Aside Mark’s article reminded readers that FOE is a federation, not a monolithic organization; each country’s chapter can produce its own policies. End Aside.
Mark based his article on an interview that he had conducted with Mike Childs, the organisation’s head of policy, science and research, who said that the organization had commissioned a study to gather evidence about nuclear energy, weigh that evidence, and have the board of trustees determine if the evidence supporting the use of nuclear energy as a tool against climate change indicated that FOE UK should alter its opposition to building new nuclear power plants. Here is how Childs himself described the thought processes required to weigh the evidence and determine the policy:
I wouldn’t like to speculate too much. What I can say is that, you know, there are absolutely good arguments on both sides. And that’s one of the frustrating things I find about the nuclear debate – sometimes those who are anti-nuclear just dismiss all the arguments of those who are pro-nuclear out of hand, seeing them as illogical and wrong, and likewise the other way round. And I think actually people’s positions on nuclear are much more about balancing risk, balancing the risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear waste against the risks of more carbon emissions. And all that is compounded and confused by how much nuclear is or isn’t needed to reduce UK emissions, or whether efficiency and renewables and energy storage can do it all without nuclear. So there’s lots of different complexities within the arguments on both sides which need careful balancing, and ultimately that’s why it isn’t a kind of mathematical formula about whether you support it or not, you are balancing very different kinds of risk. And that comes down to judgement.
There is no doubt in my military mind that evidence comes down strongly in favor of intelligently developing nuclear energy on a massive scale. France, the US, and South Korea have individually proven that a country that is relatively well focused on the task can build enough new nuclear plants in a period of less than two decades to make a dramatic change in the amount of fossil fuel consumed and greenhouse gases produced. In addition, the US’s rapid conversion of its submarine and aircraft carrier fleets to nuclear power in concert with building its commercial nuclear plants demonstrates that potential large scale applications for nuclear energy are not limited to electricity production.
On the strength of my natural desire to trust people when they say they are going to weigh evidence, I agreed with Mark Lynas’s analysis and made the following statement in my post on the topic:
Childs claims that FOE UK is an evidence based organization that whose highest priority is taking action to avert the potential damage that would come from continuing to emit our current quantities of greenhouse gases.
If that is a true statement, I am pretty sure that FOE UK will come out strongly in favor of new nuclear power plant construction as an important tool in the fight against climate change.
According to an FOE blog post titled Britain’s energy future lies in renewables and energy saving, not nuclear power, I was dead wrong in my optimistic assessment. At least I left myself an out by making my statement conditional on the veracity of Childs’s claim that the FOE was an evidence based organization. Here is what Craig Bennet, the author of that post had to say about Lynas’s article:
But it caused author and journalist Mark Lynas (who doesn’t know Friends of the Earth very well) to blog that we were “considering abandoning our anti-nuclear stance”. This is a deeply misleading headline.
Let me make one thing clear – as the Energy Bill prepares to come to Parliament, Friends of the Earth is convinced that our energy future relies on a swift and substantial shift to a system based on renewable energy and cutting energy waste. Only this combination can cut dangerous carbon emissions in the time frame needed, protect consumers from the oil price shocks, and secure our energy needs. What’s more – the global switch to green energy is astonishing in its speed and its results. For the last three years more money has been invested globally in clean energy than conventional fuels. Growth has outstripped other sectors, and kept going while the UK lags in recession.
That is not the kind of statement that an evidence based organization would make after it had commissioned a study that will not even begin its reevaluation of accumulated evidence until July and is not due to make its report to the board of trustees until the end of the year. Evidence based organizations would defer sweeping, conclusive statements while the study is underway.
In addition, evidence based organizations would not point to the investments in alternative energy sources as a success story based on the amount of money flowing. That is especially true when the evidence shows that all private money stops investing in unreliables as soon as the subsidies, forced in tariffs, and tax write offs slow down. Evidence based organizations would be more concerned about the fact that the world’s fossil fuel consumption rate and CO2 emission rate have continued to increase and that atmospheric CO2 concentration continues to increase despite massive investments in their preferred energy supply systems.
Only dogmatic organizations would keep pushing proposals that have failed so miserably to achieve their promised efficacy, even after several decades, a large injection of public money, and massive popularity in the press and in the polls.
I recognize that nuclear energy has also not yet lived up to its full potential, but part of the blame for that disappointing result comes from the well organized and well heeled opposition that the technology has faced for the past forty years. I was really hoping to learn that more pillars of the opposition were recognizing just how wrong they had been.
Hat tip to NEI Nuclear Notes which included the link to the complete refutation of Lynas’s article in an update to a post titled Will Friends of the Earth Drop Their Opposition to Nuclear Energy?. I guess I had gotten behind in my reading during the weekend; the refutation and NEI’s update were posted on Friday, June 14.