Nuclear power issues are not about science

It was just a matter of time before this kind of information came out about the problems with the Fukushima nuclear reactor.

One has to wonder what else we’re going to find out about the design and preparations at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

I’m rather tired of people talking about the science behind nuclear power and about how safe it is. First of all, theoretically, anything can be made safe. Science is irrelevant.

The relevant factors are engineering and business. This will determine the ultimate safety of any system. It’s a natural inclination for any business to minimize costs. Engineering any system can be an expensive process, and with something like nuclear power, cutting corners can be costly, as we’ve seen.

There have been serious questions about the safety of the GE Mark I reactors, such that three GE nuclear scientists resigned in process. It’s not about science because, theoretically, nuclear power is safe and can be contained.

In GE’s case, it’s about business and engineering. Oh, statistics play a role here too. They probably have a statistician on staff who gave them the odds against the critical events the GE 3 warned against.

Business decisions by GE probably dictated that they weren’t going to toss the Mark I design and start over. Why waste that investment?

The engineering, obviously, was an issue. Other reactor designs are likely much better than GE’s Mark I. The GE 3 obviously were so concerned about it that they went public with their concerns and resigned from GE.

It’s not a science issue at all. As happens in so many cases, there are other issues at play in man-made disasters, but people mistakenly or intentionally obfuscate those issues with the weak appeal to authority argument (science).

I understand the science behind the reactor, containment, cooling, etc. I trust the science. We’ve studied it for 60 years. So what? I also understand people and that’s the problem I have. I don’t trust the people behind these power plants. If they weren’t heavily regulated, we’d have far more problems than we do now, given the propensity of business to spend as little as absolutely required on virtually anything.

Heavy regulation of these types of operations is no guarantee of safety either, but it’s a start. Regulations have required nuclear plants to have multiple redundant systems to ensure that if problems or accidents happen, we don’t see catastrophic failures such as those at each of the Fukushima reactors.

Evidently Japan’s regulation of these plants was inadequate, especially given the level of earthquake and tsunami activity in that part of the world.

I am not against nuclear power. If the plants and waste are managed properly, they can be a safe, albeit expensive, way to generate large amounts of electricity. In our hubris, humans often don’t see the big picture and don’t change until it’s too late. Nuclear power is not something we want 20/20 hindsight on. We need to ensure that we get it right before we go ahead with these plants. I don’t think there is such a thing as over-engineering when it comes to them.

As the world is increasingly looking for clean and reliable sources of energy, nuclear has become an increasingly attractive option. The disaster at Fukushima, if nothing else, should serve as a warning against hubris, and show us the importance of a thorough approach to safety. More nuclear power plants will be built, so let’s make sure we construct them properly. Maybe Mike Holmes should supervise nuclear power plant designs.

Thoughts on the Alberta Party & Alberta politics

Alberta-Party-logoPolitics in Alberta, it seems, is a blood sport especially when one feels their turf is threatened.

With the reigning Conservatives on the ropes in terms of their approval ratings, the Wildrose Alliance has seen support rise for its party. It seems like a natural thing, since they both occupy similar real estate in the political spectrum.

The Conservatives are especially defensive after the defection of two MLAs to the Wildrose Alliance. This defensiveness apparently has spread to the Wildrose Alliance now that the Alberta Party has merged with the Renew Alberta movement

The Wildrose Alliance has the attack dogs out on the Alberta Party questioning a number of things such as the party apparently suspending its constitution as a result of the merger, appointment of board members, etc.

I had to laugh at Jane Morgan’s claim:

“Sorry to disappoint the WAP detractors; but the WAP has absolutely ZERO to do with this. It’s just lil’ol me typing away on an otherwise boring weekend; trying to get to the bottom of some very bizarre switch-a-roos.”

Using someone else to do your political dirty work, paid or unpaid, is a political tactic as old as the hills and helps politicians maintain plausible deniability. I get the impression Ms. Morgan is now a former party official, though I do not know what role she played in the WAP.

I understand what they’re doing. They’re hoping to frame the debate about the Alberta Party as one that is acting illegitimately, in violation of its constitution and without the support of its members.

The Alberta Party could potentially siphon off support from every party as Alberta voters don’t seem to be satisfied with any party at this point. No surprise that the WAP sees the AP as a threat. WAP would like to be the protest party of choice for Albertans. Having two out there muddies the already very murky political waters.

My view of the Alberta Party

Anyone who knows me, knows I have some strong views on politics and I’m suspicious of political parties in general.

I am interested in what is happening with the Alberta Party and may yet participate in their “Big Listen.” Will I vote for them? I can’t say at this point. It really depends on a number of factors.

I think it’s fair to raise questions about the party’s constitution and how that was handled. Political parties do need to ensure they operate according to the rules they’ve laid out for themselves and to ensure they’re in compliance with any government legislation.

Alberta-Party-Big-ListenI would also like to see what policies develop out of the “Big Listen” process and subsequently at any policy convention. I’m not worried, as some anonymous poster is, that the “Big Listen” is similar language used by Hillary Clinton; oh, and also that poster was concerned about “starting conversations.”

So, Democratic party leadership candidates have a monopoly on listening and starting conversations? Does using similar language mean that you have the same policies? Please. Pull your head out of your ass and start listening. Hell, start a conversation while you’re at it.

A key issue for me is the autonomy of party MLAs and party discipline. I believe in free votes on everything.

Political parties should not impose their will on duly elected MLAs. An MLA should always be free to vote according to their conscience and the will of their local electorate. I don’t believe in small- or large-scale authoritarianism. This is one of my main problems with virtually every political party.

I don’t tend to be a labeler and bristle at attempts to label me. I like ideas from across the political spectrum and, really, I am a centrist if you’d like to use the term. Frankly labeling is an overused American political tactic to short-circuit critical thinking. Many Canadian political parties are importing this tactic. Why? I guess their critical thinking skills have been short-circuited. Judging by the political situation in the US and how well everything is going there, do we really need ANY political tactics or policies imported from there?

Open finances

Another concern of mine is that the Alberta Party’s finances be completely open and transparent. That goes for political campaigns as well as leadership campaigns. I have some serious concerns about WAP leader Danielle Smith hiding her leadership campaign supporters and donations from public scrutiny. What does she have to hide?

Furthermore, how can the WAP leader have a party policy of an “open and comprehensive Freedom of Information Act” as well as wanting to “institute strict conflict of interest guidelines facilitated through the Provincial Ethics Commissioner’s office” yet not have her leadership campaign fully open to public scrutiny?

It seems more politics as usual. Money talks and I wonder what money is talking to Danielle Smith? I can bet I know. It’s the same money that talks to everyone in politics in Alberta. That concerns me.

The energy lobby in Alberta is obviously tremendously powerful. We need governments that are transparent, open and not unduly influenced by any lobby. We need a government that implements policies that are in the best interests of Albertans as a whole and do not cater to any lobby.

The citizens of Alberta elect governments, not businesses. That’s not to say that business is not important. It’s not a dichotomy. A balanced approach is appropriate. I’ve been a Chamber of Commerce director and I am fully aware of the needs of small business. I also know that governments tend to focus more on the needs of large business, typically at the expense of small business.

I also believe in a balanced regulatory approach between government and business. The economic meltdown we’re still in is proof that there has to be regulation of business. Business operating without regulation is, quite simply, stupid. Government’s role is to look out for the public interest. Laws and enforcement of those laws is how we keep things fair for everyone.

The supposed architect of the boom and bust, Alan Greenspan, a noted Ayn Rand sycophant, admitted he was wrong about essentially letting business regulate itself. How is it that some could claim one group, government, can’t sufficiently look after the public interest, yet put blind faith in business to do the same? It’s either stupidity, willful ignorance or outright duplicity.

Looking to Alberta’s future

Unfortunately, Alberta governments really haven’t looked that far into the future, looking more towards the next election and staying in power. We need governments that are looking generations ahead. We haven’t had it here. In fact, most governments operate much like large corporations, by the quarter, it seems. Maybe it would pay for Alberta governments to think of Alberta citizens as shareholders? We do have all the voting rights and should be the ones collecting the dividends.

This short-term thinking has to stop. We are facing serious issues on this planet, and while the Alberta government, whatever its political stripe, isn’t going to solve them, it can play a role in not making those problems worse and also look after the interests of Albertans.

These are just some of the things I will be looking at in the Alberta Party. I’ll give them a fair shot, like I have with every other political party. For now I am willing to engage in the listening and conversation, and so should every Albertan because the discussion transcends just one political party.

Killing the CBC

cbc-logo-kramerIt’s a dream come true. A perfect storm, if you’re Conservative. Killing the CBC is something I’m sure they’ve all pined for for years.

Now the ironically-named Heritage Minister James Moore is saying that the CBC is on its own, not unlike all the other media organizations in the country. Facing a shortfall of $100-200 million (according to what I heard on CBC Radio this morning) CBC is going to have to make some really difficult choices.

It’s not made any easier when the “Heritage Minister” throws out mixed signals saying that the CBC shouldn’t be competing with private broadcasters (stop chasing revenues and eyeballs). It makes it rather difficult when, to survive, they have to go after ad revenue and get high ratings on TV programs in an effort to maximize their revenue.

It’s almost, gasp, entrepreneurial. Isn’t that what the Cons are all about? No, it’s the Cons speaking out both sides of their mouth, or with forked tongue, or more likely both. If the CBC is going to stop competing for ad revenue, they need adequate government funding to do so.

The Cons can’t say that they don’t support subsidies to business because, well, they do. You can call them incentives or whatever you like, but it’s still government money. There’s nothing wrong with it if it’s fulfilling the wishes of Canadian citizens. Hell, we subsidize banks and oil companies. We probably subsidize many other companies that are likely big donators to the Cons. Maybe the CBC should make some donations to them as well?

I am pretty middle of the road when it comes to politics. My ideas span the political spectrum.I can reconcile NOT wanting gun control but wanting socialized medicine. I can find many apparent contradictions in my views. Life isn’t a Liberal or Conservative dichotomy.

I like the CBC. I listen to CBC Radio every single day. I watch CBC TV less often. I am on the CBC website every day. I get a lot of news online. I value the CBC as do a large portion of Canadians.

I don’t want to hear ads on CBC radio, as do the majority of listeners. I don’t need statistics to know that. I don’t listen to commercial radio much because I get less information than I do on CBC. So, if they chase ads to survive, they’ll be competing with private broadcasters again. Hmm.

CBC should get an adequate subsidy to continue operating. It is one of the institutions that helps to unite the country, and God knows, this country needs institutions like that. I’m sure our Prime Minister doesn’t much care, knowing how fond he is of Quebec.

No, layoffs at the CBC would make the Cons quite happy I’m sure. It would be one less news organization fully capable of holding the government to account; less resources overall means less investigative reporting. It’s precisely at this time we need a strong media organization that is capable of reporting on our government. And they can do it objectively.

Unfortunately private mainstream media organizations are in very difficult circumstances right now. You can bet that investigative reporting is the least of their worries when they’re trying to keep their heads above water. Should we subsidize them also? That’s the subject of another post, I think.

If you love the CBC, you should let your MP know that you want them to continue to receive adequate funding to continue as is and that the Cons should help them with their current budget shortfall. Write your MP, write the Minister, write the Prime Minister.

I will be voting in the next election for a party that supports the CBC.