Dr. James Hansen is perhaps the world’s most famous and stubbornly insistent climate change activists. He bases his concerns on several decades worth of intensive research. During part of his career, he served as the director of a large laboratory at NASA Goddard Space Center, so it was not just his own research that he reviewed.
Hansen is a hard scientist — vice a political or social scientist — with a good facility for numbers and measurable reality. He recognizes the difference between a good engineering solution and a marketing department-created presentation.
On March 13, 2014 he testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and received a couple of take-home questions from Senator Robert Menendez. His responses are worth reading closely. I recommend using them as discussion openers for people who are fans of Hansen’s science and political participation.
Here is a sample quote:
Frankly, a clean energy future in the United States requires that the Democratic Party recognize that its position on nuclear power, ranging from neglect to outright hostility, is in part responsible for that situation and is a major threat to the well-being of young people and other life on our planet. My criticism of your party is constructive, and I hope you will take it that way.
Here is another important thought.
The second major reason that the cost of nuclear power plant construction in the United States is high concerns the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. As noted in my previous written testimony to your Committee, reforms of the NRC are badly needed. The NRC does a good job of regulating. They have a capable technical staff, and their resident inspectors do a good job at nuclear plants, including reporting on incidents and keeping the nuclear plant operators on their toes.
In contrast, the nuclear reactor permitting process has become a lengthy bureaucratic lawyer-laden paperwork process that causes delays of years and cost growth of billions of dollars. We must fix the permitting process. This probably requires removing the permitting function from NRC, and starting over with a new organization that is given guidelines and procedures the better serve the nation’s needs.
A sensible energy policy for the United States would not have us blowing through new-found gas resources in a few decades and moving to increasingly polluting and destructive mining. Instead we would honestly treat gas as a transition fuel to a clean energy future. That future would include the improved safe nuclear power that is possible with today’s technology.
I know that there are people who are skeptical and continuously repeat — often to themselves or in an echo chamber — that worries about climate change are overblown. Sometimes they insist that we should not take mitigating action until we are sure exactly what is happening and have highly reliable models that predict effects with great precision.
We should ask the skeptics how they intend to answer questions like these from their children and grandchildren.
- “Did you ever think about what would happen if you were wrong?”
- “Did you have a plan B – like some other earth-like planet within reasonable reach?”
- “Did you leave us any options?”
- “Did you leave us any valuable methane for raw materials that helped to make your lives so pleasant?”
- “Even if you never trusted a money-motivated politician like Al Gore, why did you dismiss people like James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Tom Wigley, and Ken Caldeira?”
From the New York Times Editorial Board (May 1, 2014) The Right Lessons From Chernobyl. It’s a refreshingly mature recognition of the risk to reward ratio associated with using nuclear energy.