Back from an extended break on Kaua'i, and back to blogging (new Diagonal Economy post soon). From the mailbag:
This video on liquid flouride thorium fast breeder reactors was recently sent to me:
Some people think that nuclear energy, particularly fast breeder reactors that ues far less fuel, may be the solution to our energy problems. I have serious concerns.
I'm generally opposed to nuclear power, though not on the traditional grounds. Initially, I think we'll have fuel and net energy issues if we try to rely on conventional reactors. I'm not yet convinced that a thorough net-energy analysis has been run on breeder reactors, but I'm open to the possibility that they provide sufficient net energy (I'd draw the line at roughly 10:1 after a fully-inclusive accounting of energy inputs). That said, I don't think the technology is mature enough to know this either way at this time (and it's a potential deal-breaker in my view). Also, I'm concerned by the long time of energy payback with nuclear--as with most forms of renewably-generated electricity, a high percentage of the energy input comes up front, but the payback is stretched over the next 30-50 years. That can create a real energy "cash-flow" problem, what I've called the "Renewables Gap" (not that I'd classify nuclear as renewable, but breeders come effectively close to that).
However, it may be possible to overcome all of these issues. I think we may even be able to find a way to address the many and serious externalities of nuclear power (namely spent fule disposal, proliferation risk, operational risk). What concerns me most about nuclear (all reactor types) is that they are exceedingly centralized and maintain and spawn intensification of hierarchy. I think this the most significant problem because, ultimately, we need to overcome our addiction to perpetual growth if we ever want to be truly sustainable. My theory is that, at its core, we will not solve growth unless we reduce the excess of hierarchy in our civilization. For that reason, nuclear energy, even the potential of very efficient and "safe" breeder reactors, is like a chronic-pain patient treating their narcotic side effects and rebound pain with new and more powerful narcotics... it may postpone the problem, but ultimately it's making it much, much worse.
(This is actually one of the first topics I wrote about on this blog. See Energy, Society, and Hierarchy. The more I think about and learn about our situation, the more I confirm these opinions...)
Readers may also find my litigation checklist of interest.