Fallout

Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben insists that nuclear is a nonstarter


| January / February 2008



Headshot of Bill McKibben

photo by Nancie Battaglia

As the author of the first major book on global warming, The End of Nature (Random House, 1989), Bill McKibben is a well-respected voice in the environmental movement. His recent book Deep Economy (Times Books, 2007) challenges the ideal of unlimited growth and proposes a future in which we return to localized economies and energy generation. McKibben has considered, and largely rejected, nuclear power as a part of this future. He shared his views on the subject with Utne Reader.

 

Why is nuclear back on the table?

Because it’s low-carbon—and that’s the only reason. Everybody’s scrambling to find low-carbon sources of power, and nuclear fits that part of the bill.

You write in Deep Economy that the global warming situation is so desperate that “it’s wrong to rule anything out,” including nuclear power.

It’s wrong to rule anything out, including cosmic rays from outer space. The problem is that we have to make an enormous change in a short period of time and with limited resources. So the question becomes, where do you get the biggest bang for your buck? Analysis of risk changes over time, so you might say at this point that the risks presented by a nuclear power plant are smaller than those presented by a coal-fired power plant. One has a huge risk of something going wrong; the other has a guarantee of something going wrong, that is, the disruption of the earth’s climate system.

kevin james
12/28/2007 12:00:00 AM

From the article: "Much of the support for nuclear power comes from people who haven’t looked at it closely and tend to have an engineering background and like big engineering solutions to things. Most environmentalists I know aren’t particularly interested in nuclear power. They’re working on other things that show more promise because they’re taking a very utilitarian view of what needs to be done." That's a broadbrush statement. I agree that the stereotypes are reasonable, but I've known plenty of big-picture engineers and impractical environmentalists. (Those are obviously large and at least somewhat diverse groups.) It may be best to involve both camps in the "solution."