When a campaign strikes a nerve

posterdontnukeclimate1115Every successful campaign for social change causes reaction. After all, if the campaign weren’t hitting at vested interests, weren’t causing disruption for some entity, then there would be no need for a campaign–its goals would simply be adopted by acclamation.

Indeed, campaigns that don’t generate reaction are campaigns that don’t succeed: that means they haven’t attained enough attention or backing to matter to their targets.

Thus, it’s always a source of initial gratification when, after launching a new campaign, reaction sets in. When you can see you’ve struck a nerve. When your opposition attacks you directly. And that high point is elevated further when the best attack your opposition can muster is one against the least important of your arguments.

So it is that the international Don’t Nuke the Climate Campaign, for which NIRS is the U.S. member, last week began feeling that warm gratification, that recognition that we are beginning to have an impact. Because we’ve been attacked by name for the first–but surely not the last–time.

A small group of Finnish people, who call themselves “ecomodernists” and are affiliated with a group called Energy for Humanity have taken it upon themselves to launch the first direct attack on the Don’t Nuke the Climate campaign, in an essay titled A Most Unwise Campaign.  The essay appears to be a follow-up to a self-published tract called Climate Gamble: Is anti-nuclear activism endangering our future? They’re planning to distribute 5,000 copies of these at COP 21 in Paris over the next two weeks in an effort to promote nuclear power and beat back our campaign.

Following the distorted and factually-challenged logic of James Hansen,  the group begins by repeating the familiar argument that renewable energy cannot scale up fast enough to solve the climate crisis, that decarbonization of the world’s power supply isn’t happening quickly enough, and that, ergo, we need a massive amount of new nuclear power.

What does “massive” mean? The authors don’t say, but the World Nuclear Association is less shy: today it issued a statement calling for 1,000 Gigawatts (about 1,000 large reactors) of new nuclear power by mid-century.

More on that argument in a minute.

The essay then shifts gears to focus on one issue: the carbon footprint of nuclear power, which it calls our “key argument.” Actually, it isn’t. Indeed, we readily admit that nuclear power is a low-carbon energy source when compared to fossil fuels. We assert that it is high carbon compared to renewables, but really, that’s all relative. And while the essay devotes considerable effort to try (unsuccessfully) to debunk Professor Benjamin Sovacool’s 2008 meta-analysis of studies comparing carbon footprints of various energy sources (the authors argue a study showing nuclear as relatively high-carbon should be excluded, although excluding such studies, without excluding studies showing nuclear with an essentially undetectable carbon footprint, defeats the purpose of a meta-analysis), if nuclear’s carbon footprint were really our key argument, the campaign would be far less compelling than it is–and far less threatening to nuclear industry interests.

You’d think that people in Finland, of all places, would get this.

Because the most compelling argument against nuclear power as a climate solution (disregarding for the moment issues like nuclear meltdowns, radioactive waste, routine releases of toxic radiation, and nuclear proliferation, and focusing only on climate-related issues), proven over and over and especially in Finland, whose Olkiluoto-3 reactor under construction is the poster child for the failure of the nuclear renaissance, is the industry’s inability to deliver a product that can generate electricity in a reasonable time at a reasonable price.

Construction of Olkiluoto-3 began in 2005, with commercial operation scheduled for 2010, at a fixed cost of 3.2 Billion Euros. A decade later, the reactor is nowhere near complete and may not be finished this decade either. Its cost has just about tripled–right in line with the U.S. experience of the reactor boom-building years of the 1970s and 1980s. The thing is Olkiluoto is not an outlier, as efforts to build new reactors at Flamanville in France, and Vogtle and Summer in the U.S. demonstrate. Each of these projects is well behind schedule (and slipping further) and well over budget.

Meanwhile, costs for solar and wind power have been plummeting. When construction of Olkiluoto-3 began, solar power was not competitive with other generation sources. Now, even the nuclear/fossil fuel industry dominated International Energy Agency (IEA) admits that solar is not only cheaper than nuclear, it’s cheaper than fossil fuels.  Wind power is so cheap they’re literally giving it away in Texas. Energy efficiency remains even cheaper than any generation source.

No new nuclear reactors have come online anywhere in the west since construction of Olkiluto-3 began (Watts Bar-2 is close, but it’s a stretch to call that “new,” since construction on it began in the 1970s). Meanwhile, nearly half of all new generation last year was renewables, again according to the IEA.

Using outdated data, nuclear advocates like to say that renewables account for only a tiny percentage of worldwide electricity generation. While it certainly remains too low, the reality, according to the same IEA report, is that renewables are now the world’s second largest power source, behind fossil fuels. And those who are paid to project growth and make money from accurate projections, like UBS, say the period of rapid growth has barely even started.

So which technology can scale up faster to deal with what is, in fact, a climate crisis?

Nuclear proponents also argue that we should use all low-carbon generation sources, not just renewables. That we should include nuclear “in the mix.”

The problem there is that nuclear has priced itself out of the conversation. With new reactor construction cost estimates pushing $20 billion each (North Anna-3, Hinkley Point) at a time when equivalent amounts of renewables would cost a fraction of that, it makes no sense whatsoever to build nuclear. It would simply take money away from the cheaper, faster sources, which happen to be renewables. If we’re facing a crisis–and we are–why divert resources away from the most effective means of addressing it to the least effective? The end result is that you get less low-carbon power, not more. That’s why nuclear power is counterproductive at addressing climate change: because we get less carbon reduction per dollar spent.

The nuclear folks also submit that countries like China and India are continuing to pursue nuclear power, and are doing so faster and cheaper than the west. That’s true; they’re also pursuing renewables and are doing so faster and cheaper than the west as well. Major construction of all kinds is cheaper and faster there. Of course, they’re also less transparent, and there are far more government subsidies, making it difficult to determine the real costs. That non-transparent, government-paid construction model isn’t going to fly in most nations, And, in China’s case at least, its renewables program is far outpacing its nuclear program, which is unlikely to ever get much above its current 2-3 percent of the nation’s generation capacity.

Now add back in all those other arguments that we temporarily dropped before–the ones about nuclear accidents, already nearly one major accident per decade, a number that would soar with 1,000 new reactors; and radioactive waste, which still has (and may never have) no scientifically-defensible solution; releases of toxic radiation even in routine operation that are killing people, the environmental devastation from uranium mining, and the rest. And, seriously, there are people out there who still argue that nuclear power is an answer to an environmental problem?

That there are those people is, of course, why we have to mount the Don’t Nuke the Climate Campaign in the first place. That we’ve touched a nerve means we know we’re beginning to win. That we can expect more pushback simply demonstrates that the time is right. A nuclear-free, carbon-free energy future is within our grasp. We’re hoping for real movement at COP 21 in Paris these next couple of weeks; and even if not there, inevitably across the world as the decade enters its second half and the reality that this really is the answer takes hold.

You can support the Don’t Nuke the Climate Campaign here. For more on the campaign, visit WISE’s international website here, and NIRS’ U.S. website here.

Michael Mariotte

November 30, 2015

Correction, December 4, 2015: The irreplaceable Greenpeace campaigner Jan Haverkamp has brought to my attention that my statement “No new nuclear reactors have come online anywhere in the west since construction of Olkiluto-3 began…” is incorrect. Romania’s Cernavoda 2 reactor came online in 2011. So, to be factually correct, count that in. But, and I know Haverkamp agrees, that hardly changes the point that counting on new nuclear to scale up in time to have any meaningful effect on carbon emissions is akin to counting on the coal lobby to voluntarily leave its filthy material in the ground: not gonna happen.

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2015/11/30/when-a-campaign-strikes-a-nerve/

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6 thoughts on “When a campaign strikes a nerve

  1. Pingback: Nuclear lobbyists’ epic COP21 fail. Our next job? Keep their hands off climate funds | Eco Bio III Millennio

  2. Pingback: Corporate Astroturf “Nuclear for Climate” is really a lobby group f 140 pro nuclear societies « nuclear-news

  3. Pingback: The Attack of the Nuclear Hucksters

  4. Nixak

    Are Anti-Nuke Greens Willing to Take-on ‘Green-Nuker’ & Top ‘Climate Guru’ Jim Hansen???

    Jim Hansen was of-course in Paris for COP21. He called the COP21 Deal a ‘fraud’ [true]. But he also convened his own little ‘confab’ w like minded CAGW / ‘climate activists’ & called a press conference / issued a press release to push his/their dubiously dangerous {non}’Solution’ to the problem- so-called ‘Green’ [NOT!] Nuke-Power- } Drs James Hansen, Tom Wigley, Ken Caldeira & Kerry Emanuel will present research showing the increasing urgency of fully decarbonizing the world economy. However, they will also show that renewables alone cannot realistically meet the goal of limiting global warming to 2*C, & that a MAJOR Expansion of NUCLEAR Power is essential to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference w the climate system this century. – The scientists will outline how only a combined strategy employing all the major ‘sustainable clean’ energy options — including renewables & NUCLEAR — can prevent the worst effects of climate change by 2100…
    In light of the urgency of tackling climate change and nuclear power’s ‘essential role’ in limiting temp rises [IMO that’s some really ‘ironic’ wording], the 4 scientists will thus challenge environmental leaders who still hold anti-nuclear positions to instead support development & deployment of ‘safe and environmentally-friendly’ nuclear power [they’re regurgitating standard nuke-power industry dubious talking points]. For example, the Climate Action Network, representing all the major environmental groups, insists despite all evidence to the contrary that
    “nuclear has no role to play in a fully decarbonized power sector.” The 4 scientists will state that the anti-nuclear position of these environmental leaders is in fact causing unnecessary & ;SEVERE HARM to the environment’ & to the future of young people… { see @ http://hosted.verticalresponse… ] WOW WTF!!! I mean DAMN! It’s like for Hansen & his ‘green-nuke’ crew- the on-going NUKE Disasters at Fukushima & Chernobyl NEVER Even Happened!!!
    – Hansen’s so ‘dead-set’ on pushing so-called ‘green-nuke’ power, he made a Declaration of WAR vs anti-nuke [true] ‘Greens’ in 2014- } ’I [Dr Hansen] also recommend that the public STOP Providing FUNDS to Anti-Nuke Environmental Groups. They are not likely to listen to anything other than financial pressure. If they are allowed to continue to spread ‘misinformation’ about nuclear power, it is unlikely that we can stop expanded hydro-fracking, continued destructive coal mining, and irreversible climate change…’ { Thus Hansen effectively BLAMES anti-nuke greens for gas-fracking, coal-mining & CAGW / ‘climate-change’ as much as the fossil-fuel industry, just because these true ‘Greens’ refuse to buy Hansen’s & his ilk’s dangerously dubious hype that [fission] Nuke-Power is really ‘green’ [NOT!]!!!

    FYI Dr Hansen: Even if [fission] Nuke Reactors did NOT go TMI, Chernobyl, Fukushima every decade or 2 [which they of-course DO], they’d still be a dubious, if NOT dangerous, {non}’Solution’ to the problem! The nuke-weapons proliferation, radioactive waste, security & potential ‘issues’ re: SFP pool [generally out of ‘containment’ & lightly guarded] sabotage or accidents…- ALL of These PROBLEMS would still Exist!!! Plus the main source of nuke fuel U235 is due to hit ‘peak uranium depletion’ by between 2050 – 2100- which will only hasten if more fission nuke power plants are brought online [So how’s that ‘sustainable’?]. Furthermore- Even If the World’s current +400 nuke reactors were doubled to +800 by 2050 [means likely building +600 or more new reactors as 200 would have to replace existing reactors that should be ‘retired’] – a MIGHTY Big IF- That would amount to at MOST just a mere 3% – 3.5% cut in total global GHG gas emissions [IMO likely just a 2% – 2.5% cut]!! Yet doubling the number of reactors doubles the risks of one / some going Chernobyl-Fukushima, & also could double the proliferation risks as well. IMO That’s NOT a ‘Good DEAL’, NOR a ‘Safe BET’!!!

    Plus who really thinks Hansen & his ‘green-nuke’ ilk are willing to just hand over the keys of nuke-power plants to African & 3rd World nation-states?? PLEEEASE!!! All we’ve got to do is look at how the US & the EU hounded & demonized NTP member Iran re: its ‘civilian’ / non-Weapons nuke-prog, or how they refused to hand-over S.Africa’s govt to Mandela’s ANC till the Apartheid regime [w Mandela’s OK] totally dismantled every TRACE of its nuke [weapons] prog!! Since most African countries do NOT have enough skilled technical people to build &/or run modern nuke plants, they would NOT be in control of them- & likely would have little say-so re them.

    – Speaking of Paris France- Many folks ala Hansen, hype that France has the World’s largest per-capita nuke-power plants that generate about 75% – 80% of its electricity. But what they don’t say is that the ‘back-bone’ to the French so-called ‘nuke-miracle’ is Niger’s uranium mines. FYI: Niger has been France’s main supplier of uranium for over 40+ yrs, & just like w Australia’s aborigines & the US’ native peoples, uranium mining has been anything but ‘green’!!! Most of Niger’s people were dirt poor before the French ‘nuke-miracle’ & they’re still dirt-poor now! But now they’re faced w mounds of radioactive tailings from +4 decades of uranium mining that’s also poisoned much of their scarce fresh-water supply!! The dirty fact Dr Hansen is [fission] Nuke-Power is a DIRTY BIZ from start to finish- which no-one really knows exactly how looong toxic nuke-waste will take to ‘finish’!!!

    Hansen’s ‘excuse’ for hyping nuke-power as his phony ‘green-nuke’ {non}’Solution’, is because renewables can’t cut it alone. First of all Dr Hansen- Cuba proves you can give your people a hi standard living in an ecologically sustainable manner, & yet Cuba does NOT even have access to state of the art renewable energy technology, NOR nuke-power!!! Cuba did it by rolling-back from industrialized to more eco-friendly agriculture, relying on Public Transport vs private cars, & extensive recycling of items rather than just trashing them for new ones.
    – Plus IMO too many greens think just wind & solar alone = renewable energy. FYI: The big ‘beefs’ re wind & solar is they’re intermittent & NOT ‘energy-dense’. But IMO most who say so seem locked into a grid & meter mentality, which IMO may NOT be even the best use for wind & solar- but rather off-grid [or semi so] re: residential areas [NOTE: in very sunny climes solar can be used to directly cook w & heat water, without converting it to electricity].
    – IMO in a sense Hansen’s right- wind & solar alone are NOT yet up to the task. But I know of at least 4 other KNOWN [NOT ‘exotically theorized‘] renewable energy technologies- which 2 just occasionally get mentioned by ‘greens’ & the other 2 are almost NEVER do- IE: scaled-down & integrated [vs massive-scale] hydro-electric & geothermal -PLUS- tidal & Bio-Gas. All 4 of these are, unlike wind & solar, continuous & dense- but the first 3 are largely location dependent. In the US the best sites for geothermal [that I know of] are Hawaii, Yellowstone & near Hot-Springs AR. For tidal you’d likely have to be within 100 miles of the sea-coast / lake-shore BUT- the US’ top 5 most populous cites are indeed on &/or near sea-coasts / lake-shores- along w a number of other major US cities.
    – But Bio-Gas [which converts organic waste to methane gas & organic fertilizer via a simple natural process] has NO such location constraints & is very scalable- from industrial & municipal, to farms & communities, to individual homes. Yet it & tidal rarely get mentioned, while small-scale hydro & geothermal only occasionally so. IMO this over-sight by ‘greens’ leaves the door wide-open for Hansen & his ilk to hype [fission] Nuke-Power as a necessary ‘Green'{evil}!!

    PS: IMO we’re likely for awhile going to have to ‘bite the bullet’ & allow some use of oil & methane- so the main focus must be phasing out coal, nuke-power, tar-sands & deep-sea oil & gas-fracking ASAP! This also means energy conservation & efficiency both for industry, power-generation, homes & bldgs, & transportation- along w cutting waste & ‘Really’ recycling. Energy efficiency in transport means significantly increasing fuel-efficiency standards & cutting-back driving personal cars in favor of more extensive, efficient & effective integrated public transport systems.

    Plus we must look to moving away from a SAD meat-based diet to a more plant based-diet. FYI:
    Raising live-stock for market accounts for as much as 20% of the World’s GHG gas emissions. This means Dr Hansen- Just cutting global meat consumption in half or more would likely, in combo w phasing-out over-industrialized [= moving towards eco-friendly] agriculture & also the bio-‘fools’ scam, could/would cut several Xs MORE global GHG gas emissions than doubling or even tripling the number of nuke reactors in the World w, unlike [fission] Nuke-Power, virtually NO Risks- while yielding many other benefits!!! And guess who by far eats the most meat [w a few exceptions]- the US, EU, Australia & Canada = the same ‘Usual Climate Suspects’!!!

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      Just one quick comment; others feel free to add your own: we don’t agree with Hansen that the climate agreement was a “fraud.” Certainly it doesn’t go as far as we’d like, and certainly there will have to be a lot of strong follow-up, but by recognizing that even 2 degrees Centigrade is too high, the agreement went farther than most believed possible. And we will give due credit to President Obama–without him actively pushing the agreement, it wouldn’t have happened. Hansen said that because the agreement did not place a price on carbon. While we agree with Hansen that a carbon tax or some other mechanism that recognizes carbon’s true costs to society is a goal worth striving for, it is simply not possible to do that in the context of an international agreement. It’s impossible, for example, to levy an international tax. And with nearly 200 nations involved, each with its own taxing and regulatory authorities–and each one different–there is no universal way to get that done. It will have to be on a nation-by-nation basis, not in an international agreement.

      The follow-up to this agreement is critical: to ensure the goals are met, and then re-set to achieve greater emissions reductions, and to ensure that nuclear power remains shut out of the process, so that the world’s resources are not mis-directed to the slowest, most ineffective means of attaining reductions: nuclear power. Using nuclear would simply drain the resources needed to deploy the clean energy technologies are can–and we believe will–power our future.


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