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Are Greens Coming Around to Nuclear Power?

The modern environmental movement has a long history campaigning against nuclear power, but that opposition has looked increasingly foolish in recent years as greens have identified climate change as public enemy #1.

Nuclear power doesn’t produce any of those dastardly greenhouse gas emissions your average eco-activist finds so deplorable, and unlike wind and solar, nuclear power can keep the lights on 24/7, even on those cloudy windless days. And yet still, many greens have reflexively held on to their anti-nuclear biases.

Thankfully, it looks like some of the bigger green advocacy groups are starting to see the light, as the WSJ reports:

The Sierra Club, the country’s oldest and largest environmental group, is debating whether to halt its longtime position in support of shuttering all existing nuclear-power plants earlier than required by their federal operating licenses. The environmental group’s leaders see existing reactors as a bridge to renewable electricity and an alternative source of energy as the group campaigns to shut down coal and natural gas plants.

The Environmental Defense Fund is similarly deciding to what extent it should adjust its policy, potentially lending its support to keeping open financially struggling reactors.

This is good news for Gaia and, if these activist groups can follow through and actually embrace nuclear reactors as the global green energy workhorses they really are, this could be a very positive step for the environmental movement. We’ve long said that the world needs a smarter group of green advocates—one capable of rationally assessing policy options and backing the ones that might actually work. Instead, the environmental movement is led by people like Bill McKibben that would rather distort science to suit their own biases than take a clear-eyed look at the many solutions (yes, they exist) we have to address the problems greens love to depict in such lurid detail.

Bill Gates gets it, and eco-activists could do far worse than to follow his lead on future energy planning. More of this, please.

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  • JR

    Greens growing a brain and supporting nuclear power? That would be a welcome development indeed, but I, for one, am not holding my breath. Would love to be proven wrong though.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Well, I’m one of the nutty liberals open to the best designs in nuclear. We must all admit, though, that we haven’t exactly solved the nuclear waste problems yet.

      • JR

        I wish your view was the majority one. If you are one of the good guys, that’s heartening to know.

        • FriendlyGoat

          Something has to slowly replace fossil fuels—-AND—-the progress and peace of the world largely depends on inexpensive electricity. Even liberals are willing to sometimes embrace reality.

          • JR

            Fusion…. Won’t that be the day. Doubt it will happen in my lifetime.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Perhaps not. Time Magazine, though, had a cover story on this a year or so ago. They claimed that the private sector is now “on it” like never before.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Fusion is only 10 years away, and has been for the last 50 years.

            With that said, take a look at some of the new small outfits doing research, they may be on to something…

          • marc biff

            !0 years time as we are constantly told the cure for cancer as well i suppose scientists have mortgages too.

      • Kevin

        The nuclear sate problem is a Harry Ried problem driven entirely by politics.

        • FriendlyGoat

          Yes, I suppose. Yucca Mountain is a very divisive issue in Nevada.

      • LarryD

        Molten Salt Reactors, deployed in existing nuclear facilities, using the “spent” fuel. No transportation of highly radioactive material off-site. Extending the operational life-time of the site as a generation plant by a factor of twenty (“spent” fuel still has 95% of its energy left). Useful radioactives extracted as a by-product, the end waste will be very small and a lot less radioactive.

        And when the “spent” fuel is all used up, we can start using the depleted uranium we have tons of, and after that, we can start using thorium. (The MSR design is the same, only the salt composition changes).

        France has been using nukes for decades, the waste problem, as Kevin says below, is political, not technical.

        And we don’t have to build steam turbines to drive generators anymore, the technology to use super-critical carbon dioxide as the working fluid is now deploy-able, the result is smaller, cheaper turbines, operating at lower pressures, thus safer.

  • Fat_Man

    Don’t hold your breath. Greens don’t want to solve problems, they want to accumulate political power. If their solutions to problems worked, they would go out of business. You can’t have that can you.

    • Whitehall

      After decades of hearing their demagogy and trash talk against nuclear power, why should anyone trust them now?
      They will hold out some pie-in-the-sky nuclear scheme, like thorium reactors, just to justify shutting coal plants. Once coal is eliminated, they will suddenly change their tune yet again.
      Fat Man is correct – Environmentalists don’t really care about the environment.

  • Blackbeard

    Back when the fracking revolution was just getting started several prominent Green groups thought they should back natgas as vastly preferable to coal and as a bridge fuel to renewables. They polled their membership and found that the members were vehemently opposed, not surprising since they had been absorbing propaganda, from these very same Green groups, demonizing fossil fuels for years. So, even though they knew better, they have opposed fracking every step of the way.

    Now the more thoughtful among them are realizing that they have made another mistake with nuclear power. However, again, they have taught their followers to hate and fear nukes and they can’t back down now.

    Nuclear power is dead in the U.S.

    • Whitehall

      A brand new reactor just came on-line in Tennessee, the Watts Bar plant.
      It’s been a long time coming.

      • Blackbeard

        Yes, Watts Bar is a step in the right direction but at the same time four older reactors will close this year. Also Watts Bar is only a new unit at an existing facility not a all-new plant. In addition the Sierra Club has tweeted today that the WSJ article was wrong and that they are unalterably opposed to nuclear power.

        • Whitehall

          Give the Sierra Club one point for being forthright about their position then.

  • Frank Natoli

    Every few days, TAI writers suggest that a positive consensus on nuclear is about to happen. All that means is that TAI writers are making the most common mistake almost everyone makes, i.e., assuming somebody else, given the same facts, reasons his way to same conclusion. This will not happen because Greens do not make people their priority. Greens make an environment unchanged by man their priority.
    Nuclear does create waste, even if laws were amended to permit post-processing, and does warm river waters needed for cooling, and does have SOME risk which no matter how small is regarded by Greens as unacceptable.
    Hydro has zero emissions and zero changes to water driven through the turbines but it does inconvenience some fish, and for that reason Greens have succeeded not only in stopping all new hydro construction but also having hydro dams in the Pacific Northwest removed.
    Natural gas turbine plants still oxidizes carbon into CO2, in addition to producing H2O which is actually the most egregious of so-called greenhouse gases.
    Coal also produces CO2 and H2O but even with stack scrubbers that remove particulates and sulfur emissions is considered by Greens the worst of all.
    Wind turbines create obscene visual damage to hillsides and to migratory birds and do not function when there is no wind.
    Solar creates obscene oceans of panels over formerly pristine open areas. Centralizing them in the desert states, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California Mojave, requires extraordinary construction of high tension lines, bitterly opposed by Greens.
    Bottom line: Greens demand zero effect on the environment. Man’s existence with 21st Century homes and businesses, not in caves or under trees, is not compatible with their priorities. Hoping for anything otherwise is failing to listen to and understand them.

  • In California they’re destroying hydro, dumping coal and natural gas, and shutting down nuclear.

    Maybe they figured that Wind would do the job – but now that they’re being inconvenienced by power shortages all of a sudden that nasty nuclear is back on the table? Guess they finally figured out that those iPhones, laptops, and servers ain’t gonna power themselves…

  • JosephBleau

    In twenty or thirty years, the left will find a way to blame the right for the anti-nuke mania of the last 30-40 years, and they will claim that big oil and big coal were really behind it.

  • jim

    The Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund?! The day they show the slightest crack towards nuclear is the day they go out of business. The rank and file won’t stand for it. They’re against coal and natural gas, but they truly hate nuclear power. Radiation evokes all the fears they’ve acquired from the horror movie science they fervently believe in.

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