Nuclear Power

This Environmentalist Says Only Nuclear Power Can Save Us Now

Michael Shellenberger believes the Green New Deal’s focus on wind and solar is a waste of time and money.


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Calling climate change an existential threat to humanity, congressional Democrats have proposed a policy package called the Green New Deal. It would mandate that 100 percent of U.S. energy production come from "clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources" like wind and solar by the year 2050.

But some environmentalists say Green New Dealers are neglecting one obvious source of abundant clean energy already available: nuclear power, which the Green New Deal FAQ wants to phase out along with such fossil fuels as oil, gas, and coal.

"It's when the conservationists became environmentalists that everything went bad," says Michael Shellenberger, founder and president of Environmental Progress, a pro-nuclear research and advocacy nonprofit based in Berkeley, California. "It stopped being about the environment. It became about controlling society."

Shellenberger started his career in energy advocating for more government subsidies to wind and solar. He pushed for a new Apollo Project of $300 billion in federal research and development funding to make renewable energy sources cheaper than coal within a decade.

From 2009 to 2015, the Obama administration took up that call and put billions of dollars into renewable energy subsidies. That, Shellenberger says, opened his eyes to the fact that no amount of government funding can overcome the inherent drawbacks of renewables.

When California invested heavily in wind and solar, Shellenberger says it led to energy price increases at a rate about six times faster than the national average, despite the falling cost of solar panels.

Shellenberger says that the allure of nuclear power is its "energy density"—he estimates that the energy consumption of the average human being from birth to death can be provided by a single 12-ounce soda can's worth of uranium. He believes a nuclear renaissance could unlock a world of clean energy abundance, an idea he explores further in a document he co-authored, titled "An Ecomodernist Manifesto."

He contrasts his pro-growth, urbanist "ecomodernism" with the Malthusian, neo-primitivist "dark green" environmentalism that he thinks motivates many proponents of the Green New Deal.

"If you want to save the natural environment, you just use nuclear. You grow more food on less land, and people live in cities. It's not rocket science," says Shellenberger. "The idea that people need to stay poor…that's just a reactionary social philosophy that they then dress up as a kind of environmentalism."

Watch the above video to learn more about the history of nuclear energy and to hear more from Shellenberger about his case for nuclear power, as well as his response to concerns about radiation, nuclear weapons, and nuclear's economic viability. The video also features solar energy advocate Ed Smeloff, who served on the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District board during the shutdown of California's Rancho Seco nuclear plant. Smeloff argues that nuclear power simply can't compete in the marketplace.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Alexis Garcia and Weissmueller.

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German environmentalists photo credit: Stefan Boness/Ipon/SIPA/Newscom

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez photo credit: Alex Edelman/Zuma Press/Newscom

Elon Musk photo credit: Yang Lei Xinhua News Agency/Newscom

Michael Shellenberger photo credit: James Arthur Photography/James Arthur/Newscom ID 113779354 © Vaclav Volrab |

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  1. “It’s when the conservationists became environmentalists that everything went bad,” says Michael Shellenberger… “It stopped being about the environment. It became about controlling society.”

    Well… duh.

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    1. James Lovelock, started a lot of the man-against-the-environment BS in the 60’s with his Gaia theory, which is the religion of the envirofanatic. Nobody seemed to care that he was wrong about the hole in the ozone (his discovery), but when he advocated in the early 00’s for nuclear power, they discredited him and threw him out of his own party, like a drunken uncle who has lost his pants.

      I am all for the new super-efficient thorium reactors, but it is never going to happen. Unlike Lovelock, the retired hippies and their brainwashed progeny started their party based on a ‘No Nukes’ theme, and by Gaia, there is no way they are taking back their t-shirts (they already tie-dyed them).

      1. Having been a professional in this field, I can say ignorance of science is the main enabler of Deniers. There is no question of Climate Change, and the real question is whether it is too late to stop it.

  2. “Big Nuke advocate says nuclear is our only hope.” jfc

    Then again, this is true: “It stopped being about the environment. It became about controlling society.”

    1. Funny how both people who are right and people who are wrong believe that their ideas should be adopted.

  3. Transcript, please.

  4. “You grow more food on less land”

    Been happening for all of history, increasingly in the last 100 years.

    “people live in cities”

    I don’t wanna. I want to live on my land that I use as I determine I value. I value privacy (trees), hunting land (trees for food plots, and open food plots), and future revenue (Black Walnut for timber in 50 years or so). Remember, the “future revenue” is the market signaling to me that I brought value to other people over the value of the input costs.

    So, now tell me you can manage my land “better” than I can.

    1. Hey Nuclear Guy, concentrate your efforts less on population centers and more on Ace’s house.


        1. How the hell is a dirt road more terrifying than any street in Manhattan? Or an interstate highway for that matter?

          1. It’s Politico-town Zeb…

            Or also known as reason 154,946 why Trump won.

          2. BTW, a friend of mine quipped when he saw that tweet, “If a dirt road is terrifying, you probably shouldn’t be voting.”

          3. It makes my car make funny noises… like I’m losing nuts and bolts from my undercarriage.

            But I’m with Ace. Give me the rural forest clearing over the urban jungle any day.

        2. i’m still astonished about the terrifying dirt road. poor dude.

    2. Ace, if we just go through the trouble to remove the progressives from America, then your dream can be a reality. If there are no more progressives, there can be no progressive policies.

      Let’s all join together, and show people like PB, Tony, and Ordinary Person the door. Without them here, America can be greater than ever.

      1. I don’t want them to leave. I want the instrument through which they attempt to steal my liberty to be killed.

        I want to be a sovereign of myself, only answerable to another if I initiate force against another sovereign (read: “human”).

    3. That is not the issue here. It is the use of fossil fuels and what they are doing to us and every other living thing on Earth.

  5. The Catholic church massacred people in the name of someone who taught that we should treat other people the way we would want to be treated. The second worst example of a movement being coopted like that is authoritarian socialists who make their case in the name of environmentalism.

    Um . . . no, . . . hatred of and murdering people who disagree with you isn’t anywhere in the Sermon on the Mount, and people who’d rather not save the planet if doing so means not making massive sacrifices in our standard of living have no business calling themselves environmentalists.

    P.S. I’ve read that 90% of the dams in this country produce no electricity. They’re used for flood control, irrigation, etc. I’ve also read that the electricity we do produce from hydro is made by some of the oldest infrastructure in the country. We could increase the generation capacity of these dams dramatically with upgrades, but . . .

    In the case of existing dams, the environmental impacts on wildlife have already been felt. Various environmental lobbying groups would rather tear all those dams down and return all that habitat to its original state, and privatizing that infrastructure and upgrading their generation capacity would make getting rid of those dams impractical–so they oppose doing privatization and the market driven upgrades by private investors.

    Again, anybody who would rather not save the planet if doing so doesn’t come with the sacrifice of our standard of living as the main course has no business calling themselves environmentalists. Meanwhile, people who believe we can accomplish things without any trade-offs are delusional.

    1. re: dams – It’s worth pointing out that the vast majority of dams are really small – a few feet or so. Far too short to ever be used for electricity generation. Most of them are on farms or other private property and are, as you say, used for irrigation and other very local water-management issues.

      re: upgrading the capabilities of existing hydro-electric dams – I’m skeptical. The technology really hasn’t changed that much in a century of so. Electricity is still generated by spinning a magnet inside a coil of wire (or spinning the wire inside of a stationary magnet if you prefer) and the spinning is still driven by a water-powered turbine. You might get a few percentage points of improvement by optimizing the turbine blade configuration but surprisingly little else has advanced since most of those dams were built.

        1. One argument that never gets articulated is that hydrodams were built to be self -economical. IE they had to produce enough power to justify the entire cost of building them. And yet here we are building massive batteries that don’t produce any power but are needed to deal with the intermittencies of solar and wind.

          I believe we need to structure the cost of hydro so that new plants can be built that can be used primarily as energy storage devices, along with supplemental net power during rainy periods. So they’d be cheaper versions of pumped hydro-storage. During rainy periods they would fill the reservoir themselves and during the dry season they would be used as pumped hydro where excess renewable energy would pump the water in and later the water would power turbines.

      1. I’m no expert, so don’t take my word for it, but I do have reason to believe that turbine design has improved quite a lot in the past 100 years. New approaches to windings and rare-earth magnets have also done a lot for generator size and efficiency.

        1. It hasn’t. Power density and weight have improved. Iron losses have been minimized, but efficiency hasn’t gone up radically.

          1. It couldn’t, it started out fairly high to begin with.

  6. After blowing $300 billion dollars in six years, Mikey figured out nuclear was the most efficient and effective way to go. Something even Greenpeace and Sierra Club have recognized for quite some time now.

    1. but it is not. The cost of power from the new Vogtle nukes in Georgia will be over 15 cents/kWh, while wind plus battery storage came in at 2 cents/kWh.

      Nukes already lost.

    1. Well, they control everything.

      I hear they may have been behind the finale to Game of Thrones.

      1. I’m pretty sure the second half was written by a robot. Possibly of Russian design.

        1. Why is everyone hating on the GoT finale? Am the only person on the planet who thought it was ok?

          Also apparently I was the only person who saw the signs Daenerys was a bloodthirsty tyrant early on, so there’s that.

          1. I was thinking the same thing. This final season hasn’t been as good as others, admittedly. And while I understand why the fight against the Night King and the White Walkers had to be resolved before the final battle for the Iron Throne, I strongly disagree that the series has always been about the politics and not about the magic. The VERY FIRST scene in the series consists of the three men of the Night’s Watch who found the massacred wildlings. “Winter is Coming”, dragons, the 3-eyed raven, Children of the Forest, the Lord of Light (Beric Donderion was raised several times, and John the once), blood magic, etc. While I can’t speak for Martin (I have read his books so far, but when he is still 3-4 books away from finishing his version of the saga who the hell knows what he is thinking), the version on TV was structured so that magic ran through its core. So in my mind, while the narrative kind of led to dealing with Cersei after the Night King, the Night King was the existential threat that was what the whole thing was about.

          2. Lots of people saw the bloodthirsty tyrant coming over the horizon. Hell, she promised us blood and fire as soon as she got the dragons in S2E1. I object to the fact that she wasn’t ‘dragon’ enough to kill her only remaining rival.

            A better (more consistent) story: John agonizes, doesn’t kill her because SHE HAS GUARDS GUARDING HER but she realizes her danger. She throws him in with Tyrion, flies off, and getting into that mad tyrant groove, turns north and burns Winterfell. Sansa runs to Bran, who tries to warg into the dragon, but gets fails because of the dragon’s indomitable will or some such BS. Bran and the tree get incinerated and Sansa survives, but is burned in the same way Clegane was.

            When the queen returns, she sentences John to death, but he doesn’t burn in Drogon’s fire. He makes a move on the queen and Greyworm spears him right in spot that Ollie stabbed him. Later, when the inconsolable queen calls in Greyworm to comfort her, Arya takes off his face and stabs her, takes her face and tries the Dracarys thing with Drogon, who doesn’t fall for it, but when the armies charge on her, he kills them all anyway. Just arriving on the scene, Bronn uses that fantastic crossbow to shoot who he thinks is the queen and Tyrion, freed in the mayhem, discovers the dead Slayer of Winter and Dragons, but decides to cover it up, which is why Bronn is included in the small council when they decide to make Robert’s bastard the king. The ending with Tyrion and Bronn discussing brothels is already perfect.

            Oh, and Brianne decides to take Tormund up on his offer after she writes that Jamie fucked his sister in that book of knightly deeds. Because covering for that incestuous, insufferable cunt is much more out of character than getting it on with the only person left alive who actually fought for freedom from tyrants.

            1. Too plausible.

              This is fantasy fiction.

          3. I’m good with Danny being a monster.

            The end showing everyone starting their new lives while the music swells just seemed half-assed, formulaic and boring. And overly optimistic given the tone and theme of the rest of the story. I think a darker ending would have been appropriate.

          4. But she had only punished bad people not burned children alive. Her transformation which should have taken 3 episodes took 3 seconds.

      2. Why do you live in fantasy?

  7. Not that nuclear radiation is a threat since we’re going to all be dead in 12 years anyway, but I saw some medical expert on the news yesterday urging us all to panic over the 5-G rollout since the radiation from the cellphone towers has been proven to alter your brain cells and this issue hasn’t been studied enough.

    1. “and this issue hasn’t been studied enough”

      Meaning give me a bazillion dollars for a fancy lab and a huge salary, and in a few years I will publish a few pages of bullshit saying whatever you want – – – –

    2. Weren’t people saying that about 0G cellphones 20 years ago?

      1. They were saying it about power lines in the 80s.

    3. “radiation from the cellphone towers has been proven to alter your brain cells and this issue hasn’t been studied enough.”

      Which is complete bullshit, by the way. The whole reason 5G requires all these small cell towers all over the place is that the radio frequency is blocked by everything, including human skin.

    4. Without more radiation there aren’t going to be any Hulks or Spider-men……

  8. The left loves wind power because, like them, it blows.
    The lefties also like solar power because, like them, it doesn’t work.
    The lefties hate nuclear power because it is clean and efficient, unlike them.

    1. Hey, I like things that blow. Well, certain categories of things.

  9. The green new deal is all about fascism, not energy.

    1. The Green New Deal is a very large watermelon.

  10. Anti nuclear is entirely fear mongering at this point. France has no problems. Japan wouldn’t have problems if TEPCO wasn’t filled with retards who didn’t build an adequate sea wall and backup electricity systems at Fukushima. We haven’t really had problems bar 3 Mile and it was a minor leak.

    1. THIS!! I am in reg affairs at a commercial nuclear plant in the Midwest. The reason that nuclear costs so much is essentially the regulatory burden.
      The lefties tried to kill nuclear with the big scare (ala China Syndrome). But as TMI has faded in memory (and there was no radiological consequence to anyone), they know that people aren’t willing to just give up a huge chunk of power at one time. So they settled for the death of a thousand cuts. And so nuclear plants shut down one at a time because the fuel costs (which is what makes it potentially so cheap) got dwarfed by the endless layers of regulations.

      1. I’ve been watching the dual tragedies of Vogtle and SCANA for the last few years and I can’t help but cringe. If Vogtle doesn’t get up and running, no one is going to build nuclear plants in the U.S. for another generation.

  11. We should replace burning U-235 with U-233 bred from thorium. U-235 is way too expensive and rare, as well as expensive to enrich. Thorium is much more abundant and U-233 is a much better fuel as it has 2 opportunities to fission, once as U-233, and if it captures 2 neutrons again, as U-235. Burning MOX is proliferation risky because Pu-239 doesn’t denature with U-238 because they are 2 different elements easier to separate than 2 different isotopes like U-233, U-235, and U-238.

    1. Thorium seems to be a pipe dream. Much like fusion, the advocates promise a lot, but it always fails to deliver. I’ve been hearing that Thorium is great for 20 years now. At some point, you have to realize it’s mostly hype.

      1. It seems that Thorium reactors have been the next big thing my entire adult life.

      2. Thorium is about 4x more abundant than U-238 and much more so than the fissile U-235, that we currently use as fuel in PWRs. It makes more sense to swap U-235 with Thorium-bred U-233 to use in our existing nuclear power plants. We could also build molten salt reactors to breed and burn thorium on-site. The science exists to use natural uranium (U-238 and Pu-239 bred from U-238) as fuel in fast reactors as it does to use bred U-233 from Th-232 in thermal spectrum reactors. There’s no hype to it, its just science that already exists.

        1. If it’s cheaper, safer, easier, and more abundant, why is no one designing and building these plants?

        2. No it doesn’t. Clathrates are more abundant than conventional or frac’ed natural gas but that doesn’t make them the smart or economical choice. Thorium is a solution in search of a problem. You can’t(*) burn it in solid form because your precious breeding not only requires transmuting 233Th to 233Pa, but if you leave it in the hot zone it can also capture another neutron to become 234Pa, which is shit for your neutron economy. That means that you either need a much larger fissile inventory to make up for this loss, or you need to get the Pa out of the neutron flux and let it decay on its own to 233U which you can then re-introduce and burn.

          But wait, there’s more! If you run a 2 fluid reactor with Thorium with reprocessing and decay of the 233Pa, you also have literally made a nuclear weapon material factory. Why? Well, because the Pa is chemically pure and the 233U which it will decay into makes perfectly good bomb material. But what about the 232Pa -> 232U which is a hard gamma contaminant?! Well, it turns out that 232Pa decays significantly faster than 233Pa, so all you have to do is wait about a month, dump all of the U inventory (233 and 232), and you will have essentially isotopically pure 233Pa which you can then let decay into your desired 233U and voila (or boom).

          MSR’s are a fantastic idea. Thorium is an unnecessary obsession.

          *Yes, you CAN convert/breed/burn Thorium but it’s awful for neutron economies and not worth it.

          1. Well…if you’re going to get technical…

          2. So you have to have the ability to store a highly radioactive substance for a month not to mention transport it to said facility. Do you think ISIS was capable of that?

    2. I should correct my statement about MOX fuel. Apparently Pu-239 is mixed with different isotopes of plutonium, along with U-238. Fissile plutonium is denatured to be proliferation resistant. But the advantages of U-233 is that it burns much cleaner and more efficiently in the existing LWR infrastructure that are thermal spectrum reactors. We would need to build fast reactors to burn MOX fuel efficiently.

      1. Burning Pu-239 bred from U-238 isn’t really smart if you are thinking long term. It makes more sense to save U-238 to denature and burn U-233. You would be able to access energy from both thorium and natural uranium more safely.

    3. Now really what you are looking for is a cold-fusion reactor. Those are fantastic for energy production.

    4. But we already have a few centuries worth of it processed so might as well use it up before moving to thorium.

  12. Let me see…environmentalists tell us that if we don’t do something now! that millions will perish in 12 years, but we have to save ourselves with solar panels and windmills.

    Nuclear is bad, bad, bad, but it has harmed no one in the U.S. since its inception and it has millions of hours of track record of producing electricity for the public and in the confined areas of military ships and submarines.

    Greens are willing to turn our economy inside out (and kills millions of migratory birds) to produce expensive electricity but won’t consider nuclear.

    It’s about control of the people, not environment.

    1. So much easier to excise the progressives from our shores. Send them all to places like Venezuela, where they can enjoy the socialist dream in action.

  13. In the modern world energy is wealth. And wealth has always meant independence.

    The goal of the so called ‘greens’ who seek to impose all these top down ‘solutions’ is not to make you more wealth, nor more independent. More the opposite. They want you poorer and more dependent.

    1. In every world energy is wealth. There is no material limitation if you have unlimited energy at your disposal.

  14. Green new dealers are idiots, and you can’t argue much less reason with an idiot.

  15. “Save us” from what? The worst even the IPCC predicts is a few percent lower GDP relative to ideal conditions, and that using their own crazy assumptions. And the effect of the US going fully nuclear on climate change would be zilch because the US isn’t the primary driver.

    (But if Democrats want to do something about climate change, stopping migration from third world countries into the US would be a good start. Ending massive government spending and welfare would also help. Both of those are probably the primary drivers of excessive energy consumption and emissions in the US.)

    1. And what should be expected from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide?
      Experimental studies have long confirmed that elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations stimulate plant growth via the aerial fertilization effect. The extent to which it increases net ecosystem production (NEP) is still debated, so this challenge was the objective of a recent study. During the period 1995 to 2014, global NEP increased by 117 to 178 Tg C yr-1, almost half of which was in the tropics in spite of being less than a quarter of available land area. (Fernández-Martínez, M., Sardans, J., Chevallier, F., Ciais, P., Obersteiner, M., Vicca, S., Canadell, J.G., Bastos, A., Friedlingstein, P., Sitch, S., Piao, S.L., Janssens, I.A. and Peñuelas, J. 2019. Global trends in carbon sinks and their relationships with CO2 and temperature. Nature Climate Change 9: 73-79.)
      We are gaining life. Earth is literally getting greener.

  16. Nobody important is really against nuclear. The question is why libertarians are such butt hungry for it considering it’s not an industry than can exist in a free market.

    1. That’s a good question, and less hostile than usual.
      My answer to similar things in my life is that I have to deal with reality as I find it, even when things are arranged so that no fully moral choice remains. Sometimes the choice is for what you find to be “least bad.”
      That said, I’m OK with nukes, but the CO2 argument for them is against the empirical evidence. I’m not much concerned about it for myself. Grid power is cheap, but I installed 8 kw PV solar here because I live on an island. The grid power is touchy, and no power means no well water. Except for the cable company bill, we’re effectively off-grid.

  17. I am completely confused as to how anyone can, with a straight face, refer to nuclear power as “clean” energy. Do they simply not understand what nuclear waste is, how long it remains active, and what the consequences of exposure are?

    That is not to say one might not rationally choose nuclear power against other available options but it ain’t clean.

  18. We have no use for nuclear power today.
    We cannot afford it, and still cannot find a way to store its terrible high-level waste, which is dangerous for 240,000 years.

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