Wednesday, January 23, 2008


When the Berlin wall fell, East Germans were astounded to learn that West Germans were better off than they were. Every time East Europeans liberated themselves they made the same discovery. Today, North Koreans are starving but they believe the South Koreans are worse off. The fact is, propaganda works.

In the same way, anti-nuclear political organizations have succeeded in convincing people that nuclear energy is a threat to the environment. As we have discussed in earlier articles, nuclear energy has the best safety record and the best environmental record of any practical energy source. It also is essential to minimizing global warming. But anti-nuclear activists have cloaked themselves as Defenders of the Environment and by constantly hammering people with the same slogans they've made people so secure in their misconceptions that most never have looked at the issue plainly.

Eric Hoffer knew the value of anti-nuclearism before it even existed when he wrote about true believers:

"When Hitler was asked whether he thought the Jew must be destroyed, he answered: 'No. . . . We should have then to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an abstract one.'"

So nuclear energy has been enormously valuable to political organizations. They can command immediate obedience from their followers by continually fabricating misinformation.

Consider the pollution from coal. Thousands of Americans die every month from the air pollution generated by coal-burning power plants. Please see the Abt report, "The Particulate-Related Health Benefits of Reducing Power Plant Emissions." []. It's a long report, very technical; if you like, you can just look at the results table Worldwide, the deaths certainly run in the tens of thousands every month. Coal pollution is the main source of lead in the ocean; fish now are so poisoned with lead that people are advised to limit their consumption. When whales beach themselves and die the carcasses have to be treated as hazardous waste because of the heavy metals they contain.

But environmental groups have offered only token opposition to coal pollution. When confronted directly, they'll answer, Oh, we're against coal too! Then they'll explain that nuclear versus coal is a false choice, that windmills will solve the world's energy needs. Here's an experiment: if you find one of these people, ask him where the energy will come from when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining. I guarantee he'll change the subject.

This debate has always been one-sided. The anti-nuclear political organizations have set up a straw man to fight against: the Nuclear Industry. In their presentation, the Nuclear Industry is directing a massive, well-financed campaign and only the stalwart Defenders of the Environment are standing between Good and Evil. Actually, the big players in nuclear energy always have been energy companies, not nuclear companies. Westinghouse, General Electric, Exxon, etc. are glad to provide whatever kind of energy utilities and their ratepayers are willing to take. There never have been powerful groups able to take on Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth or any of the anti-nuclear political organizers. In the US, an industry group called the Nuclear Energy Institute is struggling to get good information over the shouting of the nuclear opponents; it's like your high-school basketball team going up against the Lakers.

But the dishonesty goes deeper. Nuclear opponents don't just spread misinformation and exaggerate the strength of their opponents. Besides that, they shed themselves of all responsibility. The easiest position to take is the one that never will be tested. Despite their unwillingness to admit it, they know as well as you and I that the world never will depend on part-time energy sources. So no matter what happens they'll be able to say that the world should have done it their way.

This self-indulgent preening shouldn't be allowed to affect public policy.


Anonymous said...

This web page is nothing but propaganda. Nuclear electricity generation now (2015) costs FAR more than wind or solar, if you include ALL costs associated with it, such as disposal of waste, decommissioning, and insurance. Our efforts and money should be focused on battery technology to store excess electricity generated by safer means. Nuclear energy is far too risky and costly to even be considered at this point in time. If not for corporations still pushing it, nuclear would be a long-dead issue.

Red Craig said...

Anonymous, thanks for taking the trouble to comment. The comment would have more value if you cited references for your generalizations. For the US, the Department of Energy puts the levelized costs for new electricity sources at $91.80 - 101.00 per MWH for nuclear, $65.60 - $81.60 for wind, and $97.80 - 193.30 for solar ( The EIA page doesn't say whether decommissioning costs are included. If we assume those costs have to be added, then we can use the value stated by the United Nations Environmental Programme ( of $500 million per reactor in the US. On average a 1000 MW reactor will generate 315 million MWH over its lifetime, so the total would be higher by $1.58/MWH. Waste handling and insurance are included already.

So we see that the cost of nuclear electricity lies between the costs of wind energy and solar energy. However, this ignores the problem of intermittency: wind and solar have be duplicated by other energy sources to cover the times when they unavailable. Obviously that adds to the cost, which the figures above don't include. And if the backup energy comes from fossil fuels the environmental costs will also be higher.

I wish you'd take the trouble to research this topic more carefully than just picking up unsupported assertions from anti-nukes. You singled out batteries as a suitable topic of research. Actually, a lot of research is going on and has been for some years. For example, Tesla Motors hopes to produce batteries that cost $350 per KWH of storage. In the US a KWH retails for less than 13 cents. Imagine spending $350 to store 13 cents. Even if we imagine that it could be possible for batteries to become vastly cheaper, it certainly won't happen for decades. The world doesn't have decades to solve environmental threats such as global warming.

You may have missed that the original article was about the unreliability of anti-nuke propaganda. I can't say you've said anything here to dispel that conclusion.