October 08, 2010
SF Chronicle: "No Nukes" Concert Wholly Misguided
Today's print edition of the San Francisco Chronicle featured an op-ed by Breakthrough's Jesse Jenkins and Sara Mansur. The full-text of the article is appended below; a shortened version of the op-ed can be viewed in today's print edition of the Chronicle and online here after 3 AM on Friday, August 5th.
"No Nukes" Revival is Wholly Misguided
Recent news that Musicians United for Safe Energy is reuniting for a concert protesting nuclear power strikes these two Millennials as wholly misguided. While the anti-nuclear generation can be forgiven for the tragic outcomes of their original efforts, this attempted revival exhibits an inexcusable ignorance of the real threats faced in the 21st century.
The original No Nukes concerts, held after the Three Mile Island accident, helped derail the growth of nuclear power in the United States. What resulted was not the new energy economy powered by wind and solar power imagined by many anti-nuclear activists, but rather a massive expansion of fossil powered energy that sent carbon emissions soaring by 22 percent. Now, the septuagenarian rockers will come together this August to try to repeat their past "success."
No Nukes front man Graham Nash recently trumpeted the group's continued opposition to nuclear power in Rolling Stone, insisting that "coal plants put a lot of shit and mercury in the air but a coal plant won't be poisonous for 100,000 years."
What?! Global warming is the intergenerational threat today, not nuclear power. With coal and other fossil-fuels driving carbon dioxide emissions to their highest levels in history, ours is a generation preparing for a world that will be deeply and irrevocably impacted by climate change -- a world plagued by severe heat waves, floods, droughts, and record wildfires, and the potential displacement of millions of people.
To be sure, the recent Fukushima meltdown, like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island before it, was a serious industrial accident that will be costly to clean up. Worse, the human toll may include a very small increase in the incidence of cancer and lifetime morbidity rates among some surrounding populations.
Yet these impacts are dwarfed by the ongoing havoc wreaked by coal and other fossil fuels, even putting aside climate change. Year after year, conventional pollutants from fossil-fired power plants -- the "mercury and shit" to which Nash refers -- kill over a million people worldwide and sicken countless more.
By contrast, the Chernobyl disaster, by far the worst nuclear power accident in history, has to date killed about 65 people. The World Health Organization estimates that over the century following the accident, as many as 9,000 people may die prematurely from radiation exposure.
Mr. Nash, like many anti-nuclear campaigners, alleges that the death toll from Chernobyl was actually well over a million people -- a bogus figure derived from a Greenpeace-commissioned report widely rejected by the public health community. Even the anti-nuclear Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that at most 50,000 people may die prematurely from the accident.
That means that every two and a half weeks, air pollution kills more people than may eventually die over a century from the Chernobyl accident, even if we take this high-end figure from the UCS.
Solar, wind, and other renewable technologies have come a long way since 1979. But the hard truth is that they are still unable to rapidly replace both fossil fuels and nuclear power. Even Germany, regarded as a global renewable energy leader, has admitted it cannot close down its 17 reactors without relying on scores of coal and gas-fired power plants that will drive its carbon emissions up by 14 percent. Meanwhile, all of Germany's solar PV installations combined provide the equivalent of just two nuclear reactors' worth of electricity.
The No Nukes revival concert is unlikely to have anywhere near the impact of the original series it harkens back to. But it is worth considering that if anti-nuclear campaigners were to succeed in their quest, they would undoubtedly usher about a world that burns more fossil fuels, where more people die every day from our energy system, and where we bequeath climatic chaos for future generations.
That's why, if you're serious about mitigating the potentially catastrophic risk to human and non-human life posed by climate change, being anti-nuclear is no longer a morally tenable position.