A March 12, 2014 Democracy Now! segment featuring an interview with Ralph Nader was advertised as a report about the recent US Senate climate change talkathon. Nermeen Shaikh, the show co-host, moved rapidly from a discussion about the Senate actions to draw attention to climate change to asking Nader a leading question about nuclear energy.
The long-time antinuclear campaigner suffered a near meltdown as he railed for several minutes against one of the two ultra low-carbon energy sources that can produce reliable power — large scale hydroelectric power is the other one. He made several specific accusations that are complete fabrications. Here is the video segment.
Note: You can find the transcript at Nader on Senate’s Climate Stance, “Insanity” of U.S. Nukes, & Why Obama’s Min. Wage Hike Falls Short.
Ralph Nader needs a fact checker.
Nader: It requires 100 percent government loan guarantees.
The maximum number for the Vogtle loan guarantee is $8.3 billion, the total project cost is budgeted for $14.5 billion. Taxpayers are on the hook for less than 60% of the total cost. SCANA’s two nuclear reactors under construction in South Carolina are being financed without any loan guarantees.
Nader:…over a quarter of a million people homeless or refugees
There were not 250,000 people moved from their homes as a result of the Fukushima accident. The maximum number of evacuees was 160,000. Of that number, 70,000 were mandatory and another 90,000 left voluntarily. All but 89,000 have returned. (See Fukushima Accident Update March 9, 2014.)
Nader: …many of the reactors are just like the Fukushima reactor designs, by the way, and they are near earthquake faults. Now, the Indian Point reactors, two of them, they’re aging.
That phrasing seems designed to imply that there is some similarity between the reactors at Fukushima and those at Indian Point. The reactor technologies are completely different — Fukushima reactors were GE BWRs while Indian point are Westinghouse PWRs — and the plants have completely different containment designs. In addition, Nader implies that an earthquake caused the accident, neglecting the confirmed reports showing that all four units survived a massive earthquake with their safety and cooling systems intact.
The force that indirectly killed the plants was the massive tsunami that flooded all of the on-site normal and emergency power sources. The complete loss of all electricity for several hours along with a failure to initiate a containment venting in a timely manner is what caused the larger-than-expected release of radioactive material at Fukushima.
Though flooding is possible at some US plants, the sustained loss of power is avoidable. The US nuclear industry has taken several redundant actions to improve an already reliable set of back-up power systems. The reactors that we have with designs similar to those that were destroyed at Fukushima have more capable venting systems and better operating procedures.
Those actions do not provide absolute guarantees, but the chances of failure are quite small. However, even if multiple malfunctions and errors occur, the multiple layers of defense in depth reduce the consequences of a severe accident to an acceptably low result, one that would be far lower than the harm caused by a maximum credible accident at a competitive coal, oil, or natural gas plant.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently conducted an extensive, multi-year study called the State of the Art Reactor Consequences Analysis (SOARCA). That report, quietly released in November, 2013 showed that an accident with significant core damage AND a breached containment structure would still result in few, if any off-site fatalities. Off-site doses would be acceptably low under any rational radiation exposure limits and realistic responses.
In the context of a discussion about Senate action to draw attention to the risk of climate change, it was disconcerting to hear such a strongly negative commentary about nuclear energy as the one provided by Nader and the Democracy Now! hosts.
The episode reminded me of the challenging task facing Dr. James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists.
Hansen has been working diligently for more than three decades to raise awareness of the risk of CO2; for the past several years he has been trying to teach his colleagues in the Environmental Movement about the utility of nuclear energy as a tool for addressing the challenge and providing a better world for our grandchildren.
He is getting frustrated with the effort required to encourage people like Nader and Goodman to remove their fingers from their ears, their hands from their eyes, and to stop their antinuclear chants long enough for them to hear his argument and notice the superiority of virtually emission-free nuclear over natural gas from an environmental perspective.
Thus efficiency and renewables are not causing carbon emissions to decline – on the contrary, emissions are growing rapidly.
This situation was predictable. It is not difficult to understand. But it is exceedingly difficult to communicate. Foundations and major environmental organizations (“greens”) are pretty much on the same page, so don’t expect to get support if you question their position. Instead, expect to be attacked.
The Koch brothers could not purchase such powerful support for their enterprise. The renewables-can-do-it-all greens are combining with the fossil fuel industry to lock-in widespread expansion of fracking.
Greens fanatically support an anti-nuclear-power agenda, asserting that even low level radiation is harmful to human health, an assertion that is not supported unequivocally by scientific evidence.
My personal distress in this situation is that I lean quite far to the left on the political spectrum. I’m environmentally aware; I’ve been reducing, reusing and recycling for nearly 50 years. I listen to Democracy Now! on a regular basis and often find myself agreeing with their guests. I didn’t need a Senate all-nighter to convince me that we need to do something to address CO2 emissions.
Aside: I was bemused by the ads displayed on The Hill when I searched for a link to provide about the “all-nighter”. Here is a screen shot of the site when I visited. Can you pick out the source of my bemusement?
During his forty years in public life, Ralph Nader has lost whatever sense he might have had for the interests of the consumers and taxpayers that he claims to represent. That might be because he has lived a very odd lifestyle compared to the rest of us. Nader has never owned a car, lives very modestly — supposedly in a rented room in his brother’s house — unless being pampered while on a speaking engagement, has never been married, has never raised children and has been in the public eye for more than 40 years.
There is no reason for him to have any empathy for the rest of us; he probably doesn’t know any of us. Here is one more quote from the interview that shows the poor quality of his political radar.
And the second point is this, that when you have very affluent people, like George Soros, Tom Steyer and Al Gore, who are really out front warning about climate change, when you have them, they’ve got to come and build a very powerful external lobby on Congress, where you have a hundred professional scientists, lawyers, organizers, public relations specialists descend on Congress every day in every member’s office, in the corridors, in the cafeterias, building a concern here. And if that doesn’t occur, it doesn’t matter how many demonstrations around the country are going to occur.
Nader’s recommended course of action — an intense lobbying effort in the halls of Congress funded by Soros, Steyer, and Gore — would be exactly the wrong way to address CO2 emissions. It would poison the well even more than it already is because it would harden the position of all of the reasonable skeptics who think that the issue is all about money and interest groups.
Climate change is more about physics, chemistry, thermodynamics, economics and honest accounting. It needs to move outside of partisan politics funded by special interest groups. There is an uncertain amount of damage being done by continuing to burn fossil fuels at an ever increasing rate but there is also a great deal of good that comes to humanity from having concentrated, responsive and reliable energy sources.
Fortunately for the people who like using personal transportation, living well, and raising families our Earth was endowed with two incredibly abundant materials — uranium and thorium — that can be used to create enough energy to start reducing hydrocarbon consumption to levels where natural processes can mitigate the effects of the unavoidable CO2 production. Nuclear energy is available and abundant; it can be economic if properly managed.
After making numerous management errors during our first sixty years of experience with the still amazingly young energy source, I believe we are ready to produce significantly improved results. Collectively, human society still has a lot to learn about atomic energy, but the best way to learn is by doing, not by standing by as a constant critic.
One more thing, just in case anyone from Democracy Now! happens to read this post.
Dear Democracy Now producers:
It would be a great service to your listeners if you would invite James Hansen onto your show for an interview in a format similar to the one that you provided Ralph Nader. Several weeks ago, you had Hansen scheduled to be a guest, but at the last minute decided to turn the interview into a debate with an antinuclear activist.
Hansen is not interested in debating his advocacy of nuclear energy on your show; he is interested in explaining his position so that people can better understand how he arrived at the decision that nuclear energy is a vital part of the solution to climate change. A debate with a shrill antinuclear activist like the one you set up between Caldicott and Monbiot might be fun to watch, but it would be a disservice to the people who donate, watch and listen to your show because they want information, not entertainment.