Dean Clough

October 10, 2022

Portico Darwin: Yes Nukes!


Flag of Ukraine.jpg

Happy Monday.

Long-time readers know that I 1) occasionally simply repeat an article or podcast from somebody smarter than I, on a subject in which I am (and hope you will be) interested, and 2) love the Freakonomics podcast.

Well, what do you know?  Today I'm combining the two and pushing a subject whose time I think has come (again).

The time for nuclear power is now.  Right f'ing now.  Yes, my timing is bad given Putin's missile-rattling, but this is about averting climate catastrophe, vs. (at least for today) a looming nuclear holocaust. 

In fact, we made a terrible mistake when we let the "environmentalists" win this one.  That is all explained in the podcast; there's also a full transcript at the link for you readers out there.

Freakonomics Radio:  Nuclear Power Isn’t Perfect.  Is It Good Enough?

Some highlights and fun facts from the podcast:
  • I love how they apply the argument of harm reduction, used by liberals like me regarding drug policy, to energy creation.
  • Harm reduction?  Study after study shows that nuclear energy is the least awful of all energy sources, in terms of direct and indirect deaths caused by its use, impact on climate change, and cost.
  • Coal is by far the worst:  most estimates indicate 1 million + deaths annually are caused by the mining and burning of coal.  Think about that.  
  • The backlash against nuclear energy is largely based upon the accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, and movies like "China Syndrome", and HBO's . . . "Chernobyl". 

But the fears don't match the reality that nuclear is our overall best energy option:

And at the bottom of the list — or the top, if you’re looking for the energy source that produces the fewest deaths per unit of electricity — that’s right:  nuclear power.  Even with the famous meltdowns you know about — Chernobyl in Ukraine, in 1986; Fukushima Daiichi in Japan in 2011; and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979.  Three Mile Island, by the way, produced zero deaths but it was scary enough to change the future of nuclear power in the U.S.  Still, on the measure of mortality per unit of electricity produced, nuclear power is, overall, the safest source we have.

The most common source, meanwhile, is coal — which, as Joshua Goldstein writes in A Bright Future, “kills at least a million people every year worldwide, mostly through particulate emissions that give people cancer and other diseases.”  

The other fossil fuels we burn for electricity aren’t as bad as coal, but they certainly pollute and they raise climate risk — as well as geopolitical risk.  Our dependence on oil and gas has meant a long series of wars and occupations; it has meant partnerships with repressive regimes, and it’s meant being held hostage to those regimes when they suddenly decide to shut down the pipeline that’s been supplying your fuel for electricity and heat.

And shocker:  the oil industry helped scuttle nuclear in the US way back in 1973.  It was then - and suddenly - that The Sierra Club came out against nuclear power.  Then, their leader at the time splintered off and formed a new group, called The Friends of The Earth.  The new group's focus was its opposition to nuclear power, and it was funded by - wait for it - a big check from ARCO.  More?  The warm-and-fuzzy American Petroleum Institute has been creating fear, uncertainty and doubt about nuclear power ever since the 1950s.

I hope you'll listen to the entire podcast, or read its transcript.  Neither Freakonomics nor I are saying nuclear energy is perfect - far from it.  But it's the least bad option we have, and if nothing else, it's nice to hear there is a viable alternative to burning up the Earth.


It's always good to see that I'm not completely out of touch, no matter how Gran Torino I may go.  The boy genius Kevin Monza agreed with my whining about wine tasting, or at least its high price:

This is everything now.  We’re being sold the same products and services as always but now it’s luxury. 

The local beer fest coming up (walking distance to my house so I’m the prime demographic), is $75 a person.  I’m not paying for that any more.  I can go to the bar and get good and drunk for $75.  No lines.  No standing around.  No weather to deal with.  What changed to make a $35 event double in cost? 

I couldn't have said it better myself, and not just the part about going to a bar.  "We're being sold the same products and services as always but now it's luxury" is a brilliant take on the entire capitalistic and unequal mess in which we find ourselves.

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


I think I am super-clever on this one. 

Here is the painfully sincere Jackson Browne and "Running on Empty".  I'll say this:  I really like the title track.

For you kids out there, Jackson Browne and other do-gooders at the time, including Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt, put on a massive "No Nukes" concert in 1979.  It was another big nail in the coffin for nuclear power in the US - even more so because it was held just a few months after the Three Mile Island accident.

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