Monthly Archives: September 2016

Making Nuclear Power an Environmental Topic

Written by Christopher Bergan

I have recently had my suspicions reinforced that all people can be like sheep (sheeple?) – and to be perfectly frank, I have sometimes been in that category also. I am not talking specifically about work or politics here, but just being a member of society. None of us really has time to become an expert in all things so we take mental shortcuts, which psychologists and philosophers call heuristics. No this isn’t an academic paper – more of a lament that many important issues like the environment, energy infrastructure, and climate change are only superficially understood by otherwise well informed people. Most will nearly always trust simplistic ideas or even gut reactions rather than explore any topic deeply for themselves.

What I’m trying to describe are issues in which a person is willing to donate time, money, or become otherwise proactive. Yet few ever take the initiative to actually learn about these issues on their own and confirm the information being presented to them. Generally people will make a conscious decision to trust what a knowledgeable person says, with little regard as to whether there might be any bias or hidden agenda. The hard questions almost never get asked.

There’s a local group in Iowa which is very passionate about the environment, called 100 Grannies. Several members are well educated and many are semi-retired. They are willing to travel several hours to a protest, just to show solidarity with oppressed groups and occasionally get arrested. I do admire them for that tenacity. I found a post on their website about another environmental arrestee: Dr. James Hansen. The Grannies entry concerned Hansen’s trip to the COP21 meeting in Paris and his promoting of the Carbon Fee & Dividend as proposed by the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. The Grannies don’t mention Hansen’s views on nuclear energy – neither does the CCL site, even though they also quote him from COP21 – which is where he & three scientist friends specifically stated that nuclear power must be part of the solution.

I’ll add that the 100 Grannies usually meet only a few blocks from the Van Allen building on the University of Iowa campus, named after the university professor that mentored Hansen back when he was a student at U of Iowa. Ironic.

What did Hansen & friends actually say about nuclear at COP21? That video can be found with Energy for Humanity, a group co-founded by award winning documentary film-maker Robert Stone. EFH Director Kirsty Gogan introduced these Four Climateers (if I may be allowed to co-opt Victor Hugo’s term), and here are some of their statements:
There’s really only one technology that I know of that can provide carbon free power when the sun’s not shining or the wind’s not blowing at the scale that modern civilization requires – and that’s nuclear power.” Dr. Ken Caldeira

There are a lot of people who see this as an opportunity to advance one agenda or another….; but why are four climate scientists, who don’t have strong backgrounds in nuclear physics, here today talking to you about nuclear energy? It’s because we are scientists and we can do the math. If we truly are sincere about solving this problem – unless a miracle occurs – we are going to have to ramp up nuclear energy very fast! That’s the reality.” Dr. Kerry Emanuel

But the decisions we make in the next 5, 10, 15 years will determine what’s possible after 2030. So this initial period – ratifying the INDC, making sure we don’t just look for a Renewable Energy targets but we look for a clean energy target future – that’s the primary concern of this particular meeting.”
Dr. Tom Wigley

We have to use all of the things that we have at our disposal, and clearly nuclear power – next generation nuclear power especially – has tremendous potential to be part of the solution.” Dr. James Hansen

We can scale up solar and wind pretty quickly up to a certain limit, and then we run headlong into the barriers dictated by intermittency.” Dr. Kerry Emanuel

We shouldn’t be building new fossil fuel power plants. It doesn’t make sense.”
Dr. James Hansen

Sweden, for example, they have carbon free electricity. That’s the solution to the climate problem. If we had carbon free electricity in all countries, you solve the problem! Because we can make liquid fuels for transportation from energy if you have abundant, carbon free electricity.”  Dr. James Hansen

CO² / KWh

There’s also a blogger named Paul Beckwith who attended COP21 and filmed a different talk Dr. Hansen gave there. Mr. Beckwith is a physicist/engineer from Canada. I can almost understand Beckwith not mentioning any energy source as, in the three part video (which Beckwith recorded himself), Hansen doesn’t really talk about any energy source except to say that fossil fuels are bad for the climate. What is discussed in these videos is the magnitude of climate change, CCL’s Fee & Dividend proposal, and socio/political implications. So actually Hansen might be partly to blame for confusing his message by not mentioning nuclear energy as one of the climate solutions at every opportunity. But it has been a part of his climate change message for awhile now – just as carbon fee & dividend is. In my opinion it is only those that turn a deaf ear that can’t hear the nuclear aspect which many of the best informed & honest environmentalists advocate.

A Dutch acquaintance of mine named Joris van Dorp recently found a similar problem in his country. He wrote:

I had a discussion recently with some members of the Dutch Green Party. Here are my findings. The party has just unveiled its party program for the 2017 elections. It has made the immediate shutdown of Dutch nuclear power a central part of its political program, as well as a ban on new nuclear power plants.

As such, the Dutch greens have clearly torn-up the IPCC AR5 assessment of climate science, which states that a quadrupling of nuclear power is consistent with most assessed pathways to the timely and sufficient reduction of co2 emissions. They do this while continuing to claim that climate change is a priority issue for them. Obviously, it is not.

Interestingly, the party members I discussed this with eventually admit that they don’t personally agree with their party’s insistence on shutting down nuclear power.

In the past, I’ve grudgingly accepted the Green party’s open assault on nuclear power, because I knew that quite a few party members didn’t support the party line. In fact, the majority of the party’s scientific committee was in favour of new nuclear, even after Fukushima. I calculated that the 2017 elections might well include the greens on a pro-nuclear platform, especially since the IPCC made the importance of nuclear for climate clearer than ever before in its history.

Now that my hopes have been proven naive, and given the fact that there is no more time to wait for action on nuclear for climate, I feel I must now drop my traditional tolerance of the Dutch green party’s antinuclearism. In the coming months, during the political discussions I’m going to have, I’m going to be recommending that people do NOT vote for the greens, if they value the environment.

Any other party is better than the greens, where climate is concerned. Even the nationalist brown party is a better choice, mostly because they (alone) are actively pushing for an ambitious nuclear power program. They deny that AGW is a problem, but they do believe in the value of environmental protection and they fully accept the superior environmental performance of nuclear power.

This avoidance of clean & powerful nuclear energy by environmental groups has become de rigueur. No doubt most find it easier to delete “uncomfortable subjects” rather than twist the truth. This is likely why the well known anti-nuclear advocate Helen Caldicott has said, “We don’t need to talk about nuclear as we all know it’s dangers”. I am not claiming any of these groups are actually evil or have nefarious agendas, but a few who are considered environmental leaders are also being disingenuous by ignoring nuclear as part of the solution. They should acknowledge and discuss all aspects of climate change instead of burying some topics under cheap and often unsupported assumptions. There are several environmentalists who have been through this process already.

A June of 2015 article in The New Yorker had a great phrase; “Conservation requires conversation; protecting nature while still using it to meet human needs is a paradoxical mission, …”. People tend to trust what organizations say, and when messages are severely edited proper solutions can become hidden for decades. It’s time to tell the whole message, whether gently or blatantly. Let’s move past the hand wringing and empty gestures to begin implementing solutions. If the human race can assess any progress along the way with honest and critical evaluations, poor solutions can be weeded out and the better ideas will remain. In the meantime the Energy Reality Project will try to share this whole message as best we understand it. It’s “the rest of the story”, as news commentator Paul Harvey used to say; and there are often a few more bits of vetted information that can be added to the tale. So please, leave any insightful comments below and be part of the solution.

It’s time to create an abundance of objective discussions. As Dr. Hansen recently wrote on his CSAS blog, “There is a dearth of objective discussion of the role of advanced nuclear power in the future of clean power and the phase-out of fossil fuels.”

Let’s include nuclear power as an environmental topic.

Additional Information: James Hansen Lecture at Univ. of Iowa Oct. 2014