My goal is to add just a little more pressure on Jim Green — the national antinuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth, Australia — to come clean and admit his mistakes. It would be even better if Green began to make amends for the environmental and economic damage caused by his antinuclear activism, but that is probably a futile hope.
Though my post probably did not affect the situation, I need to follow up with a report that Jim Green has, indeed, apologized for his math error.
Sincere apologies to Ben Heard and Geoff Russell for attacking them for a “multi-order-of-magnitude mathematical howler”. The recurring 77-fold howler is mine, not theirs. (And Russell’s real mathematical howler is trivial compared to mine since his involved nothing more than an illustrative thought-experiment.)
However, Green has not yet decided to stop fighting the use of nuclear energy.
I’m bound to acknowledge my miscalculations and to apologise for an unwarranted attack. But my messaging − in my critique of the Kharecha/Hansen paper, and in the Choose Nuclear Free paper, and on countless other occasions − is that the greatest hazard posed by nuclear power (and the nuclear fuel cycle more broadly) is the repeatedly-demonstated connection to WMD proliferation. That is unchanged. I’ve also said repeatedly that i’ll gladly volunteer time and energy opposing the uranium/nuclear industry because of i) the WMD links and ii) the sickening, systemic racism which makes the industry unsupportable. Again, no change.
Green has demonstrated that he is willing to read and consider constructive criticism, so I thought I would offer a few thoughts that might help him take the next step away from antinuclear activism and, perhaps even towards pronuclear advocacy.
Like Green, I am no fan of nuclear weapons. Contemplation of the consequences of using them has given me many sleepless nights; as some of you may know, I served two tours on US ballistic missile submarines. I completed 11 strategic deterrent patrols and was a member of the two man control team for all but one of those patrols. I never took that responsibility lightly; it was a sobering assignment when I was 23 and the reality never wore off. However, I am enough of a realist to understand that there is nothing that humans can do to erase the knowledge that certain natural elements can be arranged to explode with enough force to destroy an entire city.
I think we can, and should, reduce the probability of using nuclear weapons to as close to zero as possible. Improving prosperity and reducing the vast inequalities in access to power around the world are two ways to reduce the use of all weapons, especially nuclear weapons; both of those can be enabled by using more and more nuclear energy.
Though hydrocarbons are fantastically useful materials and have served humanity well for hundreds of years, they are also the source of large and growing concentrations of wealth that impoverish others. Their use should be limited – by market competition with increasingly less expensive nuclear energy – to save as much of the finite resources as possible for many future generations and to achieve a situation where natural feedback loops can alleviate most of their climate changing emissions.
As we increase the use of nuclear energy, nuclear materials will become increasingly valuable as fuel sources. Using enriched uranium and plutonium in reactors reduces accessible stockpiles of potential weapons material. The most secure location I can think of for storing materials that could be assembled into weapons is inside the core of an operating nuclear reactor.
Not only are pressure vessels strong vaults, but the complex mixture of radioactive isotopes produced by a fission power plant make the fuel almost completely self-securing. The longer the material remains inside a power generating reactor, the less useful it will be for creating a weapon. After a certain amount of time, the material includes a sufficient variety of isotopes, some with characteristics that greatly reduce their usefulness in a weapon, that it is essentially impossible to convert them to any use other than producing more power.
I am not sure I understand Green’s concern about systemic racism. I am aware that there have been a few campaigns against uranium mining based on the fact that some resources have been exploited from land owned or occupied by aborigines, native Americans, or First Nation tribes, but that is not an inherent factor of nuclear energy. Uranium and thorium are widely distributed around the world; there is a known deposit within an hour of my southwest Virginia home that could supply the entire US demand for two years.
Using nuclear energy is certainly not a racist endeavor; in fact, the Atoms for Peace vision and the program that implemented that vision was one of the least racist programs ever devised by the powerful to share their power and provide opportunities for all to prosper. One of the main reasons that I favor nuclear energy development is that I honestly love humanity and want to bring power to the people.
There is a good chance that people like Jim Green can become effective pronuclear advocates as long as they continue to engage in critical thinking and learn as much as they can about the ways that nuclear energy use aligns with their primary concerns. If Green has the opportunity to watch Pandora’s Promise he might be inspired by a film about leaders who are concerned about both the environment and the power needs of the less advantaged people in the world and, as a result of open-minded examination, have switched from antinuclear opposition to pronuclear support.