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The case for new nuclear power plants

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, and with the dramatic rise of wind energy, it seemed that the nuclear industry was fated to oblivion. But that hasn’t happened, particularly in Europe. Instead, the wildfires on the US west coast and Australia, as well as heatwaves, have focused the world’s attention on decarbonizing the economy. At the same time, natural gas prices have surged, which has caused popular unrest and anger from Brazil to France. Worse, Europe has been disappointed over the last few months as the wind industry has produced less power than expected. All these factors combined have led to a radical rethink of nuclear energy. If this is truly a global climate emergency, how can nations globally reduce their CO2 emissions quickly enough without including nuclear in the mix? A recent New York Times article has discussed the debate in Europe.

France, which already heavily relies on nuclear power, is planning on expanding its nuclear industry. For the past twenty years there has been substantial interest in smaller, modular nuclear plants, which might be quicker to produce. A number of European nations, such as the UK, are now expressing interest in this option. The argument that nuclear proponents make is that nuclear waste can be rethought of as nuclear fuel for future reactors, as new technologies are developed. And the total amount of space needed to store this waste is modest. Still, as the NYT article above suggests, this argument is not persuading many nuclear energy critics, in places such as Germany. In other countries, however, the nuclear industry seems to be achieving momentum.

The pro-nuclear movement exists in Canada and the US as well, often led by younger people who perceive the global climate crisis as a global challenge. One good place to hear this movement’s arguments is the podcast Decouple, which posts frequently. The podcast has given extensive attention to the decommissioning of the Pickering nuclear power plant in Ontario, Canada, and similar topics. Be forewarned- you won’t get a balanced view of the nuclear debate on this podcast. But if you want to hear why nuclear power plants should be rethought of as “climate cathedrals,” this is the podcast for you. And you’ll also hear an argument as to why misinformation and unrealistic thinking have driven bad energy choices, which will deeply hamper our collective efforts to fight global warming.

What’s most interesting to me is that I am now hearing the same arguments in favor of nuclear power both from older environmentalists -the last group that I would ever expect to adopt a pro-nuclear position- as well as as a younger generation. I think that the wave of recent climate catastrophes has changed the conversation in ways that I never would have guessed in the months after the Fukushima catastrophe.

Shawn Smallman

Phyllis Smallman

My mother passed away last week, and even though it was not a surprise, it was a shock. My sister, Elle Wild, wrote a wonderful tribute, which I wanted to share:

SMALLMAN, Phyllis

Phyllis Smallman
1945-2018

The family of author Phyllis Smallman wishes to announce the passing of their family matriarch, storyteller, beloved wife, and mother.

Phyllis grew up in the countryside of southern Ontario, where she spent her childhood accepting ill-considered dares from her four siblings, such as pig riding in a white frock. She met her life’s partner, Lee Smallman, during high school and quickly recognized a fellow adventurer and dreamer. At the tender ages of 17 and 21, Phyllis and Lee were married, and spent the next 56 years laughing, creating, building, sometimes bickering, but always loving. Phyllis was occasionally overheard saying to Lee, “When I want your opinion, I’ll jerk your chain.”

At an age where others retire, Phyllis and Lee moved across the country to Salt Spring Island, where they joined a lively community of artists and innovators. Phyllis went on to write the award-winning Sherri Travis mystery series, and more recently the Singer Brown series, Long Gone Man and Beach Kill. Those who spent time with Phyllis knew her as a caring person who loved fiercely, laughed loudly, and was always a friend to anyone in need. In keeping with her dark sense of humour, her last book was ironically titled Last Call, the final Sherri Travis mystery. The night Phyllis died, Last Call won a “Reader’s Favourite” Book Award. Our Phyllis knew how to make a grand exit.

At her request, there will be no final service. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Brazil’s National Museum

Every Brazilian and Brazilianist that I know is lamenting the loss of Brazil’s National Museum in a terrible fire. The loss is incalculable -fossils of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, the records of extinct languages, a skull from perhaps the oldest person found in the Americas, a library of a half million books, and hundreds of thousands of specimens of every form of animal life from insect to birds. Henry Grabar has a thoughtful article in Slate, which describes the scale of the loss, and how it was almost inevitable: the Brazilian state had so starved the museum of funding that it had to launch a GoFundMe account after termites damaged a room containing an exceptional dinosaur skeleton. Academics mourn for all the lost information. Graduate students must replan their theses after they lost access to the specimens. But most of all, ordinary Brazilians lost a pearl of a museum in Rio de Janeiro, which was housed in the former Presidential palace. Rio de Janeiro has already lost vast amounts of colonial architecture, but none had as much historical significance as this. So many people I know are genuinely distraught, and can’t stop thinking about what this means. Within Brazil, it has come be seen as emblematic of the failures of the nation’s political leadership. …

Global Warning: a CNN documentary

CNN’s documentary “Global Warning: Arctic Melt” examines the issue of climate change by focusing on the Greenland ice sheet. Reporter Clarissa Ward first visits Greenland, where she interviews climate scientists against stunning backgrounds of fjords, glaciers and ice sheets. She then travels to south Florida, where she interviews Miami’s former mayor about the impact that sea level rise is already having upon his community. The video is brief at 26 minutes. Nonetheless, it is both visually engaging and thoughtfully written. It would be a good documentary for an “Introduction to International and Global Studies” class. Recommended.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

Transnational Social Movements

My colleague Dr. Christine Boyle is teaching a fantastic new online class on “Transnational Social Movements.” Dr. Boyle has extensive experience teaching in an online environment, and is a popular instructor. The class will look at a wide array of social movements and protests from the student movements to the Arab Spring. Given recent events in Iran, this is a timely class. If you are interested, you can see how to register for the class as a non-degree student here. There are no prerequisites for the course. Questions? You can contact Dr. Boyle at her email on the flyer below. The class will start on January 8, 2018.

Shawn Smallman, January 2018

Course flyer for winter 2018 online class

Flu, Protest and Iran

While many factors are driving the current protests in Iran, Michael Coston has pointed out that a significant outbreak of avian influenza in that country has driven up the cost of poultry and eggs, which has likely contributed to peoples’ food insecurity. His blog post is an interesting attempt to tie influenza to economic factors, which in turn may be connected to politics.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

Hate, loss and Neoliberalism

I’ve been teaching a “Foundations of Global Studies Theory” course for a few years. I begin the course with a section on classical and modern liberalism, before moving to neoliberalism, because liberalism is a foundational theory for most issues in Global Studies. What has struck me over the years is how little ideological attraction most students feel towards neoliberalism. Although I have taught the class multiple times, I have only ever had a single student who was an ardent proponent of neoliberalism. They also wrote one of the best papers that I’ve ever received, and are now working in an excellent job in the financial sector. Still, most of my students have an almost visceral distaste for neoliberalism, and this has strengthened over time. …

Quiz on Digital Globalization

I’m teaching a class on Digital Globalization this winter quarter at Portland State. The course will be fully online, thanks to great support from Vince Schreck, a course designer in OAI, and Linda Absher, the librarian who has tracked down countless documentaries to use as streaming videos, and helped to locate other key resources. Over the first six weeks the students will explore three main topics (Digital Culture; Transformation and Institutions; Security, Privacy and the Nation-State) before spending three weeks on individualized study. The final week of the course will consist of students sharing a Digital Artifact, such as a slideshow or video. I always learn far more from my students than they learn from me, and that’s particularly true with these final presentations. I’ve been working on a brief quiz on digital literacy, which takes five minutes to complete. Are you a cyber expert, who knows about Bitcoin, the Dark Web, the Sharing Economy, MOOCs, Wikileaks, Snowden, and social media? You can take the quiz here to find out.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University.

Thank you to the Oregon Consular Corps

Wonde Nevens, Shawn Smallman and Karen Carillo at the Oregon Consular Corps Awards Event, Arlington Club, February 10, 2015
Wonde Nevens, Shawn Smallman and Karen Carillo at the Oregon Consular Corps Awards Event, Arlington Club, February 10, 2015

This February I attended a scholarship awards event hosted by the Oregon Consular Corps at the Arlington Club in Portland. Two International Studies Majors at PSU, Wonde Nevens and Karen Carillo, were scholarship award winners. At the end of the event a past award winner talked about how funds from this scholarship had enabled them to do a study abroad course in Argentina, which had a deep impact on their plans for the future. It’s amazing how these funds can have an enduring effect on students’ lives. I want to thank the Oregon Consular Corps for their generosity, as well as the hard work that they put into reviewing applications from deserving candidates. I also want to thank the INTL faculty who reviewed the applicants’ files, Evguenia Davidova and Stephen Frenkel. Most of all, I want to give my congratulations to Wonde and Karen.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

New Map of MERS

European Centre for Disease and Infection Control map of MERS, November 2014
European Centre for Disease and Infection Control map of MERS, November 2014

I’ve discussed MERS before in this blog, but this virus has faded from public attention as Ebola has become a major health crisis in West Africa. This recent map by the European Centre for Disease and Infection Control, however, makes clear why MERS remains a global health challenge.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

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