Should greens support nuclear power?
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?
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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
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