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Say No to 'No Nukes' Revival

“No Nukes” Revival is Wholly Misguided

Recent news that Musicians United for Safe Energy is reuniting for a concert protesting nuclear power strikes these two Millennials as wholly misguided. While the anti-nuclear generation can be forgiven for the tragic outcomes of their original efforts, this attempted revival exhibits an inexcusable ignorance of the real threats faced in the 21st century.
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The original No Nukes concerts, held after the Three Mile Island accident, helped derail the growth of nuclear power in the United States. What resulted was not the new energy economy powered by wind and solar power imagined by many anti-nuclear activists, but rather a massive expansion of fossil powered energy that sent carbon emissions soaring by 22 percent. Now, the septuagenarian rockers will come together this August to try to repeat their past “success.”

No Nukes front man Graham Nash recently trumpeted the group’s continued opposition to nuclear power in Rolling Stone, insisting that “coal plants put a lot of shit and mercury in the air but a coal plant won’t be poisonous for 100,000 years.”

What?! Global warming is the intergenerational threat today, not nuclear power. With coal and other fossil-fuels driving carbon dioxide emissions to their highest levels in history, ours is a generation preparing for a world that will be deeply and irrevocably impacted by climate change — a world plagued by severe heat waves, floods, droughts, and record wildfires, and the potential displacement of millions of people.

To be sure, the recent Fukushima meltdown, like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island before it, was a serious industrial accident that will be costly to clean up. Worse, the human toll may include a very small increase in the incidence of cancer and lifetime morbidity rates among some surrounding populations.

Yet these impacts are dwarfed by the ongoing havoc wreaked by coal and other fossil fuels, even putting aside climate change. Year after year, conventional pollutants from fossil-fired power plants — the “mercury and shit” to which Nash refers — kill over a million people worldwide and sicken countless more.

By contrast, the Chernobyl disaster, by far the worst nuclear power accident in history, has to date killed about 65 people. The World Health Organization estimates that over the century following the accident, as many as 9,000 people may die prematurely from radiation exposure.

Mr. Nash, like many anti-nuclear campaigners, alleges that the death toll from Chernobyl was actually well over a million people — a bogus figure derived from a Greenpeace-commissioned report widely rejected by the public health community. Even the anti-nuclear Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that at most 50,000 people may die prematurely from the accident.

That means that every two and a half weeks, air pollution kills more people than may eventually die over a century from the Chernobyl accident, even if we take this high-end figure from the UCS.

Solar, wind, and other renewable technologies have come a long way since 1979. But the hard truth is that they are still unable to rapidly replace both fossil fuels and nuclear power. Even Germany, regarded as a global renewable energy leader, has admitted it cannot close down its 17 reactors without relying on scores of coal and gas-fired power plants that will drive its carbon emissions up by 14 percent. Meanwhile, all of Germany’s solar PV installations combined provide the equivalent of just two nuclear reactors’ worth of electricity.

The No Nukes revival concert is unlikely to have anywhere near the impact of the original series it harkens back to. But it is worth considering that if anti-nuclear campaigners were to succeed in their quest, they would undoubtedly usher about a world that burns more fossil fuels, where more people die every day from our energy system, and where we bequeath climatic chaos for future generations.

That’s why, if you’re serious about mitigating the potentially catastrophic risk to human and non-human life posed by climate change, being anti-nuclear is no longer a morally tenable position.

Jesse Jenkins's picture

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Paul O's picture
Paul O on Aug 6, 2011 3:06 pm GMT

A major reason to agree with Jesse is that the advancement in technology and development of 4th Generation Nuclear which would not have been pricey, and would have been safer or even meltdown proof, may have been stymied by the anti-nuclear atmosphere fostered by the no nuke crowd.

Steve K9's picture
Steve K9 on Aug 6, 2011 8:13 pm GMT

“Graham Nash recently trumpeted the group’s continued opposition to nuclear power in Rolling Stone, insisting that “coal plants put a lot of shit and mercury in the air but a coal plant won’t be poisonous for 100,000 years.”

Note to Graham Nash: Mercury is poisonous forever, which is even longer than 100,000 years.

Atomik Rabbit's picture
Atomik Rabbit on Aug 7, 2011 3:58 pm GMT

This goes to the heart of a question I have been mulling over for some time – why do artists (including musicians, actors, writers) tend to lean to the antinuclear side of the debate?

 Is it the old left-brain, right-brain concept where people are born with instinctive likes and dislikes, one leaning toward the logical, methodical,  and scientific and the other toward the emotional, expressive, and artistic?

 Nuclear power plants are often seen by aesthetes as ugly and utilitarian, and have been made more so by the layers of security requirements in the form of gates, barbed wire, and concrete that have been piled on. About as beautiful as a refinery or a prison. This need not be.

 I have enjoyed the work of Graham Nash, Meryl Streep, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and can even tolerate Alec Baldwin and Christie Brinkley. These people are all active antinukes, and proud of it. I would no more tell them how to sing, write music, or act than I would advise my airline pilot on the amount of flaps to use on a tricky landing, even though I am a licensed private pilot. Yet these people seem to have no qualms about using their celebrity to promote opinions that they have no technical basis for properly evaluating.

 Every marketing agency knows that people make decisions on emotion, not logic. I think that pronuclear artists and communicators have a very important role to play as an interface between the two hemispheres of the body politic’s brain. I just hope that the leadership of the industry starts to recognize the potential value that could be added by artists to their hard science. They could start making atomic cool again by utilizing those blank two-hundred-foot concrete billboards they already own.

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Aug 7, 2011 4:05 pm GMT

Dr. Robert Gale, the American who so impressed the Russians with his objectivity and knowledge that they asked him to direct the medical relief effort after the Chernobyl accident, says there were 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer there that could have been avoided had the Russians not tried to deny that the accident had happened and instead made iodine pills available to the affected population.  There were about 200 emergency workers who got “extraordinarily high” doses of radiation but “most of them” were treated successfully.  Otherwise, speaking about the rest of the population in areas surrounding the plant, he says “no one has convincingly observed any increase in any cancer other than thyroid cancer”.  

This isn’t to say there is no increase in any cancer, but no one has data that convincingly shows it.  “We calculate what might have happened”, he says.  “It could be 2,000, or as many as 15,000 cancers that might be occuring over 50 years”.  (To hear an interview with Dr. Gale go to this page, select Part One, go to 7 minutes 37 seconds mark)

What happens when humans are exposed to low doses of radiation, because we are all already exposed to varying amounts of low dose radiation depending on where we live and what we do because Earth is a radioactive place, remains a murky area for scientists.  The director of the highest level independent expert assessment yet done in the US of the science, by the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council put the problem this way:  “The problem is… the regulation levels and levels of interest extend so low that endpoints such as cancer and mutations are not necessarily measurable with statistical significance.”  They were asked to come up with a guess as to what happens.  They were specifically NOT asked to recommend policy or to consider cost/benefit analyses if people wanted to ignore the radiation they are already exposed to, or to comment on people who want to pretend that radiation from nuclear accidents is the only radiation that can cause harm.  

The Government Accountability Office, who are very interested in cost/benefit analysis and applying common sense to reduce cost has been asked to study the situation several times. “Radiation Standards: Scientific Basis Inconclusive, and EPA and NRC Disagreement Continues” i.e. GAO/RCED-00-152 said:  “US regulatory standards to protect the public from the potential health risks of nuclear radiation lack a conclusively verified scientific basis, according to a consensus of recognized scientists.  In the absence of more conclusive data, scientists have assumed that even the smallest radiation exposure carries a risk”.  

Mr. Nash, probably a frequent flier, is exposed by the airline industry to far more radiation than the population Greenpeace says will suffer 1,000,000 deaths over time from their exposure to what came out of Chernobyl.  If there were hundreds of millions of people as fortunate as types like Nash who could fly around the planet as much as he does to get the exposure the airline industry inflicts on them by not shielding their planes from the hundreds of times more intense cosmic radiation all passengers are exposed to as they fly compared to what they get on the ground, many more than 1,000,000 would die, if the guess about what happens at low dose radiation levels the NAS came up with is reality.  

But he wouldn’t dream of putting his energy into demonizing the airline industry.  I wonder why.  Being an anti-nuke must be more fun.  According to the NY Times, “business frequent fliers “may easily exceed the allowable levels of exposure that are enforced as a matter of law for medical and industrial facilities where radiation is encountered”.

John Englert's picture
John Englert on Aug 10, 2011 1:29 pm GMT

Musicians today write and perform music to enertain the people, so naturally they would gravitate toward causes that they see would be helping people.  Today many people view nuclear power as benifting greedy corporations as opposed to providing much needed power to the masses.  If the problem can be posed as needing to supply much needed energy to those who would benifit most (people who are living without clean water, or refrigerators to keep vaccines preserved, etc.) then the cause could literaly be “Power to the People.”

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