Published: April 28, 2005
Patrick Moore endorses nuclear energy before US Congress
April 28, 2005
“Nuclear energy is the only non-greenhouse gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand.”
—Dr. Patrick Moore, PhD
Statement to Congressional Subcommittee on Nuclear Energy
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me hear today to testify about why nuclear energy is a vital component for America’s energy future.
First, let me say a few words about who I am and where I’ve come from.
I was born and raised in the tiny fishing and logging village of Winter Harbour on the northwest tip of Vancouver Island, in the rainforest by the Pacific. I didn’t realize what a blessed childhood I’d had, playing on the tidal flats by the salmon spawning streams in the rainforest, until I was shipped away to boarding school in Vancouver at age fourteen.
I eventually attended the University of British Columbia studying the life sciences: biology, forestry, genetics; but it was when I discovered ecology that I realized that through science I could gain an insight into the mystery of the rainforest I had known as a child.
I became a born-again ecologist, and in the late 1960’s, was soon transformed into a radical environmental activist.
I found myself in a church basement in Vancouver with a like-minded group of people, planning a protest campaign against US hydrogen bomb testing in Alaska. We proved that a somewhat rag-tag looking group of activists could sail a leaky old halibut boat across the North Pacific Ocean and change the course of history.
This was the birth of Greenpeace.
Activism in Action
In 1975 we set sail deep-sea into the North Pacific against the Soviet Union’s factory whaling fleets that were slaughtering the last of the sperm whales off California. We put ourselves in front of the harpoons in little rubber boats and made Walter Cronkite’s evening news.
That really put Greenpeace on the map.
In 1979 the International Whaling Commission banned factory whaling in the North Pacific and soon it was banned in all the world’s oceans.
From Confrontation to Consensus
By the mid-1980’s Greenpeace had grown from that church basement into an organization with an income of over US$100 million per year, offices in 21 countries and over 100 campaigns around the world, now tackling toxic waste, acid rain, uranium mining and drift net fishing as well as the original issues.
We had won over a majority of the public in the industrialized democracies. Presidents and prime ministers were talking about the environment on a daily basis.
For me it was time to make a change. I had been against at least three or four things every day of my life for 15 years; I decided I’d like to be in favor of something for a change.
I made the transition from the politics of confrontation to the politics of building consensus.
After all, when a majority of people decide they agree with you it is probably time to stop hitting them over the head with a stick and sit down and talk to them about finding solutions to our environmental problems.
The term sustainable development was adopted to describe the challenge of taking the new environmental values we had popularized, and incorporating them into the traditional social and economic values that have always governed public policy and our daily behavior.
We cannot simply switch to basing all our actions on purely environmental values.
Every day 6 billion people wake up with real needs for food, energy and materials. The challenge for sustainability is to provide for those needs in ways that reduce negative impact on the environment.
But any changes made must also be socially acceptable and technically and economically feasible. It is not always easy to balance environmental, social, and economic priorities.
Compromise and co-operation with the involvement of government, industry, academia and the environmental movement is required to achieve sustainability.
It is this effort to find consensus among competing interests that has occupied my time for the past 15 years.
Not all my former colleagues saw things that way. They rejected consensus politics and sustainable development in favor of continued confrontation and ever-increasing extremism. They ushered in an era of zero tolerance and left-wing politics. Some of the features of this environmental extremism are:
Environmental extremists are anti-human. Humans are characterized as a cancer on the Earth. To quote eco-extremist Herb Hammond, “of all the components of the ecosystem, humans are the only ones we know to be completely optional”. Isn’t that a lovely thought?
They are anti-science and technology. All large machines are seen as inherently destructive and unnatural. Science is invoked to justify positions that have nothing to do with science. Unfounded opinion is accepted over demonstrated fact.
They are anti-business. All large corporations are depicted as inherently driven by greed and corruption. Profits are definitely not politically correct. The liberal democratic, market-based model is rejected even though no viable alternative is proposed to provide for the material needs of 6 billion people. As expressed by the Native Forest Network, “it is necessary to adopt a global phase out strategy of consumer based industrial capitalism.”
I think they mean civilization.
And they are just plain anti-civilization. In the final analysis, eco- extremists project a naive vision of returning to the supposedly utopian existence in the garden of Eden, conveniently forgetting that in the old days people lived to an average age of 35, and there were no dentists. In their Brave New World there will be no more chemicals, no more airplanes, and certainly no more polyester suits.
The Case for Nuclear Energy
What does environmental extremism have to do with nuclear energy?
I believe the majority of environmental activists, including those at Greenpeace, have now become so blinded by their extremism that they fail to consider the enormous and obvious benefits of harnessing nuclear power to meet and secure America’s growing energy needs.
These benefits far outweigh any risks.
There is now a great deal of scientific data showing nuclear power to be an environmentally sound and safe choice.
The Current Situtation
In America today you are faced with a situation whereby nuclear energy supplies 20 per cent of your energy needs.
Yet America’s demand for energy continues to increase and in the coming decades this demand may increase by some 50 per cent over current levels.
If nothing is done to revitalize the American nuclear industry, the industry’s contribution to meeting US energy demands could drop from 20 per cent to 9 per cent.
What sources of energy would make-up the shortfall?
Very likely, the US would turn to an even greater reliance on fossil fuels.
A significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) seems unlikely given our continued heavy reliance on fossil fuel consumption. An investment in nuclear energy would go a long way to reducing this reliance.
According to the Clean Air Council, annual power plant emissions are responsible for 36% of carbon dioxide (CO2), 64% of sulfur dioxide (SO2), 26% of nitrogen oxides (Nox), and 33% of mercury emissions (Hg).
These four pollutants cause significant environmental problems, including acid rain, smog, respiratory illness, mercury contamination, and are the major contributors to GHG emissions.
Among power plants, the dirty and old coal-fired plants produce the most pollution.
According to the Clean Air Council, while 58% of power plant boilers in operation in the U.S. are fueled by coal, they contribute 93% of Nox, 96% of SO2, 88% of Co2, and 99% of the mercury emitted by the entire power industry.
Prominent environmentalists see nuclear energy as solution
Prominent environmental figures like Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Gaia theory hypothesizer James Lovelock, and Hugh Montefiore, Friends of the Earth founder have now all stated their strong support for nuclear energy as a practical means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while meeting the world’s increasing energy demands.
I too place myself squarely in that category.
UK environmentalist James Lovelock, who posited the Gaia theory that the Earth operates as a giant, self-regulating super-organism, now sees nuclear energy as key to our planet’s future health. ”Civilization is in imminent danger,” he warns, “and has to use nuclear—the one safe, available energy source—or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet.”
In a recent edition of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review, Stewart Brand writes that nuclear energy’s problems can be overcome and that:
The industry is mature, with a half-century of experience and ever improved engineering behind it. Problematic early reactors like the ones at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl can be supplanted by new, smaller-scale, meltdown-proof reactors like the ones that use the pebble-bed design. Nuclear power plants are very high yield, with low-cost fuel. Finally, they offer the best avenue to a “hydrogen economy,” combining high energy and high heat in one place for optimal hydrogen generation.
Nuclear energy: a proven alternative
Indeed, nuclear power is already a proven alternative to fossil fuels.
The United States relies on nuclear power for some 20% of its energy needs, and produces nearly one-third of global nuclear energy.
Despite its current limited supply, nuclear energy now provides the vast majority (76.2 per cent) of the US’s emission-free generation.
In 2002, the use of nuclear energy helped the US avoid the release of 189.5 million tons of carbon into the air.
In fact, the electric sector’s carbon emissions would have been 29 per cent higher without nuclear power.
And while hydro, geothermal and wind energy all form an important part of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, without nuclear energy that reliance will likely never diminish. In 2002, carbon emissions avoided by nuclear power were 1.7 times larger than those avoided by all renewables combined.
The impact of additional nuclear energy generation
Nuclear energy has already made a sizeable contribution to the reduction of GHG emissions in America.
But more must be done and nuclear energy is pointing the way.
A revitalized American nuclear energy industry, producing an additional 10,000 MW from power uprates, plant restarts and productivity gains could assist the electric sector to avoid the emission of 22 million metric tons of carbon per year by 2012, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute – that’s 21 per cent of the President’s GHG intensity reduction goal.
While current investment in America’s nuclear energy industry languishes, development of commercial plants in other parts of the world is gathering momentum.
In order to create a better environmental and energy secure future, America must once again renew its leadership in this area.
As Stewart Brand and other forward-thinking environmentalists and scientists have made clear, technology has now progressed to the point where the fear-mongering being spread by activists about the safety of nuclear energy bears no semblance to reality.
The Chernobyl and Three Mile Island reactors, often raised as examples of nuclear catastrophe by activists, were very different from today’s rigorously safe nuclear energy technology.
Today, approximately one-third of the cost of a nuclear reactor is dedicated to safety systems and infrastructure.
The Chernobyl reactor, for example, was not outfitted with the fully-automated, multiple levels of safety and redundancy required for North American reactors.
While the 1979 Three-Mile Island incident was the result of a much older technology, the incident also demonstrated how American safety and containment strategies worked to ensure no leakage from the reactor core.
Other benefits from nuclear energy
Besides reductions in GHG emissions and the shift away from our reliance on fossil fuels, nuclear energy offers two important additional and environmentally-friendly benefits.
First, nuclear power offers an important and practical ticket to the “hydrogen economy.”
Hydrogen, as a generation source of electricity, offers the promise of a clean, green energy.
Automobile manufacturers continue to improve hydrogen fuel cells and the technology may, in the not-too-distant future, become a major source of energy production.
By using excess heat from nuclear reactors to create hydrogen, an affordable, efficient, emission-free way of hydrogen production could be developed to power this future green energy economy.
Second, around the world, nuclear energy could be used as solution to another growing crisis: the increasing shortage of fresh water available for human consumption and crop irrigation.
Globally, desalinization processes are being used as a means of creating fresh water.
Again, by using excess heat from nuclear reactors, water could be desalinized and the ever increasing demand for fresh water could be met.
I want to conclude by emphasizing that nuclear energy – combined with the use of other alternative energy sources like wind, geothermal and hydro – remains the only practical, safe and environmentally-friendly means of resolving America’s energy crisis.
If America is to meet its ever increasing demands for energy, then the American nuclear industry must be revitalized and allowed to grow.
The time for common sense and scientifically-sound leadership on the nuclear energy issue is now.