Guest Post by Ben Heard. Ben is Director of Adelaide-based advisory firm ThinkClimate Consulting, a Masters graduate of Monash University in Corporate Environmental Sustainability, and a member of the TIA Environmental and Sustainability Action Committee. After several years with major consulting firms, Ben founded ThinkClimate and has since assisted a range of government, private and not-for profit organisations to measure, manage and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and move towards more sustainable operations. Ben publishes regular articles aimed at challenging thinking and perceptions related to climate change and sustainable energy at decarbonisesa.com.
Ed: This is a cross-post from Decarbonise SA.
This has got to stop, and it stops when people start taking a stand… The schism in environmentalism over nuclear power is now well underway. It is sad that the other side seem to have decided in their righteousness that they are allowed to play dirty and go after individuals, using the same cherry-picking abuse of science that is all to familiar in climate change denial.
I was saddened this week to be forwarded a hatchet job on my friend and collaborator, Professor Barry Brook, authored by Jim Green of Friends of the Earth (FoE). Saddened, but not surprised. FoE has form in this department, having deployed these guerrilla tactics before against James Lovelock when he became inconveniently persuasive on the subject of nuclear power. It would seem that it is now Barry’s turn.
I have come to know Barry very well over the last 12 months. I know him well enough to know that he is both the last person who would ask for defending, and the most deserving of defence. So I offer this response to Green’s work. I really, dearly hope it will be read outside my circle of existing readers and supporters. I have some important things to say.
Green begins by getting some things really, really right. Namely, that Brook is highly qualified, highly regarded, extensively published, completely independent of the nuclear industry, and operating from a genuine concern about climate change. When you add to that the fact that he is highly influential, it becomes easy to understand why FoE have resorted to getting the hatchet out.
We are told Barry glibly believes “it’s nuclear power or it’s climate change”. This is an inaccurate and out-of-context portrayal of his position. It is a deeply considered and thoroughly researched position from a highly qualified scientist, the head of Climate Science at Adelaide University no less. It also happens to be a position that is largely shared by a long and growing list of prominent environmentalists (including the aforementioned Lovelock, James Hansen, George Monbiot and Mark Lynas) who have taken themselves through a similar process of critical examination of this problem as has Barry.
More times than I can recall, Barry has made the point that he does not care which technology does the job of rapid decarbonisation to avoid the worst effects of climate change. It is simply his well researched opinion that the central technology will need to be nuclear power or we will not succeed. Others are free to agree or disagree with him. But he states his case so cogently and robustly that every day more and more people are compelled to agree.
To suggest he is in error, Green refers to other, non-nuclear plans that supposedly demonstrate the redundancy of nuclear including a 2011 piece by Dr Mark Diesendorf of the University of NSW. I’m familiar with the Diesendorf study. I read both a critique of it and then a rebuttal from Diesendorf himself at this great site called Brave New Climate, run by a guy called Barry Brook. You see Barry (and therefore BNC) is not remotely concerned by robust debate on energy solutions. He positively encourages it, including running a very interesting and useful piece from none other than Jim Green! BNC is probably the best moderated and therefore most reliable place on the Australian web for robust, genuine debate.
It is precisely because of his commitment to robust discussion and debate that Barry is confident to hold such forthright opinions on nuclear power. Time and time again, efforts to beat the problem without nuclear are shown to lie somewhere between tenuous and impossible. Barry is responsible enough to understand these limits, and honest enough to look the problem of climate change in the eye. That’s why he is influential.
We are told that Brook trivialises the connection between nuclear power production and the spread of nuclear weapons. To show how “non-trivial” the connection is, we are given this information:
- Of the 65-odd countries with a nuclear program of any significance (involving power and/or research reactors), over one-third have used their ‘peaceful’ programs to advance weapons ambitions.
- Of the 10 countries to have built nuclear weapons, six did so with support and political cover from their “peaceful” programs (India, North Korea, South Africa, Pakistan, France and Israel).
- About 45 countries have the capacity to produce significant quantities of fissile material (more or less depending on where you draw the line with small-medium research reactors), and a vast majority of those countries acquired their fissile material production capacity through peaceful nuclear research or power programs.
Using Green’s own data, of 65 nations with some sort of nuclear program, only 10 have developed weapons. Access to nuclear technology is clearly not the major determinant in the development of weapons. Green tells us 45 nations are quite technologically capable of producing fissile weapons material. Surely the interesting point here is that they choose not to. Australia is one of these nations. If mis-used, the Lucas Heights reactor is perfectly capable of producing sufficient fissile material for a weapon in the course of a year. We have the technological capability right now. Declining to use nuclear power generation does not alter that. It just gives us dirtier air and higher greenhouse gas emissions.
Green leaves out some other important context. Of the 10 nations, that have developed weapons, five of them (US, Russia, China, UK, France) were armed by 1964. This is a legacy issue that we are still dealing with, but quite irrelevant to our decision making on meeting energy needs in 2012 and beyond. The other four (Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea) have armed since 1964. One (South Africa) has completely disarmed. Nuclear weapons proliferation is indeed very concerning. But it is not a runaway, out of control problem. The most recent weapon states lie in the world’s major trouble spots. The rest of the world uses nuclear energy and medical reactor technology with no attempt to arm. This problem is clearly geopolitical, not technological.
I presume Green would really prefer people not consider that the enriched material from 17,000 warheads has been downgraded and used as fuel in power reactors through the Megatons to Megawatts program. Nuclear power has provided a safe, sensible pathway for removing this material from circulation. Or that General Electric’s proposal to build a Prism Fast Reactor for the UK is clearly the best solution to that nation’s stockpile of plutonium.
Barry trivialises nothing. Green could easily have cited articles of Barry’s that have opened discussion with his large readership to examine these issues in detail like this and this. He is one of the deepest thinkers I know, and a very moral person. On the subject of weapons proliferation, there is no quick answer that can be handed out in debate. Barry has simply looked at this issue dispassionately and come to a very rational conclusion: the current and expanded use of nuclear power has almost nothing to do with the challenge of proliferation, and may in fact hold some very important solutions. The issue is complex, and deserves more consideration than a knee-jerk rejection of a clean energy option.
The piece then moves into the convoluted issues of radiation and the linear non-threshold theory of harm. I am going to largely leave this to Barry to make a technical response, though I have tackled Green on this subject before. But in the general issue of nuclear safety, Green says this:
Still Brook is adamant that “nuclear power is the safest energy option”. Safer than wind and solar? He could only arrive at that conclusion by using the nuclear industry’s methodology: only consider accidents at nuclear power plants rather than accidents across the energy chain; understate the death toll from accidents by several orders of magnitude; only consider accidents rather than routine emissions; and ignore the greatest hazard associated with nuclear power — its repeatedly demonstrated connection to WMD proliferation (most recently with North Korea’s use of an “experimental power reactor” to produce plutonium for weapons).
In this statement, Green is simply completely incorrect. The Energy Related Severe Accident Database maintained by the (independent) Paul Scherrer Institute considers the full energy chain in making the clear finding that nuclear power is the safest major power source in the world. The ERSAD does not consider the “routine emissions” from nuclear. Nor does it for coal and gas, which are responsible for a goodly portion of the 1.3 million deaths attributed by WHO to outdoor air pollution every year. Given the “routine emissions” of nuclear basically consist of water vapour, the deaths should be some small fraction of the number zero. While the ERSAD does not make a comparison with wind and solar, to do so would be pointless. They supply so little of the world’s electricity, the comparison would be quite meaningless. We in fact run a great climate change risk by engaging in planning that these energy sources are quickly capable of displacing fossil fuels en masse. They are not.
Finally, saddling nuclear power with the hazard of nuclear weapons is about as sensible as apportioning some of it to the steel industry for the missile casing, some to the av-gas industry for the missile fuel, and some to the physics departments for working out how to aim the missile. It is a lame duck argument.
Nuclear power is safe. Very, very safe, and only getting safer. There could be no better example than Fukushima, but here Green accuses Barry of spreading misinformation. I would like to test that.
Green disputes Barry’s position that the event will likely result in little if any radiological injury by asserting a likely death toll of in the 100’s or around 1,000. He provides references. Presumably, he hopes no one will read them carefully. I’m a little bit annoying like that.
The reference for 100s of deaths is called Fukushima Accident: Radioactive Releases and Potential Dose Consequences and subtitled Preliminary Investigations June 28, 2011. Preliminary is right; this reference was published just three months following the event. I have reproduced the third final and final slide from which Green infers fatalities “in the 100s”. Bear with me, things are going to get a bit boring and technical for a moment. I’m afraid the truth is often like that.
Green’s use of this reference is so misrepresentative as to be bordering on dishonest. An increased mortality rate of 0.001% is very much the same thing as 0%. The final slide makes it clear that their message is one that latent deaths “can’t be ruled out” but “conservative risk estimates suggest 100s” of cancers against a background of 10 million cases.
This is all quite ridiculous. Calling a spade a spade, any conceivable impact will be so small as to be completely undetectable, which is the prevailing finding of experts one year down the track. This so called “increased risk” is utterly pitiful against the range of very serious and well established risk factors for cancer. It is a non-issue. My questions for Green on this are therefore:
- Did you look for more recent references and not find them? Or did you not look?
- Is this massive mis-representation of the reference your own work? Or did you not even read the reference properly?
Green’s second reference, citing 1,000 deaths, has a couple of clangers. It’s too good to paraphrase. Here is the direct quote:
A corresponding estimate of the cancer consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi accident has not yet been conducted, but it is possible to make a very preliminary order-of-magnitude guesstimate … one might expect around 1,000 extra cancer deaths related to the Fukushima Daiichi accident
I did not make that up. The author Green himself cites for the upper fatality figure calls his own figure “a very preliminary, order of magnitude guesstimate”. It is, quite simply, appalling that anyone would lean upon a “very preliminary order of magnitude guesstimate” to suggest that a thousand people are going to die. This is deeply, deeply unfair. It is this sort of from-the-hip activism that contributed to fear-driven psychological illness being the major latent impact of Chernobyl. In a stunning irony, Green’s own reference makes this very point in the next paragraph for Fukushima:
Finally, it is important to note that, if not dealt with properly, the psychological consequences associated with accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima could damage many more lives than the cancer consequences.
Publicly accusing someone of spreading misinformation is a serious charge. Anyone doing so should make sure their own house is in order first. This time, my questions for Green are as follows:
- How much of your work depends on “very preliminary order of magnitude guesstimates?”
- Are you aware that your own reference warns against the very serious consequences of the misunderstanding of radiation risk? If so, why have you contributed to the problem? If not, why not? Do you not read references completely?
Green’s misuse and abuse of references, whether the result of laziness or something worse, leave him with little credibility. This does not stop him and others continuing to make great hay out of Barry’s erroneous prognostications early in the unfolding Fukushima event. But there are two things they don’t ever, ever do:
- Point out where Barry, on his own site, revisits this mistake, corrects the record and engages in some searching self-criticism
- Follow Barry’s example in the now innumerable examples of incorrect, foolish and downright dangerous misinformation that has been spread about nuclear power, such as those highlighted above
For example, in response to my own recent piece on activists deliberately stoking outrage, Green put the hard word on the Brisbane branch of FoE who were continuing to highlight a (medically impossible) link between Fukushima and a “spike in deaths” in the USA in the immediate aftermath of the accident. Apparently even Green has his limits. But will you find a retraction from FoE? No. A correction? Certainly not. Some self criticism as to how such absolute claptrap could have been posted under their good name? No way. Acknowledgement that is was only through sheer embarrassment caused by an independent blogger that they finally removed it in the first place? You get the picture.
I have not enjoyed writing this, nor indeed needing to write it in the first place. I don’t like seeing a cheap hatchet job on one of our best and brightest scientists, not just because he is a friend of mine, but because he is an outstanding Australian and a caring leader in our global community. I don’t like knowing someone has bastardised references, only to find it is way, way worse than I would even have expected. I don’t like watching environmental organisations, some of which I supported with both my money and my time when I was younger, sink this low and keep sinking, seemingly proud of their efforts. I really don’t like that it seems impossible to give a firm rebuttal without taking an individual to task, and I hate that someone undecided on nuclear power may read this and think that I just hate FoE.
But bullshit like this has got to stop, and it stops when people start taking a stand. The schism in environmentalism over nuclear power is now well underway. It is sad that the other side seem to have decided in their righteousness that they are allowed to play dirty and go after individuals, using the same cherry-picking abuse of science that is all too familiar in climate change denial. Based on the way so many issues play out, I think it would be a real tactical mistake to presume that this sort of cheap, tabloid activism does not work, and to think we can fight this without getting into the mud.
If you indentify as someone who cares about the environment, you DO have a choice to make in the next few years: you are either pro-nuclear or anti-nuclear. There are two camps. Please, look carefully. Think critically. Choose wisely.
54 replies on “Environmentalism in the mud: responding to Jim Green’s attack on Barry Brook”
The detailed referenced/linked critique from which the New Matilda opinion piece is drawn is posted at:
Over and out from me,I gave up on BNC ages ago for reasons spelt out in sections 6 and 8 of the critique.
I respect your sprited defence of Barry.
I note however your comment regarding the OPAL reactor being capable of making enough bomb grade material in a year.
Are you suggesting this can be done with the current French sourced low grade fuel or are you anticipating some other mechanism?
If you are not certain about this point some clarification may be in order
This response really needed to be written, and you’ve done a great job. Terrific!
To my knowledge, which is far from complete, yes if the intent was there the reactor could be used for that purpose with the current fuel, which I note is enriched to 20% U235 http://www.ansto.gov.au/discovering_ansto/anstos_research_reactor . The short cycles of research reactors are, I understand, quite preferable to power reactors if the goal is generating weapons grade PU 239. The cycle for OPAL is short, 30-35 days, with only short outages for refuelling. The long cycles of power reactors instead result in high levels of PU 240 which is no good for weapons. Here is a quote from the late Cohen on this topic:
“Another alternative would be to use a research reactor, designed to provide radiation for research applications rather than generate electricity. At least 45 nations now have research reactors, and in at least 25 of these there is capability of producing enough plutonium t make one or more bombs every 2 years. Research reactors are usually designed with lots of flexibility and space, so it would not be difficult to use them for plutonium production”.
Note that of course reprocessing would be required- nice isolated batches of PU 239 do not pop out of the reactor. Again, the intent is required, it does not just happen by virtue of the technology being in use. Note also the figure of 45 nations is the same as Green used, so I believe we are on the same page.
If you or anyone else knows better on this, dive in and correct me, and I will correct the article.
An excellent defense.
It is time that organisations that profess to be “friends” of the earth and such, explain to everyone why shutting down nuclear plants and replace these with fossil burners or renewables that would otherwise have replaced fossil burners elsewhere, is being “friendly” to the earth. Pretending falsely that energy sources such as solar that are not there 80-90% of the time can power countries, and that this excuses us from not having to build nuclear powerplants, how is that helping the earth?
How has the earth ever been damaged by nuclear power? Chernobyl is a nature reserve, wildlife is flourishing. You’d think environmentalists would like this surprising result. Not that I’m advocating the creation of such nature reserves by building unsafe reactors, but it is a fact that wildlife has gained from Chernobyl. During normal operation of nuclear plants there is little effect on the environment. They have negligible emissions and the plant and the waste are compact and of all energy sources take up the least valuable habitat space. Fissioning at atom of uranium gives 50 million times more heat than burning an atom of carbon. That the entire waste issue of a large power hungry city disappear into a single parking lot worth of dry casks.
What is more, nuclear plants isolate their waste from the environment by design, whereas fossil plants put their waste into the environment by design. But more dangerous than fossil plants is to not have energy at all. Not having refrigeration for example means no access to life saving vaccines/antibiotics. Hospitals don’t run on hot air. We can be more efficient but we must have more access to energy for 10 billion people. So we must have energy, more of it, much more.
There is no need for ad hominem attacks, or to doubt each others motives. There is a need to look at the facts and numbers so that we can make informed decisions, because decide we must.
Perhaps the biggest problem with traditional green activist groups is that they don’t do this. They don’t research the facts very well, don’t do much math, and don’t think in terms of alternatives. A thousand cancer deaths? One day of air pollution, globally, kills over 5000. Two million people a year. Not just from fossil fuel. Also a big contributor is biomass, a so called “renewable”. How many people were killed by the Banqiao dam failure, which is hydroelectric, another “renewable” energy source?
171,000 instant deaths. 171x more than Fukushima even according to the higher 1000 cancer deaths estimate.
Banqiao caused 11 million homes to be lost. That’s 11,000,000. How many homes were evacuated in Fukushima? 50,000 maybe? These were not even lost and are perfectly fine if we used risk-informed regulations rather than as low as unreasonably achievable, people could go right back. If people are allowed to live in Central London they must be allowed to live anywhere in Fukushima:
Living in Central London is 7x more cancer-risky than being an average Chernobyl kamikaze cleanup worker.
And that’s just humans. How many birds and beasts are killed by pollution? I never see Greenpeace or Friends of the earth calculate that. How many animals are at risk from climate change?
Jim Green says:
Section 6 is a rant about the “Near-complete silence from Prof. Brook about the racism that is common in the nuclear industry”. Can anyone take this guy seriously? Barry slaves his guts out to bring us a high standard of science and economics, and Jim Green expects social commentary as well!
I also respect Ben Heard’s defence of Barry Brook in the face of Dr Jim Green’s dishonest attack. I have three brief comments.
First that I also understood that the Opal Reactor, being a high neutron flux research reactor for doing irradiations, would be a most inefficient way of producing Pu-239 for weapons.
Second, has anyone looked at Jim Green’s academic qualifications. His PhD from Woolongong University is not in a hard field like physics but in a political field. He has few publications and most are polemical like the attack on Barry Brook. It is revealing to contrast this with Barry’s extensive publication record. I have encountered Green ten years ago in hearings associated with the previous nuclear waste repository at Woomera and was not impressed.
Finally, please note the statement in the news media today by Yvo de Boer, former Exec Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, that the 2 degree limit to temperature rise agreed to by 195 nations at Copenhagen in December 2009 is now out of reach? We need to fight back against Green and others to make the truth about nuclear power better known. Thanks.
Section 6 : Nuclear waste issue and how that can potentially encroach on Aboriginal land.
I think the position amongst many nuclear advocates is that the nuclear waste never has to leave the nuclear power plant facilities. The produced waste is minimal in size and can be stored therein. As and when fast reactors such as GE’s S-PRISM become operational (why don’t you cheer for it ?), the nuclear waste can be shipped to these power plants instead. The produced waste of S-PRISM reactor has only a longevity of 200 years.. It can be very easily contained within the power plant premises, as long as it is dangerous.
The racism issue is tangential. Aboriginal and tribal people have been disposssessed of their land since several hundred years, and an important cause of that is pressures for energy and water usage. These pressures will only exacerbate in an energy-poor future (or in a fossil-fueled future). Not using nuclear power has a huge opportunity cost, that can be looked at from the racist angle (and in the persistence of economic status-quo of the world). I believe it is non-nuclear advocates like you who should answer to these issues.
Section 8 : Functional operability of pyroprocessing and IFR
I think the facts are straightforward, as argued by Charles Till in his recent book “Plentiful energy : the IFR story”. Who is disingenuous here about the success of the IFR plant ? Who is refusing to acknowledge the 50 years of research that went into its development / Who is refusing to acknowledge that there is a commercial version of the power plant being championed by GE ?
IFRs can surely be used for weapons production. But the cost for using them to that end is so prohibitively higher than many other routes that exist already. Nobody who cares about their money would do that ! I respect your concern about nuclear weapons,and I share these concerns. But shouldn’t you put efforts in addressing the real causes of nuclear proliferation, which are apparent already ?
Great article Ben.
Jim Green in his response refers us to a link where he claims Professor Brook doesn’t acknowledge the “racist” aspect of the nuclear cycle, and that he is not a “responsible” nuclear advocate.
Of course, Jim Green ignores that there are also plenty of examples where Indigenous people have opposed renewable energy projects around the world and been ignored. Where were Friends of the Earth when the Narungga people of the Yorke Peninsula opposed the construction of the Wattle Point wind farm? Non-hydro renewables also require some 10 to 15 times more mining to produce the same amount of energy as a nuclear power plant. There is plenty of mining for iron-ore, cement products and other materials required for wind turbines and solar panels, which occurs all over Australia. By his own flawed logic, Jim Green is just as guilty of ignoring racism.
Jim Green also ignores that over 90% of emissions come from nations which already have nuclear power or research reactors, and that nuclear weapons can be made, and are made, without a nuclear power industry. It is far more irresponsible to ignore nuclear energy in the face of a rapidly changing climate.
It amazes me that environmental groups simultaneously employ both climate change campaign staff and antinuclear campaign staff.
FOE has Cam Walker as Climate Justice campaigner and Green as the Antinuclear campaigner. Don’t these people cancel each other out? ACF has Phil Freeman as their climate change campaigner, and Dave Sweeney as their Nuclear Free Campaigner. Don’t Freeman & Sweeney negate each other?
Holding on to both issues in a single group is a dangerous schizophrenia. In 2012 you can’t be both an antinuclear organization and an environmental organization, and both ACF and FOE need to decide which one they are.
Thankyou Ben for your spirited defence of Prof Brook. Anyone who knows him would immediately recognise and agree with your opinion on his character and the rationale behind his advocacy of nuclear power.
It would be nice if we had the luxury to write off nuclear power, but knowing that wind and solar, even with storage, is not going to meet all our energy needs, saddens me that the anti nuclear folks keep attacking nuclear without considering the consequences of severe shortages that are already being seen around the world in the form of rising oceans, increasing debt, wars, and starving people. All these could have been avoided if the US fast neutron ALMR nuclear project could have been finished in the 1990’s. That would also have solved the nuclear waste problem. What happened is that the anti nuclear folks took over and have now put the world in a huge mess. Expect it to just get worse until much of humanity dies off. Maybe our future generations (that survive) will get their senses back and humans will begin to build on the anti nuclear mistakes we are making now. By the way, for you anti nuclear folks, its easy for engineers to prove that wind and solar alone are not a complete and workable system. Its just the non engineers that have the rose colored glasses on believing that nuclear can be eliminated from our energy futures.
I would venture to suggest that it is, in fact , the outrageous misinformation and fear campaigns regarding, nuclear power, and radiation, promulgated by FOE, the Greens and other enviromental organizations that have promoted your so-called “nuclear racism”.
If these groups had not deliberately frightened the general public into believing that nuclear waste was a danger to themselves and their families, the material would have continued to be stored safely at Lucas Heights and in hospital repositories.
There would be no necessity for political parties to seek out storage sites in any remote locations, including aboriginal lands, purely to keep the electorate on side.
All, thanks very much. As I said, Barry is deserving of defence.
@Mrs Perps, powerful comment.
@jimgreen3 I deliberately left the long version alone. Reason being, it is constructed using much the same techniques of the great works of climate change denial i.e. such an overload of cherry picked, out of context rubbish, so as to make it completely impossible to rebutt in any remotely readable format that could possible hold people’s attention. Everyone else, go for your life, there is no shortage of material. PS Jim? Way to show your gratitude to a guy who published your work.
@John Patterson Inefficient? Yes, without doubt. But Green choses not to draw the distinction. For him, it all has the potential to produce the fissile material. Which comes back to my point. We can. We chose not to. A power plant would be even less efficient again, any attempt to use it on short cycles to produce fissile PU would show up like the proverbial dog’s bollocks on the wedding cake.
Great article, Ben. Thanks.
I must say that following my somewhat passionate disagreement with you on the issue of nuclear power last year, your words, Barry’s articles and my own critical reflection on the subject have caused me to change my tone regarding nuclear. I am now no longer vehemently opposed to the use of nuclear energy. In particular, if the IFR proves itself as living up to the hype, I would support the construction of such a reactor.
I must say, though, that as someone who does passionately care about the environment, I am neither particularly pro-nuclear nor anti-nuclear. I don’t agree that caring for the environment necessitates a choice between these two camps. In fact, requiring one to make this choice allows the chooser to avoid questioning the current paradigm within which this choice is posed, and arguably the most fundamental cause of environmental degradation – economic growth. By choosing nuclear as the solution to peak oil and the problem of climate change, we essentially are giving ourselves a ‘get out of jail free card’ to continue within our current growth paradigm – and ultimately this will lead to much greater and diverse environmental damage than anthropogenic climate change is likely ever to cause. I guess the question is: when is it time to say ‘enough is enough’? Must we continue to grow our energy consumption to the point where abundant renewable energy alone is not enough to meet our excessive demand? Is this not a sign that we’re already living beyond all reasonable needs and wants?
Of course, these are somewhat philosophical questions (aside from the rather real critique of continued economic growth and its effect on the environment), and they do nothing to address the current predicament and political climate that we find ourselves in presently. It is, of course, more than likely that we will be requiring nuclear power to serve our insatiable appetite for energy and consumer items. I don’t have a problem with this, per se. I would however like to see dialogue less around what kind of energy we use, and more around how much and why.
In regard to the energy issues of the 21st century, I stopped listening to redundant idealism a long time ago.
Instead I decided that I would establish my own tentative criteria (no particular order):
– resource dependacncy
– environmental impact
That’s why science and economics deserve attention, and Jim Green does not.
I don’t know why ‘Friends of the Earth’ get so much respect. This is really a fringe group that makes Greenpeace look reasonable. They split off from the Sierra Club, when it was decided they were too right-wing for the founder. FOE has just published a report on the San Onofre Power Station problem with the steam generator tube wear, which was reported on favorably in the LA Times. This was done by their ‘hatchet-man in chief’ Arne Gundersen, who is consistently called a nuclear engineer even though he is not (Rod Adams has done a good job describing Gundersens qualifications). If I see ‘Friends of the Earth’ I just turn the page. I am glad that some people like Ben still have the energy to answer this nonsense.
In-your-face subliminal message:
FoE to humanity (and sanity).
As technical advances in nuclear energy are actualized through demonstration and commercialization, thinking environmentalists who can do arithmetic, and actually do it, will, more and more, conclude that a sound climate and energy strategy includes a strong, or key, role for nuclear energy, as Barry Brook and others have done. If they are prominent or influential, they should expect more of Jim Green’s mode of character assassination, facts-be-damned.
Institutional environmental organizations have found it impossible to change their positions based on evidence, even though members, and probably a number of leaders, understand that the position they are taking is morally and intellectually bankrupt. Institutions are hard to change. It is their nature. Institutional stability is usually protected by fidelity to an institution’s long-standing positions. Maintaining those positions can become more important than the fundamental purposes for which the institution was founded.
Institutional environmentalists were previously able to justify the anti-nuclear position under the notion that natural gas could support a transition to the contemplated renewable energy and energy-efficient future. Gas was “only half as bad” as coal, and it wasn’t nuclear – – thank god – – and gas (it is often said) “works well” with intermittent renewables. Given all this gas must be “good” in contrast with nuclear energy’s categorical “bad.”
Getting a lot of money from gas interests to use against competitors to natural gas helped solidify the friendly perception. (http://griid.org/2012/02/06/the-sierra-club-took-millions-from-fracking-industry/
Robert Kennedy Jr., son of the deeply admired U.S. politician assassinated in 1968, and a prominent renewable energy advocate, except when offshore wind turbines were proposed near the Kennedy vacation compound, (http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110720/NEWS/107200316) clarified in a speech to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association that Solar and Wind Plants “are gas “plants.” (http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110720/NEWS/107200316) He was making the point that his colleagues in the environmental movement, by being for solar and wind, were also “for” gas, implying that gas companies should also be “for” renewables. The gas and oil companies (often the enterprises are combined) “get it.” They continue to be “for” renewables. Just observe their advertising. They know what’s good for them. They also know that renewables will never seriously challenge hydrocarbon dominance, so being “for” renewables costs them nothing.
More recently, a 2011 EPA report has helped clarify that gas is about as “bad” as coal from a greenhouse perspective. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/downloads10/Subpart-W_TSD.pdf
It is arguably worse in our current circumstances, because of the potency of leaked methane as a GHG over the short term during an era where things are getting worse quickly.
The new(ish) information from EPA, a confirmation of earlier work, has not triggered a detectable re-thinking of the nuclear energy option among institutional environmental organizations. There hasn’t even been a debate.
However, being for renewables per Robert Kennedy Jr., is being “for” fossil fuels.
So, what does this imply about institutional environmentalists like Mr. Green? It implies that, if institutional environmentalists had to choose between nuclear power and climate change, they would choose climate change. Functionally and practically, Jim Green and the institutional environmentalists like him already have chosen climate change. As a practical matter, they are for it.
Perhaps they lash out, like Mr. Green has against Barry Brook, to keep the attention off this choice, and in an effort – – a rather ugly one – – to deceive their consciences, and the consciences of their followers.
(Fixed by Mod.)
Thought this would be interesting. Send to all your gas-loving environmentalist friends.
Total gas leak forces evacuations in British North Sea
By Steven Mufson, Published: March 27
A natural gas leak from a well in the British North Sea has forced the evacuation of drilling platforms for miles around, and plugging the leak could take months because of the danger of triggering a gas explosion.
Environmental experts estimated that the well, operated by the French oil giant Total, may be spewing greenhouse gases equal in impact to the two biggest U.S. coal-fired power plants or more than all of Norway. Natural gas is composed largely of methane, which is 21 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Also Bravo, Ben.
You might of not liked writing this but I enjoyed reading it.
The problem with the nuclear energy=weapons cognitive disconnect is that even the debate avoids the real issue: politics. The *decision* to build a nuclear weapon doesn’t flow from having nuclear energy, as Ben pointed out. It’s from a *policy decision* to build them or not. If the decision is made, it’s basically irrelevant to the issue of an existing nuclear infrastructure, as India, Pakistan, N.Korea, S. Africa (kind of) and Israel, shows. So the concern for the proliferation community (very distinct from the two other overlapping communities: environmentalist and anti-nuclear) should be over the politics of proliferation and not over energy.
Does it make it ‘easier’ however, to engage in nuclear WMD? Sure. So does having physics depts in universities, an aerospace industry, chemistry and metallurgy, health physics and radiation medicine… and so on.
I think the racism charge is particularly a low blow. I’ve been an anti-racist, socialist ACTIVIST my entire life. What I see is the Greens, most notably in India, but other developing countries as well, struggling to keep these countries in their neo-colonial relationship with countries like Britain, France and the United States…by these NGOs opposing the development of nuclear energy. Is this “racist”? I don’t use this charge but one could, certainly it’s more applicable to the anti-nuclear community which Dr. Green is member of than it is those defending the use and development of low-carbon energy like nuclear.
Finally, I’m for anything that helps mitigate carbon. I think Barry’s understanding of this spot on. Oddly, anti-nuke environmentalists do NOT have the same perspective on mitigation…to the detriment of the planet.
A last point. Ben brings up something by inference: the trend toward increasing hostility to pro-nuclear environmentalism by the anti-nuclear crowd. I’ve been seeing this increase since before Fukushima. The “say anything” mantra of slandering the technology of nuclear energy and the people advocating for it.
I believe this stems from the understanding that the new Gen III reactors are becoming a reality in China, and now other countries like the U.S. as well. The fact that they are *likely* to meet budgetary and scheduling contraints (as oppoded to the FOAK EPRs in France and Finland) has installed a sense of panic among them.
They know that if the promise of Gen III nuclear energy comes to be, they will be on an uphill fight against nuclear, Fukushima notwithstanding. I think it is this ‘nightmare’ for the likes of Jim Green that has caused them to lash out with greater amounts of data twisting, false projections and now libel, of a sort.
I screwed up two links, not one. Here is the link to Robert Kennedy’s talk to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
@Cyril R – Good post. I always wonder if an uninformed audience were presented a “blind” sample of the outcomes of Banqio and the outcomes of Chernobyl,Three Mile Island or Fukushima, and asked to match the consequence with the power generation method, how they’d go.
Somewhat relatedly, it seems that some of the most dangerous professions are ones which involve spending time at heights, such as roofing tilers and so forth. I remember doing some crude back of the envelope calcs to try to estimate the fatality rate from installing sufficient roof-top solar PV to displace Fukushima.
It turns out that the number of expected deaths from an equivalent amount of solar was in the thousands – certainly comparable with the WHOs estimates of excess cancer deaths from Chernobyl.
@tiaseldov Thanks, and great comment.
I think you are right, the hostility levels are seriously mounting from anti-nuclear towards the likes of Barry, Monbiot, Lynas, Lovelock etc (but no one will dare touch James Hansen!).
I thought carefully about just letting it go, presuming everyone would see FoE’s effort for the cheap hatchet job it is.
I’m glad I went after it. I think leaving these things alone would be a mistake. The pro-nuclear environmentalist community needs to stand together and be firm that we will not accept such things without a rapid and clear response. Particularly painting people like Barry in the way this did is just totally unacceptable IMHO.
I’ve enjoyed reading the defense of Barry Brooks and also the writtings of Jim Greens for different reasons.
The reason I’ve been drawn to Barry’s web site was to find out about the links to solutions to climate change that nuclear power offers, particularly the IFR. It’s been great to have a site to find links to a wide range of useful material.
In reading Jims writtings I can’t help but notice a polemical style with few references. I’ve taken the time to listen to people work through the painful parts of their life (I enjoy that kind of thing- http://www.mensnetwork.com.au) and can’t help but notice that fear plays a big part in the anti-nuclear cause.
There are real causes of harm and threat and it takes integrity, judegment and courage to tell the difference between what is real and what is no longer real. (I take that attitude that at some point in all lives there was a time that all fear came from a real threat. The problem is fear hangs around till it’s fully enough challenged. Too many people comfort and agree with there fears)
Fear is the kind of thing that carries it’s own world view. Fear is about threat and when treated as real puts blocks in the minds of those who feel scared. Fear maintains it’s self in the minds of those it’s “impressed” to make a “pseudo” reality. The current worlds cultures use fear to maintain order so there is a lot of it about. Fox News is a good example of the deliberatte use of fear to make a world view based on fear.
Fear can also be worked through and can be replace by knowledge. In a large part I see the project of change in what ever way we want that change to occur to be to be an expansion against fear and towards what is real.
Its not just Barry et al. who are wearing the personal attacks. I’ve just read with honest shock Mark Duffet’s comment on an article at The Conversation, regarding Matthew Wright, the Executive Director of Beyond Zero Emissions. Wright had observed Mark’s comments were timestamped in what appeared to him to be work hours:
This is scandalous! No less than the Executive Director of Beyond Zero Emissions is indulging in workplace harassment of an individual who simply offers a cogent counterargument to Wright’s antinuclear position in a public discussion. What was he thinking?
I think Wright has crossed a line here. Do the rest of the BZE executive team endorse Wright’s action, and judgement? If so, will Beyond Zero Emissions similarly harass other members of the public they have failed to convince of their programme, and will they accept any legal liability if they do? If not, how do they plan to deal with Wright? Does Wright answer to a Board, or only himself? Perhaps James Bramwell, their Public Engagement Director, could explain how they will approach these questions.
The more I read of Wright’s articles and comments, and the more I hear him in interviews, the more he presents as incredibly immature.
I hope Mark doesn’t mind me relaying this here, I think its important this gets some exposure. I wonder if Mark would consider posting Wright’s email here, if its not too intrusive.
I also think the defense of barry is necessary.
@John Morgan thanks for highlighting this, @Mark Duffet sorry I did not jump straight on and have a look as John did.
That is, simply, disgraceful. I too would like to see this email and would happily give it exposure at DSA.
I know now from many independent sources that Matt Wright is proving his own worst enemy. Arguably, so is Jim Green. But the fact it they just cannot be allowed to engage in this sort of thing and not be held to account. We can all resist getting personal as I tried my best in this piece, but they actually need to stop doing this.
@Paul Y, thank you for the compliments and thanks for having the honesty to share some of that journey, I think it is incredibly important that people do so. I look forward to further engagements.
I just had a scroll through that comment thread @Mark Duffet and @John Morgan have referred to.
In relation to both Barry and Mark, Matt Wright has gone totally off the deep end. I have never seen anything so inappropriate. It simply frustrates me that sites do not moderate in the way this one does. Mark for what it’s worth, I’m really sorry you have had to put up with that.
I just had a look at Matthew Wright’s comments on The Conversation too. Absolutely appalling. I particularly love this comment:
Perhaps if he spent a little less time casting aspersions on people, he’d have the time to take a look at Barry’s listing on the University of Adelaide website, look at the number of PhD students he has, the number of post-docs, and the sheer volume and rate of research output.
I realise this is getting off topic, but it really does highlight a bit of a trend of people being unable to answer Barry’s arguments, so they take to attacking him instead.
Ben Heard — Well done.
Racism? In this regiion there is but one NPP. It is publiclly owned and I doubt there is much racism. The several dams are either owned by the federal government or by public utilities. In both cases there is a concerted effort to employ Amerindians from the neighboring resevations.
Indeed. And you’re welcome.
Giving up on strongly held convictions is a tough thing to do. I’m sure you may have had the same experience when you became a “convert”. But in the end, it makes no sense to hold emotion or ideology over science, morality and reason. A 100% renewable future would be a beautiful one, no doubt (I have not changed my view on this), but it’s unfortunately looking to be an unlikely future.
I hope the nuclear industry can get itself together now, be smart and safe, and try not to let any other “incidents” occur which would destroy its public perception even more. Fukushima is a timely reminder that the forces we are up against ARE bigger than us. Let’s not allow our heads to get too big with feelings of scientific superiority and certainty – as we humans tend to do when we master an aspect of the natural world – there are still things well outside of our control, and ramifications that are likely still unforeseen. The IFR looks promising, but is it the silver bullet to address nuclear safety, waste and environmental concerns? I guess time will tell.
@Paul, a good friend of mine (frequent commenter here Wilful) can recall expressing support for nuclear power to me before I was “there”. I pretty much just clammed up. He and I agreed on pretty much everything but I was not there yet. It was difficult sometimes, for sure, and it created some real tensions. I got out the other side. Science, morality and reason won, as you very nicely put it.
Jim Green continues his ‘radioactive racism’ on The Drum today: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/3919296.html
He’s getting ripped apart in the comments section, again. You can only fool people so many times, and JG seems to have long ago peaked.
He never explains where HE wants to store the medical/research waste, nor whether he instead prefers to ban nuclear medicine, nor what cost-benefit analysis he has done if this occurs – how many lives lost and shortened by his irresponsible activism against a repository?
Just for the record …
Current (2009) cancer death rate in Japan (Males): 336 per 100,000.
(Females): 214 per 100,000. Source.
A mortality rate increased by 0.001% would make it 336.00336 (males) and 214.00214 (females).
Population of Japan: 127,450,459. Assuming half male and half female:
2009 cancer deaths among males @ 336 per 100,000: 214117.
2009 cancer deaths among males @ 336.00336 per 100,000: 214119.
2009 cancer deaths among females @ 214 per 100,000: 136372.
2009 cancer deaths among females @ 214.00214 per 100,000: 136373.
Last time I looked, three is not “in the hundreds”.
Re Matthew Wright’s attack on Barry and Mark on the Conversation. I was going to comment but saw that Barry was being valiantly defended by several people. Even a prof from Melb Uni called MW out as going over the top. After the spamming of Mark’s workplace was made known, MW disappeared from the comments. I hope he has been hauled over the coals for his disgusting, inappropriate, vicious and unprofessional attacks on Barry and Mark.
This is all very interesting. It is a waste of time of course trying to explain nuclear science to Jim Green. No matter how compelling the argument and no matter how much it is supported by factual material, it is completely ignored.
However the arguments presented here are very useful for people who have inquiring minds and are willing to listen to rational argument presented by experts.
Lots of material in this thread that I strongly agree with, but I’ll try not to go off topic too much.
I certainly agree that Matthew Wright seems a little bit (ad hom deleted) (intense), especially when it comes to any discussion of nuclear energy.
On a slighty tangential note, to be honest, I suspect there actually isn’t any really good practical, logistical, economic, scientific, technical justification for putting a radioactive waste repository in the middle of bloody nowhere in the NT.
That would mean a lot of construction work in a remote area, a lot of travel and transport, and a lot of effort and expenditure, and a lot of money spent for no real reason, it seems to me at least.
Our radioactive waste which is currently stored mainly near our major population centers – hospitals, universities, industrial sites, ANSTO and CSIRO facilities, DOD sites etc. – isn’t actually hurting anybody. Has it ever actually hurt anybody or is it actually at risk of doing so?
I’m sure that our radioactive waste can be continued to be stored safely at existing sites or near existing sites in major cities, or even disposed of via permanent geological disposal near existing centres. (The amount of waste that would require permanent geological isolation is extremely small.)
Putting it beyond the black stump, involving great effort and cost and fuss, just doesn’t seem necessary from any scientific or technical or practical perspective – I suspect it’s only desirable from a political perspective to get it as geographically isolated as far away from most voters as possible.
A research reactor like OPAL is designed to let you insert a target into a port in the reactor core, and irradiate that target with a relatively high neutron flux for a desired duration, then pull out that target and put it into a hot cell for radiochemical processing. The amount of neutron irradiation of the target material can be carefully controlled.
In theory, that’s certainly practical to use for making weapons-grade plutonium using a target of, say, natural uranium.
You’d simply have to set up the hot cell with the appropriate materials and equipment for PUREX radiochemistry. (Of course, international commerce in the appropriate reagents and equipment is closely watched, since a PUREX type plutonium-selective solvent extraction really is a crucial step on the path to making a plutonium bomb.)
The hot cell would be relatively small, though, so capacity would be limited and perhaps you’d need to separate the plutonium in limited batches, drawn out over a period of time.
Of course, you’d need to throw out the IAEA safeguards and monitoring and surveillance first, including the Additional Protocol which Australia is subject to.
And of course you’d need a substantial amount of funding – but let’s just imagine some hypothetical alternative reality where the Australian government is fully supporting and fully funding a clandestine nuclear weapons production program being run out of Lucas Heights.
There’s no scientific or technical reason why it couldn’t be done – except for political support, IAEA safeguards, ASNO safeguards, and international surveillance. If the Australian government and the Australian people really wanted OPAL to produce weapons-grade plutonium then it is technically, scientifically plausible.
Except for the relatively large amount of product material needed, and the PUREX extraction, that’s not particularly different to the standard industrial manufacturing of radionuclides for medicine and science and industry at a facility like OPAL.
Any facility which can be used to meet our demands for medical and scientific radionuclides and radiopharmaceuticals, neutron optics for materials science, things like neutron transmutation doping and neutron activation analysis and the like could also technically be used to manufacture weapons grade plutonium if there was serious political backing and no safeguards.
You simply cannot eliminate that technical capability without completely eliminating the production of radiopharmaceuticals and radionuclides, as well as the other applications of neutrons.
@ Luke Weston:
I’ve pretty much always assumed that the proposal to locate the radwaste dump in NT was a bit of subtle anti-nuclear propaganda in itself. Surely it would be better to locate the repository near a population centre able to field emergency response services in the highly unlikely event that anything went wrong enough to require such. After all, at the moment the stuff is sitting around in hospitals, universities and schools.
Technical matter, I am aware the link to the piece on James Lovelock does not work. Jim Green has tried to provide me with the correct link but it just goes to Page Not Found at the FoE site. Problem would appear to be at that end. You can find the paper if you search James Lovelock Friends of the Earth. It is called “Environmentalists do not support nuclear power”.
As you can tell from the title, it is a fictional piece.
I was just ranting Ben, I wasn’t offended. I knew you’d see the light.
I really am offended by Matthew Wright’s aspersions in the Conversation thread. He really needs to pull his head in. No accountability.
This is the one paragraph summary of Jim Green’s argument:
All i can say is, apart from the parallel universe gybe, is: true; true (well maybe not trillions); that’s proven; true as far as I know; true according to UNSCEAR; that’s my understanding, but you’re having a second bite at the cherry there, don’t know about plutonium, but you’re kinda repeating yourself; don’t know what Pr Brook thinks about defining adequacy of safeguards; and indigenous issues are an absolute red herring – they are nothing compared to the issues besetting indigenous Australians right now.
Thank you, Ben. Pro-nuclear and nuclear-neutral environmentalists need to make themselves heard and stick together.
In another conversation, Jani-Petri Martikainen mentioned that there might be an issue of “pluralistic ignorance” at work (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluralistic_ignorance). In other words, there may very well be a large number of environmentalists who are at least not actively against nuclear power, but do not want to object themselves to ridicule of their peers. Affirming and re-affirming that there indeed are environmentalists who see nuclear power as part of a solution is very important.
You might be also interested in a recent twist of politics over here in Finland. Osmo Soininvaara, one of the founders and a former chairman of the Finnish Green Party, and probably the most broadly respected (not to mention perhaps the most intelligent) politician we have, is now coming out and stating that pro-nuclear environmentalists must be accepted and feel accepted within the Green Party. He believes the rigid party line “no nuclear” is outdated and simply driving away potential voters. About 30% of their voters and members already support nuclear power, and I would guess perhaps even more are at least not actively hostile.
While he has been very careful not to give outright support for nuclear power, reading between the lines gives me at least the impression that he understands nukes have a role to play in the climate change fight.
Of course, the vocal minority are, well, vocal. One chairman-candidate already promised last year that “atomic stooges” should be driven out of the party altogether. But maybe times are a-changing.
Finland is already building and planning quite a few nuclear plants; you’re on track to be mostly nuclear powered before 2020. Oddly enough most people don’t seem to realize the rapid nuclear transition that Finland is making. Possibly because they’re too busy bashing Olkiluoto’s new EPR cost overruns and delays. Can’t see the forest for the trees.
Green wishes to present himself as an advocate for the rights of all indigenous Australians. In fact, in the case of the Ngapa People, this is demonstrably not true.
While Green continues to spread a bizarre mixture of fear and envy among surrounding indigenous groups whose lands abut or overlap Ngapa land, he is simultaneously attempting to strip the indigenous people central to the Muckaty issue of their rights; including their right to their own land (recognised by the Northern Land Council), their right to earn money from their land and their right to be heard and seen as autonomous actors. I have yet to read a piece by Green where he even names the Ngapa people, let alone mentions what his self-serving campaign is doing to them.
Ngapa Elders have been involved in consultation with the government for some time. Their decision to make their land available for the waste repository was well informed and considered. They stand to benefit enormously from the deal. Through his patriarchal dismissal of their voice Green implies he knows better than they, what is good for them and that they should not be allowed to use their land as they wish. In so doing he is refusing to recognise the Ngapa people as able, autonomous human beings, who have a right to agency over their own lives and land. If Ngapa land use runs counter to Green’s political agenda then he would rather see them dispossessed of that land than accept their moral right to use it as they wish (within legal bounds).
The bottom line is, white or black, rich or poor, Green supports those who are anti-nuclear (or whips up anti-nuclear sentiment wherever he can see the potential) and will do any despicable thing to those he sees as being pro-nuclear. It appears he wishes to punish the Ngapa people for preferring to take their advice from science instead of getting sucked into Jim Green’s world of conspiracy theories and paranoid politics.
This is what Ngapa elder Amy Lauder actually says:
“We are united in our wishes and want to see an economic future for our families.”
“This will only happen if the science is right,”
Click to access Ngapa%20traditional%20owner%20Amy%20Lauder%20welcomes%20new%20legislation.pdf
Congratulations Marion on a very perceptive and well enunciated point.
I would go as far as to characterise Jim Green’s, and therefore the FOE’s attitude, as paternalism – which is, in itself, a form of racism.
Yes indeed Marion, well said, and congratulations Ben on your great defence of Barry. Now on the question of nuclear waste [I’m talking all levels] Muckaty is OK but it’s not as good as the Arcoona site, near Woomera, where half of Australia’s waste currently resides. That’s where the national low level dump should have been established and about ten years ago when the idea of a waste dump was first suggested. Now, the world needs a waste dump to remove the waste from the environment forever. So folks, get your atlases out, turn to a mercator projection world map, look at where Australia sits, in the middle, down the bottom [believe me I did teach geography from 1959-92] draw the border between WA and SA and the NT border as well, circle a section straddling the WA/SA border midway between the NT border and the Great Australian Bight. You have just circled the Palaeozoic and older, Officer Basin which meets the IAEA site criteria better than any other site on the planet and it is where we should establish the world’s much needed international nuclear waste dump for the storage of all of the worlds’s future waste [increasingly small amounts because of IFR’s]. That would be an eminently sensible first step in the development of the full nuclear fuel cycle in Australia. Tell your local members, state and federal and your friends, and Jim Green.
Well done Ben. It’s easy when comparing Jim and Barry to think that the difference in accuracy and integrity is so obvious that a defence isn’t necessary. But that would be a mistake. What is obvious to people deeply enmeshed in a topic need to be made clear and explicit for people to whom BNC is just an occasional read. Good job Ben.
(Deleted on request of MD)
It is said “By their friends ye shall know them”. One might say something similar for enemies.
Great work Barry, you are irritating the right people!