Friday, January 27, 2006

Nuclear Power Paranoia

The UK is considering expanded nuclear power as a way to help meet its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Treaty. This idea is controversial, but even a few leading figures in the environmental movement have come around to this view. Unfortunately, there are others who, rather than engaging in this important debate with facts, find it more expedient to attempt to scare the British public to death. An advertisement by Greenpeace, running on UK television, shows how far they'll go to sink the nuclear option.

In the last decade or so, many environmental groups have moderated their previous extreme rhetoric and, in the process, gained much greater acceptance as legitimate participants in national and international debates over energy and environmental policy. I consider this a positive development, because it helps environmental issues that merit serious consideration to be seen as part of the mainstream. By running this ad--reminiscent of the famous/infamous "daisy" ad in the 1964 US election--Greenpeace sets back the larger cause of environmentalism by casting it as a form of irrational alarmism.

On balance this blog has been moderately in favor of nuclear power, largely on the basis of its potential as a low greenhouse-gas-emitting, base-load complement to renewable electricity sources such as wind and solar. At the same time, I recognize that it comes with drawbacks, including high project risks, proliferation issues and an unresolved, politicized waste problem, particularly here in the US. As the TerraPass blog in which I ran across the Greenpeace ad points out, there are legitimate safety concerns about nuclear power, but 9/11-style attacks with airplanes don't rank high on the list.

In short, I can see how reasonable people might differ over the pros and cons of this technology. What I can't grasp is the sanctimonious paranoia--or cynicism--that would motivate someone to engage in this kind of scare tactic. It doesn't advance the debate, and in the end I don't think it will aid the anti-nuclear power argument. It might even backfire.

No comments: