Atomic Energy: Climate Fix… or Folly?
Nuclear vs. Renewables
In the 1970s and 80s, halting the expansion of nuclear power was a key priority for many environmental groups. But with global greenhouse gas levels continuing to rise, some greens say that carbon-free nuclear power plants deserve a second look. In an energy-hungry world, is splitting the atom smarter than burning fossil fuels? Stewart Brand thinks so, and says that concerns about nuclear waste are overwrought. Amory Lovins disagrees, arguing that cheaper, faster, more effective, more secure climate and energy solutions can deliver the services the world needs.
Nuclear Power is Safe, Sound …and Green
by Stewart Brand
Since he first published the seminal Whole Earth Catalog in 1968, Stewart Brand has been a leading thinker about how to create an ecologically sustainable society. More recently, he has been encouraging environmentalists to rethink their opposition to geo-engineering, transgenic crops, and nuclear power.
For the definite word on how much to worry about climate change, environmentalists in American have taken to relying on James Hansen, NASA’s outspoken climatologist. When Hansen declared that we must not settle for leveling off carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million (ppm) but must take the level down from the current 387 ppm to 350 ppm or lower, the new environmentalist slogan became “350!”
Environmentalists take no notice of Hansen’s views on nuclear power, however. As President Obama was taking office, Hansen wrote him an open letter suggesting new policy to deal with the climate crisis. Hansen proposed what America needed: a carbon tax “across all fossil fuels at their source”; the phasing out of all coal-fired plants; and “urgent R&D on 4th generation nuclear power, with international cooperation.” He warned: “The danger is that the minority of vehement anti-nuclear ‘environmentalists’ could cause development of advanced safe nuclear power to be slowed such that utilities are forced to continue coal-burning in order to keep the lights on. That is a prescription for disaster.”
Environmentalists have much less to fear from the current nuclear power industry than they think, and much more to gain from new and planned reactor designs than they realize. Hansen is right: Nukes are Green. Here’s how. …more…
by Amory B. Lovins
Dubbed one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People by TIME, physicist Amory Lovins has spent 40 years integrating radical energy efficiency with renewable supply. He is cofounder, chairman, and chief scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute, an independent “think-and-do tank” that drives the efficient and restorative use of resources.
I have known Stewart Brand as a friend for many years. I have admired his original and iconoclastic work, which has had a significant impact. In his new book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, he argues that environmentalists should change their thinking about nuclear power, and predicts that I won’t accept his nuclear reassessment. He is quite right, because I believe its conclusions are greatly mistaken.
Stewart’s nuclear chapter’s facts and logic do not hold up to scrutiny. Over the past few years I’ve sent him five technical papers focused mainly on nuclear power’s comparative economics and performance. He says he’s read them, and even summarizes part of their economic thesis in his book. Yet he then says, “We Greens are not economists,” and disclaims knowledge of economics, saying environmentalists use it only as a weapon to stop projects. Today, most dispassionate analysts think new nuclear power plants’ deepest flaw is their economics. They cost too much to build and incur too much financial risk. Nuclear expansion therefore can’t deliver on its claims: It would reduce and retard climate protection, because it saves between two and 20 times less carbon per dollar, 20 to 40 times slower, than investing in efficiency and micropower. …more…