The importance of the Nuclear Option
The Importance of the Nuclear Option
Greenpeace Co-Founder Remains Supporter
Published In: EnergyBiz Magazine May/June 2011
BY: Martin Rosenberg
PATRICK MOORE TOOK A STEP ONTO THE WORLD STAGE four decades ago as the co-founder of Greenpeace, the activist environmental group that pressed for an end to atomic weapons tests and the hunting of whales.
Moore, 63, more recently became a proponent of nuclear power, one of the first of a group of environmentalists to move in that direction. With the recent ongoing, fast-changing nuclear crisis in Japan captivating the world and the power industry, EnergyBiz contacted Moore to discuss his position on nuclear power today. His comments, edited for style and length, follow.
ENERGYBIZ Given the nuclear power crisis in Japan, is nuclear generation still a viable option?
MOORE Sure it is. There are over 400 plants operating around the world, and my bet is they are going to keep operating. The countries that have nuclear energy need the energy, and it is clean and safe. I really do not think there are very many plants in this world that are susceptible to the kind of double whammy that happened in Fukushima. The plant did survive the earthquake and it went into smooth urgency shutdown mode with no problem with all the pumps coming on and the diesel generators kicking in. Then, bam, a 30-foot tidal wave. If you look around the world, maybe they will find some sites where lessons can be learned from Fukushima. The most important one is making sure that your backup diesels are not susceptible to a wall of water coming ashore, and that is a fix that I’d imagine would be quite simple.
ENERGYBIZ There are a lot of environmentalists who are concerned about nuclear waste. How do you weigh that against the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming?
MOORE I do not have a huge concern about global warming or climate change in this sort of catastrophic sense. I don’t believe that that’s the way it should be framed. Nuclear waste is new fuel. Used nuclear fuel is in fact one of our most important future energy resources, and 50 years of spent fuel can make 500 to 1,000 years of energy. I do not see that there is a problem at the present moment with used nuclear fuel. It is being stored very well. No one is being harmed by it. One of those reactors at Fukushima was burning mixed oxide fuel from recycled used nuclear fuel.
ENERGYBIZ What factors will shape the future of nuclear power?
MOORE The new wild card, which is going to make a lot more difference to the future of nuclear, is the abundance of inexpensive shale gas that is being discovered and produced now in North America and all over the world. Apparently, Poland has enough shale gas to last 100 years. The interesting thing will be to see what utilities do. Will they put all their eggs into the basket where you have a real risk of volatility in price? Or are they going to invest in nuclear power because it is not so susceptible to fluctuations in price, and nuclear plants will be running for 60 or 80 years while gas plants tend to not last that long.
ENERGYBIZ How do you assess how the media has covered the nuclear power plant crisis in Japan?
MOORE There was a headline that basically said, “nuclear crisis deepens as bodies wash ashore,” and all through the story they were lumping the nuclear thing in with the tsunami and earthquake. It was almost as if the nuclear accident had caused the tsunami, and the bodies were washing ashore because the nuclear crisis was deepening.
ENERGYBIZ Currently, we get about 20 percent of our electricity from nuclear power in the United States, and a lot of the plants that produce it are getting 30 to 40 years old. What level of production of our energy should we be getting from nuclear?
MOORE The shells of those plants and the reactor cores are 30 to 40 years old, but most of the components have been swapped out. In the 1980s, we were commissioning 40 new nuclear power plants a decade. If we kept building at approximately that rate, we would have the share of electricity generated by coal and nuclear almost reversed today. Instead of it being 20 percent nuclear and 50 percent coal, it would be 50 percent nuclear and 20 percent coal. Who would argue that from an environmental point of view that wouldn’t be a better situation? When President Barack Obama proposed that we go to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050, the Environmental Protection Agency said that 154 new reactors would need to be built.
ENERGYBIZ But you think global warming is not a problem?
MOORE I don’t think it is now.
ENERGYBIZ When you cofounded Greenpeace in 1971, you were against the U.S. hydrogen bomb testing in Alaska.
MOORE We just basically lumped nuclear energy in with nuclear weapons and everything nuclear Energy was evil because it involved radiation and it was a mistake. In retrospect, I believe we made a serious error because if we hadn’t done that, it is likely there would be more nuclear plants in the United States now and fewer coal plants, which would be good from a human health and environmental point of view.
ENERGYBIZ Some environmentalists now support nuclear power, and others are ardent foes. Do you think the ranks of environmentalists supporting nuclear power now will thin, and what is your strategy to address that issue?
MOORE I don’t know. I have a feeling that environmentalists that support nuclear energy will continue to support it because they see this whole thing in a fairly objective way in terms of what our choices really are. There is nothing without risk in this world. We have to choose which risks to take. The nuclear energy industry has to remain sober and has to remain fact-based.