214 Comments

There's a structural similarity between this issue and (believe it or not) moving centrist on Democratic branding. In both cases, Matt is calling the bluff of people who claim to be scared of something.

Are you scared of climate change? Really, really scared? Do you think it may be an extinction-level event for human beings? Then you should be willing to try a lot of things to avoid it -- even giving up some of your previous lefty/liberal stances on nuclear.

Are you scared of a second Trump presidency? Really, really scared? Do you think it may be an extinction-level event for American democracy? Then you should be willing to try a lot of other things to avoid it -- even giving up some of your previous lefty/liberal stances on [uncompromising leftism, a variety of social issues, you name it.]

" I'll do anything to stop Trump/climate change, but I won't compromise on historical preservation!" is a pretty good way to show that we should not take your predictions of catastrophe seriously.

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I guess the way I see this is that groups/institutions simply reflect the biases of the people that make them up. I can understand how a rationalist might say "we create institutions and procedures to overcome biases" but I am a bit more cynical and think while that's possible, mostly organizations reflect the biases of their members.

And people are super inconsistent about everything! In the same way that people are afraid of planes but not cars even though cars are so much more dangerous. Try telling that to someone who is afraid of flying and see how much it helps.

Another example that has been annoying me is people being incredibly inconsistent with covid mitigations they're taking - I know a lot of people who are wearing masks in the grocery store but still seeing friends without masks on weekends. Is this a consistent risk-based approach? No, but again, try telling that to them.

So while your examples of inconsistency are both good examples (and very annoying to me personally!), I guess my perspective is that we shouldn't expect groups of people to be more rational than their constituents unless they're explicitly trying to, and most people are super irrational.

In fact, the issue of information bubbles online which is probably making the whole actually much worse than the parts, because people are reinforcing each others' errors!

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I don’t know, I think your example shows rational cost-benefit analysis. Wearing a mask out in public costs almost nothing, whereas having no social life carries a heavy penalty (and not just hedonically; lonely people die earlier). What you’re describing makes a lot more sense to me than trying to keep your infection risk at steady 1-in-10,000 or whatever throughout every second of the day.

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I guess I would say that wearing a mask in relatively spaced public settings accomplishes close to nothing, so it's low cost low benefit whereas the social situation is high cost high benefit - fair enough that those aren't the quadrants I'm trying to highlight. The obvious low cost high benefit is vaccines and high cost low benefit is something like excessive surface cleaning - certainly I can think of some people who are messing that up! But I was trying to go for a more broad example and was maybe a little off.

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The climate change case is not like the car vs. plane cases.

It's more like someone who claims to be deathly afraid of planes, but flies instead of driving, because they "reject the car-centric lifestyle."

Their claim to be deathly afraid of planes is belied by their refusal to reconsider their opposition to cars. When the option was driving, it turned out that they weren't so deathly afraid of planes after all.

You're focused on people making innumerate calculations of risk (treating planes as more dangerous than cars). But at least most of the people who say that they are terrified of flying then act consistently with that claim, by *not flying* if they can avoid it.

Matt is targeting people whose public rhetoric proclaims one set of risk calculations, but whose actions reveal that they are guided by a different set of risk calculations. They say climate change is the worst possible thing, but then they act as though putting windmills into their ocean view would be a worse thing.

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I guess it depends on understanding what is going on in people's heads, which is always dangerous. The way I see it, to someone who thinks planes are dangerous and cars are fine, those ideas don't contradict because they aren't evaluating them on a consistent rational basis, they're treating them as separate issues where they have feelings on both.

That's the same as someone who says that climate change is critical and so is conserving this habitat or that view, those ideas don't contradict, because there's no underlying decision-making structure or rational approach.

But there are lots of ways to be wrong so definitely you could point out lots of ways people can mess things up! It's our specialty.

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This is why we need a pragmatic and courageous leadership in government, rather than ideological arsonists.

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How did that work from 2017 - 2021?

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Unregulated private enterprise did a great job loosing wild fires at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and more recently at Grenfell Tower. It's the Republican/Tory way!

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Wasn't Grenfell Tower council housing?

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Shhh, don’t you know that the failures of government show how private enterprise doesn’t work?

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Which was administered by a private firm, the KCTMO, which hired a private firm to do the insulating, which used unsafe insulation because it was cheaper, which was on the market because the building standards organization had been privatized as well.

Read up a bit, so that you can see the role of private enterprise in the whole debacle. "Sweep away the complexity and regulation" and sometimes what you get is many deaths.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grenfell_Tower_Inquiry_Phase_2#Kensington_and_Chelsea_Tenants_Management_Organisation_(TMO)

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Do any serious people really think climate change threatens human survival? Have they made plans to liquidate their portfolios and party hard, or are they going to go on saving until the rapture?

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Climate change could still be a threat to human survival and not justify liquidating savings and partying 20-50 years ahead of time.

But I find "extinction-level threat" to be annoyingly misleading. I was using some pretty flowery (scary) language when someone tried to take me down a peg by pointing out that, at worse, climate change would make Paris (France, my city of residence) temperature similar to that of Timbuktu. And since people live in Timbuktu, there was nothing to be alarmist about.

Well, that's fair. But I would gladly support quite a few policies including Thanos snapping his fingers rather than living in a world where Paris ends up in a couple of decades with Timbuktu-like temperatures.

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Me and Tim a huntin' went

Saw three whores inside a tent

Since they was three and we was two

I bucked one and Timbuktu

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Afterwards I assume you and Tim went to Nantucket. For the sun, surf and limericks.

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Does Joe Biden count as a "serious person"? He's called it the "existential threat of our time": https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-12-19/biden-calls-climate-change-existential-threat-of-our-time

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"Are you scared of climate change? Really, really scared? Do you think it may be an extinction-level event for human beings?"

Counterpoint: Do you really, really want to be reelected? Then vote for these heating oil subsidies so you can take credit for them next winter.

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Thanks for this, Matt. As a trained and experienced nuclear reactor operator (Navy propulsion) I can tell anyone that reactors are safe, reliable, and can be built. The Navy gets around the NRC by using a different organization: Naval Reactors. NR is very stringent but they also understand that reactors must be built. So we've had new classes of submarines, aircraft carriers, approved in timely fashion and relied on for national security for decades. Not a single nuclear incident. They are refueled every 25 years. Compare to my other ship while serving, which ran on jet fuel and had to refuel every other day. Nuclear power is an amazing achievement of engineering and science, and I wish that more people were doing cost-benefits here instead of knee-jerking and feeling proud of themselves because they "failed conservative".

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Hadn't thought about the wonderful counter-example process we have in the Navy! There must be something there on messaging too. Leverage the Navy angle to get more right wing support for nuclear, pull in pragmatic center/center left on obvious climate/energy security upsides and might have some kind of working majority on the issue.

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I’m for letting the military run this is civilian organizations can’t. The real problem is that Congress doesn’t want to say they don’t want nuclear. That’s fine, but Dems need to admit they don’t believe in science and climate change.

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I'm not a huge fan of nuclear for various reasons (discussed at length on the nuke bros thread), but I think the Navy is a good example of 1) the right way to do it, 2) the utility specifically of small reactors for particular use-cases. The general fixation on utility-scale nuclear has, I think, been bad for everyone involved, and especially for nuclear proponents.

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Can you link me to your reasons? Right now my mindset is that there's no downside to nuclear power except up-front capital investment. If we just pushed it through and ignored protesters we'd soon enjoy abundant clean energy. Also lots of great engineering and operations roles, not to mention we'd be using uranium that would otherwise be used for weapons. But I'm interested in your perspective.

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This Austin Vernon post makes the case that nuclear isn't currently cost competitive with wind and solar for utility scale power generation due to the inefficiencies inherent in the physics of boiling water to run turbines, even assuming the most efficient international construction cost examples for new nuclear power plants. https://austinvernon.site/blog/nuclear.html

On the other hand the post makes a good case for nuclear being very competitive to power individual devices and vehicles which is exactly what the Navy is doing with it. As Matt previously discussed it may also be very useful to replace diesel electric generators in remote locations.

Of course even if nuclear is ultimately not cost competitive at widespread utility scale electricity generation that inefficiency is not a reason for regulatory blockades that prevent it from even being tried.

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Thanks Sarah!

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Correct. The shielding is very, very good. The truly deleterious health effects are mostly heart issues due to rage at the uninformed.

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This passage really alarmed me: "And what gives people in the industry heartburn is that the NRC has, in fact, never approved a nuclear reactor from start to finish since its creation in 1975."

Human knowledge needs to be continually passed on, from person to person, in order to continue to be useful and applied in the world. That includes knowledge of how to regulate the construction and operation of a new power plant. The longer we go without successfully building a new power plant, the more old timers working in these agencies are going to retire or die, and then we won't have anyone around who's actually done the thing that these agencies are supposed to know how to do. We need to get on it!

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The fact that so many parts of our government are unable or unwilling to fulfill their stated functions is a major problem for the progressive movement.

I’m not totally sure what can be done. Could a focused executive team reform these departments? I’d like to think so, but Obama didn’t and Biden seems disinterested. Meanwhile, passport processing is up to six months.

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I don't think much can be done about, at least in our current era. At best a sufficiently committed Republican trifecta could eliminate a few minor agencies.

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Agreed. It is disturbing to see that even the ones who seem mostly competent seem to be asleep at the wheel when it comes to this stuff. Maybe there are things getting better that just don't make the front page. Always have to hold out hope.

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"The fact that so many parts of our government are unable or unwilling to fulfill their stated functions is a major problem for the progressive movement."

I can see this dynamic playing out at the city level, e.g. Seattle, an arguably progressive run city. The city bureaucracy continues to grow at a healthy pace....while the mountains of trash, human waste, and used needles grow ever taller, and the roads and bridges fall farther into disrepair.

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If you pay attention to progressive city politics, you will notice that every once in a while a sufficiently oblivious yuppie articulates a vision of the place being clean, safe, pleasant, and efficient according to his upper-middle-class aesthetics. The whole polity comes together to pummel him into the ground. Not only is that not the policy goal, it’s an unconscionable transgression to even suggest that it might be.

Progressive cities are governed just fine, in the sense that the apparatus of government faithfully carries out the will of the people. The people just will themselves some weird stuff. For example the freedom and autonomy of those struggling with homelessness and drug addiction is considered much more important than their effects on their neighbors.

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As an alternative (or complement) to piercing the corporate veil, require liability insurance. Let highly-rated insurance companies collect premiums, send out their experts, and pay up if it all goes sideways.

FWIW, the Underwriters Laboratory safety group started on behalf of, well, spoiler alert, insurance underwriters.

https://www.ul.com/about/history

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I had an internship at Idaho National Lab and although it was a nice time it was clear to me I didn't want to work in the nuclear industry because it seemed to me like it was on the decline and there might not be a real future in it. Not to mention there were people ten years older than me who couldn't point to a single thing that they'd concretely done because even the smallest design changes can take 15 years - I worked on usability so we're not talking about new reactors, we're talking better knobs and switches.

By the way, most of the nuclear plants in the US use the original control room designs from 60 - 70 years ago, so instead of big monitors showing temperatures you still have moving needles printing on rolls of paper like old lie detector tests. But getting instrumentation updates through the NRC was just incredibly difficult.

The main reason people finally got serious about updating is that they literally can't buy the old equipment any more, analog instrumentation like that literally isn't used in anything else.

Articles like this make me think that (unfortunately) I was right to take a different path (the medical field, where I deal with the other regulator that this Substack likes to bash).

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There is a Law of Bureaucracies that flows from the old saying "Victory has a thousand fathers; defeat is an orphan".

If the NRC approves a new design that goes on to be a success, that's a great job by some faceless bureaucrats we will never hear about.

But if the new design goes BOOM, so do the careers of the formerly faceless.

The incentive of any sane careerist is to say "no" outright, or to raise more questions. "Yes" can only end badly. (This goes on in the credit review department at banks, as a private sector example.)

Understanding that dynamic is the key to any kind of reform or oversight. As an offhand example, it is an argument *in favor* of the infamous revolving door - a regulator who says 'yes' occasionally can cash in by going over to the other side. (Obviously, that creates other undesirable incentives...)

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Jan 18, 2022·edited Jan 18, 2022

I'm glad to see this topic covered, but I'd love a bit more detail on the specifics with respect to problems with the NRC. Matt points out bad communications and a lack of well-defined process, but I'd love to know in this specific case whether or not the NRC was being unreasonable.

After the CDC and FDA's abysmal performance during the pandemic, I'm more convinced than ever that many of our government bureaucracies aren't fit for purpose, but it'd be good to know what the NRC's response is to the assertion that they don't communicate well, don't have a well defined process, and don't weigh the overall lives saved from a project. If not an NRC response, even a third party assessment that got into some specifics would be good.

Nuclear power advocates un the US always bring up the NRC as a big part of the reason nuclear can't succeed, but they can't point to anywhere else in the world where nuclear power is succeeding. Even France can't seem to build the darn things anymore:

https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/edf-announces-new-delay-higher-costs-flamanville-3-reactor-2022-01-12

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Has the FDA/CDC explained how THEY got things so wrong?

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Jan 18, 2022·edited Jan 18, 2022

No, but at least I've read/watched lots of good content about specifics of what they got wrong and I've also seen their responses which show a complete lack of self-awareness and willingness to change.

For the NRC, I hear lots of high-level complaints, but I've never read/heard specific complaints similar to "they lied about masks" or "they completely missed the ball on airborne transmission" or "their social justice political leanings caused them to deprioritize boosters and kill thousands of Americans."

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"...I'm more convinced than ever that many of our government bureaucracies aren't fit for purpose..."

Why should they be any different from Congress, which, after all, tells the bureaucracies what to do?

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As a "comment" I agree. :) But as policy, I think making agencies more "executive" and less policy making is a good objective. Congress ducks its responsibility when it tells agencies to do good but without imposing "unreasonable" costs.

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Matt’s concerns about the footprint of solar power are overblown. It would take 22,000 square miles of solar to generate electricity equal to current American consumption. That’s less than 1% of the continental US. Meanwhile 21% of America is shrubland and an additional 17% is grass and pasture land. Generating solar in the northeast might require knocking down forests, but there are lots of lightly used, uninhabited forests in Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec. I’m not talking about virgin forests. I’m talking ugly, second growth forests that have been harvested every 50-70 years since the early 19th century.

No one’s beloved urban or suburban forest has to die to throw up solar panels. Those who suggest otherwise are either naive or really cynical.

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Certainly we *could* devote enough land to solar to make it work, but I think it is still important to point out that one tradeoff with solar is the exponentially larger land footprint to MWs generated. We also have enough unused land to store 3 billion years of spent nuclear fuel, but that doesn't mean that storing spent fuel should be completely disregarded when weighing costs/benefits. As someone who has worked in power generation I am far more concerned with the variability of solar than the land use, but as far as implementation goes, the biggest hurdle is NIMBYs who don't like the land use. I think that is Matt's point.

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Jan 18, 2022·edited Jan 18, 2022

I got into an argument at noahopinion about exactly this. Unfortunately, there are intolerable NIMBYs who refuse to allow solar construction anywhere that don't have existing structures (top of a building, over a parking lot, etc.) I think that the post is available without a subscription https://noahpinion.substack.com/p/americas-top-environmental-groups

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It's interesting comparing the difference in tone between Noah's comment section and Matt's. Noah seems like he gets a *lot* more of the conventional left.

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Never underestimate the power of the third option: genuine stupidity.

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Yeah, I've come to the conclusion that people who bring this up are either shilling or are mindlessly repeating a talking point of someone else who was shilling.

Also, this isn't directly relevant, but as another data point, the 22k sq mile footprint you mentioned needed to power the country on solar is just a tad over half the roughly 40k sq mile footprint we already dedicate to making ethanol.

https://www.freeingenergy.com/replace-farmland-farm-corn-ethanol-solar-panels/

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Good point. And I would add- it's not like the land used for solar can't be used for anything else. Solar panels on buildings are one obvious way- some might not like the appearance, but you can still use the appearance. You can also use them to shade parking lots, or to shield certain crops from getting too much sun (https://www.wired.com/story/growing-crops-under-solar-panels-now-theres-a-bright-idea/)

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Hard not to draw a through-line between the NRC and the FDA and CDC's slowness and inactivity-bias during the pandemic. And at least somewhat hard for me to believe that they're the only agencies that are like this.

How do you systematically address the tenancy for regulators to become slower and slower, more and more risk averse (to the risks of activity, not inactivity) over time? In private enterprise, there concept is that if you become too hidebound, someone else eats your lunch, but obviously not a problem for regulators.

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It’s because regulators have misaligned incentives. Regulators only get in trouble if something bad happens under their purview, but never if something goes right. So you have this one way ratchet of ever increasing scrutiny and risk-aversion because there is no incentive to the regulators to approving something new.

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Right, but how do you solve that?

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I think independent ombudsman's offices can have a role to play here. Someone who had the power to open independent investigations into the practices of the organization. Theoretically Congress has that power but we know Congress both (1) lacks the expertise to yield effective oversight of non-political matters (or tbqh politics as well) and (2) is itself inherently political.

I don't think its a perfect solution, but there needs to be someone or something that holds the NRC's and other regulators feet to the fire

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To whom would the ombudsman be responsible? This is another way to say Congress/federalism/complicad interests are the problem.

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Private enterprises often give bonuses for getting stuff done.

I think there's also a political aspect here. If, for example, a president came out swinging for a priority while taking a "the buck stops here" stance, that would change things. Say that the president came out and said, "Skin cancer is a grave threat to Americans, so I have directed the FDA director to either approve sunscreens that are already approved in Europe* or submit their resignation.** I also encourage the FDA director to fire civil servants who continue to drag their feet in approving these sun screens. I will take responsibility in the extremely unlikely event that these sun screen ingredients are harmful." I would imagine that the sunscreens would be approved! Clearly, presidents can't do this for everything, but they can sure do it sometimes. However, that would mean taking responsibility for things going wrong, which may explain why it happens so rarely.

* https://cen.acs.org/articles/93/i20/Decade-FDA-Still-Wont-Allow.html

** https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/12/11/trump-stephen-hahn-fda-covid-vaccine/

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Jan 18, 2022·edited Jan 18, 2022

I cringe as I say it because it's such a tired right-wing talking point, but the answer is cost-benefit analysis, which is just another way of asking, "What are we actually trying to accomplish here, and are we succeeding?"

With respect to the FDA, are all our regulations actually preventing Americans from wasting their health and billions of dollars on quack remedies? No, it just makes us call them "supplements." Are they then preventing doctors from overprescribing drugs of questionable clinic benefit? Of course not; the drug companies do a ton of effective marketing both to consumers and to doctors, and doctors routinely ignore clinical "best practices" where they exist. On the other hand, would we get more live-saving drugs if we made the cost of regulatory compliance cheaper? On the margin, of course we would.

I'm not saying we should abolish the FDA, but I think it's pretty clear that we haven't done the thinking at the margins necessary to get us to optimality.

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founding

Is “cost-benefit analysis” a right wing talking point? It’s an economic talking point, but the right wing seems just as oblivious to the idea when it comes to their projects like reducing abortions.

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Yeah, that's fair. The reason I described it that way is that I think a common tactic of those trying to pare back regulations over the past few decades has been to say that the rule-making process needs to account for every possible cost of not permitting the regulated economic activity, e.g. yeah mercury in the air is bad but what about the jooooobs? It's just that until recently it's been mostly the right with a bee in their bonnet over rolling back the regulatory state.

That's not to say that CBA has to have a particular political valence, just that estimating costs and deciding which costs to attribute to which policies are not politically-neutral endeavors.

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And privatization of everything. Sure it costs the government more but it's privatized. It must be better.

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Exactly my point! Republicans are so certain that market is always better that the seem incapable of understanding cost-benefit analysis. Over and over we see that privatization is just a way to funnel money to special interests.

I am all for utilizing the market to solve problems. But adding an extra layer to a simple task is just a way to line the pockets of potential campaign contributors. This seems to be the majority of privatization.

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Cost-benefit analysis is pretty mainstream in the Canadian public service. Joseph Heath: https://www.academia.edu/9811886/Cost_Benefit_Analysis_as_an_Expression_of_Liberal_Neutrality

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CBA is not a right wing talking point. For one thing, it is a step in federal regulatory analysis that has been required since the 1990s under Clinton. It’s a neutral tool of economics that can be co-opted, like any other tool. But if you don’t use CBA to evaluate prospective regs, what do you use instead? Intuition? The preferences of lobbyists?

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I wonder how much of it is the knowledge that if you wait a couple of years, someone with different priorities may come along and back-burner, kill or completely redesign whatever program you’re working on. Similarly, the demotivation that would come with that process if you allowed yourself to become very invested in a program.

I have seen, in similar circumstances in the private sector, something almost like an institutional nihilism taking hold.

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"mustache-twirling fossil fuel barons"

All things considered, the NIMBY/environmentalists are likely to be actually "mustache-twirling" these days.

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I assume that is a dig on millennials? Your welcome.

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This is just a microcosm of most (all?) US regulation: the lack cost-benefit analysis. Now it's find for Congress to oversee what parameters an agency uses. What is the value of a ton of CO2 emission avoided? What's the value of a life lost in a nuclear accident? What's the value of a vaccine that saves a life (through externalities and directly) earlier rather than later? And GAO could make sure that agencies are conducting the analyses.

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Sometimes it’s enough to make me hope Gorsuch wins on his pet “delegation” issue and the entire regulatory state instantly goes through a Thanos-style snap of the fingers.

We’ll have to claw our way back from that somehow, but it would be fun to watch from afar.

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Jan 18, 2022·edited Jan 18, 2022

Gorsuch was also prepared to give the half of Oklahoma back to the Creek tribe. So maybe he just likes to toy with far-reaching constitutional arguments that don't ever get taken to their logical conclusion.

But on the nondelegation doctrine, the argument that Congress should not be required to vote on most of what's in the Code of Federal regulations - which are statutes in everything but name - really just boils down to: if Congress had to vote on this, I wouldn't be able to get my preferred policy outcome enacted into law. Pretty much the definition of extralegal reasoning, and the basis for an immense shift of power from Congress to the Executive Branch in the post-WW2 era. Who's to say whether, if the Court had not gone down that road, Congress today would be more functional and powerful than it is?

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Well, yes, but because different preferences can be hidden in the ambiguities. What I am talking about is non-delegation of policy-making vs execution. And Yes I know there is not perfect distinction between the two.

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Yes, that's what the nondelegation doctrine is about - ensuring that Congress does not delegate its power to set policy, ie, to make rules of broad application ("legislative" decisions) to the President, but instead only allows the President to make decisions of execution, ie, about how to interpret, apply and enforce legislative rules approved by Congress to particular situations.

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Sounds like a good principle to apply. It may be quite tricky for SCOTUS to try to do it, especially given skepticism that the principle is not just a cover for removing regulations that are costly to existing businesses and favored special interests. And it certainly opens the door for lots of judicial policy making. :)

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Jan 18, 2022·edited Jan 18, 2022

It's not necessarily that hard to apply, though. If a rule of general applicability is legally binding (you can be fined or imprisoned for violating it) then consider it a statute that has be voted on by Congress - ie, most notice-and-comment rulemaking under the APA. Executive branch interpretative guidance and enforcement policies, on the other hand, are not legally binding - you might be prosecuted for violating some other legally binding rule if you act contrary to an executive branch policy, but you can't be punished for disagreeing with President's policy itself.

It's also an act of judicial policymaking to allow the President to enact binding laws without going the procedure required by the Constitution, and I would say a more serious and dangerous one. Most of what's in the CFR would sail through the Secret Congress on a routine basis, unnoticed. The controversial stuff might get held up, which, probably, is how it should be in a democracy.

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I'm not a fan of Judicial policy making, but I can see a judicial path toward my preferred outcome, a decision that says Regulation X is unconstitutional becasue Congress did not define the outcome that Regulation X supposedly sought.

As an aside, I think a OSHA rule requiring vaccinations or daily testing would pass a cost benefit test.

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Nor am I, but something is going to come along to break the logjam eventually, and this is one of the less disastrous “somethings” I can think of.

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But I suspect that Gorshch is just looking for ways to make regulations less costly for existing (big) businesses which is very much not the same as regulations that pass cost benefit tests.

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I am pretty sure that nowhere in the constitution does it say, "Congress must define the outcome of all regulations." More to the point though, this is just a recipe for complete inaction due to the construction of congress. Eliminating the senate (or the house and the filibuster) is the only way I can see this actually working out.

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founding

The osha vaccination rule might need to be slightly more targeted - only for workers in offices or factories or other indoor sites with lots of people, rather than based on the number of employees at the company. But that’s a minor point.

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Ideally, it would make exceptions for circumstances in which the costs of implementation and enforcement are greater than the benefits. it's cost-benefit all the way down. :) Number of employees may be a gesture in that direction.

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I know the vaccine made the initial Covid way less spreadable by preventing infection. How much does it actually reduce Omicron spread?

I know it's still fantastic vs. worse outcomes - but those are on an individual basis rather than a herd-immunity basis.

Put it this way: If the vaccine did NOTHING for herd immunity, should OSHA require it? What's the threshold where it's worth making it a rule that people HAVE to take the vaccine?

Quality of legal decision aside, and as much as I think everyone _should_ get the vaccine and I personally like it when a restaurant I go to checks vaccination status, I'm not sure it was the wrong outcome.

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If we only had Omicron, I would agree that mandating vaccines is largely pointless. However, we had and likely will have other variants. This makes it not pointless. Is it worth the political and social cost at this point remains to be seen.

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If the externality were literally zero, no, but I doubt that is true for Omicron, was not true for earlier variants and may not be true for the next variant.

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Great points about the NRC that made me hear resonance with various complaints I’ve had about the FDA the last two years: they’re 100% ok with the risks of doing nothing since this ensures they won’t be blamed for anything, even if their inaction costs lives.

Politically, what can Biden do? Since nuclear is still taboo for many on the left it doesn’t seem to be obviously a winning issue, unless the tortoise- and bird-lovers decide they like next-gen nuclear more than solar and wind. Thoughts?

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One of the reasons we chose Biden over Sanders was that he was supposed to be less beholden to "Progressive" ideology. I was not expecting a new Neoliberal Utopia, but his inaction on trade, immigration, and tax reform (more collections, more progressive) has been disappointing.

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Have all or many people actually been appointed in these positions? That’s been a problem on the foreign assistance side of things

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"they’re 100% ok with the risks of doing nothing since this ensures they won’t be blamed for anything, even if their inaction costs lives."

They may think that way, but they are in fact finally getting a lot of blame. It may not be enough to change things, but they still were not successful in avoiding blame.

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Is there some reason this needs to be built in the US? Like...there are other countries out there. Whatever happened to regulatory arbitrage and shopping jurisdictions and all that? Oklo KNEW that the NRC has never approved an application but they still decided to set up shop in the US. I don't mean that decision was necessarily irrational but it is all a blackbox to me and I'd like to see a journalist unpack it.

Like, why can't Oklo go to Nigeria and convince them to built a testbed reactor? Or Malaysia? Or Saudi Arabia? Or Pakistan? Or Israel? (Or, as Noah Smith suggests, why not Jamaica?)

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One group building small reactors tried to build in China but was blocked by the US government over technology trans fer issues

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There is a micro reactor going through approvals in Canada now. They would be targeting the same market and there won't be room for that many competators in this niche market...https://usnc.com/

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There is an extremely small number of countries that can supply the spent nuclear fuel that they require.

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There are issues moving nuclear fuel around --- both for practical reasons and to comply with international treaties. Pakistan and Israel aren't signatories of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, so they're probably non-starters. On top of that, the Oklo reactor runs off of fuel that has already been used in a conventional nuclear reactor, which is trickier to handle than normal nuclear fuel. You can only get that locally if the country has an existing nuclear power plant, which I don't think the other counties you listed do.

The US had been funding development of these small reactors, and it's possible that Oklo is required to build it in the us if it got us govt funding. That's part of the issue here: two parts of the us government at odds with each other.

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I guess this leaves me more confused than before. If practical and non-proliferation reasons means this is effectively a US-only technology then why do Matt and other nuclear advocates try to tell us it has anything to with climate change prevention? It obviously won't make a dent. Just look at 2050 projections of electricity usage. What's the actual best case we're talking about here? Nuclear completely replaces all US baseline power ... which accounts for, what?, 5% of the global electricity demand in 2050?

If a technology isn't able to be deployed in all of Asia and all of Africa and all of South America....it isn't going to do much to help with climate change, is it?

Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favor of reducing the NRC's bureaucratic lethargy. And I'm agnostic on nuclear power (i.e. not anti-). So, yeah, sure, reform the NRC. But given the limited scope of possible deployment I'm not sure why anyone should really care much either way?

Matt's always telling us to focus on issues that will actually have a big impact and not get distracted by fights over things that won't actually move the needle. I'm confused as to how nuclear is supposed to have a big impact if it is hamstrung by practical and non-proliferation concerns.

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Jan 19, 2022·edited Jan 19, 2022

"why do Matt and other nuclear advocates try to tell us it has anything to with climate change prevention?"

Where did MY say that the reactor in question is for combating climate change? He said it's for "eccentric use cases (remote communities dependent on diesel, companies that for PR reasons want to say they’re zero-carbon, even at an elevated price)."

That said, there are small nuclear reactors that are more helpful for combating climate change. They don't run on spent fuel, which means that they can be used in places without existing nuclear power plants. MY's concern is that the NRC will block these other designs (or future iterations of oklo's design that can be used more widely) and is using the NRC's handling of oklo as an example.

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The agency that this most resembles is the part of the FDA that regulates medical devices, because both nuclear reactors and medical devices are engineered systems. In the case of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, one of the requirements is that companies study their product in order to collect the evidence that will characterize safety and effectiveness (e.g., the clinical trial). So there is basically a two-gate process: First the FDA can evaluate the company's strategy for collecting safety and effectiveness evidence. If the study is approved, then the company can build devices and run the clinical trial. This is also where the company gets experience scaling up its manufacturing and putting all the processes in place to capture safety data, etc. Then when the study is done, they submit the FDA for full market approval. So the FDA gets another chance to evaluate before full commercial release. This seems like a better fit for these experimental reactor designs. There needs to be a way to set them up on a small scale, study their performance, get the safety protocols in place, work out bugs in manufacturing scale-up, and then submitting for full commercial release based on the evidence collected to that point. Even at the FDA, this is not a perfect system. But for a safety-based regulatory body, having a two-stage process of evaluation is critical, particularly for engineered systems where modifications can be made (in contrast to drugs and biologics, which can't be "fixed" if the safety profile is bad).

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World capacity of offshore wind now: 34GW.

Amount of new offshore wind announced by the Scottish Government today: 25GW

https://www.gov.scot/news/offshore-wind-development/

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I looked up the letter from the NRC when they rejected Oklo’s application, and it reads a lot worse for Oklo than I expected. I’m not entirely sure if the founders are being as forthright as they might seem when they say that they didn’t really understand what the NCR needs.

https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML2135/ML21357A034.pdf

(Here are some relevant paragraphs)

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By letter dated November 17, 2020 (ADAMS Accession No. ML20308A677), the NRC staff informed Oklo that the RAI responses, audit documents, and audit discussions enhanced the NRC staff’s understanding of Oklo’s novel approach to the Aurora design but did not provide sufficient information to define the scope of the full technical review of the custom combined license application. This letter informed Oklo that (1) resolution on several aspects of the MCA was needed, (2) resolution on several aspects of classification of SSCs was needed, and (3) the topic of quality assurance was being tracked as part of the safety classification of SSCs rather than as a separate issue. The letter also informed Oklo that the topic of applicability of regulations was closed6 and that Step 1 of the review was being extended to allow time for Oklo to address the topics of MCA and safety classification of SSCs.

On December 2, 2020, during a routine scheduling call, Oklo requested that the NRC staff temporarily pause its review and stop developing additional RAIs for the Aurora custom combined license application; Oklo confirmed its request in a follow-up email dated

December 3, 2020 (ADAMS Accession No. ML20338A510). By letter dated December 21, 2020 (ADAMS Accession No. ML20357A001), Oklo informed the NRC staff that it was reviewing the specific items outlined by the NRC staff in the Step 1 extension letter for the topics of MCA and classification of SSCs, and that it would propose next steps for the Step 1 review. Discussions with Oklo on the next steps for the review took place with NRC management in early 2021. Ultimately, Oklo decided to submit generic topical reports to address the topics of MCA and safety classification of SSCs for the Step 1 review of these topics, including the specific questions in the RAIs.

Topical reports for the MCA methodology and safety classification of SSCs did not resolve the open Step 1 issues

By letter dated July 2, 2021 (ADAMS Accession No. ML21184A001), Oklo submitted two topical reports that contained insufficient technical information to address the open Step 1 issues for NRC staff review. The first, “Maximum Credible Accident Methodology,” Revision 27 (ADAMS Accession No. ML21184A002), described Oklo’s approach to the MCA analysis. The second, “Performance Based Licensing Methodology,” Revision 0 (ADAMS Accession

No. ML21187A001), attempted to describe, in part, Oklo’s process for safety classification of SSCs. The NRC staff performed completeness reviews of the topical reports using the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation’s Office Instruction LIC-500, “Topical Report Process” (ADAMS Accession No. ML19123A252). The staff determined that neither topical report contained sufficient information to initiate detailed technical reviews. Each report contained conceptual information, rather than repeatable methodologies, and each left many issues unresolved and open for future potential applicants referencing the topical reports to address. The NRC staff informed Oklo of the insufficiency of the topical reports by two emails dated August 5, 2021 (ADAMS Accession Nos. ML21201A079 and ML21201A111), that included attachments describing in detail the supplemental information Oklo must provide for the NRC staff to begin the detailed review of each topical report (NRC Forms 898 – ADAMS Accession

Nos. ML21201A094 and ML21201A113). The NRC staff identified five areas where additional information was needed for the MCA methodology and three areas where additional information was needed for the PBLM methodology. The NRC staff held public meetings with Oklo on September 1, 16, and 28, 2021 (meeting summaries available at ADAMS Accession

Nos. ML21259A260, ML21266A428, and ML21293A329, respectively). During these meetings NRC staff responded to Oklo’s requests for clarification on the information needed to address.

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I want energy abundance, and would absolutely love for mass-produced nuclear reactors to be a part of that. But the very fact that I want that outcome so much means I need to be extra-skeptical when a slick company comes along, claiming that it can make the dreams come true (if only they didn’t have to be held to certain standards).

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Interesting, thanks for posting this. It's kind of hard to evaluate (for me at least) - I work in the medical industry and have seen FDA "requests for information" that were totally appropriate but also heard horror stories of the FDA asking for more data that you never would've known to include based on their own standards and guidances. So it can cut both ways.

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None of this reads as a smoking gun either way, yea.

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