Green Woo

It’s really a shame that the U.S. environmental community doesn’t have anyone with the chops or reputation of George Monbiot, the popular British columnist. Monbiot, who has a high profile perch at the Guardian, combines essential talents for a communicator: He is lucid, engaging, and smart. He is also not afraid to call out his own constituency.

For example, Monbiot this year has shredded European greens for their anti-science position on nuclear power, and laid out the implications of this for climate change. (I wrote about his methodical takedowns here.) He’s at it again in his latest column, with a damning indictment that begins:

It’s a devastating admission to have to make, especially during the climate talks in Durban. But there would be no point in writing this column if I were not prepared to confront harsh truths. This year, the environmental movement to which I belong has done more harm to the planet’s living systems than climate change deniers have ever achieved.

As a result of shutting down its nuclear programme in response to green demands, Germany will produce an extra 300m tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2020. That’s almost as much as all the European savings resulting from the energy efficiency directive. Other countries are now heading the same way. These decisions are the result of an almost medievel misrepresentation of science and technology. For while the greens are right about most things, our views on nuclear power have been shaped by weapons-grade woo.

The U.S. green movement isn’t infected with the same strain of anti-nuclear hysteria (at least not anymore) as its European cousins. But it’s still surprising to see baseless nuclear fear-mongering from self-professed champions of science who counsel urgent action on climate change. When it comes to peddling disinformation on risks and harms associated with nuclear power, the anti-nuclear crowd, as Monbiot says in his column, is second to none:

Anti-nuclear campaigners have generated as much mumbo jumbo as creationists, anti-vaccine scaremongers, homeopaths and climate change deniers. In all cases, the scientific process has been thrown into reverse: people have begun with their conclusions, then frantically sought evidence to support them.

Remember, this is coming from a card-carrying environmentalist, who worries as deeply as anyone about the health of the planet and the threats posed to it by climate change.

Were there only more like him, speaking truth to green woo.

81 Responses to “Green Woo”

  1. We don’t have a Monbiot because we don’t need one. Romm screwed up on his nuke coverage, but the issue with nuclear power in the U.S. isn’t environmental impact, it’s cost. We have plenty of “greens” who are all about nukes. Saying you’re a pro-nuke green isn’t the least controversial, except among people who have very little influence.

    But saying that you think nukes are a better alternative than e.g. wind, on a $ / kw basis, that will get you a thrashing, because it’s an issue about which intelligent people can and do disagree. 

  2. Keith Kloor says:


    About those plenty of greens “who are all about nukes”: funny, I don’t see them represented at Grist, in mainstream environmental magazines, in environmental groups, not to mention Think Progress or Climate Progress.

    So if there is legitimate reason for disagreement, and I agree with you that there is, I’m not seeing that discussion in the aforementioned places.

    Why do you think that is? 

  3. Anteros says:

    George Monbiot is indeed a hero to some here in the UK, but to others he is a pernicious misanthrope. 
    I have mixed feelings about his particular brand of venom. Mostly I notice that it seems entirely motivated by hate and guilt – which I find troubling. His website has the maxim “afflict the comfortable” at the top. And the guilt comes from having been brought up as wealthy as some of those he despises.
    However (!) he talks a lot of sense about nuclear power, and certainly sticks to his guns [I should add that above all, I respect him for admitting his mistakes]
    The one thing that surprises me since his major ‘conversion’ on the nuclear issue, is that he can still say “the green movement is right about most things but wrong about nuclear”. In his investigations he has found that environmentalists have exaggerated, disinformed, distorted and lied for ideological reasons, on nuclear power. He has yet to think “Hm, maybe I should check out some of that vast amount of ideological propaganda we pushed on other environmental issues?”.
    He may find that his environmentalism is unaffected, but I’m surprised he hasn’t found cause to do a little more re-examining. You know – ask some honest questions about DDT and malaria? The consequences of widespread organic farming? The impacts de-globalising would have on food security? The sacred cows of sustainability and biodiversity that no environmentalist is allowed to even look at let alone challenge?
    Perhaps polarising figures like Monbiot are needed, but as with the debate about the climate, it tends to make sure the ‘middle’ is an empty region.

  4. Keith Kloor says:

    Yes, (3), I too have wondered if he might be prompted to take up some other sacred green cows. He could start with that one about Easter Island, that’s fertile ground. 🙂

  5. Sashka says:

    My only (minor) disagreement with this post is that, in my book, “smart” who doesn’t need years and years ti understand simple things.
    Is there evidence that European eco-crazies pay any attention to him when he says something unorthodox?

  6. Anteros says:

    Does shouting ‘Judas’ and throwing stones at his car count as paying attention?

  7. Mary says:

    Those of us who are fans of plant science giggle at the anti-GMO George saying stuff like this:
    “These decisions are the result of an almost medievel misrepresentation of science and technology. “

  8. Sashka says:

    @ Antheros (3)
    Good point about reexamining the rest of his beliefs. Surely a smart person would draw a lesson from the nuclear gaffe.
    Not exactly what I had in mind 🙂 Any positive attention?

  9. Alexander Harvey says:

    George Monbiot doubtlessly has influence but not the power for that one must look at the organisations.
    Greenpeace UK, WWF, FOE UK have memberships (doubtlessly overlapping) of the order of 100,000s, the big beast is the RSPB.
    A full time and volunteer force ~20,000 and a  membership >1,000,000. If needs be they have many divisions.
    That the UK government is duty bound to act to reduce emissions to a specified end target by statute did not happen in a vacumn.
    What he says is interesting, but what groups like FOE/GP UK can and do achieve is quite extraordinary.

  10. Keith, I think you answered your own question. Nuclear doesn’t get discussed because it just doesn’t look economical. That, coupled with the inertia of it being a bugaboo from way back, plus Fukushima, mean that no one is super fired up to discuss it. If someone, somewhere starts making small nuclear work, it will get pickup.

    Yes there is a bias against it, but at this point you have everybody from Stewart Brand to Mark Lynas screaming about how bad we need it.

    Personally, I’d be happy to write more about it if someone could show me examples of how it was a good use of taxpayer or investor dollars. Seriously, investigate the economics, I don’t know if it’s regulation or what, but at this point they remain terrible in this country.

    Meanwhile, China is building dozens of nuke plants based on old designs, not the safe new ones. Nuclear disasters might not kill, but they are expensive as hell. If these things made economic sense, bring it — until they do, you want people to get excited about them? Ain’t gonna happen. 

  11. Keith Kloor says:


    I’m not sure how I answered my own question, by acknowledging there was legitimate disagreement on the merits of nuclear power. I know there’s lots of disagreement on the merits of renewable energy (in terms of it being scaled up) to actually replace fossil fuels in a meaningful time frame (relative to climate change), and yet I see lots of uncritical cheerleading for wind and solar in Grist and like-minded outlets.

    Funny that.

    But back to the subject at hand. So why not a “The case for nuclear power” in Grist, followed, the next day by “The case against nuclear power.” No shortage of qualified experts to write either one.

    BTW, I did a quick search at Grist on “nuclear power” and it certainly appears you guys have published your share of why nuclear power sucks posts.

    You giving Fox a run for that “Fair and balanced” moniker? 

  12. Marlowe Johnson says:


    Keith can’t hippie bash on the basis of economic arguments so he chooses instead to hippie bash on the strawman of ‘irrational’ fears… 

    Like you I’m all for economical nukes and in fact support paying a premium for them if confronted with a choice between nukes and coal/gas.  I suspect most ‘greens’ would agree.  

    Keith may like the idea that big ENGOs are all that are holding back a nuclear renaissance in North America,  as it fits conveniently with his ‘extremists-on-both-sides-are-bad-and-I’m-in-the-middle-narrative’ but that doesn’t make it so.

  13. Keith Kloor says:

    Mary (7)

    I must confess that I’m not familiar with all of Monbiot’s green positions, including where he stands on GMO’s. But I do suspect, as I indicated in a previous comment, that it’s likely he would have to reexamine some of his existing beliefs were he to undertake a through review of the science related to all enviro credos.

    Marlowe (12)

    The hippie bashing charge is endlessly amusing to me. One of these days, I’ll get around to a post addressing it. And when I do, I’ll be sure to write it while listening to The Band, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, Country Joe & the Fish, the Velvet Underground, Crosby, Stills & Nash, etc, etc.

  14. huxley says:

    I believe the proper term du jour is “hippie punching.”

  15. Marlowe Johnson says:

    whatever you do, don’t forget CCR.

  16. Keith Kloor says:

    @15 Funny you should say that, because I had them in my list initially, but thought that non-American readers wouldn’t understand.

    @14 Yes, that is the correct term, and it’s the most favorite strawman used by one of Marlowe’s favorite green writers (other than myself, of course). 🙂 

  17. jeffn says:

    #10 Christopher- you already know the economics, compare electricity rates between France and anywhere else in Europe. The claim that US greens are not anti-nuke and only cost is the factor is a bad joke that nobody is willing to listen to anymore. The green movement actively worked to make the nuclear industry prohibitively expensive by adding millions of dollars and years of review all to be capped by arbitrary government approval based on which side could scream the most bull the loudest. Monbiot is noting which side screamed the most bull and the consequences thereof.
    But if you’re still not convinced, here’s a thought experiment. The claim from American greens is that only by rapid deployment and construction at scale will we achieve the necessary discoveries and efficiencies that will make wind and solar cost-competitive.
    The reason nuclear power could not benefit from the same approach is…. ? I confess it’s a trick question, there isn’t a reason. It just tells us pretty much all we need to know about why it is that the moment people start taking the green movement seriously enough to  look at their claims, they walk away shaking their heads in amazement.

  18. Alexander Harvey says:

    Keith #16:
    Re: CCR
    Man with cleft stick did visit, bring packages, take packages back!
    But that was a bit Johnny Come Lately I think.

  19. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Keith you may wish to take a look at this article by a colleague of Monbiot’s:

    “So what does the news mean for the role for nuclear power in delivering the low-carbon electricity essential to tackling climate change? The three ‘Cs’ of energy policy are carbon, cost and continuity of supply, and Wednesday’s announcement by EDF is relevant to the latter two.

    The Flamanville fiasco shows once again that new nuclear power plants are not being built on time or on budget, diminishing the arguments in favour of them.
    The only other new nuclear plant being built in Europe is at Olkiluoto in Finland. Areva, like EDF a state-controlled French company, told me this will be connected to the grid no sooner than 2013 and costs are now estimated at €5.6bn. That is four years late and €2.6bn over budget.”

  20. BBD says:

    Like you I’m all for economical nukes and in fact support paying a premium for them if confronted with a choice between nukes and coal/gas.  I suspect most “˜greens’ would agree.

    I thought if the true cost of FF externalities was factored in, then nuclear started to look competitive.

  21. Keith Kloor says:


    I’m all for having a debate on the economics of nuclear power, so long as that debate includes all forms of energy that are on the table.

    I suspect it’s not the air-tight case you may think, otherwise we wouldn’t see so much fear-mongering of nuclear power. And BTW, don’t underestimate the power of that anti-nuclear frame (which is so prevalent in the media) to put the chill on investment and momentum to improve design and cost effectiveness.

  22. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Was wondering when you’d show up on this thread BBD :).

    Yes i agree that a realistic carbon price would probably make nuclear cost competitive with coal/gas in most locations.  As I’ve said before, I’m pretty agnostic on this issue and am willing to accept policies that lead to progress even they aren’t the most efficient.  Voltaire’s ‘le mieux est l’ennemi du bien’ comes to mind. Here in Ontario, we’re doing both! Shutting down coal 2 years ahead of schedule, refurbishing our existing nuke fleet and going gangbusters on renewables.  Has this ambitious energy policy been flawlessly executed?  Far from it.  But then, when has a government energy policy ever been implemented in an economically efficient, market-distortion-free manner?

    Personally I’d rather err on the side of paying too much for being overly aggressive in scope and timing when it comes to mitigation than waiting for the stars to line up for the ‘perfect’ mitigation portfolio.  

  23. harrywr2 says:

    Nuclear doesn’t get discussed because it just doesn’t look economical.
    Nuclear is economical in the US Southeast…where we are building new nuclear plants. As a general rule to be ‘economical’ the delivered price of coal has to be about $4/MMbtu and the delivered price of gas needs to be at $6/MMBtu. (Gas plants are more efficient then coal plants)
    Both criteria are met in Florida and at least one of the criteria is met in Georgia and the Carolina’s.
    Neither criteria is met in Texas.
    The Northwest is predominantly hydro so their is very little to replace.
    The Northeast already has a substantial portion of their electricity generation produced by nuclear.
    If you think no nuclear plants are being built in the US then you might wish to review these photo’s –
    As with any product, the ‘early adopters’ end up paying a price premium. In the US Southeast nuclear pencils out. Hence, they go first. Everyone else will ‘wait and see’.
    At the moment there are some supply chain problems, the large nuclear forgings problem appears to be resolved. We have a small problem at the moment fabricating pipe that will last 60 years and is inspect-able using ultrasound. This lead to a substantial delay at Okiluto in Finland and has also caused some rescheduling at Vogtle #3 and #4 in Georgia and VC Summer #2 and #3 in South Carolina.
    Obviously, delays cost money. In the Voglte and VC Summer projects there is some ‘delay’ allowance built into the schedule and budget. Areva didn’t build any delay allowance into the budget for Okiluto which has lead to the ‘huge overrun’ meme.
    Schedule and cost data for SCANA’s 55% share of VC Summer #2 and #3 is here –
    Construction is on budget for a cost of 4.3 billion 2007 dollars for 55% of a twin AP1000 rated at 2.2GW. 
    (Not including construction financing costs which are being passed thru to rate payers)
    43% of the 146 ‘milestones’ have been completed. There is no ‘loan guarantee for the VC Summer project.

  24. Nichol says:

    Monbiot seems to b a convert. Before he was an anti-nuclear activist. Now he is a pro-nuclear activist. I don’t know the UK ‘greens’ very well, but I cannot believe that they’re all religious anti-nuclear. I’ve read some of his articles, and find them a bit tiring, as I get the impression he builds up the image of the stupid anti-nuclear activists, then says all ‘greens’ are like that, and poses himself as the noble night fighting the fight against these barbarian hordes. He did find a rather extreme anti-nuclear people to make fun of, but I don’t think that the majority of ‘greens’ feel that his articles are relevant to them. He likes to be controversial. That is his schtick.

  25. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Incidentally,  while I try not to let the ‘perfect be the enemy of the good’ this sort of thing drives me nuts. 

  26. Jarmo says:


    Just an example of climate politics and money…. move on, nothing to see here….;)

    Aren’t the Saudis trying to argue that they should be compensated for loss of income?? 

  27. BBD says:

    I don’t know the UK “˜greens’ very well, but I cannot believe that they’re all religious anti-nuclear.

    I do, and most are intensely anti-nuclear.

  28. EdG says:

    #13-16 re hippie bashing/punching

    This one makes me laugh, a lot. True, the most recent surge of environmentalism did begin back about the time the hippie era began and, true, some of the current hard core environmentalists were once at least faux hippies. But that was then, not now. I don’t recall hippies being so angry or, in too many cases now, just plain nasty. And I definitely don’t recall them being such eager believers in ‘government’ information or slaves to authority the way the pro-AGW folks are. Just the opposite. So I don’t see them as hippies at all. More like anti-hippies if anything.

    As to the music references, they all bring back nostalgic memories but I would definitely add Pink Floyd to the list. In the context of this quest for the middle, I would hope that all hippes, non-hippies, and anti-hippies would listen to their classic song ‘Us and Them’ again – or at least try to remember it.

    Back on topic: Patrick Moore. Greenpeace cofounder, rejected the extreme direction the environmental movement and now has a lot of common sense relaity-based ideas. He is, as I recall, pro-nuclear. While he does have a small voice the extremists he rejected have waged nonstop attacks on him so he does not have the profile Monbiot does (because, I think, Monbiot was a good soldier for them for a long time, allowing him to develop his voice on their behalf in their newspaper (Guardian). 

    But good luck on the rational discussion of nuclear power. Just look at the consequences of Three Mile Island, the greatest disaster that never happened. Or the whole Yucca Mt fiasco. Or the Fukishima hysteria. The public is hopelessly misinformed and easily spooked by any mention of the word ‘radiation.’  Years of propaganda have had their effect.

  29. Keith Kloor says:


    Pink Floyd. Hmm, I don’t really associate them with the stereotypical 60s. Also, I listened to them during my Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Moody Blues phase, which came after my Led Zepplin phase.  

  30. BBD says:

    Those with long memories will remember the Green Heretic thread (subject Mark Lynas; George Monbiot). Commenter Kendra got annoyed with Mark Lynas’ criticisms of a certain Chris Busby.

    Monbiot skewered Busby comprehensively a couple of weeks ago. Much blood, and more anti-nuclear lies exposed.

  31. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @EdG (#28): Let’s look at what some pro-nuclear people have to say about that. Peter Bradford: “The abiding lesson that Three Mile Island taught Wall Street was that a group of N.R.C.-licensed reactor operators, as good as any others, could turn a $2 billion asset into a $1 billion cleanup job in about 90 minutes.”
    Thomas Capps, CEO of Dominion Energy: “We aren’t going to build a nuclear plant anytime soon. Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s would have a heart attack…. And my chief financial officer would, too.”
    And this: “Exelon, the nation’s biggest nuclear utility, with 17 plants, estimates that new nuclear plants are more expensive than any other energy source except photovoltaic cells.”
    It’s a myth that public safety fears following Three Mile Island were the dominant reason no one started any new nukes afterward. The dominant reason seems to me to be that Wall Street realized nukes were a lousy investment when you took the downside financial risk into account.

  32. Marlowe Johnson says:

    maybe Keith and BBD will listen to you Jonathan 😉

  33. BBD says:

    Well, can watch the ppmv CO2 rise until the money men see sense.
    What you cannot do is turn renewables into a realistic source of large-scale baseload generation sufficient to significantly displace coal from the global energy mix.
    Only nuclear can do that. Much depends on how long it will take to overcome the effects of decades of anti-science fearmongering.
    And could somebody explain what an accident decades ago at TMI has to do with the safety of modern reactor designs?

  34. BBD says:

    Well, we can watch the ppmv CO2 rise until the money men see sense.

  35. Sashka says:

    @ Jonathan (31)

    It is telling that you chose to support your point with an article published 6.5 years ago. Just because Peter Bradford was on NRC doesn’t make him pro-nuclear. You are free to pretend that we didn’t learn anything from Three Mile Island but it won’t add to your credibility.

    Utilities may differ in their decisions but as Harry pointed out in (23) the new plants are under construction. And, contrary to some expectations, S&P is not having a heart attack over it.

    It’s a myth that public safety fears following Three Mile Island were the dominant reason no one started any new nukes afterward.

    You need to google NIMBY to get yourself disabused of this notion.

  36. EdG says:

    #29 –  Amazing how musical memories bring back so many other memories. For me the 60s lasted into the 70s so Pink Floyd was part of that whole experience, and that particular song, ‘Us and Them,’ seems to fit these discussions.

    (My Led Zeppelin phase actually began with an Iron Butterfly appetizer.)

    Interesting to recognize how the modern environmental movement was largely born in that era and how it, like the music, has changed since then. Long way from there to the angry rapper. Long way from the 60’s when everything looked bright and possible to today.

    I’m guessing there’s a correlation to CO2 levels there somewhere 😉

  37. OPatrick says:

    BBD #27, most people I know who I would consider to be environmentalists aren’t intensely anti-nuclear. That they are is a view that it suits some to foster, as you can see here, but it’s only true if you take the circular position that ‘greens’ are defined by their anti-nuclear stance. In reality the majority of people I know and associate with probably come down against nuclear on balance, but very few are dogmatically anti-nuclear and some, and in my experience a greater proportion, are avidly pro-nuclear. Everyone I know is prepared to accept nuclear as a solution rather than no solution.

  38. Keith Kloor says:

    Well (#28), I came of age (as an adolescent) in the mid/late 1970s, so the 60s bled into my formative years (music taste wise, and ahem, a few other things). But I also had friends with older brothers and two hippie uncles that combined, exposed me to much great music from that era.

    As for the subject of this thread, it’s hard for me to believe that public attitudes on nuclear power haven’t had a chilling effect. I guess quantifying that would be difficult. 

  39. BBD says:

    That they are is a view that it suits some to foster, as you can see here, but it’s only true if you take the circular position that “˜greens’ are defined by their anti-nuclear stance.
    Easily said, but the blunt fact remains: the big ENGOs are overtly anti-nuclear (eg WWF; FOE; Greenpeace). 
    And that is a problem which nobody seems even to acknowledge is a problem. But it is.
    Especially as this is not at all my experience:
    Everyone I know is prepared to accept nuclear as a solution rather than no solution.

    Everyone I know (who cares about this) believes (without having done much by way of research) that renewables are the path towards decarbonisation of electricity supply.

  40. harrywr2 says:

    Exelon, the nation’s biggest nuclear utility, with 17 plants
    This is classic take something out of context.
    Within the context of a specific market adding X,Y or Z generating resource could be anything.
    The baseload to peaker ratio tend towards 40% baseload to 60% peaker. Exelon is 68% nuclear base-load.
    Nuclear is mighty expensive if you are  going to use it as a peaker.
    Even solar ends up being a ‘reasonably’ effective option in some markets under some circumstances. Where summer daytime demand substantially exceeds  summer nighttime demand and winter demand it really doesn’t matter that solar doesn’t work at night or in the winter because the capacity is only needed during the day in the summer. Some solar capacity might make economic sense.
    In a market where there is little to no room for additional base-load nuclear isn’t particularly cost effective.
    Energy mix is complicated. Any one saying oil,coal,natural gas,wind nuclear or solar is the ‘best option everywhere under all circumstances’ or the opposite is either a liar or  misinformed. 
    Now onto the ‘myth’ of Three Mile Island.
    Coal prices in the US dropped from the late 1970’s until about the year 2000. We also ‘overbuilt’ baseload generating capacity in the US based on an expectation of increased demand during the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Big energy consumers like aluminum took a nosedive as Aluminum siding went out of style on houses and people decided to recycle their drinks cans.
    In Washington State we had plans for 6 nuclear plants, aluminum was ‘big business’. We only ended up completing one. We currently ‘throw away’ excess hydro-power in the spring despite having a 5 GW transmission line to California. Our ‘conservation’ efforts have been so successful that we sometimes have to turn down our single nuclear plant. Our coal plant is pretty much shut altogether for 4 or 5 months a year.

  41. thingsbreak says:

    Keith Kloor:
    About those plenty of greens “who are all about nukes”: funny, I don’t see them represented at Grist, in mainstream environmental magazines, in environmental groups, not to mention Think Progress or Climate Progress.
    Keith, first, what would be sufficient support for nukes, in your opinion? Increasing the current global capacity of ~360GW by 100GW? 200GW?

    What about increasing it by 700GW?
    Second, I’m a utilitarian. I think we need everything we’ve got, nukes included. I’m with Barry Brook and James Hansen. President Obama, it should be noted, was clear that the Japanese accident shouldn’t interfere with our plans to expand nukes.

    However, I am not seeing the “woo” behind the arguments given by high profile people associated with the environmental movement in the US like Gore or Amory Lovins- which highlight the proliferation and economic downsides. Not that I can’t imagine disagreeing with these arguments, mind you, because I do to an extent. I just don’t see how this rises to “woo”.
    And if the point is that they aren’t proffering “woo” but rather others in the US with far less political clout are, then isn’t that kind of a demonstration that there’s not really a big Green woo movement to push back against if the concern is actual policy futures rather than simply “calling out one’s own constituency” for media approval?
    Fourth, what really puzzles me about this idea is that I am hearing it from the same people who suggest that right wing climate “skepticism”- which actually has policy future relevance- isn’t really the concern that it’s being made out to be.
    If right wing “skepticism”- which has so pervaded American politics that front runner Presidential candidates have flip flopped on their recognition of the reality of the problem in order to appease their base- is something we shouldn’t be so focused on, then how could an ineffectual environmentalist anti-nuke “woo” constituency that appears to have zero impact on the political positions of the Democratic administration be something worth worrying about?
    Sometimes they aren’t two equally bad sides to a coin. Sometimes the middle ends up being halfway between mostly right and very, very wrong. Not everything needs to be forced into a narrative frame of balance.

  42. Jack Hughes says:

    BBD is right to say that the official green position is anti-nuclear.

    The official green policy is incoherent – they really do dream of a modern society powered by windmills out at sea and solar panels in the Sahara where we cycle off to our green jobs sipping organic fair trade latte.

    When they mention “tidal power” you know that reality left the building some time ago.

  43. Alexander Harvey says:

    I have always struggled to see nuclear power stations as presenting much of an environmental issue. The dirty end, reprocessing is a bit different. I don’t think Germany is doing its own reprocessing and it doesn’t do nuclear weapons so they have many less issues compared to any of the five major nuclear powers, the permanent UN SC members.
    Yet they have been protesting power plants, storage and transportation for years.
    Is it an environmental concern in the sense of bad for the grass, creepy-crawlies, bunnies etc., or more a human issue, mothers, unborn, babies, breast milk thing?
    Chernobyl was a bit of a heavy price to pay for a new eco-wilderness area but some do see that consequence as being better than poke in the eye.
    Nuclear plants that put toxins, radioactive or not into rivers, and oceans are fair game for protest but how many nuclear power plants still do that (honest question)?
    I can see why a country might opt not to reprocess (Finland?) on environmental grounds.
    Chernobyl was a human health, wealth, welfare and happiness issue first and foremost, I think that Fukushima is the same. Perhaps that is just me, but I do not recall the non-human environmental issues of either incident being stressed in the media. Perhaps I only really see environmentalism through the conservation and preservation lens, doing stuff that we wouldn’t do anyway for our own sake.
    With regard to nuclear accidents, does anyone remember or ever hear of Aberfan, where the colliery slag-heap liquified and collapsed an buried a school full of children and their teachers, they dug for a week but of course they were gone. Each form of power has its own signature risks, nuclear is different to coal and to hydro etc, perhaps some currently carry risks greater than others but they are not strictly comparable, dead is not simply dead, the perceived horror does matter. Buried alive must be about the worst and that is also the miner’s nightmare.

  44. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    Harrywr2:  Thanks for the critical perspective. I accept your criticisms and your greater nuance. I agree completely that we should think of energy in a local context: what resources are available, what are the needs, and how can we best match the resources to the needs in that place. This means, as you emphasize, that there is no one-size-fits-all best energy technology.
    I don’t think we disagree on the big picture. The point I was trying to make was that the decline of new nuclear plant orders after TMI was largely economic, not driven by fear. You say that I oversimplify and make some mistakes about which economic pressures were most important, and I’ll concede that point.
    But I’m interested in your take on the big picture: would you judge that public fear was less important than those economic factors you mention—falling coal prices, overbuilding baseload, and declining demand, or am I mistaken?
    Regarding the economics of nuclear baseload in the Southeast, I’m curious. TVA is calling for rate hikes to make up for declining electricity demand. A couple of weeks ago, TVA reported a 3.4% drop in electricity use in the Tennessee Valley for the past year, and has halved its forecast of future demand growth. Around these parts, I hear a lot of criticism of the TVA’s plans to add so much expensive baseload when more emphasis on efficiency and conservation might render that additional baseload unnecessary for many years to come. What’s your take?

  45. Lewis Deane says:

    Keith had a rather interesting ‘provocation’ about ‘bat-shit’ American verses European Greens. But when it comes to nuclear the shoe is on the other foot. One of the assertions in the comments to that article was that ‘skeptism’ was merely an “anglo-saxon’ phenomena, a characterisation some in our extremely diverse english speaking world might resent – where’s India in this?That by the bye, the fourth largest economy, Germany has abandoned nuclear because it was already in an agitated and ‘green’ mind to use any problem with nuclear to do so and there where very few and marginalised voices that might have said “Hey, the Japanese tsunami, which created untold damage and killed far more people in a first world economy than any natural disaster – 40,000 or more – might have, in fact, proved how ‘safe‘ Nuclear power is. Further, it might be, that nuclear has become a bete noir in that country because to come to terms with that countries grief proved and will prove much more difficult.” Rationality is difficult, as T.S.Eliot might have said.

    By the way, I have an apology to make to BBD for using him as an easy bete noir of my own. It was lazy and stupid. He’ll know what I mean. Apologise! 

  46. Lewis Deane says:

    And, just as an aside, Germany frightens me, as, I think it does for many British people, for obvious historical reasons. (The recent, apparent ‘annexation’ by Eurocrats of Greece and Italy, egged on by the so called ‘rating agencies’, especially S&P, whose CEO ‘happens’ to be good friends of the German establishment (yes, maybe, the tin hat is on), that every time Merkel wants her way, tends to come out, with it’s tanks on everyone’s lawn.)

    When Germans embrace so much irrationality it always sends a shiver down the spine. It seems today that Germany is the EU and who can trust them? 

  47. Lewis Deane says:

    A copy and paste of a comment I made to Jack Straws Article in the Telegrath about Europe:

     I think we should be quite afraid. It isn’t because Germany wishes to ‘aggrandise’ or ‘subvert’ democracies’ – far from it – it is because Germany must pay attention to it’s own democratic base and, yet, within the European context, is so big and so powerful. This is very much Bismarck days and business as usual – and, in that sense, it is consoling. But the overwhelming power that Germany now has, within Europe, must mean it has overwhelming responsibility. Not, first of all, to impose it’s own version of political-economy on it’s neighbours merely because it has the power to do so. Germany and to a lesser extent France, it’s seeming ‘yes man’, have a tremendous, historic responsibility here to see that nothing is more important than democracy and the ability of half-sovereign people to determine their own existence. Nothing is more important than holding true to the founding principles of our modern democratic era – that of democracy. You break that, however ‘temporarily’, then everything else is pointless. Let then the Euro hang – on a disaffected public that is sullen and ready to explode. Think!

  48. BBD says:

    Lewis Deane

  49. Lewis Deane says:

    I walk down my street and my courage fails,
    Has failed. It isn’t that the key in my hand
    Will no longer work – the police and the other officious guardians
    Of our fate will have ‘permission’ to slot in the key
    And turn the key and open that garden of butterfly’s
    And June days  but also muddy winters and alone
    London – but I am now excluded and know that,
    Whatever I do, as a human being, is suspicious.
    So cowardly, I divert to the local pub and smoke
    My death giving fag outside. 

  50. Harry says:

    The German Greens couldn’t have don’t it without the major screw up at Fukishima.  Japan is a first world country, with state of the art technology, and simple greed and laziness produced a PR disaster.  It was only sheer luck things weren’t a lot worse.

  51. Lewis Deane says:

    Harry, ther were no PR ‘screw up’ in Fukushima, only in our mind.

     It was only sheer luck things weren’t a lot worse

    Could you elaborate? For, of course, with Fukishima and the other nuclear sites, nothing could have gone better. Can you tell me one causality from these ‘nuclear’ causes? Of course not, and compared with the 40,000 real causalities it would be pretty casuistic for you to do? Of course, there is always the ‘miasma’ and that strange monstrosity of green irrational glue from which…?

  52. Lewis Deane says:

    Just as a point of fact, Harry, do you know how many people were killed in the Chinese coal mining industry last year?

  53. ob says:

    maybe it’s just me being German, but does history result in an urge to criticize Germany but ignoring one’s own … problems. i’m not really willing to talk of “anti-germanism”, but Lewis comes quite close, doesn’t he?
    concerning “our” anti-science anti-nuclear stance. Let’s assume that, over 40 years, the nuclear “industry” and “nuclearly lobbied” politicians f*ed up all the trust they could have earned and thus the public just doesn’t like them very much.
    and possibly we have been “indoctrinated” (in one or another of the word’s meanings) that the future costs on coming generations of nuclear is even larger than of global climate change.
    or we are just working on making “the black swan” happen that we can manage without too much extra carbon emissions and without nuclear
    or we are just “bat-shit-crazy” Germans who will annihilate the climate and the Euro, Great Britain, Europe and the world. Sorry, just can’t get out of “our” skin.

  54. jeffn says:

    Poor TB @ #40 whining that we aren’t talking about “right-wingers.” Well, yes, this is because the post is about a prominent left-winger who has pointed out the obvious fact that left-wingers are the ones preventing any actual solutions to the problem- on both sides of the pond, note the mention of John Kerry.
    Right wingers continue to support nuclear power, as they always have. In fact, Monbiot notes that the left-wingers in Germany have actually forced the country to adopt an new energy policy to increase GHG emissions. No “climate concerned” person would do that, so it appears German Greens are now more ardent “deniers” than any of the Republican primary candidates.
    I am surprised that this thread hasn’t mentioned why the anti-nuke fearmongering is so prevalent on the left. Is this not just another chapter of the whole “capitalism isn’t sustainable” vs “cornucopians” debate? The public tuned out of that one when the winner became obvious.

  55. Tom Scharf says:

    Debating if the greens are really anti-nuclear is quite hilarious.  It has become religious dogma for them.  The reason it is NEVER discussed on their blogs (except in a negative mode) is because it will become a serious wedge issue in their own AGW coalition and fracture the group.

    But you have to ask, wouldn’t this be a positive development in reality?

    Given the current trend of AGW and climate science, business as usual can only lead to the continual sidelining of climate science, the public has already moved on.  When you are losing the negotiation, time to propose a new solution.

    The failure of the greens to embrace any sort of energy futures beyond capitalism killing punitive taxes, throttling down of “evil” consumerism, and mind binding wealth redistribution as some sort of policy solution to climate have greatly undermined their credibility.

    In some sort of alternate reality it might be appropriate for the left to write the specification for carbon output, and the right to execute the plan to achieve it.  

    It is clear that the left has proven to be clueless and ideologically driven in any of the climate solutions it proposes.  And vice versa for the right as they simply choose to ignore the problem.  Proper management would be to let the best qualified people do what they are good out.  


  56. Tom Scharf says:

    A better thought experiment is this:

    Imagine that nuclear power was not yet discovered / invented.  Imagine that as part of the green power R & D investment by government that it was discovered now.

    Would nuclear power be embraced as a solution without it’s current no-nukes legacy?

    I suggest it would. 

  57. harrywr2 says:

    But I’m interested in your take on the big picture: would you judge that public fear was less important than those economic factors you mention””falling coal prices, overbuilding baseload, and declining demand, or am I mistaken?
    Short answer is public fear was a small component. The economics was the larger component.

    Public fear can be countered with education and outreach. Polls consistently show that those people who live near a nuclear plant or have visited a nuclear plant have a more favorable opinion of nuclear power.
    No one bothers spending on public education and outreach unless the economics of doing something are favorable.
    Source watch has a coal fired plant age chart-
    A significant drop-off in coal fired plant construction occurred around 1985. There was 11GW a year of coal plant construction between 1980 and 1984, dropping to 5 GW a year between 1985 and 1989 then dropping to 2 GW per year between 1990 and 1995.
    The reality is we haven’t been building much base-load in the US for 20+ years. Nuclear or coal. I don’t think we can blame the lack of coal fired base-load construction on TMI.
    That will change in the next 5-10 years as our existing coal fired base-load plants begin reaching ‘end of useful life’.

  58. Marlowe Johnson says:

    “Public fear can be countered with education and outreach.”

    That sounds like the deficit model to me. Careful or you may attract the wrath of a certain RPJr… 

  59. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @Harrywr2: Thanks very much for your perspective on this.  I had not thought about the whole question from the angle of baseload capacity vs. peaking capacity. You’re very persuasive and I’m realizing I need to do a lot more reading before pontificating further.
    @Marlowe: the snark misses its mark. Roger has never opposed properly informing or educating people. He’s opposed assuming that if people disagree with you on policy it must be because they don’t understand the facts, and that if they only understood the facts, they would agree with you on policy.
    Harry is saying that the fear part can be addressed where it’s based on misinformation, but addressing the fear won’t bring people on board with respect to policy if nuclear power would raise their monthly utility bills (that’s Roger’s Iron Law).

  60. jeffn says:

    “Public fear can be countered with education and outreach.”
    This doesn’t seem to be working in Germany.  Are they that “different” over there?

  61. willard says:


    Informing or educating people is proper when the (environmental) problems are connected to values, whereby trust is build and people empowered. 

    A neverending dialog, where both the expert and the public learn from one another by sharing perspectives.

    Proper outreach comes with reframing, engaging, complementing, motivating, enabling, empowering.

    Values.  Trust.  Identity.  Social Network. 

    But let’s not forget trust. 

    Oh, and by the way: yes, but Climategate. 

  62. Marlowe Johnson says:


    The snark wasn’t really aimed at Harry.  It just reminded me of the manner in which Roger would try and beat Tobis and Real Climate over the head (metaphorically) for daring to suggest that a rational policy response to a problem is far more likely to occur when there is a shared understanding of the nature of the problem itself.  

    I have no problem with the deficit model in its weaker form; ultimately it is one’s values that will determine policy preferences and these are  necessarily subjective. I’d suggest that this is pretty uncontroversial.  Does anyone actually believe in the stronger form of this argument? It makes you wonder what exactly all the fuss is about….perhaps people don’t respond well to being criticized for positions they don’t hold 😉

    The same kind of rhetorical overplay is evident with the ‘iron law’ by the way.  It is simply not true that people won’t pay for climate mitigation policies.  Look at Europe.  Look at British Columbia.  People will pay. How much they’ll pay of course depends on a host of different factors.  Chief among them IMO are concern about the problem and the perception of fairness associated with the solutions (think Occupy Movement for another example).  Roger’s overstatement of the importance of the ‘iron law’ may be good for selling books and promoting innovation-centric policy preferences but in the end I don’t think it is very helpful in setting the stage for constructive dialogue.  

    There’s informing and then there is informing. Think of the difference between a car commercial and a review from Consumer’s Report.  One goes out of its way to provide useful information in a practical context; the other usually goes out of it’s way to do exactly the opposite.


  63. Lewis deane says:

    #53 ob,

    I’m not anti-German. My educators were German. My best friends have been German. My girl friends have been German. I just know history, deeply and painfully. What confuses people about  the Germans, if one can talk about a nation without being considered racist, is the notion that technocratic  facility, the so called ‘efficiency’ equals ‘rationality’. On the contrary, just as with the British reductionist utilitarianism, and, as Freud, an Austrian, long ago noted, it is a symptom of deep irrationality, a hinterland, a black forest of violence and stupidity that is always there. Now, that would be OK if Germany were merely Switzerland, but Germany is always both to big and to small. It both contains itself and does not contain itself. It was perfect as a patchwork of Principalities and kingdoms, when Goethe sang and Schiller played, when Heinrich Heine was the sweetest voice of Europe, but ever since those damn Prussians and the Franco-German war of 1870, we’ve been having ‘troubles’. O well.

    For see the irrationality:

    ‘ The nuclear lobby and the ‘nuclear’ lobbied industries f*ck up”

    Only in the sense, that in a deeply irrational, hostile country any ‘rational’ debate is bound to f*ck up, ob. That is a country were the ‘miasma’ of ‘radiation’ exist and is anathema to a neurotic ‘cleanliness’.

    I’ll leave with just an anecdote: Hitching, 20 years ago, from my beloved Czech Republic back to England, I noted, with irony and irritation, the difference in public conveniences. Starting in Prague the usually graffiti and male mess, but in Germany, oh no, two (two! Why two?) haus fraus, who kept everything spotlessly clean, until finally liberated in Holland and once again our honest, graffitied mess. That’s always been the difference – do you want spotless latrines or freedom. So, yes I’m hostile! 

  64. Lewis deane says:

    ‘Germany’, ob, a “˜nation’ that never was a nation and, therefore, should never be one!

  65. Lewis Deane says:

    By the way, I’m embarrassed to be on the ‘side’ of world class bores, whose loud and idiotic voices force me, necessarily, to go to the other ‘side’. But then I console myself, that with ‘nuclear’, even the most intelligent voices are ‘with me’. Other than that, there’s always the consoling, intelligent voices of Ben Pile or Steve McIntyre, for instance. The ‘shock jocks’ and the ‘bat shit’ fools, notwithstanding.

    if one can talk about a nation without being racist

    I should have said, you started it first. Yes you did, you invaded Poland! Ha ha! 

  66. ob says:

    just to add on the nuclear f* up.
    The Asse, Gorleben and Vattenfall are all examples, how engineering, science, politics and public communication failed to build public trust.
    Nevertheless, the outcome might have been the same if indeed there had been competence in building trust in the process of selecting a repository (Gorleben), if the minimal problems had been communicated to the “irrational” public instead of brushing them under the carpet (Vattefnall) or if waste had not been let to rot in an unsecure salt deposit (with the knowledge of it being so, Asse).

  67. OPatrick says:

    BBD #39
    “Easily said, but the blunt fact remains: the big ENGOs are overtly anti-nuclear (eg WWF; FOE; Greenpeace). 
    And that is a problem which nobody seems even to acknowledge is a problem. But it is.”

    I agree that the big ENGOs are anti-nuclear, though less so now than they have been, but I disagree that nobody wants to acknowledge this as a problem – Monbiot and Lynas are of course good examples of people doing exactly that. And there is a much broader range of opinions within these groups than their official positions suggest. 

    It was telling that in the Guardian articles when Monbiot argued in favour of nuclear there were immediate comments from many posters, those with a track record of undermining any calls for action to tackle climate change, to the effect that he was in for a kicking from the greenies. In reality anyone who bothers to read the comments, rather than believing the predictions of those untrustworthy commenters, will see that whilst there were a few who argued vehemently against him, most gave measured responses, either arguing that on balance they thought he was wrong or that on balance they agreed with him.

    As I said, it suits certain people to give the impression that there is a greater level of irrational, anti-science opinion on nuclear amongst environmentalists than in reality there is.

  68. BBD says:


    I agree that the big ENGOs are anti-nuclear, though less so now than they have been

    Really? At random, from google top hits:




    As I said, it suits certain people to give the impression that there is a greater level of irrational, anti-science opinion on nuclear amongst environmentalists than in reality there is.

    I’m sorry. It’s unfortunate that we differ over this because the ‘sceptics’ do love it so. However, this really isn’t so.

    The major ENGOs have pushed an anti-science agenda on nuclear for decades. This is now sharply at odds with a rational energy policy response to CC. This must change, immediately.

    Trying to play down the reality of this widespread, heavily-promoted and powerful anti-nuclear sentiment among the environmentally concerned is gravely counter-productive.  It’s well past time for a re-think.

  69. grypo says:


    The problem is that even if the anti-science stuff is removed (which we know from AGW skeptics is like tooth extraction) we still need to come up with an economic plan to provide an alternative to market fears about the feasibility of nuclear investment.  This likely means high level beuracracy for safety regs and global resource pooling.  After this, most of the psuedo-free market type support we get disappears quickly.

  70. harrywr2 says:

    “Public fear can be countered with education and outreach.”
    This doesn’t seem to be working in Germany.  Are they that “different” over there?
    The German’s host American tactical nuclear weapons.
    If the German Army was running around in my backyard with nuclear weapons I’d probably join Green Peace as a matter of nationalist pride.

  71. BBD says:

    I’m not especially moved by the oft-quoted ‘economic’ argument.
    I’m sure it’s nothing that cannot be overcome by a combination of:
    – an improving understanding of what >550ppmv CO2 is doing to climate
    – carbon taxes so nuclear looks less ‘expensive’
    – technology: Gen III/III+ reactor designs
    Some clarity about the shape of the demand curve in 2030 and beyond would also help. First, the idea that baseload demand will fall through energy efficiencies is a red-herring. Demand will rise, not fall.
    We hear about the glut of baseload in the US, but not about the near-certainty that electrification of transport and heating will at least double baseload demand in coming decades.
    The fact is, there’s no large-scale low-carbon alternative for baseload generation. It’s more coal or new nukes.
    Anti-nuke activists and investors are going to have to accept this and learn to see the benefits within the facts. It’s actually not very hard provided the brain is switched on.

  72. grypo says:

    I’m not moved by it either, but the powers-that-be are.  I agree with everything you wrote there.  The problem is that, politically, the argument is compelling because you are fighting multi-pronged efforts from both green renewable and fossil fuel moneyed interests.  until we find a way to make the money people see nuclear as in-their-interest, the road is tough.  How do we get that support?  

  73. Marlowe Johnson says:

    While I agree with you on the prospects of demand increasing due to electrification of the passenger vehicle fleet, I’m curious to hear why you think there will be a switch to electricity for heating applications. Last time I checked, this was one area where electrification is inefficient (and therefore uneconomic).

    Wrt to your other points, if we can get a carbon price that is acceptable to the public (where acceptable is influenced by a reasonable understanding of the problem and consequences of inaction) then of course the ‘economic’ arguments take care of themselves.  But much as I’d like to think otherwise, it seems to me that achieving either of these two conditions is far less likely to occur than simply convincing the public of the merits of nuclear power on strictly economic/energy security grounds.

    To be clear, I don’t think you’ll find anyone on this thread that wouldn’t pick nuclear over coal/gas if those were the only choices on the table.  Where opinions start to diverge is when you add investments in conservation/smart grid/renewables into the mix along with the other two choices.  For those who support the latter, I’d suggest that the thinking is that investment in conservation buys time for sufficient improvements to be made in the area of both renewables and energy storage so as to make both fossil AND nuclear less attractive given the trade-offs that come with each technology (i.e. proliferation, decommissioning, meltdown, waste storage, etc.)

    One last point. If you accept that large scale electrification of the fleet will increase demand, then I’d argue that you also have to at least accept the possibility that V2G technologies will make the renewables-baseload problem more tractable.


  74. BBD says:


    Last time I checked, this was one area where electrification is inefficient (and therefore uneconomic).

    Doesn’t this depend entirely on what you are paying per kW/h for electricity?

    Where opinions start to diverge is when you add investments in conservation/smart grid/renewables into the mix along with the other two choices.  For those who support the latter, I’d suggest that the thinking is that investment in conservation buys time for sufficient improvements to be made in the area of both renewables and energy storage so as to make both fossil AND nuclear less attractive given the trade-offs that come with each technology (i.e. proliferation, decommissioning, meltdown, waste storage, etc.)

    Oh this is a can of worms.

    – Once again: there is no indication that the benefit of ‘conservation’ is going to be meaninful in the face of increased future demand. It’s just something people endlessly repeat.

    – Smart grids and renewables are under-costed and over-promoted by their proponents. No-one has ever produced a convincing analysis that shows a energetically credible, financially persuasive argument for large-scale investment in this approach vs nuclear. Why? Because the latter actually delivers as promised: >90% capacity factor on nameplate; 24/7/365. And because renewables need conventional backup of near-equivalent capacity. Let’s not forget.

    – From the current engineering perspective, apart from pumped hydro that exploits favourable geography (limited potential; vast construction cost), large-capacity energy storage is still firmly in fantasy land. And there’s every likelihood that it will remain there for the forseeable future.

    – You close with a mention of V2G, which is a recipe for gambler’s ruin. It’s not a reliable hedge against renewable intermittency and slew. You do not bet the welfare of cities and industrial infrastructure on hand-waving like this. I will take a risk and say it straight: this will never happen on a large scale.

  75. OPatrick says:

    BBD, as I said I don’t disagree that ENGOs are anti-nuclear, as your links show. But these position statements don’t represent the full range of views of environmentalists, not even those within these organisations. Amongst people I know Monbiot’s views aren’t notably radical and I think it important to avoid this, in my view deliberate, characterisation of environmentalists as anti-science on nuclear. It’s also useful to remember that people may have valid reasons for coming down against nuclear which aren’t based on considerations you might consider important, they aren’t necessarily being anti-science in making these judgements. The concern comes when they use pseudo-scientific arguments rather than focusing on these, to them at least, real issues.

  76. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Ok BBD, it sounds like you’d like to make a wager.  Is 2030 timeframe too long for you 🙂 ?

  77. BBD says:

    Marlowe @ 76
    Is 2030 too long – I hope not, from a personal perspective, but who knows, eh? 😉
    But either way (thanks all the same, Willard) I am not going to make online wagers from behind a pseudonym. Let’s just argue the case as we see it in the here and now. 
    >> Grypo @ 69; 72
    I’m sorry, I wasn’t ignoring your comments intentionally. You ask the big question too: how do we overcome the entrenched anti-nuke sentiment?
    The older I get, the more I begin to fear that those who say we need a ‘climate disaster’ before anything gets done are right. By which time, of course…

  78. huxley says:

    BBD @78: But I don’t think we need a climate disaster to build nukes. We’re going to have power the world with some kind of energy, as the old plants degrade and more people want better standards of living.

    I don’t worry as much as you do about fossil fuels, but they are becoming more expensive, they pollute more, they are more convenient for transportation, and they are necessary for feedstock.

    We should definitely build nukes.

    I believe we are running into an economic disaster which will force people to become less squeamish about admitting our need for energy and dropping the NIMBY and BANANA nonsense.

  79. Lewis Deane says:

    Like folding and unfolding snow, the cerebrum
    Stirs with the wind until finally flattened.
    “It is not how much coal you have but what you do
    Whilst it burns.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  80. Lewis Deane says:

    rry, wrong post, looking back narcissistically!

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