Theo Simon and George Monbiot – Rational discussion about nuclear energy development

During the past week or so, I have been spending quite a bit of time following a discussion about nuclear energy between Theo Simon and George Monbiot. It is a deeply philosophical engagement between two literate and concerned people who view nuclear energy through different lenses and have, so far, reached different conclusions about its value and potential for growth.

I have no desire to put words into the mouths of either man, but here is my summary of their current arguments. Both of them start with the perspective that corporate power is often destructive, that concentrated wealth can corrupt government, and that human development is best when people work locally, individually and in cooperation with their immediate communities. Both of them have spent their lives trying to resist over development, destructive technologies, and concentrated power.

However, in the past few years, Monbiot has shifted his position on nuclear energy from strong opposition to reluctant support. He has done a thorough job of explaining that positional shift on his blog and in his columns. Just in case you have not taken the time to read the many words he has written on the topic, I think it would be fair to say that his strongest motivation was a recognition that nuclear energy is an indispensable tool in the battle against global climate change.

He has taken a road similar to that traveled by Mark Lynas, Stewart Brand, James Hansen, Patrick Moore, Gwyneth Cravens and Barry Brook; he has listened carefully, read deeply and “done the math” to realize that we will have a far better chance of reducing CO2 emissions in time to avert catastrophe if we use both nuclear and renewable energy to replace fossil fuel energy. Monbiot has, on several occasions, indicated that he still does not “like” nuclear energy, but he accepts that it provides enough benefits to accept the associated costs.

I like to think that I played at least a tiny role in encouraging that activity; I first exchanged email with Monbiot in October 2005, almost exactly 7 years ago. My note to him was in response to an article in which he praised Amory Lovins and indicated that he thought no one could disagree with Lovins’s math. Here is that exchange – which was far shorter than the one between Monbiot and Simon.

From: Rod Adams
To: George Monbiot
Cc: Rod Adams
Sent: Wednesday, October 26, 2005 4:54 AM
Subject: I’m investing in new nuclear power

Dear Mr. Monbiot:

I just wanted to let you know that there is at least one team that
disagrees with your math and that of Amory Lovins. I have a pretty
good facility with numbers – I have served as the chief engineer of a
nuclear powered submarine and have an MS in systems technology – and
I have had a pretty good track record as an investor.

My analysis shows that Lovins is dead wrong. Among the many flaws in
his arguments is the fact that he confuses capacity with production.
In the best locations in the world, wind turbines produce less than
30% of their nameplate capacity when averaged over the course of the
year and that production comes at the whim of the weather, not
necessarily matching with the demands of the customers.

It is also quite technically feasible to produce nuclear combined
heat and power plants; in fact, that is one of the applications that
we favor quite a bit.

Anyway, if you are intellectually curious, you could visit our web
sites – otherwise feel free to continue in your current cognitive
dissonance that hates emissions and hates an energy source that is
clean enough to seal inside a submarine full of people for months at

Rod Adams
President, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc
Editor, Atomic Insights

From: George Monbiot
Subject: Re: I’m investing in new nuclear power
Date: October 26, 2005 5:38:46 AM EDT
To: Rod Adams

Perhaps it would have helped if you had bothered to read his report first: then you might have noticed the following. G

Windpower is assumed to incur a 0.9¢/kWh firming and integration cost (generally well above actual), but no corresponding reserve-margin or spinning-reserve cost is counted for nuclear or other central plants, although their large unit size makes them tend to fail in larger chunks and their forced outages often last longer. Every source of electricity is intermittent, differing only in why they fail, how often, how long, and how predictably.

From what Monbiot has written about his slow conversion to accepting the value of nuclear energy in the battle against climate change, I was not the only person who encouraged him to engage in more research, but it is still nice to think that my effort might have helped stimulate a questioning attitude.

Theo Simon, on the other hand, remains firmly committed to battling nuclear energy development. He is a man who camps out in the vicinity of proposed new nuclear plants in order to protest their construction; he is not terribly concerned about being arrested for his troubles. He is convinced that he is working to save future generations from the burden of cleaning up after a short spree of using nuclear energy as a minor, but messy detour on the way to a utopian nirvana powered by the wind and sun.

I have tried to interject yet a third perspective into the discussion, with some modest reaction so far. Like both Monbiot and Simon, I do not trust people who seem to be more motivated by money than by any other measure. Though I have worked in large organizations and been close to those in positions of wealth and power, I have actively avoided getting absorbed by the borg. Some of my college classmates have made different choices and achieve far greater successes, but the people who have made the most money have often had to make choices that would have been unacceptable to me. Many other classmates have achieved a far more balanced measure of success with happy children, fulfilling careers, and creative achievements.

Unlike Monbiot and Simon, I thoroughly like nuclear energy and see it as a tool that has more than just lack of CO2 in its favor. One of its most fascinating characteristics is its potential to enable a huge shift in the world’s power structure – this is a characteristic that I think both Simon and Monbiot would appreciate if they could begin to understand and accept it.

The path that might free up nuclear fission energy’s true potential involves the recognition that nuclear energy is not limited to massive central station power plants. I like to point to the developmental path of computers as an example of the path I advocate for nuclear energy. In the very earliest days of both computing and nuclear, discoveries were made on a modest scale and the technology was developed by individuals and small teams.

Both technologies, however, were influenced by war and corporate power to develop massive scale machines surrounded by security barriers and a desire to limit access to the chosen few – including corporations that used government functionaries to help protect their monopoly profits.

In computing, a few brave, independent thinkers broke down the barriers that made scale so important to companies like IBM, Control Data, Honeywell, UNIVAC, NCR and their corporate customers. Computing pioneers invented ways to shift computing power to ever smaller scale machines, moving through mini computers to desktop personal computers to laptops to handheld smartphones, tablets and ultra portable laptops. Those innovators were joined by the rest of us as we purchased their inventions, cheered their successes, and excitedly contributed to a technological development that has resulted in billions of people having instant access to the world’s accumulated knowledge through devices they can carry in their pockets.

Unfortunately, nuclear fission, which has many of the same potential for “Moore’s Law” paced innovation as microprocessor based computing, remains tied up in Lilliputian threads that have kept it almost entirely locked up in enormous scale machines owned and operated by corporations and governments that can only move lethargically. The owners and operators of current nuclear machines have a huge reluctance to do anything that would dramatically change the status quo because they are current beneficiaries of the way things are today.

The recent acceptance in the United States that nuclear energy might be better if we allow smaller machines is encouraging. Successful deployment of smaller instances of nuclear energy just might help convince people like Monbiot and Simon that the basic technology, like most technologies, can be used on a community scale. Smaller instances of nuclear energy have the potential to allow a far greater number of people to share the experience of getting to know nuclear in the same intimate way that submarine engineers get to know their power plant.

I’d like to encourage more people who think locally to think about how much impact it could have on all of the things that they really care about if they could live in communities that were powered by smaller nuclear energy systems. Those systems could be distributed, locally operated, emission free, and reliable. The used materials could be gathered into regional storage areas until such time as there was a sufficient inventory to develop effective recycling programs.

Land, water and air resources would be less stressed. Transportation requirements for new fuel would be substantially reduced. Concentrated wealth and power in the hands of the fossil fuel pushers would be dispersed. Sure, perhaps I am also a utopian, but I think of myself as an atomic optimist who is capable of doing math and recognizing the difference between a realistic goal and an unreachable mirage.

Disclosure: My day job is with B&W mPower, Inc. a company that is actively developing the B&W mPowerTM reactor module as part of the Generation mPower development team. Everything I write on this blog is my own and does not reflect the positions of my employer.

Additional resources

NuScale Power

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About Rod Adams

34 Responses to “Theo Simon and George Monbiot – Rational discussion about nuclear energy development”

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  1. John Englert says:

    Another benefit of nuclear fission that isn’t emphasized enough is that we don’t have to deploy large expeditionary forces and occupy other countries to secure access to uranium.

    • Jeff Walther says:

      While true, it isn’t really relevant, assuming you’re referring to petroleum. In the USA, at least, petroleum makes up less than 1% of electricity generation. So nuclear power and petroleum consumption are orthogonal to each other.

      Of course, this is also true of wind and solar with respect to petroleum. So when you see an unreliables advocate claiming that it will bring peace to the middle east or some such, it’s just not true.

      • John Englert says:

        Baseload electricity and marine propulsion are just two of many possible uses of fission heat. Liquid fuels can be synthesized from coal using a low cost source of heat. Hydrogen can also be priduced.

        • Jeff Walther says:

          Good point. I forgot about the fuel synthesis angle.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @Jeff Walther

            The US consumes about 10 billion gallons of distillate fuel each year for residential, commercial, industrial and oil company heating applications. That is roughly 1/6th of our total consumption of that product and about 1/3 as much as all on road trucking. Nuclear fission is a good source of heat, and electricity is a good source of residential heat that uses rather cheap machinery compared to oil burning furnaces.


        • SteveK9 says:

          I think the day when we dispense with all that is not as far off as most believe. Electricity (nuclear) will supply heat/cooling (heat pumps) and transportation (EV’s). Synthetic fuels probably still necessary for aircraft.

  2. EntrepreNuke says:

    My blog probably doesn’t belong in that group of additional links, as I don’t plan on developing or designing a reactor of any size within the foreseeable future (unlike each of those other 6).

    I would like to someday be involved in integrating nuclear energy in ways that will extend to energy markets beyond merely baseload electricity generation (especially transportation fuels/energy), as that could be hugely beneficial to societies in general.

  3. DV82XL says:

    Opposition to nuclear energy is not monolithic and draws from several different philosophical roots. Fear of radiation is probably one of the major ones among less informed individuals, but when considering the motivations of those presumed intelligent enough to have considered the subject in some detail it is clear that that the biggest single fear is that nuclear energy undermines limit-to-growth arguments which are in vogue among the intellectual classes these days. Technical arguments are of little use debating this point of view.

    Rob Gauthier

    • Joris van Dorp says:

      Interesting Rob,

      Reminds me of a conversation I recently had with a senior consultant in energy systems for the built environment. I told him that adopting the German energy policy in the broader EU-27 would lead to much higher energy costs in combination with lower system stability, and that these costs would be born primarily by the lower classes who are dependent on the grid, and who pay the taxes to fund the subsidies. His reply was that this was no problem, since limits-to-growth would hurt the lower classes anyway. His vision of the future was that the people/businesses with enough money and need would have their own decentralised power, while the masses would have to learn to make do with electricity only when the sun shines or the wind blows. Having 24/7 power would become a matter of individual (investment) choice. Those who want 24/7 reliable power will invest in their own diesel er natgas backup generators. Those that don’t want it (or can’t afford it) will have to make to with whatever power is available from the grid. He said this situation was unavoidable, and therefore we should not care about trying to prevent it.

      Naturally, he was an opponent of nuclear energy and flatly refused to discuss this, on the grounds that nuclear power (in his mind) was already dead and finished and best forgotten.

      • DV82XL says:

        It’s true: limits-to-growth types fall into two different philosophies; those that think the problem is over consumption by the upper levels of society and who preach a return to simpler times; and those that believe the problem is too many bodies among the poor and are prepared to see them starved out in some Darwinian readjustment of the population. This latter group has not been too visible of late, but they have always been there. They are no less amoral in my opinion than the former, who I believe secretly harbour similar feelings, but at least they are up front about it.

        Both however are myopic. They seem incapable of seeing that the path to reduced populations is by elevating standards of living for all leveraging the effect that can be clearly seen in countries with high living standards: almost all of them have such low birthrates that they need influxes of immigrants to keep their economies running.

        Rob Gauthier

        • Joris van Dorp says:

          “Both however are myopic. They seem incapable of seeing that the path to reduced populations is by elevating standards of living for all leveraging the effect that can be clearly seen in countries with high living standards: almost all of them have such low birthrates that they need influxes of immigrants to keep their economies running.”

          Absolutely. I think this is the key point. Certainly, a lot of the nuclear discussions I’ve had boil down to this. The anti-nuke eventually resorts to the argument that since per capita energy use and total population will grow exponentially *for ever* (???) that *only* sun and wind are abundant enough to satisfy this growing energy need, since they do not rely either on fossil, or on nuclear fuels and ‘could’ therefore be scaled up indefinately, or so the argument goes.

          After that, I try to explain that it is very unlikely that energy use per capita needs to grow forever and that the ultimate world energy demand is far more likely to stabilise at some level probably between 3 an 5 times the level of today. And crucially: that this level of energy demand *can* actually be delivered by nuclear energy in perpetuity (even if nuclear would need to provide *all* of this energy, which is perhaps unlikely, though not impossible to achieve).

          However, like you wrote before, rational argumentation doesn’t really interest some of these people. They’ll engage in rational argument if they believe they will win the argument, but when it turns out they lose, they simply shrug it off and continue spreading the same misinformation that prompted me (in this case) to engage them in discussion. I’ve seen this many times.

  4. Theo says:

    Rod – your thoughts are interesting to me as I have indicated on my blog, but I think you do not appreciate the reality of proposed nuclear development in West Somerset and the UK. You will notice that I have not condemned research or further development of nuclear technology per se. I am opposing specific plans in a specific social context, and the production of high level waste with no visible plan to dispose of it safely and the state being asked to basically fix the price high for EDF and pick up the tab for any major off-site incident which may arise from the untried EPR design reactors, and in future for the waste. This coupled to an apalling planning system and corporate manipulation of media and public process is what I cannot accept, and I believe that George compromises his reputation by failing to address these real world concerns.

    DV82XL – i don’t think I’m in “the intellectual classes”. Obviously there are limits to growth if it follows the current global models, which are suicidal.

    • DV82XL says:

      The waste issue is a canard and you will not find anyone among the informed regulars here that will give the ‘issue’ the time of day. There have been good technical solutions available for decades to deal with it and at any rate the volumes and the hazards have been over blown by propagandists.

      But the fact is that the limits to growth argument IS at the root of the debate in some circles and rather than address it directly those that believe in it have chosen to attack nuclear energy obliquely because they realize that it undermines their position on the matter.

      I am willing to discus the growth issue, and indeed it should be addressed, but it is separate from the idea that that we should take advantage of the availability of a clean, abundant energy source. These are two separate issues and the myopic view that nuclear energy is part of the problem, rather than part of the solution is quite simply wrong.

    • Paul wick says:

      Theo: “No visible plan to dispose” of waste? Nuclear plants contain the waste quite visibly and quite acceptably, compared to the fossil fuel producers who dump it uncontrolled in the environment; which is partially due to the zealotry of anti-nuclear campaigners such as yourself. Yes, zealots. Because if you would calm down enough to study the issue, you would readily see that there are numerous technically plausible and impending ways to eventually fission the current long term transuranic waste from Gen II and III plants; to fission the waste in Gen IV fast reactors. I am being generous here with you, because I don’t know if you belong to an environmental organization funded in part with Natural Gas money. So I assume mere ignorance on your part. Albeit, ignorance sans humility. The key progressive point about nuclear power is that it alone among all energy sources has the capacity to elevate the living standards of the world’s downtrodden laboring people in rural India, China etc. who remain chained to the drudgery of muscled-powered labor (both human and animal). This is a preliminary condition for the emancipation of the human spirit on a world scale; and this is indispensable for dealing with all social problems. Not the least of which is uncontrolled growth, including population growth. On this latter point, one could educate oneself quite easily by reading Robert Hargraves’ new book, Thorium: Energy Cheaper than Coal. But one must first desire to learn.

      • Theo says:

        “Ignorance sans humility”? I guess you havn’t actually read the debate between george Monbiot and me and you have no knowledge of what is happening in West Somerset, England. I’m sorry if you think that mere assertions about what will be possible in the future are enough to deal with hazardous waste issues we create in the present. Sans humility indeed.

        • Rod Adams says:


          Can you point to a single instance anywhere in the world where someone was harmed by being exposed to the used fuel material or low level waste produced in a commercial nuclear power plant?

          I am not saying that the material is “safe” or not hazardous if improperly handled. I am saying that we know how to properly handle it and how to protect even the people who must work most closely with it. If we protect workers, we are also protecting the public. We can, with a high confidence level, point to almost every gram of hazardous material we ever produced. It is still right where we put it.

          In contrast, our competitors in the fossil fuel industry cannot even keep track of their hourly waste products, many of which have killed far more real people than any material produced by a nuclear reactor.

          My issue with your argument continues to be your assumption that somehow future generations are going to be less informed about how to deal with radioactive material than we are. Why should that occur? Are we going to stop educating our children? Will they stop innovating, learning and accumulating even more knowledge than we have?

          • Brian Mays says:

            … your assumption that somehow future generations are going to be less informed about how to deal with radioactive material than we are. Why should that occur?

            Maybe Theo expects that people will read and actually buy into the complete nonsense that he publishes on his blog. After reading only a couple of paragraphs, I could feel the information being sucked from my head. It wasn’t pretty.

            This guy’s an expert in “waste”; his blog is full of it.

            Are we going to stop educating our children?

            Yes, that’s exactly what Theo’s plan is. Did you read the blog?

        • Yokohama Michael says:

          Theo, I for one have read your email exchange with George, and I appreciate the courtesy with which you handled the debate. Such courtesy will be needed from both sides if eventual resolution is to reached, which I believe is vital as environmentists should be among the most strident of nuclear supporters. For somebody as deeply involved as you in the anti-nuclear movement to come here and engage in rational debate can only be a good thing.
          However, I also believe that the nuclear waste issue is a political problem and not an engineering or technical one. An open-minded review of the literature will reveal this; for me, the scales began to fall from my eyes when I learned that radiation is all about the doses. Some doses are dangerous, some are not.

          • Joris van Dorp says:

            Indeed, I concur, Theo is excellent for his activity in performing his role in this debate openly and honestly. Now all we need is a good conclusion!

            I sympathise a lot with Theo. The problems of climate, environment, energy, and downtrodden peoples are enormous and depressing as they are. But I can only imagine how truly awful these problems will appear to someone who does not see the possibilities offered by nuclear power. It must be a very dark place indeed, which makes the mental survival in such a place impressive, I think.

          • DV82XL says:

            I am less forgiving. Nuclear energy is not that difficult to understand as there is nothing about the basics that is out of reach to anyone with at least a high school education. The fact is that it is not that complicated and it only takes a willingness to learn and a bit of effort to bring oneself up to speed on the technology. Instead, some critics choose to swallow without question the propaganda that has been levelled against it without question and these are the ones that endlessly bring up false issues like radiation, waste and proliferation. One can see immediately from the terror of their arguments that they have not bothered to look into these ‘issues’ with any sort of critical thinking and only parrot what has been uttered by antinuclear forces.

            It is the simplicity of nuclear that is key here: were it so complex that is was only accessible to those with advanced educations, some allowance could be made. This is not the case – thus the only conclusion that I can draw is that there is an obstreperous refusal to consider the facts at work. That or some critics know that nuclear can solve most of the world’s energy problems, and do so cleanly, and fight it due to ulterior motives.

            Rob Gauthier

          • Joris van Dorp says:

            Good point as usual. Yes, it’s simple enough I suppose. But speaking for myself (M.Eng), it took me a good while to learn enough about nuclear technology to be able to determine – for example – at the outset that Fukushima was probably not going to be much of an actual disaster (granted there would not be extraordinary human failure during the disaster management).

            But since Fukushima, antinuclear propaganda on the internet has ballooned along with the occurrence of anti-nuclear claims and suggestions in public media. I guess it is significantly more difficult today for a laymen to find good (as in correct) opinion on nuclear power than it was before the disaster.

            Blogs like this one help a great deal, can’t thank Rod enough for that.

        • Engineer-Poet says:

          Mr. Simon,

          “Ignorance sans humility”? I guess you havn’t actually read the debate between george Monbiot and me

          I have read it from end to end, including all of the comments as of a couple of days ago.

          What I notice is that you attack George, not for being wrong, but for what amounts to heresy against your orthodoxy.  Examples of this include:
          Financially, socially, medically and environmentally, our profligate lifestyles are paid for by people we do not know and ecological systems we do not see.
          One of the biggest of which is GHG emissions, which nuclear power eliminates.
          starting more nuclear fires and leaving our children’s children to put them out is not the only option we have for continuing our lives on Earth. It’s just the one that looked easiest to the British status quo at the point where it became unavoidable that we had to de-carbonize the economy.
          The easiest way is the most likely one which can be accomplished, but you subordinate the survival of the ecosystem to your orthodoxy.
          If they in turn commit to the nuclear route, weapons proliferation and the danger of nuclear war will follow
          The old canard.  The truth is that of the recent proliferators, only India also had a nuclear energy program which was at all related (the others are N. Korea, Pakistan and Iran, with Syria and Libya as wannabes).
          Saying no to new-nuclear limits our options – to the acceptable ones.
          If heretical means would get the job done faster or surer, they must be rejected.
          But if we could ignite the political will to make that happen, then we could equally well direct that will to beginning a massive publicly funded and democratically directed Renewables Revolution in Britain instead.
          If you don’t realize how much this sounds like another Great Leap Forward, you have a tin ear for history.

          Then there are the claims you make which are simply false-to-fact:
          managing the radioactive waste and spent fuel rods – which cannot be safely moved for up to another 100 years after that – will become the sole activity of the site.
          Spent fuel can be moved as soon as it’s cool enough to go into dry casks.
          In other words, the obligation on future people in Somerset to securely oversee and monitor our radioactive heritage is open-ended – anything from 100 years…to several millennia.
          The substantial radioactivity of spent fuel fades quickly on a time scale of decades; the hottest isotopes are also the shortest-lived.  Again, the stuff is safe to move within years.  After 300 years it’s essentially a pretty good plutonium ore with a heaping load of uranium.  Someone will likely be after the valuable fission products long before that; the radio-cesium and -strontium have great uses for killing pathogens.
          have allowed you your enthusiasm for researching new nuclear technologies that might consume the waste – a genuinely nuanced position – but I repeat that no such new technologies are being proposed here
          GE is proposing to build an S-PRISM reactor to destroy Britain’s plutonium stockpile, being paid only for the work it does.

          and you have no knowledge of what is happening in West Somerset, England.

          That is separate from the issue of nuclear power in general, and you know it.  If it weren’t for the nuclear paranoia spread by such as yourself, the plants could be located in already-industrialized (perhaps existing “brownfield”) areas and rare habitats left untouched.  But you fail to recognize that you yourself are part of this problem also.

  5. Pete51 says:

    Another name that can be added to the growing list of scientists supporting nuclear power is Richard Muller of UC Berkeley. His Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project has confirmed other studies which show the Earth’s temperature is indeed increasing. The major climate change researchers are seeing that nuclear power needs to be a significant part of the solution. These guys can do the math, which unfortunately is a skill wind and solar proponents seem to lack.

    • Jeff Walther says:

      “The major climate change researchers are seeing that nuclear power needs to be a significant part of the solution. These guys can do the math, which unfortunately is a skill wind and solar proponents seem to lack. ”

      Unfortunately, for whatever reason(s), whenever climate change is presented as an issue needing immediate action in the popular media, the action presented as necessary is always nonsense like building wind mills, or solar panels, or forcing people to destroy their standard of living.

      There are folks in the world who aren’t climate researchers who are good enough at math to see what the effects would be of large scale deployment of wind mills and solar, and therefore they oppose it. Unfortunately, they also tend to bundle up mitigating climate change in the same package, because that’s how it came packaged from the media.

      If the climate change folks want more acceptance, they need to clearly separate the statement of the problem from the disastrous “solutions” which are usually promulgated along with it.

      • George Carty says:

        You have a great point there about how the unpalatable solutions to climate change proposed by activists help discredit their cause. I’m not fully convinced on climate change myself, not so much because of anything due to climate science itself, but more from the notion that “if the climate threat is as bad as the alarmists claim, why haven’t the anti-nuclear protesters been shot?”

  6. John ONeill says:

    “…why haven’t the anti-nuclear protesters been shot?”
    Indeed, if the war against climate change was taken as seriously as the war against Hitler’s Germany ( which was a comparatively trivial threat ), perhaps they would have been. Or more likely, they wouldn’t be there.

    • George Carty says:

      Maybe Hitler’s Germany wasn’t that much of a threat to the Anglosphere, but on the Eastern Front it was a different story, as the Nazis wanted to depopulate Eastern Europe and repopulate it with Germans.

      People who oppose nuclear energy out of fear are the moral equivalent of Soviets cowardly enough to surrender to the Nazis.

      • Rod Adams says:

        @George Carty

        Please remember one of the rules of internet discussions – they go way downhill as soon as someone compares their opposition to the Nazis.

        • George Carty says:

          In my analogy, the “Nazis” are not the fear-driven anti-nukes, but the Club of Rome and other hard-green depopulationists…

          • jmdesp says:

            You need to read the *actual* Club of Rome report. It makes a lot more sense than you believe, or that it’s haters have reported over the years.

          • John ONeill says:

            Didn’t mean to break Godwin’s law, and of course for the individual Russian or Englishman you’re just as dead if you’re killed by war or climate. What I meant was that sixty years on, it’s still important that Stalin won and Hitler lost, but two hundred years on, whether Napoleon or the Duke of Wellington won is of less moment. If we manage to turn southern Europe into an extension of the Sahara, or Florida into a shallow sea, it won’t be history, it’ll be geography.

  7. EZ says:

    I’ve come across a number of different reasons for anti nuclear sentiments. The seven that stand out in my mind are listed below.

    1) One reason for anti nuclear sentiment, as mentioned in the blog post, is the idea that power needs to be distributed more locally; and that nuclear gets in the way of that goal. I don’t entirely disagree with the idea that power is to centrally concentrated. I think that more power really should be situated locally because local governments and communities can often better respond to people’s needs then more distant centrally located authorities that can’t possible keep track everyone’s individual situations. I don’t, however, believe that everything needs to be local. Technical progress works best with the contribution of a large number of people which can’t all be located close together, and manufacturing benefits from economy of scale and a diverse supply of materials that can’t be found in all locations. I realize that in recent years power has become more centralized to the detriment of some local communities and cultures, but is rectifying this really worth destroying all the benefits of large scale cooperation that the modern world currently enjoys? My opinion is that we should strive for the best of both worlds by using local power were local power is most efficient and central power where central is most efficient.

    2) Another reason for anti nuclear sentiments is that some people, for various reasons, want growth to stop. The main reason for this sentiment is the belief that growth will inevitably lead to the collapse of human civilization and maybe to human extinction as well. In this mode of thinking human beings are yeast in a jar, and nuclear power is sugar. They basically believe if we get to much sugar we are going use up all the nutrients while poisoning ourselves with our own excrement.

    One argument I have heard related to this is that if we continue to increase our energy use, because of continual exponential economic growths, then eventually the waste heat from the reactors alone will be enough to fry our planet. Their answer to this problem seems to be to control everything. Control how we use resources, control how much of each resource we us and if possible even control how many of us there are. By controlling all of it they will save us from our horrible fate because us “Sheeple” can’t do it ourselves.

    Really I’m being kind of unfair here with some of my rhetoric. Truthfully there are many things individuals can’t do themselves which is why we have things like governments and laws. I know that there are many ways people are controlled that I’m glad of, for instance I’m glad there are laws about dumping toxic waste into the water supply. What I’m not glad of is the casual arrogance of some people that makes them think any power outside their control, or the control of others they consider like them, is somehow a mindless power that needs to be stopped.

    It’s not like I don’t understand why they think the way they do. I’ve read the book Collapse by Jared Diamond. I’m familiar with “The limits of Growth.” I understand that if we aren’t careful maybe we really will screw things up for ourselves. The problem I have is with people who have so much scorn for humanity that they would rather see almost everything the modern age has accomplished fall to ruin then trust that people could possible harness the power of the atom responsibly.

    3) Another problem some people have with nuclear, somewhat related to the last one, is that they want growth to stop because they value nature and/or animals as much or more than they value humans. This is a hard mentality for me to understand, but apparently some people would accept human suffering and death for the sake of that which they feel is more important.

    4) Still another reason some people dislike nuclear is because of misinformation. I know how easy it is to become misinformed on the issue when you are constantly bombarded with anti nuclear sentiments.

    5) Another reason is a belief in conspiracies that are either pro nuclear or anti some other form of technology. Some people won’t believe any sources that say good things about nuclear because they are convinced that all such sources are lies propagated by the big bad nuclear industry. Also, some people feel that some other source of energy is superior, and that the only reason people don’t know this is because of misinformation being spread by its rivals. For example many people believe that the only reason wind and solar aren’t more prevalent is because they are being repressed by the fossil fuel/nuclear industry. Any arguments people bring up about the weaknesses of these technologies are dismissed as lies, or they are directed to some study that supposedly invalidates all wind/solar concerns.

    I know that just dismissing studies out of hand isn’t a good thing, so I took the time to read through one of them once. It was a while ago that I read it, but luckily I book market it so I still know the name. It was called “Large sale integration of wind energy in the European power supply: analysis, issues and recommendations” by the EWEA. Rather than its intended effect reading this report made me think worse of wind power. It was a while ago that I read it so some of the details aren’t that clear in my memory, but I’ll try to give my reasons for why the report had the effect it did on me. One thing that struck me is that it blamed everything but wind variability for the problems that are caused by the variability of wind. It was the fault of grid operators who just didn’t treat wind energy fairly. It was the fault of governments who didn’t expand the grid enough, and didn’t create the right rules and regulations for the electric market. At no point did they acknowledge that maybe gird operators and governments might have valid reasons of their own. The report engaged in sophistry arguing over weather wind should be called “intermittent” or “variable”. It doesn’t matter what you call it, the problem is that wind is a force of nature outside of human control that can’t always be counted on. The report even admitted that wind can’t be predicted accurately that far in advanced. Search through it I found this “Regardless of the forecasting method used, the forecast error (RMSE) for a single wind farm is between 10% and 20% of the installed wind power capacity for a forecast horizon of 36 hours, using current tools”. I imagine that getting to that level of prediction accuracy wasn’t an easy feat. I should probably be impressed, but instead I can’t help thinking it isn’t good enough when the goal is to always be able to accurately match supply and usage. I’ve spent quite a bit of time and effort learning about renewable energy, particularly wind, so I could probably go on about it for quite awhile; but I’m getting kind of distracted here.

    Sense I reference something here I should probably provide a link for anyone interested.

    6) Some people feel nuclear power leads to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. My thoughts are that any reasonably technologically advanced society who wants nuclear weapons will get them eventually regardless of what others do to try and stop them.

    7) The last reason for anti nuclear sentiment that I encounter occasionally is from people who are selling something else. I don’t really think this needs much explanation. Obviously people are care about their own self interests to some degree.

    • Andy B says:

      @EZ and anyone else who can help,
      Whilst investigating wind power, did you ever encounter a discussion on the possible effects of removing energy from air?
      My interest arises from the fact that since weather and turbulence in general are complex systems, may we be making more climate-related nuisance by removing, say, 20Gw from the air moving over, say, England.

  8. Frank Jablonski says:

    I notice that Theo conspicuously disappeared after commenters started challenging him in detail on incorrect statements, supposedly incorporating verifiable facts, that George Monbiot was either too timid, too polite or too- something-else (unknown) to bring up.

    Because of that unwillingness by Mr. Monbiot, I would rate the discussion between the two debaters to fall short of “rational.”

    Too many important facts were left out of it.