Friends of the Earth considers abandoning anti-nuclear stance

Friends of the Earth is seriously considering abandoning its decades-long opposition to nuclear power, the organisation’s head of policy, science and research Mike Childs has revealed to me in an extensive and very frank interview. To me this very much confirms Friends of the Earth’s position on the pragmatic end of the environmentalist spectrum, and is a welcome reflection of the fact that there are many in the green movement – even in well-established NGOs with long-held positions – who do not hold ‘religious’ positions even on exceptionally divisive and emotive issues such as nuclear.

(The entire interview is transcribed in full underneath these introductory comments, as I’m sure many might worry that I am misinterpreting Mike’s comments or taking them out of context given the controversy they could potentially generate.)

Friends of the Earth has already quietly moved away from calling for an immediate shutdown of the UK’s nuclear power stations, and now supports the continued operation of nuclear plants until the end of their prescribed lifetimes. It has also stated its support for research on thorium-fuelled nuclear plants, and is examining the arguments around GE-Hitachi’s proposed PRISM reactor which could generate carbon-free power by consuming nuclear waste and plutonium. However, Mike Childs’ comments are an indication that Friends of the Earth is perhaps moving faster and more ambitiously on this issue than many observers will have realised – and I think this potential shift could hold great significance for the environmental movement as a whole.

With regard to Germany’s phase-out of nuclear post-Fukushima, Childs acknowledged openly that Friends of the Earth UK already takes a very different view from its sister organisation in Germany. “In the UK we don’t think it’s a good idea because if you close it [nuclear] down it will lead to increased emissions, and that is what we are most concerned about,” he told me. Moreover, “our ability to rapidly increase renewables and energy efficiency to negate that increase in emissions from closing nuclear power just isn’t there” in the UK. With regard to Japan, Childs also did not explicitly support the de-facto nuclear switch-off – though “you can understand why they reached the decisions they reached” given the “psychological impact” of the accident. Instead, he said that it was not for Friends of the Earth in the UK to comment on the situation in Japan because of the organisation’s devolved structure as an international federation.

Instead of taking an explicit anti-nuclear position, Childs admitted that “there are absolutely good arguments on both sides”. This is not the sort of thing I would have expected to hear from a spokesperson on behalf of one of the best-known green groups a few years ago. He continued: “And that’s one of the frustrating things I find about the nuclear debate – sometimes those who are anti-nuclear just dismiss all the arguments of those who are pro-nuclear out of hand, seeing them as illogical and wrong, and likewise the other way round.” Most importantly, Childs concluded that a sensible position on nuclear should instead be about “balancing risk, balancing the risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear waste against the risks of more carbon emissions”. I and many others in the climate-change pro-nuclear camp would agree with that statement entirely.

Friends of the Earth could abandon its anti-nuclear position completely if its board agrees do to so following an academic review which is soon to be carried out by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Manchester, Childs said. The review will include a “look at the quality of the arguments on both sides” together with a peer-review process and internal discussion within local groups and the wider supporter base, and its documentation will be put in the public domain. In the meantime Friends of the Earth continues to oppose nuclear new-build in the UK, because to suspend this campaign would prejudice the outcome of the review by already being “a change in policy”. If anyone is sceptical, Childs insists that the academic review is absolutely not “a tick-box exercise, it is a genuine review, genuinely looking at our position, and if the evidence suggests we need to change, then absolutely we should change them [our policies]”.

I do not want to suggest that a reversal of the anti-nuclear policy is more likely as an outcome of the policy review than a restatement of the existing policy – I have no insider information here, and Childs was at pains not to speculate. But the mere fact that such an open-minded exercise is being carried out at all is surely a great credit to Friends of the Earth’s current leadership given the dangers involved in any possible challenge to green orthodoxy on the nuclear issue. However, as Childs concluded, policies should always be re-examined, “because the world is changing and evidence is changing” – and Friends of the Earth is an “evidence-based organisation”.

Watch this space.

[The interview below is transcribed from a phone conversation as recorded. I have the original audio file and will try to find a way of uploading it. I have in the meantime transcribed it verbatim, except for removing ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and suchlike, and putting in sentence punctuation.]

Friends of the Earth interview – Mike Childs with Mark Lynas, 13 June 2012

Having read the existing FoE policy, I see it is currently not to ask for a premature closure of UK nuclear plants – which I have to say I didn’t know – so can you tell me how much that’s an evolution from Friends of the Earth’s former policy?

I think to be honest I don’t think we’ve ever really called for the premature closure of nuclear power plants when they’ve been up and running. Obviously it came onto the agenda post-Fukushima when there were premature shutdowns in Germany particularly. So the reason I don’t think it is a massive change, although stating it clearly is a change of some degree, is that – we’ve been working on climate change for 20 years, so we’ve been aware of the need to reduce carbon emissions for that long and more really. So, it may be an evolution in terms of saying it, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a dramatic change in many of our longer-standing positions.

Sure, but given that the premature closure of nuclear plants is what environmentalists – or Greens, rather, not all environmentalists – are celebrating in Germany, and lately in Japan, this is actually quite different from what you’re calling for in the UK, isn’t it?

So, yes, there are different positions between different Friends of the Earth groups in different parts of the world. Friends of the Earth is a federation rather than a kind of international organisation, so that’s perhaps not surprising that each has their own position according to their national position. I actually have no idea whether Greenpeace in the UK would say they are for prematurely closing down UK reactors or not, I suspect Greenpeace in Germany is very much in favour in the same way that Friends of the Earth Germany is in favour.

So Friends of the Earth in the UK and Friends of the Earth in Germany have different positions on this?

Yes. And that’s fine – there may be different national characteristics that needed that, different characteristics in energy or culture or whatever. Nuclear has always been a very major issue in Germany. Public opinion is much stronger against in Germany – in the UK, we know that the majority of people in terms of preferences would put renewables above nuclear, but the majority of people do support nuclear power. So there are different reasons why different groups will come to different conclusions in different countries I think, I respect that as a celebration of diversity and democracy.

But does that mean that you don’t think what Germany is doing is a good idea?

So in the UK we don’t think it’s a good idea because if you close it down it will lead to increased emissions, and that is what we are most concerned about, and our ability to rapidly increase renewables and energy efficiency to negate that increase in emissions from closing nuclear power just isn’t there. In Germany I guess Friends of the Earth Germany would say, well actually they can, they have the financial capacity and the institutional ability to make those investments in renewables and energy efficiency quick enough to negate the increased emissions from closing down the nukes. And I haven’t looked at that in detail to see whether that is true or not.

Well in Japan, fossil fuels on the electricity grid have gone from 64% pre-Fukushima to 90% today. Presumably you don’t think that’s a good result.

Yes, but you’ve also got to look at what’s happened in Japan, haven’t you?

Sure.

You know, we do live in democracies, so people take up different positions, and there is this psychological impact of the Fukushima accident in what clearly was a very old plant, not up to the threat posed by the tsunami, which was quite unprecedented. So, you know, you can understand why they reached the decisions they reached. I don’t think it’s up to me to criticise what someone in Japan is saying about what’s happening in their country.

But given that a transition to renewables would take decades, do you not think that the Japanese government should switch them back on, given the urgent imperative of climate change?

Well Friends of the Earth International is a federation and different groups come to different positions, which is a great luxury – but it absolutely means it is not up to me to say what Friends of the Earth in Japan should call for and what their position should be, especially since I don’t know enough about the situation in Japan.

Are you saying that Friends of the Earth UK can only comment on UK policy?

Friends of the Earth internationally, when we work together, we reach agreed international positions, and we work on those agreed international positions, but within our own member countries we are able to argue our own positions – so that’s the nature of a federation really.

But you’re constrained from commenting on other countries’ positions because they’ve got Friends of the Earth groups there who may have different policies from Friends of the Earth UK then?

Well only in that I wouldn’t particularly like it for a Friends of the Earth group in another part of the world to be saying what we should be doing in the UK. You know, they won’t have the information that I’ve got at hand, they won’t understand the culture, they won’t understand the politics of what’s trying to be achieved, so you know I think it would be wrong for other people to come kind of ploughing in saying what Friends of the Earth UK should be doing, if Friends of the Earth in Sweden or wherever were saying this is what should happen in the UK when they haven’t got the information to hand. And that works both ways really.

What about China then – given that CCS has completely failed so far, and China is going hell for leather for coal, and some renewables, but nuclear obviously is a major mitigation factor in China… do you have any comment on that?

Our current position for the UK is that we are looking at this, as we look at all our policy positions from time to time, we are going to do that in an in-depth way over a period of time, without rushing into it. I know some people would argue we should have been doing this a long time ago, but we’re doing it now, which is a positive thing I think. Our current policy stands until we carry out any review. And of course the review is not prejudged one way or the other so our current position may stand past that or it may not. But our current position is that we are not for the building of new nuclear power plants, although we are supporting research into cleaner forms of nuclear power. So again, this is not based on what should happen in China, but the fact that we’re not supporting new nuclear power plants in this country would imply at least that we wouldn’t think that necessarily they are the best idea in other countries, but their circumstances may be different, so you have to look at it on a country by country basis.

OK… the policy says that you are having an expert review process. Can you just tell us what that is, and what the status is of it in terms of the timelines and stuff?

Yes, so we’ve commissioned the Tyndall Centre in Manchester to lead the review. They’ll go through a process of pulling together the arguments for and against nuclear power, both new nuclear power stations, extending existing stations, and some of the fast breeder ideas on the table. They’ll synthesise that and do a peer-review with proponents both for and against, to see whether they’ve got those arguments properly synthesised and understood. They’ll then do some further work around that, looking at the robustness and quality of those different arguments, and come forward with recommendations. That work will be between the beginning of July and the end of the year. That then will be discussed within Friends of the Earth, with our local groups and our supporters. Ultimately this is one of a small number of issues that the board of trustees will need to make a decision on if our policy changes or not. And there will be a peer review process just at the recommendations stage as well, and when that internal discussion and any new position has been agreed by the board, the documentation around all of that, including the independent review, will be put in the public domain.

Well, without asking you to speculate too much, can you imagine a scenario where Friends of the Earth would come round to supporting new nuclear build in the UK then? Or rather, what would be the circumstances so that that would change in such a way?

I wouldn’t like to speculate too much. What I can say is that, you know, there are absolutely good arguments on both sides. And that’s one of the frustrating things I find about the nuclear debate – sometimes those who are anti-nuclear just dismiss all the arguments of those who are pro-nuclear out of hand, seeing them as illogical and wrong, and likewise the other way round. And I think actually people’s positions on nuclear are much more about balancing risk, balancing the risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear waste against the risks of more carbon emissions. And all that is compounded and confused by how much nuclear is or isn’t needed to reduce UK emissions, or whether efficiency and renewables and energy storage can do it all without nuclear. So there’s lots of different complexities within the arguments on both sides which need careful balancing, and ultimately that’s why it isn’t a kind of mathematical formula about whether you support it or not, you are balancing very different kinds of risk. And that comes down to judgement.

Absolutely, and it comes down to what you consider the consequences of existing nuclear power to have been, including when it goes wrong, such as at Chernobyl and Fukushima – and obviously Greenpeace takes quite an extreme view on this and they produced reports for Chernobyl saying 60,000 deaths or 6 million – I can’t remember what the exact figure was, but it was a long way from the scientific consensus. And I just wondered where FoE is on that kind of issue.

Well, that’s one of the reasons for… rather than me in the organisation, or a couple of other people in the organisation or whatever, sitting down and going through the stuff ourselves and coming to a view… that’s one of the reasons for saying we want to put this argument out to an academic institution, not a think tank, but an academic institution, who can look at the quality of the arguments on both sides and the quality of the evidence put forward on both sides, to try and identify if you like which side has more of the truth on their side with the different parts of the argument. And that’s why it’s going to take some time and why, because there are so many issues thrown around, you know on the safety, and the impact of accidents, and the economics, a whole range of areas there are lots of different extremes bandied about – you know, it needs proper consideration.

Sure. But at the moment you’d agree with the IAEA that Fukushima has been a non-fatal accident so far.

Well, again this will be something that the review will look at. There has been some research about some deaths in America as a result of Fukushima but to me – I haven’t looked in detail because we’re doing this review – but to me it looks highly improbable. But again, there is no point in second-guessing what the review is going to conclude, I don’t think that would be helpful for the process we’re going through.

Well okay, this review sounds very important in terms of the evolution of Friends of the Earth’s policy, so why not just suspend your opposition to new nuclear build in the meantime?

Because that would be a change in policy. We’ve got a current policy – and it’s not just nuclear, our policies are controversial in other areas that we from time to time need to properly review, and we’ve had a bit of a restructure – I’m heading up a new team one of whose jobs is to make sure that some of these positions are getting reviewed independently and strongly and that relates across a whole range of issues… carbon capture and storage to GM foods. In all these areas that we hold positions that are controversial, that are controversial in the public mind, controversial politically or controversial with our own supporter base, we need to properly review those from time to time, and nuclear is clearly one of those ones that we are doing. But it’s important that we don’t… flip flop with policies, so if we have a line at the moment let’s stick with that line while we’re carrying out our review now pretty much – so it’s not as if we’re doing it in four years’ time… let’s get that review through and then we can have this discussion about whether our policy should change or not.

OK, so just to finish up, oftentimes anti-nuclear campaigners are accused of having almost a religious position on this, and it sounds like your position is not religious in that it is amenable to change through evidence, right? I mean, it is imaginable that if evidence was produced which was sufficiently strong, that Friends of the Earth could support nuclear new-build?

Yes, we would be, are trying to be, an evidence-based organisation. Obviously we have values as an organisation, things like equality and justice and needing to look after poorer people in the world now, and future generations… all those things come up when we make judgements, because the evidence in many of these cases is never clear-cut one way or the other. We clearly bring our values to some of the decisions we make, but the reason for reviewing these policies is not to go through a process which is a tick-box exercise, it is a genuine review, genuinely looking at our position, and if the evidence suggests we need to change then absolutely we should change them, even recognising that on some issues whichever way you’re going to go, if you ever make a change you’re going to antagonise some people and perhaps welcome different people – that’s just the nature of that. But I think I would expect Friends of the Earth to base our positions on good analysis, and that’s what we should do, and I think our supporters would absolutely think we need to look at these questions and positions from time to time and make sure they’re up to date and relevant, because the world is changing and evidence is changing. So each review we do of any controversial policy, could absolutely end up by reversing that policy or having a completely different policy – I can’t rule that out or rule it in, otherwise why the hell carry out a review in the first place?

That’s great Mike, thanks very much.

 

136 comments

  1. Paul/Tokyo says:

    Talk about trying to lead the conversation there Mark.
    Kudo’s to Mike for staying on track and presenting a very balanced and rational perspective to your obviously excited leading and slanted questions.

    “Sure. But at the moment you’d agree with the IAEA that Fukushima has been a non-fatal accident so far. ”

    Maybe according to the IAEA on radiological deaths (which can take decades to play out, as you well know), but not according to the Japanese government. You need to account for all deaths/injuries related to a disaster incident, not just the ones you need to support your position.

    573 deaths ‘related to nuclear crisis’
    http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120204003191.htm
    This number has apparently gone up since then and now appears to be:
    The prolonged evacuation Claimed the following Number of deaths:
    – Suicide: 3
    – Accidents during evacuation Of aged people: 46
    – Disaster related premature Death in Fukushima: 764

    No doubt there will now be a barrage of “there are no areas with raised radiation outside the gates of Fukushima therefore there is no risk therefore it’s not the nuclear industries fault for the above deaths therefore they do not count”.

    The only real answer to that line of twisted logic is a #DoubleFacepalm, as it flies in the face of actual facts.

    But again, as someone who is neither a radical pro or anti nuke (but very anti-nuke industry due to the post fukushima revelations regarding industry corruption/negligence ) I think Mike/FOTE has articulated a key issue:

    “And that’s one of the frustrating things I find about the nuclear debate – sometimes those who are anti-nuclear just dismiss all the arguments of those who are pro-nuclear out of hand, seeing them as illogical and wrong, and likewise the other way round.”

    Please note he is talking about both camps, which includes you Mark.

    Fwiw I hope it’s an unbiased review, as it is sorely needed.

    Have a nice day!

    • Mark Lynas says:

      Of course my questions were leading – I was trying to delve deeper into some crucial issues. That’s my job as a journalist.

      As to Fukushima – yes, all deaths so far seem to have been disaster-related, in the sense that they have resulted from the fear of radiation, and the measures (in many cases unnecessary) taken to avoid it. Having been to Fukushima quite recently myself, I do have some first-hand experience of how things are there. And I don’t think the incompetence came from TEPCO necessarily – the PM Naoto Kan spoke recently about how he considered evacuating Tokyo, an absurd proposition even for someone who is both panicking and ignorant about the basics of radiological protection.

    • Paul/Tokyo says:

      “in the sense that they have resulted from the fear of radiation”

      No. They resulted more from stress imposed by/through evacuation as a result of TEPCO incompetence. As a journalist you show a stunning disregard to investigate and present the facts, instead choosing to cherry pick and twist interpretation.

      “And I don’t think the incompetence came from TEPCO necessarily – the PM Naoto Kan spoke recently about how he considered evacuating Tokyo, an absurd proposition even for someone who is both panicking and ignorant about the basics of radiological protection.”

      How soon we forget the facts, Mark. The Japanese were roundly criticized by every major country for not being aggressive enough in their fukushima evacuation, and they stuck to their guns for a number of reasons.
      Any sensible government would have to have plans in place to evacuate wider areas in extreme worse case conditions. It’s called Risk Management, something you seem to know little about. Every government also had plans to evacuate their nationals from Japan.

      As to evacuating Tokyo please ask the French Govt/Areva (and others), a country powered by ~80% nuke energy & involved in MOX supply to Japan, why they recommended that their nationals evacuate Tokyo in early march 2011.
      If I’m not mistaken Areva (the experts) even cleared out their Tokyo office. I I suspect they are streets beyond you in terms of knowing the “basics of radiological protection”.

    • Pat Keys says:

      Interesting back and forth. Though Mark hasn’t replied yet, I’m curious where your sources backing up your assertions are Paul/Tokyo. You’re right that (if) Areva and other organizations did evacuate that’s important information – but just stating that “If I’m not mistaken Areva (the experts) even cleared out” doesn’t actually say (a) that they did in fact clear out, or (b) what motivated them to clear out. Do you have sources we can all look at that corroborate the claim?
      Also, the sarcastic and condescending tone of your comments only serves to weaken the overall argument.

    • Mark Lynas says:

      Paul/Tokyo – the condescending tone betrays the weakness of your argument. As does the lack of sources. Here’s one from me: just out today, a report on feedback from just over 10,000 evacuated households, who complain that inadequate information was provided by the Government in Japan.

      As to the evacuation of French people from the embassies and whatnot, they will have got more radiation on the plane out – 4 microsieverts per hour is usual on a flight; I doubt levels ever came close to that in Tokyo.

    • jmdesp says:

      The French embassy never told people Tokyo needed to be evacuated. They might have told people that if they had no specific business to do in Tokyo, they’d better leave, and to tourist not to come there, but that was more out of concern for the disruption brought by the lack of electricity, not fear of radiations.

    • DCollis says:

      You don’t seem to understand what a ‘leading question’ is – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leading_question

      Professional journalists looking for truth do not ask leading questions – only people who want a predetermined answer ask leading questions.

    • I wonder if you actually read the Yomiuri Shimbun article you reference. Please note the definition of the “disaster-related” death certificates the report hinges on, “A disaster-related death certificate is issued when a death is not directly caused by a tragedy, but by fatigue or the aggravation of a chronic disease due to the disaster.” Also note, the criteria for this is merely geographical…anyone who died and lived in one of the evacuation zones. It doesn’t matter that the tsunami may well have been a mortal culprit in these areas, and definately was for those on the coast. Regardless, these are not actual Fukushima-caused deaths…they are subjectively-defined due to geography. No one has died as a result of the environmental radiological releases or radiation exposure, the only realistic risks of nuclear energy.

    • Marion says:

      No one has died as a result of the environmental radiological releases or radiation exposure, the only realistic risks of nuclear energy.

      Indeed. I think it’s clear the evacuation – particularly the forced and extended nature of the evacuation – has involved real hardships and tragedy for people, but the extended evacuation was not based on what science and experience has taught us about radiation and dose and relative risks (i.e. Chernobyl studies). It was quite clearly driven by an unexamined phobia of radiation and all things nuclear. I think we in the environment movement need to ask ourselves whether we aren’t in part responsible for that.

      People tend to trust environmental groups on environmental issues yet the anti-nuclear factions of our environmental organisations seemed hell bent on spraying the people of Fukushima with a litany of horror stories, half truths and disinformation. Truth is, no-one has received a radiation does large enough to appreciably increase their risk of cancer and the land has not been left dead and unusable. We know from Chernobyl that anti-nuclear scaremongering, engenders despair <a href= “http://articles.cnn.com/2011-06-14/world/japan.farmer.disaster_1_fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-plant-nuclear-crisis-suicide-note?_s=PM:WORLD” and despair is the real killer . I can’t help agreeing with Geoff Russell here – anti-nuclear groups, both past and present, owe the Japanese people an apology.

    • Marion says:

      I’ll try that again.

      We know from Chernobyl that anti-nuclear scaremongering, engenders despair <a href= “http://articles.cnn.com/2011-06-14/world/japan.farmer.disaster_1_fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-plant-nuclear-crisis-suicide-note?_s=PM:WORLD” and despair is the real killer .

    • Marion says:

      Hmm. My links don’t appear to be working.

      Try this:

    • Marion says:

      Arrrggghhh!!

      http://bravenewclimate.com/2012/06/17/time-for-reckoning/

      If that doesn’t work, I give up.

    • DCollis says:

      > “Talk about trying to lead the conversation there Mark. Kudo’s to Mike for staying on track and presenting a very balanced and rational perspective to your obviously excited leading and slanted questions.”

      Exactly my thoughts as I read this piece. Lynas lines up questions to get answers he wants – like so:

      “If the evidence showed we must have new nukes would you agree we must have new nukes?”

      No reasonable person would say anything other than “yes”. From this Lynas produces sensational conclusion and headline that FoE are now considering support of new nukes. Lynas reminds me of someone proselytising for a religion, or a lawyer in court trying to get the answer he wants.

      > “Greenpeace takes quite an extreme view on this and they produced reports for Chernobyl saying 60,000 deaths or 6 million – I can’t remember what the exact figure was, but it was a long way from the scientific consensus.”

      This is an example of why I do not trust Lynas – he knows it was not 6 million. He just wants to discredit any group that he disagrees with – it is a common tactic from the nuke lobby.

      The Greenpeace estimate is high but not that far from other credible estimates – e.g. the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates 53,000 excess cancer cases; 27,000 excess cancer deaths – excluding thyroid cancers. The 95% confidence levels are 27,000 to 108,000 cancers and 12,000 to 57,000 deaths.

    • Andrew says:

      “credible estimates” and “the Union of Concerned Scientists” in the same sentence is interesting. Mark was talking about scientific consensus. You should read real scientific studies, like this : http://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/chernobyl.html

    • jmdesp says:

      The author of the famous NYAS published “1 million death study” (that reaches this amount by attributing to Chernobyl about 100% of the increase mortality in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and even also about 170 000 death in America, whilst not trying to check if there is any correlation with the reconstructed dose), is a co-founder of Greenpeace Russia, and used as the main source a 2006 report he had already written for Greenpeace, even if the numbers got seriously inflated between the two.
      So there is serious ground to say that this was a claim backed by Greenpeace.

      But I agree Mark could do a better job than just throwing some numbers, one of which is in any case overstated by a factor 6.

  2. Richard says:

    Interesting piece. Have you / will you being doing a similar interview with Greenpeace?

    • Mark Lynas says:

      That’s an interesting idea, as neither I nor Mike Childs had much idea of what Greenpeace’s view would be on most of these questions, but reading the runes I don’t get the feeling that they are particularly interested in re-examining their anti-nuclear position because their rhetoric on the issue is still very strident. Still, further down the line I would certainly like to ask to get a clear view.

  3. Jono says:

    Why were you so keen to skip over the Germany question? I remember reading your blog when the Fukushima incident occurred & thinking that you & George Monbiot were, contrary to what a lot of people thought, counter-intuitively right – the nuclear ‘disaster’ didn’t kill anybody, let alone anywhere near the numbers of people who lost their lives in the tsunami, and that it was stupid for Germany to replace their nuclear energy with coal in light of this.

    You & George seemed right about Germany’s emissions going up in the future, more coal etc etc but when you look at the recent $200 billion or so investment in renewables Merkel announced a few months back and all the success stories from Germany about how they haven’t switched to coal when shutting down their plants, why do you guys continue to hold such a ‘religious’ position? I have seen nothing from you or Monbiot on this issue, it’s just been swept under the carpet…I still think you were right to say that Fukushima wasn’t an event which meant that nuclear power should be abandoned everywhere, as some people were calling for, but I feel like your analysis is one-sided and ignores the economic cost (guaranteed loans etc) the nuclear industry enjoys, how no nuclear power plant has ever been built on time and on budget, and then all the techno stuff about new designs or whatever…I’d just like to see some analysis of what’s actually happened in Germany versus what you guys predicted! Though of course Mike is right about political will & the difference between the UK/Germany/Japan etc etc

    • ssam says:

      Why couldn’t Germany build new renewables and keep its nuclear reactors running? That would do the most to reduce its emissions. And why are they building new fossil fuel power plants?

      Also note that they still have 12GW of nuclear power ( http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf43.html )

      Aside from climate change, nuclear power is also the safest way to generate power http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/

    • Tom Blees says:

      Jono says, “…no nuclear power plant has ever been built on time and on budget.” That’s patently untrue. In the Seventies and Eighties plenty were built on time and on budget. More recently, though, Japan built the first two ABWRs in 36 and 39 months, and they came in on budget too. And I believe China’s first builds of the AP1000 are on time and on budget too. This old canard about the faulty economics of nuclear is blithely tossed around as if it’s indisputable, and is used to dismiss nuclear power out of hand, with no concern for its veracity. Stick to the facts.

    • quokka says:

      More recently, the latest UK experience – Sizewell B – came in just four months over the official schedule, two months under the projection in it’s business case and within budget. It received several awards for engineering excellence.

      http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/publications/list/reports/Nuclear_Lessons_Learned_Oct10.pdf

    • DCollis says:

      Latest? Sizewell B was completed 17 years ago.

      If you want examples of the latest nuclear projects look at Flamanville in France and the sister project in Olkiluoto in Finland – both many years behind schedule and many billions of Euros over budget. That is quite usual for nuclear reactor projects – on time and on budget is the exception.

    • jmdesp says:

      And the third EPR built in China is now planned to enter commercial exploitation at the end of 2013, a little in advance to the original planning of 2014. It will be the first operational EPR.

    • DCollis says:

      Tom,

      You ask us to “stick to the facts” – but there are none in your comment. Here are some facts:

      The Economist calls nuclear “the dream that failed” due to spiraling costs.

      Citi Bank says new nuclear in the UK is not “economically viable” unless the industry is bailed out by the taxpayer (sound familiar?!).

      The Union of Concerned Scientists says that new nuclear is still not viable after 60 years of investment without subsidies.

      The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says that the Federal loan guarantees needed to build new nuclear power is “a terrible deal” for the US.

      Who supports new nuclear apart from the nuke lobby, a handful of ‘maverick environmentalists’ and a bunch of techno-utopians on the internet?

    • Tom Blees says:

      DCollis, your post is ludicrous. You say I don’t present any facts, though I cited specific nuclear projects. Then you go on to cite your own “facts” which are nothing more than generalized opinions culled from your choice of sources. Are you just unfamiliar with the facts or do you not understand the meaning of the word itself?

    • DCollis says:

      Do you have any response to the facts I have stated? Or is indignant bluster the best you can produce?

    • Andrew says:

      The German renewable project is not exactly a success story.

      http://www.eike-klima-energie.eu/uploads/media/2012_01_09_EIKE_Germa_energy_turnaround_english.pdf

      They are building new coal plants, natural gas plants, and buying power from french nukes to replace the lost capacity of their 8 shut down nuclear plant. And the renewables are very expensive, they already have the highest electricity prizes, and it’s still rising fast. Their CO2 emission is increasing, and they became more dependent on Russian gas. And we here in Europe know well from experience, what that means.

      http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28515983/ns/world_news-europe/t/europeans-shiver-russia-cuts-gas-shipments/

    • DCollis says:

      Germany reduced CO2 emissions in 2011. They remained a net exporter of electricity. They continue to make massive investment in renewable energy and are targeting 35% RE electricity by 2020 – despite people on the internet trying to pick holes in their energy policy.

    • jmdesp says:

      No, they did not cut CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions for the electricty production stayed at about the same level despite the costly addition of about 7,5 GW of solar panels (which is huge compared to the German consumption which is only around 50GW average), a reduction of consumption of around 7%, a large reduction of exports, and a favorable climate that year that allowed France that was under about the same climate to reduce it’s own CO2 production for electricity by 20% despite not making significant changes to it’s own production park.

      If you add it all, you see the impact of closing that nuclear power was very big, and that CO2 emission would have been a *lot* lower by not closing it.

  4. Robin Curtis says:

    At last – we/you get FoE to recognise that the danger from record CO2 emissions may well outweigh the potential risk of a proliferating nuclear power industry. Whether they will ever acknowledge the damage they have caused to the environment by their strident opposition to nuclear in the past – resulting in a vast cumulative increase in CO2 – remains to be seen. We need to drastically reduce our fossil fuel burn – (extremely unlikely), view a new round of properly policed/constructed/regulated nukes as an interim measure, and crack on with renewables a la Germany as fast as possible – albeit all too late. (And with most of the UK’s experienced nuclear tecchies/inspectors about to retire, retired, or dead. Much, much easier to train renewable techhies and to build renewable manufacturing capacity). (Bias check: From a one time nuclear engineer – now in renewables)

    • Tom Bammann says:

      Robin,

      I think it is a bit harsh to criticise any individual or any group for having an opinion. Whether FoE change their policy to be accepting of nuclear or not early next year or in ten years time or never, their anti-nuclear advocacy stance has been mirrored by many other people, who collectively hold us back from adopting more nuclear. Every individual themselves or as part of any other organisation, are responsible for their own logical thinking. It is the responsibility of people that look for the facts to share them, and educate others. So if anyone is to blame for the world collectively being anti-nuclear, it is the pro-nuclear type that haven’t been as active as they could. Noting there are some very active and excellent pro-nuclear advocates reading this post, although as a whole, pro-nuclear people just need to talk to their friends and family more, and then we’ll see more shifting of people reconsidering their total anti-nuclear position.
      We must not play the blame game for what has ‘gone wrong’, but concentrate our efforts to look at where to go from here. So much has changed, and hence FoE performing their review.

    • Joris van Dorp says:

      The fossil fuels industrial complex is a 5000 billion a year industry. Their lobbying and marketingcampaign cost billions, which for them is pocket change. Suggesting that the nuclear industry should call their wager – after having been held back for more than 30 years while the fossil industrial complex pretty much own the entire world of politics and media is rather naive.

      I think that the people of democratic countries only have two options:

      1. They can acknowledge that unbiased and correct information is not going to reach them through the popular media, because the media is bought and presents only information that favours the status quo (which is a 5000 billion a year fossil industry). Having acknowledged that, they can investigate the issues for themselves and make up their own mind, while disregarding all (incorrect) popular information and opinion on the subject (which – unfortunately – requires the capacity for critical thinking and facing hard truths).

      2. They can petition their governments to crack down hard on any and all forms of propaganda in the energy debate. Any party who unleashes misleading information or downright lies should be dragged into the courtroom for purposefully damaging the intelligence of the people. We cannot afford to have democratic processes undermined and rendered meaningless by having our people’s intelligence being destroyed for propaganda and nonsense. It has to stop or we will all pay dearly for it.

    • David Milner says:

      That’s fine, so let’s start prosecuting the nuclear industry for all the lies they’ve told. Anyone remember “Electricity too cheap to meter”? Calder Hall was promoted as the first commerical electricity generating nuclear power station when it’s real purpose was to produce plutonium, and over its lifetime was a net loss in energy? The lies go back a long way and they haven’t stopped yet.

    • Jaro says:

      Nothing like perpetuating fiction, huh ?

      Too Cheap to Meter?
      Was this really a promise of the nuclear industry?
      http://media.cns-snc.ca/media/toocheap/toocheap.html

    • Atomikrabbit says:

      Don’t you love it when antis start ranting about “nuclear lies” then seconds later plop down a big one of their own?

      Since they don’t do critical thinking, or research beyond their own echo chamber, most of the time they don’t even realize their mistake – its just part of the received wisdom.

  5. Friends of the Earth has always been an evidence-based organisation – we have commissioned independent reviews of the background evidence to our policy positions in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.

    Commissioning this independent academic review of the background evidence concerning nuclear power, which will look at a whole range of issues from costs to build rates, is just the most recent example of this.

    Once the review is complete we’ll look at it and consider what it means for our position, objectively and without prejudice.

    On the evidence currently available, particularly on the economics of nuclear new build, we remain convinced that it would be better to invest in the clean British energy from the sun, waves and wind which can bring us all safe, secure and ultimately lower cost energy.

    Craig Bennett, Director of Policy and Campaigns, Friends of the Earth

    • Tom Blees says:

      Craig, I don’t see how you can maintain that “energy from the sun, waves and wind…can bring us all safe, secure and ultimately lower cost energy.” Look at the actual data from Germany. The amount of money that they’ve already committed to those energy sources garners them but a fraction of the electricity (not overall energy!) that they need, and then with such intermittency as to not allow them to decommission fossil fuel power plants anyway. With less than they’ve already committed to solar alone (for a mere 2-3% of their electricity needs—intermittently, at that—and virtually nothing in the dead of winter), they could have built enough state-of-the-art nuclear plants to supply all their electricity needs and then some.

      The most crucial point is energy density. The second is intermittency. The sources you extol are on the complete opposite end of the energy density spectrum from nuclear power. And unlike nuclear, you can’t rely on them 24/7. Comparing nameplate capacities and pretending that such a comparison has any practical meaning in the real world—and building arguments for the economics and reliability on such comparisons—is simply fallacious. (I’m not saying you do that personally, but we do see that all the time from renewables advocates.)

      Germany is acting as the world’s renewables-only guinea pig. The results are abysmal from a strictly economic standpoint, and in terms of reliability and emissions as well. Just go to this website and look at total German solar output, day by day, for the entire month of December. Your statement flies in the face of the data.

      If we’re going to be serious about climate change, we have to abandon fantasy and wishful thinking and exchange them for data-driven decisions. Because Mother Nature won’t be fooled.

    • jmdesp says:

      Do not forget that Germany is still using a awful lot of lignite, and the environmental consequence of it are abyssal.

      On the very day of the recent solar record, whilst the solar peak was 50% of consumption, it was only 33% of production, because the lignite plant continued to run at the same level, and all the extra power was dumped at a very cheap price to the neighbor countries. The trouble is that it’s CO2 content was much higher than the one of the electricity they would have generated themselves (except maybe for Poland that is all coal, but lignite is even worse than ordinary coal).

    • DCollis says:

      You need to look at more than just the cost. Germany’s investment in renewables has brought **net** economic benefit.

      Solar produced about 10% of electricity in May. It is currently pumping out 12 GW and closely matching peak demand. Even in winter it will be pumping out several GWs for several hours of the day. But you think this is “virtually nothing”?!

      Germany reduced CO2 emissions last year – contrary to the screaming from the anti-renewable lobby. Germany continues to invest and deploy huge amounts of renewables and continues to enjoy economic and environmental benefit from this investment.

      It seems that the Germans are not basing their energy strategy on the beliefs of the nuke lobby!

    • Tom Blees says:

      DCollis, I do indeed consider much of the output in the dead of winter “virtually nothing.” Just look at the link I provided and observe the output for every day of December. Some days it never rises even momentarily to 1GW. This means that Germany needs 100% backup capacity from fossil and nuclear and hydro, because the wind may not be blowing on those days.

      Your glowing statements that Germany “continues to enjoy economic and environmental benefit from this [renewables] investment” is belied by the facts. The country’s electricity rates are among the highest in the developed world, and rising. With over half the world’s PV capacity they get (on average, over the year) about 3% of their electricity from solar, and that only intermittently and even at that they have to dump some of it (see comments from others about that). They’re planning to build more dirty lignite plants to replace their nuclear plants—where’s the environmental benefit from that? Their high-energy industries are threatening to pull up stakes unless they get sweetheart deals from the utilities/government, necessitating an ever-greater shifting of energy costs to the citizenry. If they lose those companies (some of them bulwarks of the German economy for over half a century), they’ll lose the jobs that go with them.

      Look at the data.

    • DCollis says:

      Did a handful of dark days in mind-winter negate the benefit of generating 18 TWh from solar PV in 2011? Or the much higher figure that will be revealed at end of 2012? Or the planned solar + wind that will exceed peak capacity by 2020?

      Do you think you are the only person to realise that the sun does not shine at night or that solar insolation is low in winter than summer?

      Germany have “high” electricity costs due to taxation policy which encourages efficiency and provides for investment in clean energy. It’s called “forward thinking”.

      Also, solar + wind is actually reducing domestic electric bills due to something called the ‘merit order effect’. Look it up.

      And the industry provides over 400,000 good jobs which brings more economic benefit. You need to look at all of the data – not just the bits that you think make renewables look bad.

    • After 11 years of a solar PV feed in tariff and $130 billion and all they get is 18 TWh from an energy source which can vanish with a cloud? France put on 100 TWh/yr from nuclear during the 1970s and 200 TWh/yr during the 1980s. The richest country in Europe can’t afford solarPV, what about the rest of the planet? I love bicycles, but when you need a semi-trailer, lashing a few bicycles together just doesn’t cut it.

    • Chris says:

      I agree with Tom here…Germany has spent enormous sums of money on intermittent energy sources that will always require some kind of backup. And with the country’s aversion to nuclear, that backup will always be fossil fuels.

      As Tom mentioned, solar produced almost nothing, not ‘pumping out several GWs for several hours of the day.’ That’s just not true.

      The logic course for Germany, even with a fear of the atom, would be to keep the nuclear plants running and shut down the dirty coal plants. Then, if they ever get to 100% renewables (I don’t think they ever will), they can start to slowly phase out nuclear. This will keep their CO2 emissions low and prevent air pollution illnesses and deaths.

      Or, just invest in the integral fast reactor or the liquid fluoride thorium reactor. China or India will likely have a prototype commercial reactor within 5 years and then commercial production starting in 2020. If they are modular and standardized in design, it will be a serious game changer or energy production across the world.

    • I think Mike Childs shows that FOE have moved towards a situation where they are willing to accept evidence whether they like it or not when he says: “there are absolutely good arguments on both sides”. I hope other similar organisations will follow his leadership. I blogged yesterday about attitudes which both sides of an environmental debate must adopt, and this interview suggests FOE has done so. It’s specifically in relation to GM, but the answers are generally applicable. http://thesciencesays.southernfriedscience.com/gm-crops-questions

      What interests me is why, if we have moved on so that people on both sides of the argument recognise the pros and cons, why do we have differing views. Why, when environmental groups properly examine the evidence, do they often come out with the same answer as before? They are hopefully using the right evidence (in most debates this is largely peer-reviewed scientific research). Is it a differing attitude to risk? For example with nuclear, the level of risk which is acceptable to go ahead with nuclear.

  6. martyn says:

    Mark

    This is not some massive new event, it is the ongoing way that Friends of the Earth works. The idea that it is dogmatic or religous opposition to nuclear that informs the position is not true and never has been.

    While I was there we did a very similar nuclear review, in part because we had a board member unhappy (that is part of the checks and balances the organisation has). He ultimately resigned over the final decision that new nuclear power still didn’t make sense. When I was working there I repeatedly said in interviews and public meetings that if nuclear could be safe and cheap then of course there was no need to oppose it, and I stressed that the “cheap” was in my view likely to be a bigger problem than the “safe”. That much has hardly been disproved since.

    I’m now nothing to do with the organisation or the review, but feel I have to stand up for FOE against the implication that it previously had heads in sand, and is only now becoming sensible. FOE – like any organisation, or indeed any blogger – is always capable of getting stuff wrong. But it has always striven to work on evidence.

    • Joris van Dorp says:

      But nuclear power *is* cheap, and it *is* safe. But to see that, you have to look in countries like Japan and China, which do not (until recently) suffer from the terrible impact on the intelligence of their citizens from baseless anti-nuclear propaganda. In those countries nuclear plants have mostly come in on budget and have performed extremely safely. Even Fukushima has been – in fact – a demonstration of the extreme safety even of existing nuclear power plants. Almost no radioactive material was released, the release does not cause harm to humans or the environment and will dissipate and be elliminated in due time with no actual need for ‘cleanup’ or anything like that. Fukushima has certainly demonstrated that even a ‘fluke’ occurance like a massive earthquake and tsunami that destroys 500 km of costline and kills thousands of people results in no danger from nuclear power plants caught up in it. That is the real message of Fukushima.

      Just yesterday a very knowledgeable and mature anti-nuclear activist I was talking with claimed that “safe and cost-effective 4th generation nuclear plants are not developed and not commercialised, even after decades of research”

      A completely false statement! Companies like Hitachi and Toshiba have already developed completed designs for such reactors, and have been working for years (or even more than a decade in the case of Toshiba!) to simply get *permission* to build these ‘super small safe and simple’ reactors.

      So why didn’t they get permission? The main reason (which anyone can find out for himself by reading the official documents) is the unfounded and irrational opposition from people (civil servants and ‘environmental’ groups) who claim a position of power to decide over such things, while disregarding the facts completely and believing in random nonsense and fantasies. It is *those* people, who are to blame for nuclear power’s apparent lack of progress in the past few decades. *that* is the elephant in the room that we should concentrate on, if we are to understand anythin about ‘what went wrong’ on the road to developing the full (bona fide!) potential of nuclear power.

    • David Milner says:

      I can’t beleive you said that of Fukushima “Almost no radioactive material was released. ” Even the official japan gov’t estimate is about one sixth of Chernobyl.. By your own suggestion in an earlier comment you should be prosecuting for spreading lies.

    • David Milner says:

      Sorry, I meant to say ‘prosecuted’ not ‘prosecuting’ – and radiation not harmful? hmm, that’s a novel idea.

    • Joris van Dorp says:

      Some 100 kg of radioactive cesium was released. That is what is causing the concern. This is a small amount, with small consequences for the health of Japanese citizens, as has been (tentatively) (re)-confirmed recently by the WHO:
      http://www.nature.com/news/fukushima-s-doses-tallied-1.10686

  7. martyn says:

    Just one other quick thought – now solar PV costs have fallen quicker than anyone predicted, by the end of the year subsidies will be roughly 75% lower than in just two years ago – will Monbiot be reviewing his strident anti-solar Feed in Tariff policy? Be interesting to go back to his (always overinflated) costs of the policy and see how his argument now stacks up.

    Any chance of adding him to your interview list as well as Greenpeace.

    Evidence based needs to work for both sides of the argument.

    • Mark Lynas says:

      Well you’d better ask George about that – I can’t do all these interviews myself ;-)

      As to FoE being an evidence-based organisation, I think all the positive feedback on Twitter and elsewhere about this blogpost shows that people are generally very encouraged to see this confirmed. The reason I put the entire interview up with Mike as part of this is so that no-one could say that I was spinning the whole thing – you can see all the quotes I pulled out and their context, plus the questions they were responding to.

    • martyn says:

      I have asked George and will keep doing so.

      I do think people who think FOE a broadly good thing, even if they have certain disagreements, need to take care to tackle those disagreements without making or reinforcing myths though.

      FOE has reviewed the evidence before and come to a different conclusion to some on this thread. That may yet happen again. So while I am pleased people are welcoming the review, I’d like to be more confident they will not revert to “religion” arguments if they are not 100% happy with the outcome.

    • Joris van Dorp says:

      The evidence shows that as soon as subsidies dry up, renewable energy installations such as solar and wind parks are quickly abandoned and left to rust. We’ve seen all this in the 80′s in the USA. There are still gigantic windparks and solar parks rusting and dying where they where left to rot 30 years ago, after subsidies where abandoned. Google it, and you can still find the ghostly pictures and sober reporting on this.

      So concrete evidence shows that solar and wind do not survive the evaporation of subsidies, even when the amount of solar and wind is small (<5% of installed capacity.) If anything, this suggests that reaching 100% without subsidies will be completely out of the question. Surely, the phase-out of the (huge) subsidies in Germany will turn out to coincide with a sharp slow-down or even a complete halt in the build out of new wind or solar capacity in Germany. There is no evidence in history whatsoever to the contrary. The final result will be the (already started) commissioning of massive amounts of new coal, lignite and natural gas power stations.

      By the way, did you know that Merkel recently visited Putin to talk about tripling the capacity of the nordstream gas transport route from Russia to Germany? This is typical. For the press, these leaders like to appear greener than green, but behind our backs they know its all lies and nonsense to 'keep the people happy', and they go straight to Mother Russia to grovel for more gas, much more gas.

      Germany will almost certainly turn out the be the poster child of failed policy created by ideologues and romantics who are happy to squander our health, our economic well-being and our future for the sake of pipedreams and feelings of the underbelly. Beware of them! They cannot and will not hold themselves accountable when it all goes up in smoke.

  8. Now what chance the LibDems?

  9. Mark Duffett says:

    A profoundly hopeful development, this – the prospect that an entrenched position might be altered based on a rational review of the evidence.

  10. Wonderful to see FoE UK is beginning to think rationally about this!

    As for the Fukushima “disaster related” deaths. Firstly, the death rate in Japan is about 9 per 1000 annually so you would expect 900 deaths over 12 months in any group of 100,000 with a representative age structure. It would take some serious analysis to know how many deaths were actually accelerated by the mechanics of the evacuation and how many by sheer terror. Decades of misinformation about radiation risks and fear mongering means that evacuation policies can’t be driven by scientific analysis of actual danger but by the risk of blind panic which the misinformation has made inevitable.

    • jmdesp says:

      I did see report of an elevated mortality rate amongst the evacuees.
      Consider that the sanitary conditions were poor, and most were old and not in a great shape to start with.
      However given their average age, there was an extremely low risk of them seeing their life span reduced because of a radiation induced cancer, so in rational terms, their evacuation was not the proper decision, at least after the few first weeks and the initial onset of 131I.

  11. Robin Curtis says:

    It doesn’t matter how much the price of Solar PV falls – we would need utterly massive developments in electrical storage capability – and/or a solution as to how to heat the UK for seven months of the year – without using fossil fuels. A major plank of DECC’s future UK energy policy is that we move to electrotechnology for heating – and we will need to get that low carbon electricity from somewhere. It’s either going to be from winter supplied renewables (wind/hydro) and/or nukes. (….and that’s before we start talking about the electric vehicle charging load). In the meantime we are on another dash-for-gas repeat (allegedly now defined as “renewable” – we’ll have “sustainable coal” soon).

    • martyn says:

      Of course it matters how much PV costs. And of course it can’t be the only source of power. Surely we can agree we will need a mix of generation, and the make up of that mix will be affected by price.

    • Tom Blees says:

      Martyn, I would go so far as to dispute the usually unchallenged assertion that “Surely we can agree we will need a mix of generation…” While that’s the politically correct position, it’s not necessarily true for nuclear power (though it is pretty much true for every other energy source, practically if not technically).

      Allow me to explain: Imagine that we decided to replace all our current fossil fuel electricity generation systems with an equal capacity of integral fast reactors (IFR). This is certainly feasible. You can see that France did essentially that with older nuclear technology. Mass-produced modular IFRs could do it faster and almost certainly cheaper. Assume that renewables don’t increase their percentage at all from current levels, for purposes of this hypothetical.

      You’d now be in a position where you can meet peak demand with IFR power alone, just as we can today with non-renewable sources (for all those times when it’s dark and still). But peak demand is 2-3 times average demand (depending on the country, location, etc). And IFRs (like most nuclear power plants) are just fine running at full power 24/7. Yet unlike current-day nuclear plants (mostly light-water reactors), the fuel for IFRs won’t require either mining nor enrichment. In fact, nations pay to get rid of spent LWR fuel and depleted uranium, both of which (plus material from decommissioned nuclear weapons) are perfect fuel for IFRs. So the fuel is actually better than free, and we already have enough on hand for hundreds of years.

      This situation would mean that not only would we have enough electricity for our grid, but we would have that much—or even twice that much—excess. With that excess we could:

      * Employ massive desalination projects to provide water where we wish, with enough energy to move that water to where it’s needed

      * Produce hydrogen via electrolysis to use in the creation of liquid fuels to power all our mobile transportation that won’t be powered by electricity

      In such a situation—entirely feasible—we would not need a mix of generation technologies. Nuclear power can most certainly provide all the energy that humanity needs. And using IFRs would mean no concern for fuel supplies…ever. I know it’s politically incorrect to posit such scenarios that demonstrate how renewables would be nothing but expensive redundancies, but there’s nothing magic about it. We know how much energy we can produce from nuclear power plants of various kinds, and we know from decades of experience how the fuel cycles work. We can project how much energy humanity will demand in coming years, and even if we vastly overestimate it the fact is that IFRs could easily supply whatever amount is required.

      The question is not whether it can be done. The question is whether we want to do it, and whether we will choose to go down that path. Take a realistic look at the alternatives, and all the ramifications of those decisions. If you turn your back on IFRs (or other similar nuclear technologies), are you ready to live with the results? On the other hand, if you accept that IFRs are a decent technology to employ, why not employ enough of them to create a world of energy abundance and quit messing around with half-measures? I’m not being glib here. This is serious business. We’re talking about life and death, war, potential climatic disaster, devastation of the oceans by acidification, vast migrations, species extinctions on a huge scale.

      We probably don’t have a lot of time for decisions based on political correctness. Think about it. Take a stand.

    • jmdesp says:

      Another important point is that not all countries have a mix of generation. There’s an handful of them that are 100% hydroelectric, and *very* happy with that.
      For good reasons : If you have enough water resources to be able to be 100% hydroelectric, there is not a single drawback from doing it.

    • Andrew says:

      Actually hydro power has serious drawbacks. The problem is that they require dams. Dams change the flow of rivers which can have serious environmental impact. If done poorly, they can threaten the water supply of entire regions. And when they fail…
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dam_failure

    • Andrew says:

      But hydro power makes perfect sense, if you build a dam anyway.

    • martyn says:

      You are right – if the case being made is 100% nuclear then my argument doesn’t stand. But that case is not really an option that is on the table, and I don’t think that is political correctness but because of the risk it involves of putting all eggs in one basket. Let’s be honest the project to build 10 reactors is not going all that well – I cannot see how upping that number dramatically will make new stations more likely.

    • DCollis says:

      Are you the same Tom Blees that wrote:

      “Privatized nuclear power should be outlawed worldwide, with complete international control of not only the entire fuel cycle but also the engineering, construction, and operation of all nuclear power plants. Only in this way will safety and proliferation issues be satisfactorily dealt with. Anything short of that opens up a Pandora’s box of inevitable problems. … The shadowy threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism virtually requires us to either internationalize or ban nuclear power.”

      Why do you think that a non-existent nuke technology – IFRs – is going to help anything now?

      The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority sees IFR technology as “immature and commercially unproven” and unlikely to start before 2050. How does that help mitigate climate change?

    • Tom Blees says:

      DCollis, thank you for the few bucks I got from your purchase of my book. Indeed, I did write that in proposing what I see as the ideal scenario for nuclear power, i.e. taking it out of the hands of private utilities. Since such prescriptions are unlikely to happen in many countries, however, I’ve since been exploring other options to maintain tight oversight of future IFR plants even in countries where private utility companies are running them.

      As I’m sure has happened to many an author, when I read that I can hardly imagine wording it quite that way now, several years after its publication. But I do stand by the concept of comprehensive international oversight of all nuclear power plants, in both construction and operation.

      As for the NDA’s original opinion you cite, they’ve changed their tune once GE came in and offered to build a pair of PRISMs in three years. Their 2050 scenario was the result of the influence of AREVA, which had already unduly influenced the NDA by the time they issued their consultation. IFRs are anathema to AREVA, since they would make their MOX reprocessing obsolete, and France has way too many billions invested in that to toss it all away. So the AREVA position is that fast reactors are 30-40 years away. But GE’s ready to put up its own money to demonstrate that AREVA is off by a factor of ten.

    • DCollis says:

      Sorry to disappoint you but I have not bought your book and have no intention of paying for anything you might produce. I do not find your commentary knowledgeable, persuasive or interesting.

      So, you advocate a system for nuclear power that will never happen and that relies on imaginary “future IFR plants”. As pleasing as you might find your fantasies, they are not much use for generating energy.

      > “As for the NDA’s original opinion you cite, they’ve changed their tune once GE came in and offered to build a pair of PRISMs in three years.”

      It’s touching that you could believe something so ridiculous.

    • jmdesp says:

      @Tom : Areva is influenced by what happened to the SuperPhenix reactor in France that was sent to the scrapheap at the Green’s request, after years and years of controversy. Yes they have invested a lot in MOX, but foremost such a failure convince them that it’s better to stay with a technology that at least generated less controversy and not such a terrible outcome.

      Also SuperPhenix was a financial failure, even if one could dispute that if it had not been unnecessarily stopped for many month after each even minor incident, and if it had been allowed to continue operation it, could have became profitable, as it was starting to work properly and in reliable way at the time it was discontinued.

  12. It would be wonderful news if Friends of the Earth were to see the light – we do, after all, have a planet to save – but the cynic in me isn’t holding his breath.

  13. Radioactive tuna anyone?

    • Twominds says:

      Yes, please! I see advantages in fish with trace elements in it that tell where it has been. Maybe it’s even possible to use short-lived trace elements that can tell us where it’s been caught. That way a check would be possible that makes fishing in protected areas more difficult.

      By the way, in the tuna with the Cesium traces that came from Fukushima, there is about 30 times as much radioactive Potassium, just like in you and me. If we don’t have to worrry about that, we don’t have to worry about the Cesium.

      Fukushima gave a lot of things to worry about, but this isn’t one of them.

  14. David says:

    It is genuinely good to see FoE UK undertake this review and I hope that as a result they begin to roll back their long held opposition to nuclear power.

    The comments I read here and in many other forums seem to suggest that most of the major NGOs have stopped touting (and therefore I presume believing) the mass cancer effects of low level radiation. That means they believe that human health and environmental concerns can hardly stand up as objections to nuclear power. However now they have latched onto criticising the (perceived) social and economic effects of the technology. This is frankly ridiculous.

    We simply don’t need an environmental NGO to tell us if nuclear power is cost effective. That is what accountants, bankers, market analysts, industry executives, economists and policy makers are all about. Unless FoE is thinking of investing in nuclear power they hardly need to have an opinion on its costs and payback. Is there any other technology that FoE gives an environmental green light to but then opposes only because they think it’s not cost competitive? I presume that they must maintain opposition to the Tesla Roadster and Toyota Prius because of the existence of cheaper EVs.

    As for the social effects; you just can’t object to nuclear power simply because of the existence of people who don’t like it. After all, you will find people who object to every energy generating technology. This means that the only social consequences that matter are the impacts of an evacuation. This IS a legitimate point against nuclear power, but the need for evacuation is driven by the perception of the health risk – so if you believe the health effect is reduced then the evacuation can involve less people and stay in place for a shorter period of time.

    Of course FoE’s opposition to nuclear, along with other anti-nuclear groups, has been a major contributing factor to cost increases, construction delays and negative public opinion. If they include these topics in the scope of their independent review then it seems to me that they will simply get their own handiwork served back to them. How will they split this out?

    So I remain glad that FoE is undertaking its review, but I think they should stick to an analysis of the safety, environment and health impacts of the technology only. Judging from Craig’s remarks this doesn’t look like it will be the case.

    • Jaro says:

      Regarding “impacts of evacuation”, its interesting to compare the area of the Fukushima evacuation zone to the area of land flooded by hydro reservoirs.

      For example, here in Quebec, the James Bay Phase I project flooded 11,300 km^2 of boreal forest, and Phase II added another 1,600 km^2 to that, for a total of about 12,900 km^2 of flooded land.

      The 20km Fukushima exclusion zone covers about 628 km^2 (half a circle, since its centered on the coast).

      That’s just 5% of James Bay.

      Parts of the Fukushima exclusion zone are already being resettled.
      Not so for James Bay.

      Which of the two is of greater concern to someone who is a “friend of the earth” ? ….and does that concern reflect in their public statements regarding so-called “renewable” energy, like hydro ?

  15. martyn says:

    Dave

    Sorry, but to say environmental NGOs should not comment on cost effectiveness or social barriers is ridiculous. NGOs need to make the case for their proposition – to do that without reference to cost would be ludicrous.

    And if you want to criticise NGOs for increasing cost because additional safety features have been added to nuclear stations, you might also like to praise them for reducing accidents. I can think of nothing worse than an industry – whether that be nuclear, chemical or toy maufacturers – not being under pressure on safety.

    • Mark Duffett says:

      NGOs need to make the case for their proposition, true – but isn’t there some middle ground here? Shifting from ‘oppose’ to ‘not oppose’ would be a big step, but that is not the same as ‘support’. In the former, ‘neutral’ case, Dave’s points stand.

    • martyn says:

      presumably neutral us a possible outcome of the review. If two ways of achieving energy security and cutting carbon emissions are equally viable and beneficial, that is the sensible position.

      In my experience the usual NGO version of neutral is to go and work on a different area where a decision has greater consequences. Getting coverage and support for your campaign on a decision that affects the environment is tough enough, getting it for something even you don’t think makes much odds is a non-starter.

  16. paul says:

    About time

  17. Mattias Devlin says:

    Friends of the earth changing their position on nuclear power?
    It must be a really cold day in hell not to mention the pigs flying in formation around my office at the moment!

    That would be the day!?

  18. Theo says:

    Anyone got a plan for the waste and spent fuel rods yet? Just wondering.

    Or shall we leave that to future people to sort out.

    • Tom Bammann says:

      Theo, have you read about IFR? It uses nuclear waste material as the fuel. So that is the essence of this article and a major reason why FoE are reviewing. Or do you mean what happens to that less than 1% waste material from an IFR?

    • The spent fuel rods aren’t a problem unless the 2nd law of thermodynamics
      goes missing in action … here’s a good account:

      http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2012/05/16/spent-fuel-at-fukushima-not-dangerous/#comment-20747

      As for the waste? Very valuable stuff, it can be burned in fast reactors and allow us to close down all uranium mines. In fact the waste + depleted uranium is enough to power the entire planet for hundreds of years and close all coal mines. The Chinese first fast reactor is a tiny experimental one:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8dq2Mtk400

      By tiny, I mean about the same size as Gemasola which renewables advocates call a HUGE production level solution to our problems.

    • Theo says:

      Graham – I wasn’t talking about the Fukushima spent fuel rods. I am thinking of Britain and what is called our “legacy waste” which will be added to significantly by currently proposed nuclear plants like Hinkley C.

      This most certainly is potentially a problem for some one in 60 – 100 – 200 years time, as everyone I think can acknowledge. So far there appear to be NO adequate plans for the future waste management.

      I understand that there may be new designs that consume waste, but they are not currently what is being planned here in britain. Are you saying that all new build plants must now use IFRs? Or are you prepared to see more “legacy waste” bequeathed to future people. Or am I wrong, and there is a plan?

    • Tom Bammann says:

      It’s going to be hard to answer your question unless you specify which country you’re enquiring about, and which political party in which country, or which group of people. There is no plan to end famine or global warming, just lots of really good ideas. Some can be implemented as plans. I feel that you are trying to infer that because there is no ‘international plan agreed upon for all things nuclear waste’, that waste is not likely to be managed appropriately and safely in the future, and that we’ll be ‘dumping’ it on a future generation? But on the flip-side, if we don’t use nuclear, what is the plan for global warming, or would we dump that on to a future generation? Most people that are educated in nuclear technologies will suggest that existing waste be burned with an IFR, and when the existing waste runs low the economics of various technologies will sort out what’s most efficient. Very little waste would be left over, it’s not an issue to leave it sitting there in a concrete bunker deep under ground in stable rocks. Can you see a hole in this ‘plan’?

    • Theo says:

      Tom – Could I have explained myself more clearly? I wrote: “I am thinking of Britain and what is called our “legacy waste” which will be added to significantly by currently proposed nuclear plants like Hinkley C”. I am not ” trying to infer” anything – I am spelling it out quite plainly, but maybe you haven’t read further than my first comment.

      I need a little more than your confident reassurance to believe that it is “likely to be managed appropriately and safely in the future” – and in fact, I’m afraid that “likely” just isn’t good enough. You cannot excuse creating a major hazard for your great great great grandchildren by pointing to a bigger hazard ie global warming and promising that future technology will clean it up.

      My point is this: First demonstrate the reactors that effectively consume the legacy waste. Then build them if they pass all the specs. But do not please use their possible future existence as a defence for building more toxic waste producing plants of the current design in britain.

      I hope that explains my position more clearly.

    • Tom Bammann says:

      Well with that logic then it’s all doom and gloom either way, because there’s no guarantee that anyone will do anything?

    • Theo says:

      Tom. What ARE you saying?

      You wrote: “Well with that logic then it’s all doom and gloom either way, because there’s no guarantee that anyone will do anything”.

      I don’t see doom and gloom at all. I just see an incredibly significant question for current occupants of this island to answer. Are we going to continue creating more fatally toxic waste until we have done our very best to ensure that we know we can deal with it safely. That is thevery most basic responsibility of a parent towards their children – which is what the future generations are.

      So far I’m feeling like I’ve hit a blindspot with the nuclear enthusiasts on this thread, apart from your position which seems like wishful thinking plus optimism and “hey, think positive”. Not the attitude incidentally that I’ve usually encountered from nuclear workers, who are usually incredibly conscious of their health and safety responsibilies.

    • Tom Bammann says:

      Theo, sorry yes I did confuse your first comment with another one. Of course I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom, now you’re taking things out of context again – I was clearly being sarcastic. No matter what social and economical issues occur in future, there will be enough money for the most basic functions in society, such as maintenance of any nuclear waste. If Governments can’t control that, then the world of the future clearly has much more significant issues anyway. I don’t think you’ve hit any ‘blind spots’ at all, I think you’re just enjoying asking questions that you know people can’t answer the way you like them. But this doesn’t mean it’s not a good answer – unless you enjoy taking matters out of context, and extrapolating them astronomically out of proportion to what other issues in society would be if the people of the future can’t or won’t deal with nuclear waste. You mock my sarcastic comment, stating that the world won’t be all doom and gloom, so then what’s the issue? Your question is for all intents and purposes pointless, because you’re selectively trusting future generations for some things but not for others.

    • IFRs can run on that UK waste and reduce it by at least a factor of 4 and change its nature so it is relatively trivial to deal with. The US could have had commercial IFRs today if it wasn’t for the conflation of arms race fears with nuclear power fears. Other fast reactor designs may be commercialised
      first, either in China or India, both are heading in that direction. Meanwhile the west is fiddling while Rome burns. Watching Germany’s dismal failure is frustrating beyond belief … so much wasted money for so little actual energy. But the rich grinning all the way to the bank raking in the feed in tariff money. What a scam. 12 years for about 20 giga watt hours per annum. The French built ten times with nuclear that in one decade during the 80s.

    • Theo says:

      So just to nail it down Geoff, are you saying yes to developing IFRs as soon as possible which so far sounds plausible and good, or are you saying build new nuclear in Britain as well, using EWRs, as currently planned?

    • Marion says:

      I’d be saying yes to both…

      Yes to the plants that have completed or are presently undergoing the approval process, because to abandon them now and go through the whole process again with a new reactor type would just be pointless time wasting. Considering the urgency of climate change that would be foolish.

      And yes to IFR for any future plants, in order to secure our energy security and ensure the long lived waste from our current plants can be recycled into a much more manageable short lived waste product.

  19. Here’s my latest blog on energy policy, renewables and nuclear power:
    http://bit.ly/ND3bsN

    • Craig, I’m curious about Fukushima. Apart from the quake and tsunami, what was the disaster: The evacuation? or extra cancers or both? As for the cancers, the latest estimate from David Brenner in Nature
      http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/05/world-health-organization-weighs-in-on-fukushima.html
      puts it at about 20 cancers over the next 40 years. The westernisation of the Japanese diet has introduced about 80,000 extra bowel cancers EVERY SINGLE year.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17059355
      Now that’s what I call a disaster!

      If there had been no evacuation people would be living in areas with less radioactivity than in various other places on the planet naturally. ie., few if any cancers and far far far fewer cancers than caused by red and processed meat, sake, cigarettes and motor vehicle exhaust.

      And what will leaving the nuclear power plants off this summer do? If its as hot as 2010, the increase in deaths will swamp any increase in cancers.

      The biggest danger the planet faces at the moment is the anti-nuclear movement jetisoning the only feasible way we have of shutting down coal because they have no idea of comparative risks. The anti-nuclear movement allows mothers to feed their children sausages but thinks nuclear accidents are risky. This is innumerate madness.

    • Joris van Dorp says:

      Hear hear! Excellent posting Geoff, thanks.

      It reminds me of an article I read some time ago about the ‘new antinuclear movement’ in India. It featured a poor Indian mother of four who protested the building of a nuclear plant in her region. In the picture taken of her, and in the accompanying report, you can see her sitting on the ground in her poverty amongst a large pile of tobacco and hand-rolled cigarettes. Her day-job was handmaking cigarettes for crying out loud! And she was urged (by a foreign sponsored group of anti-nuclear activists come to India to frustrate it’s energy policy) to oppose a new nuclear power plant for the sake of her health and her children’s!

      No wonder India has recently ejected all foreign anti-nuclear activists from the country. In my opinion, those people were lucky not to have been arrested and brought to face charges of sabotage and espionage!

  20. Bill King says:

    Good God…when did friends of the Earth become pragmatists. I am impressed. Research the future Tech people…Gen 4 reactors are the way of the future. Would you not get pissed off if your lights went out because the sun doesn’t shine or the winds don’t blow. Sometimes we need to retreat to advance, if you want clean air and a slowing of global warming, this is the only tech capable of doing it right now.Mark, it would appear you have some convertee’s…cudious,keep banging that drum Brother..seems its working. Bill King (Foot note: If you are going to build a reactor, don’t build it near the sea in a tsunami prone area)

    • Theo says:

      This also begs the same question. Does acceptance of new technology – Gen 4 or whatever – once it is credibly available, mean acceptance of the current nuclear new-build programme in britain, which will be a waste producing facility? Mark seems to blur the lines here. What about you?

      (footnote: Hinkley C new build, planned next to coast with the 2nd highest tidal range in Europe and recorded tsunami in 1607).

    • Bill King says:

      We are a ‘Tool making species’ Theo, trust in our ability to learn from our mistakes….Its what all good pragmatists do….

    • Theo says:

      Bill I am… flabbergasted. Is that the whole plan? Are you really saying that you abrogate responsibility for the waste that you will produce? Someone over the next 100 years will come up with something?

      Maybe they will. But maybe for any number of reasons there will be temporary changes in social, economic or geophysical conditions over the next 200 years which preclude that, or even decrease the knowledge base of future generations. They may not be able to maintain and refurbish the waste storage facilities we have left behind, let alone begin the task of then moving the waste to a GDF which has not yet been located let alone built.

      It seem to me the Finns have a much more responsible attitude. Yours seems to be complete confidence that IFRs will come online everywhere (and work for sure) so any waste we produce in the meantime isn’t a problem

      Bill, I know we are both super intelligent tool making primates. But I might just as easily argue that we don’t need nuclear because we’ll come up with some new breakthrough in renewables some day soon.

      By the way, what did you make of my response to your tsunami point with regards to the planned Hinkley C EWR in West Somerset, GB.?

    • Mark Lynas says:

      Theo – Absolutely nuclear power produces waste, which needs to be safeguarded for a long time. But I guess you were typing your message on a computer? The oil industry and electronics industries produce waste also – have you worried much about that? Should we shut them down entirely too? I bet their waste is not as well safeguarded, and also – because it doesn’t have a half-life – it will remain toxic forever, rather than declining in its toxicity, a radionuclides do.

      To my knowledge, nuclear waste stored in the UK so far has not killed or injured anyone, which isn’t bad for 50 years. The gaseous and particulate waste from the coal and other fossil fuels industries have killed uncountable thousands already, and will affect the life chances of billions more due to climate change. No-one here is denying the undoubted risks of nuclear (I hope) – but those risks must be properly quantified and balanced with the risks of the other energy choices we might make if we forswear nuclear. All of life is about balancing risk – everything we do. I suspect your emotionally-driven dread of nuclear is not borne of a rational risk assessment process.

      Wind turbines use steel and concrete (as does building a nuke, of course) – both industries with significant waste legacies. Not having sufficient electricity is a much bigger risk, which is possible/likely if we go for a 100% dependence on intermittent renewables.

      The point about the IFR is that nuclear waste can be considered a fuel for fast reactors. It does not always have to be ‘waste’. GE-Hitachi is marketing a version of the IFR called the PRISM, which the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is currently investigating for feasibility. (As is Friends of the Earth, to their credit.)

    • Bill King says:

      Just have a look at the future possibilities Theo…These babies eat their waste (Mostly) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_IV_reactor If I was in your country, I would be protesting beside you if your Government was building In a Tsunami zone. (Isn’t that what I said) Just because we are ‘Tool making species’ does not make us ‘Highly intelligent’ Some tools in the shed are not as sharp as others. I would be asking who has the most to gain by building your reactor where it is proposed.

    • Theo says:

      Hi Mark – I’m somewhat surprised that you ask me if I have worried about other forms of toxic waste we have unintentionally produced in previous decades, and ongoingly. Why ever would you think that I haven’t? Or that i don’t think hard and deep about my own involvement in those production cycles. I think you know me better than that.

      Referring to other industries you ask “should we shut them down too?”. I don’t think I have suggested shutting down existing nuclear plants here have I? All I have done is question the existing waste management plans and whether we have sufficient planning for adding a lot more high level waste and spent fuel rods to the pile from new-build.

      You acknowledge that nuclear waste “needs to be safeguarded for a long time”. Then you assert that “nuclear waste stored in the UK so far has not killed or injured anyone, which isn’t bad for 50 years.” Fifty years. How’s it looking for the next 5000?

      I CAN tell you that within 50 years records have already been lost and various storage facilities have needed ongoing attention and adaption. You seem to be implying nowadays that nuclear waste products are virtually non-toxic – an incredible position which thankfully the nuclear regulators and workers do not share with you. Again I am struck by the contrast between attitudes expressed on this thread and the attitude of the Finnish nuclear authorities. I can only assume that you have such faith in the forthcoming IRFs or whatever that you consider the waste legacy is just not an issue anymore. CO2 is more hazardous to life right now, therefore adding to the highly toxic pile of millenial waste products is nothing to worry about.

      “I suspect your emotionally-driven dread of nuclear is not borne of a rational risk assessment process”. That’s just stupid. I ask about how we intend to manage the growing pile of highly toxic waste and fuel-rods which will need to be kept safe for tens of thousands of years, and I get told I have an emotionally-driven dread of nuclear that is not rationally based. You know and have probably read my ongoing debate with George Monbiot: http://theosimon.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/whos-doing-wrong-at-hinkley-theo-debates-george/ . My arguments are rational. You may have better ones. You and other advocates of new nuclear would do better to try and present them than dismiss your critics as stupid or in your words “religious”. I’m afraid that if anyone is operating on blind faith over this issue it seems to be you and others here who refuse to engage with the practical questions of real-world waste management.

      You would od better it seems to me to say ” IFR’s will use legacy waste as fuel. let’s get on with developing them. In the meantime let’s not add to our problems by producing more hazard, either at Hinkley point or anywhere else.” Why don’t you say that?

    • David says:

      Theo, if as a result of its review FoE came out and said that it believed that a workable solution to waste did exist – would that sort it for you? Maybe you should take your questions up with them at a not too distant date ;-)

      Nuclear regulators act as the people’s representatives on nuclear matters – specifically safety, health and environment. They therefore, to an extent, reflect the prevalent attitudes of society though of course they are bound by science as well. So, for example, the science can tell you that radiation is dangerous and then extrapolate to give you a precautionary estimate at low doses, but fundamentally it comes down to some dude/dudette to say what we should do about that fact.

      There is no magic formula here – it’s a value judgment. So would one thousand deaths be acceptable? One hundred? One? If an NGO tells the regulator (or more likely the government) that no deaths are acceptable ever – period – then this may influence them. The strange thing is that the assessment need have no tally with the other sources of risk in society, and in fact doesn’t. This leads to the crazy situation that we accept zero deaths from nuclear waste (and there has never been one as far as I know) but organically grown beans are sold with no oversight and we are pretty damn callous with cadmium (at least comparitively).

      The nuclear regulatory process is generally very successful and I for one would like to see all other forms of electricity generation subjected to something similar. If that were the case we might have aggressive environmental monitoring at coal plants and plans for the deep geological disposal of end of life solar panels.

    • jmdesp says:

      Theo, what needs to be assessed is the relative volume of waste from each of those industries, the level of harmfulness from each waste, and therefore the integrated level of danger from it all. You might be surprised by the result.

      Nuclear creates some highly dangerous waste, but in very little volume, which means it’s the only industry that is able to handle it fully.

      If you take the potential number of death, how many people could be killed by this waste if it was spread in the worst possible way, all those industries are more dangerous than nuclear.

      The worst is when you go see what happens outside of nuclear, the spreading is no more a theory, but a fact. The Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash disaster poisoned thousands of people with lead and thallium. Rare earth mining has also poisoned many communities, and it’s extraction is frequently for wind and solar power.

      And as Mark already noted above, all this waste has no half-life, it’s there forever. What will happen with it in the long future ? Well, maybe what’s happening today in Bangladesh were tens of thousand of people are slowly poisoned with arsenic (coming from natural, not man-made underground deposit that contaminate the water from the wells).

      Meanwhile we have billions of years of background data about what happens with nuclear waste from the Oklo natural reactor. In practice, the waste didn’t move more than a few tens of centimeters, and that was with no sophisticated vitrified container.

      It’s good to be as precautionary as possible with nuclear waste, but it gets completely ludicrous when scaremongering goes wild about how dangerous it is, completely ignoring the simple facts about how dangerous the other industries actually are.

  21. DCollis says:

    Funny: the same day that Lynas reaches his sensational conclusion based on a bunch of leading questions, FoE issues this:

    Britain’s energy future lies in renewables and energy saving, not nuclear power. http://www.foe.co.uk/blog/nuclear_36093.html

    • Theo says:

      That is funny.

      Seems that Mike Childs may be planning a career move.
      Looking forward to Sunday Times article: “Why Friends Of the Earth are no longer friends of mine.
      by former FOE researcher Mike Childs, who has joined a growing chorus of leading environmental thinkers calling for more nuclear… etc etc

    • DCollis says:

      That suggestion is likely if you believe the conclusion Lynas pulled out of his hat based on a series of leading questions.

      > “a growing chorus of leading environmental thinkers calling for more nuclear”

      Who? Monbiot flip flopped last year. Is it a one man chorus?!

      No major environmental NGO in the world supports new nuclear. There are simply a few pundits who are sometimes referred to as ‘environmentalists’ who bang the nuclear drum. So what?

      Nuclear fails on cost, time to deploy, reliability of deployment, sustainability (fuel and growing mountain of waste). While global nuclear share declines, renewable share is growing dramatically – expect that pattern to accelerate as solar hits grid parity in a growing area of the world.

    • Theo says:

      Sorry DC, I was trying to be ironically amusing.

    • DCollis says:

      Sorry, Theo. I kinda worked that out after I left my reply when I read your other comments in the thread – a voice of sanity amongst the nuke worshippers. :)

    • quokka says:

      This time to deploy claim is frequently made and seldom justified. The peak rate of nuclear deployment occurred in the 1980s and was about 30 reactors per year. For a back of envelope metric, we could use capacity installed per unit of world GDP. In 2011 world GDP was well in excess of four times that in 1985, so a nuclear deployment of over 120 reactors per year looks within the bounds of possibilities.

      In 2011 just under 30 GW of PV was deployed. Assuming an average capacity factor of 15% which may be a bit generous, this is the equivalent of less than five 1 GWe nuclear power plants.

      Sorry, but the claims of rapid deployment do not stack up at this time.

    • DCollis says:

      You demonstrate what I have often encountered with the nuke faithful: ignorance or denial of basic knowledge on the subject, along with utterly bizarre logic – e.g. that GDP can be used to determine how long it takes to build a nuke.

      Nukes are notoriously unreliable to build. Projects often go far over cost and time estimates – the two new EPRs in Europe are a prime example of this, both years and billions of Euros over budget.

      You need to familiarise yourself with some facts on this subject. You should start here: http://thebulletin.org/web-edition/reports/2008-world-nuclear-industry-status-report/2008-world-nuclear-industry-status-rep

      Eleven reactors, almost one-third of the total listed, have been under construction for more than 20 years.

      Two-thirds of the under-construction units have encountered significant construction delays, pushing back officially announced start-up dates.

      That’s part of the reason that nukes are not economically viable in the UK – no one can get finance for such high risk projects… especially when renewables will be cheaper by the time a new nuke could come online.

    • Joris van Dorp says:

      DCollins, You demonstrate what I often encounter in the anti-nuclear zealot. A low level of reading comprehension coupled with absolute self-confidence and no regard for basic processes of reasoning and truth-seeking.

      Quoka clearly related the size of global GDP to the *number* of nuclear plants that could be built per year. He never talked about the *construction times*.

      Yet you ignorantly skipped past this, being led helplessly and blindly forward to scoff and criticise at thoughtfull arguments that contradict your narrow and wanting personal understanding of the basic facts.

      To weigh in on construction times and cost overruns. Looking at the history of nuclear power across countries and regions, it is possible to see a rather close relationship between the level of irrational Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt of the population, and the size of cost-overruns and construction times of nuclear plants. So, if you really want to reduce cost overruns and construction times, perhaps you should stop being an irrational anti-nuclear zealot, and help us convince others to do the same.

      Thank you.

  22. I believe the issue of the 500-700 deaths of people who were evacuated from around the Fukushima nuclear plant is incredibly damning to the anti-nuclear movement. As a resident in Japan, for months after the accident I watched nightly TV reports on the crowded, under-supplied and stressful conditions in the evacuation centres, and watched in disbelief reports of people dying from stress, fatigue and lack of medical care.

    On the other hand it is only under the most pessimistic of scientific models that there would have been any adverse health effects on a population of people that had stayed within the evacuation zone. Certainly people living in big cities such as Tokyo suffer from much worse (and measurable) health risks in the form of regular air pollution. In the light of this, the unnecessary evacuation represents a massive failure, and is very representative of what happens when Fear, Doubt and Uncertainty are allowed to dominate decision-making to the detriment of the science.

    Now, many of those people were elderly or chronically ill. Nevertheless, many would still be alive today if they had been allowed to stay in their homes. I think this issue is very important, not least because, as I understand it, 700 people represents about 10 times the number of people that died in the whole of the Chernobyl disaster.

    If that thought is not enough to turn you pro-nuclear, I can’t imagine what is.

    • Joris van Dorp says:

      A great posting. Thanks. I have relatives in Japan as well, and my wife lived there for many years. We were horrified after the Fukushima disaster of course, by our horror was deepened when we learned about the massive scale and speed of the evacuation. I have an engineering education, so I knew immediately that the Fukushima reactors would pose no threat, even if some or all of the reactor containments would get breached. No more than a small amount of radioactive material would ever escape and any health effects for the people of Japan would be minor and short-lived (no pun intended).

      So, we watched in horror when we saw the huge, hurried evacuation effort. I was terrible to see the dispair, fear and stress of all those thousands of people. I was especially shocked, because I didn’t know if this evacuation was due to some terrible series of mistakes by the Japanese government or TEPCO, or that it was a deliberate event caused by secret anti-nuclear activists within the Japanse government, trying to maximise suffering and death in order to later blame it on the Fukushima reactors. Paranoid? In my career I have seen stranger things.

    • Paul/Tokyo says:

      “On the other hand it is only under the most pessimistic of scientific models that there would have been any adverse health effects on a population of people that had stayed within the evacuation zone. Certainly people living in big cities such as Tokyo suffer from much worse (and measurable) health risks in the form of regular air pollution. In the light of this, the unnecessary evacuation represents a massive failure, and is very representative of what happens when Fear, Doubt and Uncertainty are allowed to dominate decision-making to the detriment of the science.”

      Yet another specious argument from someone not at direct risk, playing monday morning quaterback. Lets break it down.

      1. “On the other hand it is only under the most pessimistic of scientific models that there would have been any adverse health effects on a population of people that had stayed within the evacuation zone.”

      No. It’s called Risk Management, and risk management entails scoping out all possible scenarios. It’s not pessimism, it’s RISK MANAGEMENT.

      2. “Certainly people living in big cities such as Tokyo suffer from much worse (and measurable) health risks in the form of regular air pollution.”

      Not entirely so. Tokyo would have to be one of the cleaner major cities on earth, due to pervasive Japanese use of clean emissions tech and other approaches. Maybe you should move to Shanghai or Beijing and compare?

      3. “In the light of this, the unnecessary evacuation represents a massive failure”

      The only thing you can say about this sentence is it represents a massive failure in thinking. The evacuation was not unnecessary, but it was tragically a failure. TEPCO failed to prepare both the plant and the communities surrounding it for an evacuation level event that would most likely only happen within the context of an already bigger disaster – thus stressing already overwhelmed emergency services.

      Ex-NISA boss opposed widening nuke plant emergency response zones
      http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201206070071

      Not to mention recent reports that current emergency plans have still left out meltdown scenarios because “they don’t want to worry people”.

      Educate yourself: Failures of Foresight and the Ideal of  Mechanical Objectivity
      John Downer – CISAC, Stanford –
      http://www.rvs.uni-bielefeld.de/Bieleschweig/eleventh/DownerB11Slides.pdf

      Additionally, if you check the data now released you can get quite an accurate picture of the plume dispersal from Mar 13 – 15 that passed through Tokyo and went as far as Yokusuka++.
      So in an extreme worst case scenario (maximum release, most unfavourable weather patterns) Tokyo could be at risk, and certain demographic groups would be at risk. To deny that is both stupid and an unrealistic assessment of the risk scenarios.

      Have a nice day!

  23. Twominds says:

    I think it will only serve to polarize the issue even more. Pro’s will look at the evacuations with horror and blame politics and too-conservative standards. Anti’s will look with the same horror but see and blame the crippled plant looming ominously on the horizon.
    I hope to do a little bit in getting this chasm smaller by talking about nuclear power, and telling people why I think their concern isn’t necessary, always keeping in mind that most of them are truely anxious and condescention or ridicule will work backwards. I wouldn’t have liked that either when I was anxious myself and looking for info, so I try to stay respectful and sincere when discussing these topics.

  24. Paul says:

    A simple way to upload the audio is to use soundcloud.

    http://soundcloud.com/

  25. Jaro says:

    The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research was involved recently in research & publication of the SPRing report, “SPRING – Sustainability Assessment of Nuclear Power: An Integrated Approach”
    Figures 11 and 12 of the report clearly show the advantages of nuclear power:
    http://db.tt/4wOLXrOY

    It will be interesting to see what sort of spin FoE will put on these conclusions.

    More info here:
    http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/research/energy/spring

    • DCollis says:

      What does the environmental and societal impact of nuclear look like if it fails and ‘does a Chernobyl’?

      Also, there’s zero CO2 / environmental benefit from nukes if they are too expensive and risky to build.

    • Tom Bammann says:

      That’s a pretty vague question. Do you mean a ‘Chernobyl’ once a year at every plant, once every two years, or once every thousand years for every plant? What exactly do you mean by ‘does a Chernobyl’? Can’t we just look at history to see what impact this would have, given that a ‘Chernobyl’ has already happened? I think to be fair it should also be asked what the environmental and societal impact of not using nuclear generation will be. Otherwise, I challenge you to justify how your question is productive for people trying to decide whether we should be considering nuclear generation.

    • Chris says:

      does a chernobyl? I wasn’t aware of any new 3rd-gen nuclear plants being built without containment vessels.

      New plants are only so costly because governments have yet to settle of 1-3 standardized designs, and the time to get through regulation is immense. There’s a reason China can build new nukes a lot cheaper and on time than the rest of us. I assume you think they are cutting corners doing this, but I do not think that is the case at all. Regulations to just get a new plant design approved in the US take about a decade. There’s something seriously wrong with our regulatory scheme if that is the case.

  26. Kirsty says:

    Great interview Mark, and great comments everyone, thanks for the debate. I would like pipe up with a couple of points. Firstly, on waste, in response to Theo:
    It is true that most of the older nuclear facilities in the UK (now held in public ownership by the NDA) were not developed with decommissioning in mind, and nuclear materials were subject to (unbelievably) poor management practice and neglect. In current estimates the tax payer will now foot a £49 billion bill to decommission and clean up this legacy. (This is why the law has been changed to require operators of new power stations to have finance in place to pay for the decommissioning and waste management costs.) After 50 years of generation in the UK, we are left with 290,000 cubic metres of waste. New build (16GW) is expected to add just 8% of this total. And of course new plants are now designed to be decommissioned, unlike the crazy mess we see at some of the very old sites.
    Currently the government’s longer term policy on waste is a little, fuzzy, shall we say, and ‘the door is open’ for new ideas – including the GE fast reactor – to make their case. In the meantime, the long term disposal/storage in the GDF is seen as the best bet (by the vast majority of countries with nuclear power in the world, not just the UK). Some people liken the engineers planning the Geological Disposal Facility as having a lot in common with those that built the pyramids, except they’re planning for even longer timescales. Yeah, it’s not perfect, but on balance, new nuclear still gets my vote: given the build waste that will be created is likely to be a fraction of what we have already, and much more well managed, and ultimately there is a strong prospect for a genuinely sustainable solution in the shape of fast reactors. It does bug me that we all get so distracted by nuclear waste when black carbon is pumping unabated into the atmosphere with a much more real and frightening legac for future generations than an incredibly localised and well-contained finite amount of nuclear waste. And yes, I do think it is an either/or situation. Unless we are willing to accept the massive social justice implications of severely limiting electricity supply.

    Ok, now on safety: I really welcome the FoE review because surely this can’t lead anywhere but a radical policy change, based on potential carbon savings plus sensible analysis of risk! Surely?!

    • theo says:

      Thankyou jmdesp for reminding us all that fossil fuel pollution is a far worse problem right now than nuclear waste and other industrial bi-products. And thankyou Kirsty for summarising a well-reasoned position in response to my question. Marion also gave a clear answer, saying that she would complete all nuclear power applications currently in process in the UK and push for a new generation of IFRs.

      I cannot accept jmdesp’s minimisation of the hazard our radioactive legacy will present to some one else, and niether do I think that the existence of a whole heap of toxic waste by-products means that it’s ok to keep adding to it. Part of our ecological challenge right now is to start living within some limits eg: reducing emissions, controlling resource use, and I would say limiting our toxic impact on future generations.

      There is no GDF located in Britain. We do not have IFRs coming online. In the absence of any real-world provision for getting rid of it, the timescales we are projecting impose a heavy duty on our descendants to monitor and manage highly toxic radioactive waste and spent fuel when they may or may not have the financial, administrative or physical resources to do so.

      Kirsty says it is an either/or issue “Unless we are willing to accept the massive social justice implications of severely limiting electricity supply.”

      There is no objective reason why the system of distributing energy should not become MORE socially just in future, regardless of whether or not our electricity demand, once drastically reduced through society-wide conservation measures, needs to be limited severely as a result of not building new nuclear. Social justice is a political question.

    • jmdesp says:

      Theo, the main point is that it’s very credible that nuclear waste can be managed in a way where it’s hazard will be is one thousand smaller that the various hazards that already exist in the environnement. The bangladesh case is very telling, nature can be very dangerous by itself, and once you have the facts right, there is no reason left to believe our nuclear waste is adding any significant hazard to it. This is not minimisation, this is trying to replace unsubstantiated fears with facts. Most people believe the volume of nuclear waste is huge, whereas it’s factualy absolutly minuscule compared to the volume of other waste we generate.

      The other very important point is that when you fight against one thing, you’re also fighting *for* the thing that replaces it *in* *practice*.
      If you fight against policitician A, you also fight for politician B that is competing against him. And if you love politician C, but the polls alway put him at an unsignificant level, then you are still fighting in favor of politician B.

      So how does this apply to the energy sector ? Well it’s absolutly unambiguous that the Greens succeeded in getting a significant backlash againts nuclear, but what most people don’t realize is that the big winner against it is coal. The coal percentage in energy production has highened everytime the nuclear one has gone down, and renewable provided barely one tenth of the new coal. You may declare that’s not what you wished but that’s the concrete result of the anti nuclear fight.
      The recent statistics is also that as a result the 1200 billions dollar that were spent on renewables during the ten last years (IEA 2011 report on renewable progress number) did not make a dent in the increase of our CO2 generation.

      Also renewables currently are *very* socially unfair. The increase in energy price is hitting the poorest very hard. Only people who are relatively rich, who not only own their house, but also have extra money to invest can profit from it, as Montbiot denounced not long ago.
      What’s more, I don’t know about UK, but in France investing in wind power can get you some extremly lucrative tax rebates. At least 75% of the investment can be recovered in wealth tax rebate. And if your fiscal advisor is smart enough, you might be able to disguise some of the investment in maintenance costs that are also eligible for additional rebates. They are some rich people who got to fool everybody in the green movement and make a lot of money from this. Not caring at all if that wind power was effective in replacing CO2 since the profit was absolutly guaranteed whatever the case.

    • Marion says:

      “We do not have IFRs coming online.”

      Why so pessimistic? GE Hitachi have made it quite clear that if we want IFRs we can have them.
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/30/ge-hitachi-nuclear-reactor-plutonium

      Without nuclear power the best energy option we seem to have is some intermittent renewables with fossil-fuel-back-up. That being the case, opposing nuclear power can only lead to climate change.

      Without IFRs we will be stuck having to deal with all the long-lived nuclear waste we have already generated for, well, a very long time to come (I don’t think this is nearly as great a problem as the preceding one, it being small and localised as opposed to vast and global, but obviously, Theo, you do). Opposing IFRs then, will inevitably lead to a legacy of long-lived nuclear waste – this is true even if the world never builds another reactor.

      If climate change and nuclear waste are your two greatest environmental concerns, then you have but one choice. You must openly support GE Hitachi’s offer of a PRISM reactor and agitate for the British people and government to pursue the technology into the future.

      Blanket opposition to nuclear power can only lead to the future you fear.

  27. [email protected] says:

    FoE means hyperbolic fear people about nuclear power same as nuclear weapon, it’s about missinformation freak enviromentalis.

    • theo says:

      To be fair though, there is a certain link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

    • jmdesp says:

      The situation has changed and it got a lot less true than it was some 20 or 30 years ago.

      Let’s get a bit in the technicalities to explain that, with some facts that are all fully documented on wikipedia, I’m revealing anything that’s in any way a secret :
      If you want to do a bomb, the easiest and cheapest is the little boy design. But it only works with enriched uranium, and the two known technologies to enrich uranium used to be extremly sophisticated to master. So because of that, the easiest alternative way became the fat man design, using plutonium. Plutonium is quite easy to separate from uranium, but doesn’t exist in nature. So you need a nuclear reactor to generate plutonium, and this made civil nuclear plant a risk for nuclear bomb proliferation.

      But the field has completely changed with centrifuge based enrichiment. Now you just need a centrifuge, and you can make your very basic little boy design bomb (that’s also signficantly easier to put in a missile) directly from yellow cake with no need for a nuclear plant. If you’re listening to the news, that’s what Iran is doing today.

      This is real bad news for proliferation. OTOH it means that nuclear plants are not anymore the source of proliferation risks, because it’s now a lot more complicated and risky to extract plutonium from then than to directly enrich uranium.

    • Jim Bell says:

      i talked with a Friends of the Earth representitive in DC today and he said that there is no truth in FOE being pro-nuclear.

    • Chris says:

      Jim, as shown in Mark’s dialog with Mike Childs, FoE is not a monolithic organization where all member countries hold the same position. Moreover, Mark stated that the UK FoE is considering changing its stance, not that it is pro-nuclear now.

  28. Interesting reading through the comments. Although there’s been debate around the subsidies (and these occur for all energy generation sources), until there are greater substantial electricity storage options, it’s important to have nuclear’s stable contribution so fossil fuels as quickly as possible are marginalised for dealing with the short-term fluctuations in both demand and renewable supply. The only other stable energy source is biomass and there remain concerns around how the source fuel can sustainably be obtained in the volumes that would be required.

    In terms of safety, it is clear that both renewables and nuclear are an order of magnitude safer than fossil fuels, and I would have no problem at all living in the shadow of coal powered Didcot A, if this was swiftly replaced with a nuclear power station.

  29. Jaro says:

    Pretty amazing results from a nuke power debate in Sydney:
    http://db.tt/dHIIwdRs

    More here:
    http://www.iq2oz.com/events/event-details/2012-series-sydney/june.php

  30. Troy says:

    I have been a lifelong environmentalist and social democrat and I have never understood the idiotic stances of the left in America as it regards energy issues. Nuclear energy is the only energy source that has a snow balls chance in hell in halting climate change.

    Over 90 percent of all scientists worldwide now support massive investments in nuclear energy. Wind makes up about 1 percent of overall energy in America with Solar at 2 percent there is absolutely no way, even with massive government investment, either of these energy sources will be viable options given the time constraints (have you looked out the window lately!!! just today and the last month over 3,000 records in terms of heat have been shattered in America and across the globe, it is happening now!!!) I think government officials and all NGOs especially ones who fancy themselves environmentally friendly should start strongly supporting nuclear energy, not just holding their noses, or turning the other cheek but actively and vociferously lobbying heavily for massive investment and the building of as many reactors as possible, we might be fucked anyway considering that most scientists believe the tipping point is already past, but at least we can try!!! I voted for Obama but on this isssue he is just totally wrong (and despite not agreeing with anything that Mcain stood for in terms of his completely misguided policies the one thing he had right was the building and investment in nuclear energy, France for gods sake is 80 percent nuclear and they are not in the least a conservative country).

    There is no other option than nuclear (fracking has its own problems and cannot produce as much energy as nuclear. The fact that Friends of the Earth has waited even this long to come to this conclusion is amazing to me, have they even been reading any of the current literature regarding climate change, energy issues and nuclear reactors or do they just swalllow the anti nuclear propaganda that is put out by the same petroleum companies they so despise ( and rightfully so). This is the only issue that I vociferoously disagree with my fellow democrats on it is amazing to me that they can call themselves environmentalist or friends of the earth and then not support nuclear power given the circumstances its not just stupid, it is a kind of willfull ignorance that is going to get a not insignificant amount of people killed and cause the earth quite a bit of damage.

  31. Daniel Lewis says:

    Well, this is good news…

    Here’s an idea: start a petition calling for Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, etc. to support certain nuclear power projects (at least as a stop gap technology for the next few decades) or simply drop their all-out opposition to nuclear based on a balanced assessment of risks. Such a petition would be more convincing if we could get various environmentally-friendly organizations (e.g. [local] 350.org [groups]) to officially support it, and get a bunch of Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth members to sign it.
    What do you think? Will it work?

    On another topic: visit UofTFriendsOfWisdom.org and click the links. Friends of Wisdom is highly relevant to the grand project of saving the planet. I think that Maxwell’s “from knowledge to wisdom” thesis should be mentioned in the next edition of the God Species.

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