How carbon-unfriendly is the act of flying?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, with a focus on Greta Thunberg, whom I admire but I wish she would endorse nuclear power and other practical possible solutions to climate change problems.  At this point, I don’t think the returns to “simple moralizing” are that high, and they may be a substitute for concrete actions.  Excerpt:

Or think more broadly about how to choose one’s symbolic commitments to combat climate change. Buying a carbon offset, verifiable by an independent third party, seems like a good practical step. Thunberg also could take a stand in favor of nuclear power — a feasible source of green energy — except that she opposes it. Nuclear power has worked quite well for France for about 70 years, even if it is not suitable for earthquake zones.

Another way to show one’s dedication to limiting global temperatures would be to educate the public on carbon sequestration, which recently has made a good deal of real progress. How about a strike or demonstration to call people’s attention to the possibilities of this new technology, and to ask for additional funding?

There is much more at the link.


What is admirable about Greta Thunberg?

She's a child who has strong opinions on things she knows nothing about. I.e., a child

I agree that the pandering to children is tiresome but I want to point out that most adults have opinions on political matters that they know nothing about.

True. I'm one of those adults. I used to be one of those children. I'd like to think my years of experience have added something to my opinions, but that's a hypothesis at this point.

What gets me about this particular child is that her youth is supposed to make her...what?

When pro-life people trot out almost-abortees to talk up their side, the media and our elites correctly see that as exploitation. This doesn't seem to be the case with this child or the Parkland kids.

The dishonesty is the point. This morning NPR juxtaposed the recent shootings, which they characterized as white nationalist in motivation, with the sentencing of some Khmer Rouge officials of extermination, no motivation mentioned.

Earlier an immigrant activist with a noticeable accent brought listeners attention to the real concern in the aftermath of the recent El Paso shooting: illegal immigrants are afraid they might be deported due to the newly heightened security around schools and hospitals. Regardless, this hispanic immigration (to the US) advocate assures us, “even those people, border patrol and police have families”, and may be lenient in the direct aftermath of the shooting. Wow, even American law enforcement are people. How generous.

Lastly, we are repeatedly made aware that the shooters manifesto was posted on 8chan. NPR notes Cloudflare dropped 8chan because the forum is ‘lawless’. NPR notes that 8chan is now down (due to an ongoing cybercrime).

You can’t program like this accidentally.

The left uses POC, women and children as unassailable puppets to the ideology. If you dare disagree with these sainted minorities then it can only be because of racism/sexism/homophobia. It is a pretty good scam, dishonest and sneaky but it works well for people who don't care if they are dishonest and sneaky.

Asperger's only see things in two colours black or white there can never be a mid point

Not much, behavioral problems, missed a lot of school, doesn't know much, doesn't want to know much, can 'see' CO2 in the air. The lefties all swoon over her, she is the epitome of the triumph of image over substance. Doesn't surprise me that Tyler and the other gullible climate catastrophists fawn over her.

When a monkey plays the piano, you don't really ask how well the monkey plays. You just marvel at the monkey playing the piano.

two admirable things about the kid is that she has taken ever fredag off from school for a year & just got a free boatride all the way across the atlantic ocean!
all the way across the atlantic ocean for free!

> nuclear power — a feasible source of green energy

Does seem feasible - see - but it also implies that we have good governance at many levels. That's not encouraging

It's almost irrelevant whether nuclear power is green or not, or whether it's a good idea in theory or not. Nuclear power is dead because companies won't invest in it anymore and young people won't invest their education into it anymore.

As a practical matter, it's a money pit (for example, Toshiba's nuclear division nearly put the entire company out of business), and regulation and litigation make it very hard to move forward. But the biggest problem by far is the extreme precarity of knowing that your whole business, or your whole career for which you paid a huge opportunity cost and ran up sizable student loan liability, could end overnight due to a single unpredictable event halfway around the world over which you have absolutely no control.

No one in their right mind will go there any more, and without financial and human investment all the theoretical arguments in the world mean nothing. The nuclear power plants of the future won't exist because no one will learn how to design them and no one will pay to build them.

Bizarre. Some people really need to check the cost of nuclear compared to renewable energy. Here's Lazard's levelized costs from November:

Note wind and solar have gotten cheaper since this came out.

" In some scenarios, alternative energy costs have decreased to the point that they are now at or below the marginal cost of conventional generation."

How much work is "in some scenarios" doing here! The great thing about prices is that if they really are lower, you don't need to persuade people that they are lower.

Checking out the only nuclear power reactors under construction in the US, Vogtle 3 & 4, I see about $10 billion has been spent on them so far with another $7 billion to go. That appears to be just capital costs and doesn't include finance. Marginal cost of electricity produced may be 2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

That's an interesting marginal cost because 2 cents a kilowatt-hour is what solar has been bid in for in Saudi Arabia and Mexico and just recently in the United States too. These solar farms won't be built for a few years, but Vogtle 3 & 4 won't be complete for a few years either. US wind has been bid in at around 3 cents per kilowatt-hour. So it doesn't look possible for nuclear to compete with wind and solar.

But nuclear is cheaper to provide base load energy (because solar depends on time of day and the weather). This will be the case until renewable plus storage is competitive.

Pumped hydro plus solar and wind is already cheaper. Or storage could be skipped and natural gas used. Battery storage is also now an option and nuclear is so expensive solar & wind firmed only by batteries may be cheaper, although there are currently better options.

"But nuclear is cheaper to provide base load energy..."

But only for nuclear power plants built by leftist big government industrial policy as part of massive job creating central planning Keynesian economics.

Milton Friedman successfully waged war on the ability to build nuclear power plants thanks to bipartisan opposition to big government forcing consumers to pay high electric rates to produce nuclear weapons raw materials.

First, all current nuclear reactors were designed based on producing nuclear weapons.

The research on power reactors that burn 90% of fuel was shutdown by the Nixon administration in the 70s.

The Public Utilities Commissions job of centrally planning all utility investments and ensuring a high return on all investment was largely ended in the 70s, as Friedman advocated, with the right in support of ending central planning, and the left in support to stop producing more nuclear bomb materials. Jimmy Carter, Friiedman, Ted Kennedy came together on PURPA which was Federal law intended to drive a stake in State utility central planning.

An immediate target was WIP, work in progress, rate hikes.

With the passage of PURPA, only 4 new nuclear reactors have been approved for construction by PUC. All other nuclear reactor, in fact, all US operating reactors were approved for construction before 1979 and PURPA. The last reactor to come online, by the big government TVA, was originally approved before 1979, but then mothballed before the final costly completion work began.

The four new reactors approved since 1979 were the product of government central planning:
1. Bipartisan support for the NRC to preapproved the AP1000.
2. Bipartisan support for Federal assumption of the biggest share of risks
3. Southern State central planners forcing rate payers to pay WIP rate hikes

Note, only the left coast and Northeast fully embraced eliminating utility central planning, with many problems occurring which has driven kludge central planning, trying to fix free market failures.

The South and South Atlantic regions retain State central planning largely unchanged because they prefer monopoly power politically. Little has been done in those regions to breakup monopolies.

And nuclear power is such a massive investment, it requires long lasting monopoly power to ensure a long term rate of return. Market competition can not be allowed.

Nuclear power in France was entirely centrally planned, and nuclear power is still entirely government run.

Nuclear power in the USSR was government run centrally planned.

Japan, Korea nuclear power is like the US pre-1979.

China nuclear power today is centrally planned.

The new nuclear power projects in the US by Theil, Gates, et al, are struggling, especially since Trump restricted their technology export to China, the only place willing to fund innovation at the level required.

Innovation comes only from building actual products that compete in the market putting billions at risk in today's markets.

Thanks for posting hard numbers. Note, however, that these costs are expressed in dollars per unit of energy. I saw no discussion of how many units of energy can be produced per unit of input. The supposed major benefit of nuclear power is that it can produce much, much more energy than other forms of power generation. I don't know that this is true, but it's an important part of the discussion.

Nuclear can have a high EROEI -- Energy Return On Energy Invested. But it's cost that generally determines what gets built. No one's ever gotten a nuclear plant built on the basis of high EROEI.

@Crikey - renewable energy for electricity in the USA is about 17%, and nuclear is about 19%. The reason renewables are not higher is due to their low EROI (essentially the ability to generate lots of power on demand). What do you do if it's a cloudy day (and two-thirds of the earth is covered with clouds)? Or a not windy day? By contrast, nuclear is "always on" and safe (with modern designs; the biggest danger in nuclear power is for the people actually building and operating the reactors).

An excellent book on energy--and actually the best ever I've read, and five stars at Amazon--is this one: When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future, by A.J. J. Friedemann (a woman scientist and really good writer). Her analogy of asking 5 year olds to pick strawberries is a cute metaphor of asking a child to do an adult's task--strawberries are VERY hard to quickly and efficiently pick and are called, by migrant workers, "the devil's fruit" for that reason--still sticks in my mind. I will re-read her book again soon.

Bonus trivia: photosynthesis depends on quantum mechanical effects and recently the earliest date of it was pushed back even more, see Sci Direct.

Are there any factories out there operating on wind and solar to make turbines and photovoltaic cell arrays? That's when I'll take "renewable energy" seriously.

Is that the price per kw supplied for a load or the theoretical production based on sq ft of panels? You have to match your solar with an equivalent generation source that can be spun up or down.

Nuclear would have a tough time competing with wind/solar backed up with on demand natural gas at todays prices. It's highly unlikely that it will be able to compete if the trend lines continue for a few more years.

It would be foolish for a power company to invest in a nuclear power plant at this point. Theoretically, nuclear could be build for substantially lower costs, but modern regulations (for good and bad) won't permit it. It's the world we live in.

On the other hand, with the declining costs of solar/wind and battery backup and the very low cost for natural gas to run on-demand plants, we really don't need additional nuclear at this point.

Don't get me wrong, it's near criminally stupid to force the early closure of nuclear plants. But there's little reason to build more with the current state of the technology and regulations.


If we had sensible regulation, nuclear would be about 1/2 to 1/3rd of current $/KWh. But we don't and there's no chance of ending the Green anti-nuke mania in the near term. Sigh. So, unless the carbon price is very high indeed, Gas CCGT + various renewables is probably the cheapest low-carbon option for a despatchable power mix. YMMV at the margin.

For countries which don't have insane politicians, Nukes plus CCGT plus renewables is an entirely viable path.

Note that the cheapest mixes are still nearly all generation-on-demand. Energy storage isn't generally cost efficient until you can get prices down to about $100-$50/KWh.

In the recent heatwave in France, they shut down a few nuclear plants to prevent overheating the river and killing all sea life. This presents the problem that if temps get too hot, nukes become useless for power, making it a huge albatross at even the early stages of global warming. It is basically an expensive way to virtue signal that you care about the climate. I'm pro nuclear for energy diversity reasons but it is no silver bullet.

That's only for some type of reactor, specifically ones that use a river as coolant. Most reactor don't have that problem.

'Most reactor don't have that problem.'

Um, you mean reactors built on coast lines are prefereable?

Couldn't this problem be solved by intelligently choosing where to build a nuclear reactor, favoring locations closer to the poles?

I imagine it could be solved by having the hot water sit in 'cooling ponds' for a while before being released into a river.

+1, there are pretty trivial technological solutions to this. But in any case, even if you have to shut nuclear down on those rare occasions, it's still 95% reliable.

'it's still 95% reliable'

Or not - 'Although the San Onofre reactors were licensed to operate until 2022, critics said that the utility and its main contractor, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, had hidden risks of a new steam generator system they installed in reactor unit 2 in 2009 and unit 3 in 2010 and that Edison needed a license amendment, a potentially lengthy process.

The new system, designed to last 20 years, failed in less than 2 after vibrations caused many of the 9,727 heavy alloy tubes in each steam generator to rub against one another. Unit 2 was already closed for maintenance, but unit 3 was shut down after an 82-gallon-a-day leak was discovered. '

That second paragraph seems to suggest that writing off 90% of a facility's expected life span is not exactly impossible when dealing with a nuclear plant. As a matter of fact, it is a documented reality concerning the final running nuclear plant in California.

And of course, a public choice economist would have foreseen this too - 'In 2015, State Attorney General Kamala Harris opened an investigation of the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, San Diego Gas and Electric, and Southern California Edison. California state investigators searched the home of California utility regulator Michael Peevey and found hand written notes, which showed that Peevey had met with an Edison executive in Poland, where the two had negotiated the terms of the San Onofre settlement leaving San Diego taxpayers with a $3.3 billion bill to pay for the closure of the plant.'

Congrats clockwork you've learned how to cherry pick data. That's high school level!

Good column over all, but too bad that Tyler propagates the gross mistake that "food production could be improved significantly if people simply ate less meat." Precisely, the mistake here is a classical mistake of confusing flow and stock. If the global consumption of meat stays constant, then the whole meat-producing industry (excluding transportation of meat and other second-order factors) adds no carbon to the system atmosphere--earth's surface--oceans'surface. The flow of carbon emission pf meat production is zero. Therefore, putting this on the same stand as transportation emission using gas, coal-powered power plant, which puts new carbon on the atmosphere is a big mistake.

Can you explain how methane from ruminants (not to mention deforestation for farmland) are magically offset so that the flow of emissions from meat production is zero?

Yes. This is no magic, just the conservation of number of atoms of carbon during chemical reactions (and basic logic).

1. If the meat production is constant, there is no need for deforestation.
The land used to produce meat yesteryear will suffice to produce the same quantity of meat this year.

2. The methane emitted by meat production eventually becomes CO2, and together with the CO2 directly emitted by meat production, is reabsorbed into the living world by photosynthesis, in particular into
meats, and plants that meat animal will absorb. In fact, if the annual meat production is constant, the meat-producing activity must (by conservation of carbon) absorb the same quantity of CO2 and methane it emits every year, thus contributing in zero net emission of greenhouse gas.

This is in sharp contrats with, say, air trafficking (or transports by car and trucks, or electricity production using coal or natural gas, etc.): even if the air trafficking is constant every year, it introduces every year new carbon into the atmosphere, carbon coming from the oil that was quietly resting deeply under our feet, and that we extracted to make our planes (etc.) working. In other words, the crucial difference between a car and a cow is that the later eats grass, not coal, and grass takes its carbon from the atmosphere.

To summarize, the meat production contributes zero net emissions of carbon. Cars, planes, trucks, boats, coal and gas burning, the cement and steel industry, etc. contribute positive (and huge) net emissions. Conflating the two processes is a mistake.

Great explanation, thanks.

+1, excellent response

I'm pro-meat and an AGW luke-warmist by inclination, but this response falls short.

It doesn't matter if the system is ultimately steady-state; what matters is the mean-duration of the AGW-gasses in atmosphere (before re-absorption). Here there is more methane in the air at any one time than under a no-meat scenario. And then there are land-use changes to consider, the effects of which, again, lengthen the mean time-in-atmosphere. So you take a hit on this option (it's not a big hit compared to other things, and people can be pretty relaxed about it).

This is why deforestation has some AGW effect even if the trees are replanted immediately, and why biomass generation is mostly such a damn bad idea; the fixed AGW costs dominate the long-term reductions

+2, one for explaining chemistry clearly and one for arguing against your own side. Methane has an atmospheric lifetime of nine years, so a world with beef production is bathed in the last nine years of cow farts and their consequential warming.

> "The methane emitted by meat production eventually becomes CO2"

"Eventually" is not much comfort. See Alistair's comment above.

The concentration of methane in the atmosphere has increased by 10% in just the past three decades. Obviously, meat is hardly the only source. Nevertheless, we are not in any kind of zero-net steady state. Methane also traps far more heat than carbon dioxide, between 20 to 80 times more depending on what time scale you use for measuring the impact.

To be perfectly clear: if we decided all to stop eating meat and to reforest all the land that was used for meat production, this would be a net decrease of carbon in the atmosphere, because a forest typically holds more carbon by square miles than grassland with a few cows wandering on it. But the point is that it would be a *one-time* reduction. If the net emissions of other human activities don't go to zero (or negative), they will eventually upset whatever benefits we may get from stopping eating meat. In other words, stopping meat production can buy us some time, but it cannot be even part of a long-term solution of the increase of greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere.


Yes, but for every annual GHG output level there is a steady-state temperature which corresponds to it. Temperature doesn't rise forever under "do nothing"! Indeed; temperature is not linear-response to AGHG, it's logarithmic, and additional emissions have decreasing marginal effect.

Someone of good faith should produce a model of AGW and allow users to play with different policy variables (and to adjust the models transitory climate sensitivity too).

Y'all (Joël and others) are missing the big point, and you are bickering about some details that are not the major effect here.

The point about meat production causing more emissions of CO2 than the equivalent number of grain calories is related to the fossil energy input in the average bushel of corn or soy. The fertilizer is typically produced by expending fossil fuels, the operation of farm machinery depends on fossil fuels, the transportation of corn to the market (for human consumption or to feedlots) depends on fossil fuels. Since it takes more than 1 pound of corn to produce one pound of beef, the emissions from the production of food increases when we eat meat instead of grain.

If you're going to be picky about it, you would want to look at hydrocarbon calories per food calorie, whether this food is corn, wheat, beef, pork, soybean, milk, farm fish, or wild fish.

Here is a perspective that's way out there:

I expect the energy ROI producing corn from petroleum is probably better than the 10% claimed in article above, however the diesel fuel consumed by tractors and combines is significant.

Also, why is stable meat production your BaU assumption when we still have both an increasing global population, and increasing meat consumption per person as poor countries become richer?

This argument is a rational one, premised on everyone being rational.

Unfortunately, people are not rational. “Look at all those hypocrites flying to climate conferences” is one of the most common talking points of people who oppose any sort of action on climate. From an actual impact perspective, this argument is nonsense, as the article correctly points out. But it does hinder political action and means that it could make sense for climate advocates to take extreme measures to prove that they are not hypocrites.


Chance of horribleness from climate change according to the IPCC=10%

Chance of economic horribleness from most proposed solutions to the 10% risk=pretty close to certain.

Getting media, Hollywood, academia, and a swedish teen to promote the 10% as certainty while ignoring the certain economic damage to the world's most vulnerable=priceless

The risk of economic horribleness is not “pretty close to certain.” Western Europe has about half the per capita emissions as the US and still a pretty nice standard of living so we certainly have room to cut. And few climate activists are asking “the world’s most vulnerable”—who hardly create any carbon emissions as is—to cut their emissions.

"standard of living" is one of those things economists like to pretend is a real thing. Every time I travel through Western Europe, I'm shocked by what are, to my American eyes, low standards of living: small, cramped housing, laughable toilet facilities in houses, the cost of things, the time it takes to get from point A to B, etc. I'm surprised to find friends living in conditions that I last found tolerable in college.

On the flip side, they have excellent public transport, excellent train service between cities, etc.

The point isn't that America has higher standards (although I believe we do). The point is that the concept is subjective. So, I don't know how to compare American and European standards of living. I certainly wouldn't want to live in Western Europe.

I also don't know how carbon emissions are calculated. They are definitely not measured, with a little carbon detector above the US and another one over Western Europe. If an American buys something that's manufactured in China, how is the carbon footprint assigned? To China? To the US? How do the fake diesel emissions in Europe contribute to the difference?

I don't know. I bet people who come up with these numbers aren't honest about their uncertainty. If they are, the activist reporters citing the numbers sure aren't. After all, how often have you heard the 10% figure from the IPCC cited in the press, compared to the absolute certainty of the doom and gloom predictions?

US housing expanded to (IMO) ridiculous dimensions during the McMansion boom, and I can't understand why anyone who doesn't have a large family would want to live in (and take care of) such huge places. I'm perfectly happy in a Baltimore row house totaling about 1400 sq ft with a small yard in the back.
What is so laughable about European toilet facilities? I've been in Europe just once-Spain, in 1983 when I was in high school. I don't recall either the hotel facilities or public restrooms being problematic, except that we Anerican teens couldn't figure out what bidets were for.

Speak for yourself, Zaua

If I could move from a Western Europe to a US standard of living for an increase in mean temperature of, say, 1c, I'd take it.

"Chance of horribleness from climate change according to the IPCC=10%"

The IPCC doesn't say that.

"Pushing back against the overreaction is not always the wisest thing to do." - Tyler Cowen, 03.08.2019

Thread winner.

I don't think my using plastic bags for groceries significantly damages the environment either but I am banned from using them or taxed for using them or berated into using cloth bags that are prone to spreading bacteria by the same people flying private jets and driving Maseratis.


Get back to us when the warm-mongers ban air-conditioning in DC. They could do that tomorrow. Until then, this is all an obvious fraud.

I'm so sorry to hear of your burdens, hun. It gets better.

. . .flying also has a green upside. Green technologies will need to spread around the world. That could involve, for instance, China learning new ideas from America, or vice versa. That process will go a lot more quickly with flying, including to scientific conferences. . . .

Even under the current primitive technology there's no real need to travel to conferences in spendy, chic locations like Davos when the participants could easily share ideas just as the MR commentariat does.

The real question is, however, why anyone would believe that world climate is a steady-state condition. The earth's climate has changed measurably in different directions over time with zero influence from humans. Only 8000 short human years ago much of the US midwest was covered by a sheet of ice over a mile thick. Attempts to modify climate are just as likely to create serious problems as they are to solve them, if indeed, there are actually are problems with changing climate.

I agree focussing on flying is misguided if an individual wants to make sacrifices to reduce their carbon footprint. The typical American's energy consumption is concentrated in the areas of personal transportation, home heating, home cooling, water heating, and lighting. If people want to make a difference, they should be minimizing the length of their daily commute, the size of their homes, and the length of their showers.

What strikes me as hypocritical about Al Gore isn't his flying habits but the fact he built a huge mansion (with a heated swimming pool) in hot summers/cold winters Nashville.

You're right. There are some obvious things that could be done to lessen the dreaded carbon footprint.

Not to mention his pretty giant house boat which has been tied up to the marina in Center Hill largely unused. I think the scuttlebutt is that it's used about 4 days a year.

Note that in the author’s excerpts climate action is about signaling, not sacrifice: “Another way to show one’s dedication to limiting global temperatures would be to educate the public.” We’re “showing our dedication” not through personal sacrifice, but through “educating” others. This is what the author is also doing as he flies around the worldn sampling exotic cuisine.

How OZONE UNFRIENDLY is the act of flying, Tyler? Any available metrics you neglected to cite?

It's much the same as burning kerosene in a turbine on the ground. This is because planes fly in the troposphere and while it exchanges gas with the stratosphere they tend to be well mixed by this point. But any reduction in nitrous oxide emissions is good.

In addressing an issue, you can do everything you can, or you can focus on the big issue. Above Tyler seems to be arguing that the little things are not worthwhile. But a couple of posts below, Tyler seems to be arguing that on gun control, we need focus on the little things, and he ignores the biggest issue, namely the widespread availability of guns. I'm trying to understand the inconsistency.

It could very well be that different problems have different solutions.

"Nuclear power has worked quite well for France for about 70 years, even if it is not suitable for earthquake zones."

Nuclear power is fine in Japan. The big mistake was placing the back up system in a location vulnerable to a 1 in 500 year tsunami.

Actually, the really big mistake happened here - 'But a review of company and regulatory records shows that Japan and its largest utility repeatedly downplayed dangers and ignored warnings — including a 2007 tsunami study from Tokyo Electric Power Co’s senior safety engineer.

“We still have the possibilities that the tsunami height exceeds the determined design height due to the uncertainties regarding the tsunami phenomenon,” Tokyo Electric researchers said in a report reviewed by Reuters.

The research paper concluded that there was a roughly 10 percent chance that a tsunami could test or overrun the defenses of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant within a 50-year span based on the most conservative assumptions.

But Tokyo Electric did nothing to change its safety planning based on that study, which was presented at a nuclear engineering conference in Miami in July 2007.

Meanwhile, Japanese nuclear regulators clung to a model that left crucial safety decisions in the hands of the utility that ran the plant, according to regulatory records, officials and outside experts '

A public choice economist interested in regulatory capture would spot the flaw in an instant - 'Meanwhile, Japanese nuclear regulators clung to a model that left crucial safety decisions in the hands of the utility that ran the plant, according to regulatory records, officials and outside experts.'

Basically. Tepco had better things to spend its money on than making sure that multiple reactors did not suffer meltdowns due to entirely foreseeable - and predicted - safety concerns.


Not really considering it would have been simple for Tepco to have placed the back up system high enough.

The reactors were not directly affected by the earthquake but by the rush of water. At any rate, Tyler's statement that nuclear power isn't suitable in earthquake prone areas like Japan isn't true.

' it would have been simple for Tepco to have placed the back up system high enough'

Well, that is certainly true any time between 2007 and 2011. Strange how that did not happen, isn't it?

Almost as if possibly nuclear power primarily for profit may have a design flaw somewhere. The sort of flaw easy to point out, but apparently impossible to actually solve in practice.

Or it may possibly be related to the fact that the standard opposition to nuclear power makes even trivial plant changes subject to scaremongering, lawfare, and risk of plant closure.

At the end of the day, fewer people died from Fukushima Daiichi than from Hube Global's hydroflouric disaster (you know HF, one of these etchent chemicals used by the tonne to make solar cells). Over the full lifecycle of the plant US nuclear power generates about 0.1 deaths per Terawatt-hour.

Solar averages 440.

It is almost like one form of power generation involves toxic waste products that will outlast human society and has a long history of industrial mishaps along with regular deaths during operation.

And the other one is nuclear power.

Solar panels are not made with fairy dust pristine as the day is long. They, like pretty much all electronics, require huge amounts of toxic chemicals which kill people every day. They require regular human contact for optimal efficiency and installation is surprisingly dangerous. You could eliminate some of solar's danger by banning rooftop panels or confining your power generation away from areas that ever receive snow (or dust storms). Possibly robotics will save us in the future from these deaths.

But the cold hard truth is that solar is cheaper, like so much else in life, because it is riskier.

Nuclear's costs are largely political and what isn't happens to be due to the idiotically high safety margins on nuclear power. I could possibly forgive not investing in new nuclear power plants as dumb and misguided political hackery. Closing nuclear power plants early while a *single* coal plant is still operating (i.e. Ms. Thuneberg's position) is basically 2 steps away from mass murder. Building new coal power plants to prematurely close to open new coal plants (e.g. Germany) is about a step and a half away.

Shouldn't it worry you that "nuclear is fine, except for that thing that just happened" has to be brought out every 5 years or so?

Basically we are a species that has "accidents" and then excuses themselves afterwards, because they were just "accidents."

And so we shouldn't be so prideful or confident about things that require greater than human competence.

Gee, who would have thought that there can be accidents with complex systems? There hasn't been a serious accident at nuclear power plants every five years yet gas explosions can take out a neighborhood while coal and gas cause many premature deaths.
Did you notice the long string of "0"s in the fatality column for the nuclear accidents?

2011 Japan 0
2004 Japan 5 (a non nuclear related explosion)
1993 Japan 1 (steam accident)

1986 Ukraine 50 (it is wrongly stated up to 4,000 may eventually die as that EPA estimate uses the old LNT hypothesis that is been discredited.)

1979 U.S. 0
1961 U.S. 3 (non nuclear related explosion)

We have demonstrated human fallibility.

Now we are just waiting for the numbers to come up.

You'll be waiting a long time.

What as opposed to the deaths from etching solvents that are so routine we don't even report them?

When we know ALL the nuclear accidents that have killed people, by name no less, we are talking about something abysmally safe. I defy anyone to name for me the 5 most lethal industrial chemical accidents using the bulk reagents for solar panels in the last 10 years. The deaths are so common we don't even bother talking about it.

As somebody who sees a lot of dead people, I have personally treated people who have died from solar power, hydropower, coal power (by the thousand if I can use statistics, by the dozens with directly attributable causes), natural gas, and even wind.

I have never, and will never, treat nuclear power deaths. They are so uncommon that I do not even get disaster planning scenarios for those (their risk level is too low) ... and I get disaster planning for Smallpox which hasn't killed anyone in four decades.

Far fewer (and orders of magnitude fewer deaths from) nuclear accidents than socialism accidents, yet somehow people who think nuclear is an unacceptable risk are gung ho for giving socialism another chance..... funny how that works.

On March 5, 2002, maintenance workers discovered that corrosion had eaten a football-sized hole into the reactor vessel head of the Davis–Besse plant. Although the corrosion did not lead to an accident, this was considered to be a serious nuclear safety incident. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission kept Davis–Besse shut down until March 2004, so that FirstEnergy was able to perform all the necessary maintenance for safe operations. The NRC imposed its largest fine ever—more than $5 million—against FirstEnergy for the actions that led to the corrosion. The company paid an additional $28 million in fines under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Why a fine? It was just "an accident."

Ah well, fine paid, accident over, nuclear is totally safe except for that thing, things, that happened.

Cherry picking is delicious.

10's of thousands of generating reactor-year data in civil and military use across dozens of countries. How many deaths?

It's not cherry picking to link the whole list, and then expand one.

But it might be too narrow to only count deaths, and not expensive "mistakes" or billions in overruns.

"A 2011 UCS analysis of new nuclear projects in Florida and Georgia shows that the power provided by the new plants would be more expensive per kilowatt than several alternatives, including energy efficiency measures, renewable energy sources such as biomass and wind, and new natural gas plants."

Fanatics don't care.

They aren't looking for solutions.

Just a way to say "I gave at the office."

"I told those liberals to use nukes, now it's all on them."

I think this is the problem many feel about nuclear. It's a very complicated system and there's a lot of opportunities for the 'barn doors to be left open'. 1 in 500 year tsunami ok let's worry about that. Massive corrosion happening on some obscure place we do't pay attention too? Let's worry about that. Earthquakes in places that never get them? Let's worry about that. How much human expertise is there out that that can be efficiently gathered together in one place to think about one system an all its interactions?

I'm actually not anti-nuclear but I am skeptical of my conditional support of nuclear. The actual accidents that have happened either did not harm humans or harmed humans under exceptional mismanagement (the USSR). Industrial accidents kill humans all the time in the mining, refining and conventional power generation business. I think we probably need nuclear and we should push towards the next generation of nuclear power plants but many nuclear advocates do a disservice when they act like all will be well if management just reads the memo about 1 in 500 year tsunamis. Fact is management is probably getting thousands of memos about 1 in 500 year events that could go wrong. Anticipation on this level is a huge technical challenge for humans.

Well, we have enough nuclear generation data to estimate rate-of-death per KWh. We have 10's of thousands of generator years across dozens of countries in civil and military reactors. That's a lot of data. And it's a very low death rate per KWh; compares fantastically well with nearly every other mode.

Now, one may argue that this estimate is wrong, and the real rate-of-death is very much higher. Perhaps there are 1 in a 10^6 reactor-year events with 10^6 level deaths.

BUT if you want to believe that, you seem to be forced into additional and ugly assumptions:

1. Our current data must be sampling from a distribution with a very strange shape (unlike all other generation modes we observe)
2. Technology improvements over time are not making nuclear safer (but the data says it is for what we observe).

So I tend to favour the simpler hypothesis that nuclear generation technology is safe.

'So I tend to favour the simpler hypothesis that nuclear generation technology is safe.'

And the production of weapons grade fissile materials is just a bonus.Not an accidental one, after all. Yet somehow, this aspect of nuclear power is simply kept out of such discussions. Well, except when the Iranians want to do their share to be more climate friendly through using nuclear power.

That is only the case if the fuel is very frequently changed out of the reactor in a manner very inefficient for power production. Operating the reactor this way is obvious from the outside (or from space) because the reactor doesn't make heat when off. In a normal power-producing fuel cycle Pu-240 levels in the waste are high enough to make nuclear weapons fail.

1. Our current data must be sampling from a distribution with a very strange shape (unlike all other generation modes we observe)

Or the data is not normally distributed but has 'fat tails'.

So follow up question. indicates on average nuclear is generating maybe 15% of electricity. France is exceptional at well over 70% but many countries that are below that threshold do not seem to be the type easily swayed by loud environmental groups (China for example).

Is the 'norm' then 30% for nuclear power? If so that would only double nuclear's share of power generation....or do nuclear advocates think it is an 'all in' solution and should in an ideal world be around 70-80%?

If the fat tail risk of global warming is as high as the activists would have us believe, then yes 70% sounds reasonable.

It’s demonstrably safer than other forms of power
It’s proven technology
It’s more expensive than natural gas without accounting for externalities , but can provide base load without CO2

There is a role for government in solving coordination problems with huge risks. If global warming is a huge risk, and we have an answer ready to go, then it belies belief that the exact same people sounding the alarm about global warming have been instrumental in shutting down nuclear reactors in the US.

Or if you’re anonymous, it’s a red herring. We should ignore the fact that Greens are insistent on no nuclear, no natural gas, etc.

The equilibrium seems to be restarting coal plants.


Why is China so low then? Greens seem to be the goto excuse by nuclear advocates for why there isn't more nuclear power but is that really the case? Are green parties really all that successful that they win everywhere....but France?

By invoking global warming you seem to be implicitly accepting that there is something not quite right about nuclear. That it wouldn't 'normally' be 80% (and France didn't get there because of global warming, I'm sure). So why does the market not produce more nuclear? (Keep in mind even non-market economies still face market constraints. China, or North Korea, for example, have to make decisions like produce more electricity from coal or from nuclear or simply don't make more electricity at all.)

Cool. You don’t have a ton of economics education, and that’s why a blog like this exists! To be informative. Once upon a time..

There is indeed something “not quite right” about nuclear power generation. In economics It’s called regulatory regime uncertainty.

There’s a lot to unpack in that phrase, but the bottom line is that we have a decent probability of cooking the world because a large and vocal group of environmentalists have been successful in shutting nuclear power down both nationally and globally.

For a science and statistics believer (al gore fan!) such as yourself, a quick look at deaths per power unit / hour will demonstrate nuclear power is less dangerous than solar by orders of magnitude. Same is true for wind. Don’t even get started with coal, it’s a nightmare difference!

And that doesn’t even touch global warming. That’s just the thousands of deaths we accept for power generation. But the costs with nuclear are almost entirely due to regulatory regime uncertainty. That’s because nuclear power plants are huge upfront costs of capital. In a political environment that ranges from skeptical to downright hostile among Democrats.

Basically, capital markets price in the fact that Boonton and anonymous/mouse will commit their time and millions of rich white people cash and effort to shutting nuclear power down for the horrific consequences of foreigners.

So anyone who starts a plant knows if Boonton or anonymous gets his way we’ll shut it down and switch to coal, or in Germany burning trees and trash and coal. It’s better to signal allegiance to a movement dedicated to unironically (in their own words) decarbonization.

In reality they support global warming. Not passively. They’re actively pushing for it.

Regime uncertainty? Really ? I'm a bit disappointed in you. You could at least say 'regime hostility'. And you say it is all environmentalists pushing regulatory regimes to be hostile to nuclear.....

Seems odd. So what possible dynamics could make greens so successful everything in such a uniform manner, with only France being an outlier? Did the USSR and China allow environmental groups as large a say in regimes as the US, UK and other nations?

In other words, if you are going to push this line as an explanation you should be able to explain:

The remarkable uniformity of 'regime uncertainty' covering many nations even though they all have radically different governments....except for France.

Why this 'uncertainty' doesn't seem to apply to coal, gas and other non-nuclear power sources?

What really odd dynamics must be in place here for so many (but not all) outcomes to look so alike?

Let's just do apples to apples. Solar power is about 450% more deadly than all the deaths attributable to nuclear power for all time.

We can afford to have Sellafields, 3MI, Chernobyl and Fukushimi at the present rate for all time and Solar, still, needs to become ten-fold less deadly to compete.

Maybe you believe solar can make that transition? Well great, that is the same margin we would need to bring US coal down to US solar levels of mortality. It has been done by one industry so there is precedent. US nuclear power is so phenomenally safe (0.1 deaths per Terawatt-hour) that Solar is only 440,000% more dangerous.

I am not convinced that solar will ever clean up its act. It is far easier to kill people when your bad decision is "keep a safety valve closed today while filling a tank" compared to rejigger facilities in a process that will inevitably become political to avoid a risk that is low but non-trivial. The failure mode for solar power is regular, already well known, and ongoing. I have every reason to suspect that solar will continue to be lethal.

And all of this discussion is pissing into the wind. Coal plants utterly dwarf all of this. Solar death rates are rounding errors for coal ones.

Which is why my big standard lies on the following: if you oppose nuclear (or hydro or natural gas) while building a SINGLE new coal plant anywhere on your grid; you are a flaming hypocrit or ignoramus who cannot be trusted to deliver and honest and accurate assessment of the problem. The average coal plant kills more people than Chernobyl. All of the nuclear deaths and all of the solar deaths from all time are less than a single year's worth of coal deaths.

When I see people continue building new coal plants (which for Europe is currently slated to end in 2020), in order to close nuclear plants I cannot take them seriously.

Let's just do apples to apples. Solar power is about 450% more deadly than all the deaths attributable to nuclear power for all time.

I'm not skeptical of this figure but of it's importance. Fat tail here is pretty key. I could easily imagine cases where nuclear power gets very deadly very fast.

For example, imagine a world where pro-nuclearites win the day and hundreds of new plants are opened but poor cyber-security leaves them all open to a standardized bug allowing dozens of Chernobyl type events.

What are the 'deaths from solar'? People who fall off of roofs while installing it? OK but that doesn't really scale. You can't make more people slip off of a roof tomorrow than have every slipped off of roofs for all of history unless you can somehow alter gravity.

Roof deaths are common and deaths from falls from height become exponentially higher the more demanding the task (e.g. you are more likely to end up in my ED falling while installing de-icing cables than you are with basic gutter cleaning). Solar panel installation requires working with large, heavy, and complicated materials and tools. Worse, it typically means that not just during installation, but for the rest of the roof's history you have a far more complex environment, often with either mobile parts or low friction surfaces.

Then, of course, there are all the industrial deaths. Solar cells use lots of highly refined chemicals to mass produce goods. We source a lot of these from places with terrible safety cultures. Getting you sodium hydroxide of hydroflouric acid from the typical suppliers for the solar industry is basically a death sentence to somebody who works for those suppliers every year.

Another problem is cadmium. This carcinogenic metal appears to leach out of solar panels and into the environment. It shows up in groundwater and persists more or less indefinitely.

In theory you could recycle solar panels, but in reality it is vastly uneconomical and instead we tend to just send the suckers off to landfills (reasonably okay) or to countries with more lax e-waste regulations (deadly).

Then, of course, you have the failure modes. Nuclear plants malfunction so infrequently that when they go off line for some external reason it makes the news. In contrast, the solar plants in Puerto Rico suffered massive damage with Hurricane Maria and dumped tons of glass debris and fine particles into hurricane force winds. When solar panels fail we get a lot of fine glass particles, of the sizes most deadly to humans.

Ultimately, you have to remember that solar needs around 15,000 tonnes of material input per TWh in fabrication. Nuclear needs a around 1,000. You might think that the solar stuff is generally less dangerous to mine, refine, ship, and fabricate ... except that the nuclear side is overwhelmingly concrete.

Solar uses a lot of dangerous stuff and then needs to be in an open environment. Nuclear use very little stuff, and pretty much all of it is inside one of the most controlled environments on earth.

This gives rise to the actual results we see. Nuclear power rarely has deaths, of any kind, and even its accidents are isolated from the general population. Solar ships huge amounts of toxic material in whichever country offers the best tradeoff between safety regulation and shipping costs; its failures are basically constant but small numbers that are often hard to directly attribute to solar.

However it seems to me all those deaths are relatively capped and presumably controllable through six sigma quality improvement. The case I described above is 'fat tail'. Nothing in the previous date about nuclear would give any hint that such a death rate is possible until the day it happens.

How exactly are these capped?

Chemical spills, after all, have a demonsrated fatter tail than nuclear. We have yet to have a single nuclear power accident that has risen to anything approaching the fat tails of chemical releases.

Likewise, cadmium exposure is one of those fun things that has a pretty fat tail depending on which water it contaminates.

Looking at the variability in death rates suggests no such cap to my eye. What exactly is your cap for solar? 10,000? 100,000?

This still makes no sense to me. We have single chemical release accidents than have killed more people than nuclear ever has. Why exactly should we weight a unseen "fat tail" for nuclear above the much greater "fat tail" seen with bulk use of toxic chemicals? Which epidemiological model are you using?

Fat tail does not mean 'a lot', it means previous incidents tell you little about the potential.

Let's take it simple, the chance of falling of a roof. Odds are if you have recorded 10,000 roof jobs and have 50 incidents of people falling, doing 100,000 roof jobs will mean you should expect 500 incidents. But the rate of 50 per 10,000 should hold.

Let's assume you aren't doing anything special like a six sigma program to reduce those falls. You would expect some normal variation year in year out. Maybe next year it is 65 per 10,000 or 45. But let's say it varies with a standard deviation of about 15.

Let's say one year it is 117 per 10,000. That's 4.5 times the standard deviation. That is roughly an event you should only see one in every 147,160 observations. Either you just happened to own a roofing company during an amazingly unlucky year or something has fundamentally changed about roofing, or gravity, or how human feet work. The latter might be called a 'fat tail' event. If gravity changes tomorrow, nothing about all the history of roofing falls will alert you to the odds of that happening.

Likewise previous nuclear accidents may tell you nothing about, say, a single cyber hole in the software waiting for just the right hacker. That example would be 'like changing gravity' in the sense that all the previous years of zero accidents doesn't really say anything about future probabilities.

I suppose you have a point that all industrial processes exhibit some fat tailness as they scale. Since we never had solar panels on all of our roofs, that will introduce things that we never had to encounter before when they were a novelty or used only in specialized applications. Lead paint wasn't much of a problem until everyone lived in a painted house that was repainted on a regular basis with lead paint. But it is something to be mindful of.

Put another way, before 9/11 there was only one notable incident of a large plane hitting a skyscrapper (one hit the Empire State building long ago) despite millions of flights by large planes every year. By your reasoning, then, for 3 buildings to get hit by large planes in a single day should be something that might only happen once every few billion years and therefore be impossible.

Except that far more than 3 planes were hit by a building in a single year. You seem to forget that during WWII a large number of planes crashed into buildings.

But I'm sure the next thing you will argue is that well that was in war time. And that is correct when you place an arbitrary number of qualifiers on events "large", "skyscraper", and "at peace" we are no longer looking simple probability calculations.

And this is the problem with your conception of fat tail risks. Fat tail does not mean inconceivable - that would more appropriately be Black Swans. Fat tails mean that when you integrate the outliers they give rise to more effect than if you integrate all other cases.

When it comes to power risks, I see no reason to be more worried about the risk distribution of nuclear than solar. After all, some wilely hack is far more likely to result in mass lethality for a highly distributed system that needs lots of dynamic rebalancing and has thousands of access points over literal miles than a single entity ensconced behind armed guards that can be manually disabled.

Or perhaps you have some silly idea about some sort of release. Well, why exactly is anything released from a nuclear plant going to be more deadly than chemicals for etching silicon? We know the LD50s for everything in the nuclear plant and none of them are high enough to offset the raw tonnage of toxins solar production requires.

And again which are more likely to be susceptible to some oddball hack - a dedicated plant that can air gap most all of its systems or railroad cars and processing plants?

And this is what boggles my mind. Even some boogyman, absent a change in the laws of physics, the risks from a nuclear accident are less than from bog standard chemicals.

Again, you claimed there was some cap for solar power deaths - what is it (order of magnitude estimates are fine)? Why can we not derive similar caps for nuclear power?

Except that far more than 3 planes were hit by a building in a single year. You seem to forget that during WWII a large number of planes crashed into buildings.

OK let me cut this down with one stroke. Before 9/11/01 there were millions of flights of 50+ people passenger planes and almost zero plane into building crashes. Therefore for 3 to happen in one day is would be almost impossible unless you waited millions of years. Yet on 9/11 that happened.

Now consider also my example of one day gravity changing. On that day the number of people falling off of roofs will be a lot higher than it ever was before.

In both cases the reason you get a 'fat tail', you actually live to see an event that normal statistics says you shouldn't see unless you're alive billions of years, is because the system that generated the historical data ceased to be applicable.

All the data on roofing accidents to date were built with gravity working a particular way. If gravity suddenly works differently, that data ceases to be a good way to estimate future probabilities. The data on pre-9/11 large passenger plane flights was built on it never occurring to people to try a coordinated suicide dive into notable buildings.

I don't expect gravity to change. Hence if we started doing a lot more work on roofs, say because we are installing solar panels more and more, I would expect roof injuries to follow the data built up from previous roof jobs. Likewise I would also expect quality improvement to cap and reduce that rate of injury since the whole point of engineering, manufacturing and general quality control is to achieve lower and lower error rates. Not an expert in this area but I suspect safety equipment, protocols etc. for working on roofs are better today than, say, 1980. Ditto for working with the chemicals and mining and disposal issues you describe.

To what degree is previous data applicable for nuclear power versus roofing? Here I think the data for roofing is pretty much top notch. The dynamics might change. Perhaps in the future it will be a fad to coat roofs with slippery gel because pranksters will be amused posting vidoes of people falling off roofs on Youtube...perhaps some proton accelerator somewhere will cause gravity to change.....but such odd changes roof data previous probably will mirror roof data in the future less the changes we make to achieve higher quality.

Data for nuclear is not quite there. Many plants are bespoke operations custom built making it hard to translate the safety data from one plant to another. There's a lot of things going into the system as well as being tightly tied to a bunch of other systems (Japan, for example, showed that not only is the plant a system to consider but also the outside power grid since the loss of power to cooling pumps is what ultimately caused the problem.

What other factors to consider then? What of an EMP attack that cripples electronics over a huge area? Industrial software hacks as the US pulled off on Iran? Disruptions to water utilities, coordinated attacks? Are these things incorporated into previous operating data ? No. Are they as inconceivable as gravity one day simply changing?

You are confusing "Fat tails" and "Black Swans". Book stores used to refer to "fat tails" as the collection of volumes that would never sell more than a single copy, but made up huge amounts of the profit margin. It was perfectly conceivable that people might one some random tome (e.g. The Russian Railways Year in Review 1906-1907) - PhD students used to come along a lot. So stores would often have a bunch of books off at the end of the distribution that would rarely sell, but have very high margins when they did.

Conversely, black swans derive from the fact that all swans known to the western world were not black in the 19th century. Then we found some Australian swans that were black. Nobody anticipated the black swans.

Are all black swans fat tails? No. Very often such outliers have only marginal impacts on numbers of concern (e.g. profit, risk, whatever).

So using terminology more precisely, which is more susceptible to black swans?

Well going back to roofs. The traditional roof had wooden shingles. These would become notoriously slick in rain, but had decent traction when dry. We swapped to largely asphalt. This had much higher traction and fewer falls. Over the last few decades we are seeing more metal roofs (longer lasting, less maintenance, favorable energy). I see more people falling off slick metal roofs than I ever did off asphalt. We have a lot of housing stock that is ancient and metal is still only a growing minority of new roofs … but exactly what you doubt might happen has already happened.

Okay, how about plants? Well solar installations are also bespoke operations. Worse there are more suppliers and facilities often have a hodge-podge of suppliers for different parts of the system. Many are installed by independent contractors with no quality control. If I had to take on who is more secure at securing critical infrastructure IT, I would go with the air gapped facility with known, limited contractors who have good insurance than the ones built with fly-by-night-contractor labor.

By far the greatest potential danger from a power outage is the loss of power itself. You could blow an entire reactor to kingdom come (i.e. worse than Chernobyl) and still kill fewer people than knocking out a national grid in a major heat wave and keeping it offline while the generators burn down. So in terms of worst case scenarios, solar is losing.

Further EMPS and coordinated attacks are incorporated into the operating data. We have had real world data for EMPs since Starfish Prime in '62. Reactor themselves are hardened against them and have been the entire time (it helps that they are partially "buried"). The real danger with EMPs are the transformers, guess who is going to need more of those - a bunch of distributed power plants or one centralized option?

Again, the sum total risk of nuclear power in actuality is defined by the LD50 of the components, their byproducts, and any reactions you might stir up with them. We know these. Nuclear reactors have a small amount of lanthanides. Chemistry well known. Nuclear physics well known. The LD50s x total mass are just too low.

Solar production is the same story a worst case release scenario. Hydroflouric acid actually falls into the same lethality concentrations as enriched uranium. It is just that a typical nuke plant has only a fraction of the toxic mass as your average solar panel fabrication plant. Likewise, we can look at the carcinogens. Nuke plants have some very carcinogenic things; but solar has a lot more even if theirs are less lethal atom/atom.

Again and again, every risk you cite for nuclear is also one for solar. Hack the nuke plant or hack the solar plant … either way the hospital loses power. EMP? If the nuke plant is going down, the solar one is definitely going down. Coordinated attack to release toxic substances? The nuke plant has less there to release that solar production facilities.

At the end of the day, you keep making an appeal to ignorance. Fine there are risks unconceived about nuclear; they overlap perfectly with the risks unconceived about solar.

What I do know is that we have a longer baseline, with fewer fatalities, and lower worst case scenarios (as dictated by the constraints of chemistry and physics) for nuclear.

Again, show me a model or we will just call it a day that you have a personal phobia with no systemic underpinning.

In terms of book sales with obscure titles making up the bulk of book sales, the term you are thinking of is 'long tail'.

Fat tail means a distribution that shows skewness from a normal or exponential distribution (

The examples you describe with roofs are valid but they represent gradual changes where new distributions can be incorporated slowly over time. For example, wood tiles being very slippery in the rain versus asphalt that are much easier to grip would result in roof accidents going down and roofing costs going down as contractors now have the flexibility to work in wetness that before would keep the job site closed. A switch to metal roofs might return to the problem of of working in wetness but roofs are not replaced overnight. The gradual replacement of shingles with metal would increase the knowledge of the different danger sets accordingly over time.

"Again and again, every risk you cite for nuclear is also one for solar. Hack the nuke plant or hack the solar plant … either way the hospital loses power. EMP? If the nuke plant is going down, the solar one is definitely going down. Coordinated attack to release toxic substances? The nuke plant has less there to release that solar production facilities."

Then again the solar production factories could likely be on the other side of the world. Not sure you could 'hack' solar panels on people's roofs.

But I suspect a fat tailed risk could come in many places. For example, connected cars that can do simple things like stop or park themselves could create a fat tailed risk from what was formally a well known risk structure of all cars if, say, a hacker could coordinate making thousands of cars slam on their breaks all at once. I suppose thousands of homes with solar panels and nest thermostats/power meters could open the door for some type of coordinated hack that previously wouldn't be in the picture.

Then again in most places solar is not so connected. If you shorted out one guys panels, well you just made an expensive problem for him but you've done nothing to the whole system. Doing it to thousands of people would mean...what...sending out an army of volunteers?

Does nuclear, as is, have no fat tails? I'm not so sure. The point of the EMP attack is that a nuclear plant can be vulnerable not only to internal issues but external ones as well and external ones that might take quite a while to map out. The Japan case, I believe, happened not because the reactor blew up but because the cooling pumps loss power and the buildup of energy inside the water tanks caused bubbles of hydrogen to form. Can a manager anticipate not only the reliability of the systems of the plant itself but the systems that support the plant in a changing world?

In the long run all curves probably go to normal. Don't get me wrong. Now that we had 9/11, we know in the curve of risks from passenger air travel is suicide hijackers/pilots slamming planes into buildings. However if you were making curves before 9/11 you would be working with a curve where that couldn't happen and you would be very wrong.

I think to Tyler's point, it's fine for Greta Thunberg to fly commercial to the US for a conference.

However, that's completely different than the massive hypocrisy involved in a bunch of millionaires flying their private jets with a handful of passengers or taking their mega yachts to Sicily for a 3 day long "climate" party. You aren't serious about climate change if you have your personal sports car shipped across the world so you can drive it around for 3 days in Italy.

These conferees oddly never seem to convene in Statesville, NC, Altoona, PA or Spalding, Nebraska

"massive hypocrisy " yawn, yawn, yawn.

If a bunch of millionaires who live in mansions attend a gala to help the homeless...errr no one says anything. If an overweight upper middle class woman brings some cans to donate to the soup kitchen, no one says anything. But if it has anything to do with climate change no one gets to say anything unless they show up by walking in a sack cloth.

The Age of Electric Aviation Is Just 30 Years Away
Eric Adams 05.31.17


Where are the electricity mines?

Coal powered planes, who have thought it feasable?

Eviation claims to have a 9 passenger electric with a 600 mile range about ready for initial flight testing, which is pretty amazing if they can pull it off. They appearantly have first orders.

I suspect its going to be la bit longer before the trans-Pacific routes go electric.

I see their long range version will have an aluminium-air battery. This gets heavier as its stored energy is used, but I suppose that's better from the point of view of aircraft design than the other way around.

Recharge time, and general availability at airports, may be a bit of an issue.

But there are interesting use cases, like this - worlds shortest scheduled airline flight (< 2 mins), where they could fly back and forth every hour and recharge at night at the home field.

Seems to me recharge time could be eliminated as a factor by simply making the batteries easy to remove. Plane lands, pop out its battery and put in one fully charged at the on land charging station rather than plugging the plane in and waiting.

It's very carbon-friendly. Jet engines expel carbon compounds formerly locked in the kerosene, with carbon-generating activities at every other step in the extraction, manufacturing, refinement and logistical tail. As a frequent flyer, you are generating lots of carbon.

I love when we use one thing that isn't going to happen - widespread new nuclear generation coming online anytime soon - as an argument against doing things that can actually happen.

I suspect that carbon sequestration also falls in that category, for entirely different reasons, but I'm willing to be convinced that it's actually a thing. Just haven't seen it yet.

The problem with the 1% flying in private jets isn't the carbon their private jets produce, the problem is that the 1% block the development of efficient public transit that would avoid all the carbon emissions (mostly from cars) because the 1% travel in private jets and oppose public transit because they wouldn't use it. Cowen is good, very good, at misdirection. He is impressive. He would have been an effective lawyer. Is that his missed calling?

A news item this week concerns the noise regarding helicopter noise from the 1% taking uber style helicopters to avoid traffic in NYC. No public transit for them.

The safe handling of waste from nuclear power plants is a task with a duration of about 10,000 years, fighting an uphill battle against the second law of thermodynamics the whole time. That France has gone 70 years without a catastrophe is hardly strong evidence that this can be accomplished.

While I personally believe that it is, in principle, possible with existing technologies to safely generate nuclear power and manage the waste products over the long term, I do not believe it is feasible for any existing society to maintain the vigilant attention to detail and compulsive focus on safety above all that is required. It is inconceivable that safety standards will not be relaxed during bad economic times or periods of social upheaval--which means that the only question is when there will be a disaster, not if.

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