On June 16, 2010, Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now hosted a roundtable discussion on energy that included Amy, Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, Monique Harden of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, and Amory Lovins, founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute. The quartet spoke for 30 minutes and covered a wide variety of ideas and goals. The discussion was billed as a conversation to “explore concrete ways that this country might finally move away from a fossil-fuel economy.”
Here is the amazing thing – not once during the entire discussion was the word “nuclear” mentioned. I heard the roundtable for the first time during my commute on Thursday, June 17. I listened again carefully this morning. I even performed some searches on the page that contains the transcript. The results were pretty interesting. “Coal” showed up 28 times, “oil” showed up 52 times and even “gas” was mentioned 6 times – nearly all of the times that each of these were mentioned, the discussion was about replacing them. On the solution side, the word “renewable” was only mentioned twice while “clean” was mentioned 22 times.
The word “nuclear” did not get a single mention. I consider the avoidance of the “n-word” and the frequent use of the word “clean” vice “renewable” from this particular group of commentators to be a tremendous victory. Perhaps I am completely off base here, but word selections from people who make their living by talking can have meaning. The words and phrases used during this roundtable hint that there may be some interesting discussions taking place at the very upper levels of organizations and groups that have been fighting nuclear energy developments for several decades.
It should be evident to anyone who steps outside on occasion that wind and solar are not capable of producing reliable power on their own. For that task, there are essentially five choices available – coal, oil, natural gas, hydroelectric, and nuclear. On several occasions during the discussion, one participant or another listed their goals and orders of precedent for replacing current sources of power. Here is an example from Michael Brune:
But just as the coal and oil industries are integrated, so are our solutions, that our solutions are integrated at the same time. So, the way we need to get off oil, part of what Amory was suggesting was to electrify transportation by moving many of our cars and trucks, passenger vehicles, off of oil and onto the electrical grid. But then we need to clean the grid. We need to make sure that we’re chasing out all of the remaining fossil fuels, the tiny bit of oil that’s still used to produce electricity, the massive amounts of coal that’s used to produce electricity, and then eventually we need to transition off of natural gas at the same time.
And here is a passage where Amory Lovins is the speaker:
Well, the President made two very interesting shifts in language in his speech. One is from just oil to talking about ending the addiction to fossil fuels, so that refers also to coal and ultimately, indeed, to natural gas. And second, he started a very interesting exercise in consensus building, because he pointed out that this has cost — our dependence on fossil fuel has cost not only to our economy but also to our national security and our environment. And I think that starts a new conversation of a new kind in energy policy, because we’ve always supposed people had to want the same things we wanted in energy for the same reasons. So if you had different priorities than somebody else, you couldn’t agree on the outcome. What the President started to do here is to say, let’s focus on outcomes, not motives, and then we can build a strong consensus. Whether you care most about national security or environment or economy, we ought to do the same things about energy. And if we do the things we agree about, then the things we don’t agree about become superfluous.
If Lovins is truly interested in outcomes, building consensus based on what we agree upon and recognizing that national security, environment and economy all have a role to play in the prioritization of action, then it is possible that Amory Lovins and I can agree on a path forward for clean energy development. He can keep his 4,000 square foot home with the bananas growing inside, as long as he halts his effort to discourage the use of nuclear energy by declaring that it is simply too expensive to even consider.
Here is my offer – I agree that choosing to slowly build frightfully expensive nuclear energy production facilities would be a poor path to a clean energy future. That course of action would crowd out other alternatives, make most of us significantly poorer, and probably lead to a less stable world. However, that is not the outcome that will happen if we build reliable, cost-effective, reasonably regulated nuclear energy plants on time and on budget. It will not happen if we seek to operate the plants that we have in a cost effective manner that includes the kind of careful preventive and corrective maintenance that can enable indefinite life extensions.
Under such circumstances the outcome of enabling nuclear energy development and encouraging its effective use would be to make it possible for a clean energy future that really does step away from the current dominance by fossil fuels, fossil fuel related banks and fossil fuel influenced governments.