Are Nuclear Fears Unfounded?

by Joshua on April 5, 2011 · 11 comments

Nuclear Power PlantsI have a great respect for George Monbiot. He is an amazing writer (I loved his book Heat), a fearless journalist and a strong-willed political activist. He an deeply committed environmentalist, and also (so it appears, see below) a supporter of nuclear power.

Recently he engaged in a debate over the nuclear debacle in Japan with staunch anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott. After hunting for scientific evidence to support the claims of the anti-nuclear movement in general. Seeing as how I’ve been musing on the Japan nuclear quagmire, I thought I would share his piece with you.

From his recent article, “Evidence Meltdown,”

“Failing to provide sources, refuting data with anecdote, cherry-picking studies, scorning the scientific consensus, invoking a cover-up to explain it: all this is horribly familiar. These are the habits of climate change deniers, against which the green movement has struggled valiantly, calling science to its aid. It is distressing to discover that when the facts don’t suit them, members of this movement resort to the follies they have denounced.

“We have a duty to base our judgements on the best available information. This is not just because we owe it to other people to represent the issues fairly, but also because we owe it to ourselves not to squander our lives on fairytales. A great wrong has been done by this movement. We must put it right.”

Clearly a energy policy that does not rely on greenhouse gas emitting, non-renewable technologies is necessary. There is potential for nuclear power to provide a stop-gap to get us between our current technology level to when we will have more efficient, cheaper solar, wind, geothermal and wave/tidal power or potentially other more advance energy sources (fusion, hydrogen, etc). I also know that we could utilize all of these without nuclear power now, but I’m not so sure about the political feasibly of it all. And I am not keen on relying on unknown future technologies to save us in the present.

On the flip side, here’s Brian Czech’s most recent post on The Daly News.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Image Credit: Inhabitat

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kiely April 5, 2011 at 12:19

Large scale grid based power is not the future, doesn’t matter if it is nuclear, coal, dung, or whatever else we can propose. The sustainable future is small scale household energy independence.

Any notion that nuclear energy is sustainable, environmental and safe, omits the need to extract and refine the resources required to power the plants and the enormous strain those industries put on our ecosystem.

Any “environmentalist” who supports nuclear energy is a fraud.

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Joshua April 5, 2011 at 12:25


Thanks for the comment!

I’ve definitely held a similar position so far regarding nuclear power. I think that there are inherent dangers, not too mention great financial costs, that make it an unreasonable option. Now, I don’t know Monbiot’s official stance on nuclear power (I can’t recall from his book, which I don’t have near me at the moment), but I thought it was interesting that he basically tore apart the anti-nuclear conspiracy theorists. And he has a good point, we should base our decisions on sound science and not wildly make false or unsupported accusations, regardless of the topic.

You make a good point, too. German is a shining example (pun intended) with their distributed solar power and feed-in tariffs. China actually has a policy that any electricity generated by a person has to be bought back by the power company, regardless of whether it is used or wasted (whereas most feed-in programs only require the power company to pay for power used, not power generated).


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Kiely April 7, 2011 at 13:13

Thanks for the reply Joshua!

I’ve been searching out like minded people on this subject. Most my friends think I’m just pessimistic or nuts, but I cannot deny what I have seen firsthand working in the mining industry in North America, Australia, China, Colombia, Indonesia… what we’re doing simply isn’t sustainable. To me it is so obviously unsustainable I can’t wrap my brain around how some people think it is.

I was happy to find your blog.

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Joshua April 7, 2011 at 13:16


Always happy to find a like-minded person in this arena! Our numbers are (ironically) growing faster than you might think! Get connected with CASSE and check out my other project, Post Growth. I’ve got more links in the blogroll too.


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Art Costa April 6, 2011 at 10:23

Hi Joshua,

Thanks for including the articles. It would seem from purely a steady-state perspective that the “need” for nuclear – certainly any expansion, would be a non-starter. Add to that the waste and cost, and general hazzard of a catastrope (what we see in Japan today does not follow the same path as either 3 mile island or Chernobyl which means that what can happen is very unpredictable). Our demand for energy at nearly any cost is inherent to a growth based economy.

Green house gases is but one issue. I, for one, do not think that we have a energy solution for the current economic paradigm we’ve been following. Energy is a very complex problem given the civilization we’ve created. Joshua Farley has done some excellent work on this (see the recent The Post Carbon Reader “Ecological Economics”. It will either be undone by taking measures – such as Germany who is still a growth-based economy – or through total collapse.

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Joshua April 6, 2011 at 10:36


I agree. In a steady state economy we wouldn’t need more and more power. And while I believe that greenhouse gases and peak oil are the two largest issues at hand (and while linked to the unsustainable growth economy, these two matters are more pressing, I think), in a steady state economy we would more likely be increasing our efficiency, using less and less energy over time. That degrowth in energy use would be slow, though, and eventually taper off (thermodynamics says so).

Hopefully we find a means of transitioning to a sustainable, less energy dependent, steady state economy rather than a collapse. I think we’d undoubtedly be better off with the former and probably learn more as a people than if we reach the point of collapse.

But as for an energy “solution” I think that if we kept our current energy consumption levels, just as an example, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to use a distributed network of solar, wind, geothermal (this one is more key than the media lets on, in my opinion), and wave/tidal power. Plus there would still be the existing hydroelectric power, but you can install micro-hydro locally. As it seems, everything comes back to improving the local economy and community’s resiliency as a key step to a sustainable society.


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Art Costa April 6, 2011 at 10:36

While I certainly do not see the United States decommisioning its nuclear plants in some wholesale fashion, I think this does put the necessary breaks on an attempt to put forth a nuclear manifesto as the current administration seemed to be on the verge of doing.

But in terms of alternatives, including all that we have today, they all demand fossil inputs – wind, geothermal, solar, etc. Only by downsizing our growth economy can be have a “steady-state” that is human scaled.

Probably preaching to the choir!

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Joshua April 6, 2011 at 10:38


I agree again! Perhaps I should have forwarded my comment with “we need to downsize our economy.” And yes, pretty much everything we do uses petroleum or other fossil inputs – but using what we have left to build wind, solar, geothermal would be far better than burning it or building more gas-guzzling SUVs, et cetera.

I am keeping the mindset of a transition, and of maintaining the population we have now at a reasonable level of consumption (one that is sustainable, of course).


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Kiely April 7, 2011 at 13:02

This is also where small scale energy independce plays a roll. If people were more connected to the generation of their power they would do more to conserve it. The “grid” is very similar to our modern economy. It has disconnected us from our source of supply. Just as many people “don’t know where their food comes from” many people don’t know how their power is generated (who has actually been to an open pit coal mine?), or even how electricty is created (ask someone to explain electromagnetism). They just know the light goes on when they need it.

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Art Costa April 6, 2011 at 10:42


I recommend Farely on this (I’m sure you’re familiar with his work as he is aligned with Herman Daly). It’s real dilemma – kind of like “picking yourself up by your bootstraps.”

PS Keep up the great work on Steady-State.

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Joshua April 6, 2011 at 10:43


Yea, I am familiar only with a few articles and his work with Daly. I’ll check out the piece you mentioned, though.

Thanks for the comments, and the kind words!

PS Keep reading! 😉

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