Friday, February 1, 2013


My first encounter with environmental concepts occurred when I was in the fifth grade at Cedar Hill School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. My teacher, Mrs. Huffman, was an ardent conservationist. She took my fifth grade class on a week long nature exploration adventure in the spring. We stayed in a camp that was close to nature and witnessed all sorts of natural processes occurring with living organisms. From the time of my adventure with Mrs. Huffman onward, I valued nature and natural processes and believed that the protection of nature was important. As I have mentioned on numerous posts, I learned about climate problems posed by the increasing amount of CO2 being dumped into the atmosphere by modern industrial society.

I joined the Sierra Club during the 1970s and found that the so-called environmentalists were bitter opponents of nuclear power which offered the best hope for solving the CO2 problem. While at the same time largely ignoring the risks of climate change. The Sierra Club, in practical matters if not in policy, favored new coal fired steam plants over carbon free nuclear power plants. This would never do and I dropped out of the Sierra Club. Thirty-five years later the Sierra Club's environmental energy policy makes no more sense than it did in the 1970s.

I put the whole issue of environmentalism aside, including carbon dioxide engendered climate change, until former Vice President Al Gore issued a clarion call to do something about it in 2006. I was a blogger at the time and began to write blog posts about climate change. At that time, I encountered anthropogenic climate change skeptics. These skeptics denied that carbon dioxide emissions from human sources could effect the climate in an adverse way. I initially debated with them, but after a year of focusing on the climate change problem, I decided that a solution to the climate change problem was more important than debating about it. It was clear to me that nuclear power offered the best solution to the climate change problem. My first expression of this view came in an online debate with David Roberts an environmental activist. I offered nuclear power as an alternative to renewable energy generation technologies. Renewables were not reliable, I pointed out, and the cost of making them reliable would be prohibitively expensive. Low costs energy storage technologies that could make Renewables reliable did not exist. In contrast I pointed to nuclear power which offered very reliable energy. Roberts responded that although practical energy storage technologies did not exist their success in development was just around the corner. Furthermore, Roberts trotted out the usual menagerie of environmentalist anti-nuclear arguments. Roberts' views of nuclear technology were not in the slightest informed by science. He certainly had no grasp of the scientific literature on nuclear safety. He was equally unfamiliar with the scientific literature of nuclear waste disposal. His objection about nuclear proliferation did not draw on recent discussions of the topic and his arguments about nuclear capital costs were largely irrelevant. Rather than argue with Roberts about all of these topics, I decided to offer as an intellectual exercise a "what if" argument. What if it were possible to build a perfectly safe reactor? What if it were possible to build a reactor that produced very little waste. What if it were possible to build a reactor that was proliferation resistant to the point that no sane government would use it to build a nuclear weapons program. What if the capital costs of this reactor were lower than the capital costs of conventional power reactors and reliable Renewables. I argued that the Molten Salt Reactor held potential to accomplish all of these goals. Roberts did not respond to my argument and has simply withdrawn from dialogue with nuclear supporters while maintaining his claim that nuclear power is somehow reprehensible.

In a way, Nuclear Green offers it's readers an extension of my arguments with David Roberts. Roberts, who will not answer me, is a perfect foil. I continue to maintain all of the points that I made against him in 2007 and have added new points. Nuclear Green is almost unique among pro nuclear blogs because it offers extended arguments against the anti-nuclear environmentalist's position. I have always maintained that in writing Nuclear Green I was not the best qualified person to write about the topics on which I posted. When Berry Brook became a supporter of nuclear power, his bog, Brave New Climate, went to the top of my list of pro-nuclear pro-environmental blogs. Berry and his gang of essayists are obviously far better qualified than I am to write on environmental issues and energy issues. With the rise of Brave New Climate, I focused less on these issues. A second reason for my declining focus on environmental issues was the increasing difficulty I had reading papers and reports due my growing eye sight problem. Eventually that problem has largely inhibited my work on environmentalism and nuclear power. If I am unable to write more on environmental issues, I will say this is my testimony, I have borne witness to the importance of nuclear power and particularly the Molten Salt Reactor in protecting the environment.


Atomikrabbit said...

Thank you, Charles, and also to your father for his contribution to advancing MSRs, and for raising an environmentally-conscious son.

.?. said...

Very concise and clear. I'm not a scientist nor an environmentalists but I realised in the last 12 months that the world needs to radically change the mindset when it comes to finding solutions to address climate change and reduce atmospheric CO2. I'm simply puzzled how uninformed the citizens but especially the governments are or seem to be. With my humble common knowledge I was able to understand how to (even profitably) address these challenges. Why is there no more public interest? And this in the age of social networks with a billion people connected.


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