29 December, 2008

Community nuclear power

Here's a syllogism to consider.  Distributed power is better for the liberty and security of human beings than concentrated power.  The technology is near to bury small nuclear reactors (or "batteries," it that word helps you sleep at night) to provide electrical power on a local scale--between 10 and 25 MW, to 20,000 homes, for thirty years. Conclusion: if we want to promote liberty and security, we should promote the use of community-sized nuclear power plants.

Ok, now to take it apart.  Is distributed power always preferable?  Not always, but often enough that it's a good rule of thumb.  The ideas of federalism and checks and balances are based on the assumption that the concentration of power in the hands of a few is a threat to everyone else.  One of the greatest arguments against nuclear power, in my opinion, has been the construction of vulnerable, complex mega-plants, each a target for terrorism, each "too important and too large to fail" without threatening millions of people.  They require a massive security infrastructure, which limits the liberty of innocents, and which will never be perfect enough to deal with an unanticipated threat, or act of God, or (most likely) act of stupidity.

(For a nightmare scenerio, consider what would have happened if one of the 9/11 flights had come down early, on the Hudson-river nuclear plant that helps to provide power to New York.  It was an easy target, and on the flight path to the World Trade Center.)

To harm (or even to open) the nuclear element of a community power plant would require digging it up from under 100 feet of soil.  There are much easier ways to get nuclear materials.  The nuclear components are sealed, to be opened an refueled at the factory, under tight security.  An act of God (for example, a massive earthquake) or stupidity (?) would lead to an automatic shutdown.  This would be a problem, but not a catastrophe.

The more I think about this, the better it looks.  Not perfect, but worth pursuing.  Now lets see if the regulators and politicians can see beyond the "nuclear" label and give it a fair hearing.


Backyard reactors? Firms shrink the nukes. | csmonitor.com

27 December, 2008

March of the pundits

Foreign Policy has made their list of the ten worst predictions of 2008. I'm guilty of falling for one of them (the price of oil will reach $200). But at least I'm not guilty of these:

“If [Hillary Clinton] gets a race against John Edwards and Barack Obama, she’s going to be the nominee. Gore is the only threat to her, then. … Barack Obama is not going to beat Hillary Clinton in a single Democratic primary. I’ll predict that right now.” —William Kristol, Fox News Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006

Bear Stearns is fine! Do not take your money out. … Bear Stearns is not in trouble. I mean, if anything they’re more likely to be taken over. Don’t move your money from Bear! That’s just being silly! Don’t be silly!” —Jim Cramer, responding to a viewer’s e-mail on CNBC’s Mad Money, March 11, 2008

“[A]nyone who says we’re in a recession, or heading into one—especially the worst one since the Great Depression—is making up his own private definition of ‘recession.’” —Donald Luskin, The Washington Post, Sept. 14, 2008

“It starts with the taking over of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which has already happened. It goes on to the destruction of the Georgian armed forces, which is now happening. The third [development] will probably be the replacement of the elected government, which is pro-Western, with a puppet government, which will probably follow in a week or two.” —Charles Krauthammer, Fox News, Aug. 11, 2008

“I believe the banking system has been stabilized. No one is asking themselves anymore, is there some major institution that might fail and that we would not be able to do anything about it.” —Henry Paulson on National Public Radio, Nov. 13, 2008

We'd do better to read the entrails of a chicken.

Inauguration Map Exercise


Just an indication of the logistics involved.  (US Navy, StrategyPage.com)

26 December, 2008


I mentioned, at a recent conference, my concern that biotechnology would follow a trend line similar to that of personal computing. It's not that I have a visceral fear of change, or of empowering people. I happen to think the PC/web revolution is one of the best things to happen in several centuries. I do, however, worry that the computer virus of today will be matched by the bioengineered virus of tomorrow. Computer viruses are annoying, Real viruses can be deadly---and we don't have the option of cutting our connections, or restoring our lives from backup, or continually updating our antiviral software.

Or do we? In fact all of those options are conceivable--for those with the money and/or skill to make it happen. For everyone else--you better hope the freeware is good.

See more at Reason Magazine.

10 December, 2008

Nuclear history--another book to get

The book is from Thomas C. Reed and Danny B. Stillman: “The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation.” These are two insiders who know of which they speak. For a condensed version, see the chart produced by the Times today:

Don't understand all the connections? Get the book.

Friedman gets it right

Tom Friedman has his good days and his bad days. Today's column in the Times is one of the good days. A gem from around the middle of a discussion of the auto "bailout/reorganiztion":
...someone in the mobility business in Denmark and Tel Aviv is already developing a real-world alternative to Detroit’s business model. I don’t know if this alternative to gasoline-powered cars will work, but I do know that it can be done — and Detroit isn’t doing it. And therefore it will be done, and eventually, I bet, it will be done profitably. And when it is, our bailout of Detroit will be remembered as the equivalent of pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the mail-order-catalogue business on the eve of the birth of eBay. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into the CD music business on the eve of the birth of the iPod and iTunes. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into a book-store chain on the eve of the birth of Amazon.com and the Kindle. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC and the Internet.
Frankly the whole idea of a "car czar" leaves me a little sick. Remember how well the other czars did? The energy czar? The counterterrorism czar? The Romanovs? Beyond the appeal for some that they can grab short-term power, I can't see why anyone would want to take that path.