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Are anti-nukes environmentalists?

Dan Yurman's picture
Editor & Publisher NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy

Publisher of NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy online since 2007.  Consultant and project manager for technology innovation processes and new product / program development for commercial...

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My view is the answer is no

green lobbyNuclear energy bloggers often refer to anti-nuclear activists as “green groups” and often use the term “environmentalists” in the same paragraph. In thinking about this, I have come to the conclusion that ant-nuclear activists are not environmentalists. A green lobbyist is not anti-nuclear. Here’s why.

An environmental activists is worried about the future of the planet and the survival of the human species as well as all other manner of animals and plants. The number one challenge facing the planet is the threat of global warming. It follows that the only source of baseload electricity supply that does not release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is nuclear energy.

Wind energy can mean more green house gases

Anti-nuclear groups, like Riverkeeper in New York, which wants to close the two reactors at Indian Point, says that wind is a reasonable substitute. This is a false claim. Because wind only blows some of the time, the balance of the replacement power would have to come from fossil powered plants – coal and natural gas.

Simple math suggests that replacing 2,000 MW of power might break out as 300 MW of wind, some of the time, and 1,700 MW of fossil power all of the time. A deficit of 300 MW for the time the wind isn’t blowing will lead to brownouts and even blackouts for some parts of the New York metro area.

On the other hand, there is nothing stopping wind and solar energy developers from leveraging high voltage power lines supported by nuclear power plants. In fact, the areas just outside the security zones around nuclear power stations are often ideal locations for wind farms or solar arrays because they are not cluttered with residential or commercial/industrial uses.

Residuals management matters

coal-train Another thing that real environmentalists worry about is how to deal with reducing uncontrolled transport and fate of harmful pollutants. For instance, residuals from coal plants include soot, mercury, sulfur, nitrous oxides, and, CO2. Once these residuals are in the atmosphere, they remain uncontrolled forever. They cannot be collected and recycled later on or controlled in any way.

By comparison, the residuals from spent nuclear fuel, leaving aside the valuable energy potential its uranium, are controlled at the reactor. These radioactive residuals are stored in dry casks that have a minimum shelf life of 150 years. Eventually, they will be stored harmlessly in a geologic repository. Meanwhile, the uranium, and small amounts of plutonium in spent fuel, can and will be recycled to be used again to make carbon emission free electricity.

An environmentalist concerned about residuals management would look at these two energy systems and conclude that from the perspective to keeping harmful materials out of ecosystems, nuclear energy wins hands down.

Fossil fuel plants use the earth’s atmosphere as a garbage dump imposing sickness and death on humans, animals, and plants. Nuclear energy reactors control all aspects of the fuel cycle containing useful materials to be recycled and safely storing residuals for eventual permanent disposal underground.

Logic suggests anti-nukes are not green

powerlinesSo, it follows that anti-nuclear activists are not environmentalists. Their position from the point of view of impact on the earth is illogical. Wind farms and solar energy, positioned as replacements for nuclear energy, actually results in more greenhouse gases because fossil plants are needed to keep regional electric grids stable and cost effective. Such advocacy is delusional.

Because of the variable natural of wind and solar, no one is going to build a new high voltage electric grid just to support them. Battery storage technologies are unlikely to make a difference without massive investments that will drive the cost of delivered electricity to uneconomic levels.

On the right track

It follows that people like Patrick Moore in the U.S. and his counterparts in the U.K. and other countries are on the right track and are environmentalists in the truest sense of the word. Their position advocates tried and true principles of controlling residuals, recycling useful materials, and generating energy for the benefit of all people while at the same time working to reduce the threat of global warming.

right rack

Nuclear energy advocates must do more to make the case that it is an environmental choice. They must also make the case that if the U.S. fails to fulfill its role at as a technology leader in the global nuclear renaissance, that it will not be taken seriously in its efforts to stop rogue nations like Iran from developing weapons of mass destruction.

For instance, the development of mixed oxide fuel (MOX) takes weapons grade plutonium out of circulation forever. That’s why the U.S. commitment to build a MOX fuel facility at Savannah River, SC, is an act that benefits the planet and future generations. It removes the threat of nuclear weapons.

What’s almost bizarre is that some anti-nuclear groups, like Union of Concerned Scientists, on reflex oppose the MOX fuel plant and have energetically tried to stop construction of the facility. It seems that they’d rather satisfy their quest to stop all nuclear plants than see the secure removal of plutonium once embedded in nuclear weapons reused to make commercial electricity.

That’s why people who advocate the development of nuclear energy are environmentalists. It is also why people who oppose it with religious fervor are not. This position may annoy or even enrage anti-nuclear activists. I understand they may not change their views as a result of reading this essay. Just don’t call them environmentalists. Because they’re not.

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David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Nov 20, 2010

You aren’t going to get anywhere convincing anyone as long as you try to pass off Patrick Moore as a “true environmentalist” while defining all environmentalists who oppose nuclear power as non-environmentalists. 

You say global warming is bad and nuclear is the good solution.  You go so far as to say that anyone who opposes nuclear power for any reason is therefore not an environmentalist, because only people who accept that something has to be done about global warming with nuclear power are environmentalists.  At least that is the way it is in the universe you live in, wherever that is.  

Moore isn’t there with you.  He just appears to hate environmentalists:  “My critics are not environmentalists. They are simply gloom and doom prophets and eco loonies, looking to enrich themselves by scaring the general public into believing in threats that don’t exist. The world is not threatened by global warming or pollution. Civilization has created a protection for all humans from the cruelties of nature. These Luddites would have us return to the barbarism of the past. I have faith that science and technology will solve any problem that confronts us.”

Moore says “global warming and nuclear energy are good”.  Here he is at a conference in Hawaii, where the headline reporting his appearance afterward said Greenpeace co-founder praises global warming  Scientists either don’t know what they are talking about or can’t prove what they say.  Moore knows.  He wrote the Royal Society, the oldest scientific organization in the word, and one of the most prestigious, and told them so.  You should call him up.  He’ll straighten you out.  He only pretends he is taking global warming seriously at certain times when he is flogging nuclear power as the solution for it. 


Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Nov 21, 2010

You’ve twisted and mis-represented Moore’re views or you failed completely to understand it. I read the material at the link to the letter to the Royal Society. He asked for transparency and honesty and he defended the scientific method.



Paul O's picture
Paul O on Nov 21, 2010

Dan,  Where I do agree with you is that people who oppose nuclear energy with a Blindly Religious fervour cannot ultimately be true environmentalists.

Persaonally I am very happy to exclude myself from being called an environmentalist (as things are today) because all I seem to see from such self-identified groups are people who have an an axe to grind against nuclear power, people who for some reason wish to arrest or limit economic growth and the American Dream, and people who have a flowery attachment to Wind and  Solar because they are “Natural”.

I suspect that the current GW issue is just the latest, most convienient outlet for folks with such  pre-existing World Views.

I am willing to entertain a hard nosed look at none carbon based energy, but I reject a pre-ordained conclusion which ignores economic realities and/or “non natural” energy sources.

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Nov 21, 2010

Perhaps you should understand that in some ways I am similar to Moore.

For instance, I am an advocate for nuclear power.  I also am also a pariah in the environment movement in Canada.  The last meeting of the Green Party I attempted to attend I was barred at the door. 

I grew up in British Columbia, as he did.  I was centrally involved in the environment movement there.  I became involved in Green Party politics where I got to know one of his fellow co-founders of Greenpeace, but ultimately became disillusioned and left.  Moore, obviously, co-founded Greenpeace became disillusioned, then left. 

Unlike Moore, I remain sympathetic to many of the people I got to know who remain involved in the movement, and I am still sympathetic to many of the causes environmentalists have brought to public attention. 

I never met Moore or ever shared a stage with him.  I attempted to engage him in debate immmediately after the first time I heard him mention global warming publicly, this was some years ago when I heard him on British Columbia radio, but I received no response to my written challenge

I have been a voice in Canada advocating action on climate starting from when Canada’s Ambassador to the U.N. interrupted the closing ceremony of the historic 1988 Toronto Changing Atmosphere conference to ask me to stand and be recognized for my contribution.  This was the conference where it was decided to create the IPCC.

Greenpeace itself found out how serious scientists think global warming is at that conference.  That’s what the senior Greenpeace representative told us in his speech there. 

You say I have twisted, misrepresented or failed to understand Moore’s view. 

The thing about Moore is he has used his notoriety as a ‘founder of Greenpeace who now vilifies not only his former friends and associates but the entire environmental movement’ as his ticket onto the speaking circuit where his views have been on display for a very long time.  His views were recorded and they are plastered far and wide

E.g.:  this Moore 2006 speech Greenpeace co-founder praises global warming, or this Moore 2009 effort: “Global Warming is not real because weather patterns have stabilized in the last 10 years!  He appeared in “The Great Global Warming Swindle” where he explains his fantastic theory that because the goals of environmentalism had been achieved, “by the mid 80s”, environmentalists united with neo-Marxists to subvert environmentalism itself into “the new guise for anti-captialism”. According to Moore, environmentalists have not been interested in environmentalism for some 25 years now. 

Its like saying nuclear advocates aren’t advocating for nuclear power. 

Moore is way, way out there in climate denier land, yet you are touting him as the best example of a “true” environmentalist there is because as you say, climate is the biggest problem we face. 

I am a fairly new nuclear advocate wondering what planet you old timers live on

Let’s examine in a bit more detail the letter Moore wrote to the Royal Society.  You say you’ve “read the material”.  I’ll show you what I think is wrong with it.  I will refer in what follows to

the letter Bob Ward, Royal Society senior manager for policy communication, wrote to Nick Thomas, Director, Corporate Affairs, Esso UK Limited, a division of Exxon-Mobil,  obtained from The Guardian newspaper’s website, and

the letter  Patrick Moore sent as an “Open Letter” to this Mr. Ward of the Royal Society, obtained from Patrick Moore’s own GreenSpirit website. 

Moore wrote his letter in defence of Exxon-Mobil. 

Moore is your featured “truest environmentalist” guy.  You gave us no other names. This is the man who towers above all less true (untrue?) environmentalists, and the not even close to being environmentalist at all types I presume, like those horrible people who created let’s just take one example of something environmentalists fought for that everyone else now regrets, say the US National Park system, because, what, he defends the Exxon-Mobil climate denial campaign? 

I thought your argument was that the dumping of the wastes of the fossil fuel industry into the atmosphere, i.e. CO2, is the “number one challenge facing the planet”. 

Earth to Dan:  Moore is a climate denier.  

Some background on the Royal Society letter that is contained in the letter:  A representative of the Royal Society, Bob Ward, [hereafter referred to a the Royal Society] had met Nick Thomas, the Director, Corporate Affairs, Esso UK Limited, which is a division of Exxon-Mobil, [hereafter referred to as Exxon-Mobil] at a conference both happened to be attending.  The Royal Society obtained assurances from Exxon-Mobil that it would not be providing “any further funding” to “organizations that have been misinforming the public about the science of climate change“. 

Note the “any further funding”.  Exxon-Mobil did not say to the Royal Society at the conference in question that Exxon-Mobil was doing no such thing.  An assurance was given to the Royal Society by Exxon-Mobil that such activities would stop.

Moore does not contest this. His reply on behalf of Exxon-Mobil to the Royal Society blithely ignores it.

If you are interested in what former senior executives of British Petroleum and Royal Dutch/Shell, the second and third largest oil companies in the world (other than sovereign government sponsored firms) say about what Exxon-Mobil, (the largest oil company in the world) and themselves were doing on the disinformation front prior to when BP and Shell broke ranks with Exxon-Mobil to back the Kyoto treaty and advocate to the G8 that the governments of the world should put a price on carbon, there is the book “Challenged by Carbon“.  This book was written by Bryan Lovell, the former International Exploration Manager, Middle East, BP Group, who is the incoming President of the Geological Society of London.  This book is certified by his friend, former Chief Executive Officer of Royal Dutch/Shell, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart to be “an authoritative insider’s view“.  I think history will record that this book’s author is accurate when he says on page 5: 

“Few of us involved in exploration and production in recent years can afford to be sanctimonious about the doubt promoted by sections of our industry.…

Moore writes as if he thinks the Exxon-Mobil denial campaign, which was going full blast as he wrote, was fair ball.  You’re never going sell this guy as any kind of environmentalist. 

Incredibly, in his letter, Moore decides to take on the Royal Society on the subject of is their representative qualified, and does the Royal Society understand what a scientific case is. 

Its a joke.

You want to redefine environmentalism with a guy who tells the oldest and one of the most eminent scientific organizations on the planet that they don’t know what science is.  Moore’s line on environmentalists is that they are against science…. 

Let’s consider who the members of the Royal Society are.  Almost 5% of them hold the Nobel Prize.  Becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society is one of the highest honors a scientist can achieve. 

Although the Royal Society mentioned the IPCC, its letter pointed to more recent research published in the peer reviewed literature, the endorsement of the IPCC conclusion by all of the scientific academies who are the Royal Society counterparts in the every country of the G8 as well as Brazil, China and India, and to a major then new review of all the available science published in the Journal of Climate. 

Moore apparently decides the entire argument the Royal Society makes rests on the fact that according to him, “you [the Royal Society] cite the IPCC as the authority yet surely you are aware that science does not work by committee or by “consensus.“. 

Moore didn’t understand who he was writing to.  The Royal Society letter ended by referring to some of its Fellows who are climate researchers who would be waiting for Exxon-Mobil to reply.   Scientists at this level don’t need to refer to the IPCC or any other organization.  The Royal Society has some of the world’s most eminent climate scientists as Fellows, they assess the peer reviewed literature directly, and the Royal Society decides on that basis what the science is, and what stand it will take. 

Moore calls the letter a “political blame letter”. 

The Royal Society was crystal clear:  They expressed “disappointment at the inaccurate and misleading view of the science of climate change” Exxon-Mobil’s own documents on the subject contained, and reminded Exxon-Mobil of their previously expressed concern about Exxon-Mobil’s funding of organizations “that have been misinforming the public about the science of climate change”.  They had done a survey of organizations Exxon-Mobil admitted funding in its 2005 Worldwide Giving Report and found 39 of them “misrepresented the science of climate change, by outright denial of the evidence… or by overstating the amount and significance of uncertainty in knowledge, or by conveying a misleading impression of the potential impacts of anthropogenic climate change”

Moore’s own assessment of climate change does the same things.  He denies, overstates the amount and significance of uncertainy, and conveys his misleading impression of the potential impacts.  

Where do you get your idea that climate change is this “number one challenge”?  Do you say all the scientists in these top level scientific organizations, worldwide, haven’t a clue about what they are talking about as well?   How could you possibly then know that climate is a problem? 

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Nov 21, 2010

I dispute David Lewis in regard to his his closing assertion that Patrick Moore “pretends” to support nuclear energy. This is a mis-representation of everything Moore has been doing for the past several years.

Stephen Gloor's picture
Stephen Gloor on Nov 21, 2010

Please read the following:

“Square logic is often used intentionally by those wishing to appear more competent than their intelligence would suggest, by attempting to use terms unknown to observers and thereby failing to expose the logical fallacies of the argument. More commonly, however, square logic is used sincerely by those unable to form logical connections.”

So people who oppose nuclear power are not true environmentalists.  I have had this line from Barry Brook.  So what do you use to ‘logically’ prove this?

“Anti-nuclear groups, like Riverkeeper in New York, which wants to close the two reactors at Indian Point, says that wind is a reasonable substitute. This is a false claim. Because wind only blows some of the time, the balance of the replacement power would have to come from fossil powered plants – coal and natural gas. “

Which anti nuclear groups say this?  (“Hasty generalization is a logical fallacy of faulty generalization by reaching an inductive generalization based on insufficient evidence” –  I will just list the fallacies in this post as I go – two so far.)  I went to the website you linked to and found no such evidence of them saying that wind alone is sufficient.  You will have to supply a reference to the anti-nuclear group that says that wind alone is sufficient. Most if not all renewable groups support energy efficiency and conservation first and then a multi energy source solution, not wind alone.  Look at the recent BZE plan for Australia.

Simple math suggests that replacing 2,000 MW of power might break out as 300 MW of wind, some of the time, and 1,700 MW of fossil power all of the time. A deficit of 300 MW for the time the wind isn’t blowing will lead to brownouts and even blackouts for some parts of the New York metro area.”

Simple math would lead you astray. (A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position – 3 so far).  This straw man argument is that renewable advocates are so deficient in intelligence that they think that 2 GW of nuclear power could be replaced directly by 2 GW of wind.  The peer reviewed research that has been published over and over again, that renewable advocates use, suggests that the baseload equivalent of 2GW of fossil fuelled or nuclear power can be replaced with 6GW of well dispersed wind and about 1/5 to 1/3 of the capacity credit of wind of seldom used peaking plants (1) (2).

Simple math would also lead you astray thinking the that 2 GW is needed all the time.  The only reason the 2 GW of nuclear power is used all the time is that nuclear power plants can do nothing else.  There has to exist other forms of generation that can switch on and off in response to demand.  Nuclear cannot do this.  If the 2 GW is replaced by more flexible forms of generation then some of it can be switched off with varying demand leading to 2 GW not being directly replaced by 1700MW of fossil fuel plus 300MW of wind.  Again simple math arguments only deceive the ignorant which is of course their intent.

“Another thing that real environmentalists worry about is how to deal with reducing uncontrolled transport and fate of harmful pollutants.”

Really?  So after 25 billion dollars the supposed storage facility in Yucca Mountain is now open for business?  So far all real ‘nuclear’ environmentalists have done is store the waste in containers and wait for a miracle to occur.   A geological repository that you glibly mention is not in operation for production waste in any county in the world.  And yet you blithely assume that this will just happen like magic with no evidence to back this up.

“Fossil fuel plants use the earth’s atmosphere as a garbage dump imposing sickness and death on humans, animals, and plants. Nuclear energy reactors control all aspects of the fuel cycle containing useful materials to be recycled and safely storing residuals for eventual permanent disposal underground.”

Yes certain types do which is why renewable advocates so bitterly oppose them.  Brown coal should be first as we are tackling here in Australia.  However natural gas, not from shale deposits, is a relatively clean fuel to use as a transition to cleaner fuels as it CO2 footprint is quite low.  However nuclear still has completely unresolved waste disposal issues and cannot be considered green until these are taken care of properly.

“So, it follows that anti-nuclear activists are not environmentalists. Their position from the point of view of impact on the earth is illogical. “

No sorry it doesn’t.  Your fallacious arguments do not support this conclusion.  It is quite possible to be anti nuclear and concerned for the environment.  It is also completely possible to pro-nuclear and an environmentalist.  Your advocacy of nuclear power is somehow clouding your judgment if you seek to alienate sections of the environmental movement by denigrating them in this way.

There are no perfect solutions to the problems we are facing in the future (The perfect solution fallacy is a logical fallacy that occurs when an argument assumes that a perfect solution exists and/or that a solution should be rejected because some part of the problem would still exist after it were implemented).  Nuclear power is not the only solution nor is it necessarily the best solution for every situation.  Renewable power is not the best or only solution.

Our future will only be assured by all of us working together, not by further alienation and trying to posture yourself as the true environmentalists.

1.(Martin B, Diesendorf M 1982, ‘Optimal mix in electricity grids containing wind power’, Electrical Power & Energy Systems 4 (3):155-161.

2.Haslett J, Diesendorf M 1981, ‘The capacity credit of wind power: a theoretical analysis’, Solar Energy 26: 391-401.)

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Nov 21, 2010

Dan, slow down and read what I wrote: 

“He only pretends he is taking global warming seriously at certain times when he is flogging nuclear power as the solution for it.”

I’m not disputing that Moore is a pro nuclear advocate.  That is obvious. 

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Nov 22, 2010

 Mr. Gloor and others could have saved themselves some trouble if they realized my essay is not written with an expectation that someone would actually draw a line in the sand and separate them from their colleagues.  My point is to demonstration the illogical nature of opposition to nuclear energy on environmental grounds.

As for Riverkeeper, I have covered them frequently enough (URLs below) to document various instances of their irresponsible attitude toward replacement power if Indian Point is closed as a result of their efforts. It would take five years for replacement gas plants to be built, and, ironically, they would have to be built at Indian Point because the stability of the grid depends on the point of entry of the electricity. Take out 2,000 MW at one place and that’s where you have to put it back in all other things remaning the same. 

During the five year gap, NY would be subjected to brownouts and even blackouts because of a 2,000 MW hole in the energy supply matrix.  There would have to be purchases on the spot market at higher prices and surely from fossil plants.  This is what happened in Japan when the world’s largest nuclear plant was prevented from returning to service because of local oppositon.  Toyko Electric Power paid a huge price for coal-fired power which spewed millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere producing it.

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Nov 22, 2010

Further on the subject of Indian Point . . .

Gwyneth Cravens and I have collaborated on an article about it.  I am pleased to report that the New York Daily News has published an OP ED today 11/22/10 in defense of the Indian Point twin reactors which New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has vowed to close.

We identify the reasons why this is a bad idea, and we caution the newly elected governor to stop peddling baloney to the people of New York.

The term “baloney” is Cuomo’s who used it in 2007 to reject the findings of the National Academy of Sciences about Indian Point’s importance to the stability of the New York grid and the strength of the reactor containment building.

Ms. Cravens is a noted author including “Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy.”  I am the publisher of the blog ‘Idaho Samizdat’

# # #

Stephen Gloor's picture
Stephen Gloor on Nov 22, 2010

Mr Yurman could have used arguments that were not a textbook list of fallacies to demonstrate his point.  As he has then the conclusion he comes to is invalid.  This does not demonstrate the illogical nature of anti nuclear people only the complete weakness of the nuclear case and the person promoting it that such howlers have to be resorted to to ‘prove’ their case.  Again it is more akin to the climate change deniers that seek to delay action on climate change that use equally fallacious arguments to confuse the real issue of global warming and climate change.

It IS decisive to label anti-nuclear people as anti-environmental.  For this to be true then nuclear power must be the perfect solution to the planets energy problems which it is not.

Again it serves NOBODY to make such distinctions.  Nuclear power will play a part in the low carbon future so I do not know why you are so dismissive of renewables or so blinded that you think that the world’s energy problems are solvable by nuclear power.

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