After a speech last month in San Francisco, an audience member asked Collapse author Jared Diamond if the threat of global warming augured a renewed role for nuclear power—as has been suggested recently by such environmental luminaries as Stewart Brand and James Lovelock. To the surprise of the audience, Diamond said he agreed: “To deal with our energy problems we need everything available to us, including nuclear power.” Echoing the concerns of others, Diamond added that it should be done carefully “like they do in France” so as to avoid accidents.
Diamond’s recent book Collapse documents how the mismanagement of natural resources and the environment led to the downfall of some of humanity’s greatest civilizations. Most attendees of the San Francisco speech would have thought that Diamond considered nuclear power to be the kind of folly that could lead to the collapse of our existing civilization. But apparently Diamond, along with some environmentalists, considers global warming to be so serious a threat that any power source that doesn’t load up the atmosphere with carbon dioxide looks more appealing.
Ultimately, most environmentalists envision a future powered by renewable energy sources like solar, wind, biomass and geothermal. But with renewables currently meeting less than three percent of our energy needs, that future is a long way off indeed. In light of these facts, a growing number of environmentalists are changing their tune to support nuclear power—which they previously derided due to safety and nuclear waste disposal concerns.
Even so, in June nearly 300 environmental, consumer and safe energy groups called on Congress to reject the argument that nuclear power can solve global warming. Contributors included the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and many others. The groups outlined five key reasons for their statement, including that nuclear energy is unnecessary, too expensive, too dangerous, too polluting and that using nuclear power to address global warming would exacerbate the problems posed by the technology. The groups argue that diverting limited resources to subsidies for the nuclear industry (which is economically feasible only when propped up by substantial government assistance) would take away from much safer, and ultimately more successful, solutions.