Friday, December 28, 2007

Utne Reader's Romantic anti-Nuclear Dream

Faced with the prospects of global warming, a number of environmentalist leaders have increasingly acknowledged that their previous opposition to nuclear power was a mistake and that in fact, nuclear power is far more environment friendly than fossil fuels, and in fact more environment friendly than so called renewable power sources. Figures such as Greenpeace founder, Patrick Moore, Friends of the Earth founder Bishop Hugh Montefiore, Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand, and Gaia-theorist James Lovelock, have all decided, in the face of global warming, that nuclear power is consistant with environmental values. Like other environmentalists, they reject the use of fossil fuels because of global warming. Unlike some other environmentalist, they have not jumped on the renewable power band wagon.

There is in fact in the environmentalist community a deep and bitter devision, about environmentally sound responses to global warming. Lovelock observes, "Agriculture already uses too much of the land needed by the Earth to regulate its climate and chemistry." Thus devoting more land to the production of energy is counter-productive to the fight against global warming.

Lovecock called "Greens" to task for their opposition to nuclear power:

Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources. We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation. Nearly one third of us will die of cancer anyway, mainly because we breathe air laden with that all pervasive carcinogen, oxygen. If we fail to concentrate our minds on the real danger, which is global warming, we may die even sooner, as did more than 20,000 unfortunates from overheating in Europe last summer.

Stewart Brand observed that environmentalism has two sources, science and romanticism. Brand observes, "The romantics are moralistic, rebellious against the perceived dominant power, and combative against any who appear to stray from the true path." He adds, "There are a great many more environmental romantics than there are scientists." He also notes that among Greens, "scientific perceptions are always a minority view, easily ignored, suppressed, or demonized if they don't fit the consensus story line." Brand observes, "The environmental movement has a quasi-religious aversion to nuclear energy."

Brand argues, The only technology ready to fill the gap and stop the carbon dioxide loading of the atmosphere is nuclear power.

Nuclear certainly has problems -- accidents, waste storage, high construction costs, and the possible use of its fuel in weapons. It also has advantages besides the overwhelming one of being atmospherically clean. The industry is mature, with a half-century of experience and ever improved engineering behind it. Problematic early reactors like the ones at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl can be supplanted by new, smaller-scale, meltdown-proof reactors like the ones that use the pebble-bed design. Nuclear power plants are very high yield, with low-cost fuel. Finally, they offer the best avenue to a "hydrogen economy," combining high energy and high heat in one place for optimal hydrogen generation.

Hugh Montefiore
, a founder of Friends of the Earth, argued:
As a theologian, I believe that we have a duty to play our full part in safeguarding the future of our planet, and I have been a committed environmentalist for many years. It is because of this commitment and the graveness of the consequences of global warming for the planet that I have now come to the conclusion that the solution is to make more use of nuclear energy.

Before his death, dogmatic anti-nuclear activists expelled Montefiore from "Friends of the Earth," because of his advocacy of nuclear energy. "The future of the planet is more important than membership of Friends of the Earth," Montefiore observed.

Patrick Moore argues that The Environmental Movement Has Lost Its Way. After a 15 year involvement with environmental activism, Moore found himself increasingly at odds with a disturbing trend, "By the mid-1980s, the environmental movement had abandoned science and logic in favor of emotion and sensationalism. . . . The environmental movement has lost its way, favoring political correctness over factual accuracy, stooping to scare tactics to garner support."

Moore concludes that "Nuclear energy is the only nongreenhouse gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand."

Faced with this rebellion of powerful voices within the environmental movement, anti-nuclear true believers have reacted with attacks on the pro-nuclear heretics, and a recitation of the old litany of the supposed sins of nuclear power. Jason Mark in an article published in the environmentalist Earth Island Journal laid out the case of environmental orthodoxy, against the pro-nuclear heretics.

What all of the heretics have in comman, is that they are liberals environmentalist, rather than anti-progressive environmental radicals. The ultra-leftist, Utne Reader, ever eager to strike a blow aginst progressive liberals, has reprinted Mark's essay, in its January edition.

For Mark Patrick Moore is the most dangerous of the heretics. According to Mark, Moore is "a paid flack for the nuclear industry," an “eco-Judas,” and a former Greenpeace rabble-rouser. According to Mark, Moore has pretensions to high-mindedness, but in Mark's view no truely high minded person could possible accept money from the nuclear industry.

Marks acknowledges,"Moore has been an especially effective voice for the nuclear industry." But Mark dismisses Moore's arguments as "little more than sophisticated greenwashing" On the other hand "Brand's carefully considered arguments" are "more difficult to dismiss."

In fact Mark does not address Brand's arguments. Rather he brings out a prade of witness from he National Wildlife Federation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). This is most interesting because last year the National Wildlife Federation received a grant from the pro-coal industry Joyce Foundation. The purpose of the $122,000 grant is "to build support in Indiana and Michigan for coal gasification as an alternative to conventional coal-burning power plants. Indiana Wildlife Federation and Michigan United Conservation Clubs would be partners in this effort."

The Union of Concerned Scientists, also received grants from the Joyce Foundation, including one "To promote new policies supporting coal gasification and carbon sequestration for new electric generation in Illinois." National Resources Defense Council is another recypiant of Joyce Foundation largess. It has received "a $437,500 grant from the Joyce Foundation to promote carbon sequestration on coal industry’s behalf." "There is, Mark tells us, "a striking amount of unanimity among the leading environmental organizations that nuclear power is not a smart way to address climate change. The National Wildlife Federation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are among the many groups arguing that there are quicker and cheaper ways to reduce greenhouse gases." Yes indeed, and coal sequestering appears to be that way.

In addition to calling on the witness of recipiants of Joyce foundation money to promost the coal industry, Mark rounds up the usual anti-nuclear suspects to tell us what a terrible, evil thing nuclear power is. It is, horror of horrors, expensive. Thus we have arguments that are made up of the appeal to the authority of people we never heard of, and have no cradentials other than their organization associations.

Thus we are introduced to Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Who without evidence or any further explanation tells us, “Nuclear power is the most expensive way to make minor emissions cuts.” It is hard to offer a refutation to something so vague, and lacking as it is even the slightest evidence.

Josh Dorner, who has no idenitry other than that of spokesman for the Sierra Club is quotede as saying, “The industry is putting lipstick on a pig here. Solving one problem and creating another isn’t a durable solution. It doesn’t make sense to solve global warming by creating a ton of nuclear waste that we don’t know what to do with.”

We other that his insubstantual idenity with an organization called the Sierra Club, we have not the sluightest idea what he is talking about, and it is not clear that he has the skughtest idea either. It appears that he bellieves himself to be putting down something called "the industry, but exactly what does he have in mind. Dorner appears to be talking in code wqith no clear referrant, but perhaps members of the Sierra Club receive mystic revelations that que them in to what he is talking about. We have assertions without tangible objects, evidence or facts.

Mark offers an interpretation for Dorner:

More than 50 years after the establishment of the civilian atomic energy program, the country still lacks a safe way to handle the radioactive waste formed during the fission process. Waste is stored at the individual power stations, an arrangement that no one—including the nuclear plant operators—believes is a long-term solution. “Long term” in this case means 10,000 years, the time the government says a waste repository needs to contain spent nuclear fuel. Many environmentalists say even that mind-boggling time frame is too short, since some waste will be dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years.

It is not clear how much of this Mark or his environmentalist friends understand, since after 10,000 years, most of the most highly radioactive isotopes have become stable, and the radio-isotopes that are still active are increasingly less active. Perhaps 92% of what comes out of a reactor can go by in. Of the rest, much will be stable within a few years. Stable isotopes can be used as raw material in industrial processes, while radoactive isotopes, can be used in medicine, industry and agriculture. Only a few long lasting radio isotopes do not have some balid use, and should be disposed of in some stable environment, but in the short run, they can be left on the grounds of nuclear power plant. The problem of disposal is far far smaller, than Mark immagins. No one has ever died, or sustained serious injury because of an exposure to "reactor waste."

Mark next exposes a truely incxredible ignorance of the constituency of "spent" reactor fuel"

Nuclear plants could reduce the need for waste storage by “reprocessing” the fuel, but that would create weapons-grade radioactive material. While the industry has improved plant management and design since the Three Mile Island near-meltdown, post-9/11 fears have created new safety worries, including the possibility that terrorists could attack a plant or obtain nuclear materials to make “dirty bombs” or atomic weapons.

The claim that reprocessing reactor fuel produces "weapons-grade" radioactive material represents a serious misundestanding of nuclear power. Weapons grade plutonium is produced from two spacific types of reactors, neither of which is used to produce power. The plutonium that comes out of civilian power reactors, is "reactor grade plutonium." It is both highly radioactive, and highly unstable in bomb size amounts. These two qualities taken together make weapons production highly unlikely with reactor grade plutonium. No nation has ever attempted to build a nuclear weapon using reactor grade plutonium. Handling a weapon made from this material would probably be far beyond the skills of terrorist, and probably would constitute an insurmountable challenge to nations like North Korea.

Mark's argument also contains a seeming contradiction. On one hand spent reactor fuel is so dangerous, and difficult to handle that American scientist don't know what to do with it. On the other hand, handling post-reactor radio-isotopes presents an almost insignificant challenge for terrorist. Perhaps, the United States should send its scientists to terrorist training schools to lear the art of safely handling radio-isotopes. Thus the dirty bomb argument is inconsistant and highly unlikely.

Mark goes through a song and dance about reactor costs. In the first place this is an issue for utility executives rather than environmentalist to deal with. Electric utility executives make decisions based on detailed information about the costs of reactors. Mark points to one very expensive reactor, and says, you see there reactors are too expensive. It never occurs to Mark that other reactors might not have been nearly as expensive.

Mark's discussion of reactor costs demonstrates the remarkably weakness of his case. He trots out all the old Green anti-nuclear arguments, for the edification of the faithful, but his essay is remarkable short on facts, and riddled with inconsistancies, and bereft of logic. Mark's repeatedly relies on the fallacy of hasty generalization to make his case. Thus he uses the very atypical construction costs of Watts Bar Unit 1, as typical of the nuclear power industry. In fact, while Watts Bar construction was poorly managed and ended up being extremely expensive, Watts Bar is hardly a typical case of nuclear power plant construction. Today, 34 years after its construction began, Watts Bar Unit 2 is still under construction. Most reactor are built in a much shorter time period. In the last 30 years, many French and Japanese nuclear power plants have been built on time and for reasonable costs. Electrical costs from France and Japanese nuclear plants are reasonable.

Mark makes the point that mayy reactors would have to be built to make a dent on global CO2 emissions. Yet the same problem would confront plans to produce large amounts of electricity from solar or wind power. In both cases economist have raised doubts about the ability of the American Economy to produce enough solar or wind generating units to satisfy American power needs by 2050. One advantage of nuclare power is that large components and even whole reactors can be mass produced in factories and transported to their long term location by water. Indeed the Russians plan to build reactors on barges, and then float them to their long term location. This plan would allow for the relatively quick production of even several thousand reactors.

Among the unknowns Mark quotes is Matt Reitman of the Energy Justice Network, who tells us what opposition to nuclear power is about:

We are going to have to face some kind of cultural shift,” Reitman says.

The culture we have created for ourselves, a society based on a lot of excess and consumerism, really has let a lot of people down. The prospect of getting together in a serious way as a country [to stop climate change] is a great opportunity to get back to the roots of what it means to be an American, which is to be neighborly. It’s a great way to reenergize our culture, as well as our economy and our power grid.”

Reitman is oppod then to consumer culture. He thinks that buying, having and using material possessions has let people down. We must ask Mr. Reitman if he thinks that poverty is a good thing. We must ask him if at the heart of the opposition to nuclear power is the notion that poverty is a good thing.

Jason Mark argues, "If we can reach a societal consensus that what we desire is a slower and smaller way of living, a reconceived notion of success, then we can fundamentally reformulate our energy system. In any discussion involving a redefinition of “progress,” nuclear power is not simply dangerous or dirty—it’s pointless."

Mark, Reitman, and many of the unknown talking heads who Mark quoted are what Stewart Brand described as romantic environmentalist. They are not interested in facts. They are not interested in science. They believe that shopping in REI is somehow not consumerism, but shopping in Walmart is. It is their intention to save environmentalist from the terrible heresy of thinking that nuclear power might actually help the environment, while also helping us preserve a way of life most of us enjoy. That would be progress, the sort of progress Mark thinks is pointless.

Update: I have posted in my other blog, bartoncii, more information on the Joyce Foundation service to the coal industry as a front, and evidence of the corruption of numerous Green organizations by Joyce Foundation money. I have also discussed the utterly insane attachment of the Anti-nuk German Greens to coal and CO2 sequestration. It is very strange that Greens seem to believe that hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 can be sucessgully sequestered annually, while a few hundred tons of radio-isotopes from reactors cannot be safely sequestered.


DV8 2XL said...

It is my suspicion, shared by many, that the more vocal environmental activism against nuclear has been bought and payed for by the coal and gas lobbies.

All but the stupidest of the leaders of the antinuclear community must see that nuclear power is the only real hope for carbon mitigation, and that 'renewables' are woefully inadequate to take up the task.

I also find its sudden love of sequestration as a solution highly suspicious as well, given that it also puts them in the same corner as big coal.

Exposing this link should be a priority for supporters of nuclear energy.

Charles Barton said...

I have shared the same suspicion, and I wonder if the 8 million dollars the Joyce Foundation put into pro-coal propaganda came from from coal companies, or whether someone sold the Joyce Foundation Board of Directors a bill of goods. My suspicion is that the Joyce Foundation is laundering coal money that is meant for the very "reputable" environmentalist organizations. It would not do for such organizations to be publically seen taking coal money, to act as propaganda fronts for coal interests. But what are we to think of "Greens" who think that CO2 sequestration is a great idea?

My suspicion is that the Joyce Foundation grants are just the tip of a very large iceberg of coal interest money going to Green anti-Nuks. The well financed Green anti-Nuk faction of the environmentalist movement is getting money from somewhere. The German Greens, by the way, appear to prefer coal over nuclear energy. They also buy into the sequestration nonsense.

Randal Leavitt said...

All this push back that Mr. Mark is getting is really good. I wonder if he or his people have seen any of it. I doubt it.

If the coal industry is financing these fanatics to have them produce anti-nuke propaganda, then the coal industry is playing a very dangerous game. As Mr. Mark admitted at the end of his article, the discussion is not about nuclear power at all. The discussion is about forcing people to live without technology, science, and knowledge. The greens feel very guilty about the fact that North America and Europe have raped the world. They think that people in these societies should be made to suffer in order to pay back for these crimes of technical and scientific success. You don't need too many of these romantic activists to form a social cleansing movement. We've seen it with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and with the Red Guards in China, and in many other places. So people who are financing this madness need to think about it. There is a lot of guilt and willingness to suffer for the cause embedded in the American zeitgeist. You could easily end up with mobs kicking people out of their homes and forcing them to live naked in the woods, eating raw bark and bugs, to make sure that the sins of their fathers are not repeated.

There is an old saying that one should be very careful about what one asks for because sometimes you get it.


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