Thursday, December 31, 2015

Post COP 21:

The Name-Calling Begins

Some of my colleagues who participated in the COP 21 conference in Paris recently noted the increased visibility of the nuclear community and predicted a backlash.  Boy, were they right!  But that backlash has not gone unnoticed, and people have stepped up to respond to the worst of the false allegations.  I have been trying to follow the name-calling and the accusations, and it is more fun than a prize fight. 

One of the first statements I came across was an article by Jim Green entitled, "The Attack of the Nuclear Hucksters."  Attack?  So, promoting a pro-nuclear viewpoint is an attack?  But promoting an anti-nuclear viewpoint is not an attack in the other direction?  The article accuses the Breakthrough Institute of "promoting its pro-nuclear [views] and arguing against...anyone who disagrees with them."  Excuse me if I'm missing something, but when anyone has a viewpoint on anything, don't they try to argue their case?

Likewise, a letter to the editor by Alan Jeffery of "Stop Hinkley" complains that, "There seemed to have been a desperate last-ditch effort in Paris to convince us all that nuclear power is an important part of the answer to the climate crisis."  But it appears that he is writing his letter because he would like all funding to go for renewable energy projects. is OK to argue your case if you want windmills and solar panels, but if you want nuclear power plants, you are making a "desperate last-ditch effort"?

Another article, this one by Naomi Oreskes, referred to "a new form of climate denialism."  The article somehow accuses people like James Hansen, who has been one of the most vocal figures in warning the world of climate change, of "climate denialism"--apparently because he wants to use all possible measures to combat climate change, including nuclear power.  How that is denialism of anything, let alone climate, I don't understand. 

I was apparently not alone in my confusion, as I noticed several authors who challenged the assertions.  In particular, an article by Michael Specter in the New Yorker challenging this view makes the very astute observation that "denialism is not a synonym for disagreement."  He goes on further to say that, "Oreskes is certain that we won’t need nuclear power to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. This is a legitimate and essential debate. But it should be possible to have it without denigrating positions held by people who have spent their careers, quite courageously, trying to solve the world’s biggest problem."

Mathijs Becker posted a lengthy blog in which he made a similar comment about the term "climate denialism," and further, went on to dissect the rest of the article point by point.  In particular, he challenges the statement in the Oreskes article that this new form of denialism "says that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs."  He turns this one around, saying to Oreskes that, "You are clearly part of a movement that denies fundamental scientific principles." [emphasis added]   "As such you deny that Nuclear Energy is a credible solution to the most dire problem of Climate Change." 

Becker goes on to address all the other issues raised in the Oreskes article and elsewhere about the cost of nuclear power, the time it takes to build, and--one of my favorites--the fallacy that so-called renewable energy sources are completely renewable.  The sun and the wind may be renewable, but the materials needed in order to convert the sun and wind to electricity are not.  In a companion blog, he also takes on the arguments made by Mark Jacobson and cited by Naomi Oreskes.

Finally,  an article by Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post, gets away from the petty bickering and points out the magnitude of the challenges society faces.  He doesn't take on any individual, but he does take on the arguments that solar and wind power can solve all our problems.  He points out that the apparent large growth of wind and solar power is a result of the tiny base it started from and that both sources are still heavily subsidized.  He says bluntly, "We invent soothing fantasies to simplify matters. The notion that the world can wean itself from fossil fuels by substituting renewables is one of these."  To be fair, he highlights the challenges of nuclear power as well, including accidents, waste disposal, and threats of terrorism. 

His solution, and one that I believe is needed as well, is that technological development is needed in all areas: "We know what’s needed: cheaper and safer nuclear power; better batteries and energy storage, boosting wind and solar by making more of their power usable; cost-effective carbon capture and storage — making coal more acceptable by burying its carbon dioxide in the ground."



  1. I am convinced that some greens oppose nuclear power because they want to drive the world into energy poverty.

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  3. I have had several comments to this post made as replies to my LinkedIn post on the blog. Since I don't want to violate any confidentiality people might have assumed, but I think some of the comments are of broader interest, I am copying them without attribution. Here's the first of these that I've received:

    "Great piece, Gail. What do you think of the chance to incorporate Small Modular Reactors as a means to mitigate several concerns? SMR technology in South Korea poses reduced construction cost, minimal decommissioning liability, and reduced/dispersed risk compared with gigawatt scale plants. A sensible approach to high power density on a decentralized basis?"

  4. Here is the second comment I received via LinkedIn:

    "If the US doesn't get in gear and put more effort into getting to market with an SMR design we will forfeit our last opportunity to have a meaningful role in global NE power. ROK is already building their "SMART" SMR in Saudi Arabia and our NuScale is talking about getting through the NRC by what, 2021? We need leadership to drive integrated public/private, joint efforts in this area!"

  5. The third comment I received via LinkedIn addressed the comments made in the second LinkedIn message I received:

    "I agree. To add to your strong commentary, we need dramatic and increased US public financial support coupled with the incredible ingenuity of the private sector to drive US nuclear technology deployment internationally. The US private, nuclear sector needs a substantial financial boost and strong signal from our government that we, the United States. are serious about about accelerating SMR technology to early deployment. Other countries are more strategic and involved in nuclear technology deployment, and we need our leadership to refocus on this as national, and national security, priority. Otherwise, we also risk losing our seat at the head negotiating table on nuclear and nonproliferation matters."