Changing Everybody’s Mind…Except for Greenpeace

Nicolas Loris /

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

When I hear these no-so-famed words of British economist John Maynard Keynes (he’s more known for, “In the long run, we’re all dead”), I think of Congress. Both Republicans and Democrats have implemented a number of bad policies throughout history and rarely do they have the fortitude to stand up, admit their mistake and repeal policies that waste taxpayer money and have unintended consequences. Tangentially speaking, Keynesian economics makes me gag so it might be the last time you ever see me quote Keynes in a good way.

Think ethanol and farm subsidies.

When I hear this quote, I also think of nuclear energy. Have the facts changed? No. Has the technology changed? Well, it’s gotten better but it’s always been fundamentally sound. I should remind you that the accident at Chernobyl was a result of human error not human design.

So what has changed? One thing could be higher prices. It’s easy for Congress and the public in general to oppose things like nuclear and even offshore drilling when electricity is cheap and gas is $1 per gallon. When prices are low the cost of information (i.e., time spent researching) can be high, but when prices start to increase, these costs become very real. As it stands today, and overwhelming majority support both offshore drilling and building new nuclear plants.

Education can be a powerful tool. After all, Nancy Pelosi came around on nuclear energy. And it changed Patrick Moore’s mind. Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace and now co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, recognizes that his organization “failed to distinguish between the beneficial uses of the technology and the evil uses of the technology.”

According to Moore, “nuclear energy is a key technology for the future and that there should be a resurgence of this technology happening now if we want to reduce fossil fuel emissions” Yet nearly forty years after its formation in 1971, Greenpeace is still opposed to nuclear energy. Its new global warming campaign, Project Hot Seat, gets straight to the point:

The nuclear industry is trying to sell itself as the solution to global warming. It’s not. Nuclear power is too expensive. It cannot deliver in time. And it’s an incredibly risky and dangerous distraction from the real solutions to global warming—clean, alternative energy like wind and solar.”

All right. Let’s start with nuclear being too expensive. If that’s true, then so be it. But it shouldn’t be Greenpeace’s decision or Congress’s decision. The decision should be left to the private sector without any subsidies from government. The Cato Institute’s Jerry Taylor summarizes it best:

Those who favor nuclear power should adopt a policy of tough love. Getting this industry off the government dole would finally force it to innovate or die – at least in the United States. Welfare, after all, breeds sloth in both individual and corporate recipients. The Left’s distrust of nuclear power is not a sufficient rationale for the Right’s embrace of the same.”

The suggestion that nuclear is dirty is downright absurd. Given that nuclear fission does not produce atmospheric emissions, environmental activists’ carbon dioxide (CO2) witch-hunt focuses on other, emissions-producing activities surrounding nuclear power, such as uranium mining and plant construction. Finding fault with nuclear energy on the basis of these indirect emissions simply holds no merit. Whether the activists like it or not, the world runs on fossil fuel. Until the nation changes its energy profile–which can be done with nuclear energy–almost any activity, even building windmills, will result in CO2 emissions.

The United States has not built a new commercial nuclear reactor in over 30 years, but the 104 plants operating today prevented the release of 681.9 million metric tons of CO2 in 2005, which is comparable to taking 96 percent of cars off the roads. If CO2 is the problem, emissions-free nuclear power must be part of the solution.

What makes nuclear energy so exciting from an environmental standpoint is not the pollution that it has prevented in the past, but the potential for enormous savings in the future. Ground transportation is a favorite target of the environmental community, and the members of this community are correct insofar as America’s transportation choices are a primary source of the nation’s dependence on and demand for fossil fuels. Plug-in electric hybrid cars, which require significant development to achieve subsidy-free market viability, are looked upon as a potential solution to the problem. Yet if the electricity comes from a fossil-fuel power plant, the pollution is simply transferred from a mobile energy source to a fixed one, while the problem is solved if the electricity comes from an emissions-free nuclear plant.

In a Capitol Hill briefing last week hosted by The Heritage Foundation and Third-Way, Dr. Moore addressed a room full of Hill staffers. filmed the event and clips of Moore speaking can be found on its 10/17/08 Energy Report around the 11-minute mark.