6 Reasons Nuclear Energy Advocate Stewart Brand Is Wrong
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Stewart Brand has become a poster boy for a "nuclear renaissance" that has just suffered a quiet but stunning defeat. Despite $645 million spent in lobbying over the past decade, the reactor industry has thus far failed to gouge out major new taxpayer funding for new commercial reactors.
In an exceedingly complex series of twists and turns, no legislation now pending in Congress contains firm commitments to the tens of billions reactor builders have been demanding. They could still come by the end of the session. But the radioactive cake walk many expected the industry to take through the budget process has thus far failed to happen.
The full story is excruciatingly complicated. But the core reasons are simple: atomic power can't compete, and makes global warming worse.
In support of this failed 20th Century technology, the industry has enlisted a 20th Century retro-hero, Stewart Brand. Back in the 1960s Brand published the Whole Earth Catalog. Four decades later, that cachet has brought him media access for his advocacy of corporate technologies like genetically modified foods and geo-engineering.....and, of course, nuclear energy.
In response to a cover interview in Marin County's Pacific Sun, I wrote the following to explain why Stewart is wrong wrong wrong:
- Stewart Brand now seems to equate "science" with a tragic and dangerous corporate agenda. The technologies for which he argues--nuclear power, "clean" coal, genetically modified crops, etc.--can be very profitable for big corporations, but carry huge risks for the rest of us. In too many instances, tangible damage has already been done, and more is clearly threatened.
If there is a warning light for what Stewart advocates, it is the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which much of the oil industry said (like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl) was "impossible." Then it happened. The $75 million liability limit protecting BP should be ample warning that any technology with a legal liability limit (like nuclear power) cannot be tolerated.
Thankfully, there is good news: We have true green alternatives to these failed 20th-century ideas. They're cheaper, safer, cleaner, more reliable and more job-producing than the old ways Stewart advocates.
Stewart and I have never met. But we have debated on the radio and online. Thank you, Pacific Sun, for bringing us to print.
Stewart's advocacy does fit a pattern. He appears to have become a paladin for large-scale corporate technologies that may be highly profitable to CEOs and shareholders, but are beyond the control of the average citizen, and work to our detriment. Because he makes so many simple but costly errors, let's try a laundry list:
1. Like other reactor advocates, Stewart cavalierly dismisses the nuclear waste problem by advocating, among other things, the stuff be simply dumped down a deep hole. This is a terribly dangerous idea and will not happen. Suffice it to say that after a half-century of promises (the first commercial reactor opened in Pennsylvania in 1957) the solution now being offered by government and industry is...a committee!!! Meanwhile, more than 60,000 tons of uniquely lethal spent fuel rods sit at some 65 sites in 31 states with nowhere to go. Like the reactors themselves, they are vulnerable to cooling failure, terror attack, water shortages, overheating of lakes, rivers and oceans, flooding, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes, and much more. This is no legacy to leave our children.
2. Equally disturbing is the industry's inability to get meaningful private liability insurance. The current federally imposed limit is $11 billion, which would disappear in a meltdown even faster than BP's $75 million in the Gulf. According to the latest compendium of studies, issued this spring by the New York Annals of Science, Chernobyl has killed some 985,000 people, and is by no means finished. It has done at least a half-trillion dollars in damage. The uninsured death toll and financial costs of a similar-scaled accident in the U.S. are incalculable, but would clearly kill millions and bankrupt our nation for the foreseeable future.