Monday, March 26, 2012

Nuclear Insurance and Safety Checks

The two major valid economic criticisms against the expansion of nuclear power have been the large initial capital cost investment and uncertainty regarding the cost of cleanup for any meltdown or similar type event. Any fears surrounding the possibility of a meltdown event itself are rather unfounded. Opponents of nuclear power would immediately take offense to that previous statement citing the two events: Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi. While true these citations are not relevant to the current environment. Chernobyl occurred due to an improperly designed experiment on the fourth reactor, an illogical residence time on back-up power generation and a shelved and generally bad plant design. Using Chernobyl as a boogieman for nuclear power is akin to using the Hindenburg as a boogieman for air travel.

Fukushima Daiichi was a 40+ year old plant, based on a 50+ year old design, that was built and maintained in such a way that Japanese authorities were basically betting on a disaster. The plant was constructed in the worst possible place due to its high probability of tsunami and seismic activity (if the plant operator TEPCO did not change the original location of the plant for trivial economic reasons the meltdown NEVER would have happened); also the Japanese government allowed TEPCO to evade legitimate and genuine safety inspections and upgrades for decades along with TEPCO falsifying numerous ‘safety’ checks.

The meltdown was caused by a lack of power available to cool the water immersing the nuclear rods. The reason for this lack of power is that the backup power for the plant was not constructed in a manner that would isolate it from any event which would knock out the main power generator. In its entirety the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi occurred due to human error, greed and stupidity not any technical failure associated with nuclear power. Note that one of the main common themes here between both meltdowns is poor backup power planning and execution.

Therefore, if one eliminates these human faults nuclear power should not foster any reasonable fear of detrimental consequence. However, if there is no detrimental consequence when behaving responsibly why is the uncertainty regarding cost cleanup an influencing factor in the cost to construct a nuclear power plant? The rationality behind this concern is the uncertainty itself. Despite all of the bold statements about risk and reward in capitalism the simple fact is that private companies are reluctant to make any significant move when risk is involved (unless someone else is paying for it) and uncertainty embodies significant risk. Therefore, even though the certainty of the event is non-existent when appropriate safety steps are taken, the uncertainty is what is scary. Oddly enough individuals are so afraid of the size of x they do not realize that it is being multiplied by 0. Unfortunately logic will not work in this situation so a strategy must be developed to assuage these concerns.

One particular strategy that does not appear to have been tapped, which could provide useful for problems of human neglect/malfeasance and uncertainty is suppose the controlling government within the boarders of any new nuclear construction guarantees to cover all costs associated with any nuclear reactor event which is not attributable to human error for the company running the plant. In exchange the company MUST comply with a yearly safety audit of the plant conducted by both the government as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency. Under such an agreement the cost uncertainty associated with any catastrophic meltdown, however unrealistic, will no longer be a concern for the company and the country housing the plant will eliminate the only real factor which could lead to a meltdown, human greed and incompetence, by initiating safety compliance. One additional element to this strategy could be a condition where the government seizes the power plant if the operating company fails to comply with the necessary safety recommendations from the previous year.

The elimination of the uncertainty element should speed the overall attractiveness of constructing nuclear power plants not only from the company perspective, but also for the public. A significant obstacle for nuclear power construction is blind resistance by the public to nuclear power brought about by fear largely born from this uncertainty. While capital costs are typically high for the most part these costs associated with plant construction are not nearly as crippling as most nuclear opponents would like others to believe. Relative to other methods of electricity generation over the average lifespan of the plant nuclear power actually becomes more cost effective than all other forms of electricity generation when external factors are considered.1 Initial capital costs can also be reduced through plant design standardization.

Overall although the cost uncertainty associated with nuclear power accidents should be reduced to basically zero with logic, responsible planning and maintenance, and properly trained staff it does not appear that these elements are enough when actually trying to construct power plants. The above strategy of combining funds with the meeting safety inspections is one way to eliminate this uncertainty problem. Despite the belief of those in the anti-nuclear camp it is highly improbable to anticipate that solar and wind resources will be able to steam the deleterious affects of global warming alone, thus addressing the uncertainty problem is critically important.


1. The Economics of Nuclear Power. World Nuclear Association Dec. 2011;

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Where Tim Tebow Should Go

After Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos the next question was obviously what should happen with Tim Tebow? The two most popular landing spots in the media have him in either Jacksonville or New England; not surprisingly those who believe that these two spots are the leaders in the proverbial clubhouse have abandoned logic. So why are these two teams wrong for Tim Tebow?

The Jacksonville angle has been played up as ‘Hometown Hero Tim Tebow returns to Florida where his “god-like” status will revitalize a disinterested public making them care about the Jaguars through buying tickets and merchandize in droves and saving their team from moving to Los Angeles’. While there is strong reason to believe that in the interim such a scenario will play out successfully, this belief has a long-term problem. The fact is that Tim Tebow is not a quality quarterback and barring a miracle he has a long way to go before becoming a quality quarterback, if he ever becomes one. Therefore, while residence of Jacksonville may get caught up in Tebowmania when he first arrives, unless he CONSISTENTLY wins their excitement and allegiance will not last. So what is the probability of success when adding a below average quarterback to a team that has an above average running back with below average everything else?

The simple fact is that if Tim Tebow has to compete for the job with Chad Henne and the competition is fair Chad Henne should best Tebow. The argument that Tebow will somehow make people compete or bring a sense of ‘toughness’ is perplexing because how can a below-average quarterback apply pressure to anyone in a motivational construct? Also the Tebow-toughness corollary is based on nothing but his competitive drive, which can only go so far and has a very limited track record for any type of influence. Thus probability dictates that for Tebow to even be the starter in Jacksonville he has to be handed the job outright. In some context the situation would be similar to Denver just with less talented players on both offense and defense.

The New England angle has been played up as ‘Short-yardage wizard Tim Tebow joins Super Genius Hall of Famer Bill Belichick for a plethora of touchdowns.’ The problem with this scenario is two-fold. First, Tim Tebow has not been quiet about the subject of his position. He wants to be a starting quarterback not a back-up quarterback, not a situational quarterback that takes 10 snaps a game, not a half-back, not a fullback, not a tight-end, etc. With Tom Brady as the starting quarterback on New England Tim Tebow will have no reasonable expectation at becoming a starting quarterback anytime soon especially with Brain Hoyer as a backup with more experience and talent. Second there is nothing special about the New England offense that can augment Tebow’s skill set making him a more effective situational player. Thus how is the New England situation any different or even better than the current situation in Denver?

The team that actually should be pursuing Tim Tebow, yet is never mentioned is the Buffalo Bills. Ryan Fitzpatrick can be released from his currently insane and hastily offered contract extension freeing up a spot for Tim Tebow to compete for the starting job against Brad Smith and Tyler Thigpen. Fred Jackson is a better version of Willis MaGahee and Steve Johnson is thought to be better than any receiver he had in Denver. The offense can be converted to a system more comfortable to his tastes and with the young and talented defensive line the general theme of play for the Bills can be controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. With sporadic threats of possibly moving more home games to Toronto the addition of Tim Tebow should spark enough fan interest to belay further exodus. Add to the fact that the Buffalo Bills have not been to the playoffs since 1999 expectations for Tim Tebow will be quite low (Jacksonville was last in the playoffs in 2007).

While Buffalo seems to be the best place for Tim Tebow, the real question teams have to ask themselves is what is the purpose of attracting Tebow? The problem with Tebow is that no reasonable person would suggest that a team can win a Superbowl with him as their starting quarterback and based on his current rate of progression there is no reason to believe that Superbowl appearances or victories are in his future.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Potential Hypocrisy of ‘Supporting the Troops’

"Support the Troops", a rather simple statement that continues to be a flashpoint of emotional and political fervor in the United States; sadly all of that emotional and political energy clouds the abject failure to live up to it. The very concept of supporting the troops only came into prominence in the last few decades initially as a response to the inappropriate conduct of citizenry towards soldiers returning from Vietnam. These soldiers were improperly viewed as a voluntary arm of the U.S. government, which anti-war protesters believed manipulated intelligence to conduct war for economic and political reasons. Unfortunately the soldiers were caught in a Catch-22 quandary as if they refused to serve they faced possible criminal prosecution where if they did serve they faced death and ridicule from the very people they were serving to protect. In addition the soldiers had no real power to control the course of events between the U.S. and other sovereign nations, so realistically all they could be responsible for regarding the events in Vietnam was their own conduct.

In effort to avoid the repeating the shameful treatment of those soldiers involved in Vietnam the slogan “Support the Troops” was founded. Unfortunately the concept of supporting the troops was twisted and corrupted by politicians by connecting it directly to the patriotism of an individual and their personal opinion regarding current military conflict; George W. Bush and this administration perpetrated the most egregious violation of the spirit of this mantra. Under George W. Bush if one questioned military conflict orchestrated by the U.S. in any region of the world, not only would the patriotism of that individual be challenged, but also their support of the men and women giving their lives in the conflict. Of course this corruption of the spirit of the mantra further clouded its misapplication. Today there are two rather large misconceptions regarding what it means to support the troops that still have prominence today.

First, when one supports the troops this support should not be a blanket of unconditional support. For instance how it is morally justifiable to support the actions of a soldier that murders citizens of the country in which the conflict is occurring when those citizens propose no direct threat? Those troops deserve no level of support and should not receive any. The total war philosophy that citizens can later turn into possible combatants or that they support current combatants with their activities both on a recreational and occupational level is foolish. The probability that these non-violent citizens enter combat activities is largely determined by the actions of the parties engaging in combat.

For example it is unreasonable to restrict most occupational tasks carried out by a citizen because such action is necessary for the survival of the individual and such restriction would lead to resentment. If the citizenry of a given region does not view the combatants as a conquering, occupying or barbarous force then little concern should be given to the concept of the citizenry turning violent. Therefore, there is no reason to kill them. Some may say that it is difficult to criticize troops without first hand knowledge of their experiences in a combat zone and although that is true, there is a clear difference between justifiable homicide and murder and differentiation between the two should not be clouded behind a uniform.

Second, it is foolish to believe that genuinely supporting the troops is a very simple task that only requires the purchase of a silly colored magnet stuck to a motor vehicle. Actually supporting the troops is derived from passing legislation that is beneficial to troops both on the battlefield and on the home front. It is sadly hypocritical that a number of individuals who display visual symbols proclaiming support for troops also vote for elected officials who cut veteran medical benefits, refuse to raise salaries for soldier while gleefully raising their own and cut education opportunities for the soldiers and their children. These individuals 'support the troops' by making it harder for them to live quality lives during and after the tenure of service is over. Clearly supporting the troops goes beyond simply saying it and displaying some superficial object. Truly supporting the troops involves voting for elected officials that will provide better training and equipment, a reasonable salary and quality benefits. In addition the public must put pressure on politicians and commanding officers to ensure proper strategies are executed and enough resources are allocated to reduce the probability of casualties and the livelihood of the wounded.

Finally military commanders themselves must support the troops by abandoning the outdated notion of ensuring each death has a purpose. The need to provide purpose to death is silly because when an individual dies for a goal that is not achieved, why is that death meaningless? The real purpose of existence is in the way a person lives life and the decisions that are made during that life. The circumstances and end result of an individual's death are irrelevant when defining the purpose of individual's existence. Of course certain deaths can be considered tragic, unexpected and even unfair, but one should not look at death as having a purpose or not.

For instance if a soldier dies in battle for the cause of freedom for his occupied country and the revolution fails, it is wrong to say that the individual's death was without purpose. To only judge a death based on the final outcome of the event leading to the death is shortsighted and stupid. It would be great if all just causes people died for were eventually achieved, but that is not reality. In the case of the military, individuals who join the military are well aware of the consequences and the potential for death, thus by volunteering they accept these consequences for the opportunity to fight for and protect what they view as important. Therefore, to commit more resources or troops to a cause for the sole purpose of giving meaning to the deaths of those who have already fallen is foolish, irresponsible and has the potential to create a greater number of individuals that die without meaning in the eyes of those that possess this narrow view of existence.