advice from a fake consultant

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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

On Unknown Languages, Or, Nuclear Is Bad, Mmm' kay

For those not yet aware, the US anticipates an energy shortage, and the Administration means to fix it.

This is why Mr. Bush told America:

"It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply — and the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power — by even greater use of clean coal technology ... solar and wind energy ... and clean, safe nuclear power." (my emphasis)

As usual, those far more learned than I will debunk the “clean, safe” part.

They will probably explain the issues associated with plant operations and decommissioning, and as I said, I will leave that to them.

Reactors, once started, might operate as long as 60 years.
But let’s look beyond that.

After the 60 years, there are huge decommissioning issues.
But let’s look beyond that.

As a result of the Energy Tax Incentives Act (EPAct) of 2005, Michigan and Texas are amongst the various sites being considered for new plants.

But even after the taxpayer subsidies are hand delivered to the utilities, it still might not be economically feasible to build the plants.
Let’s look beyond even that.

A long, long, long way beyond that.

Because even after the plants stop operating, and the reactors have been buried, or removed, or whatever, there’s still the matter of the fuel.

The fuel will be a problem for a long time, to say the least.
You might be a bit fuzzy on my meaning of the word “long”.
Perhaps you require more specificity.

Have you ever heard of 40 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) Part 197?
You might know it as the “Million Year Regulation”

That is not a rhetorical description-it is a literal one.
The Environmental Protection Agency has asserted that they intend to regulate the nuclear waste exposure of humans, the environment, and groundwater for the next million years.

The most difficult waste to be stored will be the spent fuel rods, which are highly radioactive, as opposed to lower-level wastes-things like the coveralls worn by workers or the tools they use.

At the moment, the likely disposal site for the high-level wastes is Yucca Mountain, Nevada, where the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management will, apparently for the next million years, prevent unintended releases.

There are huge obstacles for the repository-for example, water leaching.
The Department of Energy reports they can keep the water from seeping into the Repository, and then to the water table, for “many thousands of years”. Since “many thousands of years” are considerably less than a million years, you can see the difficulty there.

But let’s say for a moment that nuclear power does turn out to be safe and clean, despite our concerns. And let’s say vitrification can be accomplished effectively and economically, and that the facility is actually sealed after the waste is in the tunnel, and there is no failure of the waste containment.

After all that, there’s still one ore potential problem: the meddling humans of the future.

NPR reports: “The trefoil radioactive symbol was doodled on a notepad at the University of California Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley in 1946.”

This means we have 60 years of familiarity with the symbol.
We know, today, that if we see it, we better get away.
But what about 10,000 years from now? 50,000? 500,000?

Since humans practice archaeology (and probably will in the future), and Repositories need warning signs-well, now here’s a problem.

So how do you warn Earth residents who likely will not understand any current language, or iconography, who are thinking about doing an archeological dig on the site in 563,455 years?

Remember the “Million Year Regulation”?

Let me introduce you to the “Billion Dollar Door

What you would see is an outer barrier of stone pillars-20 feet tall and 25 feet apart-with hundreds of "marker signs" scattered on the ground around the site. There are four “monuments” that contain additional information about the site. It is also proposed that magnetic and other types of indicators of human activity be placed at the location.

It is estimated it could take 30 years to complete the project.

Seems like a pretty good design.
Also seems a bit like Stonehenge.

And there’s the trouble.

Stonehenge, due to its mystery, is a premier archeological site, and there’s no reason to believe this won’t be either.

And when we discover a pyramid, or a Henge, or a longhouse, what do we assume? Religious significance.

So imagine some future university decides to send archeologists to this site that is obviously covered with thousands of religious symbols, and the very warning we designed turns out to be the attraction that undoes our relatives in the future.

Or the sharks with lasers on their heads that will probably take over after we have gone.

Mr. Mackie would tell you the message here is very simple:

“Nuclear is bad, mmm’kay.”

If a million year regulation doesn’t make you want to stop building nuclear reactors; and the costs of construction and decommissioning don’t make you want to stop building nuclear reactors; and a billion dollar door doesn’t make you want to building nuclear reactors either, well... least do it for the frickin’ sharks with the lasers on their heads.

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