Thursday, March 18, 2010

Is a high energy, nuclear powered future incompatible with environmental values?

The mainstream of the environmentalist movement has repeatedly disgraced itself with a well nigh fanatic anti-nuclear stance. John McClaughry commented a couple of years ago,
Over Vermont's 230 years several strange political movements persisted long enough to enter the history books. Among them, anti-Masonry, the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant Know Nothing movement, and the Prohibition crusade all fizzled after initial successes.

The most notable fringe movement still alive today is the crusade against nuclear energy. It is, naturally, focused on Vermont's lone nuclear reactor, Vermont Yankee, that went on line in 1972.

In the face of all science, reason, and experience, the anti-nuclear zealots fiercely maintain that the Vernon nuclear power plant is a standing death threat against the population for miles around, that its pall of radiation will produce deformed children, and that the plant's present owner, Entergy, is a reckless and sinister enterprise making enormous profits while scornfully dismissing the concerns of its likely Vermont victims.
It should be noted that self-styled environmentalists are in the forefront of of the present Quixotic anti-Vermont Yankee crusade. Not long ago, I pointed to anti-nuclear fanaticism as a major cause of an impending breakdown of the Copenhagen climate change conference, which I correctly predicted.

The environmental community has promoted the view that nuclear power is unnecessary and dangerous, and even has called for the replacement of nuclear power plants with CO2 emitting natural gas fired power plants despite the fact that the natural gas extraction process as well as the use of natural gas in the home and in power plants is responsible for the emission of an enormous amount of dangerously radioactive radon gas. Indeed people are exposed to many times more radiation from natural gas than from nuclear power generation.

Environmentalists have repeatedly attacked nuclear power as too expensive, while disguising the fact that their own favored alternatives, including on shore wind, off shore wind, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic are more expensive than nuclear, and pose major reliability problems for a non-nuclear post-carbon the grid.

The purpose of Nuclear Green is not to attack environmentalism. Rather it is to recapture it from the horde of misanthropes, grafters, and ignoramuses, who currently lead most environmental organizations, and their brain dead followers, who recite 40 year old bumper sticker slogans , as if they were the last word on reality. Not only does these people misrepresent environmentalism, but their insane ideology is leading us into a major environmental disaster that could kill millions and perhaps billions of people while damaging the environment they tell us they want to save.

The most significant environmental problem we face in the 21st century is caused by the emission of carbon dioxide gas, a basic waste product of the present carbon based energy technology of the 20th century. Scientists have long known that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and that continued and rising amounts of Greenhouse emissions will inevitably lead to a significant climate change that would adversely effect global climate. By 1976 Oak Ridge scientists were predicting rising temperatures with greater temperature increases at higher latitudes. Among the accurate predictions that Oak Ridge scientist offered was decreased (global) ice and snow cover, changing cloud cover, localized droughts, with dropping lake levels, melting glaciers, and a long term potential for rising sea levels. I heard all of these long term treats discussed at ORNL in 1971. The Oak Ridge scientists forecast ed a global temperature rise of from 1 to 5 degrees K with each doubling of global temperature. Since that 1976 global atmospheric CO2 emissions have increased by 16% with a and there has been an increase in global temperatures that fall within that range.
Global Temperature 2008 NASA

None of these predictions have proven false. These ORNL global warming predictions were made at the time of the famous Newsweek Global cooling story. By the way the the environmentalists got things every bit as wrong as Newsweek did, In 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote
The greenhouse effect is being enhanced now by the greatly increased level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In the last century our burning of fossil fuels raised the level some 15%. The greenhouse effect today is being countered by low-level clouds generated by contrails, dust, and other contaminants that tend to keep the energy of the sun from warming the Earth in the first place.

At the moment we cannot predict what the overall climatic results will be of our using the atmosphere as a garbage dump.
Other environmentalists were equally as clueless about the threat posed by CO2. In a 1976 review of Amory Lovins' (with John H. Price) book, "NON-NUCLEAR FUTURES : The case for an ethicaI energy strategy." Alvin Weinberg chided Lovins for failing to consider the value of nuclear power as a CO2 mitigation tool.
energy itself is a villain: less energy is better than more energy, not merely because the environment can absorb only a limited energy load, but also because (p xxi), 'Low-energy futures can (but need not) be normative and pluralistic, whereas high-energy futures are bound to be coercive and to offer less scope for social diversity and individual freedom.' High-energy futures mean centralised futures, and this is anathema to the authors (p ll0): an 'energy-intensive society' leads .to a highly centralized, highly bureaucratized, high technology society, very vulnerable to internal as well as external disruptions . . .'. . . . since nuclear energy is primarily a source of centralized electricity generation, the authors dislike of energy, electricity, and centralization merge in their dislike of nuclear energy, quite apart from whatever technical and social shortcomings it might have.
Weinberg was especially critical of Lovins attack on nuclear power for its waste heat, and pointed out the heat problem stemming from the discharge of 30 times more CO2 from the coal fuel cycle.

Lovins proposed the use of coal as a fission-free bridge to his soft-energy solutions, and Weinberg asked
Can we really ignore CO2 during the coal burning fission free bridge?
Lovins responded to Weinberg's point that
Dr Weinberg and I both worry about the climatic effects of CO2 more than about those of heat release (which I nowhere claim is'an imminent danger'). Indeed, his group's recent studies show that rapid growth in energy (especially electricity) use means such a large coal burn that COz limits arrive discouragingly soon whether we use fission or not.
Yet despite his worry, Lovins seems not to have found a viable solution to the coal/CO2 problem during the next generation, when America and indeed the world, came increasingly to rely on the coal burning bridge while soft path electrical solutions were deployed much more slowly than Lovins had anticipated. Thus Weinberg's 1976 nuclear path would have undoubtedly lead to lower CO2 emissions that Lovins soft path did. Despite his mid 1970;s forecast that by 2010 CO2 emissions would be rapidly becoming a thing of the past, Lovins's soft path solution has so far failed to control CO2 emissions globally. Indeed in Europe the highest per capita CO2 emissions as well as the most expensive electricity is found in Denmark which has adopted Lovins soft path, while France, which has adopted Weinberg's nuclear path has far lower cost electricity and the lowest per capita CO2 emissions rates in Europe.

Thus we see that during the 1960's and 1970's Environmentalists greatly underestimated the CO2 problem while Oak Ridge scientists, including long time ORNL Director Alvin Weinberg did not. The anti-nuclear stance of self styled environmentalist was in fact far more damaging to the environment, via the CO2 and chemical emissions of fossil fuel burning energy technology, than the high nuclear energy option would have been. In practice Alvin Weinberg, was a far better environmentalist than Amory Lovins or Paul Ehrlich.

It is thus a huge environmental blunder to juxtapose nuclear power to environmental well being. Yet mainstream environmentalist continue to do make this mistake, much to the detriment of the environment, and further jeopardizing future success in the war against climate change. It is my view that environmentalism is a vitally important path to the human future, but that environmentalism has been hijacked by self styled environmentalists who are more interested in their own quixotic anti-nuclear agenda, than they are in dealing with major environmental issues like global climate change. Mainstream environmental groups like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, and Friends of the Earth, by their repeated attacks on nuclear power are placing the future of the environment as well as the future of the people who make the Earth their home in jeopardy.


Jason Ribeiro said...

In the minds of those from Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and FOTE, it is we nuclear advocates who are the devils who threaten the earth. They cannot even entertain the thought that it is they who are wrong and we are right. They will not listen to us, by doing so would mean they would have to admit they were wrong. And not just a little wrong, but colossally wrong. Human beings generally don't take being colossally wrong very well. It threatens their sense of self.

It's also interesting to note that these groups might be attracting certain personality types. I say this because Harvey Wasserman and Helen Caldicott have shared similar scare stories. Helen read a book about a nuclear holocaust when she was a child that made a deep impression on her, she never grew out of fearing the nightmares it gave her. Wasserman told a story about being frightened out of his wits after reading the 1975 book "We Almost Lost Detroit". These people are driven by a fear-based emotional agenda. The sooner everyone else realizes this, the better off the world will be.

Laurence Aurbach said...

Yes, much opposition is based on fearful fantasy. However, some opposition is also well founded and based on the undeniable harms caused by irresponsible uranium mining and waste management, as well as large cost overruns incurred by managers, and an industrywide defensive "batten down the hatches" attitude toward public relations.

However, there is a strong case that nuclear power is one of the most environmentally friendly power sources on a unit-of-energy basis. And advanced technologies like LFTR promise a quantum leap in reducing environmental impacts.

At any rate, the way to persuade fearful people is no mystery. It involves patient, persistent explanation of the facts, addressing specific concerns, and acknowledging all flaws and negative impacts, both historical and potential. The way to FAIL to persuade fearful people is by responding with insults, derision, impatience, and dismissal. Those behaviors will exacerbate fear.

Charles Barton said...

Laurence is the leadership of Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, and Friends of the Earth made up of frighten people, or are they scheming, manipulative, dishonest, power hungry, cynical and greedy people? I do not see them as frighten, but as using the fears of others to get what they want. The people who buy into their arguments are easily frightened, and gullible.

Lynnr said...

Perhaps you might be interested in this breaking story, Charles, which seems to confirm your suspicions.
WWF stands to make big money from those panics.


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