The Global Warming Crowd and No Nukes c. 1977

Thirty years ago, hundreds of protestors swarmed over the future site of the Seabrook nuclear power plant. This was beginning of the national “No Nukes” movement, and it’s my impression that it was spearheaded by the same folks (or the ideological brethern of the same folks) who now are pushing us to adopt drastic cures to anthro-global warming.

It seems to me that now, nuclear power is a much-preferred alternative to more carbon-intensive forms of power, and the position taken 30 years ago by the “No Nukes” crowd has since been quietly abandoned by many of them.

If they haven’t abandoned that position, is it a tenable and defensible one?

If they have abandoned it, does it hurt their credibility or motives to now be vociferous about anthro-global warming solutions? (Kind of a “OK, I was wrong before, but trust me THIS time.”)

Why would it? In both cases, the motives are the same: To protect Earth’s environment. We now live in a time when nuclear power plants can be built safer than they were then, and when the environmental threat of other means of power generation such as coal has become more apparent. Why should they not revise their stance in light of new information? Isn’t that what rational persons do?

I am a former “no nukes” - power, not weapons, which I still oppose - person who has realised my former folly. I am now behind fission power as a stop-gap to fusion (if that ever happens). James Lovelock confirmed that which I was already thinking.

There are still many anti-nuclear environmentalists in the UK. I think they’re being unrealistic.

I think a lot of the old school eco-facist types are still anti-nuke. A lot of the newer ecology types are starting to come around to the idea that we probably won’t all be going back to live in caves, and the only real, scalable and ecologically friendly (I’m talking about large scale friendly here of course) alternative is nuclear.

Bit of an irony if you ask me, considering that had we been building these things all out like the French have been for the last few decades we wouldn’t have nearly the problem we currently do…at least not on the power generation side of things.

It wasn’t defensible even then…unless you were a Russian protester. Its less so now.

I don’t think it hurts their credibility (of the cause as a whole if thats what you mean). Those still fighting the stupid fight hurt the credibility of the cause as a while (IMHO) by their stuborn stupid continuation…and by the fact that they give no viable alternatives. If we aren’t going to burn coal or hydrocarbons we have to have SOMETHING to power our houses and such. Geothermal, wind, solar…they simply can’t scale up to meet our needs. What can? Whats the alternative? Going back to living in caves and petting deer really isn’t a viable alternative…


jjimm – I appreciate the concession of former error, and, frankly, such a concession does a great deal to enhance your credibility.

Yes. But as should be clear from my previous paragraph, rational persons are also willign to acknowledge the error of their former positions. When a new position is adopted without acknowldging the error of a former position, it hurts credibility; contrawise, when - as jjimm has - the former position is acknowledged as error, it enhances credibility.

I also dispute your premise to the extent that it implies that their view THEN was reasonable and correct, which you suggest by saying “We now live in a time when nuclear power plants can be built safer than they were then…” Even in 1977, the opposition to nuclear power was not reasonable given the facts. Granted, it’s LESS reasonable now, and granted that the reasons may inlude improved safety. But that doesn’t absolve the error of the opposition.

Speaking as someone who lives near Indian Point, there are plenty of effing anti-nukers.

I call 'em morons. Then again, some of them think everything would be groovy if we were to lower our population to 10 million humans in the world.

Those, I call evil.

Lot more of them are just programmed ‘no nukes’ by this point, and think ‘the government’ should make ‘everything run on electricity. Like, hydropower.’

Opposition to nuclear power spans the political spectrum in the US. Nevada hardly strikes me as some bastion of green orthodoxy.

We still have a waste-storage problem, and unless someone can propose a solution that is (a) safe and (b) politically tenable, you’re not going to see any rush to nuclear power.

Adorable. Cute as the dickens. Duly noted. But keep in mind that a national health plan centered around casting out evil ghosts offers considerable advantages, one need not have extensive education to prescribe a demonectomy.

Perhaps. But if you’d have listened to the hairy freaks (so much nicer than “eco-facists”, don’t you agree?..) forty years ago you (likely) wouldn’t need to make such a choice. One of the big problems of a capitalist culture is the science: science that doesn’t make money doesn’t get money. Orphan diseases, energy research that makes Chevron nervous. If the money and research that went into making the dangerous safer had been spent making the dangerous unneedful, where might we be?

We’re the Americans. If it can be done, we can do it. And if not us, who, and if not now, when?

Can you back that up?

Well, Bill McKibben is a [and in this fall’s issue of OnEarth, NRDC’s magazine, [url=]he reviewed](]pretty well-known environmentalist[/url) a book written about nuclear power entitled “Power to save the world: The truth about nuclear energy” by Gwyneth Cravens, which is what you might call uncritically positive about nuclear energy.

It is probably easier to have you read the article than to describe McKibben’s position but I would basically say that he is not sold on nuclear power being the solution to our problems but he does think it is may play some role and welcomes a balanced discussion of its plusses and minuses. Here are a few selected quotes:

I think you’re mistaken about who is driving the Global Warming movement. It’s not the fringe nuts. It’s scientists and educated people making decisions on the evidence. It’s more akin to the Ozone/CFC movement of the 80s than the nutjob environmentalists of the 70s.

One of the things I like about Barack Obama is that he says that we’re going to have to look seriously at expanding nuclear power production. Clinton and Edwards, not wanting to offend no-nuke voters, have been cagier on the issue.

Obama is right.

I have been an active member of the environmental movement since 1989. In my observation, the No-Nukes crowd is the aging part of the Green Movement and mostly in the aging hippy category. I was in an awkward position from the first meeting I attended as I was pro-nukes with strict controls in a no-nukes room.

18 years later, I have noticed many Greens under the age of 50 are not anti-nuke. So I think it is more of an age issue than overall green issue.

The aging hippies don’t seem to be in the fore-front of the Global warming issue. It seems more like younger greens and scientists.


The argument is that if the environmentalists who opposed nuclear power were wrong then, they should have lower credibility when it comes to global warming? Do I have that right?

The OP speaks of their credibility WRT "anthro-global warming solutions," not WRT the AGW theory itself.

Have I got that right, Bricker?

I’m sure there’s some overlap between the people in the “no nukes” movement of 1977 and those in the contemporary “let’s do something about global warming” movement. But I’m not sure how, in your analysis, that fact is supposed to undermine the credibility of all the science that has made the case for anthropogenic climate change.

Putting aside the credibility argument, I thought I’d help answer this bit. An anti-nuke policy is certainly defensible (though in my view ultimately wrong).

First, nuclear power will not be a solution for much of the world (either because countries cannot afford it or because we won’t let them have the most advanced technology). If we want to solve the global problem of climate change, we must create innovative solutions that can be shared with all nations. Additionally, even if countries could all afford nuclear power and we let them have it, it just doesn’t fit everywhere. Many countries need more flexible electrical grids than nuclear energy will allow. Therefore, if the US relies on nuclear energy to deal with it’s CO2 emissions, we will not be using our collective creative force to innovate solutions the rest of the world can use. This is basically Al Gore’s argument against nukes (I believe).

Second, we don’t have a way of dealing with nuclear waste yet. Part of the reason the anti-nuke crowd existed in the first place was because the federal policy on nuclear waste was (and still is) largely non-existent and in shambles where it does exist. In 1970, for example, the DOE (then the AEC) began constructing a facility in Kansas. This was ended when state inspectors discovered that the facility would have leaked waste into local groundwater, despite assurances from the federal researchers that they had performed the proper geological inspections. Today, they haven’t gotten much better. In 2005 it was discovered that federal authorities were falsifying safety documents related to Yucca. Yucca remains unbuilt, and while it is scheduled for licensing in the next decade, it is unlikely to be licensed in that time. So building more nuclear power plants without knowing what we’re going to do with the waste is irresponsible. Like building a house without any toilets.*

Third, nuclear may not be as clean as wind or other options. The nuclear industry, including building the very large and complicated plants, actually produces a lot of CO2. Since we don’t yet know what we’re going to do about waste (or about decommissioning plants), we cannot fully evaluate the CO2 impact of over the life cycle of a nuclear power plant. It is no doubt better than coal and many options, but it may not be the best option and our policy efforts might be better focused elsewhere.

I don’t know much about the risks of terrorist attack, the creation of dirty bombs using spent fuel, or the effects of uranium enrichment on nuclear proliferation, but I understand that those are legitimate concerns as well. So the anti-nuke “crowd” certainly has a rational leg to stand on. They aren’t the loonies you and others have portrayed them as.

    • not my quote.

Nor do I claim it undermines the existence of anthro-global warming. It does, I think, undermine the credibility of those who who now are pushing us to adopt drastic cures to anthro-global warming.


So, what particular solutions do the parties in question propose, of which you are skeptical? And in what way is your skepticism based on your perception of their track record from back in the '70s (rather than, say, scientific/technological assessment of the proposed solutions on their own merits)? And what solutions do you think would work better?