Coal Plant Pollution – Sierra Club Endorses Jim Hansen Solutions With a Notable Exception; They Ignore Nuclear, He Does Not

Susan McGinnis of Clean Skies News interviewed Bruce Nilles, National Coal Campaign Director from the Sierra Club, about coal plant emissions.

There is a very interesting passage in the interview worth transcribing. The following exchange takes place between time marks 4:26 and 5:25 in the clip.

Nilles: We do not actually think you should build any new coal plants. Coal is the largest contributor to global warming. It is the largest source of industrial mercury there is a whole suit of reasons why coal is not the energy future.

McGinnis: So over what period of time do you think we can phase out old coal plants and the newer ones?

Nilles: If you look at what the science says, Dr. Jim Hansen and the folks at NASA, they say we have about two decades to end coal’s contribution to global warming. So that essentially says that over the next two decades we can systematically replace coal with all the clean energy sources out there. That’s about 15,000 MW of coal take it off line each year and replaced by a whole suite of clean energy choices that can create more jobs and have no pollution consequences.

McGinnis: Like what? What do you see the future bridge thing?

Nilles: The mix is obviously much more we can do about energy efficiency, help people save electricity. Wind, solar, biomass. Geothermal in some places and obviously natural gas to help back up the intermittent fuels.

The reason that is so important is that Dr. Jim Hansen, and many scientists and engineers who understand energy production do not limit themselves to the list of energy alternatives that the Sierra Club does. Here is an excerpt from Jim Hansen’s open letter to President Obama about his concerns regarding the continued emissions from burning fossil fuels:

Energy efficiency, renewable energies, and a “smart grid” deserve first priority in our effort to reduce carbon emissions. With a rising carbon price, renewable energy can perhaps handle all of our needs. However, most experts believe that making such presumption probably would leave us in 25 years with still a large contingent of coal-fired power plants worldwide. Such a result would be disastrous for the planet, humanity, and nature.

Fourth generation nuclear power (4th GNP) and coal-fired power plants with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) at present are the best candidates to provide large baseload nearly carbon-free power (in case renewable energies cannot do the entire job). Predictable criticism of 4th GNP (and CCS) is: “it cannot be ready before 2030.” However, the time needed could be much abbreviated with a Presidential initiative and Congressional support.

Moreover, improved (3rd generation) light water reactors are available for near-term needs. In our opinion, 4th GNP deserves your strong support, because it has the potential to help solve past problems with nuclear power: nuclear waste, the need to mine for nuclear fuel, and release of radioactive material. Potential proliferation of nuclear material will always demand vigilance, but that will be true in any case, and our safety is best secured if the United States is involved in the technologies and helps define standards. Existing nuclear reactors use less than 1% of the energy in uranium, leaving more than 99% in long-lived nuclear waste. 4th GNP can “burn” that waste, leaving a small volume of waste with a half-life of decades rather than thousands of years. Thus 4th GNP could help solve the nuclear waste problem, which must be dealt with in any case.

Because of this, a portion of the $25B that has been collected from utilities to deal with nuclear waste justifiably could be used to develop 4th generation reactors. The principal issue with nuclear power, and other energy sources, is cost. Thus an R&D objective must be a modularized reactor design that is cost competitive with coal. Without such capability, it may be difficult to wean China and India from coal. But all developing countries have great incentives for clean energy and stable climate, and they will welcome technical cooperation aimed at rapid development of a reproducible safe nuclear reactor. Potential for cooperation with developing countries is implied by interest South Korea has expressed in General Electric’s design for a small scale 4th GNP reactor. I do not have the expertise to advocate any specific project, and there are alternative approaches for 4th GNP (see enclosure).

I am only suggesting that the assertion that 4th GNP technology cannot be ready until 2030 is not necessarily valid. Indeed, with a Presidential directive for the Nuclear Regulator Commission to give priority to the review process, it is possible that a prototype reactor could be constructed rapidly in the United States. CCS also deserves R&D support. There is no such thing as clean coal at this time, and it is doubtful that we will ever be able to fully eliminate emissions of mercury, other heavy metals, and radioactive material in the mining and burning of coal. However, because of the enormous number of dirty coal-fired power plants in existence, the abundance of the fuel, and the fact that CCS technology could be used at biofuel-fired power plants to draw down atmospheric carbon dioxide, the technology deserves strong R&D support.

Dr. Jim Hansen is a credible source of information and caution, but the Sierra Club needs to listen to him a little more carefully. Limiting energy choices to the short list that they prefer would leave the United States and the world in a situation where there is not enough reliable energy to go around. I fear the consequences of that state of affairs; people have a history of fighting over scarce resources that are needed for both basic existence (heat, food, clean water, basic transportation) and abundant living (air travel, comfortable homes, electronic gadgets).

It is a good thing for the world that many countries like India, China, South Korea, the UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and Brazil have already determined that nuclear energy is going to be a big part of their energy future and that those countries are unlikely to be influenced by organizations like the Sierra Club. However, the United States and Europe burn a lot of coal as well; our environmentally concerned citizens should take the time to understand the science and engineering of energy production and recognize that clean, reliable energy can never come from attempting to capture the weather dependent, diffuse energy from the wind and sun.

About Rod Adams

10 Responses to “Coal Plant Pollution – Sierra Club Endorses Jim Hansen Solutions With a Notable Exception; They Ignore Nuclear, He Does Not”

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  1. George Carty says:

    Don’t call them Luddites – the original Luddites were not against technology per se, but only against technology which would make them unemployed. I don’t think the likes of Greenpeace and the Sierra Club are fighting to save jobs.
    Some alternative terms I suggested (on this Depleted Cranium thread – read for explanation) were “technophobes”, “neo-Mongols” or “21st-century Huns”…

    • Rod Adams says:

      George – if you look past the rhetoric and pull the string to find out where the organizations get their funding, I think you might agree with Pete that the term Luddite is a pretty good one to apply to the likes of Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.
      The vocal, publicly facing marketing concept for the groups is that they are sandal wearing defenders of the “environment” against corporate greed and even rational development. Some observers cast them in the light of being completely against technology development and desirous of a return to a more simple utopia. In many cases, the groups encourage this perception.
      The reality is that Greenpeace, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Federation, the National Resources Defense Council, and Public Interest Research Group (among many others) are large, professionally organized corporations that obtain hundreds of millions of dollars each year in corporate donations to support their campaigns. If you scratch hard on the surface of these groups and meet the people in leadership positions, you will find that they engage in carefully chosen agendas that are often suggested by the corporate sponsors.
      In many cases, those campaigns actually serve to reduce the supply of particular commodities like developable waterfront property, real estate zoned for industrial or commercial use, energy, air transportation, or property that has good access to a surface road network. When the supply of a commodity is reduced by preventing competitors from developing a viable alternative to the supply that is already in the market, the major beneficiaries of that campaign – from a financial perspective – are the same corporation that invested in the non-profit corporations in the first place.
      Sometimes, the corporations do not have full control of the groups, since they pull the strings at arms length, but in general, the groups do not spend much of their effort going against existing suppliers.
      In other words, just like the Luddites who destroyed mechanical weaving machines because they threatened their income through a supply increasing competition, modern day non-profits that engage in well organized campaigns to destroy new technologies are working for organizations whose profits are at risk by allowing new suppliers into the market.
      Same motivation, similar techniques, different era.

      • George Carty says:

        So Greenpeace et al are false flag organizations who are actually serving corporate goals? Reminds me of the Masada Action and Defense Movement, a French far-right terrorist group which attacked Muslims and framed Jews for the bombings.
        I read on the Making Light forum that Greenpeace’s “Stop Esso” campaign (Esso is the British name for ExxonMobil) received funding from a rival oil company. Greenpeace has also been paid by foundations to oppose GM crops.
        Given the anti-corporate image of Greenpeace and similar groups, why haven’t such links been exposed in the media by people who want to bring them down?

  2. Rod Adams says:

    George – exactly what “media” do you expect to do this kind of investigative journalism? The commercial one that makes its living by publishing advertisements from the same corporations involved in selling the established products against the upstart competitors?
    You can – and apparently have – find the stories and the back up if you look hard enough on the web. I have documented a few of the specific instances that I have found in my concentration area of atomic energy opposition. You can find them if you search Atomic Insights with the words “smoking gun”.

    • George Carty says:

      In other words, the “Green” groups and the media are both working for the same set of corporate oligarchs? Defeating this oligarchy sounds to me like a problem going far beyond the energy question…

      • Rod Adams says:

        George – that may be true, but like any good soldier, I have to focus on my own part of the battle. I am not necessarily looking to defeat the oligarchs, but to influence and shape the battlefield.

  3. Lynne says:

    For our part, we have been keeping tabs on corporations involved in these activities and boycott their products. If you do this, make sure you send the company an email to inform them that you will no longer be supporting their products.

    • Rod Adams says:

      Lynne – is there a place where you have a list of the corporations that you are following and some information that links them to the activities?

      • Lynne says:

        There is a partial list and some links at . A few minutes on Google will provide more information. We just passed up a GE washer and dryer and decided not to put our commuted pension in the TD Bank in Canada due to their involvement in a Suzuki Foundation study. I also read that there is a movement afoot by citizens to remove their money from the big banks. If you check the Chicago Carbon Exchange, you will find that big investment banks are also heavily invested with carbon emissions trading and stand to make a lot of money-which means profit for them and a compromised energy supply plan and higher electricity prices for the rest of us. It makes absolutely NO sense that nuclear is being sidelined by ‘environmentalists’ and politicians claiming to be concerned about AGW, when nuclear and hydroelectric are the cleanest forms of energy. Those self-same environmentalists and politicians then proclaim that wind turbines and solar panels will “repower” the future, which is patently absurb, as wind and solar serve mainly as distractions for the backup generation of coal and natural gas. Have you noticed who the major companies are building the large renewable projects? Up in Canada, quite a few of the wind farms are being built by oil and natural gas companies. Could it be that they are after the carbon credits to offset their other business activities? Does nuclear need carbon offsets – not really, so they have been left out of the game.

        • Rod Adams says:

          Lynne – this is terrific information. You might enjoy searching Atomic Insights for the term “smoking gun” to read some of the posts where I identify a close relationship between anti-nuclear activity or statements and producing or selling fossil fuel. In many of those posts, I also point out the interest that fossil fuel producers – particularly oil/gas companies – have in solar and wind projects. Even traditional “nuclear” companies like GE and Siemens have a strong interest in producing alternative energy equipment and financing the projects.
          I do not keep my money in a major money center bank; I prefer credit unions and banks like USAA. I also do not use mutual funds; I have been buying individual stocks in carefully selected companies since I was 18.