Planet Gore

Enviros Rethinking Nuclear Power

Over at City Journal, Peter Huber reviews Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto by long-time environmentalist Stewart Brand. An excerpt:

Consider Stewart Brand’s meaty, well-informed, and mostly sensible new book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto. The man who used to be so California Hip that in 1968 he made a cameo appearance in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test now presents himself as a “hacker (lazy engineer) at heart,” ready to promote realistic responses to the great eco-existential crisis of our time — climate change. How can Greens fulfill their new mission, which is to save not only birds and trees but all humanity? The man who founded and then edited the Whole Earth Catalog for 16 years — a magazine guided by “biological understanding” and enamored with the planet-saving power of organic farming, solar, wind, insulation, bicycles, and handmade houses — now concludes: “Cities are Green. Nuclear energy is Green. Genetic engineering is Green.”

[. . .]

The question I ask myself now,” Brand tells us when he gets to nuclear power, is: “What took me so long? I could have looked into the realities of nuclear power many years earlier, if I weren’t so lazy.” When he got over his nuclear sloth, here’s what Brand learned. (Most of the words quoted here are Brand’s own, but some are Brand quoting others approvingly.) “Fear of radiation is a far more important health threat than radiation itself.” “Reactor safety is a problem already solved,” and the new reactors are even safer than the old. Waste isn’t a problem; we need the $10 billion Yucca mountain disposal site “about as much as we need a facility for imprisoning dangerous extraterrestrials.” Nuclear power isn’t just the cheapest practical carbon-free option around, but the cheapest, period, when not snarled up in green tape. Scientists “invariably poll high in support of nuclear.” The people so pragmatic that they actually keep the lights lit, he might have added, have polled that way for 40 years, on the strength of reams of data and analyses, as well as the operating experience of our nuclear navy and a wide range of commercial reactors scattered across the planet.