I RECEIVED AND READ THIS EMAIL AND I WANT TO SHARE IT
This is one of the best articles of late, supporting the need for nuclear
power. I say that since it is basically written in layman's language by an
ex founder of Green Peace. If you have any doubts...READ IT!! Oh, if we
could only get the national press to print this article. This country needs
nuclear badly. Elzie
Having worked in the nuclear industry for 26 years, I can say that this is
quite well written as well as accurate. (Roger P.)
From Eco-Warrior to Nuclear Champion
By Michael Kanellos, News.com
Published on ZDNet News: Jan 31, 2008 4:00:00 AM
Patrick Moore seems to court controversy.
Decades ago, he helped found Greenpeace, which fought nuclear proliferation
and promoted environmental causes. But for the last several years, he has
been an outspoken advocate of nuclear power as well as a critic of the
He now co-chairs the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, a nuclear industry
group, with former New Jersey Governor Christine Whitman.
Although nuclear power remains highly controversial, it's also making a
comeback as concerns about global warming and electricity prices rise.
Sixteen organizations are expected to file applications to build 31 new
reactors in the U.S.
Nuclear was a big topic at the World Economic Forum at Davos.
Moore spoke with CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos about the potential for
nuclear power as well as where he thinks environmentalists went wrong.
Q: When people look at your biography and see you're a Greenpeace co-founder
and now a nuclear advocate, they don't believe it. Could you give us a
synopsis of your personal history on this issue?
Moore: Well, actually I did feel a little lonely in that corner for a while,
but I've been joined by the likes of Stewart Brand, Jared Diamond (author of
Guns, Germs, and Steel), and (environmental author) Tim Flannery, and now we
form a fairly serious phalanx of pro-nuclear environmentalists. In fact, I'm
the honorary chair of the Canadian chapter of Environmentalists for Nuclear
Energy, which has 9,000 members worldwide.
As a co-founder of Greenpeace, even though I was a scientist, I made the
same mistake in those days as all the rest of my colleagues did. We kind of
lumped nuclear energy in with nuclear weapons as if all things nuclear were
evil. It was an honest mistake. We were totally focused on the threat of
nuclear war during the Cold War. Nuclear testing was what Greenpeace started
on and we were peaceniks, and I think it's fair to say that the
antinuclear-energy movement to some extent was formed out of the peace
The impact of fossil fuel combustion on public health is the single largest
impact of any technology we have. But in retrospect, I believe we failed to
make an important distinction between the peaceful versus the destructive
uses of a technology. There are many technologies that are very good that
can be used for destructive purposes. Cars can be made into car bombs as
long as you have a little bit of fertilizer and diesel oil. Machetes have
killed more people than any other weapon in the last 20 years, over a
million, and yet they're the most important tool for farmers in the
It wasn't until after I'd left Greenpeace and the climate change issue
started coming to the forefront that I started rethinking energy policy in
general and realized that I had been incorrect in my analysis of nuclear as
being some kind of evil plot. The perception at the time that nuclear energy
equaled nuclear weapons was to some extent based on the fact that the only
exception to the separation of peaceful and military nuclear technology was
when India bought a reactor from Canada and then broke their promise and
used that peaceful reactor to make plutonium to make their first weapon.
Make the case for nuclear power. It emits far less greenhouse gases than
coal, but there are the disposal issues.
Moore: Well, it's not only cleaner, it's almost infinitely cleaner in that
it has no regulated air emissions. Coal actually releases far more radiation
than nuclear plants. There is some radiation released by the nuclear
industry, but it's not considered to be of any significance from a health
point of view or an environmental point of view. It is cost-effective and it
is proven safe. Safety and waste are the two main concerns.
Greenpeace keeps harping on the terrorist issue, but the fact is the nuclear
plants in the United States were designed from the beginning to withstand a
747. They are the hardest targets in the United States from a security point
of view. They are very closely watched and monitored and they are built in
such a way that they are not really a very desirable target. The World Trade
Center was a much more desirable target and so were many other political
targets and many other industrial targets. So that isn't an issue.
But the safety issue?
Moore: If people look at the actual record, as opposed to the sensationalist
speculation, there has never been a member of the public injured by a
nuclear plant in the United States, even during Three Mile Island. It was
just a bad mechanical failure. It did not cause harm to the public or to the
workers in the plant. There is no evidence that anyone was injured by that
accident. That was the worst accident in the history of the West, excluding
the Soviet Union's stupid Chernobyl design, which is pretty much phased out
now, although there are still 11 of them running.
There are that many Chernobyl-style plants left?
Moore: Yes, there are 10 in Russia and 1 in Lithuania, but they are all
scheduled to be phased out. After Chernobyl, they were all upgraded from a
safety point of view. The accident at Chernobyl was a combination of
ridiculous operator error. Secondly, they built reactors without containment
vessels. No one else has done that. What the Soviets did was they took their
military plutonium weapons production reactors and cookie-cuttered them all
over the countryside. It was an economic shortcut and they learned the hard
way, but the safety record in the West is impeccable in terms of not causing
any harm to people.
Six thousand people die in coal mines every year in this world. Look how
many people die in car accidents and many of those are innocent passengers
and pedestrians. The impact of fossil fuel combustion on public health is
the single largest impact of any technology we have.
But if we see more plants being built in the West, doesn't that increase the
chance for negligence and people cutting corners? I mean, the more people
you have, the more chances for people to mess up you have.
Moore: I don't know about that. You cannot build a nuclear plant in this
world today without it being world-class in both its design and its
operation. It's just not possible to do that. There is too much oversight.
There is the International Atomic Energy Agency. There is the fact that
these designs are coming out of the United States, France, and Russia.
India, too; most people don't realize that India is at the very forefront of
nuclear technology, in recycling, in producing thorium fuel, in fast
reactors. Their science is as good as anybody else's in the world, and the
Chinese are fast becoming a major center for nuclear technology as well. I
don't think that that is a risk.
All the money that's going into subsiding solar is a waste of money. The
nuclear industry has the most culture of safety around it of any industry.
In the States it's safer to work in a nuclear plant than it is to work in
either real estate or financial services, according to the Bureau of Labor
Is that just because of large numbers, with real estate agents driving
around to open houses or...?
Moore: This is per capita. There is lesser the chance of missing work due to
an accident on the job in nuclear than there is in real estate or financial
services. That's because in the nuclear industry it's safety first ahead of
So in your view, the safety issue is more of a perception issue right now?
Moore: Yeah. How people manage to perceive that nuclear is dangerous when no
one has ever been hurt by it is hard for me to understand, but there it is.
It's a scared thing and it's like many of the campaigns today that are based
on scaring people about something invisible. In this case, radiation. In
agriculture, it's invisible pesticide residues. In climate, it's invisible
carbon dioxide. In genetic engineering, it's invisible genes. Actually, a
majority of the what are being called environmental campaigns these days are
basically scare campaigns based on people not being able to see what it is
that they are supposed to be afraid of. You can make up all kinds of stories
about things people can't see.
It's like with GMO (genetically modified organism) foods. I don't think
there are any deaths associated with GMOs, but they are banned in Europe
Moore: Exactly. (There are only) positive impacts associated with most, and
yet a perceived negative or a projected negative is given a higher weight.
In many areas, environmental activists are arguing to ban things where there
are obvious benefits and no evidence of harm. Many of their policies are
actually resulting in negative actions for the environment rather than
That is true in the case of nuclear power, where they are the ones who are
screaming that the sky is falling and that the climate catastrophe is coming
and it's going to be global and it's going to cause 40 to 50 percent of all
the species to become extinct and it's going to be the end of civilization
as we know it. And yet, they are against nuclear energy just because there
could be an accident somewhere. How could one nuclear accident be worse than
the whole world being destroyed?
It's not choosing the lesser of evils. They are basically saying that they
are both just as bad as each other. I don't see how you can argue that. I
mean, how could nuclear energy cause 50 percent of the world's species to go
extinct and civilization as we know it to come to an end?
A lot of people will agree with the state of nuclear technology but will
argue that we should put more money into solar thermal or solar photovoltaic
first and see if we can make progress there before we go to nuclear. What do
you say to that?
Moore: Well, I don't see how they are mutually exclusive. We know how to
build nuclear plants. We don't know how to build solar thermal plants that
operate cost effectively and we don't even know if we can build a solar
thermal plant that will go through 5 or 10 days of cloud cover. I am all in
favor of investing in solar thermal, but I think it has to be on a measured
R&D basis, and I would like to see it coming under 10 cents a kilowatt-hour.
Solar photovoltaic simply has no place on the grid. All the money that's
going into subsiding solar is a waste of money because it could be being
used on more effective technologies that we already have that are not
unreliable and intermittent. The $3.2 billion that California is subsidizing
in solar would build a 1,000-MW nuclear plant and provide 10 times as much
power into the system and on a reliable basis.
Many claim that nuclear is actually the only source of power that is going
up in price. These aren't environmental advocates. These are Wall Street
analysts. The nuclear energy industry says the opposite. Who is right here?
Moore: Well, the price of the plants is going up in terms of the capital
costs, but then everything is going up. Concrete is going up; steel is going
up. It's true that nuclear has a higher capital cost than the fossil energy
plants, but it has a lower operating cost once it is established.
A compact fluorescent light bulb costs five times as much as an incandescent
light bulb, but it only costs a fifth as much to run it and it lasts a lot
longer. So it is a good investment. The trouble with individuals is that
they want to (be paid) back in 2 years. Big institutions don't mind an 8- or
10-year payback and nuclear provides that.
Is the public perception changing? Do you find more people saying they will
consider nuclear or people who are actually in favor of it?
Moore: A considerable majority of Americans are in favor of nuclear energy.
It's around 70 percent of the general public. (Editor's note: an MIT survey
last year said only 35 percent of Americans wanted to see nuclear power
increase.) The closer you get to an operating nuclear plant, the higher the
support is. The average within 10 miles of a plant is 80 percent in the U.S.
In some plants, it's up to 90 percent because the people living near them
know that they have operated safely and that they're a huge wealth generator
in the community. They are basically a very compact wealth generating
machine, producing energy and producing employment in communities. They say
the closer you go to a nuclear reactor, the better the schools and the roads
As far as Wall Street goes, there are still a lot of jitters. How about "Not
in my backyard"-ism? Although people support nuclear, they also say they
want to see the plants 500 miles away.
Moore: The good news there is that the first (likely) wave of new plants
will all be built on existing sites. There is, in fact, a huge amount of
room to expand on the existing sites. Many of these sites were originally
designed for eight reactors and only have two on them.
Some people have suggested exploiting the waste heat in these factories to
make hydrogen or purify water.
Moore: There are additional benefits beyond just giving electricity. And we
will use the electricity to charge all our plug-in hybrids. We are going to
need more electricity in the future for that. It doesn't make sense to
charge a battery with a coal-fired power plant from an air pollution or
climate point of view.
There's no possibility that California can meet its objectives without new
nuclear, either in or out of state to supply the electricity. Twenty percent
of the state's electricity now comes from coal-fired power plants. If you
cut that 20 percent out, you simply cannot replace that with renewables
unless they can make solar thermal work. They should go ahead, try it, but
in the meantime build some nuclear plants. That is the only way that a full
umbilical cord can be cut.
What do you think of wave power?
Moore: It is so pie-in-the-sky that we shouldn't even think about it. Just
let people test it. If they can figure out how to make it work, fine. But I
don't really see that much promise in all those tidal- and wave-powered
What support do you see among politicians, or the bureaucracies, or even the
large financial institutions?
Moore: Most major political parties are squarely in favor of nuclear power.
There's stronger support on the Republican side, but there is a good
majority on the Democratic side, and most Democrats who were against nuclear
power openly before are now either neutral or not talking about it much.
(John) Edwards is against coal and nuclear. He wants both of them banned.
Hillary (Clinton) is neutral. You can't really read her.
As far as Wall Street goes, there are still a lot of jitters. When the
nuclear industry failed in the late '70s, early '80s, it was a combination
of Three Mile Island, huge regulatory burdens piled on by the antinuclear
movements' influence, and huge interest rates. When you have a huge capital
investment, it takes 10 years to start paying back from when you start
building it. Interest rates are extremely significant and you remember
interest rates went to like 19 percent back then. That's what killed the
industry. It wasn't anyone of those; it was the combination of all three of
How about the nuclear waste disposal? Has there been much progress
Moore: It is not a problem technologically. It's called recycling, or what
used to be called reprocessing. The French, the Russians, the Japanese all
use it. It is basically separating out the remaining uranium and the
plutonium that is manufactured as a byproduct and used as fuel again.
Plutonium is a fuel; we don't need to wait 250,000 years for it to decay. We
can use it right away as a fuel and turn it into fission products, which
will then only have a 300-year lifespan of being radioactive. Japan just
opened a $30 billion fuel fabrication and recycling center in Northern
Honshu. Japan figured out a way to take the French technology, which is
probably the leading technology, and design a system in which the plutonium
never emerges as a pure product anywhere; it's only inside, where nobody
could, without dying, get it. The plutonium is separated, then before it
comes out it's recombined with uranium into what's called mixed-oxide fuel,
which cannot be made into a bomb.
How does the supply of fuel look?
Moore: Fifty percent of all the nuclear energy being produced in the United
States is from dismantled Soviet warheads. We are turning swords to
plowshares, not the other way around. There is enough enriched uranium and
plutonium in (missile) stockpiles that is surplus now to (fill) the needs of
the military to run our nuclear plants for years. When you start recycling,
it magnifies the fuel reserve by 5 to 10 times. So we've actually got a
thousand years of nuclear fuel for the existing reactors. The mining
industry actually stopped looking for uranium 30 years ago because there
already was enough discovered.
Now, they're looking for it again and finding it all over the place in
places they didn't know it existed. There's a huge find in Labrador, Canada,
for example. Slovakia has now been proven to have the largest uranium
reserve in all of Western Europe. Austria still has tons of the stuff, and
now Kazakhstan has come on as a major world's supplier.
Before we run out of uranium, there's a lot of people interested in the
thorium fuel cycle. Thorium is much more abundant in the earth than uranium,
so it's another nuclear fuel that is proven to be workable. India is well
advanced in this technology and there is an international group of thorium
scientists that is meeting on a regular basis.
One last thing. How about the rogue state question? People worry about
states like Iran getting bomb-making capabilities. Is the regulatory
framework strong enough to take care of that?
Moore: There is a group of academics from the U.S. and Europe who have come
up with the proposal to create a kind of insurance policy for the nuclear
fuel supply. The idea is to restrict the amount of enrichment technology
because you can use uranium enrichment technology centrifuges to either make
nuclear fuel or a nuclear bomb. So there is a big interest in reducing the
number of facilities that do enrichment and basically in keeping them in the
existing weapon states, which is where they are now except for Iran.
There is also the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership otherwise known as GNEP,
which 20-odd countries are part of. It wants control over the front end,
which is uranium enrichment, and the back end, or recycling plutonium, to
maintain control over those processes in such a way that countries that
don't have those technologies are guaranteed a supply of fuel.
It's really interesting, in some ways, how this whole nuclear renaissance is
causing a new alignment of interests around the world.
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