Nuclear: CASEnergy’s Patrick Moore explains move from Greenpeace founder (PR LIE ed…) to nuclear energy advocate
As discussions about Yucca Mountain and the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership continue on Capitol Hill, nuclear power advocates are pushing this energy source as a viable way to reduce the United States’ consumption of fossil fuels. During today’s OnPoint, Patrick Moore, co-founder of Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy) and founder of Greenpeace, explains his transition from Greenpeace, an anti-nuclear group, to CASEnergy, an organization that supports the implementation and expansion of nuclear power in the United States. Moore addresses proliferation concerns associated with nuclear and explains the technological hurdles that stand in the way of broader implementation of nuclear energy. Moore also discusses the questions surrounding Yucca Mountain and the storage of spent nuclear waste.
Mary O’Driscoll: Welcome to OnPoint. I’m Mary O’Driscoll. Our guest today is Patrick Moore of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. Thanks for joining us today.
Patrick Moore: Nice to be here Mary.
Mary O’Driscoll: Dr. Moore you were one of the founding members of Greenpeace, an environmental group that is quite decidedly anti-nuclear. But now you’re an environmental consultant and co-chairman of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, a nuclear industry group, or it’s sponsored originally by. And now it’s a group that encompasses a lot of businesses and individuals that support nuclear power. How did your change of heart come about?
Patrick Moore: Well, you know actually the reason we started Greenpeace was because we were against nuclear war and nuclear weapons testing. It wasn’t really a group that started against nuclear energy. And I think we made the mistake early on of lumping the peaceful use of nuclear in with the war-like use of nuclear. And I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t make sense to ban the beneficial uses of a technology just because that technology can be used for evil. I mean otherwise they wouldn’t have harnessed fire. Car bombs are made with diesel oil, fertilizer, and an automobile. We’re not about to ban the useful, beneficial uses of those three things. So I’ve had a change of thinking over the years. Back then, and maybe it was understandable that we made this mistake in logic, as I think it was at the time, but it’s very clear to me that today, in today’s environment of concern for climate change and concern for clean air that nuclear energy satisfies both those concerns. It is both clean from the point of view of air pollution and air pollution from fossil fuels is one of the biggest public health concerns we have in the country and in the world. And it’s also clean from a climate change point of view. It doesn’t emit carbon dioxide like fossil fuels do.
Mary O’Driscoll: OK. We’ll get to that in just a minute. I wanted to note environmental group representatives, by and large, really don’t want anything to do with you. They say that you’re doing this for the nuclear industry’s money and that you really have no environmental constituency to speak of. How do you respond to those kinds of things, those kinds of accusations?
Patrick Moore: Well, just off the top, some very notable environmentalists have supported nuclear energy now and for the same reasons I do. Among those is James Lovelock, the father of the Gaia hypothesis; Stewart Brand, the founder of Whole Earth catalog; Tim Flannery from Australia who is a longtime speaker and thinker on environmental issues, the author of the book “The Weather Makers,” about climate change; Jared Diamond, the author of “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” and the book “Collapse” has recently come out in favor of nuclear energy. So there’s a lot of independent thinkers in the environmental field, like myself, who recognize this. Now if you’re in Greenpeace or the Sierra Club you’re not allowed to say you’re in favor of nuclear energy even if you have changed your mind or changed your thinking. It’s kind of like considered heresy. I don’t believe in working in that kind of environment. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I left the organized environmental movement when I left Greenpeace, is because I want to be able to have an intellectual discussion and I don’t want people telling me that I can’t say certain things or else I’m going to be kicked out or something. I mean what kind of environment is that to be working in? I’m a free thinker. I believe we need to be able to change our opinions in the face of new information and new circumstances. And certainly here we are in the year 2007 with climate change at the very top of the international political and environmental agenda.
Mary O’Driscoll: Not to mention the safety agenda, national security and that kind of thing.
Patrick Moore: Absolutely. All of these issues, energy security, air pollution, the geopolitical considerations, the fact that we’re burning up our fossil fuels at a ridiculous rate. And it took 300 million years for those fossil fuels to be created and we’re burning them up in the few centuries. That’s hardly a model of conservation. Whereas, there’s only one good thing to do with uranium, and that is to make nuclear power for running our civilization. Whereas, fossil fuels can be used to make plastics and fertilizers and chemical feedstocks and we’re just burning them all up at a fast rate. So there’s all kinds of good reasons why we should reduce fossil fuel consumption. Then when you do the arithmetic it becomes very clear that that cannot be accomplished with renewables alone. Windmills and solar panels cannot replace all the fossil fuels in this world; 86 percent of our total energy supply is coming from fossil fuels. The only technologies that can really effectively work to replace fossil fuels are nuclear and hydroelectric. And because hydroelectric is largely built to capacity in most of the industrial countries you really come down to a choice between fossil fuels like coal and natural gas versus nuclear energy for producing the majority of our base of electrical energy that’s on the grid.
Mary O’Driscoll: OK. Well, worldwide now it looks like many people are really jumping on the nuclear bandwagon. You have the finance ministers from the G-7 industrialized nations just embrace nuclear in a meeting last week. You’ve got the New York Times recently writing an article, a front-page article, about how even Middle Eastern countries are interested now in nuclear power and want to start building reactors. But amid all this enthusiasm for it, particularly when you’re looking at the situation in the Middle East, isn’t there a big fear of the proliferation concerns that you mentioned, that early on it was that Greenpeace that, the idea was that you were against nuclear war? But it’s very difficult to be able to separate the two when you’re talking about nuclear materials that can be turned into dirty bombs, nuclear bombs, any of that kind of thing. So how do you handle that?
Patrick Moore: It’s unfortunate that a lot of activists insist on making us connect those two things as if they’re one and the same, nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, but it isn’t true. First thing, you don’t need a nuclear reactor to make a nuclear weapon. With the new centrifuge technology you just enrich uranium. That’s what Iran is suspected of doing. So there’s no nuclear reactor involved in that. They aren’t even connected in that sense, because it’s easier to make a nuclear bomb with centrifuge technology than it is to use the plutonium from used nuclear fuel after you’ve had to build a nuclear reactor as well for billions of dollars. Secondly, do you think that if we shut down all the civilian reactors on this planet, there’s over 440 of them, that the generals would give up their bomb making reactors? Because the plutonium and uranium that is being made for the military is not coming out of the civilian reactors. That’s coming from special reactors and enrichment plants that belong to the military in the various nuclear capable countries.
Mary O’Driscoll: Well, but a lot of these countries, such as Iran, you cited them, India, they are developing nuclear and the fear is that they’re developing nuclear weapons under the guise of developing nuclear power. And so it is connected in that way, that they’re talking about how they need nuclear power, but the fear is that they’re really developing nuclear weapons. So how can you calm people’s fears about that kind of a link?
Patrick Moore: Well, this is a problem with these countries and we can’t control what everybody in the world does. Maybe in the end force is necessary, but the fact is, is countries like the United States and China and Britain and Russia and France and Great Britain, they have separated their military and civilian nuclear industries. There is no relationship in the United States for example between civilian nuclear power and military use of nuclear technology. I mean I’m in favor of banning the bomb. That’s how I started in life. I don’t know that’s ever going to happen or whether it’s realistic, but the more we can reduce the number of nuclear weapons and the more we can restrict the spread of those weapons the better. But on the other hand that doesn’t have very much to do with nuclear energy. Yes, under the guise of is one matter, but that’s just cloak and dagger stuff and secrecy and we don’t really know what Iran’s intentions are. But we’re not going to change that if we shut down all the nuclear plants in the world. That wouldn’t change Iran. Iran would still be trying to get nuclear technology. Those issues are diplomatic issues and issues of making treaties and issues for the United Nations. And in the final analysis, maybe we have to use force in some cases to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Mary O’Driscoll: Right.
Patrick Moore: But in terms of nuclear power we need clean and safe energy and nuclear energy is the way to go and isn’t really connected to nuclear weapons in any direct sense.
Mary O’Driscoll: OK. I wanted to shift gears a little bit. The nuclear industry in the United States has been essentially moribund for 25 or 30 years and there’s very little left of the infrastructure that the United States at one time had to be able to build the facilities and to build all the parts to manufacture it. We’re having to depend on importing them from other countries and that there’s a huge concern about the need to do mass hiring of engineers and other technical jobs for these new jobs that are going to be created by all this new construction, this new nuclear construction. And the fear is that there are going to be a lot of competing interests. The industry needs them, the regulators need them and so there’s going to be this big fight over this and that there may be a shortage of workers and very expensive high prices for parts and for the pieces of the reactors. It’s not exactly a rosy scenario I would think if you’re trying to have this renaissance of this nuclear industry when the prices are going up. The price of fuel is going up. Uranium prices have risen. You’ve got worker shortages and we’re having to import a lot of the technologies.
Patrick Moore: Well, the fact is the price of all energy resources is going up, but there’s never been any problem with ramping up technologies. I mean we know how to do that. You start training more people. You start building more factories to supply the materials that are needed. It does take time, but we can ramp up pretty quickly when we want to. We are very good at that in our industrial society. So as far as I can see the demand is there now. Countries want more nuclear power, from Finland to Brazil to Argentina to France to Canada. Canada has made the decision to build new nuclear as the United States appears to be going forward with a number of new plants. So this is an international phenomenon. It’s called a nuclear renaissance. More people are enrolling now in nuclear science and nuclear engineering. And so there will be a build-up period of five or 10 years, but then we will have the capacity to start rolling out nuclear power at a much higher level than we’ve even had in the past.
Mary O’Driscoll: OK. We’re almost out of time and I almost regret having to leave this question for last, but it’s the nuclear waste question. That for a lot of environmentalists who oppose nuclear power they’ve always considered nuclear waste the Achilles’ heel of the U.S. nuclear industry because Yucca Mountain is already a couple of decades behind, there’s still a question about whether it’s actually going to be built, whether we support it or not. And so there’s just this huge question overhanging all of this through the progress that the industry has made with its operations. It’s gotten better. The record’s gotten better. Things are starting to fall into place for constructing a new nuclear power plant, but still you’ve got the Yucca Mountain situation sitting out there. How would you like to see that handled?
Patrick Moore: Well, I don’t really see that the nuclear waste or used nuclear fuel issue is such a pressing problem. No one is being injured by it, whereas, tens of thousands of people are dying from respiratory diseases that strictly linked the emissions from fossil fuels. It’s the fossil fuel industries whose waste is out of control and who are causing to the general population and to the environment through CO2 emissions and the concern for climate change. The waste from the nuclear industry is fully contained and has never leaked out anywhere and isn’t going to. I think people have this idea that the waste is kind of roiling around inside these containers trying to get out. It’s little solid pellets. It’s sort of like putting bricks in concrete. The bricks aren’t going to just like run out of there. They’re just going to stay there. And these containers are extremely solid. They’re good for 100 or more years. And if we need to repackage the material in the future that is easily done. So, in fact, the waste issue is under control. It is safely and securely stored and at some point in the future it will be recycled in order to recapture the tremendous amount of fuel and energy that’s still in those fuel rods after the first cycle. That may not happen for 30 years. It may not happen for 50 years. I don’t think that really matters. I just think we need to keep the nuclear waste safely and securely stored, which engineers are quite capable of doing, which is being done every day now as we speak at 103 reactors around the country. I don’t really think there’s a big danger from it.
Mary O’Driscoll: OK. Well, we’re going to have to end on that note. I’d like to thank Dr. Patrick Moore for joining us today. I’m Mary O’Driscoll. Thank you for joining us. This is OnPoint.
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