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Cities, Judges and US Americans say no to nuclear power

Three different but related news events have happened in the last month and each in a different way bodes ill for the future of nuclear power.

In Japan, the district court has ordered the closure of two reactors at the Takahama complex.  Reactor block 3 had recently restarted and block 4 was scheduled to be the fourth running reactor in a country which had over 50 reactors running before the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Takahama Reactors 3 and 4

Judge agrees with locals that Takahama reactors are not safe enough

The surprise ruling cited the failure of the evacuation plan and lack of tsunami protection as the reasons the court agreed with the local plaintiffs.  This is the first time a Japanese court has ever ruled against a reactor.  And one of the very few times in any country that a court has stopped an operating reactor.  It seriously endangers the Abe administration’s plan to return shuttered Japanese reactors to service, all of which were closed within a year of the Fukushima triple meltdown.  Both people protesting nuclear power in Japan and the court ruling in their favor were nearly unthinkable before Fukushima.

In Europe, 30 northern European cities from Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are petitioning for the closure of two Belgium reactors which have had a long series of technical problems.  The petition includes two lawsuits, one against the plant operator and the other directing the European Commission to block the continued operation of the Tihange 2 and Doel 3 plants in Belgium.  There has never been such an international effort to block nuclear inside the EU before.  These plants have seen a disturbing recent increase in cracking and unsolved sabotage strikes.

belgian reactor

Tihange plant was opened, then shut down after a fire in the electrical system, then restarted again.

In the United States, for the first time since Gallop started asking in 1994, a majority of US American’s oppose the use of nuclear power.

gallop poll on nuclear power

This is the right trend

The work is not done.  The US Congress and Japanese parliament are both in the pocket of their respective nuclear industries and continue, against the will of their populations, to support these failed technologies.  But even more writing is on the wall.  Nuclear power is dying and almost everyone knows it and wants it to die.


Fukushima is 5

I hate anniversaries. They are another thing I need to remember and in some cases respond to and I would prefer a blissful, timeless ignorance of history. But as the saying goes, “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history …”

The triple meltdown following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan has left us a huge mess.


Ice Wall – another failed solution

But there are some good things which have come from the Fukushima accident as well.

There are still many lessons to be learned from Fukushima, but perhaps the biggest is that despite the tremendous damage of this technology and the totally failed economics, we need to keep fighting it.

takanama reactors closed

Takanama reactors closed by Japanese courts


Energy Maze 2016

The second largest coal company in the US has just filed for bankruptcy. Environmentalists are celebrating the potential closing of some of the ugliest proposed coal projects in the country.  But as Greenpeace points out, often chapter 11 bankruptcy gives bonuses to CEOs while cutting worker pensions.

arch coal bankruptcy cartoon.jpg

The largest earthquake in Canadas history was likely induced by fracking.  The Alberta government responded by immediately closing down the fracking operation.  The company can not resume operations until they can demonstrate the technology is safe, that could be a long time coming.

fracking protest

The Tennessee Valley Authority (the only utility in the country which could “go it alone” with the construction of nuclear power plants in recent decades) has decided to cancel two reactor projects in Alabama.  These are some of the last new commercial reactor projects in the US, bringing to a sputtering halt the much touted Nuclear Renaissance.


Bellefonte is dead, Comanche Peak is cancelled, S. Texas got a permit but is not moving forward, No EPRs will be built in the US. Levy County is cancelled,  Turkey Point and Lee reactors are still being discussed.

The biggest news however is about investment trends in 2015.  Petroleum prices are the lowest in a decade (except for a brief period immediately after the 2008 crash).  There has been a “dash for gas”, fracking gas in particular.  Because renewables investments are structurally linked to fossil fuel prices, we would expect the investment market for new renewables capacity to have stalled in 2015.  But if had we assumed this, we would be wrong.

tumbling fossil prices.png

Despite a big drop in European renewables investment, globally new clean energy investment exceeded all fossils fuels new capacity combined.  Over 121 GW of renewables capacity came on line in 2015 at a price tag of $329 billion.  Also interesting is that emerging economies accounted for more than half of the worlds renewables investments for the first time ever.

renewables investment OECD and not

And what does the future hold?  Business as usual (as forecasted by Bloomberg) looks like this:

global renewables 2040.png

Only resource poor Japan is lower than the US

For an excellent short video on the diversified energy future of 2016



Robot bans: Sex toys and killing machines

Don’t bet against technology” is a quip I often make, especially when my anti-nuclear friends try to tell me something is not possible. It is not the case that technology can do everything, nor that it is somehow all powerful. But these crazy monkeys we live with are ingenious and inspired and will continually surprise us.

We do have some small amount of influence over the direction of technology and it makes good sense to think about the directions that technology is going and whether we are served by those directions. Two different complimentary efforts to control the development of machines have caught my eye. One is the proposed ban on robot sex toys. The other is a ban on killer robots.

sex robots

I was at a party in NYC and was talking with a guy who is working on virtual reality machines. I knew that video games had been instrumental in pushing computer technology to better performance, especially in the area of graphics. I speculated that games would be the first big application for VR systems. “You are wrong,” he said, “it is porn.”

What do was want robots to do for us?

What do we want robots to do for us?

There are apparently already thousands of pre-orders for Roxxxy, the first sex toy robot at US $7,000 each. Roxxxy has yet to be released. And while we have not yet deeply explored the implication there us already a call to ban these devices and the infant technology. As an anarchist, I am unexcited about this ban. I am unsure what purpose it serves. Generally speaking, consenting adults (and their machines) should be able to do what they want.

Noam Chomsky, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawkin have joined with over 1000 other AI and robotics experts to demand an end to autonomous robotic weapons systems in an open letter.  The UN started considering unpersoned weapons systems in 2014.  The signatories of this letter warn of a new global arms race and the destabilizing affects of continuing the current trend towards rapid and uncontrolled development.

flying killer robot

Who is in the driver seat?

This is not drone technology.  Drones have pilots, humans at the other end of the controls (even if the controls are thousands of miles away) who are making the call as to whether someone should be killed.  The Obama administration broke new ground by killing US citizens with no due process with drones.  But AI killing machines are far worse.

“Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group,” Open Letter from AI and Robotics Researchers.

But aren’t these clever engineers being a bit stupid?  Nothing can stand in the way of the march of progress, right?  If we can invent it we will make it no matter how horrible it is.

Wrong.  Human history is filled with all manner of agreements that have banned technologies.  Perhaps the most famous ban of technology is the Montreal Protocol which banned ozone destroying CFCs.  This 1987 international agreement phased out and stopped the production of CFCs which was already happening in dozens of countries around the world.  As a direct function of this agreement, the ozone hole is starting to recover.

ozone graph

Cooperation Works

While not quite as successful the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention similarly was able to obtain international acceptance.  Leading to a dramatic reduction in these particularly nasty and difficult to control weapons.  By September of 2015, 192 countries representing 98% of the worlds population were signatories.  And while the original deadlines for elimination were often missed or extended, the treaty has largely been effective.


Almost everyone agrees – green a Chemical Weapons Convention signators

The control of dangerous technologies is ultimately a political choice. The research and mass production of autonomous killing machines is still a choice nations must make.  Or we can just leave control of it to “market forces” because that always works so well.

market forces cartoon

What could go wrong?