Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Responding to Collapse, Part 4: getting out of the city

A cold and windy day on Lake Huron

In my last post I talked about the economic contraction that is being caused by declining surplus energy and the collapse which that contraction, combined with the effects of climate change (covered in the post before that), is likely to cause.

My conclusion was that we will have a good bit of adapting to do and it will be much easier to do in rural areas than in the cities. So I advised that, if you currently live in a city, you should be considering a move to the country. But I didn't go into much detail about this moving and adapting and now I intend to remedy that. I should give credit in advance to my friend Don Hayward for sharing with me his thoughts on the subject, and taking part in many good conversations that have allowed me to clarify my own thoughts. Similar credit is due to Joe Clarkson, from the comments section of this blog.

It will no doubt be obvious to my readers that I am figuring this out as I go along. Whether I've got it right is, of course, open to discussion. I also reserve the right to change my mind as I learn more.

In a post some months ago I expressed the opinion that the reduction in our impact on the planet following a major financial crash would be mainly a matter of drastically reduced levels of consumption, particularly in the developed world, and that there would not be a major reduction in population at that point. After considerable reflection, I have to say that especially in large cities, the combination of climate change and supply chain interruption following a global financial crash will lead to greater loss of life than I had previously thought. Of course it is hard to predict, but I think this will lead to an actual reduction in population, perhaps by a few billion people.

I still believe that planetary resources will still be sufficient to fuel some sort of recovery as we rebuild the virtual organizational systems lost in the financial crash on a smaller, more local scale. But if we don't learn to live sustainably, that recovery will see us plowing through the remaining resources and there will be another crash, an agricultural one, mainly effecting the more populous areas and reducing the population to a few hundred million. One thing I am pretty sure of is that the predictions of a world population of 9 to 10 billion later this century are not going to pan out.

I am still expecting a slow and irregular collapse. Even without the localized catastrophes that will no doubt happen, the contracting economy will lead to a slow crumbling of industrial civilization.

But now let's return to our scheduled programming, so to speak. The question for today is what sort of adapting am I talking about and why do I think it will be easier in well chosen rural areas?

For most people the hardest thing about collapse is facing up to the end of progress. Adapting to this big change in how we think about the world, and our lives in it, is challenging. But it can be done, and most of the effort takes place inside your head. So it doesn't much matter where you are for that part of the process. It does help if you have a supportive family and community around you, though of course that is true of anything you try to do.

But once you've decided that life is still worth living, you're faced with the many practical issues of staying alive in a collapsing world.

For most of us, staying alive means taking part in the economy—having a job or collecting a pension or the proceeds of investments, so as to have the money needed to procure the necessities of life. Since the economy is contracting fewer jobs are available and many people are unemployed, or "under employed" at best. Pension and investments are under some stress but not doing so badly, though a financial crash would certainly change that.

At the same time, in many locales, housing is getting more expensive and the ranks of the homeless are swelling with the unemployed and even the working poor, many of whom are living out of their vehicles.

That contracting economy also means that less money is being spent on maintaining infrastructure, which is gradually decaying as time passes. And in an effort to keep the economy growing, regulations intended to protect the environment are being repealed and efforts to cut back on the release of greenhouse gases and reduce climate change are being abandoned.

This means that what were once minor inconveniences will grow into catastrophes. Here is a brief and probably not complete list of such events:

  • The degradation of the natural environment due the load placed on it by the human race, mainly manifesting as climate change, ocean acidification and various other pollution related problems, as well as degradation of the environment due to resource use and habitat destruction.
  • Failures of the physical built human environment, mainly infrastructure— water supplies, the power grid, and transportation and communication infrastructure.
  • Failures of the virtual built human environment—economic contraction, financial crashes, failure of the credit systems which make commercial enterprises possible and have largely replaced cash for individuals, breakdown of governments as economic contraction starves them of financial resources, degradation of the fabric of our communities, social unrest, and war.
  • In some sense food is at the intersection of our natural, built and virtual environments, and as such, we can expect there to be problems in production, processing and distribution of food. These will lead to famines in many cases.
  • It also seems likely that there will be an increase in severe epidemics. I am not as well informed as I'd like to be about this, but it seems that hunger, poor sanitation and crowding in slums and refugee camps will be contributing factors.

So, we are going to find ourselves poorer and adapting to getting by with less. Less energy, less stuff and less stimulation, to borrow a phrase from John Michael Greer. This will mean a significant reduction in our level of comfort and convenience but given the high level of consumption in the developed world, there is quite a bit of room for this sort of adaptation. I think there is good reason to believe that many of us will survive, find a livelihood and maintain a sense of self worth even with drastically reduced consumption of energy and material goods.

When it comes right down to it, the bare necessities are energy, food and water. All three are going to be in short supply as collapse progresses over the next few decades, and those shortages will frequently lead to crises. The term "necessities" implies you can't adapt to such shortages, at least not in the long term. All you can do is try to be where they are less severe.

Cities rely on supplies shipped in from other locations. Before fossil fuels, the largest cities had populations of one million or a little more, and that only in ideal circumstances where water transportation made it possible to bring food in from a large enough surrounding area to feed that many people. Cities today rely on complex infrastructure powered by fossil fuels to supply their inhabitants. They will be in deep trouble as collapse progresses.

On the other hand there are many rural locations where:

  • adequate energy can be had locally in the form of firewood, which can be cut by hand if necessary
  • potable water can be accessed from already existing wells that can be converted to hand or wind driven pumps, or surface water that can be used with fairly simple filtration or treatment
  • sufficient food for the local population can be grown on existing farmland within walking distance of town, without fossil fuel powered machinery
  • the population is small enough that organizing such alternate arrangements will not be impossibly difficult to do when it becomes necessary.

This is the essence of why I think we will have a better time adapting to collapse in rural areas. Yes, it will require some degree of advance preparation and a willingness to accept a less affluent lifestyle, but it is all quite doable. As always, what I am recommending here as a viable response to collapse will only work if relatively few people follow my advice. But somehow, I don't think that will be a problem.

The standard trope in discussions of collapse and in collapse fiction is that the most extreme sort of catastrophe happens very quickly, widely and early in the process of collapse. Things break down pretty much completely over a period of days, and people are left thirsty, hungry and freezing in the dark. The sort of perfect storm it would require to have all this happen at once all across even one city, much less a whole country or continent is pretty unlikely in my opinion, though it does make for exciting stories.

After this fast and drastic collapse it is assumed that there will be roving hordes of hungry people leaving the cities to engage in looting and other violence in the countryside, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. But we should bear in mind that, even in the unlikely event of such a collapse, people can't walk far on empty stomachs, especially when they aren't used to walking much at all. Thirst and hunger are debilitating and in a fast collapse most people, caught unawares and unprepared, would not think to head out until they were already in pretty desperate shape. If this really were to happen, what you would end up with is piles of corpses along the sides of the roads, gradually thinning out as you get farther out of the city.

But of course, that is not the way I see it happening at all. Long before things have broken down completely, economic contraction will leave fewer and fewer people with jobs to keep them in the city. At the same time, infrastructure and supply chain failures will become more frequent and more lengthy, providing the nudge that people need to get them moving. First there will be a trickle of people leaving the cities, mainly those who left the country to find jobs in the city in the recent past. Later on, there will be a wave of refugees leaving the cities following each new disaster.

While governments still have the wherewithall to do so, many of these people will end up in refugee camps. But as economic contraction eventually starves governments to the point where they simply don't have resources to do much of anything, those camps will stop being serviced and people will be left to their own devices, both in the cities and in the camps. And by the time things have broken down completely, there will only be a few people left in the cities.

The actual facts about how people respond to disasters paints a very different picture from what most people expect. There is a deep human need to come together in crises to take care of each other. And contrary to the horrific picture of typical reactions painted by the "disaster mythology" (especially points 2, 3 and 4 in that article), in fact communities often do come together to help themselves in the most extraordinarily positive ways. This works best in communities where people already know each other and where things haven't broken down to the point where there are hostile factions that are basically at war. And of course, it requires at least a minimum of the resources needed to keep people alive (energy, food, water). These resources are far more likely to be available outside the cities.

It has also been suggested, that when the financial sector crashes, the commercial sector must fall apart too for lack of working credit arrangements, and with catastrophic results. I don't agree—even a worldwide financial collapse will hit some areas harder than others and will proceed, as I have said before, unevenly, unsteadily and unequally.p>

From personal experience in agriculture and the power industry I would predict that the people at the workface in critical industries will simply refuse to set down their tools when the results would be disastrous, just because banks are no longer doing their part. Alternate credit arrangements will be set up, involving handshakes, records kept on paper and promises to straighten it all out after the dust settles, rather than let people freeze and starve in the dark if there is any alternative at all.

Make no mistake, I don't mean to suggest that "Business as Usual" can continue on after a major financial collapse using jerry rigged credit arrangements. But there is a vast distance between BAU in all its glory and complete collapse where everything quits working. There is a lot of inertia in the systems which we most need to keep working: the power grid, industrial agriculture, the various systems by which fuels, especially diesel fuel, are distributed, and transportation and communication. This sort of thing will mitigate to a degree situations that would otherwise be thoroughly catastrophic.

So, anyway, you're going to move to the country, to position yourself where surviving collapse is the more doable.

The first thing to decide is when you should make this move. Many people, who live in sheltered circumstances, don't realize that collapse has already been happening for quite a while and that parts of many cities are already nicely along their way in the process of collapse. And it appears that we are in for another financial crash that will make things much worse. You want to leave well before your personal resources have become so depleted that you can't make the move successfully.

So this is more urgent than you might think. Still, I'm not suggesting you leave in a panic today. But do start preparing right away, and leave as soon as you can do so in an orderly fashion with a workable destination already arranged. You don't want to end up in one of those camps. Nor do you want to end up as one of a large wave of refugees arriving in a rural community, especially if that community is unprepared for you arrival, as will likely be the case.

This is more than just a matter of getting out of the cities before things get really miserable there. It's going to take some time to get set up where you are going and to become integrated into your new community. At the moment, people are still leaving small rural towns to find work in the city, but the day will come when that flow reverses. You want to be seen as a relatively old hand in your small town when that happens.

One of the challenges of the slow and uneven collapse that I am predicting, and which has indeed been going on for several decades now, is that there is never going to be a day when you can say at bedtime, "yep, industrial civilization collapsed today." Looking back years later it will be more obvious that collapse has been happening, but still hard to pin down a specific date for when it happened, even in any one location.

If you are at ground zero for one of those catastrophes I listed, there will usually be somewhere else where things are better and you can go as a refugee. But waiting to be a refugee, or worse yet a victim of catastrophe, is exactly what I recommend you don't do. As I have said before, the only real choice you have is to be part of the influx of refugees or to be among of those who are welcoming that influx. I would say that the latter role is very much preferable. A timely move, before things get serious, can put you on the right side of things.

But where to go? In the second post in this series I identified a number of criteria for selecting a new location, based on avoiding the worst effects of climate change:

  • well above sea level
  • not at the top of a bluff overlooking the sea that is being gradually eroded away
  • not situated so as to take the full brunt of tropical storms
  • not in the floodplain of a river
  • not in a desert or semi-desert that relies on water from fossil aquifers that are being depleted faster than they are replenished or rivers fed by melt water from disappearing glaciers
  • not subject to hot season temperatures or heat waves that are not survivable if the power goes out or you can't afford air conditioning
  • receiving enough rain to allow for agriculture largely without irrigation
  • with a growing season and soil that will support agriculture

Now based on the need to get out of the city and find a location where adapting to post-industrial collapse conditions will be easier, we can add a few more criteria:

  • far enough from the city to avoid the worst of what's going to happen there and so that the waves of refugees will be largely spent and small in number when they arrive at your location, and to be isolated from epidemics as well
  • in a small town (a few hundred to a few thousand people) or on a farm near such a town
  • where the surrounding agricultural area can support the local population using low tech, sustainable agricultural methods
  • where there is still some standing timber, mainly for firewood, but also for all the many other things that can be done with wood
  • where the ground water or surface water is potable or can be made that way with simple filtration
  • where you have connections in the community, or where you can make those connections with some work hard
  • where you can initially earn a living or set up to live off your savings/investments/pension

There are a few things that such a community needs to be prepared to do and you should work toward being in a position to encourage that preparation. At some point the trucks are going to stop running. You'll need to get by on local resources.

  • Many small towns have a water treatment plant that relies on chemicals that are shipped in on a "just in time" basis. A stockpile of those chemicals and/or a plan for moving to an alternate source of potable water will be critical.
  • You will need a plan to feed the populace when the grocery store shelves are empty, using local farm products, so that people don't panic and start helping themselves to, and in the process destroying, the stock and crops on local farms.
  • It will only be a matter of time until your connection to the power grid fails. Firewood, wood burning stoves, lanterns and so forth will be in short supply and you'll want to be prepared.
  • While perhaps not quite so urgent, some thought should be given to how welcome refugees. This is on humanitarian grounds, if nothing else. A community that is willing to drive refugees away at gun point, will eventually be willing to treat its own member just as harshly. Your remote location should ensure you won't be overrun, that a manageable number of refugees show up. Your aim should be to treat these folks as well as you treat yourselves and, without abusing them, to turn them into a resource rather than a burden. You will be switching over to a lifestyle where people are needed to replace automation, so that shouldn't be too hard.

It would be excellent if the existing authorities were aware of what's coming and had plans to deal with it, but I should think that is pretty unlikely in most small towns. Better to get to know some of the locals, particularly farmers, well enough to be able to get together with them and organize what's needed when the time comes. If you set a good enough example, others will follow.

More on that, and other practical considerations, next time.


Links to the rest of this series of posts, Preparing for (Responding to) Collapse:

24 comments:

Bernie said...

Brilliant analysis and predictions Irv! I ‘m truly impressed with the comprehensiveness you’ve tackled. Thanks.

Irv Mills said...

Thanks, Bernie!

Don Hayward said...

Thank you for the mention, Irv. I learn lots from you. I’m hoping, in February to split After the Last Day into a trilogy that will be easier to read, but only available directly from me.
I acknowledge your right to change your mind on things, and one of the things I keep saying is that the survivors, no matter how much prepping they may have done will have to be fast on their feet because conditions will not be as expected. I have changed my views a bit since I wrote the first novel and think it will actually be much worse in southern Ontario.
While in fiction, the writer must compress time-lines somewhat to make the actual book shorter, I still believe that the hope in a short-term optimistic future for survivors lies in a rapid collapse of both central authority and population. While I depict the debt structure disappearing for consumers immediately and for business over a couple of months, but the longer more repressive central authorities can retain power, the worse it will be for attempts at localisation. Of course, any scenario will be horrible. The speed of an actual collapse is unpredictable, but I do not see the world reverting to primitivism in the next couple of centuries nor even to the crudeness of early pioneering times in the colonies; however, the main source of resources will be salvage and many factors will determine how quickly that is depleted. My novel spanned about 60 years and the process had not yet ended. I show it more advanced 100 years later in my follow-up story, The Seventh Path. In all, I agree with your thoughts on the unevenness of the process, but perhaps I think it will be faster than you see as we are already in the slow decline and at some point the dam may burst. I also think that interconnectivity is greater than you see, and this might spread financial collapse much more quickly and evenly than might be expected and overwhelm central authority. When we see the huge response of outside resources required for even limited disasters like hurricanes, fires and earthquakes, we can imagine these not being made available or being needed on their home ground. Whether the actual collapse to only local organisation takes one, three, five or more years is impossible to predict. I show it persisting for some time and incorporate your view that workers will not just down tools, especially if they benefit from their own work (sewer and water) or governments maintain enough ability to keep the electric grid maintained. We saw some of this in the Soviet collapse.
I am more pessimistic than I was five years ago, mainly due to what I now think is the likelihood of a near-term climactic crisis in food. The resources for local self-sufficiency in food may not be as great as we expect. That will impact even strong, well-organised local communities. We both agree, strong local communities are the key to survival and joining one now is the best option. I will post more in following comments.

Don Hayward said...

Last thoughts for now.
The caravan that is slowly progressing from Central America to the Usayan border can teach us some things about what migration in response to what collapse might and might not be like.
Let’s pick Honduras as the starting point. The internal chaos and gang warfare resembles the condition in Toronto I describe as developing during about three months of the accelerated collapse event. There is a self-serving central government that wants to dominate, while the gangs lash out at each other with old fashioned ideas of turf before gradually being absorbed into a more cohesive entity that challenges the government. Perhaps Honduras has not yet reached that stage and I intend to research it more; however, at this point I’m more interested in those who decided to flee.
One of the first characteristics is that they endured for a long time before making the decision to leave. The horrors of the road and uncertainty of the end gradually became less than the horrors they were living. In my story, I show that this takes about three years to develop into a serious exodus and by then many are already dead or too weak to go or have been absorbed into various fighting groups. I expect, when I read more of the country’s history I will discover that they went through the phase of peasants fleeing to the towns as the rural economy was shattered by various economic and political forces and this without any impact of a climactic disaster. That scenario has played out in so many third world neo-colonies that it would not be surprising. In Ontario, I depict this as an early and good thing for overpopulated bedroom places like Dufferin county, but others, like Huron county will see less of it as it is not so full of commuters who came from and focus on a city.
A second characteristic of these caravans is that they get some physical support along the way ranging from food, clothing and limited transportation. In my fictional scenario, and in the reality of a more general contraction, this help will likely not exist, and they might have to fight their way along the road. As you have described, we will see your weak, hungry people mostly failing to survive the trip,.
Lastly, while in my story Huron Territory needs and welcomes good people, the more likely response, especially early in a crisis will be closer to the Usayan rejection of “the other”, and it may have similar racist elements to it. Not all local entities will be progressive, and I fear for the amount of bigotry that exists, especially in rural Ontario. How this divisiveness plays out is uncertain. Being part of a repressive, bigoted closed community is not attractive and likely such places are doomed to failure anyway.
This leads me to consider that the one big loss due to central failure will be the rule of law. Vigilantism will become tempting and likely common is closed, repressive communities and some will be very dangerous. This is a common theme in much apocalyptic fiction, but it will exist in places, at least in the short term until these communities eat themselves.
Thanks for the great and stimulating work, Irv. Maybe the weather will let us visit again soon.

Irv Mills said...

@ Don Hayward
And thank you Don, for the many ideas in your comments. You'll see some of them cropping up in future posts.
We should try to get together early in December. Are you game for a trip to Kincardine? If not, I think I still owe you at least one trip to Goderich.

Don Hayward said...

Let me try for the second week of December, weather permitting, I'll drive up. I will try to explore the migrant convoy and refugee issues looking for some more insight. I think the die-off and internal migration issues are important, but people tend to stay put as long as they can, even in the face of storm and volcano warnings. It's a wild night out there now.

Irv Mills said...

@ Don Hayward
So far, the second week of December look good for me, weather permitting. When you are ready, pick a date.

nikoB said...

Hi Irv,

some nice analysis there. How do you feel about the issue of keeping spent nuclear fuel rod ponds going when power grids fail. Without electricity or diesel the majority will evaporate and then catch fire releasing lethal doses of radioactive particles into the atmosphere. Moving the rods to dry storage will be highly difficult without specialised equipment.

This is a primary concern since there are over 4000 ponds worldwide and a fire in just one would release 10000's more radiation than Chernobyl.

Gail M said...

Mr. Mills, I agree with your evaluation of how collapse will be prolonged and sporadic, hitting certain areas and not others. Debt to GDP ratio of the US is at 106%, when 90% is considered the "danger zone". The US has been printing money, but this is not a solution and eventually inflation will rise drastically. I'm retired now, but worked as a nurse when the hurricane hit Puerto Rico. At my hospital in Eastern Ontario tubing supplies were short along with specific drugs that are manufactured there. Pure vanilla extract has also become really expensive though I believe that countries that grow it (Mexico, Guatemala, and Madagascar) experienced a work issue and not a climate issue. We see "little" examples of collapse and few can connect the dots (or want to connect the dots). I live in a rural area, and have no plans to move. I quietly try to plan for what I see to be our future, but I can tell you, not many people want to listen to me talk about collapse, and so I don't. And to quote John Michael Greer: I try to "collapse now and avoid the rush".

Category5 said...

Very good work, Irv. Thanks for subscribing to DGM and adding me to your blog roll.

Being that I am a bit of a computer luddite, do you have a private message function here... and how do I find it?. I hope to plagiarizer you heavily in a future post.LOL seems overused

Joe said...

Great post. You're getting close to the nitty-gritty of maximizing options in advance of collapse.

One of the strongest barriers to moving to a rural area, particularly to a small farm, is the cost of land. Your suggestion of moving to a small town that has plenty of arable land within walking distance is a good one, especially since housing costs are likely to be lower in a small town than in a big city, which makes the move easier, but jobs with good salaries will be scarce.

This means that purchasing a home in a small town should be on a mortgage free basis if at all possible. Being debt free will make it much easier to live on the lower earnings of small town work. Really young people with little asset accumulation will have a tougher time, but a hard working person should be able to find a viable situation if they are very motivated.

I think it will be very difficult to enlist local farm owners near small towns in preparing for collapse. Most of them will not want amateur farmers messing with their property until the time comes when manual labor for farm work will be a necessity. This means that any newbie to small town life should make every effort to find interim work that helps develop the skills that farmers can eventually use. Even though industrial agriculture will fade away, participating in that arena in any capacity while it still exists will be a good introduction to the people and lifestyles of a rural area. Some skills will carry over, like water management, familiarity with handling livestock and use of hand tools of all kinds, which are still used in myriad ways even on industrial farms.

After the decades of continuous depopulation of rural areas, I think that the folks still living there will be willing to welcome newcomers with open arms, but they will be even more likely to do so if you are:

1. Young, fit and although not essential, preferably a member of a young family with children
2. Clearly sincere about making a long term commitment
3. Willing to participate fully in community affairs
4. Patient enough to wait until you really know the players and the issues before spouting off about how things should be really be done (may take several years)
5. Seen by everyone as hard working and honest person who can be trusted to keep their word and who never over-promises

I live in a rural area that, in addition to commercial farmers and ranchers, has a high number of older retirees who moved to a small acreage in the country for a little peace and quiet and to engage in rural activities as hobbies. Land prices are very high and make it difficult for young people to move into the neighborhood. My wife and I are always delighted to see new young people passing by in their cars as we walk our dogs along country roads in the morning. We know that they are the future of humanity and it's nice to have them around. I think other rural folk are likely to have the same outlook. No one should be afraid to move to the country.

Anonymous said...

Irv,
Another great post. Thanks,
Joe, I agree with you fully on moving to a rural area and attempting to integrate into that area. However, many rural areas are quite insular and difficult to "break into". In my area the area was "settled" about 150 years ago by 4 families and I guess that about 50% of the 1200 people that live in the surrounding area are descendants of those families. I found that hiring locals to do work (grading, back hoe, heavy construction) helps you get known. I also joined the volunteer fire department and am now much more widely known (and liked I hope?). I'm not religious but that is one more avenue to acceptance. And, since this is the USA, I never talk politics unless it's with neighbors that I know agree with me. You don't want to be a rabble rouser there.
Al

Joe said...

Anonymous,

Yes, integrating into the social structure of a rural area can be hard, but even with that 'problem', I have always preferred the familiarity of the people in a small community to the anonymity of a big city. People who grow up in the country may feel the reverse, since they can become bored with that familiarity. After living in cities until then, I once lived for two years in an atoll village that had 200 people. I found them to be plenty of company. People in another village 8 miles away remained nearly total strangers.

The necessity for social integration will be far less for those who own their own land and produce their own food, but in many ways integration will be even easier for them, since everyone respects the capabilities of a successful subsistence farmer. It is those who live in a town who will need make the biggest effort, since when hard times come they will be more and more dependent on surrounding farmers for work.

When work is parceled out, everyone will hire their relatives and their close friends first. Newcomers will be the last to be offered a job. That's just the way it is. A farmer who is desperate for workers might still be reluctant to accept someone they know very little, since that unknown person might very well be more trouble than they are worth. People who have proven that they are an honest and hard working asset to the community will move to the head of the line (after friends and relatives). If you can't be a farmer yourself, make friends with farmers; you will need them to survive.

Irv Mills said...

@ nikoB
It may surprise you to hear that I live about 10 miles from the Bruce Nuclear Power Development, one of the largest nuclear plants in the world--4 units rated at 750 megawatts each and 4 units rated at 850 megawatts each. From 1977 to 2005 I worked there. Not in the nuke plants themselves, but in the switchyards, since my employer was the provincial grid company, Hydro One.

To me the biggest concern is the ignorance of some members of the public and the fear with which they view nuclear power. Plans to build an underground repository for low and mid level waste have met a good deal of opposition based on that fear and ignorance. Long terms plans to build underground storage for spent fuel haven't gotten to the stage of public hearings, but when they do I expect there will be a huge outcry.

In my opinion it is absolutely critical that we set up safe storage for all levels of waste, but especially the spent fuel, and well before economic collapse renders this extreme difficult to do. It also looks to me like it's not going to happen. The local anti-nukes don't want such storage in their back yards. Nobody elsewhere is keen to have it stored in their back yards, and the people between there and here don't want it shipped down roads that go past their back yards. All these folks are pretty upset and not listening to reason.

So, it's pretty clear that shipping spent fuel down the road is not going to fly and underground storage is unlikely to get approval. What other choices are there?

Well, the first reactor at Bruce was the 220 megawatt one a Douglas Point Generating Station. It was shut down in the mid 1980s. Once the fuel had cooled down sufficiently, in was placed in a set of concrete silos sitting on a concrete pad just outside the building. It has remained there with no problems for about 30 years now. I suspect something similar could be done with the rest of the fuel on site.

The critical period is when it needs to sit in the spent fuel bays to cool off, both thermally and radioactively, and during that time the water in those bays (like big swimming pools) needs to be cooled. But this is only a few years and as time passes, less cooling is needed. Then the fuel can be moved to some for of shielded concrete building where it will stay safe for quite a long time. Yes, it would be best not to use reinforced concrete, which breaks down relatively quickly.

A sudden and hard collapse might bring an unfortunate halt to plans such as this. But in the slow and uneven collapse that I am expecting there will be time to implement this sort of jerry rigged solutions, and the need for them will become clear before it is too late. We should always remember that the people working at nuclear plants are well aware of all this and will be eager to implement solutions when the need arises. After all, they live nearby.

Of course it would be good to start as soon as possible, and realizing that this is necessary is going to be the hardest obstacle to overcome. It would really help if people had a more realistic understanding of radiation and the dangers associated with radiation. Especially that exposure to low doses of radiation is not nearly as dangerous as many believe. I would recommend "We Want To Know: A conversation about radiation and its effects in the aftermath of Japan’s worst nuclear accident", an excellent little book that unfortunately is only available in Kindle format. Really worth reading though, and for those who don't have a Kindle, free software is available to allow you to read Kindle books on your PC or phone.

I do have to question what you said about a fire in a spent fuel bay releasing "10000's more radiation than Chernobyl". My guess is that it would be somewhat less than what was released at Chernobyl. Here's a link to a good article on the consequences of radiation from Chernobyl: Chapter V Health impact - Chernobyl

Irv Mills said...

@ Gail M.
I agree, very few people are ready to hear about collapse. Best get to know people and make friends without worrying about telling them about collapse. The day will come when events will make them more willing to listen, and if you are known as a good and sensible person you will have more influence than if you were that "crackpot who's always talking about the end of the world".
Plan and prepare quietly. Collapse now and avoid the rush, indeed!
But it is nice to have a few places online where you can meet with like minded people and talk about what's coming.

Irv Mills said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Irv Mills said...

@Joe
Thanks for the kind words, Joe. We seem to think a lot alike--your comment reads a lot like the outline I've been working on for my next post.
I have several friends among the local farmers who are very much aware of Peak Oil and collapse. They are clearly exceptions to the rule, though. I have found farmers friendly to town people who want to garden, and if they have a corner of a field that is awkwardly placed to work, you might find them willing to rent it to you quite reasonably, and run the plow through it one last time to save you some digging.
I am the co-ordinator for our local Community Garden and we've had very strong support from the local Agricultural Society.
You have to get to know people though, be willing to buy the products they are trying to sell, be generous with your money, and offer lend a hand in areas where you have appropriate skills. Only then can you ask for help.
And, yes, if you are coming from an office job in the city, developing some practical skill and learning to work with your hands should be a very high priority. I was fortunate to grow up on a farm and then become a tradesman (electrician) with a fair knowledge of other trades as well.

Irv Mills said...

@ Anonymus
Thanks for the kind words and good suggestions for taking part in rural communities. Push the wrong kind of politics or have any sort of superior attitude, and your sunk before you even get started.

Category5 said...

Thanks Irv. Got it. Go back and erase it

Irv Mills said...

@Category5
Done! And thanks. Now why didn't I think of that? Anyway, I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Joe said...

@ Irv

By the way, the 'Joe' you referred to is me, Joe Clarkson. I usually use my full name in commenting. I don't know why Blogger has me as Joe, but I think I can change to my full name if you prefer.

Irv Mills said...

@ Joe Clarkson
Thanks for filling me in. I've change that reference to you in the text of this post to your full name. Blogger can be a little strange at times.

Joe Clarkson said...

Irv,

Once the fuel had cooled down sufficiently, it was placed in a set of concrete silos sitting on a concrete pad just outside the building. It has remained there with no problems for about 30 years now. I suspect something similar could be done with the rest of the fuel on site.

The infuriating thing about this subject in the US is that the NRC is allowing plant operators to keep huge amounts of spent fuel in the cooling pools even after they are long cool enough to be put in dry cask storage. The plants don't want to spent the extra money to put them in the casks even though they would have to be put in them for transport to underground repositories (were there any such repositories).

The dry casks are far safer than the pools, which almost always have enough hot fuel bundles to require active water circulation for cooling. The dry casks might fall apart after a number of decades or centuries, but in that case they would leave a pile of relatively low-level waste which wouldn't ever be lofted into the air to spread long distances. It would be nice to store the casks away from rivers and lakes so any residue wouldn't wash into them, but that might be asking too much of people who assume that civilization will go on forever.

If the plant operators could be forced to at least transfer the spent fuel from the pools to the casks at the earliest opportunity, the remaining spent fuel would be a much easier thing to deal with in a collapse situation.

Weapons proliferation, fuel waste storage and high costs have always been the stumbling block for widespread use of nuclear energy. Unfortunately, I see no sign that any of them will be addressed soon, but just dealing with the spent fuel in cooling pools would be a big step forward.

Irv Mills said...

@ Joe Clarkson
Very well said, Joe. Other than those few (about a dozen) flasks from Douglas Pt. GS I don't think anything is being done here in Canada to get spent fuel out of the cooling pool, either. Even those flasks are sitting only a few hundred yards from Lake Huron.

My only hope is that in the slow collapse I am predicting there will be a period where it becomes clear that collapse is happening and we need to prepare, and when things are still sufficiently together that fuel that is sufficiently cooled off could be put into casks. It needn't be that hi-tech an effort. A final act by the workers at the nuclear stations to make their legacy more positive.

Bluntly put the nuclear regulators, in the US, Canada, and the rest of the world, need to get their heads out of their butts and act on this while there is still time. And the anti-nukes need to do the same thing, head and butt wise, and get behind a project which would make the long term outlook a lot safer.

Waiting until collapse takes both regulators and anti-nukes out of the picture is cutting it pretty fine.