1. Stewart Brand writes in his marvelous book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, that Amory Lovins “. . . doesn’t just argue from details, he backs up a truck full of numbers and citations and dumps them on you, saying that if you won’t master them, you can’t possibly argue with him. Events have proven him profoundly right about energy efficiency and conservation and wrong in his forecasts about nuclear power.” (p. 229)

    P. 99: “In early 2009 in Ambio magazine, Amory Lovins declared: ‘Nuclear power is continuing its decades-long collapse in the global marketplace because it’s grossly uncompetitive, unneeded, and obsolete.'” This in the face of dozens of new reactor startups worldwide and dozens more planned.

    I am puzzled about why Al Gore, in his latest book, relies on Lovins for information about power production and why nobody has been able to persuade Gore that all the evidence backs up Yates’s observation that nuclear is the only large-scale, greenhouse-gas free, fine-particulates-free, steady and reliable electricity source that can replace fossil-fuel generation. The major climate-change experts support nuclear power. Evidently Gore did not receive the memo.

  2. Gwyneth – I have Brand’s book and am looking forward to reading it. However, I would be interested in finding out just what he thought was correct about Lovins predictions and analysis of energy efficiency and conservation.

    As near as I can tell, the only reason that American GNP increased at a faster rate than our energy consumption was that we outsourced our energy intensive manufacturing. Instead of producing steel, aluminum, automobiles, locomotives, and chemicals here in the US and having the energy used for that output counted in our energy consumption figures, we imported finished products and let others count that energy consumption in their own national figures.

    We have made a few improvements in efficiently using energy, but Jevons’s paradox still remains valid. Our computers, for example, are far more efficient per unit, but we have a heck of a lot more units operating than we did before.

    My own impression of Lovins’s form of debate is what we used to describe in the following manner on boats – “If you cannot dazzle them with knowledge, baffle them with bulls—.”

  3. Take note of the new move to sell uranium as a scarce commodity. Case in point, new mining in Colorado and a EU Bloomberg report on enriched uranium fuel being in short supply. The targeted market is China with a number of reactor projects. An attempt to drive the EU market based on the Chinese demand competition for the same fuel. Greed, if nothing else is universal.

  4. Mr. Gore doesn’t rely on facts, which is why his “movie” was declared by British courts to contain no less than 9 significant errors that needed to be made known before it could be shown in British schools.

    That is also why, IMHO, he refuses to debate anyone other than teenagers about his opinion on MMGW.

    He is insufferable, condescending, arrogant and an opportunist. Other than that, I suspect he is a loving father and husband. Just keep him away from a chemistry set.

  5. I have to agree with Doc. I’m not surprised that Gore relies heavily on Lovins in his new book. In my opinion, the man is just not very bright.

    Gore’s a joke. Even Jon Stewart is making fun of him these days. He has been a joke for decades — Garry Trudeau, who draws the Doonesbury comic strip, was lampooning him as “Prince Albert” (a reference to the nepotism that got him everything that he has today) back during his first run for the Presidency in 1988.

  6. What I like about Mr. Gore is that he thinks globally and very long term, which is something that I don’t think others in politics really do. Personally, I don’t think he was very cut out for politics, he’s nerdy, and he would have been more at home as a policy analyst or something like that, but he had the opportunity and the desire to change the world and so he did.

    He didn’t invent the Internet, but he did write the bill providing the funding to turn the experimental ARPANET into the proto-Internet (the NSFNET), basically sewing the seeds to make it what it is today. He was right about that; the Internet is now a major part of global life, now, at least in the Western world.

    He wasn’t the first person to get concerned about ozone, but he was one of the key people who got the Montreal Protocol passed (they made fun of him as “Ozone Man”.) He was right about that; the ozone layer is slowly returning to normal.

    He wasn’t the first person to understand global warming, but he was the first to bring it into the public consciousness and the first American legislator to really try to do something about it.

    Gore might be quietly arrogant, but perhaps he has something of a right to be arrogant, in the way that Feynman might have the right to be arrogant about quantum electrodynamics, or Margulis symbiogenesis, or Lovelock the Gaia theory of a self-regulating planet, or Fermi about reactors, or Hawking about causality and the physics basis of macrophenomena in the cosmos, or Gould about evolutionary biology.

    He was, perhaps, IMHO, the most important legislator of the past 25-30 years, in that he was the person who funded the Internet, stopped ozone depletion, confronted climate change, and perhaps indirectly secured the future for nuclear energy.

    Never forget, though, that Gore’s an (ex)-politician, and old habits of not saying the word “nuclear” in a positive fashion to avoid a confrontation with his environmentalist allies tend to die hard. He’s an elder statesman now, so I think he tends to avoid out and out political warfare, rather than just doing his duty to inform and to warn about climate change.

    That’s just my perspective, though. I’m sure other people have other perspectives.

  7. @ Dave

    Your description of Gore corresponds to what I’ve observed. People I met in the nuclear world said that he was very intelligent and grasped technical matters quickly and was able to summarize them and pass them along to Clinton, who would then give the correct info in a speech.

    I agree that his caution about nuclear power comes from a time when support for it was political suicide.

    Nevertheless he could easily have found someone much better informed and more current about nuclear power than Lovins. I hereby nominate Rod Adams and David Bradish to share the position.

  8. OK, so now I’m confused. Is Gore a quick study, who is ahead of the curve on technical issues, or is he someone who is stuck in the politics of a decade and a half ago and who is still unable to come to terms with the technology that has the best chance to counter the threat that he has so vigorously campaigned to bring to the attention of the world?

    I know what I think, based on his continued reliance on Amory Lovins. You all can form your own opinions.

    Don’t let Gore’s association with the Internet fool you. Most people remember him for his comment on Larry King about “inventing” the Internet. I remember him as the lead in the Clinton administration’s fiasco that was the “Clipper Chip.” If Gore was advising Clinton on nuclear issues, then he was no friend of nuclear and his grasp of “technical matters” amounted to formulating the best way to kill the industry.

    During the Clinton-Gore years, funding for research on the Integral Fast Reactor was killed, the ban on commercial reprocessing was reinstated (after Reagan overturned the ban a decade earlier), research on the Yucca Mountain repository was left to languish, and the DOE’s R&D budget for nuclear was allowed to drop to zero.

    Meanwhile, the natural gas industry experienced a boom, while Gore courted wealthy Chinese campaign donors. That’s some “Global Warming” hero you have there. His long-term, global thinking sure has helped Walmart and Chesapeake Energy. I remain unsure about the rest of us.

  9. @Gwyneth, you have a great perspective once again. Gore is in need of some education to raise his understanding about what fission can do for us, and how if climate change or resource depletion is our concern, fission is nearly the perfect weapon to stop it; not only that, but practically no other weapons will work.

    @Brian, honestly, I don’t think that Gore had it in for the IFR, I doubt Gore was vocal in his support, but I don’t think he wanted it dead; I think that was other Clinton appointees who were far more reflexivist than Gore was; Gore may have advocated more of a wait and see cautious approach.

    I mean, look at the Obama Administration. You have Obama and Chu and most of the folks in DOE who understand the basic issues here, but then you have certain former Carter appointees in the upper political appointee latitudes, who, to a certain extent, lack the capacity or flexibility in their grey matter to understand the paradigm of the day and what the serious issues of our time are. Thus, at times, this gives the Obama administration the appearance of at the least a lack of unity of purpose or a lack of seriousness in trying to help nuclear energy. I think that this perception is due to infighting and resistance from some of the Carter-era holdouts, the same Carter-era folks who I think probably led the charge to kill the IFR during the Clinton years. Just the same, I don’t think that, at the time the IFR was killed, Gore particularly cared for nuclear energy, but perhaps the case had never been made to him or it hadn’t become compelling enough yet.

    As for Gore’s support for apparent Lovinsite arguments, I agree the trap of Lovins’ reasoning is easy to fall into. At least I know for a fact that energy efficiency, to a degree, can always be improved, and to an extent, the return on investment outweighs the costs; on this, to an extent, Lovins is right. But I also know that energy efficiency can be taken too far, and eventually it becomes necessary to live one’s life rather than pursue energy efficiency at all costs. Gore may be enamored of energy efficiency, which is not naturally bad, and is in fact good; but I think he may have an unrealistic view of how much effort it will take to achieve energy efficiency to the level at which some have proposed, and this sort of effort will be an exertion which may not exceed the costs.

  10. (continued)
    I’m not exactly sure how much Gore buys into Lovins’ advocacy of renewables (and his advocacy of the least effective types of renewables, solar and wind), which are a distraction at best, and a Malthusian trap at worst. I think he might not really understand that the intermittent renewables are infeasible. This “renewable” trap is especially dangerous and distracts us from the task at hand by competing with the industry for the technical base, the mindshare, the young people, and the necessary capital to achieve the Renaissance.

    However, I think Gore might actually be pointed in a different direction; he might give lip service to renewables, but I think he has other tricks up his sleeve, for if I was Gore, the idealist in me would tell me to hold out for fusion, and Gore might be an idealist in this way. But I think he’s slowly coming to terms with the strategic reality that preservation and massive expansion of the national fission energy assets and infrastructure needs to be pursued with all deliberate speed – and by that, I mean, all ahead flank speed.

    If hindsight was 20/20, many of us wouldn’t have made the choices that we did in every past decision. I’m sure that Gore has his regrets in this area too, whether on the Clipper chip, which was a mistake, or his decision not to speak up about the IFR, which was a mistake as well. But I don’t think he’s an enemy. He just keeps his cards close to the chest about fission.

  11. Dave – If I knew little about Al Gore’s history, lifestyle and current business interests, I might agree with your analysis based on public persona and actual statements by the man.

    However, as one of my life guidebooks teaches,

    I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

    That was guidance provided to a young rich man who asked how he could ensure that he would enter heaven. He claimed to already follow all the rules. He was told that all he needed to do to ensure his passage would be to give away all his money and work to benefit others. Not surprisingly, the young man decided that giving away his wealth and dedicating his life to the service of others was too hard and too high a price to pay.

    Gore has known about nuclear energy his entire life. His father was one of the technology’s strongest supporters as a member of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy while serving as a representative from Tennessee, the home of the extensive and important Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the socialistic Tennessee Valley Authority. Gore Sr. once proposed a bill requiring the federal government to build at least a half a dozen plants in response to what appeared to him to be enormous reluctance on the part of investor owned utilities to build nuclear facilities that might be better at producing electricity than the facilities that they already owned.

    There is no way that a man who spent a couple of decades representing Tennessee, with Oak Ridge as one of its major federal employers, could claim that nuclear technology only comes in one size – extra-large.

    Therefore, based on his enjoyment of his wealth, his many investments into natural gas, wind turbine production and solar energy, his investment into a major carbon credit trading company, his production of an extensive slide show/movie about carbon dioxide with the only mention of the word nuclear being a story about a submarine trip to the North Pole, and his “damning with faint praise” public responses to questions about the viability of new nuclear power plants, I have determined that Gore is selfishly working for personal enrichment rather than actually doing the best he can to make the world a better place.

  12. Rod, you may have nailed it. Gore serves on boards, is associated with Kleiner Perkins, and has become very rich by hewing to the same old song. He has no motivation to advocate nuclear power as he did what in 1996 at the Chernobyl memorial service: “Nuclear power, designed well, regulated properly, cared for meticulously, as a place in the world’s energy supply.” (Clintonfoundation.org; see end note 20, p. 376, in “Power to Save the World”.)

    Because of my concern about climate change and ocean acidification, I remain grateful to Gore for making these issues widely known.

    As for Gore having something to do with the end of commercial reprocessing–as mentioned by a commenter–it is my understanding that Carter and Ford did that. Then Reagan reinstated reprocessing. Some nuclear people have told me that they believe the demise of Yucca Mountain may help Chu institute reprocessing.

    A lot of the political aspects of commercial nuclear power would no doubt be helped by the revival of the Office of Technology Assessment. These days Congress gets its “science” chiefly from lobbyists on all sides rather than from a respectable panel of scientists and engineers.

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