Making Peace With Nuclear

Fortnightly Magazine - April 2008

When Patrick Moore left Greenpeace—the environmental advocacy group that he helped to create in the early 1970s—some activists labeled him a traitor and a corporate shill. It didn’t stop him, however, from becoming one of the environmental community’s most outspoken advocates for nuclear power development—and one of the harshest critics of anti-nuclear activists.

In December 2007, Moore addressed a group of power industry executives and engineers at the Power-Gen International conference. “Environmental activists, including my former colleagues at Greenpeace and company, are now the biggest obstacle to reducing CO 2 emissions worldwide,” he said. “They oppose all the realistic alternatives and are purposefully misinforming the public.”

Public Utilities Fortnightly caught up with Moore in February to discuss the state of anti-nuclear advocacy in America.


Fortnightly: How do you see the nuclear energy debate evolving in the environmental community?

Moore: The anti-nuclear movement is on its back foot and having a difficult time trying to sound reasonable on this .

How can people who are telling us climate change will cause catastrophe and extinction be opposed to nuclear energy? Their reply is that using nuclear energy to combat climate change is replacing one evil with another. But even the worst nuclear accident scenario wouldn’t cause the extinction of 50 percent of the species, like climate change could. So there is no logic in the position of environmentalists.

Maybe they can snow the general public who doesn’t know what base-load power is, but from an environmental point of view their arguments fail to hold water, and more and more independent environmentalists are supporting nuclear energy (see sidebar, “Activists for Reactors”) .


Fortnightly: What about the political climate? Democrats are expected to do well in the November elections, and they generally oppose nuclear power.

Moore: When it comes to voting, a large majority of Democrats support nuclear energy. The opposition, although vociferous, is in the minority.

Some Democratic leaders are supporting nuclear energy. [Sen. Barack] Obama isn’t opposed to nuclear energy and he’s made that clear. [Sen. Hillary] Clinton claims she’s agnostic on the issue. Her problem is that she has a large number of people in her constituency who are opposed to nuclear energy. But the Clinton Climate Initiative and the center-left Progressive Policy Institute both are very clear in their support for nuclear energy.

Sen. [Barbara] Boxer has made positive comments about nuclear recently. [Sen.] Dianne Feinstein has always been fairly positive about it, and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi says it has to be on the table. Even Al Gore says nuclear has to be part of the future. He pooh-poohs it, as they all do. Most politicians try to mute anything positive they say about nuclear energy, to appeal to their constituency.


Fortnightly: But what about that constituency? Has Joe Six Pack changed his mind about nuclear power?

Moore: I don’t think Joe Six Pack is the opponent. Opposition to nuclear energy is largely a political activist perspective.

After the Three Mile Island