earthwitness matters > Recognizing Abomination-Nuclear Energy

Now more than ever it's time to recognize nuclear energy for what it really is-- an abomination. As people begin to panic about how to fix what we broke by our unbridled burning of fossil fuels, we are told nuclear is the answer. That it is clean and safe.

Here are a few facts:

1. Nuclear is neither clean nor safe. Its waste products are toxic to all forms of life for hundreds of thousands of years.
2. There is no way to safely dispose of the waste.
3. Poor people are now accepting their backyards as dump sites.
4. Nuclear mining and processing contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
5. Nuclear power plants are the number one terrorist targets.
6. Nuclear plants leak radioactivity.
7. They use our river water to cool the plants and return heated water that destroys river life.

Besides these objective facts, here are my objections to nuclear on a moral level:

What kind of society would justify consigning its highly contaminated waste to future generations, knowing untold billions of people will inherit and suffer from this toxic legacy?

Using nuclear to provide electricity is tantamount to using a chain saw to cut a stick of butter. For Quakers, this violates the Testimony of Simplicity. It violates the Testomony of Peace for a number of reasons: it is closely associated with weapons of mass destruction, since the material can be refined to make nuclear bombs (think Iran); it does violence to Nature itself by splitting its most basic unit-- the atom; it violates the Earth, desecrating it with a substance that causes mutations in living things. It violates the Testimony of Integrity by interfering with the integrity (gospel order, if you will) of the proper functioning of the Earth's life systems. It violates the testimony of Equality because it asks certain communities to be the sacrifice zones, to bear the burden of our profligate use of this abomination. And finally, it violates the testimony of Community, because it doesn't belong in the Earth Community at all. We have a perfectly good nuclear reactor -- it's called the Sun, and it resides a safe 93 million miles from Earth. We at least ought to have the intelligence to harness that energy from the proper distance. In fact we have it. What we don't have is the political will to compel our leaders to support truly safe and clear energy: solar, wind, biomass, and low-impact hydroelectric.

Where are the Quakers on this issue? Why silence when there should be an uproar? Where is the moral outrage? Where is the concern for unborn generations-- those most innocent of all the innocent?
May 4, 2007 at 06:07AM | Unregistered CommenterAngela Manno

Simple truth that is direct and compelling; a very powerful message Angela!

May 8, 2007 at 06:06AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Elfrank-Dana
Well said, and absolutely right!

Unfortunately, I have no answers to Angela's queries:
(1) Where are the Quakers (my translation: "Where am I") on this issue?
(2) Why silence when there should be an uproar?
(3) Where is the moral outrage?
(4) Where is the concern for unborn generations-- those most innocent of all the innocent?

- - Rich Accetta-Evans
May 8, 2007 at 08:23AM | Unregistered CommenterRich Accetta-Evans

I'd like to present the other side. First, nuclear is not the answer. But over the next 2 - 3 decades increased efficiency and nuclear will dominate reductions in GHG in electricity. If we switch to plug-in hybrids, they may dominate GHG reductions in transportation as well.

If you're worried about the radioactivity portion of nuclear waste, it turns out that fossil fuels emit way more of that than does nuclear power. A minor pollutant in fossil fuels, way overshadowed by the other sins of fossil fuels, but because we use hundreds of thousands to millions of times as much fossil fuels as we do nuclear to produce the same amount of energy, fossil fuel power exposes people to about 4 x as much radioactivity as will nuclear from mining to waste decay.

When you say there is no way to safely dispose of the waste, please compare the relative dangers of waste. Since Three Mile Island, some two million Americans have died from fossil fuel waste, just the particulates.

Deal with the problems of fossil fuel waste. Scientists consider fossil fuel waste to be the most serious, intractable problem facing humans ever.

Leak radioactivity? An operating coal plant emits 100 x as much as the same size nuclear plant. Natural gas also releases radioactivity, and so do gasoline and diesel, but I don't know quantities.

Nuclear mining and processing (enriching the ore?) contribute to GHG, this is true. But the lifecycle emissions -- from mining to decay -- of nuclear power are comparable to wind, and less than solar.

Poor people's backyards as dump sites? Number one terrorist target? The latter could be true, I don't know. If a nuclear power plant is hit with an airplane or a bomb, several workers could die, and people could go without electricity for a long time. Also, an expensive piece of equipment could be lost. Terrorists might want to hit a nuclear power plant, but for loss of life, it's hard to beat chemical plants, etc, or football stadia.

It is true that nuclear power plants, like all thermal plants (includes biomass, fossil fuel, and solar thermal electric or concentrating solar power) dump waste heat into a body of water, and that makes local fish unhappy.

An older Friend told me recently what she has been doing in terms of reducing her own GHG emissions, and asked what she can do next. I asked her to challenge her preconceptions on nuclear power. We have very little time left: see Scary Numbers IPCC and Scary Numbers Stern Review. Actually, we hope we have time left to keep temperature increase over pre-industrial times below 2°C. We don't know. Every nuclear plant we oppose reduces our chances.

May 8, 2007 at 09:03AM | Unregistered CommenterKaren Street

I just noticed that I didn't address a number of Angela's points below the bullet. I am not actually sure what Angela is saying about weapons, and I don't understand some of the rest (chain saw?). I do know that people who advocate for solar, wind, biomass (do you really want to use biomass for electricity rather than fuels?), and low-impact hydro are pretty much in agreement with policy people. These currently supply 2% of the world's energy (biomass dominates this 2%). They will not suddenly supply all of the energy in a world where both population and per capita consumption are rising. 190 coal plants have been proposed for just the US. Germany and Australia, two of the most important anti-nuclear power countries in the world, continue to subsidize coal, or outlaw nuclear to protect coal. Three wealthy countries kowtowing to the coal industry (with lots of money to politicians).

I've created a page, Nuclear Power in a Warming World, that links to many of my posts on nuclear power, including discussions of terrorism, bombs from waste, etc. I also blog extensively on wind and other renewables, and geothermal (not technically renewable). We hope that their promise comes to be. But no one in policy imagines that they can supply the majority of energy this half century.

May 8, 2007 at 09:30AM | Unregistered CommenterKaren Street

Thanks Karen for adding some more realism to this important debate.

May 9, 2007 at 05:45PM | Unregistered CommenterZach A

Reading Angela's posting here, and the comments both pro and con, what strikes me is that the anti-nuclear postings all focus on the absolute wrongness of various aspects of nuclear power, while Karen's response focuses on the relative rightness of nuclear as a lesser-of-two-evils.

Thinking of this difference between the two sides in the light of Quakerism, I am struck by the fact that we Friends have never really been consistent as to whether we are to be moral absolutists or moral relativists.

One of the most fundamental doctrines of Quakerism is the doctrine of perfection, based on Matthew 5:48 (read in context). This doctrine says that we are to be absolutely faithful to the urgings of the inward Guide, moment-by-moment, to shun evils absolutely, to walk wholly in the ocean of light and not in the grey borderlands. Thus we feel ourselves called to reject wars and fightings absolutely, and not to say, well, but we have to fight Hitler because, bad as it is, it's better than letting him win.

Yet we have not been consistent in following our own doctrine. In World Wars I and II, far more Quaker kids let themselves be drafted -- or even voluntarily enlisted -- than refused to fight. So our corporate doctrine may be one thing, but our private doctrines are another.

In other issues, we have been equally torn between absolutism and relativism. For example, the early Quaker embrace of slavery in the New World was an embrace of a relative-better -- better to enslave the Africans, and then lift them up into civilization and Christianity, than to leave them in darkness in the jungle. Our subsequent rejection of slavery was absolutist.

In the dialogue above, then, Angela, with support from John and Rich, pleads for the absolutist path, while Karen, with support from Zach, pleads for relativism. Much of the logic of relativism hinges on underlying practical assumptions: relativists argue that if absolutism prevails, human beings will freeze in the dark like those old bumper stickers warned. Is this true?

Predictions for the amount of power that solar, hydro, hydrothermal and wind can supply to the U.S. vary a good deal. According to a U.S. Energy Department study cited in a very recent article in The New York Times, wind power alone could eventually hit seven per cent. I personally think seven per cent may be an understatement; the amount of wind power blowing about here in the Great Plains where I live is simply colossal, and I have no doubt that there are ways to harness much of it, if we humans put our minds to the task.

Again, much of the reason why the estimates for the total power solar can supply are so low, may be that research and development of solar has been dreadfully underfunded ever since Reagan replaced Carter in the Oval Office. I'm still very interested to see what can be done with thin-film solar collectors in outer space.

So I personally think the argument that "low-carbon-emission power generation can only supply X per cent of the U.S.'s future energy needs" sounds suspiciously close to being a rhetorical overstatement -- not very helpful when we're trying to do truthful discernment.

Furthermore, much of the reason why the estimates of the proportion of power that all forms of low-carbon energy can supply, is so low, is that estimates for the amount of power our future civilization will demand are very high. Do they have to be so high? What if America turns to a radically less consumeristic lifestyle? Karen, bless her heart, has addressed this issue in her essay, "How Many Wedges Do We Need?", Part One. But I suspect that actual reductions in American consumption are going to wind up being a lot more drastic than what her essay projects, for economic rather than environmental reasons, even though most economists would presently disagree.

Above all, much of the relativist argument is based on a tacit decision to downplay the risks. We'll talk about how safe the new generation of nuclear plants are going to be, but we won't talk about what another two or three Chernobyls in places like Indian Point, New York, could do. We'll talk about how little radiation is expected to escape from nuclear waste dumps in the next few hundred years, but not about long-term risks from idiot warmongers mining those dumps for poisons to use on the enemy (and, just accidentally, on the planet). Etc.

Much of the logic of absolutism, on the other hand, hinges on assumptions that are not so much practical as spiritual: it is simply absolutely wrong to engage in evil. Those who embrace this position, in regard to global warming, need to be challenged to show that they can also refrain from the evil of using coal- and oil-generated power.

Some Friends, like Carl Magruder in California and Ruah Swennerfelt and Louis Cox in Vermont, have in fact been attempting to live a zero-carbon-footprint lifestyle, with some success. But living at that level isn't possible for everyone; if you don't have capital to invest in thoroughly rebuilding your home, freedom to live close enough to a carbon-consumption-free workplace to bicycle there, the kind of really sharp engineer's mind it takes to master the hands-on challenges of living carbon-free, etc., you're out of luck. Living carbon-free is about as much a challenge to most Americans right now as never killing an insect is for the Jains of India.

-- Which leaves the question of how our society is to handle the energy demands of the zillions of U.S. residents who don't have the mind, or the capital, to go for carbon-free, and simply go on living as they do now. Will we do it by generating energy via coal (a disaster), by shutting off their power (another disaster), by pulling off a miracle with solar and wind, by building nukes, or what? Simply being an absolutist, and judging-and-condemning those who don't live up to our standards, and not developing a real, workable way out, would accomplish nothing except to generate anti-environmentalist antagonism. Even Christ condemned such behavior; side by side with his call to his followers to practice perfect righteousness, we also have his condemnation of those who "load people with burdens hard to bear, and themselves do not help to lift the burdens with so much as a single finger." (Luke 11:46)

I would add that there are a number of assertions in Angela's posting that I myself have questions about. For example, she states that "nuclear power plants are the number one terrorist targets". I have seen no practical evidence of this; certainly, in the September 11 attacks, the terrorists could have done far more damage by going after the Indian Point nuclear reactor, twenty-four miles north of the Bronx, than by going after the World Trade Center, but they never did. Angela also states that "the material can be refined to make nuclear bombs", but this is true only of breeder reactors, and one can easily have nuclear power without having breeder reactors. Far and away most nuclear power plants are not breeders.

And then, as for "doing violence to nature by splitting its most basic unit -- the atom", Nature itself does that trillions of times every microsecond. Again, we have some overstatements here that don't seem to be helpful to a clear discernment process.

This is a desperately urgent issue, because of the colossal scale of the damage that global warming will do. But it would seem to me that both the case for more nuclear power, and the case for absolutely no more nuclear power, are still clouded by far too many unknowns. I am profoundly grateful both to Angela for reminding us of the hard moral questions, and to Karen for doing the hard work of comprehensive research, but I'm not convinced that either side has really settled the question as yet.

May 12, 2007 at 07:14AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

Angela, thanks for starting this discussion, and Marshall, thanks for chiming in.

First, just because I'm pro-nuclear doesn't mean that my energy use is high. I no longer feel comfortable consuming lots of energy. Nor do I feel comfortable with poor policy. While many focus on reducing their own footprint, or on policy, I live my life attentive to both, and I include time for both in the classes and workshops I lead. I have always suspected that giving up my car in 1991 (well, it broke) made me more open to listening to scientists attacks on the use of fossil fuels. None of us live with no footprint. I don't fly, rarely drive, don't use much energy in the house. I don't talk about my own use much because I feel each of us needs to look at what we are doing to see if we are comfortable with it. Many would find my way of living -- bicycling and buses and trains -- hard to achieve.

Second, I don't know that nuclear is the lesser of two evils. Wind power, which we can all agree is good, emits about as much GHG as nuclear/kWh. But wind typically uses inefficient natural gas as backup, and wind uses backup most days. So wind power in effect is much higher emitting than nuclear power. If we accept that we are going to use any energy source, than nuclear is one of the better ones. At one time I would have agreed with you Marshall, but one by one, I have been disabused of many preconceptions.

I especially find it hard for people who still drive and fly to talk about nuclear as being only relatively good. 40,000 Americans die yearly from cars, before the pollution, and that will likely rise as boomers age. Another 30,000 Americans die yearly from transportation pollution, though this will decline by about half as diesel is cleaned up. And then there is climate change. I sort of see an argument that nuclear is only relatively good as a mote in one eye, a log in mine.

The NY Times article, and the actual report it is based on, say that wind power could supply between 2 and 7% of electricity in 15 years, far less than the amount of increase in electricity during that time. That's not just someone's opinion, it's a report of the National Academy of Sciences. I've blogged quite a bit on wind power -- there are lots of problems with wind: it doesn't blow on really hot or cold days. If we are to use lots of it, we will need to upgrade the grid and schlep it many, many hundreds of miles, etc. Marshall is right that research and development for solar (and a jillion other energy sources and issues) are woefully underfunded. That said, according to Chu, part of the information that I did not include in the post, is that the price of solar needs to come down by a factor of 3 so that it will sell without subsidy, and by a factor of 10 to really become popular. Subsidies should absolutely continue for a while, but solar is expensive, and will continue to be for some time. According to last night's lecture from a Lawrence Berkeley Lab scientist (more on my blog later), there is not even enough of some elements on Earth to provide the world with all solar electricity using technologies that are well developed -- we will need to change technologies to increase solar past a certain point.

I did quite a few blogs on nuclear power, see Nuclear Power in a Warming World for a partial list. Assumptions about accidents in, and terrorist attacks on, Indian Point and other locations tend to not be based on what is possible, but what is conceivable.

I actually did a calculation for Palo Verde, a fairly large plant. If coal power had been used instead, there would have been 6 Chernobyls over the lifetime of the Palo Verde reactors. A major nuclear power accident is a problem, but if we take a badly designed military reactor badly redesigned for commercial use, no containment structure, give it incompetent managers and no evacuation plan, we have close to an upper limit as to what can go wrong: models show that up to 4,000 people could die over 70 years. Compare that to the evil we accept, 30,000+ Americans dead every year from coal power (not counting climate change), hundreds of thousands of Chinese. How many would die from a major accident in a western style plant? Probably more than died at Three Mile Island (0) and fewer than died at Chernobyl. It could be serious. But we really can't keep claiming that a Chernobyl could occur in a plant with a containment system, etc. Additionally, new power plants are even safer.

Marshall, you say that terrorists could have done more damage going after the Indian Point reactor. Shortly after 9/11, when such comments were frequently made, I talked to someone whose entire professional career has been as a nuclear power academic. He said that he wished Al Qaeda had attacked nuclear plants. It would have meant the end of his life work, but when he thought about all those people who died in the Twin Towers, he felt sick. If a nuclear power plant were attacked, several workers might die, and a very expensive piece of equipment might go offline for a while.

I hope that those who are pro- and anti-nuclear come to A Musing Environment. My hope has been for my blog to be part of the dialog. If you do, please use references we can all agree on, from the scientific community. A few days ago I received a passionate letter from a Friend citing lots of information that does not come out of the science community. Also, use information in context -- while Socolow does say that with 7 wedges, we can stabilize emissions over 50 years, the goal among policy people is for the richer countries to reduce emissions 90% or more over 43 years, even as population continues to increase.

I've posted a question on Marshall's earthwitness matters: Where Can Pro- and Anti-Nuclear People Agree. One of the ideas behind conflict resolution is to see if there are points we can agree on. I look forward to your answers.

May 15, 2007 at 11:34AM | Unregistered CommenterKaren Street

I've seen Karen's posts concerning nuclear power vs. coal on another forum and though I have some strong opinions on the subject, I have been reluctant to state them. They just seem too cynical to write down, but as I don't see anyone else putting them in print, I suppose it is left to me.

My biggest difference with Karen is that I don't believe we (humanity) will do anything significant to prevent global warming. Whatever we do will be too little, too late. Perhaps if I had much hope that we were actually going to do something, I would agree with her that nuclear power was a reasonable energy source and could set aside my substantial reservations concerning its use. As it is, I don't see its use doing anything more than putting off, for at most a few years, the inevitable effects of global warming. Given nuclear energy's many risks, particularly the fact that we will be putting people thousands of generations in the future at risk (assuming there are still people at all,) I don't see it as a valid option.

I worry that the effects of global warming will be much greater than any of the models predict; so far, all of the models appear to have underestimated them. I am concerned that there is almost no discussion of what we should be doing now to ameliorate the effects later. (Why are we rebuilding New Orleans? It will soon be a negative island out in the Gulf of Mexico, a death trap for all its inhabitants.)

May 17, 2007 at 12:08PM | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Grubbs

I would like to offer a few thoughts on this article, with the clear understanding that I support the use of nuclear power, both for the sake of the environment and for the prospect of alleviating poverty (through plentiful energy) in the world..

The facts as given in the author's list are less absolute than the tone would have the reader believe. In fact, careful examination shows that none of them are in essence true, except perhaps under a legalistic interpretation driven by the pre-existing belief that nuclear power is an "abomination".

Let me repost the list as I see it:
1. Nuclear power is clean and safe. Its waste products are small, solid and easily contained.
2. The true waste decays to below the ore radioactivity in less than 500 years.
3. Waste repositories will be built in remote locations.
4. Nuclear mining and processing do require energy, a small input relative to the output. This energy could come from nuclear plants (and in France, largely does).
5. Nuclear power plants are too solidly built, too well-defended and too compact to be realistic terrorist targets.
6. Nuclear plants leak less radioactivity than the average supermarket.
7. Current nuclear plants use river, lake or sea water to cool the circulating water and return slighty heated water in accordance with tight environmental licencing.

The author's subsequent anguish is in my opinion premature until the reality of nuclear power is understood; and thereafter is unnecessary. Words like "abomination" and hyperbole about "billions of people" somehow affected by minimal, isolated waste do not help to advance the debate. Nuclear weapons are more easily made by uranium processing (think Iran) than by reactors.

I think the relativism vs. absolutism discussion is off the mark. Unless electricity is intrinsically to be shunned, we need to decide how to produce it with minimal impact, and to do that we need to compare the different real possibilities open to us. That is not relativism; that is pragmatism.

May 17, 2007 at 04:52PM | Unregistered CommenterJon Wharf

In my original posting I asked, where is the moral outrage? Here it is:

Karen Street’s claims that “terrorists might want to hit a nuclear power plant, but for loss of life, it's hard to beat chemical plants, etc, or football stadia” and that “If a nuclear power plant were attacked, several workers might die, and a very expensive piece of equipment might go offline for a while” are simply wrong. Dead wrong.

On September 11, 2001, had one of the planes that sailed over Indian Point nuclear facility, just 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan, hit the reactors instead of its target of the World Trade Center, we would have had a cataclysm. In a speech to environmental grant makers, shortly after the September 11th attacks, investigative journalist Bill Moyers described what would have happened:

“The ensuing cloud of radiation would have dwarfed the ones at Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. At the very least the massive impact and hellish jet fuel fire would destroy the human ability to control the plants’ functions. Vital cooling systems, back-up power generators and communications networks would crumble. The assault would not require a large jet. The safety systems are extremely complex and virtually indefensible. One or more could be wiped out with a wide range of easily deployed small aircraft, ground-based weapons, truck bombs or even chemical/biological assaults aimed at the operating work force. Dozens of US reactors have repeatedly failed even modest security tests over the years. And even heightened wartime standards cannot guarantee protection of the vast, supremely sensitive controls required for reactor safety. Without continuous monitoring and guaranteed water flow, the thousands of tons of radioactive rods in the cores and the thousands more stored in those fragile pools would rapidly melt into super-hot radioactive balls of lava that would burn into the ground and the water table and, ultimately, the Hudson. Striking water, they would blast gigantic billows of horribly radioactive steam into the atmosphere. The radioactive clouds would then enshroud New York, New Jersey, New England, and carry deep into the Atlantic and up into Canada and across to Europe and around the globe again and again.

“The immediate damage would render thousands of the world’s most populous and expensive square miles permanently uninhabitable. All five boroughs of New York City would be an apocalyptic wasteland. All real estate and economic value would be poisonously radioactive throughout the entire region. . . .

“As at Three Mile Island, where thousands of farm and wild animals died in heaps, and as at Chernobyl, where soil, water and plant life have been hopelessly irradiated, natural ecosystems on which human and all other life depends would be permanently and irrevocably destroyed; spiritually, psychologically, financially, ecologically, our nation would never recover. This is what we missed by a mere forty miles near New York City on September 11t h.”

I am not only outraged at the existence of this abomination called nuclear energy, but that anyone claiming to know anything about the issue would so cavalierly dismiss its destructive potential.

May 26, 2007 at 07:58AM | Unregistered CommenterAngela Manno

Angela, thank you for your response.

Where did Bill Moyers get his information?

I lost interest in Bill Moyers' views on science and environmental problems a couple of decades ago, after watching his special on under-reported problems. He listed one or more problems on science and the environment which I had never seen in science publications, nor have I seen since. I really loved his show on Genesis, though, watched it twice.

People create narratives all the time: flowers on the road to Iraq, an anti-missile system that can protect us, what would happen if a small plane hit a nuclear power plant. The presence of a narrative does not mean something could actually happen.

I don't know the estimate of the effect of a commercial jet crashing into a nuclear power plant, even if a damaged jet and a damaged pilot were able to aim the jet once inside. Chernobyl was a third world plant without safety features -- not even primitive ones, no containment structure -- a third world management, and a third world response to the accident. (The firemen were heroic, some knowingly sacrificing their own lives.) Some 50 - 60 people have already died from Chernobyl; up to 4,000 are expected to die from cancers over the next 70 years. This might be an upper limit on what could happen in event of a major accident or terrorism incident; the number of deaths from Three Mile Island (0) would be a lower limit.

Please, Angela, if you can find a peer-review report, one which has survived seasoning in the scientific community, please let us know. And let us know as well if you can find agreement with anything posted on Where Can Pro- and Anti-Nuclear People Agree. For people my age, climate change policy may be the most important political events in our life. This is certainly true for younger people, also people from a large number of countries with low greenhouse gas emissions rate. Bangladesh and other places already are seeing climate change refugees, and some countries have already put up "not welcome" signs.

May 26, 2007 at 10:18AM | Unregistered CommenterKaren Street


I was going to point out the many errors in the text, but I'll just suggest that you let the anti-nuke Harvey Wasserman know that Bill Moyers has been stealing his words (link).

I am not impressed by a debate tactic of borrowed authority, however dubious Moyers might be on that score.

May 26, 2007 at 04:49PM | Unregistered CommenterJon Wharf

“Gospel order is the order established by God that exists in every part of creation, transcending the chaos that seems so often prevalent. It is the right relationship of every part of creation, however small, to every other part and to the Creator. Gospel order is the harmony and order which God established at the moment of creation, and which enables the individual aspects of creation to achieve that quality of being which God intended from the start, about which God could say, ‘it was very good.’” (from Lloyd Lee Wilson’s Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order).

We have upset that Gospel order with a dangerous build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that we produced, (not to mention the poisoning of our air, soil and water with millions of tons of chemicals released into the ground, the atmosphere and our rivers and streams). My mother always told me “two wrongs don’t make a right.” To propose nuclear as a way to mitigate our impact, to save ourselves (not that it will) is another wrong we would be adding to our long list of transgressions against the planet.

Who will guard the waste for the next 30,000 years? That's longer than recorded history. Insurance companies will not insure nuclear accidents. Check your homeowners policy. These companies are the arbiters of risk in this country and their policy is saying plainly that nuclear is too dangerous to insure.

Gandhi once said that you can only wake up a sleeping man, not someone pretending to be asleep. I have no more time to respond to the disinformation and absurdities (“People create narratives all the time: flowers on the road to Iraq, an anti-missile system that can protect us, what would happen if a small plane hit a nuclear power plant. The presence of a narrative does not mean something could actually happen.”) coming from some of the contributors above. I urge people reading this exchange to check the “facts” proposed by Karen Street and Jon Wharf.

May 27, 2007 at 09:12PM | Unregistered CommenterAngela Manno

I welcome and encourage fact checking, Angela, except the kind of "checking" where, like coats, you leave the facts behind when entering the debate. I await your repentance for your misattribution to Bill Moyers.

Uranium-235 is spontaneously fissile. That means that, every so often, these atoms naturally split. Insurance companies will weasel out of any coverage they legally can (and sadly they are probably obliged to weasel out under company law). However nuclear plants themselves are strongly insured ($300 million per reactor), they are part of a pool scheme that provides cross-coverage of $10 billion, and Price-Anderson requires payment, regardless of fault, of any claims arising from nuclear plant operations.

I wonder what Gandhi would make of such wilful disregard of facts and physics. There are legitimate debates to be had over nuclear power, but - pardon me for speaking frankly - scaremongering nonsense has no place in them.

May 28, 2007 at 10:11AM | Unregistered CommenterJon Wharf

Perhaps I have misunderstood Daniel Grubbs stated position. He seems to ignore what is likely to happen if his view of rejecting nuclear power prevailed. The demand for energy will not disappear. It will be supplied by other sources, as Karen Street points out, many of which have worse consequences. This is not to suggest that we should not simultaneously work to do less harm to the environment. It does highlight why taking an "absolutist" position that was mentioned by Marshel Massey may not be morally sound, because it narrowly focuses on an issue as if it were not related to likely consequences. Shouldn't a morally sound position that is "absolutist" in the way described in this discussion reject fossil fuel derived energy as well?

Deciding what is morally correct can get pretty complicated, and personally, I would feel lucky if we could figure out a policy that wasn't on its face terrible. Taking an absolutist position on the evils of nuclear power, while side-stepping the likely consequences of rejecting nuclear power, is in my view, likely to do more harm than good.

May 28, 2007 at 07:59PM | Unregistered CommenterJoel Brainard

I confess that I am deeply disturbed by the tenor of the comments here.

Here are some things we don't say in meeting for business where I live --

"...That anyone would so cavalierly dismiss...." This is a personal criticism, is almost certain to be felt as inaccurate (it's very rare that a person actually feels her dismissal of something was cavalier), is extremely likely to be alienating, and so tends to cause a breakdown in communication.

"I am not impressed by a debate tactic of borrowed authority...." This redefines what is going on as a debate, rather than as a shared effort to achieve clarity, and more or less condemns it to be a debate from that point forward. It's an ego-to-ego challenge, and likely to be felt as a verbal slap in the face; it's a very different thing indeed from an offer to work together to hear the teachings of the Inward Guide.

"I have no more time to respond to the disinformation and absurdities...." This is mind-reading: how do we know the other person was trying to disinform? And with such words the author resigns from any attempt to practice joint discernment, leaving her words as purely inflammatory.

"I await your repentance...." Sheer combativeness. And -- "I wonder what Gandhi would make of such wilful disregard of facts and physics." Again, mind-reading: how do we know it was willful disregard, and not ignorance or just a different point of view? Gandhi himself, by the way, was very diplomatic and patient with opponents who seemed to be showing a willful disregard for truth.

Charges of "absurdities", "scaremongering nonsense", and so forth would lead to a call for silence, and afterward to intense private eldering, in any Friends meeting I have ever been a part of.

Please, friends, let's not forget what Christ said long ago -- "You are my Friends if you do whatsoever I command you. This is my commandment: that you love one another." I know from my personal failures that this can be terribly hard to practice. But if we wish to merit the name of "Friends", this is the standard we have to live up to.

I've been working on a response of my own to this issue, but it has proved hard work, and it's not yet ready to post. And it may be another week or more before it gets posted, as I will be busy this weekend with Great Plains Yearly Meeting. Once it is posted, friends, I will welcome whatever comments and criticisms you have to offer.

May 29, 2007 at 07:48AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

Marshall, Angela, and other readers

I apologize for those aspects of my contributions here which have been combative in tone. That was not my intention - at least, in my first post. My third post is clearly mostly brawling. Sorry.

For me, "debate" is a neutral word, although perhaps it carries more overtones of hostility to others. I think of a debate as a civilized exchange of differing points of view, reaching a group conclusion. There's no doubt that many people have strong pre-existing opinions on this topic, so any discussion will inevitably involve an exploration of where and why we differ.

I will try to be more thoughtful of the tone of any future contributions I make.

May 29, 2007 at 02:26PM | Unregistered CommenterJon Wharf

Having read most of the debate, I have several questions for the pro-nuclear advocates. Unless they are nuclear researchers, aren't all their "facts" borrowed authority? What problems with science did Moyers mention ten years ago that invalidated him as a source of information? Perhaps he was right.

I suspect the issue of gas energy back-up of wind energy is bogus, because even now energy is stored in off-peak hours to use in peak hours. If the National Academy of Sciences has determined that 7% is the maximum we can get from wind power, what are the presumed limiting factors? Haven't Denmark and Germany already exceeded the 7%? Even if it is 7% for wind, there is also solar power, tidal power and other renewables, none of which are centralized in the way nuclear is.

Arguing against solar being too expensive could be remedied by the government spending billions on solar and achieving economies of scale instead of building nuclear power plants. Which elements are in shortage on earth to prevent sufficient solar energy cell production? Until I know the specific elements and the reason for its shortfall, to me that is hearsay.

The government promoted number of zero deaths from Three Mile Island is an assertion insulated from examination, because of the long delay between exposure and cancer death. Studies conducted after Hiroshima show that there is no safe low exposure limit to radiation that will cause no cancers. I believe plutonium, a by-product of reactors, is much more deadly and long lasting than the original fuel.

As for side-stepping the consequences of not using nuclear power, the current warming from green house gas levels has started feedback mechanisms, such as the melting of the tundra and release of sequestered carbon and methane, which have accelerated green house gas accumulation since 2002. This will not stop. To add the problems of nuclear waste side-steps nothing. What is side-stepped by using nuclear power is confronting the moral failure of accepting a runaway, consumerist, planatary-wide destruction of the natural world. Accepting nuclear power ignores the vulnerablity of a concentrated vs dispersed energy production. Any centralized power generation and control by the few (e.g., energy and trasmission corporations) perpetuates the social ills of wealth and power disparity.

May 29, 2007 at 08:31PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Nowak

Paul, I guess my reference to "borrowed authority" was unclear but basically I was pointing out a misattribution. The words that Angela quoted were not by Bill Moyers, but by Harvey Wasserman (a prominent opponent of nuclear power), as linked previously.

May 30, 2007 at 02:13PM | Unregistered CommenterJon Wharf