Dr. Patrick Moore, Co-Founder of Greenpeace and Co-Chairman of CASEnergy Coalition, is among a burgeoning group of environmentalists who support nuclear energy development as a sustainable alternative to other forms of energy. The pro-nuclear environmentalist movement is documented in the recent film, Pandora’s Promise.
Forum on Energy asked Dr. Moore to comment on how nuclear energy advocates and environmental sustainability groups — two historically opposite camps — now share common goals.
Forum On Energy: Has your opinion on the green credentials of nuclear energy changed or evolved as a result of recent events in the energy industry, such as the accident at Fukushima, the shale gas boom and advances in the renewable energy industry?
Dr. Patrick Moore: My opinion that nuclear energy is safe, clean and sustainable was formed in the mid-1990s during the reconsideration of energy policy in light of climate change. It is obvious that nuclear energy, when replacing fossil fuel technology, reduces CO2 emissions by more than 95 percent. Ironically I soon became highly skeptical of the possibility of human-caused catastrophic climate change, yet I still believe strongly that nuclear energy will become more desirable and necessary as time passes.
My primary reasons for supporting nuclear energy are that it is superior to other technologies as a long-term, cost-effective, safe and clean source of electrical power, and in the future as energy for hydrogen production, desalinization and heating for buildings and greenhouses. As the fossil fuels are diminished, which may take longer than previously thought, nuclear energy will take on a greater role in providing the basis for powering our civilization.
I do not put much faith in the term “green.” It is not technically or scientifically definable. Rather, it is more a marketing or political term. I prefer “sustainable” (will last a long time at present rate of use) and “clean” (relatively non-polluting). “Renewable” is all well and good, but it is possible to use a renewable resource at a rate that is biologically unsustainable, as in the case of over-fishing, or economically unsustainable, as is the case with wind and solar energy. On the other hand, many non-renewable resources are so abundant that they are sustainable for many centuries. Iron, silicon, uranium and thorium, among other “non-renewable” elements, will still be available thousands of years from now.
I realized through educating myself about nuclear technology that the fertile isotopes uranium-238 and thorium could be converted to plutonium-239 and uranium-233, respectively, thus magnifying the amount of available nuclear fuel by many hundred-fold. It amounts to the proverbial “loaves and fishes” and promises to provide reliable energy for thousands of years.
Forum On Energy: How should environmental groups weigh the benefits of low carbon emissions versus the potential for pollution, given the example of the ongoing contaminated water leak at Fukushima Daiichi?
Moore: It is clear that the Japanese nuclear authorities and companies did not do a good job of placing the four reactors at Fukushima, and also made critical mistakes in both back-up electrical supply design and in hydrogen gas management. However, the impact of the radiation released from the site will be minimal to the point of being un-measurable for both humans and wildlife. Just because there is measurable radiation does not mean there is measureable harm. Chernobyl is the only nuclear accident that caused civilian casualties, and it was a Soviet design that should never have been deployed due to the possibility that a runaway reaction could occur. Any fact-based analysis of nuclear versus other large-scale energy technologies clearly shows that nuclear is superior from a safety standpoint.
Forum On Energy: President Obama unveiled a second iteration of his Climate Change plan. Would you say that Obama’s plan is a win for pro-nuclear environmentalists?
Moore: Yes, I would say any policy aimed at reducing fossil fuel consumption would be an advantage for nuclear energy: for producing electricity, for charging batteries in electric vehicles, for powering large ships, for running heat pumps, etc.
My support for reducing fossil fuel use has more to do with conservation, pollution control and diversity of energy supply than with climate. There are many factors at work [regarding climate change], most of which we do not fully understand, so it is not possible to be certain about our role. We must be careful not to adopt energy policies that will have more severe real negative impacts than the postulated predictions of the climate alarmist camp.
Forum On Energy: Have you seen the film Pandora’s Promise? If so, what do you think about it?
Moore: I have not seen Pandora’s Promise but I have read reviews and I know personally or through correspondence most of the people interviewed. It is a great production and to get it shown at Sundance was a real coup. I’m sure it was due to the alarmist climate theme that the Sundance people thought it was acceptable to show nuclear energy in a positive light. I was not contacted for an interview even though I was a Greenpeace co-founder and leader, and was at the time Co-Chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute. I believe my skeptical position on climate change did not fit well with the film producer’s strategy. Nonetheless it is a great boost for the nuclear industry as it gives traditionally anti-nuclear greens a new perspective.
Forum On Energy: It has been seven years since your op-ed in The Washington Post. Have your views changed? Do your priorities remain the same as they were seven years ago?
Moore: My views on nuclear energy certainly have not changed since The Washington Post op-ed. I have become very concerned about the massive investment into expensive and unreliable wind and solar energy during the past decade. This is certainly a big mistake — as big a mistake as not recognizing the importance of nuclear energy.
My main concerns are the alleviation of poverty (which is damaging to people and their environment); the implementation of ecological restoration programs for all industrial disturbances; the more widespread adoption of genetic science to improve food production and nutrition; and the acceptance of forestry and aquaculture as legitimate renewable resource developments.
>> For further information, please refer to Moore’s book Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout — The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist. Also, please send us your comments on this interview or any of our website content at firstname.lastname@example.org.