My view is the answer is no
Nuclear energy bloggers often refer to anti-nuclear activists as "green groups" and often use the term "environmentalists" in the same paragraph. In thinking about this, I have come to the conclusion that ant-nuclear activists are not environmentalists. A green lobbyist is not anti-nuclear. Here's why.
An environmental activists is worried about the future of the planet and the survival of the human species as well as all other manner of animals and plants. The number one challenge facing the planet is the threat of global warming. It follows that the only source of baseload electricity supply that does not release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is nuclear energy.
Wind energy can mean more green house gases
Anti-nuclear groups, like Riverkeeper in New York, which wants to close the two reactors at Indian Point, says that wind is a reasonable substitute. This is a false claim. Because wind only blows some of the time, the balance of the replacement power would have to come from fossil powered plants – coal and natural gas.
Simple math suggests that replacing 2,000 MW of power might break out as 300 MW of wind, some of the time, and 1,700 MW of fossil power all of the time. A deficit of 300 MW for the time the wind isn't blowing will lead to brownouts and even blackouts for some parts of the New York metro area.
On the other hand, there is nothing stopping wind and solar energy developers from leveraging high voltage power lines supported by nuclear power plants. In fact, the areas just outside the security zones around nuclear power stations are often ideal locations for wind farms or solar arrays because they are not cluttered with residential or commercial/industrial uses.
Residuals management matters
Another thing that real environmentalists worry about is how to deal with reducing uncontrolled transport and fate of harmful pollutants. For instance, residuals from coal plants include soot, mercury, sulfur, nitrous oxides, and, CO2. Once these residuals are in the atmosphere, they remain uncontrolled forever. They cannot be collected and recycled later on or controlled in any way.
By comparison, the residuals from spent nuclear fuel, leaving aside the valuable energy potential its uranium, are controlled at the reactor. These radioactive residuals are stored in dry casks that have a minimum shelf life of 150 years. Eventually, they will be stored harmlessly in a geologic repository. Meanwhile, the uranium, and small amounts of plutonium in spent fuel, can and will be recycled to be used again to make carbon emission free electricity.
An environmentalist concerned about residuals management would look at these two energy systems and conclude that from the perspective to keeping harmful materials out of ecosystems, nuclear energy wins hands down.
Fossil fuel plants use the earth's atmosphere as a garbage dump imposing sickness and death on humans, animals, and plants. Nuclear energy reactors control all aspects of the fuel cycle containing useful materials to be recycled and safely storing residuals for eventual permanent disposal underground.
Logic suggests anti-nukes are not green
So, it follows that anti-nuclear activists are not environmentalists. Their position from the point of view of impact on the earth is illogical. Wind farms and solar energy, positioned as replacements for nuclear energy, actually results in more greenhouse gases because fossil plants are needed to keep regional electric grids stable and cost effective. Such advocacy is delusional.
Because of the variable natural variability of wind and solar, no one is going to build a new high voltage electric grid just to support them. Battery storage technologies are unlikely to make a difference without massive investments that will drive the cost of delivered electricity to uneconomic levels.
On the right track
It follows that people like Patrick Moore in the U.S. and his counterparts in the U.K. and other countries are on the right track and are environmentalists in the truest sense of the word. Their position advocates tried and true principles of controlling residuals, recycling useful materials, and generating energy for the benefit of all people while at the same time working to reduce the threat of global warming. See for instance Stewart brand's recent book Whole Earth Discipline for some additional wisdom on nuclear energy and "green issues."
Nuclear energy advocates must do more to make the case that it is an environmental choice. They must also make the case that if the U.S. fails to fulfill its role at as a technology leader in the global nuclear renaissance, that it will not be taken seriously in its efforts to stop rogue nations like Iran from developing weapons of mass destruction.
For instance, the development of mixed oxide fuel (MOX) takes weapons grade plutonium out of circulation forever. That's why the U.S. commitment to build a MOX fuel facility at Savannah River, SC, is an act that benefits the planet and future generations. It removes the threat of nuclear weapons.
What's almost bizarre is that some anti-nuclear groups, like Union of Concerned Scientists, on reflex oppose the MOX fuel plant and have energetically tried to stop construction of the facility. It seems that they'd rather satisfy their quest to stop all nuclear plants than see the secure removal of plutonium once embedded in nuclear weapons reused to make commercial electricity.
That's why people who advocate the development of nuclear energy are environmentalists. It is also why people who oppose it with religious fervor are not. This position may annoy or even enrage anti-nuclear activists. I understand they may not change their views as a result of reading this essay. Just don't call them environmentalists. Because they're not.
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