We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Hoist by their own petard

It is always fascinating to watch one’s enemies twisting and turning on the spiky contradictions of their own ideology. It is also rather interesting to see your enemies turning on each other.

As Lord May of Oxford put the boot in to environmental activists during his speech to the Royal Society:

[He] said that environmental campaigners risked holding back the fight against climate change with an absolutist approach that refused to consider nuclear power.

“I recognise there are huge problems with nuclear, but these have to be weighed against other problems,” Lord May said. “This has to be recognised as a problem by what you might call a fundamentalist belief system.

And we also get to see Tony Blair’s speech to the Confederation of British Industry being disrupted by Green activists.

The Greens say we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions and yet when the government tries to adopt nuclear power to do exactly that, the Greens are up in arms.

Face it, unless the world agrees to regress to a pre-industrial level of technology with commensurate mass death of ‘surplus’ modern levels of population, the Greens will never be satisfied. Never mind that most climate change is probably caused by natural processes.

At least these guys are honest about what they really want.

54 comments to Hoist by their own petard

  • Verity

    I love it!

    Why don’t all these like-minded groups band together under the name Regressives?

  • It’s quite comical, really. They don’t like wind farms either because of the poor ickle birdies.

    Eric Drexler suggested using molecular manufacturing to pave the roads with solar cells, but I think the greenies object to nanotech, too.

    Incidentally, the best thing about the VHE people is that they evolve themselves out of existence.

  • It is so nice to be able to say you are pro-enviroment and pro-nuclear. Or rather its good to see the PM making speeches on the subject. This is one of those things that you can use to make an enviro-weenie go nuts.

  • Oh, dear. It sounds like you think a “petard” is something “spiky”. It’s a bomb.

  • I know exactly what a petard is. I also don’t think a petard is a ‘contradiction’ either. The title works just fine.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    My friends in Big Media tell me that Greenpeace is loathed by many journos, especially at the BBC these days (yes, really!). Remember the Brent Spar story of a few years back about a huge North Sea platform owned by Shell? A BBC journalist who tried to find out about the campaigning tactics of GP received so much abuse that it has turned a lot of sympathetic journalists off the Greens quite a bit.

    I mention this to reinforce the main point of Perry’s post.

  • Verity

    Robert Speirs – I don’t understand your post. Why would you conclude that Perry – using an ancient and well-worn phrase – does not know the definition of a petard? Hoist by your own petard means blown up by your own bomb. I’m baffled. What, in the title, led you to think Perry thought a petard is something spikey?

    Incidentally, yes, a petard is a bomb, but it is also a firecracker that you throw on the ground and it goes “bang”. Very irritating at Lent in the south of France when they throw petards against people’s doors.

  • Alan Pedigrew

    Nobody seems to complain about the thousands upon thousands of electricity pylons that litter the horizon. Do wind turbines look any worse ?. I’m not saying they are pretty things but lets be realistic.

  • mike

    Alan Pedigrew: I agree actually! Considering only their aesthetic merits, I think they rock…

  • Verity

    Pylons bring us electricity 24 hours a day. Those wind deals only produce electricity when there’s a … wind. They’re disfiguring and an utter waste of money in the cause of appeasing green twerps. If you’ve ever been fairly close to them, they’re hideous, fascist and loathesome.

  • Paul Marks

    An important thing about nuclear power is to get rid of the all the regulations concerning the design and operation of such power stations.

    Only in this way can subsidy be avoided, and the plants would also be safer.

    Companies should be told “if you have a big accident you will be sued to bits – so design and operate the plant as you like”.

    People would then make safer (as well as cheaper) power stations then any regulator can think of.

  • Alan Pedigrew

    Verity,
    I am in the fortunate posistion of being able to see both Wind Turbines and a Nuclear power station from my window. Given the choice the spinny things look more attractive. And I never worry about them going into melt down.

  • Jacob

    “If you’ve ever been fairly close to them, they’re hideous, fascist and loathesome.”

    They are also noisy.

  • Jacob

    From the Times article:

    “In 15 years Britain would have decommissioned both coal and nuclear plants that between them accounted for 30 per cent of today’s electricity supply, he [Blair] said. “Some of this will be replaced by renewables but not all of it can.”"

    About renewables – fat chance !

    A new power plant takes at least 10 years to plan, license and build, and probably 15-20.

    So – brace yourself for some black-outs in 15 years.
    If there is some impending carastrophe, or some acute danger – this is it, not global warming.

  • Alan Pedigrew

    Then don’t go near them !. Would you willingly stand near a Nuclear Power Station, or a Pylon for that matter. My point is that they have as much impact as the exixting network of pylons. They have been about for decades. Yes, they deliver Electrickery but Turbines Generate it. How much power would be generated if their numbers were the same. Up here in the North wind is plentifull and free.

  • Verity

    Alan Pedigrew writes: “I am in the fortunate posistion of being able to see both Wind Turbines and a Nuclear power station from my window.”

    What’s “fortunate” about that?

    Chill. The nuclear power station isn’t going to melt down. Remember the old saying (sorry for using it again, Jonathan, but it was big at the time), “more people died in Teddy Kennedy’s car than died at Three Mile Island.”

    The spinny things that you think so attractive must mean you are seeing them from quite a distance. Up close, they are hideous and, as Jacob says, noisy.

    And they only work when there is sufficient wind to drive their big metal propellors. Otherwise they just creak around v-e-r-y slowly. They are fascist, deforming monstrosities. They have ruined the foothills of the Pyrennées on the road from France to Spain. They’re not only utterly inefficient, but hateful. This was an utterly pointless concession to bullying, hectoring Green dictators.

  • Verity

    With regard to Alan Pedigrew’s post above, yes, I would be perfectly happy to stand next to a nuclear power plant. Why not? Do you think radiation is seeping out into your brain?

    I am absolutely neither certain nuclear power stations nor electricity pylons pose any risk whatsoever to humans or animal life. However, given your standard of literacy, spelling and random capitalisation, I am not so sure about wind turbines.

  • The time to build nukes is entirely based on the planning system. If we decided to build today on the existing sites and then shot all of the planning officers we’d have electricty in the grid within 5 years.

    As it is there’ll be a public enquiry which Greenpeace et al will keep running for a decade.

  • Alan Pedigrew

    Verity, Fortunate was perhaps the wrong word. The Nuclear power station in question ( Heysham ) has very little in the way of architectural beauty. But I have visited the “Spinny Things” up close. I happen to think they are beautiful things in their own way.

  • mike

    Perhaps someone would like to give greenpeace et al a taste of their own medicine? How about disrupting their meetings with ‘socialism kills’ slogans and so on? Although you’d have to stop shaving for a few weeks and dress up in dirty dungarees and wellies to get in! Oh and you’d have to put up with the mud and the insects and the smell of the organic toilet etc etc.

    Well, maybe it’s not such a good idea!

    As to wind turbines, I disagree – I’m not enthralled as to their power-generating merits – but I do think they look awesome on coastlines and out at sea. Maybe it’s because of their white colour which stands out immaculately against the green of the land and the blue of the sea. That said, I do think that in inland areas (e.g. between Edinburgh and Glasgow) they just look pitiably out of place. Like albatrosses surrounded by dirty sparrows and crows.

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    Nuclear is still expensive compared to coal and gas fired conventional power stations. Over reliance on gas creates its own infrastructure problems regarding gas storage and transportation. Coal is typically less efficient than gas though, with efficiency of a coal fired steam turbine at around 30-33% and a gas turbine at around 40%. New coal technologies are making them more efficient though, which can please both investors and reduce emissions per MWh. Nuclear may be the way forward, but unless you rely on government subsidisation, the cost of gas and coal generation will have to increase dramatically.

    I abhor wind turbines, and not just because I hate their aesthetics. Wind farms in the UK and Australia are subsidised by the state, not just for the initial infrastructure investment of the turbines themselves, but in the additional costs of building new conventional power stations as back-up for when the wind doesn’t blow. You get the farcical situation of building a wind farm that can operate for only part of the time and, for instance, a back up gas turbine that could theorhetically run continuously, maintenance downtime notwithstanding. Far be it from me to prevent private investors building wind farms on their property at their own expense, but when they dip into the public purse, I go all Don Quixote on them.

  • Benjamin Walter

    ‘Green dictators’? Perhaps, but compared to what one might call the ‘nuclear dictators’ they are what Duvalier was to Hitler, sticking to the fascist theme others have indulged in. Green energy is indeed a problematic issue but ultimately it is the only form of energy generation that can realistically be left to market forces. The nuclear industry is inherently unstable and government involvement is almost obligatory for both the building – through subsidy- and maintenance – no commercial insurer will go near the industry – of individual stations. Even with government support the industry is dangerous (remember Chernobyl?) in a way that green energy could never be. Also, the chances of the problems of wind turbines such as noise, inefficiency, etc. being remedied are far greater than the problems associated with nuclear fuel such as the disposal of waste, to give just one example. Green energy is the only form of energy generation for which both an ethical and market argument can be made. (The two seem to be becoming increasingly interlinked anyway as the market desire for ‘ethical’ products continues to grow.)

  • Alan Pedigrew

    With regard to Verity’s comments in defence of pylons perhaps she should examine the data for the high incidence of childhood leukeamia around them. Having a friend who works as a safety officer at the afforementioned nuclear power station I am quite aware of it’s safety profile. My comment refered to the almost deafening noise and the regular venting of high pressure ( noisy ) steam.
    How was the spelling and grammar by the way ?.

  • Amazing how much we a re willing to despoils our countryside,just to watch East Endes,heat up or Snack Pots and other such crass trivia.
    Interesting how only the structures of the windmills themselves are considered,not the fact that the infrastructure will strip the ancient top soil ultimately causing faster water run off,or that these areas once built on will never be open country again.
    What Phillistines!

  • mike

    “Also, the chances of the problems of wind turbines such as noise, inefficiency, etc. being remedied are far greater than the problems associated with nuclear fuel..”

    Could you enlighten me further as to how the noise of wind turbines is likely to be remedied?

  • mike

    Peter: which is why you try to build the bloody things out at sea!

  • Even with government support the industry is dangerous (remember Chernobyl?) in a way that green energy could never be.

    What do you mean “even with government support…”? Since when does government support make things better? Which do you think is easier to sue for malfeasances, a government or a company? Also, Chernobyl was not government ‘supported’, it was government owned.

    Green energy is the only form of energy generation for which both an ethical and market argument can be made. (The two seem to be becoming increasingly interlinked anyway as the market desire for ‘ethical’ products continues to grow.)

    Please explain the both the ‘market argument’ and how Green energy is ‘ethical’. I would be interested in see you elaborate on your contentions.

    I can understand how some people might prefer to purchase more expensive ‘Green’ energy as a personal market preference and I have no problem with that (like I have no problem with people buying into the whole daft ‘Fair Trade Coffee’ thing if it makes them feel better (pure marketing genius as far as I am concerned). I am not sure how well that would work with a sort of fungible product like energy however but I have not pondered that all too deeply thus far.

  • J. Random Engineer

    I … see both Wind Turbines and a Nuclear power station from my window. Given the choice the spinny things look more attractive. And I never worry about them going into melt down.

    This idea that we can have (nice) Wind or (nasty) Nuclear is a typical false dichotomy.

    A medium wind turbine produces 1MW (a large 2MW) sometimes, at random and unpredictable times. A medium nuke produces 500 MW (a large 1000MW) 24/7/365.

    Electricity is instantly perishable, it cannot realistically be stored at multi thousand MW levels. (Yes I know we can sacrifice a valley somewhere for a say 500 MW pumped storage system.)

    The choice is not: Nuclear or Wind.
    The choice is: Nuclear or Wind+Nuclear.

  • J. Random Engineer

    The choice is not: Nuclear or Wind.
    The choice is: Nuclear or Wind+Nuclear.

    I should point out that the Wind component is superfluous and a complete waste of effort and money. You cannot simply shut down a nuke for a few hours if you get lucky with the wind. It takes several days from turning the ignition key on a plant until production level is achieved.

    Wind is an irrelevant waste of taxpayer’s and power consumer’s money – the supply companies raise prices since they are forced to buy the Wind output even though they don’t need it and can’t sell it on to consumers who are already being satisified with conventional multi gigawatt 24/7/365 supplies. (As previously mentioned, it can’t be stored).

    As Verity said: constructing wind turbines is just appeasment to the powerful {pun} envirofascist lobby.

  • Pete

    It’s an odd reaction, isn’t it?

    So when we’ve got green cars powered by renewable sources (which could be pretty soon), will Greens still oppose cars?

    Course they will. That’s because it’s not really the (highly dubious) science of climate change that really worries them, otherwise they’d be stamping out Indonesian peat fires rather than urban 4x4s.

  • Mike,
    But that won’t happen as long as wind farming is a subsidised earner,turbines will go up wherever the wind energy companies can get away with it.
    Think Industrail Revolution,the twin bludgeons of dwindling resources and global warming will be used to silence criticism.Tone has given it his backing..it is bound to be a cock up.

  • Luniversal

    Not all environmentalists are anti-nukes. James Lovelock of ‘Gaia’ spoke up for them.

    Wind and wave also have their uses. Cold fusion and silicon power are interesting possibilities. A new coal mine has just opened in UK, the first since 1995. The more fuel-source arrows in our quiver (including conservation and a more modest way of life) the better.

    In fact, do you know? I suspect that this is going to turn out to be the 3,749th big issue in which humanity compromises, makes mistake, learns from them and muddles through, leaving the yah-boo-sucks dogmatists on the sidelines as always.

    Now off you go and get pissed in your back garden again, wearng funny T shirts.

  • Not all are anti-nuke, that is for sure, just most of them. Oh and if you think I have to put up with your snarky asides, you have another thing coming, jackass.

  • Verity

    Well, Perry beat me to the “ethical” argument. I don’t like your assumptions, Mr Pedigrew. Not everyone has a scintilla of interest in “ethical energy”. Since when did energy get a human conscience? Can you have honest energy? Compassionate energy? Mean-spirited energy? Sulky energy? Where will it all end?

    That childhood leukemia around electricity pylons canard is bullshit. I’ve seen figures disproving this theory. As you know, you can prove anything with statistics, and “green” organisations certainly do.

    All these arguments are based on emotion and manipulation by the green lobby. I agree with what Peter said, above. The green lobby are a bunch of dictatorial, intolerant fascists and should be ignored. I cannot imagine anyone being swayed by any of their arguments, their banners, their demonstrations. They are bunch of bossy attention-seekers and best ignored. Re the energy question, listen to scientists and businesspeople and let the kindergartners preach to each other and draw smiley faces.

  • Verity,
    Those wind farms are still going to need pylons other wise they might as well put Blackpool illuminations up there on the moors or out at sea.so shitty turbines and bloody pylons.

  • Verity

    I hate the language manipulation. Wind farms. What is lovelier and more harmless than a farm? The other name they are trying to get off the ground, so to speak, especially in France, is aeolian power.

  • Leo

    Any chance nuclear power plants could be built in the North Pole? People are afraid of nuclear energy. They don’t want it near their homes.

  • Verity

    No no no! It would accelerate global waaaaaarmming and cause the ice caps to melt, and kill all the fishies in the sea offshore and the sea birds wouldn’t have anything to eat so they would die, too. And the oceans would rise and wash away Huddersfield and Detroit. Arctic weather would come to Brazilian rain forests and kill off all the precious insects and all the cancer cures just about to be discovered in rare plants and tree barks! Iceland would turn into a big tropical lagoon!

    The Middle East would be swamped by tidal waves, unfortunately killing tens of millions of residents. The entire wind farm crop would be washed out to sea. An armed Greenpeace would take over the UN building and run the world.

    No. No nuclear plants at the N Pole.

  • Even Moonbat admits that renewables (powered from the big yellow nuclear reactor in the sky) cannot provide all the power needed to sustain our way of life. Efficiency is good (and saves money), some renewables are good (e.g. tidal, hydro, geothermal … windmills are a waste of resources). But the basic point is we need nukes and more of them.

  • J. Random Engineer

    Any chance nuclear power plants could be built in the North Pole?

    No. Transmission losses would be horrendous if the sink is far away like in Europe. (Transmission losses are proportional to the length of the transmission line). Also, it would be a bitch of a cable to lay.

    Iceland has lots of power capacity from geothermal & hydro sources. It is better to ship raw material (eg. bauxite) to Iceland, do the energy-intensive processing there, then ship the product (eg. aluminium) back.

  • Verity

    J Random Engineer – “Also, it would be a bitch of a cable to lay.”

    Well, they laid the Aleyska pipeline, so I’m sure they could do it.

  • Jacob

    “Green energy is indeed a problematic issue but ultimately it is the only form of energy generation ….”

    Green energy is indeed problematic. The problem is simple: there is no such thing.
    The quantities of “green energy” available are tiny and insignificant.

  • Verity

    Wot Jacob said.

  • Verity

    Why don’t we just use everything up and have a big party?

    The Western mind is endlessly inventive. We are never going to run out of anything because by the time supplies get low, we’ll have moved on to something new. I hope whatever it is is artificial, uses up lots of natural resources and is cheap enough for us all to employ with thoughtless lavishness.

  • J. Random Engineer


    J Random Engineer – “Also, it would be a bitch of a cable to lay.”


    Verity – “Well, they laid the Aleyska pipeline, so I’m sure they could do it.”

    Of course they could do it, but why would they want to? I was just pointing out that the task is non-trivial (read: very expensive).

    So, if the nukes are at the N.Pole, there’d be high capital expenditure simply to remove the nukes from the UK, plus high operational losses. Big expenditure for a dubious benefit.

    Undersea electric fields send sharks bonkers and they attack the cable – ask any telecom cable operator. These hypothetical cables would need massive armouring to protect them, and I wouldn’t fancy the life chances of any shark that succeeds in biting through and getting a gobfull of 10 million volts. I’ve seen a bird land and earth on a 25,000 volt cable … or rather I haven’t since it exploded.

    Incidentally, these shark attacks are one reason why undersea fibre-optic telecom cables are better than copper ones – the fibre doesn’t emanate electric fields, and also needs fewer amplifiers per 100km hence lower power. They still need to be hauled up and repaired though, whether for (reduced) shark attacks or seismic events.

  • John Rippengal

    We seem to be saturated with old wives tales but the last from Random Engineer really takes the biscuit. Having been associated with undersea telecoms cables for 40 years the bit about sharks attacking cables with electric fields is total rubbish. The bit about leukaemia around pylons is equal twaddle.

    Then again there are the groundless fears about mobile phone masts. None of the old wives who create such mayhem about these harmless installations thinks twice about clamping a mobile phone to her head but of course she will get about a million times the radiation dose that she could ever get from a base station mast.

    The problem with nuclear power is that the whole subject has been surrounded with such a pitch of irrational hysteria that of course it is difficult and extremely expensive to construct one. The almost impossible safety demands of such hysteria multiply the costs enormously and the time to build even more. Constant reference to the ‘waste’ problem conjure up images of vast dumps of unimaginably toxic mountains.

    Total deaths from nuclear power from the time the first reactors were started 60 years ago is 45 (Chernobyl).
    The total volume of high level waste from the entire British nuclear program including all military and civilian activities since 1945 can be put in the volume of 6 Route Master buses.

    Contrast those figures with the tens of thousands of deaths and injuries and the huge mountains of millions of tons of waste and billions of tons of carbon dioxide produced by other major forms of energy in the same period.

  • Benjamin Walter

    Mr Perry,

    You are indeed correct: Chernobyl was government owned, not supported. You ask “when does government support make things better?” Look at America. The most dynamic sectors of American industry – computers (including the internet) and military technology, both of which have millions of civilian uses – are backed to the hilt by the State through subsidy and intervention. You are probably aware of the gap between rhetoric and reality in American politics, but let me remind you anyway: America is one of the most protectionist Western nations and has been since the civil war (the Southern Confederacy was committed to free trade to a greater extent than the United States have ever been); the champion of the free market, Reagan, was more protectionist than every post-war President put together; and the massive advances in American technology are all examples of sustained and intensive State intervention and anti-market practices.

    How is Green energy ethical? Through it’s commitment to sustainable energy production and the avoidance of environmental degradation. Again, this is an example (like Fair Trade, as you pointed out) of the gap between ‘values’ and reality. Just as Fair Trade is little but a quality assurance programme – i.e. it protects the simpering, middle-class Western consumer not the African or Latin American grower – so Green energy is little but a marketing tool. The environmental effects of Green energy have been pointed out. But the point remains: compared to Nuclear it is safer, more sustainable and the possibility of leaving it to market forces greater than with Nuclear.

  • Ron

    Can’t we look over the world for an example of a nuclear power station about 5-10 years old that has performed as reliably as can be expected, go to whoever it was that designed it and ask them to build 10 or 20 more ***exactly*** the same?

    BTW, a good test of nerve is to walk up to a wind turbine on a windy day with your eyes continuously fixed on the hub and see how close you dare to walk directly under the moving blades. Seems easy at first, but when you get close that 6 foot gap between your head and the arcing 150mph blade tip feels more like 6 inches!

  • Verity

    To make it even more scary, you could jump up and down.

  • J. Random Engineer

    We seem to be saturated with old wives tales but the last from Random Engineer really takes the biscuit. Having been associated with undersea telecoms cables for 40 years the bit about sharks attacking cables with electric fields is total rubbish.

    Hmm. Well I defer to your greater experience of cables – I only spent 5 years in telecoms, on the Switching side rather than Transmission, and I was told about the shark problem by Transmission guys, please don’t tell me they were pulling my plonker.

    FWIW here is a WSJ report from 1986 about sharks attacking cables. From a 1923 NYT report about cable laying it seems that icebergs and deep sea trawling were a greater problem, although sharks are mentioned too. (For a lengthy text on the difficulty of long distance (low voltage) cable see this).

    Anyway this is going off-topic, and my basic point stands that it doesn’t make sense to locate the power source far away from its users (eg. at N.Pole). If the power source is immovable, say geothermal / hydro, then it makes sense to move heavy industrial plant to be near the power source, ref: Iceland.

    Can’t we look over the world for an example of a nuclear power station about 5-10 years old that has performed as reliably as can be expected, go to whoever it was that designed it and ask them to build 10 or 20 more ***exactly*** the same?

    Hearsay suggests that Chinese pebble-bed technology is worth a look.

  • Jacob

    Total deaths from nuclear power from the time the first reactors were started 60 years ago is 45 (Chernobyl).

    Total deaths have indeed been about 60-70 – not too much…
    But hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated, i.e. lost their homes, abandoned in a hurry. Hundreds of thousands acres of farm land in Ukraine and Belarus have been rendered incultivable. An area about 50 km in radius around Chernobyl has been declared uninhabitable – too dangerous.
    No trivial outcome.
    Still, the safety record of the nuclear power industry as a whole is better than that of conventional power.

  • zmollusc

    J. Random Engineer, where does the electricity go that the windmills push into the grid, if not to the billable electricity consumers? Are there big resistor banks to soak up the excess? Or is the surplus electricity allowed to evaporate?

    What Engineering field are you in?

  • Julian Morrison

    Windmills exist because and only because of regulations. We shouldn’t even have to be talking about them. Grub the damn things up and good riddance.

    A free energy market would probably right now invest in coal. Old style nuclear was never profitable without subsidy, and pebble bed etc. are nice in theory but a bit risky. Wait and let the Chinese and South Africans make the newbie mistakes.

  • Wild Pegasus

    A free energy market would probably be much more heavily decentralised than it is now. Lost in all this talk of energy generation is the pervasiveness of government subsidy, monopoly charter, and corporate assistance. It was government that chartered the monopolies and centralised the production of electricity, and not markets.

    Nuclear power shouldn’t even be on the table for free marketers, because there’s no way in hell you’re going to get a nuclear plant without massive subsidy. The non-free market Economist nailed this point several years ago.

    - Josh