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The real cost of Nuclear Power

Post in 'The Green Room' started by webbie, Oct 6, 2006.

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  1. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Sometimes it seems as if we Americans have a very short term memory. Raise gas and electric prices and we are ready to consider Nuclear power, more polluting coal plants and just about anything to save a few dollars (short of good conservation policy and smaller homes/cars).

    Witness the President, Congress and even "green" groups talking about how nuclear power is the answer to our energy woes.

    But, as with other fuels, there are hidden costs that have to be paid. These have not even been calculated in full, but a recent article in the local paper got my attention:

    http://www.thetranscript.com/headlines/ci_4445758

    " ROWE — A federal judge has ordered the U.S. government to pay millions of dollars toward the cost of nuclear-waste storage at Yankee Atomic Electric Co.'s closed Rowe plant and two others."

    Seems that the Feds promised the ENTIRE nuclear industry that they would be responsible for long term storage of the nuclear waste. Now that the Feds have not come through, they (you and I) have to pay the power companies FOREVERMORE to store the stuff at closed plants. In addition, there will larger future costs when the stuff is finally moved to Nevada or where ever it's final destination may be. Even there, it will continue to cost the taxpayers for tens of thousands of year, if civilization lasts that long!

    This is only one small part of the $$ cost. Then there is the human cost. While most can agree that nuclear plants themselves emit very little radiation, the "fuel cycle", meaning the mining, processing, transportation and eventual disposal of said nuclear fuel has been proven to add vast amounts of radiation to the environment. This results in an increase in numerous cancers, especially bone cancers and leukemia. As the experts will tell you, there is no such thing as a safe dose of radiation. X-rays at the dentist and high altitude flights all add up to increases in the amount of cancer.....and not just by a small amount. As a for instance, the radiation given in a normal Pet or Cat scan has been found to cause cancer in 1 out of 1,000 times. That is incredibly high when you figure many thousand of these procedures are done daily. In many of these case, it is a risk worth taking, because the scan is needed to save the patient from something worse than the 1 in 1,000. But, in the case of nuclear power, the public-at-large is the "patient" . And, as is usually the case with cancer, you cannot accurately trace back each case to the exact impurity which caused it.

    In a perfect world we might be able to produce power without pollution, but until then we should carefully look at the total effect of the technology that we use.

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  2. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    There's no free lunch here. Most energy source and heating methods are too energy intensive. Even insulation impacts the planet for manufacturing, transport, storage, etc. Wood and coal heat are none too clean either, especially when the total impact is measured. Until there is either a clean energy source or a radical shift in building and transportation technology, the best solution is conservation and less people on the planet. These are the two things that the current administration won't even allow to be discussed in earnest.
  3. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I'd rather pay to store the bad stuff in one place, instead of having it spewn out all over the countryside in the form of acid rain & mercury & who knows what else, and ultimately pay for it with my health. Ditto with CO2.

    I'll second BG's prescription for getting back on track.
  4. Corey

    Corey Minister of Fire

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    That article makes a lot of statements that I would like to see actual references and research for. Some of it seems down right ridiculous...

    "As a for instance, the radiation given in a normal Pet or Cat scan has been found to cause cancer in 1 out of 1,000 times."

    This seems to border on saying "living is a major cause of dying". Or noting the fact that everyone who has died in the past century has had traces of dihydrogen monoxide in their body...yet the federal government...with republicans at the helm...continue to allow this insidious chemical to be freely discharged into the environment. Think about it!! Thousands die every year from inhaling this chemical.

    http://www.dhmo.org/


    Corey
  5. Sandor

    Sandor Minister of Fire

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    I agree with you here Eric. Mercury polution is starting to become a problem. With all of the new coal fired power plants coming online, things can only get worse.

    Long term, Breeder reactors are about the only solution, complemented with wind and solar power.

    Saw a pic of your house Craig. Looked kinda big for two people.
  6. BikeMedic2709

    BikeMedic2709 New Member

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    There are other greater sources of radiation in your own home. It is shocking! Do a little research. (Lanten mantles are very stong alpha emmiters, as well as smoke detectors just to name a few.) The radiation from a nuke plant is beta and gamma. The way the that the "used" nuke cores are put to use is in Cesium 135/136. It is used in the medical industry to treat and diagnose illnesses. Kinda funny if you think about it. I am not an expert but I am required to know quite alot about radiation due to the nature of my job. I am here to tell you that nuclear power is the safest cleanest way to produce usage energy in the sums that are need to power society as we know it.
    Chernobyl... Was stupidity on behalf of the engineers and the Soviet govt. Cost. They tried to cut corners. They used carbon rods.. Bad! Real bad!

    More people are killed by there own generators every year than nuclear power plants.
  7. hilly

    hilly Feeling the Heat

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    It's quite clear that the operation of nuclear reactors on a day to day basis does not emit much radiation, but we have no idea how to dispose of the radioactive waste. A friend of mine worked in reactors in Quebec and aside from the decay products needing long term storage, all of the clothing, pipes, pumps, tools, etc. that are exposed to radiation must be disposed of too.
    A saying I heard (or maybe saw on a bumper sticker) once was that we do not inherit the earth from our parents, but rather borrow it from our children. We are essentially making and using power now that has a cost that must be paid by our children and grandchildren. We literally don't have any way to dispose of the waste. It will need to be monitored for many years to come and I wonder if that is taken into account when the cost per KWh is calculated?
    It has also been stated that nuclear energy is not as greenhouse gas friendly as proponents make it out to be when the mining and transport of the raw fuel is calculated into the mix.
    Generating electricity by using nuclear energy is a huge step backwards for us. I am certainly not condoning the use of fossil fuels, but merely saying that nuclear is a terrible option and we need to come up with a better solution and soon. Surely we can come up with a better way of boiling water than splitting atoms.
  8. wg_bent

    wg_bent Minister of Fire

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    It's kinda like when I was in college and NYPIRG use to bother the heck out of people in the cafeteria trying to get them to sign petitions to abolish nuclear power. Their goal was to totally get rid of it. Seems sort of short sighted. Their point was the the power plants could melt down.

    So I asked one person why they weren't working to make it safer, less contaminating, and cheaper....uuuuuhhhh...I don't know.... They went away.

    Nuclear power IS a good source of power in my opinion, but there are serious drawbacks that need to be resolved. It may cost a lot, but it has a lot less impact on the environment and people than almost any other source. Ground radiation (radon gass) is a lot more severe than any nuke power plant. The recognized limit is 5...My previous house measured out to be like 49....I wish I knew that while I was living there...it never occured to me to have it tested.

    My current house is 4.3!!!

    I'll bet that radon did more damage to me than Indian point does.
  9. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Corey, the definitive report on the subject, BEIR VII, issued by our National Academy of Sciences, published this figure last year as the best estimate. It can be argued over - it can be higher, it could be lower. But is generally accepted data.

    The report also summarized "Contrary to the beliefs of many in the nuclear industry, the BEIR VII report reaffirmed the conclusion of the prior report that every exposure to radiation produces a corresponding increase in cancer risk. The proportionality of risk means that at low exposures the risks are small, as the NAS report points out."

    EVERY EXPOSURE...VERY CLEAR.

    As far as living being a cause of dying, if one person died on every 5 aircraft that took to the sky, that would be the same as 1 in 1,000. I think this indicates much more than the everyday risks (which are way less than 1 in a MILLION for flying on a plane).

    Why do you not know about this? Well, it's like this - the Doctors and profit-making institutions which give these scans and often have limited partnerships in owning the clinics that give them, say "out loud" that you and I are too stupid to make a decision when given such facts. So they limit the warning to "excess exposure to radiation increases the incidence of cancer" or some such other muddy statement.

    As far as the nuclear fuel cycle, one well known study done over a decade in Spain showed:
    "Examination of the results by facility showed excess cancer mortality of almost 9% in the area surrounding the Andújar plant. This excess was attributable to higher than- expected lung, ovarian, and colorectal cancer mortality. The El Cabril area registered a statistically significant excess breast cancer mortality among women (RR 1.48; 95% CI, 1.09–2.01). Comparison between the 15-km radius around the La Haba plant and the reference area showed a higher risk of colorectal cancer mortality (RR 1.43; 95% CI, 1.03–1.49), an RR of 1.85 (95% CI, 1.00–3.44) for renal cancer, and an RR of 3.79 (95% CI, 0.91–15.84) for thyroid cancer. Renal cancer registered an SMR that was almost 2 vis-à-vis the national reference and was statistically significant. The most noteworthy finding in the Ciudad Rodrigo area was the higher risk of death from lung cancer observed for all towns nearest (0–15 km) the installation (RR 1.54; 95% CI, 1.04–2.30). The RR point estimator for renal cancer exceeded 1 for all areas surrounding uranium cycle facilities."

    It is very well documented that the Nuclear Fuel Cycle (mining, processing, use, disposal) subjects millions of people to additional radiation than they might otherwise have. That means that we - as a whole - decide that it is OK for more cancers to occur.

    My point here is not to say that Nuclear should be stopped. It is that because the industry has been propped up by the government - and because we have never been educated as to the TRUE and actual total cost of the cycle, that we should not be cheerleaders until all the questions are answered.

    Wood smoke might be bad, but at least I am not subjecting someone who lives 5,000 years from now to more cancer because I want to get warm!
  10. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    You are definitely correct.....
    I woudl be working to lower that 4.3 if I were you!

    At 4, the risk of lung cancer is as follows:

    62 out of 1,000 (smokers) 23 out of 1,000 (general population)

    Now this is for a lifetime of exposure - in other words, living in a house with the level. That is quite high - a 1 in 40 chance!

    I' would hedge my bets and install a remediation system! Get it down to 2 and it is cut in about 1/2.

    Remember, it all adds up - if Indian point does a little, the dentist does some, you smoke, and there are some strange additives in your meat or veggies AND the Radon - well, taken together you are going DOWN.....
  11. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    Some people go DOWN; others don't. I don't think anybody knows why. People who never smoked a cigarette in their lives develop lung cancer, while some heavy smokers never get it. Everybody's different.

    Statistically and on average, however, it pays to limit your exposure to as much bad stuff as you can. Me, I'll take a controlled, contained source of long-term pollution like nuclear power over unrestrained, widely broadcast exposure to mercury and who knows what else, any day of the week.

    As to the issue of waste disposal, I think it's more realistic to expect that we'll figure out a way to neutralize or use our current inventory of nuclear "waste" long before we come up with a silver-bullet alternative energy technology that replaces nuclear power.
  12. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    That does not seem like the case. There is absolutely NO progress on nuclear waste disposal in the past 50 years - in fact, the opposite is true and they have found the problems getting larger and larger. The current idea is to bury it into a mountiain in Nevada (a fast growing state) - a mountain which is proven will not last as long as the waste! In other words, what is now a desert could become a sea or lake and then of course all that radiation will be spread, etc.

    In the meanwhile, the science of everything from clean wood and coal combustion to solar electric and fuel cells have advanced greatly.

    My opinion is that it is a matter of will and investment. We COULD solve a lot of the energy problems within 50 years if we applied science and money. We cannot solve the nuclear waste problem in that time - or at least the odds seem vastly against it.

    Folks like me who are uneducated on the subject can speculate that maybe they will come up with an amazing process that takes all the radiation out of the waste, etc. ---but people in the nuclear field who seem to know more say this is all pipe dreams, and even though it could be done it would be so expensive as to make the total cost of nuclear really high.

    The question becomes whether we are believing in fairy tales - especially ones with no basis. Saying they are going to solve a problem as complicated as that in any given time frame seems difficult. Lots of problems are being worked on - there are researchers who are working on how to transport matter like in Star Trek. This is possible, they say.....and it surely is. The researcher, however, said with current technology it would take hard drives stacked from here to the MOON to hold the data which represents you arm! He also said no one expects to solve this in any of their lifetimes - it might be 1,000 years or more...or never!

    Sure, we COULD mine uranium without a lot of dust and piles of tailings, but it would cost vastly more. We COULD process it cleaner, and transport it safer - but it would cost vastly more. So, just as with wood burning, doesn't it pay to just thorw a log on the fire rather than chemically create wood from scratch just because we can? We already have an amazing nuclear reactor - the SUN, which causes winds, moving water, solar radiation and enough power by most measures to fuel our society.
  13. hilly

    hilly Feeling the Heat

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    Edit: sorry, I wrote this while Craig was writing his!
    Physicists have been working on waste disposal for upwards of fifty years and have not come up with anything better than putting in a mountain. Some of the waste might have the potential to be used again (as mentioned a tiny percentage is used in medicine), but the vast majority of it is useless and dangerous for many lifetimes.
    At this time there is nothing we can do to neutralize nuclear waste. You can hit it, heat it, drop it, send a current of electricity through it and it doesn't change the decay rate of the material. That's one of the reasons that cesium clocks work so well, because the decay rate is exceptionally predictable. I have more faith that we will come up with commercially viable nuclear fusion than we will a decent way to deal with nuclear waste.
    In the mean time the waste that we do have is in containers that are deteriorating, partly from rust and partly from radiation, and have the distinct possibility of contaminating groundwater. To continue using nuclear power and hoping that someday we will come up with a solution on how to deal with the waste is unethical and places a huge burden on our children.
    As for the current energy crisis, it needs to stay current, by building nuclear reactors it simply changes when the crisis will occur. It won't be for us, but for our future generations. I really don't think there will be one silver bullet (nuclear fusion) for energy production, but a combination of many things such as solar, wind, tidal etc.
  14. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    I once read an article about how scientists are studying how they will warm future humans about where this nuclear trash is - and that is is dangerous. Given the changes over history - 1,000 years back takes us in the middle ages - what is the world going to look like in 10-20,000 years! No, it will not be just like today! English will probably be gone, another ice age may have come and gone, etc. etc, etc.

    They envision technology that is not possible today - for instance, giant robot drilling spheres that dig into the earth and go by themselves in search of minerals to mine - since we will have long ago used up the mother lodes. What is going to stop these from heading directly into the waste areas and releasing the radiation?

    Since the people are unlikely to be able to read English or any other language spoken today, they are thinking of vast valleys where the waste is stored being filled with stone monuments which appeal to Human emotion - in other words transcend language. One idea calls for stone posts that make strange warning sounds when the wind blows through them.

    It's strange to imagine that the Mark Foleys of the world are making the laws regarding these poisions.
  15. Sandor

    Sandor Minister of Fire

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    Craig, what in hell is your solution? Your are sure fast to point out flaws in everything, but offer not solution to power a globe full of homes like yours, and a jet-set lifestyle to visit your kids.

    Millions of Windmills and Solar Cells are not going to electrify a planet full of Issod homes in the future, or fuel the jet to San Francisco. I've seen pics of your home with the new addition, and it does not look like a model of conservation for a family of two.
  16. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Actually, thousands or tens of thousand of windmills CAN do a bunch. What do you have to say about Denmark....over 1/4 of their electric. Our state of Mass. could get that percentage of electric from windmills off the coast easily. We already have some hydro, and they are trying to add a wood burning electric plant near here.

    Certainly, 10 foot tides along the coast would produce an amazing amount of energy.....this does not even include wave energy.

    Then add in solar.

    Then add in efficiency.

    It's not like we are stuck in the water. The US creates our current GNP on 1/2 the energy it did in 1970 (per dollar). That is pretty good. My point is that we could do much better if WE THE PEOPLE along with the government created a LONG TERM intelligent policy which CHALLENGED us to do our best. This can be as comprehensive as WE are willing to accept. Think my house is too nice? - let's have a luxury tax on homes or residential fuel use over a certain baseline and use that money for more renewables. I'll either pay it or downsize. Of course, I work at home - running two businesses out of the place, so I'm not using up any office space or commuting, etc.

    Same with cars. I drive a 4-banger, but if I want bigger I should pay for it in a way that taxes me and helps mitagate the problems that my larger vehicle causes.

    So that is my solution. Not to solve it in my lifetime, but to head in a direction as most countries in the world are doing. We are doing it also, but we keep going backwards whenever fuel drops in price because we are not long term planners (in general).

    Unfortunately, I don't see the short-term view changing because our political system is broken...but that is another story. What good does it do to implement energy and environmental policies if then a new and selfish administration can come along 4 years later and destroy them all?

    Meanwhile, I am willing to pay extra NOT to poison 20,000 years into the future with radiation. Or, at least, consider all the angles before I do.

    You seem angry that someone would even care! Is your view that we should simply use up everything and pollute with no eye toward future generations? Certainly we are ALL hypocrites...you will never see me deny that.
  17. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    A nice bullet train running on wind electric up and down the east coast would also be nice! :cheese:
  18. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    Craig:

    "You seem angry that someone would even care! Is your view that we should simply use up everything and pollute with no eye toward future generations? Certainly we are ALL hypocrites...you will never see me deny that."

    Well, now that you mention it. I am a little bit more focused on the 11.7 years the online calculator says I have left.

    Twenty-cent gas for, oh say, 11.6 years would be nice.
  19. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    Actually, I think promoting an expanded nuclear industry over the more traditional alternatives like coal and oil is a caring approach. Think about where we would be, environmentally, if we hadn't had commercial nuclear power for the past 40 years.

    For one thing, we wouldn't be having this discussion because we wouldn't have the Internet. Secondly, the trees we would be cutting and burning would probably all be dead or dying from the overwhelming pollution.

    Between battling environmental disasters and each other for the control of fossil fuels, I doubt that our "civilization" would have made it into the current century without the benefit of nuclear power. For better or worse.

    If want to argue that choking pollution would have forced us to more quickly develop alternative technologies decades ago, I present Exhibit A: China. If they're not doing it now, I doubt we would have done it 20 or 30 years ago. After all, we had more important concerns, like fighting those godless Commies.
  20. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    And the last .1 year?

    My dad was just telling me yesterday that his time was about the same as yours. Next thing you know, you guys will be buying that Sharper Image clock that counts down the seconds remaining in your life.
  21. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I don't disagree but we should remember a little history that confirms conservation should be the bigger priority.

    Back in the cold war 60's WA state convinced itself that it was running out of power. If it didn't start building nukes, and lots of them, industry was going to pack up and leave and there would be no more growth. And the oil embargo put an exclamation point on their projection. There were charts and graphs showing geometric growth rates. So the created a whopping project and bonds to finance this boodoggle and named it WPPSS (eventually known as Whoops). In the meantime, Amory Lovins was saying the state had it all wrong, that energy consumption was actually going to go down, not up, due to new technolgies and more efficient lighting etc..

    But the machine grew and 5 power plants were planned - in a state with abundant hydropower. A decade later, the real costs started coming in and lo and behold, Lovins was correct, energy consumption decreased in spite of continued growth. With massive cost overruns, the whole thing folded, creating only 2 new plants. It also produced the largest municipal bond default in U.S. history. A debt we're still paying off.
    http://www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=5482

    Point of the story is that conservation will bring about the fastest, cheapest and IMHO best solution for the short term. Yes, we'll probably have to rely on nuclear to bridge into new technologies, but that is where we should be working towards. As a society we should be smart enough to develop new technologies that can only be dreamed of now. This could mean great new jobs to drive the economy forward. But without leadership and vision, there is little hope of it happening here. Instead, China gets it and very possibly will become the leader in efficient technologies. Pretty ironic when you think about it.
  22. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    Just my luck I would be walking along in a year or two looking at the clock and get hit by a bus.
  23. Sandor

    Sandor Minister of Fire

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    Craig, I am not angry at all. But I do believe that you are a hypocrite.

    I didn't have any kids of my own, on purpose. And sometimes, I am not so sure why I give a damn.
  24. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Heck, we are all sinners if you are chrisitian, or all hypocrites if you are more secular. Calculating out each of our personal effect on the future is a tough job - so many angles. For instance, I have a daughter who fights hard for the environment...yet, she uses up energy just like anyone else. A number of my friends and even some family members have decided not to have kids (for various reasons), and as you say - if we all did that there would be no problem AND no people!

    It doesn't matter, though, whether you have children in this debate. The key is that you are leaving (along with all of us) a DEBT which will last 20,000+ years which must be paid for in the money and the health of a thousand future generations. That is a heavy thing.

    The first step is to think about it at all. If I start a factory building woodstoves, I am going to use tremendous energy to build, operate, employ and distribute those stoves. I'll be flying all over promoting my stoves. The dealers will use a lot of energy having showrooms and delivery trucks and selling and installing those stoves.

    So, how many stoves do I have to sell and how often would they have to be used in order for the equation to even itself out? I can't answer that......but it is how we live today. One part of the puzzle is to not have as many children, and another part is to build efficient stoves and yet another part is to educate people over the internet on how to buy, install and use these products......and, we must all admit, this is fairly efficient....serving a few hundred thousand people information with an appliance (computer) that uses a couple hundred watts per hour.

    I've lived in tents, breadvans, unheated houses and used outhouses, wood stoves, and even hand saws to cut my wood. That's one way of saving energy. Another is to promote an industry and products which can save energy and switch folks to renewable means by the thousands. It would be tough to do that while chopping wood to heat my tent and cutting it with a hand saw.

    It's a age old question. Does the person seeking enlightenment (or simply a rightful life) pull back from society and become a monk, live in a cave and meditate all day. Or, does he go out into society and attempt to change it - however little - using the credibility he/she gets from being part of the scene?

    There are some folks who have changed thing who have stayed purists - but they are few and far between. Helen and Scott Nearing would be one good example.
    http://www.goodlife.org/

    But most are pulled in various directions by the needs of others....such as I am by my wife, children, family , friends and business associates. So I try to do the best I can - understanding full well that I am a hypocrite.
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