It’s been a long time coming:
Environmentalists are increasingly coming round to nuclear energy. Younger people are clued-up on climate change and are less against technological solutions than many older environmentalists. They also like their technology and understand that we need clean electricity to power phones and laptops. The public’s openness to nuclear is reassuring, especially considering that anti-nukers, from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to Extinction Rebellion, tend to dominate mainstream discussion.
This article, from nuclear activist and environmentalist Zion Lights, represents not only a major shift in opinion on the subject from the environmentalist side; it represents a generational shift towards a more scientific approach to the whole problem of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
It also comes from Europe (although there are advocates on this side of the pond such as Mike Schellenberger,) which is facing a grievous crisis this winter due to a confluence of events such as the effects of the stop-and-go economy caused by COVID and countries such as Germany shutting down nuclear plants before they had viable alternatives to them.
I think it’s fair to say that Europeans have been snookered by American environmentalists, who were operating from a different and highly unscientific frame of reference on this. American environmentalism is based on two premises, neither of which is rooted in science.
The first is that we arrived at the continent to a pristine, uninhabited wilderness and then proceeded to ruin it. Our task then is to restore it to that pristine state. The greatest enemy of that are the suburbs, where we have low-density development that takes up a lot of space. Packing people into small spaces and higher density is a key goal, which is a driver of New Urbanism.
The second is that we were more “authentic” in our primitive, pre-technological state, and that we must get back to that as much as we can. This is a core reason that nuclear power is a bete noire to most American environmentalists; it just produces too much prosperity with too low a power cost over the life of the plant (those blasted suburbs again.) Part of the reality of renewables is that their ability to fully power our current and foreseeable demands is limited in the near future, thus we must reduce. In some ways this is a Christless Christianity, where we are all called to poverty without the benefit of eternal life thereafter.
Coupled with the Boomers’ allergy to all things nuclear (thanks to the Cold War,) by 1980 nuclear power was pretty much out of the agenda of American life. Some nuclear power plants have been put online since then but not many.
With the new emphasis on global warming and managing atmospheric carbon dioxide, one would think that carbon-free nuclear power would be front an centre until our storage capabilities and renewables improve. But our unscientific elites prefer to believe “the science” rather than to practice “science” and so until fairly recently nuclear power was still not to be mentioned in polite company.
Europeans who took this to heart without understanding the underlying principles of the whole thing closed their nuclear plants, only to find out what was obvious to many: the substitutes they had at their disposal were either unable to deliver consistently or emitted more carbon (such as natural gas.) Now they face a bleak winter with the economic dislocation, suffering the death that goes with it. American “blue” states are going in the same direction of undevelopment, although there are signs that some people there are getting the message, a message that will be doubtless underscored by the same hard lessons that the Europeans will learn.
People such as Zion Lights and Mike Schellenberger are to be commended for their advocacy of an unpopular cause. Hopefully those who are coming after us will see their logic. My engineering students (or the ones I have broached the subject with) do; one of them was considering AOC’s Green Nuclear Deal until he got to the anti-nuclear part, at which point he was through with it It’s a good thing it’s happening because the viability of our scientific civilisation is at stake.