Profiting From Adversity

September 9, 2005

Historians say that civilizations only make big advances when under stress. Here are two things that the US should do under the stress of Katrina: re-introduce DDT and start building a lot of nuclear power plants.

Re-introduce DDT

Rescue workers in the Gulf face swarms of mosquitoes grown fat on the detritus of the disaster. And we all face the mosquito-borne West Nile virus. Unfortunately:

In 1972, on the basis of data on toxicity to fish and migrating birds (but not to humans), the Environmental Protection Agency banned virtually all uses of the pesticide DDT, an inexpensive and effective pesticide once widely deployed to kill disease-carrying insects.

Since the banning of DDT, insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue — and now West Nile virus — have been on the rise. The World Health Organization estimates that malaria kills about a million people annually, and that there are between 300 million and 500 million new cases each year.

Even the lefty WaPo has noticed:

As HIV/AIDS gains new (and deserved) attention and funds, it will be ironic if Western governments overlook another accelerating epidemic that has killed and disabled even more people in the past 20 years. It is malaria.

Down this path looms catastrophe of epochal proportions. But that tragic result is readily avoidable, using proven strategies that are certain, simple and cheap… As Bill Gates observed, “It is unacceptable that 3,000 African children die every day from a largely preventable and treatable disease.”

Amen to that.

Start Building Lots Of Nuke Power Plants

Katrina showed how little of its oil the US produces domestically & how vulnerable it is (to Chinese subs as well as hurricanes). Long term, an escalating price of oil is no big problem – it will cause more exploration and conservation. But in the short term it hugely enriches the enemies of the West – Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela who will eventually use their riches to do us harm.

The US (and UK) should – for once – follow the example of France:

France has 59 nuclear reactors operated by Electricite de France (EdF) with total capacity of over 63 GWe, supplying over 426 billion kWh per year of electricity, 78% of the total generated there.

Nuclear energy, with the fuel cost being a relatively small part of the overall cost, made good sense in minimizing imports and achieving greater energy security.

As a result…France now claims a substantial level of energy independence and almost the lowest cost electricity in Europe. Over 90% of its electricity is nuclear or hydro.

The US has excellent and safe designs and a good base to build from:

The USA has over 100 nuclear reactors providing 20% of its electricity.

The Westinghouse AP-1000…has now been given final design approval by NRC. It represents the culmination of a 1300 man-year and $440 million design and testing program.

Capital costs are projected at $1000 per kilowatt and modular design will reduce construction time to 36 months. The 1100 MWe AP-1000 generating costs are expected to be below US$ 3.5 cents/kWh.

It is under active consideration for building in UK and USA…

The Brits also generate 20% of their power from nukes. They’ve paid the price of pioneering (world’s first commercial reactor in 1956). and have several of old and inefficient reactors to get rid of. Still they have all the technologies and resources for a complete switch to nuclear using new PWRs.

In case you’re worried about spent fuel (my ellipsis):

… the fuel is reprocessed to remove the fission products, and the fuel can (then) be re-used. The…fission products removed from the fuel are a concentrated form of High Level Waste (HLW).

In 1989 and 1992 (France) commissioned commercial plants to vitrify HLW left over from reprocessing oxide fuel…there are adequate facilities…in the UK. The capacity of these western European plants is 2,500 canisters (1000 t) a year, and some have been operating for 18 years.

Vitrification turns the HLW into a glass-like solid that can’t contaminate the air or water, and can safely be buried somewhere out-of-the-way.

Of course the environmentalists hate this, because it reduces greenhouse gasses but doesn’t wreck our economies.

Go to it, Mr. President!

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Saying Thanks To Mexico And Canada

September 9, 2005

Mexico and Canada have pitched in to help after Katrina. One good turn deserves another, and the Feds can say thanks while helping Americans rebuild – just eliminate US tariffs on Mexican cement and Canadian lumber.

From Mexico yesterday:

About 45 vehicles carrying…two mobile kitchens that can feed 7,000 people a day, three flatbed trucks carrying mobile water treatment plants and 15 trailers of bottled water, blankets and applesauce. It also includes military engineers, doctors and nurses.

The Mexican government was already planning another 12-vehicle aid convoy for this week. It has sent a Mexican navy ship heading toward the Mississippi coast with rescue vehicles and helicopters.

From Canada:

…the Government of Alberta announced that it was donating $5 million to the Hurricane Katrina fund administered by former presidents Bush and Clinton.

…the Operation UNISON task force of navy and coast guard ships departed Halifax Harbour for the U.S. Gulf Coast.

…the American Red Cross has asked Canadian Red Cross chapters in Quebec for cots for refugees staying at U.S. evacuation centres and that other services had been requested from chapters in Ontario.

Universities across Canada have also offered to take in university students from New Orleans whose studies have been interrupted.

…35 military divers were poised to depart by air Sunday from Halifax and Esquimalt, B.C., for the New Orleans area. Their chief tasks will be to help their U.S. counterparts clear navigational hazards like loose barges and inspect flood-damaged levees. The 18-member Pacific Fleet Diving Unit based at Esquimalt flew to Pensacola, Fl.

One good turn deserves another, here’s the WSJ (subscription):

…lumber and cement, which will soon be in great demand to rebuild the tens of thousands of damaged homes. Prices are sure to rise as reconstruction begins, but thanks to U.S. tariffs as high as 27% on Canadian lumber, American home buyers already pay an extra $1,000 on average for their shelter. The same goes for U.S. duties on Mexican cement, which have averaged 55% since 1990.

Now would be an ideal time for Washington to declare a truce in these trade spats and reduce the price of rebuilding.

No-brainer.


The MSM Katrina Death Game

September 9, 2005

The MSM is ghoulishly anticipating the worse, forecasting tens of thousands of deaths in the Gulf. History and some basic math suggests under 2,000.

Some of the reporting is naive:

The stench of death is everywhere in New Orleans: drifting off the water, floating in the warm breeze…

Which tells you nothing about the scale or source – one small dead rat pollutes the air for yards around it. And then there are those body bags:

MORE than 25,000 body bags were sent to the New Orleans area as the city’s putrid, receding floodwaters began to give up their dead yesterday.

This is bureaucrats padding estimates – the Brits had 2 million cardboard coffins ready for the London blitz in which 20,000 died.

So, here’s my estimate based on 45 minutes research. There were two separate disasters – Katrina & the flooding of New Orleans.

Katrina

An authoritative summary of every major hurricane hit on the US since 1900 is available here. Deaths, as you’d expect, fell as the century progressed – from 6,000 to 12,000 in the Galveston category 4 in 1900, down to 23 in 1992 in Andrew, the immensely damaging category 4. That’s because forecasting got better, the ability to give warnings improved as radio & TV ownership rose, and peoples’ ability to run rose with car ownership.

I take the end of WW2 to mark the point at which these three survival technologies became widely available in the Gulf area. The worst toll since then was Category 4 hurricane Audrey in 1957, which killed 390 people.

The main impact was from 8 to 12 ft storm surges that penetrated as far inland as 25 miles over portions of low-lying southwestern Louisiana.

Katrina hit to the east of Audrey, and more closely resembles the 1960 category 5 hurricane Camille – it hit Mississippi, then went up through Kentucky to the Virginias. Death toll was 256.

In the past 45 years populations in the effected States will have increased, but this will be offset by better forecasting and transportation.

My worst case guess for direct Katrina deaths is the combination of the two deadliest hurricanes since WW2, adding the Camille and Audrey numbers to give a total of 646.

New Orleans

People died because they didn’t (wouldn’t or couldn’t) evacuate. I recall (but don’t have a link) the mayor saying 80% of the population of 485,000 got out, so that leaves 97,000.

Of these, 42,000 were evacuated as of Sept 3, mostly from the Superdome and Convention Center. Today, Fox News reports:

Between 5,000 and 10,000 residents are believed left in the city…

Which suggests that between Sept 3 and today a further 45,000 to 50,000 were evacuated – a bit high for what was by then a piecemeal evacuation, but not ridiculous.

Whatever, the high-end of 10,000 non-evacuated people must be the source of all possible deaths.

Here are my guesstimates of worst-case deaths from the various causes, using estimated demographics and first-hand news stories.

Drowning, as a result of being either immobile, or trapped (for example in an attic without an axe): (200).

Premature death of old or chronically sick people caused by stress and/or lack of medication. (500).

Lack of safe sustenance – dehydration and food poisoning, mostly young children: (100).

Civil disturbance – killing of or by criminals: (50).

Which gives a total of 850, or 8.5% of the at-risk population, which seems plausible.

Adding the Katrina and New Orleans estimates gives 1,496.

So I’d be surprised if the deaths exceed 2,000.