Thanks go to the 21st Century Science and Technology for the following interview which I believe all should read.
Why Former Greenpeace Leader Supports Nuclear Energy
Gregory Murphy, associate editor of 21st Century Science & Technology and a veteran of the Nuclear Navy, spoke with Dr. Patrick Moore on April 28. Moore, one of the five co-founders of Greenpeace in 1971, is currently the chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies, which he set up in the 1990s to promote scientific and pro-development solutions to environmental problems. Moore also serves as the co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition and a consultant for the Nuclear Energy Institute.
Murphy: I haven’t talked to you since the 2005 American Nuclear Society meeting, when you gave a presentation. It was quite a shock that you were the only upbeat person on that panel. It’s hard to believe, because the 2005 Energy Bill had just given the nuclear industry loan guarantees—perhaps not enough, but a good start—but they were still in the mode of the underdog, under attack. Things have changed in the last three years.
Moore: Yes, thank goodness; it is a different atmosphere now, most definitely in that regard.
Murphy: Yes, it’s changing, and the possibilities for nuclear are increasing. I’d like to start with how you went from being a founder of Greenpeace, and against nuclear power, to where you are now.
Moore: The reason I changed my mind on nuclear energy is fairly simple, and it started with the fact that our initial campaign in Greenpeace was against nuclear weapons testing, and against the use of nuclear weapons in general, and the fear of an all-out nuclear war. It was during the Cold War, in the late 1960s, early 1970s. It was also the height of the Vietnam War. There was just a lot of war going on, and we were afraid that there was going to be an all-out exchange of nuclear weapons, and we determined that we were going to stop that possibility. So, we were totally focused on the weapons side. And I believe, in retrospect, that we made the mistake of lumping nuclear energy in with nuclear weapons, as if all things nuclear were evil. And in retrospect, that would be as wrong as lumping nuclear medicine in with nuclear weapons. Obviously, nuclear medicine is a beneficial use of radiation and nuclear technology; it successfully diagnoses and treats millions
of people per year. Most of those radioactive substances, the medical isotopes that are used, are actually produced in nuclear reactors, so that is clearly a good use for nuclear reactors.
And, of course, one of the other good uses of nuclear reactors is to produce electricity for peaceful purposes.
So, we made a mistake in my estimation. I don’t think it was a very discerning approach to the technology, because there are lots of different technologies that can be used for both good and evil, many different things, including fire. So, if we had said, “We’re not going to use fire, because you can burn down a city with it,” then we would be forgoing all the beneficial uses of fire, like staying warm and cooking food.
I think that applies to many technologies, and for me it should be no different for nuclear energy, that we should use the beneficial uses of nuclear energy and avoid using the destructive ones. It’s as simple as that—just like we do with other technologies.
So that’s what caused me to change my mind. And also the realisation, as I was beginning to think about climate change, in particular, of how do we get out of having 86% of the world’s energy as fossil fuel? How do we change that? And it was obvious to me—it’s been obvious to me all along—that wind and solar can’t really change that very much. But what can change it, is nuclear power, plus hydroelectricity where it is available, and there’s still a lot of potential hydroelectric power in the world.
The environmental movement has been busy over the last 25 years, stopping hydroelectric projects around the world, and trying to prevent nuclear power from being adopted, when these are clearly the two most promising and realistic alternatives to fossil fuels for electricity production. So my analysis, I think, is fairly clear. We made a mistake, and I’m trying to do my best to correct it, from my point of view.
Murphy: It sounds like you’ve gone a long way to do that. I moved
to the Washington, D.C. area a few years ago from Idaho, which is a state that has used a lot of hydroelectric power, with also nuclear power. Adm. Hyman Rickover set up a nuclear power school there in the late ’40s, early ’50s. . . .
Moore: I was just at the Idaho National Lab last week. I spent two days there, touring, and lecturing, and community meetings and all that. It was really interesting. And learning about their version of the high-temperature helium cooled reactor, which I guess will end up being in competition with the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor out of South Africa.
Murphy: Yes, that’s the General Atomics model, the GTMHR.And both of them are great designs, and they are really taking apart some of the things that the general public questions about nuclear power—the safety issue and meltdowns. And then the other question that comes up is the “waste” that is produced—which is actually not waste at all—and the proliferation issue. How do you address those issues when you get asked about them at public meetings?
Moore: Well, certainly the Pebble Bed Reactor is a meltdown-proof design, which is a new thing, so there’s no need for as many safety systems and backup systems with it, as there is with conventional reactors. Also, it will be a very versatile reactor with high temperature, not only producing hydrogen directly, but also producing high-temperature steam, which is what’s needed for a lot of industrial processes. So I think it’s going to be a revolutionary machine.
Murphy: The Japanese have already shown on their test reactor at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, that they can maintain the reactor outlet temperature at a high enough level to make hydrogen, using their water cracking system. That’s a great achievement in a Pebble Bed-type reactor. Also, that the high process heat could produce better fertilizers and desalination of seawater for places that are water stressed—
Moore: —as a by-product, essentially. Desalination could be an additional thing you could do, along with producing hydrogen and steam. I realised how powerful the technology was when I was shown what it could do to the conversion of coal to liquid fuels. There is a big plant in South Africa, called Sasol, which is now the world’s largest plant of this nature.
With the pebble bed reactor, all the heat and all the hydrogen can be provided by the reactor, thus allowing 100% of the coal to be converted into liquid fuels, as opposed to now, with only one-third being turned into the liquid fuels. So that’s the kind of fundamental change it can make to an industry. I was impressed by that, and it’s true that since I’ve joined the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition as co-chair, I have been exposed to a very wide range of knowledge about nuclear, and energy in general, and I have had the benefit of traveling to quite a few places, like South Africa, like the Idaho labs, where great groundbreaking work is being done on the future of energy technologies, and that’s been very exciting and interesting for me. I’ve been one who’s been trying to keep learning all my life, and always open to new information and new ideas, and I’ve sure managed to learn a lot since I became reacquainted with this industry.
The drawing above shows the new breed Helium cooled Fast Reactor.