Earlier this month, four prominent climate change activists sent an open letter to their fellow environmentalists urging them to drop their opposition to nuclear power as a zero-carbon energy source. The response was, to say the least, pusillanimous. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, founders of the pro-progress* Breakthrough Institute, have now called out in a great column, "The Great Green Meltdown," the nuclear naysayers among the "mainstream" environmentalist groups for their casuistical rejection of this climate-friendly energy source:
Nuclear energy today is broadly recognized by scientists, scholars, and analysts as an environmentally positive technology with risks, such as they are, overwhelmingly outweighed by its environmental benefits. Such is the consensus on this question that mainstream environmental leaders no longer attempt to contest it.
And so, in response to the letter from climate scientists, and the airing of Pandora's Promise on CNN, the NRDC and CAP led a chorus of green spokespersons claiming that their opposition to nuclear was based not on environmental but rather economic grounds.
"What's weird is that the environmental movement is being held up as an obstacle," green jobs advocate Van Jones told Wolf Blitzer. "Don't blame us! Nuclear power is incredibly expensive." NRDC's Dale Bryk told a CNN audience that the reason the United States wasn't building nuclear was because "the market is not choosing nuclear." Her colleagues, Ralph Cavanagh and Tom Cochran wrote at CNN.com, "No American utility today would consider building a new nuclear power plant without massive government support."
But rather than obscure the dogmatism that underlies green opposition to nuclear energy, the economic arguments further revealed it. Having demanded policies to make energy more expensive, whether cap and trade or carbon taxes, greens now complain that nuclear energy is too expensive. Having spent decades advocating heavy subsidies for renewable energy, greens claim that we should turn away from nuclear energy because it requires subsidies. (emphasis added) And having spent the last decade describing global warming as the greatest market failure in human history, greens tell us that, in fact, we should trust the market to decide what kind of energy system we should have.
It was hard, at times, to tell whether the claims made about renewables in particular were purely cynical or just delusional. The Sierra Club's Brune claimed that declining US emissions over the last five years had been achieved thanks to wind and solar, a claim that has no plausible basis in fact. US emissions are down thanks to cheap gas, not renewables. Indeed, since the last US nuclear plant came on line in 1997, nuclear has avoided more emissions through simply increasing energy generation from existing nuclear plants than have been avoided by wind and solar power combined.
If an environmentlist is not in favor of nuclear power (preferably liquid thorium reactors), then he or she is simply not serious about halting any man-made global warming.
The whole column is worth your time.
*Noted because so many modern "progressives" actually oppose technological progress.