James Hansen on antinuclear environmental groups

James Hansen

More disconcerting is the pressure from environmental organizations and the liberal media.

A year ago James Hansen published a “draft opinion” on the Columbia University website: Renewable Energy, Nuclear Power and Galileo: Do Scientists Have a Duty to Expose Popular Misconceptions? The PDF received surprisingly little attention considering the importance of the issues covered. I found the piece when I was researching thinking on how we could dramatically increase China US Nuclear Cooperation.

Here I’ll just highlight some of Dr. Hansen’s remarks on how he sees the workings of the anti-nuclear lobby. In his closing paragraphs What Can the Public and Scientists Do? he writes

(…snip…) I also recommend that the public stop providing funds to anti nuke environmental groups. Send a letter saying why you are withdrawing your support.

Their position is based partly on fear of losing support from anti-nuke donors, and they are not likely to listen to anything other than financial pressure

. If they are allowed to continue to spread misinformation about nuclear power, it is unlikely that we can stop expanded hydro-fracking, continued destructive coal mining, and irreversible climate change.

(…snip…) The public is unaware of pressure put on scientists to be silent about nuclear power. After I mention nuclear power I receive numerous messages, often heart-breaking in their sincerity as they repeat Caldicott-like unfounded assertions and beg me not to mention nuclear power. More disconcerting is the pressure from environmental organizations and the liberal media. Each large environmental organization has a nuclear “expert” (often a lawyer, not a physicist) with a well- developed script to respond to any positive statement about nuclear power. Liberal media follow precisely the “merchants of doubt” approach that the right-wing media use to block action on climate change; raising fears about nuclear power is enough to stymie support. The liberal media employ not only environmental organization “experts”, but former heads of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) appointed during Democratic Administrations.

These NRC talking heads are well-spoken professionals with a spiel that has been honed over years. And they have a track record. The NRC, despite its many dedicated capable employees, has been converted from the top into a lawyer-laden organization that can take many months or years to approve even simple adjustments to plans. It is almost impossible to build a nuclear power plant in the United States in less than 10 years, and this is not because an American worker cannot lay one brick on top of another as fast as a Chinese worker. Anti-nukes know that the best way to kill nuclear power is to make it more expensive.

Given this situation, my suggestion to other scientists, when they are queried, is to point the public toward valid scientific information, such as the “radiation 101” page written by Bob Hargraves. “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air” by David MacKay lets the public understand calculations as in the footnote above, thus helping the public to choose between renewables and nuclear power in any given situation – there is a role for both.

Yes, a few scientists assert that renewables alone are sufficient, a position that gets applause. As for me, I would prefer to stick to science and tend my orchard. Unfortunately, the situation is different than it was in the 1600s, when religion pressured science. The urgency of now steals the luxury of silence. Galileo knew that the truth would come out eventually and no one would be harmed. So he could just mutter under his breath “and yet it moves!” That, I cannot do.

10 thoughts on “James Hansen on antinuclear environmental groups

  1. Although I still see nuclear power as essential, solar power may be slightly more practical than before. According to what I’ve read there are a couple concentrated solar systems that can deliver power for 24 hours per day by using heat storage. Still, even in areas with high insolation, that wouldn’t be enough if there were even one cloudy day.

    Interfaith Power and Light strongly opposes nuclear power and squelches all discussion about it. I suggest contacting them and insisting that they at least open their web site and meetings to discussion. Here is a link to their website: http://www.interfaithpowerandlight.org

    Here is a link to their public policy positions which contains an anti-nuclear message:

    Here is a partial quotation of their anti-nuclear position:

    “Interfaith Power & Light works to promote ethical, moral, just and sound solutions to global warming and energy needs. The urgency of the climate crisis demands a rapid transition to clean, safe, cost-effective energy sources. While nuclear power plants release no carbon dioxide, there is no nuclear technology being used for energy that meets these criteria.
    For the following reasons, IPL does not believe building new nuclear plants presents a viable solution to global warming.

    “Cost and Timeline: The high cost and long time frame required to build new nuclear plants is prohibitive, given the immediacy of global warming. Energy efficiency and conservation are the fastest, cleanest, and cheapest ways to achieve significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions and this should be our first focus. Taking into account the entire life cycle of mining uranium (a nonrenewable resource) and disposing of the waste, nuclear power production is neither clean nor renewable. Investing billions of dollars in this technology drains funds away from much more cost effective, rapidly deployable, and truly renewable alternatives, such as wind, geothermal, and solar power. (For more information on cost, please see economic studies referenced below)”

  2. In addition to the above, I suggest contacting PBS about their failure to address nuclear power adequately; they barely mention it. Adequately covering the subject would require that they at least briefly cover the various possible nuclear reactor technologies and explain why the Fukushima disaster could easily have been prevented. I sent PBS a letter with a tiny donation of $25 and explained that I could donate much more but would not unless they adequately covered nuclear power.

    Probably many of our politicians, including President Obama, are reasonably well informed about nuclear power and recognize the need for it but, out of fear of the anti-nuclear crowd, will not even mention nuclear power. From time to time it is possible to have personal meetings with one’s representatives and senators during which you could bring up the matter. You can also write letters.

  3. The IEA just put out another Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) report comparing various ways of making electricity.


    The IEA used some 20+ plants worldwide. Nuclear was the best dispatchable energy source in a low interest rate environment, commercial grid scale solar was best in the non-dispatchable area.

    Forget wind and concentrating solar. Aside from the environmental consequences wind and solar are not dense enough to make a difference. The recently shuttered San Onofre plant (SONGS) put out as much as ALL of the windmills in California, about 18 TerraWatt Hours as I recall. 170,000 bird-shredders or a 40-acre plant along the 101 freeway, whch makes sense.

    • Yes, the new IEA LCOE is better by using discount rates (3%, 7%, 10%). Nuclear is cheaper at 3, 7%. I suspect if Korea is building your new plant then the LCOE will be way better even at 10%. Or China once they get exports ramped up.

    • Instead of the IEA’s using discounted cash flow, it would have been better to use internal rate of return since that is easier to interpret. Although internal rate of return is more difficult to calculate, modern software makes it practical.

  4. Nuclear power is not dispatchable in the usual sense. There is no turndown other than dropping to zero output in an emergency shutdown. It is, of course, the best available low-GHG baseload power source.

    • Thanks! Your comment reminded me to post a brief update on the history and future of nuclear load-following capabilities.

      We don’t need gas turbines to balance the gyrations of wind/solar renewable generation. Nuclear plants can perform that function in a zero-carbon emissions world. Once the variable renewables are retired, as they probably well be when the fields-of-dreams have to be replaced the second or third time, then the demand-following nuclear generation will be even cheaper.

  5. Although many articles have been written on nuclear power and renewables, none are really good for making a presentation. All have been written from the wrong perspective. The problems we are dealing with are basically public relations and psychology. Scientists are not trained in public relations and psychology.

    We need a paper written by psychologists and marketing specialists who know how to get their points across. The paper should make it clear to the public that it is unwise to invest large amounts of money BEFORE a technology is adequately proven and the return on investment estimated with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Then, the paper should advise the public of what adequate proof would be and point out that there is no adequate proof.

    Examples could be given about how rational investment decisions are made. For example, before buying a house, one would want to know about any structural problems, about repairs which will probably have to be made soon, about the neighborhood, schools, etc. Before buying a car, one would want adequate information to determine whether it is likely to be satisfactory. Before investing in the stock market, a rational investor would want to know something about the companies, their future prospects, etc. Similarly, before investing in a power system, a rational person would want to determine whether it will work reliably and whether the return on investment would be adequate.

    Surely it would be possible for a group of scientists, psychologists, and marketing experts to get together and write a convincing paper about the folly of investing in a technology that is unlikely to do the job. A video could also be helpful.


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