DGR/Science The ongoing need for data


CCNews has featured a number of articles about DGRs and other aspects of the nuclear power industry.  Many letters to the editor are there too.  They can be read on the DGR Page.

Written for Canadian Community News by Mike Sterling

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Over time I've learned a good lesson.  Never be too sure of my position unless I've investigated the data or trust somebody who has. Know your limits.  That is, ask yourself the question: Am I informed?  Who are the experts?  Where is the data.  Can I understand it? If not, can I learn over time?

Let me give you an example.  I got interested in climate change.  I saw Al Gore's talk, read briefly .... These are things everyone does.  I had no real insight.  I saw graphs, but had no data.

I'm a member of a  group that includes scientists, engineers, cosmologists, statisticians, mathematicians.  One of the foremost climate skeptics in the world is a member, but so what?   Discourse takes place.  Arguments abound.  The subject is very complicated and full of obscure factors.  Nothing is as complicated as the weather.  I cannot follow it all.

Some of experts are CO2 skeptics and have studied climate for a long time others take the opposite position.  Some know a lot.  Some are sun spot people.  Others are not.  It's not an easy issue. They don't seem to doubt warming trends. They concentrate on the man-induced issue.

I learned something. Climate science is way, way, way, way more difficult to decipher than DGR science, which by comparison is child's play.  Both involve social and economic issues and are volatile politically, but there the complexity comparison ends.

I wanted to learn more so I went to the international repository of climate data in England at the University of East Anglia.  I grabbed the data from their server site.  Good trick eh?  I did not hack into it as it was free at that time.  Some of it dated back to the 1850s  The site was information rich.

This was before the anti-global warming folks had started their marketing efforts and the data was no longer made available. Uninformed disbelievers forced that change.  They stunted the free access to data because scientists could not exchange freely their comments with each other for or against.  Fire walls were erected. Investigations were begun.

At the time there were 3000 stations reporting world wide and some of the stations were sending bum data because of heat sinks and broken instruments.  This fact was pounced upon by skeptics.   It was an expected number of breakdowns.  No big surprise.  That's par for the course.  With 3000 stations out there, don't you think some instruments will wear out some place in China or in the antarctic?

Anyway, I got the data and did a simulation of it for 100 planet earths over a 1000 years using risk Monte Carlo methods that were not dampened.  I did not have the dampening models as they are being developed over time by real experts, not me. That will take 50 years to do.  I'm too old.

 It was fun to work with the real data and I produced dramatic pictures. My model was not good for predicting, however due to the lack of dampening information, but now we have the DGR, so here I am looking for information.

At least I took the time to get the data  and become familiar with it.   People were talking about it without ever looking at it.  They spoke gibberish.  They did not realize it, but they did.  Words came out, with no meaning.  They did not even know anybody who had looked at the data, but they had confirmed opinions.  What were they based on?  I have no idea. Gibberish was the language of choice.  Multi-lingual gibberish.

They had no knowledge and just wild ideas.  Most did not even understand the graphs that were presented to them or they presented themselves.  They dreamed up conspiracies from normal scientific dialog too. 

For example, one scientist writes to another in an email  "I hacked in a change in the data.....". 

This is normal jargon meaning I found an error and fixed it quickly.  I have not double checked it as yet so it is just a hack.  Hacking is a term computer scientists use for a quick change that needs more work and checking.

This statement was used against the climate scientists.  Conspiracies were dreamed up.  Ill intent was implied.  Good people were hurt.  The DGR issue is much more mature than this.

I also got with an engineer friend at Cambridge England and a statistics guy in Italy. to compute the amount of unabsorbed CO2 being emitted by coal fired plants world-wide.  It was simple to do.  How to absorb it is not simple, other causes of warming are not easy to understand or evaluate either.

 I did not have the access or the skills to go further.  So now I monitor the experts' opinions which have not settled down because of the complexity.  They know the earth is warming, however. It's easier for me to follow their arguments now.

I found out that we are producing way more CO2 than we can absorb. That is, the Biosphere can uptake it over time, but it may or may not create the effects we desire.  It makes plants grow.

Click the orange arrow to read the second column

Weather is a difficult problem and as I said 2 or 3 orders of magnitude more difficult than the building and security of a DGR.

So I got the data and looked at it and did a mini-simulation.  The same thing is needed in the DGR controversy, but done by experts.  The data needs to be acquired and the entire process has to be looked at for the lowest risk for the most efficient and economical process.  NWMO knows this very well.

This data can only be acquired by experts and it can only be evaluated by experts.  Sorry, it's not a Twitter decision process.  It's not an opinion about a stop light at a corner.  It's not a five year plan required by the government for towns. It's not a decision about street lights or beach access.

It takes democracy however and that involves elected officials, who need information too.  They are elected to make informed tough decisions.  Going to stage 2 is not so tough in a normal environment, but it could be now due to the controversy.

What I wrote was published in the Saugeen Times. (See Fragile Earth)  I got responses from scientists, who I know, but not one from Saugeen Shores about climate change.  The long term effects were part of our world view, but did not translate into local and immediate interest. No property value loss was feared.

There was not local, immediate social impact either.  Few cared enough to get upset.  It was there and not here after all.

Not so with the DGR.  The low and intermediate project had meandered along for years with core samples taken and lots of science.  Nobody seemed to notice.  Why?  I don't know. It just did not surface because it was there.

I guess the core samples were taken 'there' instead of 'here', where 'there' is just a Sunday morning long run for the Saugeen Track Club away from 'here'.

I've written over a 100 articles for CCNews on Science, Education and Internet and Technology.  The DGR articles have garnered the most local response.  That's good.  It's a hyper-local news item with global reach.... perfect for CCNews.

If you read my articles, you will see that I have the same themes and questions in most of them:

  1. Things are more complicated than we think.  Good people can and will understand the details.  We may not as yet.

  2. Don't assume we know the correct answer until the experts have the data.  If they don't have the data, how can we know answers that they don't?

  3. Don't pre-judge the answer, or we may force a decision that is not the best for us, if everybody does that.

  4. Don't dream up conspiracies and ill intent without evidence.

  5. It's fine to be a skeptic, but be an informed skeptic.

  6. Let the experts have as much access to sample data as possible.  Even if you don't want a DGR here, let them get the core data because that will help them evaluate solutions in other places too.

  7. Ask NWMO for information. They are happy to talk to you.  If you have other experts talk to them too.  Make sure they really know the data and you understand them.

  8. Ask yourself the question:  Was I really disturbed by the taking of core samples for the low and intermediate DGR?

  9. Remember, this is a problem that has been studied for years.  Experts know a lot.  Take advantage of their experience.  Ask for more information.  It represents a problem that can be solved with present technology and proper information flow.

  10. Don't be too concerned about intermediate barriers.  Those have been worked out. They are there for redundancy, but the real barrier is depth and that requires core samples and experts.

Isn't it a fascinating issue? 

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Monday, May 07, 2012