Amidst the ongoing Fukushima disaster in Japan and the broader failure of nuclear power, a call by some scientists and others for environmentalists and green groups to embrace the energy source in the name of fighting climate change is being met with a firm rebuke.
Ahead of CNN's airing this week of what critics have described as a misleading and propaganda-laced pro-nuclear film called "Pandora's Promise," four climate scientists on Sunday released a letter of their own calling on "those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power" to change their position.
Though unaffiliated with the controversial film, the pro-nuke letter was signed by James Hansen, a former top NASA scientist; Ken Caldeira, of the Carnegie Institution; Kerry Emanuel, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Tom Wigley, of the University of Adelaide in Australia. In the letter, the scientists ask individuals and groups concerned about global warming and climate change to demonstrate their commitment to the threat "by calling for the development and deployment of advanced nuclear energy."
Unconvinced, however, many environmentalists voiced deep concerns about the pro-nuclear pitch and responded with derision, if not disgust.
"These guys need to go to Fukushima," said long-time anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman in an email to Common Dreams on Sunday. "It's astonishing anyone could advocate MORE nukes while there are 1331 hot fuel rods 100 feet in the air over Unit Four, three melted cores at points unknown, millions of gallons of contaminated water pouring into the oceans, and so much more."
"It's astonishing anyone could advocate MORE nukes while there are 1331 hot fuel rods 100 feet in the air over Unit Four, three melted cores at points unknown, millions of gallons of contaminated water pouring into the oceans, and so much more." –Harvey Wasserman
Wasserman, editor of www.nukefree.org and author of Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth, has recently been sounding the alarm over the perilous situation that remains ongoing at the crippled Fukushima plant in Japan and argues that nuclear should not be part of any future energy equation. Invoking the dangers of carbon-driven global warming does nothing to change the inherent dangers of nuclear power, he indicated.
"Atomic energy is the most expensive and lethal technological failure in human history. It makes global warming worse with CO2 emissions in the mining, milling and disposal process," Wasserman said. "And the billions it costs us in construction, decommissioning and disaster recovery slow the conversion to a renewable-based economy, which is the only way to combat climate change."
And as the New York Times' Andy Revkin supposes, renewable energy experts like "Amory Lovins, Joe Romm and Mark Jacobson" would likely agree with Wasserman and push back against claims that nuclear is a viable or necessary option.
Frances Beinecke, president of NRDC, was equally unconvinced by the claims that nuclear should be given a new look.
"The better path," she said in response to the scientists' letter, "is to clean up our power plants and invest in efficiency and renewable energy."
As Richard Heinberg, energy expert and senior fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, writes in his latest book on the topic:
Nuclear is just too expensive and risky. It was a technology that seemed to make sense in an earlier era of high fossil energy returns from minor investments, when enormous research, development, and construction costs for fission power could easily be shouldered. Today it is far more difficult to divert capital away from other energy projects. Even though nuclear electricity is inexpensive once power plants are built, the initial investments—several billion dollars per project, with inevitable cost overruns and the requirement for government loan guarantees and insurance subsidies—are now just too high a barrier.
And pushing back against the promise of renewable, numerous studies have shown suggest that a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy economy would be possible if only governments and world leaders would express the political will.
In just one example reported by Common Dreams earlier this year, a report (pdf) by Synapse Energy Economics for the nonprofit think tank Civil Society Institute (CSI), showed how the US—if it ceased to burn coal and ratcheted down both nuclear and natural gas usage, the resulting reliance on wind, solar and other renewables "could meet or exceed demand" for nearly all energy needs by 2050.
And Lester Brown's Earth Policy Institute is among dozens of think tanks and research centers that repeatedly offers scenarios in which renewables could satisfy domestic energy demands in the U.S. and across the globe.
As the group stated in the aftermath of the original Fukushima disaster: "Rather than replacing [this atomic] energy source with fossil fuels, thus boosting carbon emissions and encouraging runaway climate change, the world can use this opportunity to pursue a much safer electricity sector powered largely by wind, solar, and geothermal energy."