portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts global

energy & nuclear

Should greens support nuclear power?

Chris Williams, author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis, argues that support for nuclear power has no place in the green movement.

May 4, 2011

Give the people what they want,
What they want, what they want:
Clean air and no pollution.
-- Jimmy Cliff

FEW PEOPLE can cut to the heart of the matter with such clarity, brevity and artfulness as music legend Jimmy Cliff, a man who knew a thing or two about making transcendent, timeless and captivating reggae tunes.

As when he first put those words to paper, people around the world are calling for a world with clean air and no pollution. However, unlike Cliff's time, activists in the Green movement, including those on the left end of the Green spectrum, are split on whether fighting for a future with clean air and no pollution could potentially include nuclear power.

A debate has emerged, precipitated by the well-known British environmental journalist and campaigner George Monbiot, as he has openly, if somewhat reluctantly, embraced the Dark Side: a nuclear-powered green future. One person, writing a comment on a previous article of mine, accused me of advocating genocide because I continue to argue against nuclear power.

After hydrogen explosions had blown the roofs off two reactor buildings in mid-March, and the radioactive fires of Fukushima blazed, like a latter-day Gen. "Buck" Turgidson of Dr. Strangelove fame, Monbiot wrote a column on March 21 entitled "Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power":
As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology...Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.

Monbiot's nuclear renaissance rests on a classic lesser-evilism argument. His premise, and that of others in the Green movement who have been converted to nuclear energy, is that if we oppose nuclear power and manage to halt the re-licensing or building of new nuclear plants, what we'll get in their stead are coal-fired power stations. Because the mining of coal around the world routinely kills thousands of coal miners from accidents and the nature of the mining process itself, alongside corporate corner-cutting on health and safety, and because burning coal creates toxic air pollution that annually kills approximately 13,000 people in the U.S. alone and produces more CO2 than nuclear power, we have to back nuclear as the lesser of two evils.

What this argument ultimately boils down to however, is a lack of belief that ordinary people have the power to change society. If we don't have nuclear goes the argument, we'll get coal, because these are the only energy sources that ruling elites will countenance. In fact, this is one of the nuclear industy's own talking points; whenever they discuss the CO2 savings of a new nuclear plant, it's always in comparison to whether the same plant would be replaced by a coal plant. This artificially inflates the supposed benefits, as if that's the only other viable choice on offer.

But surely, it stands to reason that if the anti-nuclear movement can prevent the much-vaunted "nuclear renaissance," couldn't we also build a movement that restricts and ultimately shuts down the coal industry? Indeed, wouldn't a victory over ending the resurrection of the nuclear power industry make a victory against the coal corporations--who are often the very same companies--enhance rather than detract from a successful fight against coal?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

IN A rather bizarre argument in the midst of the escalating nuclear catastrophe in Japan, Monbiot goes further and argues in an April 5 column that even when nuclear accidents happen, very few people actually die. He takes to task anti-nuclear activists who have "misled us all"--as if it's the anti-nuclear movement that is the problem, shackling the corporations' desire to build new, clean nuke plants with all its unsubstantiated talk of deaths and deformities arising from the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

According to Monbiot, very few people were affected by the explosive release of a massive cloud of radioactivity on April 26, 1986. Of the ones who were, any negative health effects, such as death, birth defects, leukemia, thyroid and other cancers, were almost entirely due to the incompetence of the Soviet authorities, rather than the predictable outcome of having the misfortune to live next to an exploding nuclear reactor.

Radiation is a natural part of our world and has many useful medical and other uses as either a diagnostic tool, a method of investigating the properties of our universe, or a medical treatment. All living things contain minute quantities of radioactive isotopes, as do many rocks and chemical compounds. The fact that the center of the earth is still a molten mass of iron and nickel is in large part due to the heat generated from radioactive decay in the core. Our knowledge of the characteristics of radiation has allowed us to accurately date all manner of things from the age of the earth to the evolution of species through time and the rise and fall of once-great civilizations, leading to a greatly enhanced knowledge of how our culture, planet and universe has changed over time.

The nuclear furnace at the center of our sun makes all life on earth possible in the first place. Scientists understanding of radioactive decay series forms the basis of important strands of evidence that highlight how and why climate has changed during earth's history, and given rise to the science of climate change--a change which currently threatens humanity due to the quantity of CO2 production that results from the rampant burning of fossil fuels.

However, medical research now concludes that there is no safe level of radiation, and any elevation of radiation levels or exposure to increases,
article continues here:  http://socialistworker.org/2011/05/04/should-greens-support-nukes

Monibot's a journalist 05.May.2011 07:28


For a discussion of Monibot's position see  http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Lessons_of_Fukushima_and_Chernobyl.php.

There's little 'green' about nuclear power, from it's mining to its still unresolved waste disposal. Is Monibot a joke, or did he just get paid well for his 'opinion'?

NO! 05.May.2011 17:07


No power is good power....in other words, there is no known means of generating power w/o somehow raping the earth.

Learn to live with human power only, powered by fruits and vegetables.

no, nuclear power is the worst toxic technology humans have created 06.May.2011 21:49


Monbiot is a joke. I was fooled for a while though now I see him as a total joke.

He's misleading you on nuclear power (see below from actual doctors who have visited the ongoing nuclear disaster in Chernobyl), and Monbiot covered up fraud in Climategate in 2009 after expressing shock and said it was very serious. Then he completed changed his tune, and I assume got the word to keep up his prattle about selling right wing corporate solutions as leftism and green politics, while denying or even attacking other sustainable choices that are far better, as he does so well.

More on health and ecological dangers from nuclear power

Friday, April 29, 2011
In the Bioregional State, Nuclear Power Would Have Required Local, Ecological Approval: So It Would Never Exist

In the bioregional state, doctors could spend much less time in politics and more on healing though these gentlemen help us understand politics in an unsustainable society is required as one of the arts of healing.

Physicians for Social Responsibility: Out with the Parasite of Nuclear Power; The Regime Choice of Nuclear Power and Its Missing Long View
April 26, 2011
52:31 min
[link to youtube at link]

"Chernobyl's Ongoing Disaster for Economics, State Finance and Health; Fukushima Data Parallels"

This is a video press conference from Physicians for Social Responsibility. It is a panel discussion by many of their present and past Presidents. It was filmed in the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. this month. [April 2011]

So much of our 'individual' health risks are really in origin social and political issues and require ameliorating on this level first. This is the point of the bioregional state.

They are discussing three things. First, it's an update on Chernobyl's ongoing disaster. Yes, it's still continuing as a never-ending nightmare; cesium in the 2,000 square miles of "inhabitable" soil is still not disappearing in 25 years "as was expected," and no one knows why. 70,000 additional square miles are still heavily contaminated as well outside the exclusion zone, where people live though suffer incredible health problems--forever, since nuclear radiation is a genetically inheritable disaster.

Financially, many of the countries still suffer under the extortion of nuclear power, and it has mortgaged their future.

For instance, Ukraine and Belarus spend in 2011 about 5-7% of their whole economy on the aftereffect of this one disaster. A fresh containment dome is required for Chernobyl. No one is putting up money to build it, and Ukraine is unable to afford it.

It's already 15 years late in starting the more permanent sarcophagus, and three years more late after they really decided to rebuild the sarcophagus. Ukraine can only put $850,000,000 up for the project, when it really costs $100,000,000,000. This means that without another 100 billion dollars of mortgaged future, Chernobyl's sarcophagus will collapse sooner or later starting another nuclear disaster death cloud around the world and further mortgaging all our futures beyond this cost.

"Sarcophagus" is perhaps a poor name for Chernobyl's hasty containment walls. That word implies something completed, that the accident is dead and finished. However, Chernobyl's accident is very much alive, right now--and will be alive for thousands of years. "Vampire" is the word that comes to mind for me about the Chernobyl accident. Why? Because the word "vampire" implies something that is temporarily blocked though very much alive and waiting to get out and attack people from its coffin. The Chernobyl vampire will be nearly immortal compared to humans that created it and upon us it will continue to prey for thousands of years. The vampire will live longer than any human government that has ever existed, longer than any durable spoken or printed language, longer than this version of our human species.

Second, they are discussing the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant's ongoing disaster. From Japanese investigations monitoring 1,600 school grounds within and outside the current Japanese exclusion zone of 20 kilometers, far more than this exclusion zone is contaminated heavily already. How heavily? Levels of radiation (absorbed dose) in the soil and at 1 meter height in the air outside of the Fukushima Prefecture's exclusion zone exceed levels that led to complete evacuation of 350,000 of people around the Chernobyl disaster. They found "Chernobyl evacuation levels of Cesium-137" out to 40 kilometers. In the United States, official policy is only a 10 mile evacuation from a nuclear disaster, though the United States has removed its troops from around Fukushima to a 50 mile radius. Watch what they do instead of the lies they say.

Plus, the scale of Fukushima is far wider than Chernobyl:

- due to oceanic contamination (the highest radioactive water is coiling south is is just outside of Tokyo already by late April 2011; some fishing is already banned)
- due to Fukushima being four nuclear reactors exploding (one of them with MOX (multiple oxide fuel), the #3 building),
- due to some of these nuclear stations being 30 years old before exploding, with 30 years of assembled wastes there (Chernobyl was only several months old when only one reactor exploded; four old ones have exploded at Fukushima)
- and due to the massive number of curies all make this far worse than Chernobyl.

According to this estimate, "Chernobyl released 50 million curies of radiation. Fukushima has released 9 billion curies and counting." Let's look at that with zeros:

estimated Chernobyl so far, 50,000,000 curies released (over 25 years)
estimated Fukushima so far, 9,000,000,000 curies released (ongoing, 6 weeks)

The estimate is based on the known first hour of high radiation at Fukushima's single explosion, and then assumed that at least this amount, spread across four reactors, happens spread across a full day after that till now. If Chernobyl was rated a "7", the worst possible nuclear disaster level, Fukushima should be rated a 7 four times over, for a 28. It's likely far more than this if the Japanese government already admitted a lie of what is going into the air: 24 terabequerels/day was really 154 terabequerels/day.

From Yomiuri Shinbun (9:15PM JST 4/23/2011):

"The Nuclear Safety Commission under the Prime Minister's Office disclosed on April 23 that the amount of radioactive materials being released from the TEPCO Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant was 154 terabecquerels per day (1 tera is 1 trillion) as late as April 5 when the amount being released was considered stabilized.

On April 5, the estimated amount of radioactive materials released from Fukushima I Nuke Plant was 0.69 terabecquerels/hour for iodine-131 and 0.14 terabecquerels/hour for cesium-137. When the numbers were recalculated according to the INES method (converting cesium amount into iodine equivalent), the amount released turned out to be 6.4 terabecquerels/hour (which was 154 terabecquerels per day. Previously, the Nuclear Safety Commission had simply added the numbers for iodine-131 and cesium-137, and announced it was less than 1 terrabecquerel per hour."

And as for the water, add even more radiation: "Over 6 days, from April 1, 520 tons of highly radioactive water was released into the sea...much more than earlier reports suggested & 10,000 times more than Three Mile Island.")

Third, they are discussing the U.S. less from the downwind radioactive fallout from Fukushima (U.S. finds already clouds of plutonium, uranium, cesium, and iodine in its territory) and more related to the known risks of similar nuclear power plants in the United States. They are particularly concerned about all completely unshielded spent fuel pools throughout the United States's nuclear reactors that are highly over capacity. They are concerned about the many aged nuclear reactors, similar to Japan. They are concerned about the U.S. nuclear reactors that were built on earthquake fault lines, just like in Japan.

As I am writing this, there is simultaneously a nuclear scare of escaped radiation in Ohio, and tornadoes in the U.S. South have cut the external power to three nuclear power plants in Alabama. These three slow nuclear bombs are on internal diesel power generation only right now. Quoting their press release about the panel:

"[Previous President of Physicians for Social Responsibility] Dr. Jeff Patterson relayed his experiences at Moscow Hospital No. 6, where victims of Chernobyl were treated, saying 'The long-term effects of this spread of radiation are much more destructive than the one-time x-ray and gamma dose that people received at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We will not see the final outcome of this experiment for hundreds of years.'

The Institute for Policy Studies' Bob Alvarez spoke about how the Fukushima nuclear crisis underscores the vulnerability of spent fuel storage in pools to accidents or attack, especially the 31 reactors in the US with a similar design as the Fukushima reactors.

[President of Physicians for Social Responsibility] Dr. Andrew Kanter outlined the potential catastrophic effects of a Chernobyl- or Fukushima-scale accident in the United States and demonstrated PSR's new online Evacuation Zone Map, which shows where a person lives in relation to a nuclear reactor and an evacuation zone. He discussed the difficult logistics of an evacuation and demands on medical personnel. [The map, which is available at www.psr.org/evacuation2011, shows a person's residence in relation to a nuclear reactor and an evacuation zone.]

[Previous President] Dr. Ira Helfand wrapped up the event with a discussion of the harm to human health from radiation exposure, concluding 'the risks to public health, the economy and our environment from nuclear power far outweigh the benefits.'"

The doctors' prognosis is uniform. Nuclear power is a political and socially inflicted sickness, a self-inflicted parasite on our bodies and our politics. Out with the parasite and the human body can heal. Out with the parasite and our politics can heal. No one requires this parasite.

As a parasitical 'energy' choice that destroys the host and its environment, nuclear is clearly irrational when we have so many other options for energy:

rest of article:


a little more, to show you different future options are real 06.May.2011 21:52


Sweden has already shut down all its nuclear power. Germany is now mobilizing to do the same. Some countries in Europe are already almost at half of their electrical generation coming from renewable sources. Meanwhile, the U.S. is the best place in the world for wind generation, though only generates 1% of electricity from wind, and 50% of the U.S.'s energy still comes from the coal raw material regime. Denmark makes 80% of the world's wind turbines. It is a growth industry, and the U.S. is falling way behind and self-strangling itself with the nuclear and oil tapeworms. The point is hardly to recommend a novel 'one size fits all' solution to technology and energy, because it seldom fits anyone except the supply-sided groups and unrepresentative state elites that foist it upon every separate region. The point is to start a process whereby people decide on materials in a "polytopian" way for themselves in their own region based on their own priorities and how it fits into their local ecologies and economies.

Polytopia is a word to describe the bioregional state: multiple real places require maintaining instead the promotion of a singular artificial ideological nowhere that tends to become a nightmarish dystopia regardless of its origin if encouraged. Even if it calls itself 'green', if it becomes a singular ideology repressively implemented, it is hardly green.


plenty of positive futures without nuclear or oil await 06.May.2011 21:55


quote: "there is no known means of generating power w/o somehow raping the earth."

That's untrue. Plenty of positive futures await: