Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thoughts on Obama...

The Democratic candidate, Obama triumphed over McCain in the national election last night. In addition, the Democrats also won a few more seats in the Senate. I admit that I voted for Obama and Senator Durbin in my state despite my strong disagreements with some of the more extreme elements of the Democratic party.

As I have said before in a previous post of mine, both parties are by no mean perfect, but the Republicans frightened me even more. Since the 1980's, the Republicans seem to have strongly allied themselves with the religious right which has taken every opportunity to insert itself into the public education system. As a result, we still have fundamentalist Christians challenging the teaching of evolution in public schools in addition to pushing bible study classes and school-led prayer. The quality of science education has suffered greatly under their attacks as many school districts are afraid to even mention evolution in biology class for fear of being shouted down.

Religious fundamentalists have been chipping away at the separation between church and state little by little since the Reagan administration. They could hardly have asked for a better candidate to further their agenda when George W. Bush took office in 2000. He was an ignorant, scientifically illiterate, easily influenced man who could serve as their mouthpiece as they moved their goals forward. This allowed such disasters as the "faith-based initiatives" to be passed in addition to denying public funding for stem cell research.

Trying to define an embryo as a person is nothing short of ridiculous. It does not have an active consciousness, and it is entirely dependent on the uterine environment for its existence. Biologically speaking, the closest thing it could be compared to is a parasite. This is because if the placental barrier ever broke down, the immune system of the mother serving as the host body would consider the embryo as a foreign invader and promptly destroy it.

An embryo could be best said to be a POTENTIAL child, as it is not a child. People do not seem to realize that potential is not the same as actual. Everybody in the world has the potential to win an Olympic medal as well as win the lottery or be involved in other potential scenarios but it would be absurd to say that these would be a realistic probability for most of the populace. There is also the fact that the spontaneous natural abortion rate of human embryos is quite high, due to innate flaws in the structure of many embryos that render them non-viable.

With that being said, the stem cell research ban is religiously motivated, rather than having any sort of scientific or rational justification for being in place. Because of the enormous potential to medical science that stem cell research represents, it is inexcusable that the US government is not dedicating public funding to this field. There are thousands of millions of people each year that are in need of an organ transplant or suffer the amputation of a body part. If we had the technology to grow and regenerate failing or lost body parts, we would eliminate a major source of suffering for many people world wide. Unfortunately, religious fundamentalists do not see it that way and are attempting to ruin it for everybody else much like the perpetual wet blanket at your birthday party. We should deal with them the same way by promptly showing them the door.

Another nightmarish aspect of the current day Republican party has been its stance on civil rights. I do not understand how the Republican party considers itself to be the party of "small government" yet creates bureaucratic messes such as the department of Homeland Security, passes bills such as the Patriot act and the FISA bill, as well as create such idiotic legislation such as Proposition 8 in California. During the Bush years, we have seen the steady erosion of the constitution and other safeguards on government power. The executive branch under Republican rule with the aid of a do-nothing Congress has grown into a bloated monster with little in its way to stop it from trampling all in its path.

Indeed, the Republican party has gleefully aided and abetted Bush as he created detention centers that hold and torture people without charges, even with little reason for those people to be there in the first place. The same Republicans that chastised Clinton for the abusive power and overuse of executive privilege did not seem to mind when the Bush administration claimed executive privilege in order to avoid turning over incriminating evidence by court order. Even Vice President Cheney became so bold as to practically claim that his office was in a "fourth branch of government" and therefore not subject to the demands of bothersome executive orders.

I once had hope for John McCain way back in 2000 when he seemed to be a refreshing change of pace from the assorted undesirables in the Republican party. However, he soon became a continuation of the same failed policies as the Bush administration as his voting record was 90% congruent with Bush. To make matters worse, McCain could be seen embracing Bush in a big open armed hug as if he decided to leave all of that silly talk of "change" behind. For all intents of purposes, the "maverick" had now become another Republican steer. Even worse, he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate after branding Obama as being "inexperienced.

Sarah Palin was little more than a gimmick in an attempt to woo away bitter Hillary Clinton supporters from the Democratic party. By choosing a female Vice President, this was an  obvious ploy to take advantage of demographic politics. This proved to be a mistake, because Palin's personality could be described as "vapid" at best and she had even less experience than Obama. To make matters worse, she was a fundamentalist Christian who voiced her open support of the religious right and young Earth creationism at every opportunity. Even if I had wanted to vote for McCain, there would have been a very real possibility that he would have died before the end of his term from health related issues because of his age and past medical history. This would mean that Palin would finish his term, which would have been a disaster of EPIC proportions.

This is not to say that I am not without reservations in regards to Obama. I did not like the way that he voted "yes" on the FISA bill that gave telecommunication companies retroactive immunity in regards to warrantless wiretapping  investigations. I am also not sure what he plans to do about the future of energy production as demand is only going to grow in the US.

The green wing of the Democratic party has been heavily pushing solar, wind, ethanol, and other forms of alternative energy for several decades now. After billions of dollars being funneled into "alternative" energy, it remains clear that it is still not a viable alternative for energy production at all. The only realistic options at this point are coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear.

Nuclear would be the best choice as it provides low cost energy at a very efficient scale. As another advantage, it is a much cleaner form of energy compared to coal, oil, or natural gas. It does not produce emissions and the only byproduct of nuclear energy is a small amount of spent fuel that can easily be stored on site or in a geological repository like in Yucca Mountain. Uranium is as plentiful as tin and even at greatly increased levels of demand, it would last for millennia. The only reason why the price of uranium is going up at the moment is because much of the uranium fuel used in the US actually comes from decommissioned nuclear warheads and our stockpile is running low. The uranium industry is in shambles because of the rate of reduced demand since the 1970's which has artificially increased the relative scarcity of available uranium ore. If we actively pursued uranium exploration again and also reprocessed spent fuel instead of using a wasteful open fuel cycle, the price of uranium would once again drop dramatically.

Newer designs of reactors such as the molten salt reactor do not even have to use uranium as fuel, but can run on thorium instead (See my prior posts on the Molten Salt Reactor). Thorium is even more plentiful than uranium and a closed Thorium fuel cycle can be used to breed more fuel. Even better is the fact that the isotopes produced in the Thorium fuel cycle make it practically impossible to divert into producing fissile material for nuclear warheads. As an added bonus, the high heat of some of the newer designs of nuclear reactor can be taken advantage of to produce hydrogen for a fraction of the cost of conventional methods.

All is not rosy, however. The environmental movement which has allied itself with many members of the Democratic party remains vehemently anti-nuclear despite all of the benefits that nuclear power brings. It has used its lobbying clout to effectively kill off any active research into nuclear energy and set up multitudes of roadblocks in the way for the construction of new nuclear reactors since the 1970's. President Carter, a well-meaning but rather ignorant man, passed a ban on the reprocessing of spent fuel due to an irrational fear of his that it would lead to nuclear weapons proliferation. During the Clinton years, President Clinton cancelled all funding for the Integral Fast Reactor despite its advantages over the Light Water Reactor because of Clinton's anti-nuclear stance. The infamous Al Gore is also dead set against nuclear power as he continues to push for "alternative" energy that does not get anybody anywhere, except the natural gas industry. Indeed, the natural gas industry is rubbing its hands with glee as it sees business increase as natural gas powered generators are being built to take up the slack of wind and solar installations due to the unreliability of solar and wind power.

There is also the fact that in the US, coal is king. There is an existing incentive to build coal plants more than any other form of energy because of the cheap construction costs involved. Coal has massive external costs, but as with most things, short term goals are usually pursued over long term objectives no matter how much more sense it makes to think in the long run. Because coal is so deeply entrenched in our energy policy, the coal lobby has massive political clout in terms of influencing what paths to energy the US takes. Taking into account the amount of ignorance and gullibility as demonstrated by the average political leader as well as the average citizen, there is a very real possibility that the our main plan for the future will be investing heavily into the hoax that is "clean coal".

Obama did mention that he is not ruling out nuclear for the future energy plan of the US, but it remains to be seen if he actually intends to follow through on that claim. There is also some disturbing evidence that he might instead listen to the "alternative energy" segment of the Democratic party and promptly ignore nuclear power entirely like previous Democratic leaders have. However, despite all of the reservations I might have about Obama I still feel that he is a significantly better choice rather than risking putting the Republican party in power again for the time being.


Marcel F. Williams said...

Religious fanaticism is a problem around the world.

I think Obama will govern from the middle. And Republicans will insist that nuclear energy be on the table. The fact that Democratic legislative leaders Pelosi and Reid both support nuclear power is a good sign.

Reid, of course, introduced legislation for a thorium fuel cycle.

Neurovore said...

Hello, fellow nuclear blogger. I have added your blog to my bloglist. I am always glad to meet somebody who shares my interests in nuclear energy.

Yes, I know that the legislation for thorium-based reactors passed and the NRC added a new regulatory structure for the licensing of such reactors. However, it remains to be seen if anybody in the US is actually going to start building a thorium-based reactor. Also, the NRC is idiotically picky about licensing new designs as they are a bureaucratically motivated organization rather than a scientifically minded one unlike the DOE.

Out of curiosity, what are your thoughts on molten salt reactor technology as opposed to other designs? My only contention with the pebblebed reactor is that the spheres containing the nuclear fuel are rather difficult to grind up and reprocess the usable isotopes. This could make reprocessing with the PBMR a needlessly labor intensive process. Also, the design of molten salt reactors are inherently safe as well and they can also be used as breeders.

Marcel F. Williams said...

Its probably unlikely that the entire planet is going to be totally powered by nuclear energy within the next 30 years. So I don't think we have to worry about any significant shortages in terrestrial uranium in the immediate future.

Therefore, we should have plenty of time to phase in the next generation of advanced reactors 20 or 30 years from now.

A simple CANDU reactor could use thorium right now and could reduce the need for uranium by 80% if the bred uranium 233 were recycled. I view CANDU thorium and PBR as transitional reactors.

In the long run, I'd like to see ADS accelerator breeder thorium and uranium reactors gradually start to supplement and eventually replace our current generation of reactors starting around 2030 with a full scale ADS-- demonstration-- reactor online by 2020.

PS: You are now on my blog list:-)

Neurovore said...

What are the advantages and disadvantages of an ADS reactor as opposed to a Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactor? I am only familiar with the design of the ADS in passing. For me at least, the main selling point of the LFTR is its very simplistic and compact design which allows for smaller units with a much higher power output to be constructed when compared to other reactor designs. Another advantage is the fact that none of the actinides ever leave the reactor chamber of an LFTR and are simply "burned up" with the rest of the isotopes in the fuel mixture. Finally, for the same amount of fuel consumption, the LFTR has a much higher output of energy compared to many other plant designs such as the conventional LWR.

Anonymous said...

Democrats like Obama believe in murdering unborn babies. Atheists like Marcel and the rest here are no better than atheists like Stalin and Mao Tse Tung who murdered untold millions. Jesus Christ will win in the end, even if you don't believe. Truth doesn't depend on your belief.

Neurovore said...

Awww! Look at the cute little troll! Listen, associating lack of belief with genocide just because some very nasty people used atheism as part of an ideology condoning genocide has nothing to do with atheism itself. If that were the case, then I think that religion has more blood on its hands than atheism does since religion has been used to sanction violence for several millennia.

Finally, equating abortion to "murder" is not exactly accurate. I would liken it more to a precautionary measure since an embryo at the time of an abortion is little more than a clump of cells. If not for legalized abortion, babies would be born and then shoved into dumpsters in back alleys, grow up neglected or abused, or desperate pregnant mothers would simply chose to take matters into their own hands by using a coat hanger to kill the late term fetus.

If abortion were outlawed, all of these highly dangerous and undesirable outcomes would become commonplace. I am sure that neither of us would want that. One way to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions would be to make sure that pharmacists dispense prophylactics and birth control pills with no questions asked.

Also, this goes hand in hand with treating people who are going in for a consultation for a sterilization procedure as fully grown and mature adults instead of eliminating them on the basis that they might "change their minds later" if they are the age of eighteen or older. If a person who has chosen to be surgically sterilized changes his or her mind at a later date, s(he) should realize that s(he) made his or her choice and is going to have to live with the consequences. If at the age of eighteen a person is considered to be legally an adult, then they should expect to receive the same rights and expectations that come with being an adult. This also includes alcohol as the drinking age should be eighteen as well.