Sorry Allen, but they don't mean you.
On the eve of the Climate Change summit, I was slipped a copy of the nuclear industry's Kyoto briefing book prepared by the Nuclear Energy Institute, a $100 million a year trade organization. The book was written by researchers at Bechtel, the giant construction firm that has built dozens of nuclear plants across the globe. The document touts the latest "advanced light water nuclear reactor" as the most ecologically benign engineering feat since the solar panel and argues that only realistic way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels in the next ten years is to bring on-line at least an additional 50 reactors. "Nuclear energy has been the largest single contributor to reduced air pollution in the world over the past 20 years," the NEI's Kyoto global warming book boasts. "And it promises to play an even greater role in the future, especially in developing countries, like India and China, which need to increase their electricity supplies to accommodate their expanding populations and economies."
The NEI's Kyoto packet includes a long list of endorsements ranging from Tom Clancy and the Pope to Hazel O'Leary and green guru James Lovelock, inventor of the Gaia Hypothesis, who is quoted as saying, "Nuclear power has an important contribution to make." Also proudly displayed for the Kyoto conferees was a statement by Al Gore's good friend, Rep. Bob Clement, Democrat from Tennessee, who pronounced, "With the implementation of the Clean Air Act and the administration's increased concern about global climate change and acid rain, renewed attention has been focused on nuclear energy's significant environmental benefits. Environmental awareness coupled with increased basic needs for electricity are becoming critical in certain regions of the country. Nuclear energy, along with a strong conservation program and energy efficiency programs, is a smart choice."
Sadly for the credibility of the atom lobby, some of the more eye-grabbing numbers in the NEI's report simply don't check out. For example, the nuclear industry claims that the world's 447 nuclear plants reduce CO2 emissions by 30 percent. But the true villain behind global warming is carbon. Existing nuclear plants save only about 5 percent of total carbon emissions, hardly much of a bargain given the costs and risks associated with nuclear power. Moreover, the nuclear lobby likes to compare its record to coal-fired plants, rather renewables such as solar, wind, and geothermal. Even when compared to coal, nuclear power fails the test if investments are made to increase the efficient use of the existing energy supply. One recent study by the Rocky Mountain Institute found that "even under the most optimistic cost projections for future nuclear electricity, efficiency is found to be 2.5 to 10 times more cost effective for CO2-abatement. Thus, to the extent that investments in nuclear power divert funds away from efficiency, the pursuit of a nuclear response to global warming would effectively exacerbate the problem."
Another reason is that the nuclear lobby has enjoyed a long and profitable relationship with both Clinton and Gore. Al Gore, who wrote of the potential green virtues of nuclear power in his book Earth in the Balance, earned his stripes as a congressman protecting the interests of two of the nuclear industry's most problematic enterprises, the TVA and the Oak Ridge Labs. And, of course, Bill Clinton backed the Entergy Corporation's outrageous plan to soak Arkansas ratepayers with the cost overruns on the company's Grand Gulf reactor which provided power to electricity consumers in Louisiana.
Remember, enviros: be very glad for his work, but he is merely an advocate. He does not have all the answers.
The nuclear option many enviros, businesspeople, and politicians are considering demands the question - energy for whom? Who benefits from nuclear? If a standard is maintained, whose standard is it - a standard of life? or profit and privilege?