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Grist’s Anti-Nuclear Campaign Distorts Reality (Part 1 of 3)

Over the past week or so at Grist, it’s been hit-jobs galore against nuclear. A fellow by the name of Arne Jungjohann published four negative pieces loaded with jaded contentions to stir up discussion. Later in the campaign, another fellow by the name of Paul Gipe brought up a flawed study on nuclear costs and risks to add to Grist’s polemic.

Here is the first of what will be a 3-part series of responses:

Grist’s Part 1 - Why is the United States so obsessed with nuclear power?

To begin, here’s Mr. Jungjohann’s dramatic start to his series:

Fukushima provides enough grounds to take every single nuclear power plant on the face of the Earth off-line. Regardless of whether the cause is an earthquake, a tsunami, a flood, a plane crash, a terrorist attack, or simple human error, failure of the emergency power system leads to uncontrollable consequences.

Enough grounds? Uncontrollable consequences? Although Fukushima Daiichi is still recovering, an historical tsunami is the the real disaster. The latest numbers (pdf) show there are almost 24,000 people dead or missing (3 at Fukushima). At Fukushima, there are zero radiation-related deaths and the most severe health effects appear to be two workers who have received doses above emergency level limits. Here’s IAEA last week (pdf):

To date no health effects have been reported in any person as a result of radiation exposure from the nuclear accident.

While radiation data will continue to be analyzed and based on what we currently know, the results are unlikely to change.

Interesting enough, Mr. Jungjohann never mentioned these facts in any of his posts and the nuclear critics deliberately or blindly ignore them.

Farther down Mr. Jungjohann’s first piece, the following paragraph appears:

One is centralized, capital-intensive, ponderous, outdated, and anti-democratic, whereas the other is flexible, smart, labor-intensive, and open for community participation.

Nuclear, of course, is meant to fit his negative adjectives, renewables the positive. Many of the negative adjectives, however, can easily fit his favorite technologies and the positive adjectives can fit nuclear.

For instance, on nuclear being “outdated,” Mr. Jungjohann may not know that wind has been around for more than 2,000 years compared to nuclear energy which has been around about 100 years. As well, on nuclear being “ponderous,” other technologies are not immune to start-up delays as well (who hasn’t heard of Cape Wind?).

On being “anti-democratic,” everyone has the opportunity to comment to the NRC on virtually every aspect of nuclear, whether it be license renewals, design certifications, new plant applications or megawatt enhancements. How is that not democratic?

Does nuclear fit any of the positive adjectives that are described for renewables? Let’s see.

Nuclear is clearly “smart.” Below is an artist’s rendering of Korea’s SMART 100 MW reactor they’re planning to build.


Here’s a picture showing nuclear’s “labor-intensity.”


And here’s another on “community participation.”


On to Mr. Jungjohann’s last bit from his first piece that we’re going to discuss:

As a German living in Washington, D.C., you can't help asking in return: Why is the accident of Fukushima perceived as something far away without consequences for a broad discussion of the future U.S. energy infrastructure? Why does the myth survive that America depends on nuclear power and must do so in the future? And overall, why is American society so pro-nuclear?

I don’t know what Mr. Jungjohann is reading but Fukushima is not something perceived as far away. There are 23 units in the US like Fukushima and the industry and NRC are analyzing and verifying that all plants are appropriately protected. The industry has been doing this since day one of the accident and there are clearly many folks and critics overseeing this.

Further, what myth is he talking about? Study after study has shown that nuclear needs to be an important part of the mix and it is currently the only energy source that’s been able to compete against and displace fossil fuels.

Below are two charts from the International Energy Agency (pdf) showing how nuclear worldwide has replaced a portion of fossil’s market share in energy and electricity over the last 30 years while renewables have remained flat (in the chart, “TPES” means total primary energy supply).


image Many here in the US know that planning for the future also means not necessarily relying on technologies that haven’t been demonstrated on a large scale. Perhaps American reliance on clean, domestic nuclear power today and in the future, what Jungjohann calls a myth, is in fact the reality.

As for Mr. Jungjohann’s third question, is it that hard to believe that people can be in favor of nuclear? My question is: why is Germany so anti-nuclear? Germany didn’t grow to be one of the world’s largest economies without reliable electricity supplies.

Grist’s Part Two - The nuclear industry has powerful backers and weak opponents in D.C.

Mr. Jungjohann’s second piece was our favorite here at NEI. That’s basically because it was an attempt to smear our organization and nuclear companies for lobbying. The piece, however, clearly shows ignorance of how energy politics work in the US.

Living around Washington DC, Mr. Jungjohann should know that in the US, every energy industry has a trade association that represents itself here. Perhaps he’s heard of the American Gas Association, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Wind Energy Association, and the Solar Energy Industries Association? Not only that, hopefully he’s aware that trade associations spend money on, among other things, informing policymakers, petitioning Congress and federal agencies, and yes, on lobbying.

For comparison, after doing very little digging, here’s what AWEA (the wind energy lobby) spent last year:

The association has a yearly budget of $35 million, and last year spent almost $2.5 million in lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill, down from the peak of over $4 million in 2009 … Through its political action committee, WindPAC, campaign contributions in the 2010 election cycle totalled around $320,000. … That compares to campaign donations of just under $30,000 in 2000.

That’s nearly identical to NEI’s spending according to the Politico article Mr. Jungjohann cites:

NEI, the industry’s biggest voice in Washington, for example, spent $3.76 million to lobby the federal government and an additional $323,000 through its political action committee on a bipartisan congressional slate

Looks like Democrats and Republicans in Congress also “feed” into the wind industry’s “trough,” as Mr. Jungjohann says about nuclear in part three. We don’t even need to go into the money spent by fossil industry groups for lobbying, those sums are much greater than wind and nuclear’s combined.

Mr. Jungjohann may also be unaware that the utility companies he mentions (Exelon, Duke, FPL and Entergy) are the same companies that will be building the renewable technologies he wants. FPL is currently the largest renewable energy company in the US. The lobbying dollars from these companies weren’t spent just on nuclear, they were spent to represent each company’s interests which includes many different technologies.

On to the next one:

The anti-nuke movement is as weak as the nuclear lobby is strong.

Our jobs would be much easier if that were true. Unfortunately for the public, the anti-nukes are strong on distorting information, skewing opinions and creating fear, uncertainty and doubt. Crying “poor antis” doesn’t work here, they are a vocal community that’s been well-trained in using catchy sound bites to manipulate the discussion. They also engage in lawsuits and file untold numbers of petitions to intervene in various federal and state proceedings, usually on rather thin grounds.

Stay tuned for more of our critique of Grist’s anti-nuclear campaign.


Great post! Keep up the good work.
Will Davis said…
This is what we need; point for point direct dissection of all of the wildly hyperbolic and totally uninformed points of the radicals, the paid-off, and the simply uneducated and scared. Bravo!
Rod Adams said…
Nice job, David. Keep up the good, point by point response to the negativity at Grist.

Now if I could just convince nuclear companies to let lose with a few ad dollars, we could spread the good news a bit more widely. Heck, I'd bet that Grist would accept some focused ads right next to their antinuclear pieces suggesting better sources of information
Anonymous said…
Why are there no voices about the progress or perceived lack of progress of fusion?

It's not surprising that the D.C. shill of a foundation about the German Green party is anti-nuke (although it is irrational). These people have little credibility nor is there a consensus among environmentalists.

It is foolish to deny the tensions among nuclear supporters.

The simple truth is as industry spokesmen most of these commentators will not address the questionably too close relationship between some nuclear providers and their government funders like that between Livermore's NIF, its targets group and its former managers now at General Atomics Targets group.

They have covered up the fact that in these difficult times millions of dollars have been funneled to Germany to pursue new target technology when the invention and proposals were American based. Americans are today out of work because of conscious choices by German Nationals to divert support monies to their homeland government funded national laboratory.

Recovery in this Great Recession is hard enough without the corrupt interactions between buyers and suppliers.
seth said…
Note that David Roberts eventually gives the boot to all effective pro nuclear commentators. He understands that his renewable philosophy is a religion that doesn't stand up to scrutiny so boots the heretics from commenting. Joe Romm does the same thing.
Russ Finley said…
Have you been banned from the comments on Grist, Seth?

Interestingly enough, here's a list of names I've been called by a pro-nuclear commenter on that same article:

naive, childish, pathetic, petulant, stupid, weak-minded, a shill, a zealot, a fool, an ideologue, and an intellectually dishonest troll.

Go figure ; )
devonshire said…
Excellent piece. Now if Mr. Jongjohann will just go back to Germany and stop meddling in US Nuclear affairs we would all be better off for it.However I must say he did provide an excellent opportunity for rebuttal and support of the Nuclear Industry.

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