Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Determines the Comment Stream? One Post, Two Sets of Comments

Carbon dioxide and nuclear energy

Recently I wrote a post about carbon dioxide and nuclear energy. Specifically, I posted about why people concerned with climate change seldom talk about nuclear power (though it is a VERY low-carbon source of electricity) and why pro-nuclear people like myself rarely mention climate change.

The simple answer for both groups (climate-change activists and pro-nuclear activists) is that we are both afraid of losing our core supporters.  Pro-nuclear people are often conservative and do not believe climate change is a major issue.  Climate change activists are often liberal and don't approve of nuclear power.  If a speaker crosses the line to say: "we need nuclear" (in front of a climate change group) or "nuclear will help prevent accelerated global warming" (in front of a pro-nuclear group)...well, that speaker will probably lose half of her audience.

My original post appeared in my blog, Carbon Dioxide and Nuclear Energy: The Great Divide and How to Cross It. It was syndicated by The Energy Collective and appeared on their site, also.  The post received a lot of comments both a matter of fact, 34 comments on both sites. The Energy Collective recently sent their contributors an email that contained a  Leaderboard (part of the Leaderboard is at the upper left). From that board, I learned I had written the top-commented post for July.  I decided I would look a little more closely at all the comments.

Before I talking about the comments, however, I want to note that my friend Suzy Hobbs Baker has written an excellent post on the same subject at ANS Nuclear Cafe today. Climate Change and Nuclear Energy: We Need to Talk.

The Comments and the Numbers

The Energy Collective is a much bigger site than Yes Vermont Yankee, and that is reflected in the number of people who read the post on the two sites. As of this writing, 710 people have read my post at The Energy Collective, and 392 have read it at my own blog.

The comment streams on the two posts were so different that they might as well have been about different posts.

The Energy Collective comments started with a discussion of renewables but quickly moved to  the idea that nuclear was not implemented safely, and then went on to a discussion of thermodynamics and Ocean Thermal Energy (OTEC).  Rod Adams, Paul O, Aggie Engineer and I were sticking up for classical thermodynamics and heat transfer, while others argued against what the second law tells us about the requirements of heat engines.  My favorite quote was from Aggie Engineer. He said I should think of myself as "grief counselor"  as people came to terms with the second law.

OTEC Diagram from Wikipedia
The Yes Vermont Yankee comments riffed from my statement that nuclear had many advantages over fossil fuels, besides the global warming argument. The main discussion was about the advantages (or not) of nuclear power.  People quoted article after article, source after source, to make their points.  Kit P has had a guest post on my blog and commented extensively on this post. He had many references about the way fossil fuels have been cleaned up, but Aaron Rizzio and Gwyneth Cravens had rebuttals. Naturally, Kit P had rebuttals to them, also.

The comments also included references to Vermont energy sources and the effects of thermal pollution and pumped storage on the Connecticut River.  In other words, many of the comments on my blog were more detailed and closer to home than the comments on The Energy Collective blog.   I am sorry to say there was also more snideness on my blog, crossing the border to ad hominem attacks.

Vermont is a Small Town,  and so is Yes Vermont Yankee

Most of the posts, on both boards, were about the science: thermodynamics, OTEC, ocean acidification, coal plant clean-up.  There were very few comments about the politics: who speaks about global warming, and in what context.  This is probably because both blogs are technology-oriented.

My blog was more like a small town discussion, getting right down to talking about Connecticut River issues and getting snide.  The Energy Collective comments took a wider view.

I guess that is what would be expected.

I am grateful for everyone who commented on either of the posts!  Thank you all!


Travelogue for the Universe said...

You are a truly balanced thorough reporter. I appreciate reading you describe using rational, not emotional science, law, protocols. Heard you and another on WDEV about immunity response of ?low level nuclear exposure. Good show.. It is unfortunate some choose to be so negative. Their fears guide even irrational arguments. Have a great day. Will tweet this. mary

Meredith Angwin said...


Thank you! I think you heard my friend Howard Shaffer about immunity responses at low levels of radiation. It seems that low levels of radiation lead to increased health. There's quite a bit of evidence for this, including some recent work in Berkeley. I rarely mention this on my blog because it takes too much to explain this to people and it is still controversial even among some scientists and so forth. So I usually don't go there.

Thanks for the support!


EntrepreNuke said...

I didn't actually read the comments, so it is possible someone may have already mentioned this.

I think the disconnect can really be boiled down to a simple difference in worldviews/political ideologies. The most ardent supporters of reducing human GHG emissions believe that humans have been using too many resources in the recent historic past and that the impact needs to be reduced. The most ardent proponents of nuclear power usage recognize that using energy is actually a very good thing for humans, and is in no way evil in and of itself.

I really think that the lack of crossing over (in most cases) is almost that simple. Some of the primary environmentalists that have recently come around to the pro-nuclear side are some major exceptions.

In a lot of ways, I think it is rather easy for environmentalists to become pro-nuclear with a very modest amount of nuclear education. From the other side, it would be exceedingly difficult to convince a typical pro-nuclear person to be converted into an anti-economic growth person.

Meredith Angwin said...

Thank you for writing this! Either side is can be seen as a moral-choice issue, not a power-plant-choice issue.

Kit P said...


I think we had a much better debate at YVY than at the The Energy Collective. There is a set of people whose idea of a debate is achieving consensus. If you tell people they wrong, they take it as a personal attack rather a place to start a discussion.

At work this week, my normal activities were interrupted by a small task of answer an NRC request for information. The first thing I did was find the references that the NRC had cited. After reading the references, I concluded that the references did not say what they thought it said.

I drafted a half page response that said as gentle as possible NRC you are wrong. A few discussions later, I found out that we have tried that approach before. My three page answer was the we do not have to design for incredible events like the risk of being killed by a meteorite. By the way this is how you disprove prove a negative. Just because something has not been observed does not mean it could not happen. However, the fact that it has not been observed following a lot of testing allows for using science to explain it is an incredible event.

When it comes to debating the set of options for making power, nuclear has the lowest ghg emissions. There is no point of debating the merit of OTEC because it is not yet a practical way of making electricity. It is like debating flying cars, jet packs, and transporter beams as a means of transportation.

Meredith Angwin said...

Kit, I agree that the YVY debate was better. More references, more comments that addressed the content of other comments, etc.

I truly thank everyone who participated on both blogs!