Is Nuclear Power the Answer?

Why Stewart Brand became a pragmatist

December 6, 2015

Lisa Murray via Creative Commons Flickr

Remember Stewart Band? Back in the 60s he launched the Whole Earth Catalog and then became an environmental icon. And now? He says we need nuclear power and geoengineering to reduce carbon emissions.

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This must be an old interview, or else Brand is violating his own self-proclaimed guiding principle of 'pragmatism. and being guided by facts rather than religion. His book came out in 2009, but since then solar and wind have become competitive with coal (easily if you take away coal subsidies). Also, he is wrong when he claims you can't use renewables for 'base load' coverage. if you add geothermal, you can cover base load. So his case for nukes is actually weakening with time rather than getting stronger. There are other points in his case that can be contested. Now Brand appears to be the ideologically driven one, not the pragmatic rationalist. Unfortunately A.S. is not sufficiently informed on the topic to challenge him where needed.

Very well expressed comments. Thank you for taking the time to share.

And speaking of Mr. Brand, he is just plain wrong to state that nuclear power is a carbon-free energy source. Nuclear power plants, like any large industrial facility, require enormous amounts of fossil fuel energy to construct, maintain, and operate. As just one example, it requires many, many truckloads to haul the construction materials to a worksite where these things are built. All those trucks are running on diesel fuel. Likewise all the other machinery that is required to make these plants capable of producing energy. The same can be said of all the machinery necessary to mine, transport, process, and dispose of the uranium fuel. He, and other proponents nuke energy, completely ignore this. Also, his glib comments aside, we do not know how to permanently and safely dispose of the spent fuel. The methods that he mentions are not foolproof. Leaks have already occurred in both cases. Reprocessing the fuel is also highly energy intensive as well as dangerous, as is all the transporting necessary for this system to operate. It should also be noted that producing all the building materials required for these plants, especially concrete, uses lots of energy, and causes pollution as well. And these plants use a lot of concrete. This is hardly a solution to the greenhouse gas problem. Mr. Policon

I have enjoyed your show for years, especially its nonpartisan approach to stories. But I have to respond to your interview of Stewart Brand on this show.

Mr. Brand is not a reliable source on nuclear energy, and instead of just letting him make his comments without push back you should have, at the least, interviewed someone else who has the opposite view and a more honest argument. Brand receives funding from nuclear groups, which makes his opinions compromised. And his conflating of anti-nuclear arguments with religion is absurd. In fact, if you understand the physics and the facts, and not the propaganda, you are more likely to oppose an energy source that produces vast quantities of extremely long-lived radioactive waste. It is irresponsible to describe a solution to this unsolvable physics problem as just waiting and thinking about it for a few decades. Finally, as Brand started describing his favorite technological solutions to global warming from fossil fuels (releasing sulfuric acid into the atmosphere-really?-and seeing volcanic eruptions as a solution when it is actually a cause) I can only think he is crazy.

If you need the name of a good source who can argue against nuclear power, try the Union of Concerned Scientists (who aren't anti-nuclear; just anti unsafe nuclear) or Dr. Arjun Mahkijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.