Mike Shellenberger: How one of world’s cleanest & greenest technologies became viewed as bad for environment

Pro@MichaelBTI just posted a nineteen-point Tweetstorm on Storify explaining the history of how certain environmentalists discovered their true calling as anti-nuclear activists. Because I wasn’t following energy policy during this period, it has long been a puzzle to me how an “environmentalist” would turn against the cleanest, safest source of energy. To oversimplify a bit, what happened is that a few well-placed people with a strong “Small is Beautiful” and anti-corporate ideology invented issues that could be used very effectively for fear-mongering. Amory Lovins continues today to be an effective purveyor of these anti-nuclear myths. 

Here’s a plain-text recap of Mike’s history – please reply at the Storify page or directly to @MichaelBTI. Emphasis is mine.

1. As pro-nuclear ranks grew among people who care about climate & environment, we were treated as something of a novelty — but we weren’t.

2. Alvin Weinberg & other post-war scientists saw nuclear as huge breakthrough in pollution-free, low-impact source of electricity.

3. While California & others embraced nuclear, faction in Sierra Club saw cheap power as opening door to more people & more development.

4. Nuclear was so obviously superior environmentally to all other energy technologies that opponents had to invent new concerns.

5. Amory Lovins worked with David Brower @sierraclub (against Ansel Adams) to make up various reasons to be against nuclear energy.

6. They made up & publicized scary myths about proliferation & waste that notably had nothing whatsoever to do with the environment.

7. Anti-nuclear env. leaders of 1970s knew they couldn’t win on scientific or environmental grounds so they had to start fear-mongering.

8. But because it was “environmental leaders” who were doing fear-mongering, media misreported concerns as “environmental” — they weren’t.

9. Nuclear waste is deemed the environmental problem, but from environmental point of view it is exactly the kind of waste you should want.

10. From environmental point of view, production you want is highest output using fewest inputs & least amt. of waste: that’s nuclear.

11. Anti-nuclear leaders turned a huge strength of nuclear — its small amounts of highly manageable waste — into a weakness.

12. Grossly exaggerating nuclear waste risks was critically important to undermining its reputation as an orders-of-magnitude cleaner tech.

13. Much of “environmental” attack on nuclear had nothing to do with tech per se but paranoia of “large systems” e.g. the electrical grid.

14. Fear of big systems & utopian views of small communities underlay anti-nuclear movement rejection of both big government & companies.

15. Today anti-nuclear activists routinely talk of “nuclear industry!” but mostly are referring to public or heavily regulated utilities.

16. In truth, nuclear’s biggest advocates weren’t profit-motivated private companies but publicly-minded scientists & utilities…

17. … their motivation & excitement was around vision of powering California & world with pollution-free low-footprint energy.

18. In sum, it was the environmental benefits that were *the main motivation* of pro-nuclear advocates like Weinberg in the 1960s…

19. … while it was highly ideological *non-environmental* concerns that drove fear & opposition to nuclear energy starting in the 1970s.

3 thoughts on “Mike Shellenberger: How one of world’s cleanest & greenest technologies became viewed as bad for environment

  1. It’s fascinating that his interlocutor (interTwitutor?) links to a piece of fear-mongering nonsense hosted at my alma mater:

    http://sitemaker.umich.edu/sec003group5/remediation_of_waste

    This nonsense implies that uranium itself requires remediation for longer than the earth has existed.  Somehow this “Suzie Genyk” doesn’t realize that the uranium came from the earth in the first place.  It makes one wonder if she’d freak out if anyone told her about potassium-40.

  2. The interlocutor was Michael A Lewis. The Univ. of Michigan page The page looks like it was written as a student project. The content is all about nuclear weapons issues. Perhaps it didn’t occur to Suzie that people like Michael would use it uncritically to attack nuclear power generation.

    It makes one wonder if she’d freak out if anyone told her about potassium-40.

    No doubt – if my inference is correct, that the writer was working on an anti-war project, and had no grasp of the physics. Probably the writer is this Suzie Genyk who seems to be a very nice student of dietetics in the School of Public Health.

    • Well, it won’t be polluting the noösphere much longer.  I looked at the main page to see about doing a rebuttal, and it says that Sitemaker goes dark in October.

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