Contrarian environmentalist: George Monbiot on nuclear

The case for nuclear power. from Fred Pearce, following the lead of George Monbiot at The Guardian

"The problem is the same in the energy debate. Many environmentalists who
argue, as I do, that climate change is probably the big overarching
issue facing humanity in the 21st century, nonetheless often refuse to
recognize that nuclear power could have a role in saving us from the

For environmentalists to fan the flames of fear of nuclear power seems reckless and anti-scientific.

Nuclear power is the only large-scale source of low-carbon electricity that is fully developed and ready for major expansion.

Yes, we need to expand renewables as fast as we can. Yes, we need to
reduce further the already small risks of nuclear accidents and of
leakage of fissile material into weapons manufacturing. But as George
, Britain’s most prominent environment columnist, puts it: “To
abandon our primary current source of low carbon energy during a climate
change emergency is madness.”

[George] Monbiot attacks the gratuitous misrepresentation of the risks of
radiation from nuclear plants. It is widely suggested, on the basis of a
thoroughly discredited piece of Russian head-counting, that up to a
million people were killed by the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. In
fact, it is far from clear that many people at all — beyond the 28
workers who received fatal doses while trying to douse the flames at the
stricken reactor — actually died from Chernobyl radiation. Certainly,
the death toll was nothing remotely on the scale claimed.

“We have a moral duty,” Monbiot says, “not to spread unnecessary and
unfounded fears. If we persuade people that they or their children are
likely to suffer from horrible and dangerous health problems, and if
these fears are baseless, we cause great distress and anxiety,
needlessly damaging the quality of people’s lives.”

One sure result of Germany deciding to abandon nuclear power
in the wake of last year’s Fukushima nuclear accident (calamitous, but
any death toll will be tiny compared to that from the tsunami that
caused it) will be rising carbon emissions from a revived coal industry.
By one estimate, the end of nuclear power in Germany will result in an
extra 300 million tons of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere between
now and 2020 — more than the annual emissions of Italy and Spain

Yeah, but Chernobyl [here's the first picture taken after the meltdown]:


It's taken from a helicopter. The fogginess in the pic? Radiation.  

One thought on “Contrarian environmentalist: George Monbiot on nuclear

  1. For quite a long time now, I’ve been on record as favoring the continued development of nuclear energy.

    You cite Chernobyl, and indeed it was a horrendous event. But its root cause was an emergency test that went beyond prescribed rules, and what made the result so horrendous was the lack of a containment dome around the reactor.

    I would go so far as to say that it represents in microcosm the entire nuclear industry, which — while there are many exceptions — was typified by inadequate designs and risky shortcuts in operations. We in the U.S. have been lucky, but we also benefitted from a relatively stringent safety culture and a more open regulatory process.

    It takes a study of history to fully appreciate the truth of these observations. I’d recommend two books: John Fuller’s We Almost Lost Detroit and The Demise of Nuclear Energy? by Joseph Morone and Edward Woodhouse. Both books document lapses of safety oversight on the part of the AEC. The latter makes the additional point that in the US a patient exploration of the characteristics of many types of reactors was short-circuited in favor of commercializing those that were ready soonest.

    The thing to remember is that reactor design hasn’t stood still since 1986. Despite setbacks, like Clinton cancelling the development of the IFR in 1994, designs exist which promise to alleviate many of the most vexing shortcomings of conventional reactors. Most of the funding, however, still flows to those conventional designs.


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