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Why We Should Embrace Our Age of Nuclear

The age of humans may soon be known as the age of nuclear.

For two decades, scientists have debated whether we are living in a new geological epoch. They appear to have decided that we are and that the invention of nuclear energy should mark its beginning.

Twenty-nine of the 34 members of the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) voted this week to declare the invention and testing of nuclear weapons as the beginning of the Anthropocene or geological age of humans. The two other main contenders for demarcating the start of the epoch were the rise of agriculture, which radically altered landscapes, and the birth of the industrial revolution, which has accelerated climate change.

The 1945 explosion of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the radioactive fallout from outdoor nuclear weapons testing, which continued until 1963, is physically embedded in glacial ice and earth sedimentation. Advocates for the invention of nuclear as the best way to mark the beginning of the human age note that, unlike anything done by hunter-gatherers, agriculturalists, or industrialists, nuclear activity leaves a human trace in the geology of Earth. “It is distinguishable,” argues Zalasiewicz. “It is distinctive.”

In their decision, the AWG scientists are implicitly recognizing that nuclear energy is a permanent feature of human civilization, like fire, agriculture, and gunpowder. As such, the decision by scientists to recognize nuclear as a revolutionary technology could help humankind to finally accept the technology along with its potential to lift all humans out of poverty, protect the natural environment, and end war as we know it.

Why They Hate Nuclear Power

In the 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower encouraged the use of nuclear energy to lift nations out of poverty as a way to redeem humankind generally, and the U.S. particularly, for the sin of having created nuclear weapons. But not everybody was on board with the project of ending poverty. Cheap energy would lead to overpopulation, deplete scarce resources, and destroy the environment,  prominent scientists in the West feared. Humankind “would not rest content until the earth is covered completely, and to a considerable depth, with a writhing mass of human beings, much as a dead cow is covered with a pulsating mass of maggots,” the chemist Harrison Brown wrote in his 1950 book, The Challenge of Man’s Future.

Brown was hugely influential among the New Left and environmentalists. One of Brown’s protégés was John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s science advisor. Holdren described Brown as “warm and witty…and surprisingly modest.” But Brown had also proposed the breeding and sterilization of humans to prevent “the long-range degeneration of the human stock.” Brown’s proposal was an extension of the ideas of 19th Century economist Thomas Malthus who had urged the extermination of the poor now so as to avoid more suffering later. “Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor,” Malthus reasoned, “we should encourage contrary habits…and court the return of the plague.” Anti-humanist ideas came full bloom in Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich’s 1969 Sierra Club book, The Population Bomb, which depicted poor people in India as animals “screaming… begging… defecating and urinating.”

Opposition to nuclear energy baffled humanistic conservationists. They argued that nuclear was a solution to, not driver of, overpopulation. “Nuclear power is one of the chief long-term hopes for conservation,” argued Sierra Club President Will Siri in 1966, “perhaps second only to population control in importance.” Why? Because “Cheap energy in unlimited quantities is one of the chief factors allowing a large, rapidly growing population to set aside wildlands, open space and lands of high-scenic value,” Siri explained. But the neo-Malthusians had to attack nuclear power because it meant there would be no need for their draconian policies, like forced sterilization.

Nuclear undermined the claim by Western scientists that they, under the benevolent olive branches of the United Nations, needed to control “the development, administration, conservation and distribution of all natural resources,” as Holdren demanded in his 1975 textbook. By the early 1970s, the anti-nuclear faction had wrested control of the Sierra Club from humanistic conservationists like Siri, and began a half-century long campaign to frighten the public.

“Our campaign stressing the hazards of nuclear power,” wrote Sierra Club’s new President in a 1974 memo to the board of directors, “will supply a rationale for increasing regulation and add to the cost of the industry.” But they hid their true motives. When asked in the mid-1990s if he had been worried about nuclear accidents, one anti-nuclear leader replied, “No, I really didn’t care because there are too many people anyway … I think that playing dirty if you have a noble end is fine.”

Their efforts worked. By 1987 the United Nations had embraced the attack on nuclear in a report called “Our Common Future.” All but one of the report’s 194 references to nuclear are negative. “The potential for the spread of nuclear weapons is one of the most serious threats to world peace,” reads a typical passage.

Rather than move to fossil fuels and nuclear, as other nations had in order to develop, poor nations should instead use wood fuel more sustainably, they argued. “The wood-poor nations must organize their agricultural sectors to produce large amounts of wood and other plant fuels,” urged the U.N. report authors. Such a demand was tantamount to urging poor nations to stay poor. There is no rich nation that depends primarily on wood for energy, just as there is no poor nation that depends primarily on fossil fuels or nuclear.

The Malthusian agenda continues today. Environmentalists insist that developing nations adopt renewables, energy efficiency, and other aspects of a low-energy lifestyle, not nuclear, even though no nation can develop without high levels of energy consumption.

In short, the problem posed by clean, cheap, and limitless nuclear energy was that it deprived Western scientists, governments, and U.N. bureaucrats any rational basis for exerting control over foreign economies and bodies.

Why They Hate the Bomb

After World War II, atomic scientists including the father of the atomic bomb and other progressive intellectuals sought to prevent the spread of nuclear energy by putting it under U.N. control. “Only the creation of a world government can prevent the impending self-destruction of mankind,” said Albert Einstein. “It is entirely clear that there is only one way in which great wars can be permanently prevented,” said Bertrand Russell, “and that is the establishment of an international government with a monopoly of serious armed force.”

Looking back on the period it’s tempting to imagine that the demand for world government came in response to the bomb, but that’s wrong. The demand for world government preceded the invention of the bomb by over 150 years. In 1795, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, proposed that humankind could achieve “perpetual peace” through a deliberative, United Nations-type organization. These ideas grew until the early 20th Century when progressives led by American president Woodrow Wilson imagined that liberal values like reason and mutual understanding would allow nations to abolish war.

Then World War I broke out, undermining confidence that human reason and brotherly understanding were capable of restraining what liberals viewed as irrational passions, like nationalism. After World War I, progressives arranged what they thought a fair resolution to territorial claims, confident that such a reasonable arrangement would prevent another war. But then World War II broke out, further dashing confidence that reason would be a path to peace.

Within a few weeks after the U.S. used the bomb on Japan, a group of experts at Yale concluded it would be impossible to get rid of nuclear weapons. If two nuclear-armed nations actually did ban the bomb, they realized, and then went to war with each other, the two nations would race to be the first to build the bomb and use it on the other. It would be better for nations not to disarm in the first place.

Conservatives were more accepting of the permanence of nuclear weapons than liberals. While conservatives join liberals in seeking to oppose the spread of nuclear weapons to other nations, they do not seek to abolish nuclear as a technology.

Liberals believe they seek nuclear abolition because they care more, or are more sensitive than conservatives, who tend to dismiss liberal hopes for nuclear weapon abolition as idealistic and unrealistic. But the roots of liberal opposition lie in Kantian rationalism. What’s so distressing, for liberals, about nuclear weapons is that they — not reason, diplomacy, and brotherly love — are in the process of ending war.

Deaths from wars and battles rose along with Enlightenment values from 1400 to 1945. Since then, deaths from wars and battles have plummeted by 95 percent. “It seems inescapable that what has really made the difference in inducing this unaccustomed caution,” noted Yale historian John Gaddis, “has been the workings of the nuclear deterrent.”

After working wonders between the U.S., Soviet Union, and China, nuclear deterrence worked wonders between India and Pakistan. The two nations fought a “war” earlier this year over a disputed border region. You might have missed it because so few people died.

“In South Asia,” India-Pakistan expert Sumit Ganguly says, nuclear deterrence has “for all practical purposes, done away with the prospect of full-scale war. It’s just not going to happen. The risks are so great as a consequence of the nuclearization of the subcontinent that neither side can seriously contemplate starting a war.”

Consciously or unconsciously, liberals and progressives believe that the “perpetual peace” should have resulted from the use of reason, mutual understanding, and brotherly love — in short, from the union of nations — and are sad, disappointed, and angry that it was instead the result of a weapon.

Why We Return to Nuclear

The real problem with nuclear is, in short, that it solves our biggest problems: war, poverty, resource scarcity, environmental degradation, and climate change. As such, it deprives powerful elites in powerful nations the intellectual and moral basis for demanding control over foreign territories, resources, economies, and populations.

But nuclear also empowers  relatively smaller, weaker, and poorer nations. Nuclear allows vulnerable island nations, including rich ones like Japan and England, to become energy independent of energy-rich and often domineering neighbors.

“Before we got nuclear power we were like slaves!” a South Korean nuclear engineer told me in 2017. Like Japan and Taiwan, South Korea must import coal, oil, and natural gas, while nuclear can be created domestically.

Nuclear is also the only way to solve climate change. The only two nations to have decarbonized their electricity supplies, France and Sweden, did so with nuclear. No nation has done so with solar and wind.

And nuclear allows weaker nations to defend themselves against more powerful ones. France got the bomb because it was tired of being invaded by Germany. Israel got the bomb because it wanted the ultimate form of security. And North Korea got the bomb because the U.S. government made it clear that it might invade.

The underdog nature of the bomb wasn’t obvious right away. The reason is, in part, because two large and powerful nations, the U.S. and Soviet Union, were the first to get it. It has only been since the bomb has spread to poorer and smaller nations that its revolutionary essence has been fully realized.

The alarm that nuclear initially inspired need not continue. Americans do not want to invade Iran, even if it is close to getting the bomb, given the disastrous consequence of the US invasion of Iraq, which was justified, and widely supported, as a way to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

Time is on nuclear’s side. Millennials were raised to fear climate change, not nuclear, and do not suffer the same anti-nuclear hang-ups as Baby Boomers or Generation Xers, who were traumatized by apocalyptic TV shows, movies, books, and articles. As Baby Boomers die off, and Millenials age into power, there is hope that nuclear power might realize its humanistic potential to safeguard the peace, and the climate. It helps that Earth scientists have finally recognized that nuclear energy is here for good.

 

Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” and president of Environmental Progress, an independent research and policy organization. Follow him on Twitter @ShellenbergerMD

128 Comments

  1. Cynical Old Biologist says

    Shellenberger writes like a desperate and angry man – full of contempt for the “Malthusians” and anyone who would deny the patently obvious shining nuclear future that awaits us. But it is economics, not fears of nuclear war or environmental concerns, that have thwarted nuclear’s “promise”. Now that the world has almost certainly passed “peak net energy” there will be less energy available year after year to build nuclear fancies while the nominal dollar investment required will rise and rise…. So glad we will not in Australia have piles of nuclear waste to deal with in ageing, shuttered reactors – even if it means relative energy poverty for us. How is the USA going to clean up after e.g. its many, ageing Fukushima-style nuclear reactors in an energy-poor future?

    “…nuclear energy is a permanent feature of human civilization”. What hubris! Nuclear energy is already an industry in decline, and no amount of wishful thinking is going to change that.

    BTW I prefer the name “Plasticene” to “Anthropocene”. It’s catchier and reminds me the plastic residues we will leave in the geology after us.

    • DrZ says

      Piles? The volume of a can of Coke per person over a lifetime?

      • Cynical Old Biologist says

        Where would you stash your personal can of highly radioactive waste DrZ? And the 300,000,000 other cans in the USA?

        • JWatts says

          Well a 1 mile x 1 mile stretch of deep desert would do fine for the first century or two. The US was building just such a repository until Harry Reid the Democrat Leader of the Senate killed the project as it was nearing completion.

          • JWatts says

            To be fair Yucca Mountain facility was bigger than 1 square mile for the whole facility.

          • Johnny from Park Rapids says

            It’s complete. Reid merely prevented it from opening, which he apparently had the power to do as Senate Majority Leader.

            Well, guess what? He’s not Senate Majority Leader anymore.

            Open it up!!

        • Andrew Scott says

          Use it to build the radioactive wall. Yeehah!

        • Komori says

          @Cynical Old Biologist

          I would develop molten salt reactors and use those cans as fuel. Too bad it took until 2016 for the USDE to approve considering such a step. We could have actually been there quite some time ago.

        • DrZ says

          Today the sum of all nuclear waste in the U.S. up until today is the area of a football field about 30 feet deep. The volume is small and we have the storage technology. Besides if we don’t figure it out millions will die in 14 years – right?

        • Douglas Eckberg says

          COB: Your response reveals misconceptions about the waste from nuclear power stations.
          (1) While you might not want to do it, all the radioactive waste from the entire 40+ year life of the industry could be fit into a two-story warehouse about the size of a football field. (2) Most of it is not “highly” radioactive. Frankly, most of the radioactive waste is pretty innocuous stuff.

          If you really want to play the game of “how much,” and you take the “can of coke” (12 ounces) and “300,000,000 lives” and “lifetime” (approximately 80 years?) as serious data, you would come up with enough waste in a year to about half fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. In comparison, our nation’s coal-fired plants produce about 120 million tons of toxic waste per year, which works out to enough to fill about 68,000 Olympic-sized pools. Per year.

          So, we could reduce toxic waste volume to approximately one part out of 136,000 (by 99.9265%) just by switching from coal to nuclear. Not too shabby.

          Don’t get me started on the annual volume of wastes generated by the mining and refining of rare earths for high efficiency generators and batteries if you want to go 100% renewable.

        • hugheaston says

          Nearly all the residual radioactivity in spent nuclear fuel after its first decade of cooling off comes from just two isotopes: Sr-90 and Cs-137. Both have half lives of about 30 years. This means that, after 30 years, half the residual radioactivity has gone (half the Sr-90 and Cs-137 having decayed into the nonradioactive isotopes Zr-90 and Ba-137). After 60 years, 3/4ths has gone. After 300 years (10 half lives), 1/1024th of the radioactivity remains, and after 600 years (20 half lives), just a millionth of the original radioactivity from these two isotopes remains. By that point, the spent fuel is no longer any more dangerous to handle than a rich uranium ore like pitchblende. One of the big lies put out by the antinuclear movement is that “nuclear waste” remains hazardous for thousands of years. It doesn’t.

          In practice, what this would mean in an all-nuclear economy, is that after only about 30 years or so, the amount of radioactive materials from the nuclear industry becomes constant, newly created waste balanced by the portion of the existing stuff that’s become noradioactive through radioactive decay. You wouldn’t need any new repositories, just periodically free up space in the existing ones by reprocessing what’s there to remove the now nonradioactive decay products.

          The Sr-90 can also be separated out and used as an energy source for deep space missions, while the Cs-137 can be used as a gamma ray source for things like sterilising food and medical supplies. With reprocessing, it might not even be necessary to have waste repositories, since most (and perhaps all) of what’s in the spent fuel can either be recycled into new fuel, or separated out and used for other purposes. There’s some quite valuable stuff in there, including platinum group metals, technetium (a possible alloying agent and basis for new catalysts in the chemical industry), and xenon gas.

      • Cynical Old Biologist says

        Net energy is not the same as energy consumption. The Wikipedia consumption figures are only to 2015 (and, in any case, look at their “final energy consumption” figures for 2014 compared to 2015) but you already see world coal consumption/production decreasing (and net energy from coal in the USA started to go south many years ago). Oil consumption figures are propped up by shale oil but that industry has never been profitable as a whole and shale oil is only produced due to massive inputs of electricity and by burning natural gas (paid for by investors now facing an unhappy future). So world oil net energy is certainly in decline. Maybe there is a little energy profitability left in natural gas but increases in that would need to offset the declines in the others to see an overall increase in net energy availability. It is net energy from which the massive investment needed to build future nuclear reactors would need to be drawn. But with 30% of world fossil fuel consumption going to food production, distribution and preparation, as fossil fuel use declines, we will see net energy directed to “solving” the food problem rather than building new nuclear reactors, and certainly not to developing new reactor forms (with their enormous costs and decade-long timelines). And world population still increases by 80 million people per year which is the same number that Australia – with cheap oil and phosphate fertiliser inputs – can feed. (But oops – apologies, I am slipping into my Malthusian frame again.)

        • Stephanie says

          Cynical Old Biologist: on what basis do you claim we are at peak net energy? There remain vast coal, oil, and gas deposits. We haven’t scratched the surface (literally) of our nuclear capabilities. Absolutely nothing except for political meddling is getting in the way of exploiting these resources. The number of people with access to electricity increases every year.

          Our own Australia is 80% underexplored. The last 20 years have seen major advances in geological science that are changing the game for resource exploration.

          Disposal also isn’t an issue, because if we wanted to we could easily dump nuclear waste into the sun or Jupiter. There’s a whole universe out there for us to grow into, guys.

          • Cynical Old Biologist says

            Hi Stephanie, exploitation of an energy resource requires the investment of energy. When the energy investment required exceeds the energy output produced, then the exploitation will not happen (unless an energy subsidy is provided from elsewhere because the form of the energy is particularly important – this is why shale oil is produced in the USA using energy from other sources, e.g. coal and nuclear, despite probably being net energy negative, as it is certainly not providing a financial return for investors). When humans stop mining fossil fuels far more than half of all such fuel will still be in the ground, but unexploitable for energy production purposes since it would require more energy to get at it than would be yielded by burning it.

            On a global basis, we know which areas are likely to possess viable fossil fuel resources and all the large deposits have already been discovered. The same applies to Australia.

            Forget space. The energy required to get things into orbit is ridiculously huge. And the risk of failure means we will never by shooting large amounts of nuclear waste into the sun. We won’t be mining asteroids for use on Earth either!

    • Eigen Eagle says

      I always find it funny that people who would laugh in the face of the idea of letting the markets bring down CO2 emissions always say “It’s too expensive!” when the topic of nuclear power comes up. It’s expensive because no one is building any reactors anymore. There’s no reason the prices can’t be brought down with subsidies. If all the money wasted on renewable energy subsidies were spent on nuclear we’d be a heck of a lot closer to have emissions under control.

    • Dear Cynical Old Biologist,

      I can see why my description of the Malthusian roots of the anti-nuclear movement triggered you.

      The world has not passed “peak net energy.” Such a claim is Malthusian pseudoscience. Nuclear energy is virtually unlimited.

      In terms of economics, the real world evidence is clear. France spends about half as much for electricity that produces one-tenth of the carbon emissions as Germany’s electricity. The reason? It generates 75% of its electricity from nuclear while Germany is phasing nuclear out.

      Germany will have spent $580 billion on renewables by 2025, and increased electricity prices by 50%, only to see its emissions remain flat.

      Nuclear will come back when the public sees through the pseudoscience that cynical old Malthusian biologists have been peddling for 50 years.

      Michael

      • ianl says

        The “Anthropocene” exists only as an environmental propaganda notion.

        The climate activists think that attempting to re-write the geological timescale will convince a geologically illiterate population that the planet is in man-made crisis.

        That you have chosen to use this dishonest agitprop to underpin your argument for nuclear power (with which I agree) demonstrates that you remain on the wrong side of the actual scientific method.

        The hard geological evidence for a new chronostratigraphic unit within (or without) the Holocene is not at all compelling, as the International Commission on Stratigraphy has pointed out (2018). That won’t stop the arm-waving activists though … will it ?

      • Jon Burack says

        Mike, I agree totally with you here and in your article. One thing I wonder about that you do not mention. Ongoing and future research into more efficient, less waste producing, new forms of nuclear power. Am I mistaken, but is there not a good deal of research into much safer and better nuclear power even in the face of obstacles to its profitable development? Every technology ever produced gets refined and improved. Yet the discussion here and most everywhere seems to presume nuclear power plants will always be as problematic as the worst few examples of accidents suggest.

    • Alan Gore says

      Recently we’ve been hearing a new antinuclear argument from leftists who for the first time in their lives have laid down their traditional magic economics wands and are showing actual concern about costs vs benefit. They tell us that nuclear is an expensive, unforgiving technology that requires more detailed attention to procedure to make safe than mortal humans are capable of. Better hope that pinwheels and mirrors can power the modern industrial base.

      But now imagine a world in which there existed an industrial technology that had all these economic problems of nuclear, but with many more plants – thousands and thousands of them, in fact, all over the world. Operating them requires similar detailed safety procedures to nuclear, with dedicated government agencies to monitor compliance in each country. Further, suppose that these plants were not nearly as safe as nuclear is today, with a fatal accident somewhere in the world at least once a year, each killing at least two hundred people. Would you feel safe in the presence of such a technology? Would you even allow it to exist? Of course you wouldn’t.

      Congratulations, buddy. You just killed off commercial aviation.

      • David Barnett says

        Well, we have some people on Congress now who seem to want to do just that. For our own good, of course.

    • fred90024 says

      Now that the world has almost certainly passed “peak net energy”

      I take it someone is butt hurt at the latest election results. It’s a shame that Christians these days can’t approximate the religious fervor of the “committed environmentalist”.

    • Harbinger says

      ….@COB the hubris is Australia’s not Shellenburger’s.Energy policy in Aus is a complete disgrace for a place with so much energy capability. Anyway you are out of date when talking about piles of light water reactor nuclear waste. The future is in thorium fuelled molten salt reactors.

      • Cynical Old Biologist says

        Harbinger, if “the future is in thorium fuelled molten salt reactors” then clearly it hasn’t arrived yet – and most likely never will.

    • Daniel says

      Dear Cynical OB,
      I encourage you to visit a nuclear power plant. Many will have tours that you can take, and their PR folks are experienced in answering all sorts of hardball questions. Maybe you can make a point. Or maybe you can hear a point previously unconsidered. Either way, it’s a win.
      As a bonus, people on sites like Quillette will be more willing to listen to you if you speak from a platform of experience. Try it out! You may be surprised.

      • Cynical Old Biologist says

        Daniel, what makes you think I need a tour of a nuclear power plant. Yes, I believe nuclear plants DO exist and actually function! And as a biologist I even have a licence to use radioactive isotopes so I am not paranoid about radioactivity but am very aware of its benefits and limitations.

        As I stated above, it is economics (the human economy as an energy system with declining net energy availability) that means a nuclear future is a fantasy. Think also about the rate of population growth, how fast you need to expand net energy production to cope with that (let alone allow the people who already exist to become wealthier) and the rate at which energy infrastructures can be replaced, and you can easily understand why we will not be building the number of nuclear power plants to replace fossil fuelled energy production let alone maintain the current rate of nuclear energy production.

        Wishful thinking will not bring a nuclear future into existence – only net energy can do that. And net energy is declining. Yes it’s tough news but better to focus on things that can be done to cope in a world with less energy than to waste time fantasising about pie-in-the-sky solutions like nuclear.

        • You just assume that nuclear plant costs are fixed. Nobody has built any for 50 years COB ! You do understand that with innovation and experience costs go down right? To argue that nuclear will never work because of economics, its just such a farcical statement. Again, you just assume fixed costs and no improvement in efficiency, size, safety, down time and maintenance. Nuclear is expensive now because of natural gas. I thought the whole purpose was to go away from fossil fuels? Nuclear is the ONLY one that makes practical sense to replace fossil fuels. Clean energy generated 24/7. Solar and wind will simply never be able to do that and battery storage has hit the wall of thermodynamics. The factor hindering nuclear development is political, not economic. Even if it cost more, you’d think the GND politicians wouldn’t care about that if they had a solution to CO2 emissions staring them in the face. Again this whole debate is centered around reducing the effects of CO2 emissions. What other solution do you have?

        • SerenityNow says

          I am wondering what the investment costs to establish an infrastructure for wind and solar energy would be and how they rival that of nuclear. My guess is – factoring the output of nuclear v wind v solar – that nuclear is the most cost effective solution.

      • Lightning Rose says

        Homer Simpson’s control room comes to mind, I don’t know why . . .

    • Sean says

      It is possible to build nuclear reactors that consume waste from current reactors as fuel. Nuclear energy offers a future with many possibilities; we simply need to choose wisely.

    • scubajim says

      Using Thorium instead will produce about 1/1,000 the amount of waste with a shorter half life. .

    • Anton van der Merwe says

      Whenever someone refers to the ‘problem’ of nuclear waste you know they know nothing and are just rehashing dumb talking points developed by smart lobbiests to persuade the gullible. Nuclear energy produces far less toxic waste than alternative forms of energy (e.g. fossil fuels and solar panels) and it is the only industry that fully captures all its waste so that, in over 50 yrs, it has done no measurable harm to people or the environment. The ‘problem’ of nuclear waste is that that people fear it so much. It is a psychological problem. In fact it is one of the least problematic forms of waste that we produce.

  2. Emmanuel says

    Good article but the idea that France got atomic weapons because it was tired of being invaded by Germany is plain wrong. De Gaulle decided to get an atomic weapons programme so that France could protect itself from the USSR without depending entirely from the US.

    Also the author seems to underestimate the risk presented by atomic weapons in some specific contexts like the India-Pakistan conflict. That situation is much more complicated that “the small countries protecting themselves” paradigm described in the article.

    • Agree. France didn’t want to be invaded again by anybody and, indeed, didn’t want to be dependent on the US. My reference to Germany was an attempt at shorthand. I give the issue a fuller discussion in my forthcoming book.

    • Stephanie says

      I could add another historical quibble. The Treaty of Versailles was not wholly an attempt at drawing fair national boundaries. George Clemanceau of France was mostly keen on punishing Germany and creating a buffer zone between the two countries. This punitive attitude was resented by President Wilson and others, but it made it into the final treaty, and contributed to German motivation to get back at France.

      History has shown that the American approach of rebuilding defeated enemies yields better results.

  3. DrZ says

    The argument that is missing from environmentalists is the relative dangers of going with nuclear energy or not.

    On one hand we are told there will be massive destruction if we don’t act now – 14 years? How does this supposed destruction compare to producing electricity with nuclear fission and foregoing the destruction from windmills and solar panels? What is the magnitude of destruction if we don’t used nuclear, the increased destruction of forests, increased mining for rare earth materials, increased land use for these items and transmission lines.

    This does not address the economic destruction because we must use more expensive sources of electricity.

  4. Philippe says

    Mr. Shellenberger also published an article in Forbes : “It Sounds Crazy, But Fukushima, Chernobyl, And Three Mile Island Show Why Nuclear Is Inherently Safe”. According to Mr. Grayson Webb, he is the president of a pro-nuclear lobbyist group called “Environmental Progress” that advocates for extending the life of the old and soon-to-be-retired nuclear reactors. He has a degree in cultural anthropology, not nuclear science or nuclear engineering, environmental science, or any other educational background related to the energy production methods and their impact on the environment, human lives, or the global economy. “Environmental Progress” is supported by the “Pritzker Innovation Fund” which backs various pro-nuclear ventures. Supporting nuclear energy is part of its mission. I suggest readers to get more information on these issues from organizations like “Fairewinds Enery Education”, or “CRIIRAD”, rather than relying solely on Mr. Shellenberger publications.

    • labbes says

      Thanks for this info. One gathered as much.

    • All I care about is do his ideas make sense. They do. If you want to reduce fossil fuel CO2 emissions now, than it is the only obvious choice. Wind and Solar are too intermittent and battery storage will never, ever, be able to store enough energy during the down times. Battery tech has hit the thermodynamic wall. I love that its some kind of “gotcha” that the guy who thinks nuclear is the solution, has his foundation supported by others who…surprise, think nuclear is the solution. This kind smearing and discrediting only every seems to be focused on by the media as well with only certain targets, ie if they have even a whiff of conservatism in them.

      Read the “Fairwind Energy Education” Website. On the surface they seem to be objective about the prospect of nuclear power, but they are not. They are ardently anti-nuclear, with boiler plate “the government is corrupt, corporations are evil, and so is anyone who is a proponent of nuclear power!” . They argue that TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima were bad. Most people would agree, the question is bad compared to everything else. They are just as biased as Shellenberger, except they don’t have any solution to practically and realistically curbing CO2 emissions and simultaneously try to portray themselves as not having an agenda. Here is finishing sentence that shows a little flavor as to how biased they really are in one of their articles.

      “For the last 70-years using nuclear power to produce electricity has unveiled all of its flaws and proven that it is not an energy source for the future of humankind because it simply is not up to the task. “.

      So there you have it, according to them, man kind will NEVER be able to harness nuclear. These people are just like the cynical old biologist in that they simply assert that nuclear power technology is static, never changing, never evolving, never getting cheaper, never getting more efficient and easier to build. They denounce nuclear without having anything that could remotely fill the shoes of fossil fuels.

  5. Johnny from Park Rapids says

    Nuclear power plants also need to become smaller in size so it doesn’t take 25 years to build.

    Also…we absolutely need to open up Yucca Mountain and move the tons of nuclear waste into a safe depot.

    We the people have spent nearly $20 billion building this facility in Nevada and other than Harry Reid blocking it’s opening every year (while taking the $20 billion invested in a huge project in his state)…there is no reason to not open it now.

    IN Minnesota, we have 38 huge casks of spent nuclear waste sitting within yards of the Mississippi River.

    If a terrorist group of accident happens…St. Louis, Quad Cities, Memphis, LaCrosse, New Orleans and other points south will suffer for the next 10,000 years…as will any fishing/shrimping business in the Gulf of Mexico as that nuclear waste works its way down the river.

    • Alan Gore says

      Nuclear waste shouldn’t be thrown away, either. The reason it remains radioactive for all those years is that it still contains 95% of the energy of the original fuel. Now that the Cold War is over we should build a nuclear recycling facility on the high-security Nevada Test Site, where Yucca Mountain is located. Yucca would be the input buffer for such a facility; its output would be new reactor fuel. Let’s provide jobs for Nevadans with such a facility, rather than the perception that Yucca Mountain is a permanent dump.

  6. Carl Geier says

    Deaths from wars and battles rose along with Enlightenment values from 1400 to 1945. Since then, deaths from wars and battles have plummeted by 95 percent. “It seems inescapable that what has really made the difference in inducing this unaccustomed caution,” noted Yale historian John Gaddis, “has been the workings of the nuclear deterrent.”
    I doubt if this proposition can be shown to be causation rather than correlation, but it was the most interesting part of this article for me.

    • David of Kirkland says

      The safer your world actually is, the more alarmed we seem to be when something goes wrong. We overreact to low probability concerns. The human mind simply gets used to whatever the current reality is, without much thought. Nobody seems amazed that they are flying down highways at 60mph, or talking to someone across the world using a handheld device, or able to search down information anywhere just by asking.

    • Joe says

      “nuclear deterrence has ‘for all practical purposes, done away with the prospect of full-scale war.’ ”

      40-50 million people died as a result of WWII (not just during, but as a result of). Truman drops the two A-bombs, ending the war. Those bombs took the lives of about 200 thousand people (best estimates were another million otherwise), and probably did more to contain wars to cold rather than hot status since. Small proxy wars and a US/USSR cold war lasted almost 1/2 century, with neither side going nuclear, in spite of ridiculously large, increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapon caches.

      The genuine threat is far less likely though the militaries and governments around the world, but dirty bomb terrorism. The UN (not necessarily a UN) is the last place I would place trust. It’s a compliance culture.

  7. Sean Leith says

    “the birth of the industrial revolution, which has accelerated climate change.” is gross distortion of truth. No one has proved it is true, and tons of evidence showed it’s false. Do some research before your writing. This is true: Human activity negligible impact on climate change. I hate people say something as a fact while they don’t know what they are talking about.

    • David of Kirkland says

      Faith, conspiracy and fear is no way to reason.

    • Alan Gore says

      What the science shows is that atmospheric CO2 is steadily increasing, and that by isotopic ratio most of new carbon is human-emitted. At the same time we observe that long-term ice, glaciers and icecaps, is shrinking all over the world, the most sensitive measure of warming. Though correlation is not causation, the physics model of greenhouse gas warning goes all the way back to Svante Arrhenius. It is prudent for humans to eliminate their own contribution to atmospheric carbon, so that any warning that remains has to be due to natural causes.

      Backing out the human component of greenhouse gas will require large-scale engineering, globally applied. Replacing our fossil-fueled energy baseload with nuclear will be a vital part of this process.

      • Jim Gorman says

        Here are some questions maybe you can answer. Exactly what was the size of the Greenland glacier when the Vikings colonized Greenland for several hundred years? Do you think the climate might have been hotter during this period than it is now? If hotter, why?

        • Alan Gore says

          We have seen some Viking stone towns popping out of the Greenland icecap as it melts back, which belies the Green hysteria hypothesis that the medieval warm period did not exist. We are supposedly at about the same temperature level now as at the height of that natural warm cycle. If we take manmade greenhouse gases out of the ecosystem now, there will no longer be any danger of our making the natural cycles worse.

          • Stephanie says

            Who’s to say our natural cycle is optimal? We’ve been going in and out of glacial periods, with a general trend towards lower temperatures, for tens of millions of years. This looks like decline. For our own sake and the sake of all life on Earth, we should try our best to increase the Earth’s average temperature. Even after we go nuclear, we should aim to burn huge amounts of fossil fuels, even if it’s for no reason.

      • Bob Kidd says

        “atmospheric CO2 is steadily increasing, and that by isotopic ratio most of new carbon is human-emitted.”

        No, the isotopic ratios merely show that most of the new carbon is from combustion, which includes forest fires and massive amounts of volcanic gases—terrestrial or undersea.

        “ At the same time we observe that long-term ice, glaciers and icecaps, is shrinking all over the world,”

        Glaciers have been shrinking since the last ice age.

    • Jon says

      I don’t hate those people Sean but I am constantly surprised by how people, with no training in a subject, seem to think some hours surfing the net makes them an expert

  8. Fran says

    Humans have always been afraid of things they cannot see or understand, spirits that needed placating, sometimes with sacrifice of a particularly important or beautiful human. The old Anglican prayer book ran something like ‘From goolies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, dear Lord deliver us.’ In modern times these old built in fears are frequently directed at things like radiation and ‘chemicals’ in food. A high-flying jet exposes passengers and crew to increased radiation, but the cocooon feels safe, so its not dangerous.

    From the coment above: ‘Mr. Shellenberger also published an article in Forbes : “It Sounds Crazy, But Fukushima, Chernobyl, And Three Mile Island Show Why Nuclear Is Inherently Safe”. According to Mr. Grayson Webb, he is the president of a pro-nuclear lobbyist group called “Environmental Progress” that advocates for extending the life of the old and soon-to-be-retired nuclear reactors. He has a degree in cultural anthropology, not nuclear science or nuclear engineering, environmental science, or any other educational background related to the energy production methods and their impact on the environment, human lives, or the global economy.’

    I don’t know about Shellenberger’s education, but he is certainly able to read the actual statistics on the short and long term deaths from those accidents – they are really pathetic and orders of magnitude lower than the media/green hype.

    With birthrates below replacement in most developed regions and even the US headed that way, is it not obvious that poor countries need to be made richer, and population will in the long term take care of itself. The remains of the eugenics movement, with the idea that death rates in underdeveloped nations needs to be kept high to prevent overpopulation, is the most immoral group on the planet. People need to be rich enough and secure enough that they do not need at least one son as a retirement plan. Solar and wind and burning wood will not produce this: in the short term Africa needs coal and oil, and we all need nuclear in the long term.

  9. ” it solves our biggest problems: war, poverty, resource scarcity, environmental degradation, and climate change.”

    Uh, can anyone tell me how nuclear power does these things. War, I understand. Yes, it’s eliminated huge wars between major powers. But poverty? Resource scarcity?

    • Nuclear helped lift South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and other countries out of poverty.

      Nuclear eliminates resource scarcity because it is functionally unlimited energy. With unlimited clean energy there is unlimited water, from desalination, and fertilizer.

      Nuclear requires a fraction of the resources of other forms of energy production, and thus means that a nuclear-powered world is one where all humans can live in poverty while reducing our negative environmental impacts.

      All data can be found here:

      http://environmentalprogress.org/the-complete-case-for-nuclear/

      • When you use your own organization’s data to support your claim you lose all credibility. But most of that credibility never existed. Shellenberger and Nordhaus write drivel, fiction and fantasy. Lacking facts and expertise totally, they wave hands and talk loud, as U.S. government official said he did when asked a question he could not answer. This pair of scientific scoundrels have written a Gothic novel that the anti-environmentalists (who are rife on this blog) embrace because it confirms their bias and doesn’t require them to demonstrate that they actually have access to the truth. If your coke can of nuclear waste contains plutonium, mull over the fact that this is enough to kill everyone one earth if it were equally distributed. The mass of nuclear waste is irrelevant; what counts is the amount of radioactivity so listen up, you folks, who know nothing and enjoy proving it to everyone. I also wonder how nuclear waste can feed millions. Someone should ask Shellenberger. Meanwhile, I’ll keep hoping that that logic and reason will be featured on this blog along with the self-importance and empty opinions that seem to be growing and contaminating serious credible debate. But at least Quillette’s biases have been made clear, when they publish the sound and fury of scientific ignoramuses.

  10. E. Olson says

    The article is inaccurate in certain details: North Korea did not get the bomb because of fears that U.S. government might invade, but instead to blackmail the West in providing resources to its faltering economy, plus a few other points mentioned already in comments.

    More importantly, however, the article is accurate in describing Malthusians and Leftists as perpetually unhappy with human progress and always wrong in their predictions. You can be sure a cure for cancer, development of safe and cheap cold fusion, or any other invention that might extend human life, increase quality of life, or reduce human environmental footprints will always be greeted with cries about unsustainable populations and too many people consuming too much and living too long, and predictions of imminent doom. They just won’t be happy until they are put in charge of everything, which will almost certainly kill us all or at least make most of us wish to be dead. And then in their dying last breath they will cheerfully be able to say: “see we told you Malthus was right”.

    • I think it’s fair to assume that North Korea got the bomb for a range of motivations including prestige and national security. Would it have gotten the bomb had President George W. Bush not linked it in an “axis of evil” to Iraq, which we preceded to invade? Hard to say, but it certainly didn’t help.

      I didn’t say Malthusians were always wrong but agree with you that they continue to claim to be right despite having been repeatedly proved wrong for 200 years.

    • Jon says

      Aren’t Malthusians and Leftists usually thought of as being at opposite ends of the political spectrum?
      Perhaps your point is about extreme views.

      • E. Olson says

        Jon – the solutions proposed by Malthusians are almost always focused on government taking control of the economy, consumption, and investment to save us from ourselves = Leftism.

  11. Jean Levant says

    I’m pretty glad with this article even though I suspect some bias in regard to the climate frenzy. But the fact that the author is pro nuclear, as he doesn’t’ bother to hide, is irrelevant : just a sort of attack ad hominem. Nuclear is a very good way, maybe the only way, for some nations like France which are almost entirely and unluckily deprived of fossil energy (in spite of its numerous overseas lands), to achieve a high degree of self-sufficiency for its power needs which are big like all the rest of the western nations (and some others). But in any other case, I would stick to fossil fuels and keep a small part of nuclear for the future. In fact, if you are not convinced by the actual fashion that fossil fuels are evil, CO2 is a polluant, the climate is on the verge of collapsing and so on, there’s no pragmatical reason to switch fossil with nuclear energy. Gas and oil are cheaper, safer, more practical than all other energy sources. It would be like giving up one of the greatest gift of God (or Nature if you prefer) by fear of a very hypothetical threat. Remember that predictions about wheather are very difficult things and very changeable : in the middle of the 70s, the same serial climate catastrophers predicted an ice age! Always check up their predictions and confront them with the real observations, not with the computer modeling. Are the maldives disappeared under the sea? Is the arctic ice pack gone? Is snow a thing of the past for English children? And even it warms up by one or two degrees Celsius, like most of IPCC men recognized, is it a problem or a chance? The answer depends on your localization, I presume. The balance benefit/risk has to be more seriously evaluated.

    • @Jean: I think you win the prize for Denialist Bingo. Well done!

      • Jean Levant says

        I put some arguments; it could be wrong but where are yours, Coel?

        • Rich says

          He did “put” an argument: He called you a “Denialist”. That’s the typical alarmist response (argument) to a well stated comment such as yours.

    • Oldman says

      One can dispute with some of the AGW theories put forth, but even if you do gas and oil are NOT safer than nuclear power – the reverse is true. And even though great improvements have been made in filtering coal power emissions, nuclear power is still cleaner than both. As important as either of these though, is that nuclear fuel whether thorium or uranium, is easily obtainable without recourse to depending on dubious foreign governments or subject to the manipulations of Middle Eastern regimes. There is also noticeably less risk of the large scale catastrophes which occur semi-frequently with oil.

      Even if one rejects AGW, nuclear power is still a great step forward for the environment.

      It also could form a vital component of a hydrogen economy as High Temperature Electrolysis (HTE) is an efficient way of producing hydrogen for fuel cells. HTE requires power and hot water. Something nuclear power stations produce in great quantities. A hydrogen economy would be both cost-effective and reduce local pollution in cities where it is known to harm developing foetuses, young children and adult health alike.

      Carbon reduction is one reason for nuclear power, but it’s far from the only one.

  12. TheSnark says

    Two problems with this article.

    There is some justification for saying that nuclear weapons prevent warfare. However, so far such weapons have only been in the hands of largely rational state actors. If a nuclear-armed state is taken over by a nut-case, which does happen, all bets area off. And if a nuclear armed state collapses into anarchy, who knows which suicidal cult could get their hands on the bombs?

    Then the author blames the demise of commercial nuclear power on a conspiracy among elites. That’s nuts, many of the elites lost a ton of money trying to build nuclear power plants that wound up way late and way over budget. I have yet to see a good explanation of why nuclear plants cost so much: is it due to inherent technical issues, or is it due to ever-changing cover-your-butt mandates by the regulators? I don’t know. But I do know that political considerations, i.e. popular fear, is a huge barrier to commercial nuclear power.

    • Your nut case scenario could be applied to anything, not just nuclear. A president could, for example, invade a country under false pretexts that a) it’s getting the bomb and b) participated in terrorist attacks against the country. In fact, that did happen, and the result was 450,000 dead and worsening terrorism in the Middle East. No nuclear weapon is needed for that president to behave in self-destructive ways. But a nuclear weapon in Iraq would have prevented it.

      • TheSnark says

        True, a nuclear Iraq would probably have prevented a US invasion. But then the Iranians would surely build a bomb, as would the Saudis, etc. At which point you have to hope they all maintain a rational government.

        Deterrence is one of those things that works very well, until it doesn’t.

        • Deterrence operates based on fear, not reason, and that’s a good thing because the US invasion of Iraq was irrational. If Iran and Saudi Arabia get the bomb the impact will be the same as the impact was on the US, USSR, China, North Korea, Israel, Pakistan and India.

          The real danger is that the US or some other power will attack or invade another nation using nuclear weapons as pretext.

      • Stephanie says

        Wow, let’s not go so far as to defend a dictator guilty of genocide! Saddam being deposed was great, even through Iraqis ended up being too Muslim to avoid killing each other over petty doctrinal differences.

    • jimhaz says

      Also there is the problem of targets. In a war if nuclear installations are targeted there would be a massive loss of power for 15-20 years. This does not apply to renewables.

      Nuclear is just a fill in, until we see if we can survive relatively intact from population growth and therefore advance sufficiently to make other energy systems practical.

      I see Shellenberger as one of those pseudo scientists selling skin therapies for multinationals. Note he never really tackles nuclear fuel costs under supply and demand curves.

  13. Carl Geier says

    As I think more about the apparent success of nuclear deterrence in reducing fatalities in national or global conflicts, I think that the statistical improvement would vanish with any use of nuclear weapons. Mutual assured destruction may become a hard balance to maintain as technology develops.

    • If there were a full-scale war between any of the world’s great powers then the trend would reverse, regardless of whether nuclear weapons were used. What nuclear weapons did was threaten the ruling classes that up until then had sent other people to die in war. For that reason, nuclear weapons have prevented wars between great powers.

  14. codadmin says

    Anyone watching the HBO series Chernobyl?

    Scary stuff. Maybe nuclear energy is a great idea if made on the moon, or on some other planet….just in case.

    • The best available science shows that Chernobyl will kill about 200 people over an 80 year life time.

      Nuclear has saved two million lives because it doesn’t generate deadly air pollution that kills seven million people annually.

      Here’s two overviews of the best available science on the safety of nuclear and the panic created by the nuclear acccidents:

      https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/05/09/the-reason-they-fictionalize-nuclear-disasters-like-chernobyl-is-because-they-kill-so-few-people/#7a70e11f41fc

      https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/03/11/it-sounds-crazy-but-fukushima-chernobyl-and-three-mile-island-show-why-nuclear-is-inherently-safe/

      • codadmin says

        I used to say the same thing, but it could have been so much worse, dramatically worse.

        I wasn’t aware of how close a call the Chernobyl event was before watching the series. Obviously I don’t take TV series on face value, but the events it depicts are based on what actually happened.

        I’m shocked by how close Europe came to literal apocalypse. And if you don’t like tv, this is the book that goes into even more detail:

        Chernobyl 01:23:40: The Incredible True Story of the World’s Worst Nuclear Disaster

        • How exactly could it have been worse? There was no containment dome and the reactor was on fire, spewing radiant particulate matter around the world. Indeed, the whole point of the HBO series is that everything went wrong.

          And there you have it. The worst nuclear disaster imaginable killed 200 compared to 170,000 killed by a dam in China you’ve never heard of and 7 million dead every year from plain jane air pollution.

          • codadmin says

            How could it have been worse?

            The reactor was literally prevented from complete meltdown by three people who sacrificed their own lives.

            It was even lucky they succeeded. And this 200 figure is nonsense because it doesn’t include those who died afterwards of indirect causes, like those who died after 9-11 because of toxic fumes which means far more than 3000 died.

            I’m not saying I don’t think nuclear energy is necessary, but if a dam fails, people can live their the next day, unlike Chernobyl, which is now uninhabitable for thousands of years. Don’t build cities near dams.

            My own opinion is that even single effort should be made by every government in the world to commercialism fusion energy, they can work together to make that happen. It’s clean and doesn’t cause the waste of nuclear energy.

          • codadmin says

            ^^ excuse horrendous typos ( and don’t say typos Are the least of your problems either! Lol )

        • Patricia Bonion says

          So the author provides valid data demonstrating Nuclear Energy will save a significant number of lives relative to fossil fuels, and your counter argument is that you watched a movie on this topic once and it scared you?

          • codadmin says

            @patricia

            No, my counter argument wasn’t that I watched a movie ( it was actually a series ) and it scared me.

          • Sorry, my response comment got doubled because I thought the first one got erased but it posted. Anyway, there is a lot they point to to say you’re wrong. The fact that you are not a nuclear scientist isn’t one. either you’re ideas and stats have merit and are correct or they’re not. However, they mention the LNT and that you claim WHO stats are inflated because of it. They talk about a NYC academy of science study that says the 1 million people statistic is correct for Chernobyl. Theres a Princeton study that indicates significantly higher rates of thyroid cancer. I think these do merit a response. To me, it isn’t necessary to say that these nuclear disasters weren’t a big deal. Just highlighting that in the grand scheme of things, as a cost benefit, its an easy choice. Even if you want to grant that 1 million people died because of Chernobyl, whats the number for the fossil fuel industry and its pollution.

    • I do have to push back on you there Mr. Shellenbeger. You’ve got the Fairwinds energy Foundation basically calling you a liar. Saying Chernobyl killed 1 million people. They go on to claim far higher rates of cancer in TMI and Fukushima as well. I don’t just take them at their word either because they are a biased actor as well. They are obviously ardently anti-nuclear and are careful to never highlight its benefits, especially in a cost benefit sytle analysis. Do you have an answer to this though: https://www.fairewinds.org/demystify/nuclear-power-will-never-be-inherently-safe

  15. 15-year-nuclear-vet says

    @codadmin You really don’t have the first clue what you’re talking about.
    To date the combination of radiation and fallout from the Chernobyl accident have killed 50 people, total. That figure is from the WHO, who have monitored and tracked the health affects across Europe and the world since the event. The total number of people who will have died earlier than they otherwise would, likely as a result of the Chernobyl accident, will eventually get to approximately 200.

    Nuclear is the safest energy source available.

    Basing your viewpoint on an overly-dramatised HBO serial is never a good idea, less so when the facts have been available for decades.

    Incidentally, Fukushima killed exactly no-one. The one casualty to date was a 20-year nuclear industry veteran and chain smoker who died of lung cancer and the operating company didn’t want to contest the life insurance claim in court, that being the very definition of a no-win situation.

    • Grant says

      I might add, Coadmin, that the chances of wide spread commercialization of fusion are extremely slim.

      • codadmin says

        @Grant

        Extremely slim still means in the realm of possibility. We aren’t talking about commercialising teleportation. it is possible. And that should be motivation enough.

        There’s a depressing lack of vision on this issue. The technology is in reach. ‘Extremely slim’ might become ’eminently possible’ with the right amount of funding and global planning.

        • Patricia Bonion says

          Fusion sounds great on paper but you haven’t considered the possibility that HBO might make a movie about it that scares you. If that happens we’re fucked.

          • Anthony Kenny says

            By God Patricia, you’re right. Somebody tell HBO to tone it down, there are credulous members of the public out there who are going to need counselling if HBO continues unchecked.

    • codadmin says

      @15-year-nuclear-vet

      50 people died of acute radiation. I’m not disputing that, but how many more died indirectly? The WHO figures are 4000, not 200. Other figures are far higher.

      No one knows, but what we do know is that Chernobyl is now uninhabitable for thousands of years.

      So how can it be safe? Accidents happen, but when nuclear accidents happen, it has thousand year consequences.

  16. Daniel V says

    I’m a pretty committed environmentalist. I’ve never gotten a licence to drive because I decided to use transit. I try to limit my waste.

    It can be frustrating to see people dismiss environmental issues and as I watch winter here ending in May after starting in earnest in January things seem pretty dim. Pretty obvious in this part of the world the climate is changing in some radical ways.

    I got over my resentment towards people that don’t share my convictions a long time ago but what really makes me made is the people who say they share my concerns. Like the modern left and particularly the green party. I’m actually going to be unable to vote for them for one reason: opposition to nuclear.

    When it comes to climate change the west isn’t the problem, at least not directly, it’s instead China and India that pose the really problem. One that will only get worse as they exert their right to develop in the same way the west has. It’s unacceptable to expect them to accept a lower standard because we’ve had too much fun for too long.

    As such we need to be focusing our own green developments as a global solution that could be applied to nations like China and India with their two billion souls. Something absolutely impossible to do using wind turbines and solar panels. The green deal is just a load of idealistic bullshit they will produce a huge amount of economic activity in the short term, drive up emissions in Asia as they produce the “green” solutions, and ultimately amount to nothing sustainable. We could instead be spending that time, effort, and money developing nuclear energy solutions that we can in turn sell to Asia.

    The profoundly frustrating part is there’s nothing I can do about the problem. It’s literally a matter of waiting until the boomers die off or fade away. Regardless I am very eager for the upcoming election and campaigners that will show up to my door to talk about why the climate matters.

    • tarstarkas says

      The point of the Green New Deal is not combating climate change, it is gaining control of the bulk of the economy and the wealth of the USA to use and spend as they see fit. And what they see fit will be calamitous. Socialist regimes have been (and still are) some of the worst shepherds of the environment there are. For example, the Soviet Union killed an entire ecosystem the size of the Great Lakes and their watershed – the Aral Sea and its basin – killed it dead. I can’t imagine anything even remotely on that scale being tolerated in the USA or Western Civilization, at least not without a vigorous protest.

    • Harbinger says

      …@Dan V…you may or may not know, that the long term nuclear power solutions which both China and India are working on, won’t involve light water reactors, and the historic waste, and military use problems. Actually thorium based molten salt fission was a US development, which has effectively been suppressed there and elsewhere in the West, because of the regulatory and commercial entanglements over uranium fuelled fission.

  17. Ray Andrews says

    I’m used to anti-nuclear being a vast left-wing conspiracy, so seeing it as a vast right-wing conspiracy is at least a change.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Michael Shellenberger

        “Was never a conspiracy.”

        That’s fair. Ok then ‘vast right-wing agenda out in the open’. But you take my point, we usually see nuclear power presented as the most perfect example of Big Money in action, the ultimate example of corporate power and corruption with the heroic hippies and greenies resisting. I myself have never seen it portrayed as exactly the opposite. Perhaps it’s a bit of both — it’s hard not to see Con Ed as corporate power and money personified, but as you say, the US might not be so sanguine about having smaller countries develop nuclear power.

        BTW nice to see an author vigorously defending his work down here in the comments.

        • Thanks, it’s my pleasure. I like hearing and responding to comments as it is sharpening my book.

          The truth is that nuclear was never a particularly “big business corporate” thing and instead was always a long-term and largely public investment in infrastructure, like canals, dams, railroads, and highways. Nuclear plants are built by electric utilities which are usually either public or heavily regulated monopolies (because allowing electric companies to compete would be a nightmare of copper wires and wasted capital investments).

        • JA M says

          “Perhaps it’s a bit of both”

          It is.

          The large fossil fuel corporations have spent billions and billions also pushing nuclear scare tactics (while also via their lobbyist armies carving out massive subsidies for fossil fuel companies) all to make building and operating nuclear power too expensive to be as profitable as oil and coal and gas fired plants. And most of the companies supplying fossil fuels were not going to invest in expanding to nuclear right when so many oil rich nations began drilling and exporting and making them hundreds of billions annually. Nuclear fuel lasts for many years before needing refueled; fossil fuel plants need nonstop fuel supplies being fed into them. If we went even more nuclear (energy wise) then a lot of fossil fuel energy plants would shut down and deprive them of some of their most reliable (and profitable) revenue streams.

  18. The Environmental Chemist says

    I speak about environmental legacies of the Cold War in horrific places and I start by making two points, both of which might be useful to this discussion:

    First, to show how fearful we are of radiation, I ask the audience if they can identify the most radioactive item in the room, apart from my display items. That would be themselves, with small amounts of 40K in their blood and 14C in tissues. I then show them the easily detectable radiation in salt substitute, KCl. It is everywhere. The largest source of natural exposure is radon gas in their basement; it isn’t small.

    Secondly, I ask them to estimate the number of excess deaths from cancer in the populations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, from say 1950 to 2000. These are not deaths from burns or trauma or radiation sickness, but the cancers arising from the radioactivity and exposure.

    Audience guesses range from 50,000 to over a million excess deaths, including multiple generations, in the two cities. Actual estimates are about 850 excess solid tumors and not quite 100 leukemia deaths in the surviving population; there is yet no evidence that subsequent generations are affected. These studies are definitive and detailed. (see Jordan, 2016, Genetics 203, 1505-1512.)

    My point is that we have a healthy but unrealistic fear of radiation. It isn’t pink, but this fear distorts our discussions and shouldn’t.

    • Yes, and it’s highly selective. We are happy to live in high-radiation places like Colorado, where people actually live longer, but the people of Fukushima demanded that soil levels that were below Colorado levels after the accident be lowered further. We radiate our children when it’s done in hospitals and praise the heavens when radiation is used to save our lives from cancer.

      Much of the reason we fear nuclear plants is because we subconsciously project our fears of nuclear weapons onto them. Reactors are like little bombs, and nuclear accidents are like little explosions, complete with fall-out, in our minds.

  19. Barney Doran says

    “Israel got the bomb because it wanted the ultimate form of security. And North Korea got the bomb because the U.S. government made it clear that it might invade.”

    Now tell me again why Iran shouldn’t have the bomb.

  20. Doug F says

    Not sure I agree with many of the author’s reasonings, but it has been apparent to me for decades that we are vastly under-utilizing nuclear power. A lot of the economic issues are related to archaic regulations built out of irrational fear. I highly suspect that if a fair side-by-side comparison of deaths/kilowatt were made, nuclear would prove to be at the top (note that there are significant number of deaths & injuries in installation & maintenance of solar panels – they are just spread out).

    The great irony is that the vast number of climate mongers ignore nuclear energy, even though it is the only existing technology that could possibly have a near-term impact.

  21. Pingback: Our nuclear epoch « Quotulatiousness

  22. Oldman says

    I’ve been in a personal war with Friends of the Earth for decades over nuclear power. So I obviously agree with substantial parts of this article. But it’s got a couple of critical flaws. Not least of which is linking nuclear weapons with nuclear power. Both based on the same underlying science but wildly different technologies and you can have one without the other. Indeed, the adoption of nuclear power has been held BACK by the building of nuclear arsenals because it led the USA to push for a particular type of nuclear reactor that produced plutonium as a byproduct in order to provide material for their nuclear weapons. If not for that, we’d have had nuclear power stations that produced significantly less waste-producing for all this time and more efficiently. I’ve spent years trying to explain to the scientifically illiterate that nuclear weapons and nuclear power are different things and then this article deliberately conflates the two. Either because the author themselves believes it for to try and piggy back nuclear weapons technology on the merits of nuclear power.

    The second great flaw in this apologia for nuclear weapons is to attribute so much of modern peace (and we’ve not been that peaceful, actually) to them when there are so many other factors not explored. Greatly more integrated trade for one – as a principled capitalist I have to say that trade is one of the greatest positive influences for peace we have as a species, and we’ve never before seen international trade like we have today. There’s widespread literacy and education – again, unprecedented in the Western world – that surely mitigates the risk of war. Global information exchange. It’s a lot harder to build a case for war when we can actually see, understand, speak to Johnny Foreigner. Reduced birth rates. With women having fewer children in the developed world, there’s less “surplus population” to send off and die and concomitant reduced reasons to from the pressures that go with large numbers of angry young men. The developing world has them, but undeveloped nations tend not to attack developed ones unless provoked. And lets not forget Democracy. It’s a lot harder for a government to chivy a democratic nation to all out war than a non-democratic nation. Oh, they can be bamboozled into supporting a foreign venture or two, but they have a very low tolerance for the body bags of all-out war and it’s all-out war that the author makes a case for nuclear weapons preventing. These are all just off the top of my head – the point being that it’s beyond careless for the author to casually toss off the popular but dubious idea that nuclear weapons are the reason for our (again, partial) era of peace.

    Finally, whilst it’s interesting to read the quotes from “Malthusians” and it may well be that there are some of that mindset, it’s certainly not the mindset of most anti-nuclear power campaigners. The author neglects the far more prosaic reason: Ignorance. They don’t understand that waste can be handled and that modern designs produce far less and far safer waste anyway. They don’t understand that the Fukishima reactors – designs from the 60’s surviving two natural disasters with barely any harm done – actually shows the SAFETY of nuclear power. They’ve spent years being scared rigid by distorted stories about increased cancer rates and birds fleeing the area around reactors by a click-bait media and deliberately dishonest Friends of the Earth campaigns. And they frequently don’t understand that nuclear weapons and nuclear power are different technologies and this author with a clear agenda seems determined to perpetuate one of the most pernicious tools of the anti-nuclear power lobby that I have to deal with.

    This article is sadly not pro-nuclear power. It is pro-nuclear weapons and lets see if we can piggy back on nuclear power proponents / anti-renewable views to do it.

  23. Peter says

    From a textbook in preparation by a Stanford U. scientist:
    https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/NuclearVsWWS.pdf

    “New nuclear power plants cost 2.3 to 7.4 times those of onshore wind or utility solar PV per kWh, take 5 to 17years longer between planning and operation, and produce 9 to 37 times the emissions per kWh as wind.As such, a fixed amount of money spent on a new nuclear plant means much less power generation, a much longer wait for power, and a much greater emission rate than the same money spent on WWS technologies.

    •There is no such thing as a zero-or close-to-zero emission nuclear power plant. Even existing plants emit due to the continuous mining and refining of uranium needed for the plant. However, all plants also emit 4.4 g-CO2e/kWh from the water vapor and heat they release. This contrasts with solar panels and wind turbines, which reduce heat or water vapor fluxes to the air by about 2.2 g-CO2e/kWh for a net difference from this factor alone of 6.6 g-CO2/kWh.

    •On top of that, because all nuclear reactors take 10-19 years or more between planning and operation vs.2-5 year for utility solar or wind, nuclear causes another 64-102 g-CO2/kWh over 100 years to be emitted from the background grid while consumers wait for it to come online or be refurbished, relative to wind or solar.

    •Overall, emissions from new nuclear are 78 to 178 g-CO2/kWh, not close to 0.

    •China’s investment in nuclear plants that take so long between planning and operation instead of wind or solar resulted in China’s CO2 emissions increasing 1.3 percent from 2016 to 2017 rather than declining by an estimated average of 3 percent. The resulting difference in air pollution emissions may have caused 69,000 additional air pollution deaths in China in 2016 alone, with additional deaths in years prior and since.”

    The author in a comment claims that the Chernobyl disaster could not be worse. If it was not for the heroic efforts of pilots and miners who quelled the chain reaction and dug under the reactor, the reactor core could sink into the ground. If it hit the underground water table, a catastrophic explosion could blow a much larger proportion of radioactive material into the atmosphere. It is really insulting to the anonymous heroes who died or wrecked their health in saving us.

  24. I was a nuclear reactor operator in the early 1960’s and having followed this discussion for nearly 50 years, it is clear to me that we need to ban cooling towers – not reactors. I have yet to see an article along these lines that shows a reactor. To the average person, a reactor is a great big cooling tower with smoke coming out of the top.

    • What do you use for cooling without the towers? Every heat engine needs a hot source and a cold sink. Basic thermodynamics.

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  26. Tom USA says

    I used to believe the fear-mongering pushed by the media about nuclear. But Chernobyl changed my view on this. It was seeing what was happening on the ground around in the area around Chernobyl. There are no mutated animals, the exact opposite has happened they are doing better than ever. The same with the people even though they are not supposed to be there. I agree with
    bionerd23 there is something fundamentally wrong with how we view radiation’s risk.
    https://www.youtube.com/user/bionerd23/videos?disable_polymer=1
    Veritasium on radiation
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRL7o2kPqw0

    • Peter says

      “Cataracts, small brains, and DNA damage — Chernobyl’s wildlife 33 years after the meltdown.”
      ‘Almost everything we’ve looked at ends up showing some consequence in the more radioactive areas’
      said Mousseau, a professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, in conversation with Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald. CBC Radio · Posted: Apr 26, 2019

      But feel free to believe your anonymous blogger

      • Plolov says

        You mean Tim Mousseau, the guy who speaks at Helen Caldicott anti-nuclear rallies? The guy whose long time research partner, Anders Pape Møller, was found guilty of fabricating scientific data by the Danish government? The guy whose research methods and honesty was called into question by Ukrainian researchers? The guy whose results aren’t replicated by others and claims harms and effects from radiation that vastly exceed those predicted?

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  28. Bob Kidd says

    “Nuclear is also the only way to solve climate change.”

    There is no “solving” climate change. Climate has always changed and always will change.

    • dirk says

      To change or not to change, is that the question? Or is it to solve or not? In fact, I really don’t see that even solving or not is the question. Nobody, ever, neither the old rich, nor the new rich ones in China, India and Brasil wants to spend a dime on less meat, holidays, dresses, education, homes, lawn (as big as possible, and as much water as possible to keep it green, and mowing and irrigating it with help of fossil fuels, of course, what the hell do you think???).

  29. Etiamsi omnes says

    KIm! Oh, Kim! Do hit that button and get the whole thing over with…

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