A critique of the reasoning for any proposed San Onofre restart

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Immanuel Kant

Born on April 22nd, 1724, Immanuel Kant was one of the most famous philosophers during the “Age of Enlightenment” at the end of the 18th century.  In the latter stages of his life at the ripe old age of 57, Kant first published his major work, the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’, which is still one of the most influential works from that period today.  His message was largely a call for a return to principles, his studies focused around the ‘pure reason’ or logic which directs our actions, and through publishing his research he hoped to end the age of speculation based on empirical knowledge, or that knowledge which is generated or learned through experience, in lieu of a grander age of aspirations focused around loftier goals of existentialism.

Kant felt that knowledge and understanding related to its object in one of two ways, the first and least useful form comes from a theoretical standpoint where the knowledge or understanding is paramount to determining and outlying the concept of the object, the second from a practical standpoint of actuality or making it actual. Then, much as they do today, experts of the day lauded their skills and abilities to use empirical knowledge to conform data gleaned through experience to form objects into things in themselves, but Kant highlighted the fact that a priori knowledge, wisdom which is understood without the use of experience or influence from any of our senses, is far more valuable than empirical data.

Imagine for a moment that you have a rubber band set on the table in front of you, forming a perfect circle, which represents all human activity and knowledge.  The tendency exhibited throughout history is to grasp firmly upon one field of science or perception and push as far as possible in that direction, until the circle is distorted to such a point that our efforts are no longer capable of withstanding the strain, and all force is subsequently rebounded back into the center.  Kant pointed out that all experiences are perceived and tainted by the filter of our mind and argued that our reason or logic was reductive, in the sense that it did not lead us to more possibilities, but allowed us to refine our efforts and subdue our unhealthy or unprofitable desires.  Over time, by using logic and reason, Kant felt that our actions would no longer require us to stretch the boundaries of what was acceptable or permissible, and to act more cohesively within the natural and beneficial boundaries of society and life.

Whenever one is working with theoretical questions or dealing with uncertainty, it is paramount to remember that things in reality are not always as we assume or understand them to be, rather that we are working from an incomplete set of information.  We would not be forced to rely on theoretical hypothesis, insufficient information, or large amounts of uncertainty if we had merely experienced what we had known or expected, rather it is only because we have experienced the unknown and unprepared for that we find ourselves forced to transcend the limits of experience and knowledge.

So, what is one to do when powerful and vested interests are arguing that empirical knowledge conforms to objects as things as they are in reality but does not provide ample evidence to support that claim?  Kant teaches that the unknown cannot be imagined without contradiction and speculation, for if we merely attempted to think of them as we currently do with limited understanding, we would obviously fail to come to any new conclusions and risk losing relevance over the course of our effort.  He was of the mind that when understanding or knowledge was not allowed full investigation into their appearances and representations, that it could only be because there were some forces who were unwilling or ashamed of what would be discovered.  Reason and logic do not allow for assumptions to become conclusions if they deny thorough examination by speculative reasoning, for this is a direct attack on a reasonable and logical approach to an incomplete understanding of any object.

Bringing the point full circle in regards to the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and the steam generator issues, Kant’s arguments and observations couldn’t be more applicable to the situation that NRC officials and Edison employees find themselves mired in.  The licensee has not found themselves in this quagmire due to circumstances which were publicly known or expectant of, rather due to a series of events which have lead to catastrophic ramifications which no one seemingly was prepared for.

Instead of providing the empirical data for investigation or consideration in light of the events leading to the rapid degradation witnessed in the steam generators, both the NRC and Edison have attempted to subvert or otherwise thwart a continuous stream of official and public requests for a thorough root-cause-analysis and all relevant information on the grounds that it is proprietary.  Yet as it has been pointed out, multiple competitors were hired by the licensee to inspect the steam generators up close first hand and model them extensively with their own proprietary code, so it seems unlikely that any of the information disclosed would be outside of the scope of information given to or received from investigations led by competitive companies.

Simply, Kant argued that if progress was denied thorough examination by speculative reasoning, than the public could do nothing more appropriate than to question the practical or applicable sufficiency of the data and knowledge at hand, and there is no reason to think that he would have thought otherwise today.

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  1. Bravo, Lucas! Another brilliant critique and spot-on analysis of the speciousness of the Nukers’ arguments in the situation at hand. Pretty much sums up the weakness of all the “assumptions” made by the self-proclaimed “experts” of the entire Nuclear Cabal, since Day 1.

    Not surprisingly we can now see that NOTHING HAS CHANGED, at least in the knowing eyes of those of us who have been schooling ourselves in All Things Nuclear since Fukushima blew (x4!) and melted down into uncontrollable fissioning piles of corium and thousands of highly radioactive, de-(radioactive tritium)gassing damaged spent fuel rods which sit in precarious, earthquake-vulnerable cracked cement pools freely releasing their cancer, leukemia and stroke-causing elements into the open air, and with its tons of radioactive waste water daily continuing to pour into the Pacific and the Fukushima ground water ad infinitum…

    Thanks to you, Lucas, we now have a brilliant encapsulation of the argument against allowing this clownish, greedy, genetic code-damaging, and unconscionably irresponsible Industry of Death to continue to operate their deadly, cracked, decaying, leaking, radiation-spewing dinosaurs. It is past time we took away their deadly toys and made them CLEAN UP THEIR MESSES (Hanford’s leaking tanks and the local groundwater and soil surrounding all the world’s nuke plants being some very good places to start.)

    Thank you for all you do to shine a light on the truth that has been hidden from the unsuspecting public for far too long, Lucas. Keep up the outstanding work.

  2. Thanks for the consideration, indeed it seems that we have moved past the point where we can continue to think that Edison is proposing to restart a healthy plant, rather that they are proposing to knowingly operate the steam generators into the ground without any long term solution or fix.

  3. One thing is certain, and that’s nuclear in any form hasn’t been subjected to the forces that exercise themselves in the most trivial and mundane actions in our lives, and consequently have elicted specificly irrational reasons for their existence. In a normal environment with input that we use making such decisions as eating food from an outdoor food cart that looks to be managed and maintained poorly, it would have never gotten beyond the first test pile or being the object of scientific curiosity. I’d sure like my government to put effort into my health care that has gone into supporting this open-ended, mad-engineer’s dream of an industry. Unfortunately, even shuttering the plants and dismantling the missles today, the industry will still be like the outhouse that we were too lazy to move and fill in the hole. It’s going to stink and draw flies for quite a while yet.

    1. A very astute observation, I think we will be spending a large amount of our time and resources in the future cleaning up the mistakes we have made and continue to make up until this point until they are corrected and restored.

      I’m reminded of an Emerson quote from an essay on Fate. “We cannot trifle with this reality, this cropping out in our planted gardens at the core of the world. No picture of life can have any veracity which does not admit the odious facts. A man’s power is hooped in by a necessity, which, by many experiments, he touches on every side, until he learns its arc. The element running through entire nature which we popularly call ‘Fate’, is known to us as limitation. Whatever limits us, we call Fate. If we are brute and barbarous, the fate takes a brute and dreadful shape. As we refine, our checks become finer…The limitations refine as the soul purifies, but the ring of necessity is always perched at the top.”

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