I am a strong believer in the idea that dumping roughly 20 billion tons of gaseous garbage into the atmosphere every year from fossil fuel combustion is a very bad idea. There are some details in widely used climate models that can be called into question. There are certainly some of the gases are natural substances that are released in large quantities by other processes outside of human induced combustion, but call me a believer in the notion that we need to slow down our dumping and compensate the people who own just as much of the atmosphere but dump far less into it.
It is the dose that makes the poison. If my neighbor’s trees drop leaves that blow onto my yard, that is a natural process and not an issue of concern. If, however, my neighbor decides that he really does not like having leaves on his yard, so he concentrates them into a pile and then dumps that pile onto my yard, I would consider that to be pollution that requires some compensation.
For some odd reason, perhaps because they feel that they have some kind of ideological need to object, many people who strongly favor nuclear power want to avoid discussion of its advantages with regards to avoiding atmospheric pollution and climate changing gaseous emissions. For me, that is just one of many strong reasons to favor fission over combustion – it is so densely concentrated that even its waste products do not require a dump and can be fully retained inside plant boundaries. That makes nuclear power plants very good neighbors compared to their fossil fuel competitors, which all come with installed waste pipes that reach high into the sky.
In the Environmental Community, the emission free nature of nuclear energy is causing some serious rethinking of previously held positions. Atomic Insights has documented the conversion of a number of famous environmentalists to a position of support – perhaps reluctant support – for the idea that building new fission power plants is better for the planet than a continued reliance on fossil fuel combustion.
There are some reactionary hold outs, however. I have been amused by reading about the cognitive struggles within the “community” of environmentalists who have up until now viewed anti-nuclear attitudes as an almost canonical part of their religion. You can find one such story of struggle in a article written by Ken Edelstein for Mother Nature Network titled Media Mayhem: Nuking climate change.
But as the nuclear industry’s twin bête noires — the Chernobyl disaster and the Three Mile Island accident — fade from memory, the threat of climate change looms larger and scarier. Nuclear power, its advocates note, pumps virtually no greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
The whole new reality creates quite a predicament for environmentalists. Yes, politics does make strange bedfellows, but usually they don’t require Geiger counters.
Without a growing recognition that the fossil fuel industry has been getting a free ride that has caused decision making resulting in ever increasing amounts of polluting emissions, there would have been fewer political conversions to the position of acceptance of nuclear energy. It is difficult to believe that John Kerry would have decided to accept a compromise as documented by his recent joint Op-Ed piece with Lindsey Graham, especially when you understand the following about Kerry’s historic position with regard to nuclear energy.
As Massachusetts’ lieutenant governor and then as senator, the Democrat was a vocal foe of the Seabrook nuclear power plant, then under construction in neighboring New Hampshire. He remains an environmental darling — the climate-change bill co-author tasked with rounding up Senate supporters of the historic legislation.
He also led the fight in the Senate in 1994 to support the Clinton Administration decision to completely remove funding for the Integral Fast Reactor.
The anti-IFR forces were led by John Kerry. He was the principal speaker and the floor manager of the anti forces in the Senate debate. He spoke at length, with visual aids; he had been well prepared. His arguments against the merits of the IFR were not well informed and many were clearly wrong. But what his presentation lacked in accuracy it made up in emotion. He attacked from many angles, but principally he argued proliferation dangers from civilian nuclear power.
While all serious weapons development programs everywhere in the world have always taken place in huge laboratories, in specialized facilities, behind walls of secrecy, and there has been negligible involvement with civilian nuclear power, it is impossible to argue that there CAN be none. For this reason the IFR processes were specifically designed to further minimize such possibilities, and, if developed, they would have represented a significant advance over the present situation. This did not slow Senator Kerry, as he went through the litany of anti-nuclear assertions, articulately and confidently.
It is a considerable victory for nuclear energy and a recognition of the value of continued efforts to persuade and educate to have changed the mind of someone who was once so adamantly opposed. It is also a validation for those of us who believe that life is a learning process. Anyone who can maintain a consistent position in the face of new information is simply a stubborn dolt who has stopped listening or reading.