understand the underlying math. I was tutoring a relative in math and she was using her graphing calculator to solve basic algebra. Yes, the calculator was able to give her correct answers but she didn't have any idea on how to rearrange basic equations, isolate a variable, or anything like that. Being able to use a calculator was, in my opinion, a great disservice to her. Without being able to understand the basics of equation solving she will struggle if she takes any more advanced math or science courses.

"Today's robots are very primitive, capable of understanding only a few simple instructions such as 'go left', 'go right', and 'build car'." --John Sladek