The nuclear establishment's relationship with the global warming movement
by Walt Robbins
Did the world nuclear establishment instigate the concept of global warming in order to insure its own survival and potential expansion?
Some may think "instigate" is too strong a word. However, the influence of the nuclear establishment on the development and perpetuation of the global warming-climate change movement during the 1980's and 90's to the present, certainly raises some serious questions about its role.
Prior to the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992 and the 1997 Kyoto assemblage, the world's nuclear establishment was sustained by financial "life supports" from governments and was facing imminent collapse. Since the 1970's, orders for new reactors had all but dried up. Even nuclear engineers were becoming an endangered species resulting from lack of new projects.
During the 1980's, the time was ripe for the nuclear establishment to escalate its efforts to assure its survival and to expand its horizons. Its actions suggest that its strategy was designed to achieve a "nuclear renaissance." The strategy appears to have coupled the growing world demands for energy with the idea of a human-induced world-wide environmental "meltdown" caused by greenhouse gasses. Nuclear was portrayed by its advocates as the ideal solution to this two-pronged energy and environmental threat.
However, it appears that the nuclear establishment had been working on this project for a much longer period of time.
According to former Australian National Environment Correspondent, Alan Tate, the nuclear establishment has been promoting itself as a solution to climate change for decades.
He points out that its representatives were in abundance during the 1988 climate change convention in Argentina.
"They inundated the international negotiators, including with what appeared to be a number of front groups like Students for Nuclear Power,"
Furthermore, in the UK during the 1970's, nuclear energy interests worked with Margaret Thatcher's government to use global warming as a way of boosting nuclear power.
A UK News, March 4th, 2007, article recounts a BBC Channel 4 documentary made by Producer Martin Durkin called 'Global Warming Is Lies.' It depicts how the global warming research drive really began when Mrs. Thatcher gave money to scientists to prove burning coal and oil was harmful, as part of her intense effort to stimulate the growth of
In the U.S., the eminent scientist, Alvin Weinberg, former Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director, and others involved in the early days of nuclear energy, were promoting the idea of nuclear as the future energy source to deal with a potential CO2/global warming problem stemming from the use of carbon-based fuels.
But the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents damaged public confidence in nuclear technology. As well, the unsolved nuclear waste issue was becoming an albatross around the nuclear neck. Thus, global warming became the main rationale for the unpopular nuclear power facilities which were required for nuclear weapons development.
Additionally, to achieve its survival and expansion goals, the nuclear establishment knew it could rely on its long-standing relationship with, and powerful influence on, the world's scientific community, which it had developed in its early days; during the 1950's and early 60's.
As a middle management level employee in the headquarters of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission for three years in the late 1950's, I had a grandstand seat from which to witness the rapid, almost meteoric rise of the "Atoms for Peace" program and all that it entailed. The public was told that nuclear energy would be "too cheap to meter."
It was an era of cost plus fixed fee contracts for some of the largest U.S. corporations, as well as the development of lucrative "symbiotic" relationships with broad-based university science and engineering programs. Money was no object. The Eisenhower administration made sure of that. Scientific and engineering disciplines (especially physical, biological, earth, and medical sciences) benefited greatly from the bulging nuclear pocketbook augmented with its massive support from governments.
By the 1980's, it had become very difficult to locate scientists or engineers in virtually any discipline anywhere in the world who would openly criticize nuclear energy. Try to find a scientist today who will lend his or her name to the "no nukes" side of the nuclear energy controversy! A few exist but they are generally blacklisted or worse by the mainstream scientific community and governments around the world.
When I was a spokesperson for the Concerned Citizens of Manitoba (regarding nuclear waste issues) in the early 80's, it was clear that you could count the number of scientific and technical critics on the fingers of your hands. The giant world nuclear establishment had become a major source of employment, professional opportunities, and especially large financial grants for scientific exploration into climate change and global warming. Its' influence was indeed formidable.
In 1988, an intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed under United Nations auspices to study the impact of human intervention on the climate, and by 1997, the nuclear establishment was pushing the global warming envelope to new heights.
According to writer Jeffrey St. Clair,co-editor of the political newsletter Counterpunch, the very well-heeled Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) distributed a packet to the Kyoto convention participants promoting the benefits of nuclear energy to the environment and especially to the global warming issue. Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and other environmental groups have been working to block the nuclear establishment's efforts "...to use the pollution trading credit scheme in the Kyoto climate change agreement to offset nuclear energy's oppressive construction costs."
While most environmentalists involved in the Kyoto process did not embrace nuclear as a "green" technology, others actually slipped into the nuclear camp, such as Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore. I find it disheartening that any environmentalist would advocate nuclear energy as solution to anything, but, unhappily, some have. But the battle goes on. During the December 2008 United Nations Framework Convention in Poznan, Poland some church and women's groups admirably continued the fight to prevent the labeling of nuclear energy as clean and green.
One of the most hawkish friends of the nuclear establishment's future and, especially, its environmental role, is global warming guru, former U.S. Vice President, Al Gore.
Jeffery St. Clair describes the aggressive nuclear establishment lobbying effort directed at the U.S. government noting "...a long and profitable relationship with both Clinton and Gore." He goes on to say that "...Al Gore, who wrote of the potential green virtues of nuclear power in his book Earth in the Balance, earned his stripes as a congressman protecting the interests of two of the nuclear industry's most problematic enterprises, the TVA and the Oak Ridge Labs."
In October, 2000, NIRS pointed out that "unfortunately, the Clinton/Gore Administration is not only willing to include nuclear power in the Kyoto process, but to allow it equal status and credits with renewable energy"
Although, currently, the former Vice President tends to understate the future role of nuclear energy in dealing with the climate change-global warming issue, I seriously doubt that his true allegiance to the future of nuclear power has been diminished..
During my tenure with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, I heard much about the influence and efforts of the political Gore family to promote and develop nuclear energy, especially on their Tennessee home turf at the Oak Ridge facility.
"Kyoto targets are reachable now with nuclear energy," is but one of the many article titles found on the Canadian Nuclear Association web site related to the climate issue. Its reading list is replete with such literature, even to the point of pushing electric car development, (another hoped for nuclear energy sinecure).
The nuclear establishment is pulling out all the stops and is spending a fortune (much of which is taxpayers' dollars) to tout its energy source as the cure for global warming. And the strategy seems to be paying off, with a significant increase in activity and identification of potential new reactor projects around the world, including North America.
But I do not see references in the nuclear energy propaganda to the fact that large quantities of greenhouse gasses are emitted in the processes of uranium mining, refining and milling required to produce the fuel rods for the reactors. Furthermore, little is said about the irradiated nuclear fuel waste for which no acceptable solution exists.
The big question now, however, is how governments, faced with a severe and deepening economic downturn, will deal with the very expensive nuclear expansion issue.
Unable to stand on its own two feet financially, will the nuclear establishment be able to count on continuing life support from governments, many of which are now committed to the global warming movement? It is too early to answer that question fully, but one sad indication was recently provided by NIRS that "...the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee late on the night of January 27 (2009) snuck in a provision to President Obama's economic stimulus package that would allow as much as $50 BILLION of your dollars to be used as loan guarantees for construction of new nuclear reactors. This would be on top of the $18.5 billion taxpayer dollars already authorized by Congress during the Bush administration."
Also, many countries have been bamboozled by the nuclear establishment's lies about its potential to deal with climate change and the world's energy requirements. With the exception of Germany which still plans to phase out nuclear energy by 2021, a number of European and Asian countries, are in the process of planning a nuclear future.
However, I would not be surprised to see most of these potential projects succumb to a likely long-term economic meltdown and a massive reduction of energy consumption throughout the developed world. After all, these large nuclear projects are extraordinarily expensive, subject to substantial cost overruns and take at least a decade to complete.
In the meanwhile, even without the obscene level of subsidies granted to nuclear from governments, sustainable alternative green energy could still create a paradigm shift in many parts of the world. Hopefully, governments will come to their senses and begin to provide the kind of support needed to really stimulate the green alternatives to nuclear.
However, regardless of what one may think or believe about the issue itself, the most scary thing for me is the mounting evidence of a large measure of "groupthink" among the global warming advocates of the scientific community and the distortion of the meaning of science itself.
Irving Janis, professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, who did extensive work on the subject of groupthink, defined it as "a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action."
Groupthink is particular nasty when found in science. In ancient times, scientific skeptics were sometimes even dispatched to oblivion for their heresies. Today, such skeptics who do not fully embrace the global warming theory are marginalized and even ridiculed by the self-righteous. If they refuse to accept the "truth," they are even labeled as "deniers," a term which has a particularly unfortunate connotation.
My understanding of what science is supposed to be all about may be deemed quaint by some. But here it is:
Science is at its best when it openly projects a high degree of skepticism about its' own findings and conclusions and freely admits that "all is tentative." It is at its best when it deals in a respectful and reasonable manner with those who disagree or have doubts. It is at its best when it serves as an independent arm of society and does not tie itself to special interest groups or to those who have personal or organizational agendas.
Humility is also a virtue for science. For example, the earth and environmental sciences are chronologically in their infancy. Yet, they frequently do not behave that way. It is important to acknowledge this fact and that it is possible that many predictions and computer model forecasts, etc. may not be much more accurate than a coin flip and may turn out to be simply wrong.
Caution and prudence are needed when issuing public statements about potential consequences of scientific findings and conclusions. The very reputation of science is at stake when it takes on the aura of a "new priesthood."
The nuclear establishment itself, also contains many of the classic ingredients of "group think." As a retired organization development consultant, I have witnessed this phenomenon from the perspective of both the inside and the outside of the establishment.
But I was particularly pleased to discover an item written by a former employee of Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd., a nuclear energy advocate, who has some misgivings about the global warming-climate change issue. He is a Mr. JAL Robertson, an excellent writer who carefully analyzes and evaluates this issue. Calling himself "a Kyoto Skeptic, but not a Climate Change Denier" he points out in a January 24, 2007 article in the North Renfrew, Ontario, Times, that "When uncertainties in the (climate change) model are considered, it would be irresponsible to damage the economy for a futile gesture.
Resources would be better spent combating true pollution of air, water and land, that is harming and killing real people who are alive today. I am concerned that when the public realizes that they have been misled they will distrust all scientists ("They told us..."), and not just Kyoto proponents. For the same reason we nuclear advocates should not rely on nuclear energy's lack of GHGs (greenhouse gasses): it has plenty of advantages without having to rely on a dubious one."
Although I surely do not subscribe to the idea that nuclear energy has "plenty of advantages," and lacks GHGs, (see my article on downsides), I do completely agree with him that the main priority today is to address the big, immediate killers; air, water and land pollution.
But would nuclear energy make much of a difference in the event that the predictions of the climate change movement materialize? Many observers have pointed out that for a variety of reasons, it is totally unrealistic to believe that nuclear energy, even in massive doses, could make a dent in solving the problem as presented by its advocates.
My own personal view of the climate change issue is: of course the climate is changing; it has ever since the earth was formed and is likely to continue doing so until the "end of time." As Mr. Robertson indicates, the real issue is, to what extent does human activity affect the climate and, if it does, what might be the consequences?
On that point, I am agnostic.
The "fine hand" of the nuclear establishment in the creation of this global warming movement is far too much in evidence not to raise considerable suspicion in my mind about its legitimacy. My agnosticism also extends to the philosophical position that it is the height of arrogance to suggest that we puny humans really have the power to savage Mother Earth to such a degree (and in such a short time) as predicted by Al Gore and his followers.
For me, the jury is still out!