FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why Stewart Brand is Wrong About Nukes

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 this year 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 j ob-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 ton s 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 foreseeab le future.

3. Stewart points out that there are also risks with wind and solar power. But clearly none that begin to compare with nukes, coal or deep-water drilling. If reactor owners were forced to find reasonable liability insurance, all would shut. A similar demand for renewables and efficiency would leave them unaffected.

4. Renewable/efficiency technologies today are cheaper, faster to deploy and more job-creating than nukes. It takes a minimum of five years to license and build a new reactor. The one being done by AREVA in Finland is hugely over budget and behind schedule. There is no reason to expect anything better here. Among other things, the long lead time ties up for too many years the critical social capital that could otherwise go to technology that can quickly let the planet heal.

5. Like others who doubt the possibility of a green-powered Earth, Stewart posits the straw man of reliance on a deployment of solar panel s that would blanket the desert and do ecological harm. In fact, the National Renewable Energy Lab estimates 100 percent of the nation’s electricity could come from an area 90 miles on a side, or a relatively modest box of 8,100 square miles. But as we all know, that’s not how it will be done. Solar panels belong on rooftops, where there is ample area throughout the nation, and an end to transmission costs. Likewise, wind farms do not “cover” endless acres of prairie, their tower bases take up tiny spots that remain surrounded by productive farmland. In this case, currently available wind turbines spinning between the Mississippi and the Rockies could generate 300 percent of the nation’s electricity. There’s sufficient potential in North Dakota, Kansas and Texas alone to do 100 percent. Cost and installation times put nukes to shame. The liability is nil, as is the bird kill, which primarily affects obsolete, badly sited fast-spinning machines in places like Altamont Pass. T hose must come down, and there will certainly be other surprises along the way. No technology is perfect, and we need to be careful even with those that are green-based. But as we have seen, further threats on the scale of Chernobyl and the Deepwater Horizon cannot be sustained.

6. As for GMO crops, Darwin was right. Plants evolve to avoid herbicides just as bugs work their way around pesticides (which Stewart correctly decries). Now we see that “super-weeds” are outsmarting the carefully engineered herbicides meant to justify the whole GMO scheme, bringing a disastrous reversion to horrific, lethal old sprays. Chemical farming may be good for corporate profits, but it can kill global sustainability. In the long run, only organics can sustain us.

7. Stewart mentions that he is paid only for speeches. But a single such fee can outstrip an entire year’s pay for a grassroots organizer or volunteer. What’s remarkable is that the nuclear power industry s pent some $645 million lobbying for its “renaissance” over the past decade–more than $64 million/year. It has bought an army of corporate lobbyists and legislators. Yet only a handful of folks with rear guard environmental credentials has stepped forward to fight for the old fossil/nuclear/GMO technologies.

Stewart is certainly welcome to his own opinions. But not to his own facts. Pushing for a nuclear “renaissance” concedes that it’s a Dark Age technology, defined by unsustainable costs, inefficiencies, danger, eco-destruction, radiation releases, lack of insurance, uncertain decommissioning costs, vulnerability to terrorism and much more.

That the industry must desperately seek taxpayer help, and cannot find insurance for even this “newer, safer” generation, is the ultimate testimony to its failure. By contrast, renewables and efficiency are booming, and are a practical solution to our energy needs, which the corporate clunkers of the previ ous century simply cannot provide.

It’s been a long time since the Whole Earth Catalog was published. Its hallowed founder should wake up to the booming holistic green technologies that are poised to save the Earth. They are ready to roll over the obsolete corporate boondoggles that are killing Her. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, the disasters in the coal mines and the Gulf remind us we need to make that green-powered transition as fast as we possibly can.

HARVEY WASSERMAN, an early co-founder of the grassroots “No Nukes” movement, is senior adviser to Greenpeace USA, and author of ‘Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth.’ www.harveywasserman.com.

WORDS THAT STICK

?

 

More articles by:

Harvey Wasserman wrote SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth. His Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail