Greens Go Nuclear?

The environmental movement was largely built on opposition to
nuclear power. Who can forget the high seas adventures of
Greenpeace’s flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, in the 1970s and 80s,
sailing its ragtag crew into danger zones in the Pacific to stop US
and French nuclear tests? Or the anti-nuke campaigns of the German
Green Party, whose members laid themselves across train tracks to
block shipments of nuclear fuel and radioactive waste? No issue is
as integral to the identity of modern environmentalists.

No issue, that is, except perhaps global warming; which is why a
number of prominent environmentalists have begun to rethink their
positions on nuclear power. In the past year, British scientist
James Lovelock, developer of the Gaia theory, futurist Stewart
Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Hugh
Montefiore, longtime trustee of Friends of the Earth, and others
have publicly called for massive new investments in nuclear energy.
‘The primary cause of global climate change is our burning of
fossil fuels for energy,’ writes

Brand in Technology Review
. ‘So everything must be
done to increase energy efficiency and decarbonize energy

The argument is that nuclear power is a proven technology, which
has come a long way in terms of safety and efficiency since the
days of the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters. ‘Clean coal,
solar-powered roof tiles, wind farms in North Dakota — they’re all
pie in the emissions-free sky,’ converted nuke boosters

Peter Schwartz and Spencer Reiss write in the February issue of
. ‘But zero-carbon reactors are here and now. We
know we can build them. Their price tag is no mystery. They fit
into the existing electric grid without a hitch. Flannel-shirted
environmentalists who fight these realities run the risk of ending
up with as much soot on their hands as the slickest coal-mining

Problems like waste storage, accidents, high construction costs,
and the danger of weapons-grade material falling into the wrong
hands are surmountable, says Brand, if environmentalists would take
the reins. ‘The best way for doubters to control a questionable new
technology is to embrace it, lest it remain wholly in the hands of
enthusiasts who think there is nothing questionable about it.’

As for slick energy company CEOs: Paul Anderson, chief of Duke
Energy, a North Carolina coal and nuclear utility, has undergone
something of a climate-change conversion. In a letter to
shareholders last week,

reports the Associated Press
, he announced his company’s
decision to lobby for a tax on carbon-dioxide emissions. His
argument, as outlined in a recent speech: ‘If we (the US energy
industry) ignore the issue, we would be the easy target. The worst
scenario would be if all 50 states took separate actions and we
have to comply with 50 different laws.’

Go there >>

Environmental Heresies

Go there too >>

Nuclear Now!

Go there too >>

Duke Energy CEO Proposes Carbon Tax

Related Links from the Utne

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to Utne

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.