Beware of Greens Bearing Nukes

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I occasionally visit the website of Houston's left-wing entertainment weekly, the Houston Press, which I have lately found more bearable to read than the once-conservative Chronicle. Today, I had the bizarre experience of seeing what looked, at first glance, to be a pro-nuclear power article in the magazine. Bearing the Kerryesque title, "Bring it on," the article says more than once that nuclear power is the best option for Houston's energy future. But is it really a pro-nuclear power article? Let's look and see.

It is notable that the article opens and closes by revisiting the world's worst nuclear disaster, Chernobyl, in great detail. Here are three typical passages.
1. The deadly cloud narrowly grazed Pripyat, where most of the workers at the Chernobyl power plant lived, and blew terror across the skies of northern Europe. Firefighters battled the radioactive blaze for weeks with hoses and axes and tons of boron, lead and dolomite dropped from helicopters into the smoldering core. Thirty-one workers died. Thousands of downwind residents are thought to have contracted cancer. Fifty thousand Pripyat inhabitants packed a single suitcase each and permanently evacuated the town, leaving in their wake the world's largest monument to Promethean folly.

2. The Soviets dressed [Texas Tech biology professor Ronald] Chesser in a lumberjack shirt and an overly short pair of perma-pressed military slacks that were to be thrown away later. An army jeep drove him through the Red Forest, named for its stands of radiation-scalded pines that had reddened and died. He rounded a bend, clutching a steadily beeping Geiger counter, and stepped off the jeep in sight of the towering cement sarcophagus -- Chernobyl's tomb. The scrubby land rippled out from the road in a series of berms. Only when Chesser walked across them, and his Geiger counter went crazy, did he realize they were the plowed-under remnants of the plant's tainted flotsam. He later learned that rainwater drained through them on its way into Kiev's tea kettles.

3. A long, narrow hallway sparsely lit by dim bulbs opened into a corridor filled with ripped-out electrical cabinets, their shorn wires menacing like heads of Hydra. His heart pounding, Chesser walked through a door into the frontal lobe of the machine. A sheath of clear plastic draped a wall of gauges. Chesser thought of the workers who bolted out of this control room to investigate the explosion, who rescued colleagues weak from radiation poisoning, who rode out the blast in a last-ditch effort to dial the rogue core back into submission. They all died. "For a half-hour, I was with them," he says. "Everything that I knew they had done, I imagined them doing." Through their goggles, he could see the hint of tears in the eyes of his colleagues.
The article never once mentions the fact that the Chernobyl reactor had an inherently unstable design not used in American nuclear power reactors! In fact, the second link explains the science behind nuclear power generation and compares the designs of Chernobyl-style reactors (which are also used to make plutonium for nuclear weapons) to American-style reactors and concludes (in different places):
1. However, there is one further price in safety that must be paid for the capability to change fuel easily [in a Chernobyl-styled reactor]. The fuel-changing operation requires a lot of space and activity by operators. This makes it impractical to enclose the reactor in the type of containment used for U. S. reactors (as described in Chapter 6). The containment used in a Chernobyl-type reactor is designed only to protect against rupture of one of the 1,700 tubes, rather than against a major accident that may rupture hundreds of tubes. All of the added safety obtained from containments in U.S. reactors was, therefore, not available at Chernobyl. In fact, post accident analyses indicate that if there had been a U.S.-style containment, none of the radioactivity would have escaped, and there would have been no injuries or deaths.

2. After the Chernobyl accident, both government agencies and the nuclear industry were eager to investigate and learn from the experience. However, after long and careful study they finally concluded that we had very little to learn from it. The whole episode is now viewed as a vindication of the U.S. approach to nuclear power. (Essentially all nuclear power programs outside of the Soviet bloc use the U.S. approach.) [bold added]
No deaths, if American containment practices were followed.... I have set aside a matter that the interested reader can follow for himself: The runaway nuclear reaction that occurred in Chernobyl would have also been impossible in a plant of the American design.

If there was so "little to learn from" Chernobyl, why is the Press presenting that catastrophe as a cautionary tale in a nominally pro-nuclear power article rather than assuring a public -- taught by greens long ago to fear nuclear power -- that nuclear power is safe? To answer this question, we must read the rest of the article.

After serving up a heaping helping of Chernobyl hysteria, the article goes on to say that:
Perhaps more than any living American, Chesser understands how nuclear power can spawn untold horrors in an instant. Which is why it might seem odd that he supports building new reactors. Chesser has joined an increasingly diverse group of scientists, energy analysts and even environmentalists who believe the United States must meet its energy needs by going back to the nuclear future. Many of these advocates of atom splitting support building a nuclear plant near Houston.

It's a scary proposition, and it may be the best one we've got.
Yes. If you ignore the fact that Chernobyl wouldn't happen if a plant were built in Houston, the prospect is scary. If not, not. So if you pretend that Chernobyl can happen, you must be getting ready to warn about an even bigger bogeyman hiding under the bed. What else, after all, could justify such a huge "risk"?

The article notes, correctly, that high energy prices are causing many who were never too skeptical about it to revisit nuclear power for the first time since our nation witnessed the (not irrelevant) spectacle of "a sweater-clad Jimmy Carter ... cranking down the heat in the White House." These prices especially hurt Houston, whose busy port is made less competitive by recent surges in natural gas prices.

The likelihood of Houston getting a new plant soon is aided further by gathering pro-nuclear momentum in Texas as a whole. This momentum was recently aided by a microinitiative in the last State of the Union Address by its former governor, President Bush, who "announced new funding for 'clean, safe nuclear energy.'" [bold added] The Press, normally part of the moonbat chorus chanting "Bush is dumb", had no snide retort to that bit of environmentalist pandering.

In fact, it is at this point that the leftist rag decides to go "all in". First, it claims that the environmentalist movement is "softening" on nukes.
[P]owering the future also will mean wooing a skeptical American public. In one sign that anti-nuke sentiment is softening, however, some four-star generals in the environmental movement have called a truce with the industry. Environmental Defense director Fred Krupp is neutral on nukes. "I think we have to have an open mind" about the technology, Krupp told National Public Radio last year. "And we should not just throw it off the table from the get-go."
And then it goes off into what seems like a long digression about an antinuclear activist, Tom "Smitty" Smith, who in 1985 helped the Naderites release a negative report on a plant in Bay City, Texas. It seems that these days, he's crusading against coal power!
In one respect, Risky Business -– more than the glossy reports of high-dollar energy consultants -- was startlingly oracular: As it roughly predicted, the STP construction heaved in at a mind-blowing $5.5 billion over budget. But 20 years later, Risky Business nonetheless appears misguided. The same pulverized coal plants that it hyped as alternatives to nuclear -- seven of them have been fast-tracked for approval this year by Governor Rick Perry -- are being vigorously opposed by the balding, gray-bearded Austin director of Public Citizen, the very same Smitty Smith.
This paragraph would be equally at home in a polemic against the hypocrisy of environmentalists, and yet here it is, in a pro-nuclear article by a leftist "alternative" newsweekly. What the hell is going on?

The demonization of coal power might appear to be the answer from the below passage, but it is not.
"Scores of new studies each year demonstrate that air pollution from coal-burning power plants is harmful to human health and that children are the most susceptible," Gregg Sheff, a lab-coat-clad member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, told the reporters as he held a cooing toddler. Mercury emitted from coal plants "is a potent neurotoxin that interferes with brain development, especially in the fetus," he said. Sheff's facts were hard to ignore: Environmental Protection Agency statistics show Texas leads the nation in mercury releases. The Texas Medical Association has called for a 70 percent reduction in the emissions. And yet a giant new coal-fired plant fast-tracked by Perry this year would emit more mercury than any plant in the nation.

Smith took the podium to announce the clincher: Coal-generated air pollution in Texas each year causes more than 1,000 people to die 15 years early. "And if we increase the amount of particulate pollution," he said, "these deaths are going to increase as well." [link to left-wing advocacy group added]
Yes. Coal is being demonized, but it is not the bogeyman I said the Press would warn us about. It's just one of his minions. The real villain -- which we should fear even more than Chernobyl -- is (drumroll) global warming.
Few of the elaborate props at the anti-coal carnival -- a pregnant woman, a cardboard windmill, a nauseous green face -- illustrated the way coal plants fuel global warming, which many scientists consider their most troubling side effect. Nearly 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Texas come from coal. New coal plants would make things worse even as signatories to the Bush-spurned Kyoto Protocol -- and several U.S. states -- are scrambling to avert what scientists predict will be a two- to ten-degree increase in global temperatures over the next century. [bold added]
The push for nuclear power now suddenly makes some sense. But if you'll recall, America's Greatest Nincom-- President showed us the way to energy independence by leading the charge clad in a sweater and armed with a thermostat at a setting that would make a meat locker feel toasty.

If you're waiting for the other shoe to drop, you won't be disappointed, but you must first wait for awhile. The Press has a bogeyman to flesh out first.
Of course, Houstonians scarcely need reminding of the dire consequences of global warming. Powerful storms such as Rita and Katrina are harbingers of a warmer future. Scientists say hotter oceans will produce stronger hurricanes. Also, some climate models show greenhouse warming could quickly trigger fiercer El Nino events that will cause harsher rains and longer droughts such as this year's near-record dry spell.
Of course, with media outlets like the press, Houstonians probably do "need reminding" that there is no evidence that human activity has caused an increase in intense hurricane activity. But if evidence against Chernobyl can be used to paint nuclear power as a desperate measure, why would we even need evidence in favor of anthropogenic global warming, obviously an even graver "threat"?

And so the Press paints further doomsday scenarios for Houston before printing this passage, which, like the other one about Tom "Smitty" Smith above, contains such a startling admission, it, too could live comfortably in an anti-environmentalist polemic.
Smith clearly takes global warming seriously. But as he shared his thoughts on Texas's energy future, it became clear he still vehemently opposes the climate-friendly nuclear option. So how would he keep the lights on?

Smith, though a great booster of alternative energy, admitted it can't immediately fulfill all of our needs by itself (see "Power Plays"). While these technologies are improving, he argued, energy conservation measures can tide us over. "Japan and Europe use roughly half the energy per dollar of gross domestic product as we do," he said, "and we are losing the race just because we use so much energy to make each widget."
Aside from saying, "I am a Luddite," or smashing a computer to bits, I don't see how Smith could make his disdain for technology any clearer. Numerous lives are lived at a very high standard thanks to all that energy we're using. But that's taken for granted by Smith, and everyone else who chooses to focus on government action to ban an energy resource over, say, organizing consumers to pressure companies to utilize it more safely.

Never underestimate the ardor for sweaters among leftists. Golden Boy Smith likes 'em, and so, too, does the Press.
Some very smart people agree. [I think this should be read in Al Gore's voice. --ed] According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, a think tank that has consulted for the U.S. Department of Energy, 75 percent of the electricity used in the United States today could be saved through better energy efficiency. Simply requiring every U.S. household to replace four 100-watt light bulbs with fluorescents could supplant 30 midsize power plants. [bold and link to leftist advocacy group in capitalist clothing added]
So if conservation is such a good thing, why is the Press in the business of shilling for nuke plants rather than more pasture land, to raise the sheep we'll need for all that sweater wool?

It's because of all those evil Republicans and businessmen, that's why! (And here's Blatant Admission Number 3, to boot!)
Even so, the U.S. Congress and Texas legislature have largely ignored energy-efficiency options. A state bill last session that would have doubled energy-efficiency requirements in new homes and almost immediately recouped the costs in energy savings never made it out of committee.

It's easy to see why. The power industry is simply too powerful. Companies seeking new coal plants in the state have transmitted $750,000 to Texas political action committees and politicians since 2003, including more than $65,000 to Governor Perry. Nationally, the energy sector funneled candidates and PACs $50.6 million, 75 percent of it to Republicans. Environmental groups in the same period handed out a dim $2 million.

And that's why increasing numbers of environmentalists say it's time to get real
. [bold added]
And so, at last, we get to the point: The environmentalists are losing, and so must do what they can. At this point, the logic looks something like, "If we can't ban coal and fossil fuels outright, then let's use nuclear power as a means of making it easier to curtail their use."

But is it? There is a mountain of evidence against the leftist belief that every nuclear plant is a Chernobyl waiting to happen. And there no scientific evidence that human activities are causing the increased activity of the last few hurricane seasons. Evidence means nothing to liberals. This would include evidence that their environmentalist cause is unscientific, unfriendly to human life, and unpopular. They do not intend just to roll over or take what they can get. They will end industrial civilization if it's the last thing they do.

In other words, that last sentence up there in the bold is not an admission of a reality on the part of the Press, but a tactical maneuver. This is shown much later in the article, after numerous quotations from assorted green "converts" to nuclear power, and a few other facts showing that, while the nuclear option is not great, it's still better than coal. (Even Hillary hasn't figured out how to make uranium materialize out of thin air: It still has to be -- gasp -- mined. Is that last word work-safe?)

The evidence lies in the reflexive distrust of anything to do with capitalism shown by Smith. Never mind that the Chernobyl plant was built and operated by a communist regime. And never mind just how freakin' bad for business a nuclear accident of any kind would be for a nuclear power plant.
Of course, chances are also wonderful that some guy in a nuclear plant at some point in the course of millions of shifts logged, parts cleaned and levers pulled is somehow going to royally screw up. "You are trusting companies whose inherent motive it is to make a profit with one of the most inherently dangerous processes known to man, and you are hoping they don't cut corners," Smith says. "And yet the evidence that we've seen in plant after plant is that corners have been cut, safety has been compromised and accidents happen." [bold added]
Smith was certainly being sarcastic when he said "wonderful", but I think that is exactly the adjective that many environmentalists would use if they were honest about their half-hearted advocacy of nuclear power, the un-coal.

Don't believe me? Consider this passage.
... Congress this year granted a 15-year extension to the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act, a 1957 law that limits the industry's liability in the event of a catastrophic accident. The law in effect subsidizes the industry's insurance premiums with tax dollars and is thought to be necessary to make nuclear cost-competitive on the open market. Smith believes the law is dangerous: "It makes the utilities far less cautious about operating the plant."

Nobody knew what kind of impact the massive scale of disaster envisioned by the Indemnity Act could have on public health and the environment until Chernobyl exploded and scientists such as Chesser poked though the debris. Some of the most striking findings have surfaced only recently. After Chesser decided to work in Chernobyl's exclusion zone, he couldn't very well study humans –- all of them had permanently fled -– so he baited thousands of animal traps with oats. For years he assembled a veritable nuclear Noah's ark. He collected field mice, voles, shrews, hedgehogs, weasels and even the scat of wolves. Many of these curiosities he brought back to Lubbock and deposited in a mostly off-limits room in the Texas Tech natural history museum. [bold added]
Remember. Chernobyl can't happen here. And if you think a little scare-mongering over Chernobyl is cynical, you ain't seen nothin' until the last paragraph.
After all, the Houston area is a place where a ship exploded and razed Texas City, oil refineries spawned suspicious cancer clusters, and a recently approved liquefied natural gas terminal could erupt in a giant fireball, and yet hardly anyone complained. What's good for business is good for Houston, the thinking goes. The same equation applies to nuclear power. Potentially flashing radiation over a small nuclear plant town such as Bay City will save us some money on electricity. Nothing new. Except that our gamble would just as certainly help save thousands of lives, the climate and maybe the world. [bold added]
If they really cared about saving human lives and they really equated nuclear power with Chernobyl, they would not line up behind it now.

Here is what I think is closer to the motivation behind that last bit: The environmentalists plan to get the last laugh "when" Chernobyl happens. And they will get to feel noble knowing that, at least, when the evil capitalists wouldn't urge the proles to don sweaters, they got behind nuclear power. This way, the "greater" catastrophe, global warming, will have been averted and the human lives lost in the "next Chernobyl" will have been sacrificed on the altar of Gaia.

"And then. Then those nasty capitalist pig, consumerist Americans -- the ones who survived -- will be sorry they didn't listen to us!" I can almost hear them screaming, "We told them technology was evil and they didn't listen! Well they wanted Chernobyl and we gave it to them!" This article closes where it began, with Chernobyl, and the Lillian Readen-like wish that it will happen here. Lining up behind nuclear power is, I am sure, just about like planting nuclear bomb next to Houston and hoping it will go off for some of these people.

This story is no endorsement of nuclear power, but a series of almost-confessions by environmentalists, and a portrait of the evil psychoepistemology behind the modern Luddites. The good news -- obvious to anyone but an environmentalist -- is that the movement is losing ground in the marketplace of ideas. The bad news is that this movement has no concern for evidence, and will appear to make a compromise only when it sees a tactical advantage in doing so. It unfortunately remains a political force on both the left and the right.

Remember, this is the same movement that crippled our nuclear power industry in the first place. It is really merely turning its attention on the parts of our energy sector that remain -- relatively -- untouched. And while it does this in the name of global warming, the bogeyman it is using to scare us with, I submit that the real bogeyman is mankind, the beneficiary of all the technology the greens have been crusading against for decades.

-- CAV

PS: For a quick summary, and a more humorous perspective.... The greens support nuclear power for exactly the opposite reason they should. Falsely equating nuclear power plants with Chernobyl, they see them as potentially very dangerous to mere human beings, but since saving "the world" is their priority over man, another such disaster is no big deal to them.

Thinking they'll be vindicated in the end, then, they play right into the hands of capitalism on that issue. Unfortunately, their sudden love for nuclear power masks their real objective: to do to the coal and gas industries what they did to the nuclear power industry long ago.


Anonymous said...

Gus, an excellent analysis of that article. I couldn't agree more.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for your encouragement -- and for reconfirming for me that, as late as I was up writing this one, it actually made sense! :-)


Vigilis said...

Gus, missed this the first time around: [I think this should be read in Al Gore's voice. --ed].

You are quite sure this man can comprehend what he reads?

Gus Van Horn said...


Call it.... Poetic license, if you will.


Gus Van Horn said...


Thank you for the kind words and for the link.