Nov 3, 2023Liked by Packy McCormick

Exciting to see the continued progress in fusion energy and nanotechnology! The AI regulation debate will be an important one to follow.

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Packy...Let's help you with some perspective and context. You write: Once a regulation is in place, it’s incredibly hard to roll it back. Oh, not at all. The Supreme Court is busy flipping over decisions you thought were solid and something you could count on. Think like a woman. Use your imagination to ask, what fresh new hell could some fool possibly come up with that would reverse what I am now believing?

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I'm with Packy and Ben Thompson on the problems of regulatory capture and self-dealing among early AI incumbents. My sole point of pushback is that one doesn't have to be a full-blown AI doomsayer to think some degree of caution may be a good idea. I'd guess that's more or less the average person's stance on it.

The argument for optimism-based AI laws to, "...promote research, competition, and experimentation to push U.S.-based companies to the frontier of A.I. and ensure the nation is at the cutting edge..." sounds a lot like the arguments we heard for why gain-of-function research in virology was worth the possible risks. Oopsies.

Then again, I'm as skeptical of this (or any) administration's wisdom and restraint when it comes to the proper role of government as I am about their sophistication regarding the future of AI research. Probably not a great sign.

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Agreed, what concerns me here is the regulatory capture and government regulating this early without having any ability (like everyone else) to predict the future. Some degree of caution is good, but caution based on overhyped fears that calcifies into permanent laws is dangerous.

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Thanks Packy - we’re in agreement on that too. This also feels reminiscent to me of the bogeyman hypothetical scenarios used to justify net neutrality.

The only positive thing about our government’s use of executive orders rather than a real legislative process is that the next person at the desk can nix the last one’s EOs...but it’s a crummy way to enact public policy.

Great post btw

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You asked for feedback, I’m not throwing shade, just giving you honest feedback from my (possibly inaccurate) viewpoint.

I finished listening to E3: Nuclear Economics. I like what you’re doing, but I think you’re getting some significant things wrong. The characterization of the issues with concrete at Vogtle 3 is highly inaccurate, the concrete was fine when it was finally poured, there was an issue with the basemat (backfilled dirt) settling more than predicted that was resolved by changing the concrete mix, then there was the bigger issue with the rebar. The rebar got pulled out and replaced before any concrete was poured. The specifics of the rebar would have been much more enlightening.

The idea of having to spend more money on buying more expensive “nuclear grade” concrete that cost much more than the cost of materials is also silly, the concrete batch plant was built on site and the raw materials were bought, but the mixing was done on site. Yes, building a medium sized concrete plant is a capital expense, but there is a lot of extra testing that needs to be done before each pour and concrete doesn’t store so having a short travel distance is a good thing.

I’m also frustrated every time I hear someone saying the lack of a trained workforce is an issue. This is mostly wrong, and without getting more specific tends to imply the craft people were the problem. I mean sure, there were a few troublemakers, and some were lazy, but most were professionals and knew their craft. Building a nuclear plant is different, but not much of that difference is at the craft level.

Fun story: I was attached to a submarine during defueling. One fine day the Naval Reactors rep (NR, the Navy’s NRC equivalent) decided to climb up to talk to the crane operator.

NR: How do you like your job moving highly radioactive fuel.

Crane operator: Trash cans or fuel cells, it’s all the same from up here.

An hour later all work was stopped for three days while the crane operators and other civilians got training on how nuclear is “special and unique” and how important it is to never again say such things.

The talk of a consortium of utilities was interesting, but a light version of that was started for the AP1000’s, if you search for APOG AP1000 (APOG is the AP1000 owners’ group) it will pull up some of the NRC filings and you can see which utilities were in (not financing, just information sharing and workload sharing on the utilities side (ex. Ownership of procedures would be divvied up)). That fell apart after Fukushima when all of them except SCANA and Vogtle canceled or put on hold, their projects.

Anyway, if you’re just having fun with making a podcast, great, I love it. If your goal is actual identification of things that could be done to make nuclear cheaper, or easier, you aren’t getting enough information to draw the correct conclusions.

OBTW, Nick Touran is awesome, I’m going to keep listening to episodes just to hear his insight.

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Hi Packy, how did you approach it when you first started learning about AI, and how do you keep track of its development? Who do you follow and read? I have tried to break it all down for myself by writing everything I know to an imaginary 5yo (while my daughter is 3, she is not quite intellectually there just yet), love to hear your thoughts!

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Wait...Uranium is "just rocks." Maybe I'm an "idiot," or maybe I missed an episode where you dive into the obvious issues with fission, but it feels like this episode is heavy on evangelism -- to the point where I'm wondering where the money is coming from -- and oddly light on the 'buts'. Advise embracing our buts on this topic. I'd be more convinced and interested if the episode didn't very deftly sidestep the safety and waste issues (which are real, even if we had new and effective ways to manage them). I'd like to see a,"But duh -- lots of unavoidable examples of how, for all the regulations in the world, shit happened and bad bad things happened...and nobody wants the waste -- BUT we can effectively eliminate these issues by..." For a primer on applying the Two But Rule: https://www.2buts.com/p/embracing-your-but?r=1yad3e&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

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ooooh! Let's see if I get the concept. Yes nuclear, but nuclear waste is bad compared to no waste, but compared to other options for producing electricity nuclear waste being very dense and stored rather than released is good. Did I do the double but thing right?

Unfortunately, there isn't any immaculate electricity generation. A lot of people are big fans of solar since it doesn't have any visible waste during operation, but what happens at the end of a solar panel useful life, it becomes waste, and where does that go? but in a hypothetical future world, solar panel recycling would be a thing, but here today spent nuclear fuel recycling is a thing, just not in the US, but if this were allowed, and fuel costs rise to make it worthwhile, the spent nuclear fuel is there waiting to be recycled. Solar will face the same issue, a new solar panel is cheaper than recycling an old one, but in the meantime, what do you do with the wasted old panel?

Would you feel better if nuclear plants dumped the waste to the environment like the fossil fuel plants do? We could go back to dropping the nuclear waste to a deep place in the ocean, yes, that was done until sensible people got together and decide to not do that anymore.

Is spent nuclear fuel dangerous? Yes, but when properly controlled it isn't going to harm anyone. Is there a risk of an accident causing a release from spent nuclear fuel? Yes, but there are dedicated safety systems with alternate backup systems to mitigate that. Have there been times when there was a risk to spent nuclear fuel being damaged or melting or such? Yes, but those failures were taken seriously, and safety systems and operating procedures were changed to avoid that happening. Is it perfect? Nope, but nothing is, I'm weird, but living near a nuclear power plant scares me less that living in a tall apartment building. The accident at Fukushima scared me less than the apartment building in Miami collapsing. I couldn't remember where it was and googled it, and that was the one I remembered, but there were a lot more examples on the first page showing tall buildings collapsing or exploding from gas leaks.

But, the important question, did I do the multiple but thing right?

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That was brilliant! Really well done! You are now an official But-Head (a good thing), and you’re now officially invited to all members-only 2But meetings. :)

In seriousness, what you wrote above makes the case so much better, imo, and it opens up a lot of areas to have a reasoned discussion. Hats off!

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Thank you for the kind words. Glad I could help a little. If you have any questions, please ask, but know that I am incredibly biased pro-nuclear since that has been my career for...well over three decades.

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I heard the waste issue disposed of in the podcast, as it should be. There is no waste (like SuO2, fly ash and particulates you get with coal) only depleted fuel which can be safely stored (and hugged by pregnant women without harm) on site (football field 10 meters high for all of US if concentrated) which remains as mildly radioactive as the original fuel after the gamma radiation stops after 600 years. The long lasting alpha radiation (does not penetrate paper) or beta radiation (does not penetrate human skin). The waste can be stored onsite with a few guards, and later placed underground if not for political opposition. Did I listen to a different podcast? If not, how is stating these facts “evangelizing” rather than breaking widely held myths about “nuclear waste”?

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I didn't catch that part, so I'll have to go back and check it again. That said, I'm not sure I'm buying the assertions...not yet at least. It breaks with my experience of seeing Fukushima and other events where clearly there are "issues" that happen when this stuff gets out. And then, applying Murphy's law, the intuitive conclusion is that not only has shit happened but shit can happen again. Busy today, so can't review, but is there a segment where they talk about some new process or improvement that brings contamination risk down to negligible levels? The video was about traditional large plants, I thought. Regarding evangelism -- from where I sit (and bear in mind I have zero dogs in this hunt on any side of it...none), the language had a strong flavor of having been written by people who are very pro-nuclear. Nothing wrong with that, but didn't feel balanced. Wasn't enough "but this is an issue, and they are real issues, but we can manage them by..." This was my point.

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Fukushima had many design issues that led to the disaster (low tsunami barriers and putting the diesel emergency generators in the basement which soon flooded) and three meltdowns, but only 1 fatality from radiation (disputed since it was esophageal cancer in a heavy smoker) so it’s was an outlier, but the waste was not an issue. Many people were forcibly evacuated (and many died as a result) but the ground level radiation was less than in some natural locations or flying at high altitude. The “contaminated”water release that China deceptively complains about and banned seafood imports in retaliation, is so low that you would need to drink hundreds of liters of the sea water nearby (not a good idea anywhere) to be the same as eating one banana. I don’t know if they had spent fuel stored on site or how it was affected, would like to know more about that.

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