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Dalai Lama: Look At Nuclear Energy Holistically

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...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Nov 11, 2011

An amazing surprise for anti nuclear groups

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama, a revered spiritual leader whose influence is felt far beyond the boundaries of Tibetan Buddhism, startled his followers and the anti-nuclear community this week. In an interview with the news media in Tokyo, he said that there is a role for nuclear energy in the development process. His comments follow a tour of the earthquake and tsunami devastated areas in Japan about 40 miles from Fukushima.

He said that he is in support of nuclear energy for peaceful means as a way to bridge the socioeconomic gap in developing nations and in the absence of more efficient alternative energy sources.

“There are still many developing countries with a huge gap between rich and poor … millions of people’s live remain under the poverty level.”
He added that energy sources like wind and solar are too inefficient to put into realistic practice to meet the needs of developing nations.

The Dalai Lama’s influence extends to many new age communities and even into the philosophical underpinnings of some American environmental groups. So it must come as a profound shock for them to find that he is urging both opponents and proponents to look at the issue “holistically.”

The Dalai Lama also addressed some of the emotion laden communication that has been in the forefront of opposition to nuclear energy. In a statement that could just as easily come from an expert on probabilistic risk assessment, the Dalai Lama said that no amount of preparation can completely rule out danger.


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Amelia Timbers's picture
Amelia Timbers on Nov 8, 2011

Roan, looking at other baseload options, do you think coal or natural gas are better re social stability, emissions and income inequality? I think fossil volatility has at least partly to largely had a negative effect on the US economy at least, and has been a difficult, inelastic cost for consumers to bear.

John Englert's picture
John Englert on Nov 9, 2011

Have solar companies figured out how to make the sun shine at night or when it is cloudy? Have windmill makers been able to make the wind blow on demand? Which results in the nuclear industry is he not aware of?

Amelia Timbers's picture
Amelia Timbers on Nov 10, 2011

At Gridweek, I heard an expert say the intermittency problem is surmountable and a ‘technical’ difficulty. I wasn’t able to get an interview with that guy, but in general I think the impossibleness of the intermittency angle is overplayed/blown.

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Nov 11, 2011

The Dalai Lama’s remarks were widely reported by the mainstream news media in Japan and the U.S.  I don’t have any reason to doubt the accuracy of the reporting, which included an article in the Wall Street Journal.

As a pro-nuclear blogger, in terms of the Dalai Lama’s remarks, I should note that no one in my world saw that one coming.



Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Nov 11, 2011

Willem, your frustration with the windmill lobby is shared in Minnesota, too. We don’t need any more power but they intend to put a wind farm in one of the leading eagle nesting sites in the US. They have exempted themselves from state and federal environmental law, and that is leading to a law suit by concerned citizens.

We went throught the corn ethanol “renewable energy” debate the same way.

We have a culture war behaving like two drivers clashing on the road. There is no science or public benefit evident in the bogus energy wars. I appreciate your effort to define the issue in real terms. Perhaps you would find some appreciative people in Goodhue County, Minnesota.

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on Nov 11, 2011


Could 23 ¢/kWh from storage make sense if it enabled a larger renewable energy installation and could be amortized over its entire output?  Of course from a business standpoint, once built the best energy to store is always the cheapest, even if that’s off-peak grid power from coal plants. 

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on Nov 11, 2011

Never? Is there some alternative history in which we could have bootstrapped from animal power and the 19th century version of renewables to today’s advanced wind, PV, etc. without the technical and economic development facilitated by high-density fuels like coal, oil and natural gas?  It’s legitimate to question their role going forward, but suggesting that we could have done without them in the past constitutes uninformed revisionism.

David Thorpe's picture
David Thorpe on Nov 11, 2011

What really strikes me about some of the comments on this site is their complacency, and lack of confidence. 

Geoffrey, read my book Solar Technology and Alexis Madrigal’s Powering the Dream. Both give part of the history of sustainable energy technologies.

For example, the first solar power station was built in 1913. Solar power was used in the 1880s to make ice and print a newspaper.

If this planet had not possessed such huge reserves of fossil fuels, human ingenuity being what it is, we would have developed renewable energy technologies much faster than we have done. And we would have learned to do more with less energy. And we would have avoided the numerous conflicts over access to fossil fuel reserves that have cost millions of lives over the last hundred years, beginning with WW1, which was partly about just such access, and which led to the formation of modern Iraq.

The Dalai Lama, much as I love him, is misinformed on this issue.

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on Nov 11, 2011


I have plenty of confidence in the future.  However, rewriting the past to suit current sensibilities doesn’t impress me much.  There’s an enormous difference in the scale of wind and solar power that was possible before advanced composite materials, transistor-based power electronics, and silicon processing techniques that only exist as a spinoff from the chip industry, which is itself a spinoff from post-WWII defense-related initiatives and the space program.  Yes, we would have made do with much less energy, and the world today would be a much poorer place. 

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Nov 12, 2011

Readers might be interested to know that the fluorine which is used to etch solar cells can come from its recovery from the process of enriching uranium to 5% U235.  That’s the fissile isotope of uranium that “burns” in commercial nuclear reactors.

The way it works is that U238, which is 0.7% U235 in raw form, is converted to a gaseous state by combining it with hydrofluoric acid producing UF6.  Then the gas is spun in centrifuges at upwards of 7200 RPM separating the lighter and heavier isotopes. U235 is lighter than U238 so it can be collected and combined with U238 to produce fuel for nuclear reactors at 5% U235. 

The leftover “tails” of “depleted uranium” can be reprocessed through a “deconversion” priocess removing the fluorine for re-use.  High purity hydrofluoric acid recovered from the UF6 is used to etch computer chips, and solar cells, for industrial and commercial applications.

It is ironic that the solar industry gets some of its components manufactured in this manner. 

As for the future of renewables, Japan remains less than 50% self sufficient on food which is why it need high value manufacturing exports to pay for food imports.  It is unlikely Japan will turn off its nuclear reactors, permanently, any time soon for that reason.  You can’t run auto factories and their component supply chains on solar and wind energy with today’s technologies. 

The laws of physics, which govern battery storage, are also limiting factors.  It does make sense to use renewables on top of baseload electricity supplies, but you can’t use them for on demand peaking.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 12, 2011

With the gaint resource of cheap coal and momentarily cheap gas we have in the US, it is easy to forget that in many other places, nuclear power is the cheapest option (its always the safest and cleanest option).

The choice often is either nuclear (built with a lot of local labor), or build a pipeline to import natural gas (which will carry money out of the country as long as it operates).

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