Don’t Nuke the Climate – A Response to NIRS from Rauli Partanen and Janne M. Korhonen
By Rauli Partanen and Janne M. Korhonen
Earlier this year, we wrote a piece called “A most unwise campaign.” Writing as independent researchers, members of the Finnish Ecomodernist Society, and in association with non-profit organization Energy4Humanity, we criticized some of the claims prominently made in support of one of the staples of established anti-nuclear activism: the Don’t Nuke the Climate campaign. Recently, a response to our piece, penned by Michael Mariotte, has been published at safeenergy.org.
We thank safeenergy.org and Michael Mariotte for their response. We sincerely believe that global problems require dialogue between people of differing opinions, and we have stated numerous times in writing that we do not hold any monopoly to truth. Indeed, we believe that attempts to monopolise global problems as lobbying platforms for one specific techno-political regime are likely to end in dismal, unacceptable failure.
The purpose of our piece was to bring to light the fact that the Don’t Nuke the Climate campaign uses questionable rhetorical strategies to promote its goals. We have pointed out that their claims of nuclear energy being too CO2 intensive to help in the climate fight are cherry-picked from broader scientific literature. This is not an opinion. It is a simple, easily verifiable fact. The weight of studies do not agree with the numbers Don’t Nuke the Climate chose to use. Furthermore, even the numbers the campaigners chose to use do not agree with what they are implying: even if correct, nuclear energy would still have so low carbon dioxide emissions that it would be a welcome addition to the climate fight.
In response, we hear that this is just one argument. This is good to hear, although when we wrote our piece, the CO2 intensity was the headline argument at campaign’s web pages. There are indeed many perfectly legitimate arguments that can be made against nuclear power, and it is all too easy to be aware only of evidence and arguments that seem to support one’s preconceptions. This confirmation bias obviously works both ways: there are also many arguments that can be made against renewable energy, for instance.
Confirmation bias is the reason we welcome any critique of our work. For example, we have consistently asked the readers of our book, Climate Gamble, to comment and point out any inaccuracies in the book they have been able to find. Since the first (Finnish) edition, reader feedback has resulted to nearly dozen major and numerous minor changes to text.
This is how we want to go on debating climate change solutions and other issues: on basis of best evidence and on a level playing field. If someone argues, for example, that nuclear energy cannot be part of the climate fight because of (supposed) emission intensity of 66 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour (gCO2/kWh; most studies estimate figures between 10 and 20 gCO2/kWh), then surely one should conclude that solar photovoltaics (IPCC median estimate 46 gCO2/kWh) are not very good either, and that biomass (IPCC median estimate 230 gCO2/kWh) is right out?
Yet the same campaigners seem to have no problem with non-nuclear energy plans that envision vast increases in biomass use, for example.
We recommend that the people involved read our book with an open mind. As far as Michael Mariotte’s response goes, most of the arguments he makes have already been answered. Some are proven to be almost completely opposite to what he claims: for example, even the much-maligned Olkiluoto 3 nuclear project turns out to be very fast way of adding low-carbon energy production when compared to any real-world combination of alternatives. We have references for all our major claims, and are willing to provide evidence for those where readability forced us to leave out proper footnotes.
Our core message is simple: there is considerable scientific evidence suggesting that categorically banning nuclear energy from climate fight is even at best a reckless gamble with our planet and its climate. At worst, opposition to what is even now our most important single source of low-carbon energy may doom us to vagaries of runaway climate change. Nuclear energy is not an easy silver bullet solution. Nevertheless, it should be retained in our toolkit of low-carbon energy options, to be used alongside other technological, economic, political and social methods for mitigating our environmental impacts while ensuring a just and prosperous future for all humanity.
As mentioned, we do not hold any monopoly to truth. We are perfectly willing to change our opinion when presented with proper evidence. To pick just one example, if renewable energy installation rates climb to the levels required according to important decarbonisation feasibility study by Loftus et al. (2015), we will take the claims of nuclear energy being unnecessary much more seriously. However, given that the required rate, which needs to be sustained year to year from now to 2050 at least, is up to thirteen times higher than global short-term record rates for all energy installations combined, and up to 25 times current record rates for renewable installations, it seems there is still room for other solutions as well.
We hope that those who criticize our work also state what evidence, if any, would change their minds. Debates where no evidence can change opinions are not fruitful, and we choose not to participate in such exercises of futility.
To reiterate, we hope anyone interested in serious debate would read our book and respond with logic and evidence. We are open and willing to engage in debate and have made every effort to make our book available. Even as we write this, we are waiting for the delivery of 5000 free books we are going to personally distribute in Paris during the COP21 climate negotiations. We hope these books and our other outreach promotes reasoned discussion of what may be the most important problem facing humanity today.
Note: The above appeared first on Energy for Humanity. It is republished here with permission from authors and publisher.
Seasons Greetings ALL!
Re: ” There are indeed many perfectly legitimate arguments that can be made against nuclear power, and it is all too easy to be aware only of evidence and arguments that seem to support one’s preconceptions.”
Gee, just what nightmares are they scared of? I like playing numbers games and when you tally nuclear’s industrial mortality/environmental damage stats for over 60 years _worldwide_ including “worst” accidents via acts of God and ineptness and come out with numbers light years below the lives lost and damages and pollution incurred by other power sources, one must wonder whether one’s beef against nukes is far more philosophical (or ego) than real. It’s like looking a gift horse in the mouth.
What we tried to say with that could be opened a bit. Yes, we have done the numbers as well.
– Like all energy sources, nuclear has its problems. Are these blown out of proportion? Yes, often. Are relevant comparisons with outher energy sources done? Not that often. But that is not a reason to ignore them. Like everything else, nuclear can be (and has been) done in a proper or not so proper way.
– To continue that thought, claiming that all arguments against nuclear are stupid, invalid or silly is simply arrogant, and as such, will usually put people off (meaning regular people – these usually have no effect on hardcore pro or anti nuclear people).
And like the last sentence of James quoting us says, it IS all too easy to be aware mainly of the evidence and arguments that supports ones preconception and current mindset. We should always be aware of these very real psychological and cognitive mechanisms (biases).
On a more humorous note, I have a small and weird story. When we were in Paris with my co-author Janne Korhonen during the COP21 negotiations, giving out thousands of copies of our Climate Gamble book to people (for free, we crowdfunded it), we were picked on by the anti-nuclear establishment as “the nuclear lobby”, or even as the “the nuclear industry”. Us. Two non-profit, independent guys, not making a single buck for our trouble, barely getting expenses paid. Well, to be honest, at least some of that heat was to be expected (but if we were “the nuclear lobby” in Paris, then the nuclear industry is in worse shape than I could have guessed 🙂 )
To add to that, we have also been contacted by several people from the “other side” of the nuclear discussion. While the message has been generally very positive, some people have still managed to say we are overly optimistic about renewables and pessimistic about nuclear, and that we ignore this or that breakthrough-technology.
As a communicator, I find this situation highly interesting.
People will say a lot of things.
I truly appreciate your effort and your attempts to engage ‘moderates’ and more open minded opponents in discussion. My own experiences support a view point that most people are just uninformed and therefore easily swayed by rhetoric.
But I struggle with the one tool in the tool kit argument for nuclear. I haven’t seen a single study that leads me to believe that solar and wind are anything but an expensive distraction from our efforts to decarbonize our energy generation.
Letting people believe that these large wind farms and expansive solar installations are in anyway ‘helping’ the situation seems counter productive, it allows people to feel like something is being done. Without cheap and massive energy storage options that do not exist, and are not on the horizon, they all really just a garnish. Every man-hour of time, pound of construction material, and dollar of financing spent on solar and wind is in fact a step in the wrong direction.
I am interested in your thoughts as a communicator and as an author on energy, do you disagree with my assessment? Is there really a logical argument to support the continued expansion of wind and solar?
Rauli might of course have some further comments, but our position, made clear in our book “Climate Gamble,” is that solar and wind, as well as other sources classified as “renewable,” have most definitely a role to play in any realistic future low carbon energy system. Development trends in both, but particularly in solar PV, clearly point to a future where they can be very competitive indeed – as a part of energy system. These are becoming mature energy sources and they will be part of energy generation in the future, as will be some amounts of biomass-derived energy and other more marginal energy harvesting methods.
What is the distraction are demands that renewables alone must supply everything. But one shouldn’t throw the baby with the bathwater: for example, domestic solar PV is already a fairly competitive option in places where demand peaks occur during sunny periods (e.g., air conditioning) and transmission charges are relatively high. Large wind turbines, on the other hand, are already probably the cheapest or at least among the cheapest sources of new electricity in several locales. The problems start when we cross certain thresholds and new variable RE generators begin to cannibalise the profits of existing VRE generators. These thresholds however are still far away in most locales, and there is real technological change occurring in e.g. demand management and even in energy storage. Such developments will help us integrate even more VREs – and more nuclear – to energy systems worldwide.
Besides, we need to tackle these issues anyway, even if we wanted to build mostly nuclear-based low carbon energy systems.
Thanks for taking the time to write me back.
I will concede that in specific circumstances; i.e. when a robust grid structure is already in place and VREs are not overrepresented, wind and solar can be competitive. I don’t believe that this concession undercuts my initial position. As soon as you start talking about impacting carbon emissions in meaningful ways the niches in which solar and wind appear to be competitive become moot.
The people building wind and solar are not telling the public “We are just working to achieve a small roll in a bigger picture that will require large amounts of reliable energy production from OTHER carbon free sources”. They say “Look we are solving the problem”.
When this same public hears a message that “Nuclear has a role to play in combatting climate change”. They don’t hear “We need to start building nuclear plants on the scale previously only achieved by France following the oil embargo to have any chance at avoiding the worst impacts of climate change”. They hear “Please don’t leave us out we can help too”.
I fear that the ‘all of the above’ message obfuscates the true challenge, the real solutions, and allows people to feel comfortable that things are getting better, despite living in a world where the leading sources of NEW energy production continue to be powered by fossil fuel.
I hear you and I can’t tell you how frustrated that very situation makes me. I mean that situation where RE -lobbyists are coming up with fantastic (as in fantasy-based) scenarios where everything will be done with their hand-picked choice of renewable energy choice at almost no-cost or even a net profit. They get the headlines of course, and when you actually look what their studies and scenarios actually include, it makes you laugh and cry at the same time.
These people are, in my view, doing a huge disservice to the RE industry (and the climate fight). They are overpromising to the level of lying, and if and when people realise this, it could blow back in a big way for renewable industry as a whole – which will end up profiting the fossil industry as well (remember those nuclear-optimists back in the 60s and 70s saying we will do EVERYTHING with nuclear by 2000 and how that ended? There could be a lesson there).
And what is perhaps worst, they are often driving to replace nuclear power instead of fossil fuels. This is stupid verging on insane, but it is the “normal” discourse for many RE-proponents. We would like to reframe that discourse (I know! a huge, if not impossible, task!) to be “let’s take the fossil fuels out ASAP with everything we got” instead of fighting which low-carbon option is better.
As self-serving this may sound, I recommend you read our book (its on amazon) and check our reasoning. 🙂
On the communication-side, there is actually some studies (I spotted these at the nuclear young generation seminar last summer in Paris from a presentation) that when regular people were asked if nuclear should play THE role in our energy mix, or A role (as a part of the energy mix with other sources) the difference in acceptance was HUGE.
And this was simply a matter of framing the communication. Nuclear as one of the suggested solutions was acceptable to most, while nuclear presented “alone” as a solution was unacceptable to most (even though nobody was actually presenting nuclear as the only solution here either – just framing the question a bit differently).
So we are trying to not arbitrarily limit our choices of tools, but bring them all to the table and then see, on a case by case basis, which is a good mix in any given environment (including politics, public opinion and such – which can be changed but only gradually). With this approach, we hope people are more receptive to reasoning than they would be if we shouted “Nuclear4ever!” or “Solar4all!” from the top of our lungs.
As a new — and most welcome — participant in discussions here on Atomic Insights you are likely unaware of my theory about the root cause of the strength and success of the “environmentalist-led” opposition to nuclear energy development.
Nuclear energy, unlike those weather dependent sources of unreliable and diffuse power lumped together under the “renewable energy” brand, is a serious, almost existential threat to the wealth and power of the fossil fuel industry and several other major components of our Hydrocarbon Economy.
Because of this fact, the world has been subjected to more than 50 years worth of sustained propaganda (in the classic sense of the word as used by Edward Bernays in his 1930s vintage book titled Propaganda) and marketing aimed at discouraging the use of nuclear energy in every possible way including spreading irrational fear of radiation, even at tiny, harmless doses, driving up the cost and complexity of nuclear power systems; encouraging the notion that nuclear can only be economical if used in gargantuan facilities operating at a steady, never varying output; firmly linking nuclear energy raw materials to inevitable use in society-destroying nuclear warfare; and spreading the notion that any major event at a nuclear power station is a catastrophe.
That theory does not necessarily alter the importance of skilled communications practices and efforts like yours, but it does alter my approach in many ways.
One more thing that plays a major role in my own communications effort is the fact that I LIKE living in a world with abundant, reliable, pretty clean hydrocarbons. I like having access to machines — both tools and toys — that have been invented, refined, and manufactured in mass quantities to consume those fuels while providing real value to human beings.
I don’t dream of a world without fossil fuel consumption; I envision a world with such enormous access to clean, reliable power sources that we can continue using hydrocarbons in applications where they are the most capable fuel source without worrying too much about depletion and the effects of pollution.
That can be achieved by directing part of the power output of clean sources to turning hydrocarbon use into something approaching a closed cycle system. Part of my current and future communication effort will be attempting to co-opt the visionary segment of the hydrocarbon economy by showing them how nuclear energy can enable them to continue to prosper if they are willing to share some of their political power and make some serious capital investments.
I forgot to mention my discoveries that several of the most prominent promoters of the 100% renewable fallacy have been well funded by people or corporations with a direct link to the hydrocarbon economy.
Amory Lovins has a multi-decade history of publishing in hydrocarbon funded media outlets and providing “consulting services” to major hydrocarbon production corporations. He even admitted in an interview to having worked for the oil companies for 35 years. His average reported income during the past decade as the head of a relatively small non-profit has been in excess of $400,000 per year.
Mark Z. Jacobson is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Precourt Energy Institute and receives strong marketing support for his work from his employer. That institute was funded by Jay Precourt with donations of at least $100 million since 2010; Precourt is a Stanford alum with a BS and an MS in Petroleum Engineering and earned his wealth during a 50 year career in the oil and gas business.
I’m fairly certain that even if our societies really begin the shift to low-carbon energy system, solar PV and wind power will be significant sources of energy – I’m guesstimating they’d deliver at least half of our energy needs. True, integrating such amounts of variable generation will be problematic. But it’s important to note that integrating large amounts of nuclear power to energy grid will also face challenges, purely from techno-economic point of view (and also from public resistance). It’s in terms of energy grid that we need to begin to think, instead of electricity only – and I’d like to congratulate many pro-nuclear folks who have been thinking along these lines for long now.
For example, we need to develop methods for economically supplanting most liquid and gaseous fossil fuels, as well as metallurgical coal. It seems probable that one important method means using very low cost electricity for electrolysis of hydrogen, and in Sabatier process to convert it to methane. It’s plausible that solar and wind power have fairly large roles to play here; although I do admit that current economics of such processes would greatly benefit from availability of steady electricity supply. (Which, however, needs to be very low cost.)
I’m almost certain we’re going to see major changes in the way electricity markets in particular operate, and these may increase the niche of VREs even further. In Europe, it seems almost inevitable that emphasis will move from pricing energy (kilowatt hours) towards pricing power (basically, pricing based on what’s the maximum consumption and when that occurs). Capacity markets, pushed by Germany, are another example. Of course, in our opinion these changes also increase the competitiveness of low-carbon baseload generation, such as atomic fission ;).
Finally, right now there is considerable political momentum and public opinion favoring renewable energy sources. This should not be ignored, even though it may be true that on some level of analysis the more “optimal” low-carbon energy grid might be based on mostly nuclear power. We’re not going to get “optimal” energy mixes anyway – this seems fairly impossible goal, given the constraints of pork barrel-infested politics – but I’d argue this isn’t a major issue anyway. Industrialised economies will find ways to cope if energy prices are slightly higher than they would be in the theoretical optimum scenario. (Besides, if cost of energy is the primary consideration, we can forget about addressing environmental issues anyway.) I’m not saying there are no limits, but I’d argue they are higher than some pessimistic voices tend to argue.
“I’m guesstimating they’d [VRE] deliver at least half of our energy needs.”
“The problems start when we cross certain thresholds and new variable RE generators begin to cannibalise the profits of existing VRE generators.”
These statements appear to be at odds with each other. The ‘merit order’ or market price suppression effect, begins to occur well before the VRE source reaches its capacity factor. Global CFs for solar are ~10%, with wind at ~25%.
Can we now drop the term “baseload” when referring to generation? Wouldn’t “low-carbon base-generation” been sufficient? Can we reserve “load” for the “lightbulb” in the flashlight instead of the batt-trees”?
Assuming the current electricity market system and demand management/energy storage systems, you’re quite correct.
I’m firmly convinced however that if we want a low-carbon energy system, the market system at least needs a significant overhaul. The more we want RE, the more significant the overhaul needs become, and I fear there is a point where we cross the line between “possible” and “extremely unlikely.” But by 2050, getting half of our energy from VRE is a possibility at least.
Most likely the governments need to take a more active role here; I also believe it would be socially preferable to the current system.
James, it is not about nightmares. It is a lot more mundane that that. For example…when Southern Energy was lobbying for a rate base for their new builds (AP1000s) in Georgia, they “promised” a certain price, and failed to deliver, it came out a lot more. The idea that every nuclear plant (there are now a growing list of exceptions) is fraught with cost over runs and schedule resets, then that is a hit against nuclear, whether you personally see as that or not.
Here is another one that is very mundane but quite real which on occasion we have talked about here: the “inability”…financially…to have nuclear plants do load following. We know, of course, in a real nuclearized grid like in France, where they do NOT produce for The Market or a return on investment to stockholders…that they easily do load following and have for over 30 years. Yet…in the US today…due to the way nuclear is deployed and the deregulation of the grid in many areas the ability to load follow is never utilized. This means that nuclear is tied to other forms of load following generation that doesn’t have the same financial constraints, namely gas turbines.
All problems with nuclear can be resolved. Usually it is a financial and political resolution (and thus regulatory), not a technical one. But I believe it is wrong to say there are no legitimate arguments against nuclear. But they are not intrinsic the technology.
We down power to 65% during spring time high water flows for what is called “economic dispatch” and is done mostly on the weekends. So we load follow. Being a BWR, we can drop to 65% just by reducing flow to the reactor.
I’m not sure if there is another Nuke in the USA that does this. Electric production is mostly hydro in Washington State. If mountain snow fall continues to decrease, we may never hear the “economic dispatch” phrase again.
Bond 25…what is your rate of change?
As a state regulator I take some issue with your comment. The state regulator has a responsibility to follow the law, a law which is passed by a legislature. The regulator has very little to do with the formation of that law, the politicians, lobbyists, and special interests have all that power. In fact, we are working on new energy legislation in my state, and the scope of our comments (public service commission) is often limited to “is this implementable?”, or “is this feasible?”, I can see that your use of the word regulatory may be broader in this context, but you might be surprised at how little authority the regulator has.
Kevin, yes, I was using “regulatory” in the macro-energy sense not the specifics. Nukes are all deployed as base load plants (that itself is a very ‘soft’ term since I worked at base load plant that regularly changed load…the better term we use in California is “RMR”…Required Must Run…which means simply being online and never going off line).
The rate case for any new build of any plant is part of the regulatory environment in the broader sense, Kevin, though it has more to do with year to year payments for generation delivered. I admit I do not know the ins and outs of this. I know the ISO in California and the PUC which both operate under a set of regulations (state and federal) has little to actually do with the financing of Diablo Caynon NPP except that the PUC is the body that approves rate increases.
My overall point is that a truly serious national energy policy would, like every other country with substantial nuclear penetration, allow for costs to be recovered even when a plant is not running at full load. Load following, frequency control and other ancillary services are in fact paid for. But clearly, to me, this is not the case for nuclear energy, and IMHO, it should be.
Thanks for your contributions to this debate. As a nuclear engineer who works in renewables with my state commission I see the things that get tossed around by lobbyists on all sides of energy issues. Almost everyone has a bias, and I find it helpful to remember that whenever I go into a meeting with utilities, environmental groups, trades groups, or anyone else who comes to talk to us.
I look forward to reading your material, and I would like to point out I am fond of the approach of David MacKay who wrote “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air”. He is numbers oriented, which I think is helpful. It sounds similar to what you are doing.
David MacKay’s “Without Hot Air” was indeed one of the inspirations for our work, and David (Sir David as of yesterday, by the way!) very kindly provided an excellent foreword for the most recent “COP21” edition. “Without Hot Air” could do with some updating but it’s still an excellent text heartily recommended to anyone interested in the energy/environment nexus; and freely available to boot.
Here’s the link for convenience :).
I wonder if the automobile were invented today would the people who want to confine the world to solar and wind energy confine us to the use of the horse. The horse is, after all, a “natural” transportation source. The emissions are recyclable.
Maybe, more people are starting to realize that there are new and better forms of nuclear energy in the corral and it’s time to open the gate.
Can the book be downloaded?
Greetings from a second-generation Finnish-American,
After reading your article, I went to the website of the person with their supposed response. Boy, you wonder how we survived the last 60 years! I always find it interesting that they want to include any electrical use for the front end of the uranium fuel cycle as being from coal. They overly focus on three accidents that had minimal health impacts but significant economic impacts then fail to discuss or at the least acknowledge the large human and economic detrimental impacts from the mining and manufacturing of wind turbine (i.e., the need for rare earth elements) and solar panels (i.e., toxic elements and chemicals), much of which is done in places with almost no or very little in environmental protections. Since these adverse impacts are not intense (i.e., like Fukushima was) and not readily covered in the media (like death from asthma and air pollution – anyone want to live in Beijing?), they want to forget that they even happen. However, to have all of the new electrical generation from these sources, the adverse impacts away from where the electricity is generated will be huge. Thus, forgettable in their eyes…
It reminds me of Penn and Teller ripping Prius owners about how the before and after impacts of these hybrids make them not environmentally friendly (naturally, the Prius owners were incredulous to the thought).
I would be very interested in hearing what the response from the anit-nukes turns out to be when you raise these points with them. They probably quickly try to change the subject and not give an answer (that’s been my experience in the past).
Take care and good luck.
Its refreshing seeing such a conversation here. Its also refreshing seeing Rod’s guests treated civil for expressing opinions that have been ridiculed by some here in the past. Treating the renewable crowd as the enemy, or as charlatans, is a self defeating proposition for NE advocates. I look forward to the day when this realization, (that keeping the lights on and preserving our planet is a joint effort), is a commonly held realization. Renewables are here to stay, and the sooner the NE advocates realize and embrace that fact, the sooner they can work to form alliances with the renewable industry in working towards a mutually held goal.
I’m not opposed to creatively using solar and wind energy. I am opposed to misusing them, overselling their capabilities, and conveniently lumping them — or not lumping them, depending on the audience and the scenario — with “biomass” and municipal solid waste.
That sums up my point of view as well.
There is lot of difference between:
– opposing something,
– not opposing something,
– actively lobbying for something,
– actively lobbying for public money to be used on something (here opinions cease to matter and facts and evidence should rule)
– doing that so that it could be used to oppose another good option,
– doing that as an academic scholar while clearly spinning the evidence one’s way
I also look forward to the day when we have people pushing for low-carbon energy and reduced emissions as the common target instead of hand-picking favourite tools.
In my experience, RE advocates in general are much more hostile towards nuclear than nuclear advocates are towards renewable energy. My experience has been mainly in the lines that some RE advocates say nuclear should be banned, while many nuclear advocates argue that supporting RE does not mean that we should support and build them at any cost (ie not supporting them at any cost is not the same thing as opposing them).
This is an oversimplification, but that is the general image of the conversation I have experienced during the years I have participated in it (although mainly here in Finland).
Also, lumping RE together as a “thing” is something we should stop. Renewable energy sources are immmensely different from one another in almost all of their relevant properties, and should be discussed as the separate energy sources they are.
Its been my experience, in the short time my interest has been piqued, (since fukushima), that ignorance fuels both opposition to NE and to RE.
I have found that talking with people about NE is like talking to them about Hollywood, and Hollywood productions. Its remarkable how many people my age have formed their opinions about NE by watching movies such as “The China Syndrome”.
I have also found that expressing my own changing attitude about NE seems to open the minds of those I’m engaging with. But get into deep science, and you lose them. Many times I’ve sent people here, only to have them tell me the site is “too technical”. People want to engage, and to win them over you need to engage them on a level that invites participation. And the worst thing you can do is berate them for their lack of technical knowledge, such as I have seen done here by a couple of regular participants. If I did not have thick skin, I would have abandoned this site long ago, as some here have expressed hope that I would do so.
On the other side, I live in an area that has huge RE facilities, and can readily see the positives of thse facilities on our local economies, and can also recognize objections to RE that are exaggerations bordering on myth, such as bird kill counts, and destroyed habitat. Such objections are reasonable if they are scaled to the actual facts, but piles of dead raptors is BS, as I can attest by observing the robust and diverse bird of prey population in this area. So, like NE detractors, the RE detractors have their own list of BS talking points they use to market their pet energy source. I can assure you that the wild horse population, and the deer, rabbits, and ground squirrels, in Willow Springs are grazing and thriving on the same hillsides, on the same kind of fodder, that they did before those hills had wind towers on them.
Until you can say the same thing about the hills around Fukushima, and prove it, NE is going to have one hell of a PR problem.
“Until you can say the same thing about the hills around Fukushima, and prove it, NE is going to have one hell of a PR problem.”
Not sure what you’re getting at here. Fukushima has had no impact at all on the wildlife (flora and fauna) in any of the land area around the plant. The radiation levels are far too low to have any impact on ecology. Heck, the actual truth is that they’re not even high enough to have any significant impact on long-term *human* health.
In fact, as is the case with Chernobyl, if anything wildlife will prosper more, due to the reduction in the human population in the area.
Are there any actual surveys that show this, or is it just your personal opinion? Even a casual look at this site would suggest otherwise. Anti-RE sentiment is quite strong and pervasive on the site. You frequently find extended conversations here (even in your comments above) about one sided limitations and a tendency to assess RE on a current cost or current technology basis (and ignoring that innovation has been rapid with RE, costs have dropped just as quickly, grid and energy markets have seen significant change, advanced and competitive storage technologies are just getting their start … and nuclear has been slow to evolve, innovate, adapt, and deliver similar cost benefits and transformative impacts). I can only think of two or three regular commentators who have anything constructive to say about RE technologies, integration, and a suite of low carbon alternatives (adaptable to diverse environmental circumstances, governance, national, and regulatory challenges), and they usually get swamped by a catechism that nothing competes and makes an engineer swoon quite like nuclear.
It was suggested above you claim to be targeting “moderates” with your comments, but I’m not so sure about this. Your discussion is clearly framed in terms of the extremes. I think you may be misunderstanding energy debates in important policy circles regarding climate change (and confusing this with dogmatic and parochial approaches in social media, as your comments about nuclear advocates and RE advocates, as distinct camps and social groups, would seem to suggest). As you write, “Our core message is simple: there is considerable scientific evidence suggesting that categorically banning nuclear energy from climate fight is even at best a reckless gamble with our planet and its climate.” I wasn’t sure who you are talking about here, do you care to be more specific? Because I might hazard to guess your comments might be more useful and significant reaching a larger audience. Your discussion appears to fall victim to some of these categories and overly rigid social groupings (and perhaps even re-enforce them), rather than move beyond them. If the facts speak for themselves, then present them and be clear about costs and benefits, trade-offs, limitations, opportunities, etc. Place such arguments in a specific and real world context. Shooting down straw men (or exaggerating the influence of energy activists who espouse to labels) does little to break down barriers and advance important arguments. Unless, of course, it is more than your “personal opinion” and “impressions” that you are drawing on.
Examples of people who have published policy suggestions for a 100% renewable energy future, one that totally excludes the use of nuclear energy are Mark Z. Jacobson, Amory Lovins, Naomi Klein, S. David Freeman, Arjun Makhijani, Michael Mariotte and Helen Caldicott.
Lovins has been making that recommendation since at least 1976; a quick search with Lovins “energy guru” yielded more than 4,300 results.
Are you saying that those people and the people who listen to them and quote them widely are “extremes?”
“I wasn’t sure who you are talking about here, do you care to be more specific?”
EL, you might also try looking at the safeenergy.org website that Partanen and Korhonen linked to at the start of their post, to which the piece is specifically addressed. The headline there is “News, views and musings for our nuclear-free, carbon-free energy future.” See that, EL? “Nuclear-free.”
To add to Rod’s list of pro-renewables leaders and organization who endorse that nuclear-free sentiment: Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Green parties of Germany, France, Great Britain and Sweden, the governments of Germany, Austria, Italy and Australia, former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the list goes on…
EL, can you think of any nuclear energy advocates who demand a “renewables-free energy future”? Anyone on this site? Anyone at all? Can you see why Partanen and Korhonen might conclude that RE advocates are more hostile to nuclear power than nuclear advocates are to RE?
EL, can you think of any nuclear energy advocates who demand a “renewables-free energy future”?
Though I would never demand such a world, I have lived in a closed, off-grid ship where there wasn’t any “renewable” energy but where 99.9% of our power came from nuclear fission.
If we are talking about evidence-based science as our source of decision making information, there is continuing proof that renewables are a optional item for a modern standard of living. There is no proof anywhere that a “100% renewable energy system” is even possible, though there are some mathematical models with some questionable assumptions that claim to be “proof.”
I also have to object to the notion that the proper alignment is nuclear and renewables versus “carbon.” I like affordable, reliable, clean energy. I believe hydrocarbon fuels will always have a role to play in empowering human society and that they can be produced in a virtually closed cycle that works with natural forces to provide a sustainable, balanced atmospheric and ocean system.
The ending of the Stone Age didn’t mean that humans stopped using stones. The end of the Hydrocarbon Era will not mean that we stop using hydrocarbons.
And there’s the rub, isn’t it?
Let’s be blunt and call them on it. How about this (call it the “Mays Challenge,” if you want): I promise not to protest the solar panels on your roof if you promise not to protest the nuclear plant that provides most of my electricity.
Think they’ll take us up on it?
James Hansen recently reported the hostility he has received from people who claim to be climate concerned but demand a 100% renewable solution without nuclear energy.
Here is the quote:
Like I said (repeatedly), it was my personal experience, so I have no objective proof or studies on it (and I further stated that this personal experience is mainly from the Finnish energy debate). If someone has said studies, I would be interested. I also stated that I was oversimplifying.
I’m aware that this particular article had a quite extreme framing, but I would dare to say it was mainly due to the discussion it was a reply to. The discussion had already been framed to the extreme by the original WISE campaign (started in June) which we replied (this particular piece was a reply to a reply we got to our original response to the campaign so it might be a bit out of context if one does not read the previous discussion).
I have had a limited access to the “energy debates in important policy circles” you mention, and am more at the mercy of the publicly held debate on the subject (which I am also participating in). That said, like Rod and others said, it is not just in the fringes of the social media that more or less outrageous arguments get thrown at the policy-table. We even get these from the academia, and the “grey literature” is full of reports that have very questionable assumptions (and which then get much press and are treated as evidence for this or that). Here is a link to a recent critique (a bit spiky but anyway) on one such reports:
And yes, thank you for the feedback on falling victim to categories, straw men and the rest. It is something that I am still working on, and will be working on in the future as well. I think most of us should. It is actually one of the reasons I don’t like twitter “discussions” at all; the short format is so crippled that it is practically impossible not to build strawmen and to have arguments that are needlessly one-sided.
Thank you for your reply. I did a search for survey results along these lines, and didn’t find anything. Maybe someone else will have better success (since the question is out there). I would hazard to guess that many renewables advocates also have climate change as a primary concern (and don’t rule out nuclear as an available low carbon option with sufficient controls and regulation). I don’t think the same can be said for nuclear advocates … not all of them have climate change as a primary concern (as is clearly indicated on this site). In fact, many nuclear advocates are strongly opposed to climate change policy (and seem to lump renewables, subsidy dollars, portfolio options, and carbon markets into the same general mix as a rule).
In looking at possible options for your next polemic, maybe you can move on from the soft target of those who support climate action and are advocating a strong commitment to renewables to those in the nuclear industry itself (powerful, deeply connected, and influential long term stakeholders and advocates who directly inform policy and financing, already have a seat at the table, and sometimes make exceedingly poor choices for reform and in opposition to stronger environmental and climate policies). To my mind, the nuclear industry is a laggard, and needs more critics (and powerful ones at that) to move it off it’s conventional outlook (and niche business case) and to newer and more transformative approaches (that don’t directly compete with public interests and well coordinated climate action). And yes, social media (and coalition building among advocates) has a very strong role to play in this.
Case in point (although I am sure there are better articles): “Why the nuclear industry targets renewables instead of gas” …
What is the vision for a feasible, international, and coordinated climate vision involving larger (beyond caseload) shares of nuclear, and one that delivers on affordability, safety, financing, flexibility, and greater public acceptance. Does the industry have one? Or is going after renewables advocates, and dragging their heels on much needed regulatory, infrastructure, and technology investments the only thing they have to offer (and very slow progress on waste storage, public safety, and reactor development alternatives).
“…the soft target of those who support climate action and are advocating a strong commitment to renewables…”
My peeps are those who support climate action and advocate a strong commitment to tearing down artificial barriers that discourage the widespread use of the best available tools based on hard-headed analysis and situational awareness.
If that position makes me less likable, so be it. I’ve often been in positions where I’ve influenced people who didn’t like my prescriptions when they were given (as a parent, as a department head, as a company officer and as a budget analyst in a politically charged environment) but who later thanked me for helping them avoid hazardous situations based on incomplete information & poor decision making priorities.
What is the vision for a feasible, international, and coordinated climate vision involving larger (beyond baseload) shares of nuclear, and one that delivers on affordability, safety, financing, flexibility, and greater public acceptance.
Again, I do not speak for the industry, but a better thread discussing this question can be found at Richard Lester’s “A Roadmap for U.S. Nuclear Innovation”
Yes, this makes my point. As you say … your peeps are in the minority, suggesting nuclear professionals should be a greater target of criticism, public, political, and media pressure. So long as the nuclear industry works at cross-purposes to low carbon energy alternatives and policy reform (as my link indicates), they stand in the way of transformative change. And this is not inconsequential … they already hold prominent positions in energy markets and have strong stakeholder (and insider) positions in procurement, contracting, public policy, marketing, and lobbying. Lester is correct, the industry is conservative and insular, and lacks lacks a vision (or appetite for risk taking) to take it into the future. You say you don’t speak for the industry, but you do a pretty good job advancing it’s establishment position (against renewables, energy efficiency, grid enhancements, energy storage, deregulation, capacity markets, slow pace of waste storage options, and more). All things needed for a robust and coordinated response to climate change. If you say this makes you enemies in high places, but I find this unlikely. Perhaps you say things more directly than others would like, but a vocal critic (you are very far from that). I always took the site to be a reflection of establishment views, and one exceedingly watchful and dismissive of change and contrarian perspectives in a rapidly evolving and changing energy market and policy setting.
You have apparently misunderstood my reference to “artificial barriers.” Those include, as an example, the generous subsidization of unreliable sources of electricity that demand entry onto the grid whenever they happen to want to show up for work and also demand that no one penalize them if they say they’ll be there and cannot supply the power promised.
Please tell me which established power supplier fights energy efficiency programs, resists deregulation, doesn’t want capacity markets, and accepts the slow pace of waste storage. options.
I already provided that link … Exelon (and should read fights energy efficiency programs, defends deregulation, wants capacity markets, and accepts slow pace of waste storage options).
I appear to have understood it correctly … and referenced it with the following (“you do a pretty good job advancing it’s establishment position … against renewables”).
My translation is how I parsed your comment. Given your rewording, I’ll agree that some of my positions correspond to some of the positions held by at least one of the major nuclear plant operators.
I do not defend deregulation and I don’t accept the slow pace of waste storage options. In fact, I have specifically targeted Exelon’s position on waste storage, and earned enough ire for that piece to have lost at least one former friend who thought I was airing dirty laundry.
You’d have a very difficult time convincing any objective reader who searched the site on the word “Exelon” that I tend to advance their position.
Sure, we sometimes have similar positions on certain issues, but you can say the same thing about me and George W. Bush, me and Bill Clinton, and me and Harry Reid.
I mostly agree with your assertion that most RE advocates are intolerant of nuclear (not wanting it to have any significant role) whereas NE advocates either support RE as well, or at a minimum are more tolerant of it.
Many NE advocates, including myself, had hoped to join the RE supporters/industry to take on the fossil fuel industry, and create a non-fossil alternative way to provide most or all electricity. We talked about a future with some mix of nuclear and renewable sources. The favor/sentiment was not returned. We found almost implacable opposition and hostility in most if not all “environmentalists” (RE supporters). (Actual engineers who worked in RE were generally much more reasonable….) As you said, it seems as though many of the RE advocates hate nuclear more than anything else, even fossil fuels (despite the fact that the relative environmental records of nuclear vs. fossil makes that position utterly indefensible).
While it may sometimes seem that many NE advocates go overboard in belittling renewable sources, and over-emphasizing their limitations, what they’re really fighting against is the notion (apparently held my many RE advocates) that RE can provide all (or even most) of our electricity in the future, and that therefore no nuclear at all is needed or desirable. Some of the negative attitudes towards RE by NE advocates are also due to the wholesale rejection of any role for nuclear by the RE advocates (discussed above). This is just a normal, human reaction.
Finally, it must be noted that whatever their opinion of RE’s potential, in terms of actual policy no NE supporters have ever suggested that RE be banned, or that policies to actually hold RE back should ever be promulgated. All NE advocates have ever asked for a fair chance for nuclear to compete on a level, objective playing field. Opinions range from having no policies at all to having technology-neutral policies that penalize or limit air pollution and CO2 emissions and let the market decide how to respond.
I have not yet seen an NE advocate suggest that RE sources should not be used even if utilities (the market) finds them to be competitive w/o any subsidy or other form of govt. intervention. By contrast, many if not most RE advocates support policies that either literally ban nuclear outright or slant the market against it.
Specifically, I’ve never heard of a single NE advocate argue for:
Large subsidies for nuclear only (and none for other sources, including RE).
Outright mandates that a given (large) fraction of power be generated by nuclear, regardless of cost (i.e., a Nuclear Portfolio Standard).
A law banning all new RE projects (as is the case for NE in many states).
A policy stating that funds provided by developed countries to developing countries, in order to help them reduce CO2 emissions, may NOT be used towards any RE projects. The funds may only be used for NE projects (and conservation, etc.).
Shutting down RE projects over trumped up (actually minor) problems/risks. An example could be shutting down wind farms over the bird death issue, or claims (by some) of health impacts.
While arguing for massive subsidies, mandates and other govt. intervention on behalf of nuclear, insisting that RE be given zero financial advantage over fossil (or nuclear), to account for its non-polluting nature.
In case you haven’t noticed, all of these colorful examples are a look in the mirror. If you just swap RE for NE, these are exactly the policies that most RE advocates support. My hope is that it brings the point home.
@poa, I have repeatedly suggested that an evolutionary view of nuclear power technology, would lead one to conclude that nuclear technology has potentials for dramatic improvement, that will solve some of the problems of nuclear power, while dramatically lowering the impact of other problems. Nuclear power can be made walk away safe, through the use of a number of technological advances. Once the so called problem of nuclear wast e is analyzed, solutions to the problems posed by fission products will be quite different from those offered by actinides. Both fission daughter products and actinides have their uses, and once they are put to use, “the problem of nuclear waste will go away.”
There is a potential, through the use of advanced nuclear technology to make nuclear power extremely safe, even absurdly safe. Iy is possible to build reactors that are so safe, that almost no lives will be lost to nuclear power until that power runs out in a billion years or so. This is absurdly safe.
It is possible to build really low cost reactors through the addoprtion of safer nuclear technology. No one is sure how much new technology reactors can lower nuclear costs. But estimates run as low as half the cost of conventional nuclear plants down to a claim that new reactors will cost less than coal fired power plants.
Further more new technology nuclear plants can have extremely flexible power outputs. This means that these nuclear plants are well matched to the needs of a high renewables penetrations grid. These advanced reactors can load level, that is keep the grid power level stable despite the constant variation of renewable generation systems. Advanced nuclear plants are capable of picking up the generation loads when the wind stops blowing or the sun goes down.
One would expect that environmentalists would be thrilled by all the good news about nuclear power, but the the renewable lobby refuses to acknowledge the importance of potentual advances in nuclear technology and its ability to solve many of the problems created by renewable generation systems. Sometimes the Renewable lobby acts as if they are less concerned about AGW and its consequences than they are in stopping nuclear power.
I would say that I have seen or experienced pretty much all of what each of you have described.
-Renewables proponents attacking nuclear
-Nuclear proponents attacking renewables
-Natural gas proponents attacking everyone else
I am not sure I would agree with the idea that the “RE advocates in general are much more hostile towards nuclear than nuclear advocates are towards renewable energy.” However, I would agree that the RE advocates outnumber the nuclear advocates and thus the perception of this hostility could be based on the sheer volume. No matter the reasoning, I subscribe to the idea that we would all be better off if renewables and nuclear joined forces in the fight against carbon, instead of wasting so much time fighting each other.
Its kinda comical seeing this conversation here..
Kinda like….”Whooo…meeee??” from the folks that I can point to and say….”Yeah, YOU!”
To deny the open hostility I’ve seen here towards RE advocates is a laughable exercise. A couple of the participants here have an undeniable history of especially obnoxious and hostile “attacks” against people that don’t toe the nuclear line.
Rarely, if ever, have I seen those such as EL or other staunchly anti NE commenters return the hostiity. Thats justa fact.
To deny that open hostility is not the just and proper reaction to the open hostility FROM RE advocates is pure disohonesty.
Show me some hostility, here, from a staunchly anti NE commenter. Link to It, EP. What anger I have seen here, from an anti NE, has been in response to being attacked, insulted, by those such as yourself.
What greater form of hostility can anyone imagine than to completely discredit one’s chosen profession to the point of working for it to disappear altogether.
I’m not just a nuclear energy supporter. One of my identities is Atomic Rod Adams. Helping people to better understand the amazing gift to humanity sometimes called “nuclear energy” is part of who I am.
How would you like it if there was an active campaign to prevent people from cutting up trees and making furniture out of them?
Is this a trick question?
Rod…your comment suprises me. Its apples and oranges, man. You know what I’m talking about, and attempting to deflect it into just being general debate ambiance is a bit evasive. I am talking about the constant harping about “trolls”, the insulting insinuations that go along with that, and the obvious sarcasm directed towards the so called “greens”. There is a definite hostility here, expressed by a few of your participants, that is directed on a personal level. And your example of “hostility”, can just as well be flipped over, in spades, and attributed to the general attitude here towards RE advocates.
At the end, like this year, it would be undeniably accurate to say that no other energy source touched by man has been more feared, reviled, slandered, attacked, shunned and maligned for having the least pernicious effect on man and environment ever since its harnessing. IMO, that nuclear energy hasn’t been universally embraced to save the planet and our healthy well-being is suicidal bigotry beyond mere injustice.
Happy New Year
Yes – it’s another new year.
Maybe – the pro Nuke people ought to change their marketing a bit this year.
Green Peace took off a few years back when they had these gutsy boat drivers that got in front of the harpoons. They were able to market, “Save the Whales.” Heck! Everybody was on their side.
Well – We’re slowly poisoning the ocean with acid. We’re melting the polar bear habitat. Lots of other little critters are in danger.
People care about the critters. They do not concern themselves with the plight of nuclear energy.
It’s time to give people what they care about. So how about?
“Save the Whales – Build a Nuke!”
This one is still better.
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