Nuclear Power

In its effort to control global warming and the resulting climate change, the world should not ignore nuclear power.  Nuclear power produces no greenhouse gases.  Many environmentalists oppose nuclear power because they fear an accident.  They would rather freeze in the dark than build another nuclear power plant to keep the heat and lights on.  Dealing with climate change would be easier if the it did not require giving up creature comforts like heat, light, the internet, electric cars, and all the other things that run on electricity.  We can produce electricity without producing greenhouse gases.  We should not turn out backs to that option. 

With current technology, it appears unlikely that the US can replace all carbon-fueled electric generation plants with renewable sources of electricity.  Wind and solar can produce significant amounts of electricity, but neither can be depended on to produce the needed amount 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  Hydroelectric power from dams has been a long-time important source of electricity, but a water shortage is seriously limiting power production in the western US.  Storage technologies like batteries and hydrogen can help fill gaps when solar or wind power are unavailable, but so far is incapable to supporting the entire US power grid, leaving the job of picking up the slack to carbon-fueled plants that emit greenhouse gases.  Nuclear could pick up the slack easily without emitting greenhouse gases. 

Accidents at nuclear plants are a hazard.  There have been serious nuclear accidents, such as Chernobyl and Fukushima, but others, such as Three Mile Island, caused little lasting harm.  Compared to the disasters that climate change may bring, even the serious accidents may be less harmful than climate change.  The affect many people, but are localized, while climate change affects the whole world, bringing drought, crop failures, starvation, mass migration, hurricanes, rising sea levels, flooding cities.  Climate change is more likely to destroy several major cities than nuclear power is. 

Evidence of the fact that nuclear power is relatively safe is the fact that the average age of the 94 nuclear reactors operating at the 56 nuclear power plants in the US is 39 years old, according to the US Energy Information Agency.  Twenty-three nuclear reactors are shut down and being decommissioned.  These reactors produce about 20 percent of the electric power in the US.  The Energy Information Agency projects that because nuclear plants are old and are not being replaced, nuclear power will have less generating capacity in 2050 than it had in 2020.  This will be bad for global warming. 

Yellow Rain

This article from ADST reminds me of a trip I made to Udorn, Thailand, while serving at the embassy in Bangkok.  Udorn had been a huge Air Force base during the Vietnam War, but when I was in Thailand in the 1980s there was very little left there, except an American Consulate with very few employees. As the embassy computer systems manager, I went up to Udorn to help them with their computers. An embassy secretary (administrative assistant) with a lot of time on her hands used her new PC to inventory everything in the consulate, down to the number of pencils. I was happy to help her do something c

On my way home to Bangkok one of the officers at the consulate asked me if I would take something back for the embassy. He gave me a picnic cooler with biohazard labels on the side. This was about the time when the dispute about “yellow rain” was at its peak. Was it bee pollen or a deadly biochemical weapon? I was inclined toward the bee pollen viewpoint, so I wasn’t too worried, but I wondered what Thai Airlines would say about putting a biohazard in the overhead luggage rack. They didn’t say anything. We all arrived safely, and I took the picnic cooler into the embassy. I never knew what happened to it.


Cybercurrencies are here to stay.  Maybe Bitcoin is too, but not at the levels it currently holds.  Tulips are still here, but the tulip mania of the 1630s has passed.  Bitcoin was originally intended to be a medium of exchange that would be insulated from almost all external control.  This anonymity made it an excellent means of exchange for illegal activities, most recently illustrated by the fact that most of the ransomware attacks on private data have demanded payment in Bitcoin. 

Bitcoin transactions are recorded by blockchain, which is like an old accounting ledger.  It contains every Bitcoin transaction, although looking at blockchain from the outside, you can tell that a transaction is verified, but you cannot tell who the parties were or how much Bitcoin was involved.  As one of the parties to the transaction, however, you can pull out the specific information.  So, if Elon Musk for example says you never paid him for your Tesla, you can prove that you did using blockchain. 

The Economist magazine recently explored what would happen to the financial markets if Bitcoin went to zero.  It illustrates how far Bitcoin has come from mainly being a payment mechanism for drug dealers and other criminals to store of value rivaling gold bullion.  Many old school financial institutions — banks, hedge funds, and payment systems like PayPal — have begun to invest in and accept Bitcoin.  The Economist speculates that a Bitcoin crash would also crash the broader financial markets, and the more widely accepted Bitcoin becomes, the bigger the crash would be.  Because there is so much speculation today in Bitcoin, much of the investment is leveraged, likely leading to margin calls and liquidations in the event of a Bitcoin crash. 

The Economist says that “because changing dollars for bitcoin is slow and costly, traders wanting to realize gains and reinvest proceeds often transact in stablecoins” pegged to the dollar, like Tether.  The fact that traders think Bitcoin transactions are slow and costly is ironic, since Bitcoin was conceived as a payment mechanism.  But the reliance on Tether and other stablecoins creates problems for these currencies, which are somewhat like money market funds that are vulnerable if they are insufficiently backed, which many regulators believe they are. 

It is ironic that as Bitcoin has become seen as a store of value, it has become less used as a transaction mechanism, which was its original purpose.  But many Bitcoin proponents tout Bitcoin as a way for the poor, unbanked people around the world to participate in the financial system with their wealthier cohorts. 

Because of that prospect of some kind of cybercoin becoming a worldwide medium of exchange, central banks around the world, like the US Federal Reserve, are looking a creating cybercurrencies that would not have some of the negative aspects of Bitcoin.  If cybercurrencies become widespread, will that take some of the luster off of Bitcoin. 

Bitcoins will always represent the massive amounts of energy that were required to produce them.  This unenvironmental aspect of Bitcoin is supposedly what make Elon Musk change his mind and refuse to accept Bitcoins for Teslas.  If Bitcoin were to go to zero, that would be an awful lot of wasted energy and greenhouse gases. 

Bitcoin will have to find its long-term value.  When it was first being mined, it was worth a few thousand dollars.  I would guess that in the long term, it will return to something like that, less than $10,000 per Bitcoin.  It will retain some value as a medium of exchange for criminals, since national cybercurrencies will be more traceable.  Also, national central banks will probably be able to print their new cybercurrencies like the Fed now prints paper dollars, making the new currencies less valuable as a hedge against inflation.