Jim Hansen on Nuclear, a quick rant

Check out this video of an interview with Jim Hansen, nuclear proponent and former NASA scientist.

One standout is that he proposes that technological innovation, better technology, and more centralized, authoritarian control of technology can prevent disasters like Fukushima. “Nuclear energy is harder for people to understand…” and this is why he claims there is so much opposition. But this automatically assumes that people must defer to an authority or expert on the issue.  If people cannot comprehend the inter-workings of nuclear energy, should they not be included in the discussion? This seems strangely fascist, and honestly brings into question Jim Hansen’s belief in the ability of people, as either mindless or inept. Also, strangely missing is nuclear armament (Hannah Arendt ), the discussion of safety not from “natural” disasters or events, but from planned attacks and other security threats. Is this not something of a BIG concern with nuclear, no matter what the generation? I understand that there has been tremendous technological progress in nuclear research, on reactor design for safety from these issues, but that still doesn’t address upstage issues.

I think Timothy Mitchell’s arguments in Carbon Democracy are also quite applicable to nuclear, and directly address these issues. In his book he argues that the socio-technological systems that arose around fossil fuels made modern democracy possible, and that the imminent threat to their longevity and functioning also poses a threat to the stability of the system which created it.  In a more precise point, he discusses the arrangements of coal extraction sites, of the importance of nodes, where workers could effectively strike because they threatened the entire energy system by not working. The power was theirs at that point, and often, they could destroy the system by decoupling their portion of the chain. But for oil it changed, numerous pipelines and tanker routes were created so that disruptions would be less effective.  But what about the system for nuclear: Can plutonium and uranium supplies be completely secured? Do we event want to test that hypothesis, which Hansen takes for granted? Is nuclear a necessary step to protect and legitimate the current institutional authorities that were created under the fossil fuel regime? I think these are important questions that should be considered before advocating for nuclear over renewables and efficiency.

Hansen only hurts himself  in this interview by making a terrible analogy to airplanes: when airplanes fail we do not stop using them, and he suggests the same idea for nuclear. But are these really comparable? Radiation that impacts a large area and possibly many, many more people than can fit in any airplane, should this be thought of in the same way? Shouldn’t people who might be impacted by nuclear energy have a say in its implementation? Haven’t we learned from the past, from coal even? In another rather idiotic point, he suggests that energy efficiency is useless because someone else will inevitably use the fossil fuel that others conserve. This means, of course, that no structural or systemic issues are considered, and he definitely punches people like Amory Lovins in the gut with this point. I find this to be an issue with position, of framing the problem of energy: Hansen poses it as technical problem, and for the most part, Lovins does too, but its really a socio-technical and political problem. We have a consumption problem, or even an addiction, not a production crisis. First and foremost, we should think about the structure of society, our culture and values, then consider if we need the enormous amounts of energy that we require for our system.  Should we follow the organizational requirements of technology or of our desired society? This is a question which we should consider.

photo cred: http://links.org.au/node/1607


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