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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Good nukes at last

Who said the following?
The 600-plus coal-fired plants emit nearly 2 billion tons of CO2 annually -- the equivalent of the exhaust from about 300 million automobiles. In addition, the Clean Air Council reports that coal plants are responsible for 64 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 26 percent of nitrous oxides and 33 percent of mercury emissions. These pollutants are eroding the health of our environment, producing acid rain, smog, respiratory illness and mercury contamination.

Meanwhile, the 103 nuclear plants operating in the United States effectively avoid the release of 700 million tons of CO2 emissions annually -- the equivalent of the exhaust from more than 100 million automobiles. Imagine if the ratio of coal to nuclear were reversed so that only 20 percent of our electricity was generated from coal and 60 percent from nuclear. This would go a long way toward cleaning the air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Every responsible environmentalist should support a move in that direction.

Believe it or not, it's Patrick Moore, co-founder of the leading anti-nuke (and anti-progress in general) organization Greenpeace, writing in a Washington Post op-ed this past Sunday. (I was out of town, remember?)

Moore admits that he and his Luddite pals were dead wrong thirty years ago, when they effectively helped kill the expansion of America's nuclear energy capacity. Without taking any of the blame for spreading the false and alarmist rhetoric that terrified much of America and made it impossible for any company to build and operate nuclear power plants, Moore debunks everything he once smugly asserted was objectively true.

Here's Moore on the reactor core meltdown at Three Mile Island, widely portrayed (with no small assistance from Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon in The China Syndrome) as bringing us within an inch of Armageddon:
What nobody noticed at the time, though, was that Three Mile Island was in fact a success story: The concrete containment structure did just what it was designed to do -- prevent radiation from escaping into the environment. And although the reactor itself was crippled, there was no injury or death among nuclear workers or nearby residents. Three Mile Island was the only serious accident in the history of nuclear energy generation in the United States, but it was enough to scare us away from further developing the technology: There hasn't been a nuclear plant ordered up since then.
Note the passivity of Moore's language: "what nobody noticed at the time," "it was enough to scare us away from further developing the technology."

I was just a teenager at the time, but even I remember reading about scientists and politicians who said exactly what Moore is saying now. I also somehow seem to remember that the nicest thing there were called by Moore and his cronies were shills for the nuclear energy companies.

And yes, it was enough to scare "us" away from the technology, thanks once again to Moore and his ilk trumpeting falsehoods about how using nuclear energy would eventually lead to the extinction of all life on Earth.

But for Moore, these things just "happened." No-one's ever to blame, least of all the ignorant or deceitful lefties, who even if they were wrong had their hearts in the right place, and really, isn't that all that matters?

And it's not as though organizations like Greenpeace (with which Moore is no longer affiliated) aren't continuing this pattern of deceit. A UN study completed last year found that there have been only 56 deaths that are directly attributable to the accident at Chernobyl, and 47 of those who died were emergency workers. In all, the study says that 3940 more deaths from cancer will be attributable to Chernobyl. I'm certainly not implying that this isn't tragic, but the original scare-mongering estimates put the death toll in the tens of thousands.

And even now, there's Greenpeace proclaiming that the International Atomic Energy Agency (one of the participants in the UN study) is "deliberately trying to down play the death toll of the Chernobyl accident as part of the nuclear industry's continued attempt to portray itself as an acceptable future energy source." Greenpeace insists that an accurate study would lead to estimates "in the range of tens to hundreds of thousands of casualties," not taking into account "the hundreds of millions of Europeans exposed to low doses of radioactivity as a result of the cloud of contamination which spread throughout Europe from Chernobyl." From 3940 to hundreds of millions with a few clicks of the keys.

Over the past thirty years America has grown God-only-knows how much more dependent upon fossil fuels, and the world has at the very least wastefully postponed the rise of a cheap energy source that potentially could have helped millions upon millions of people in poorer nations.

And, perhaps more importantly, if we had had thirty years of clean nuclear energy replacing dirty coal and oil-based energy, we might never have had to hear Laurie David's petulant whinging.

So it's all fine and dandy for Moore to admit now that nuclear energy is relatively clean, safe, and inexpensive, but, to paraphrase Ray Donovan, where do I go to get my thirty years back?

(Hat tip: Michelle Cottle, guest blogging for Andrew Sullivan)

Blogger James Aach said...

One key to the energy future will be understanding the energy present. (We didn't do that 30 years ago, as you've noted.)

Here's something that might help:

Stewart Brand, the founder of The Whole Earth Catalog mentioned in the Moore article above, has also endorsed a techno-thriller novel of nuclear power by a longtime industry insider (me). This story serves as a lay person's guide to the good and the bad of this power source. (There's plenty of both). The book is available at no cost to readers at - and they seem to like it, judging from their comments on the homepage.


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