Can life-long environmentalists change position on nuclear power? Or is the fear of change too strong, such that caring people will pursue flawed policy to avoid the process?
On Monday I was an invited participant for a Google Hangout with Senator Christine Milne, Leader of the Australian Greens. My sincere thanks to Ben Cubby, Environment Editor for Fairfax, for putting my name forward for this, and to Fairfax for running a great session and making this footage available.
The chat lasted just over an hour. With assistance of reader Mark Bolton (thanks Mark), I have prepared an edit to condense the nuclear discussion. Enjoy the clip. I offer some brief reflection afterwards, and a few telling infographics.
The policy of the Australian Greens is unequivocal rejection of nuclear power. Nonetheless, I was honestly surprised by the level of hostility of the response to my opening question. The suggestion of using nuclear power to address what had been described as a “climate emergency” seemed like something to wipe from one’s shoe.
I left nuclear behind then to query the policy on renewables in more detail. I was taken aback by how, having cited the AEMO work as backing for their position, the report itself was largely dissavowed by the Greens leader. Her assertions regarding AEMO’s “conservative” nature belie the report’s pretty impressive expectations for both geothermal and biomass. Yet there was no argument about the status of geothermal and if anything, Senator Milne saw my position on the unsustainability of biomass energy and raised me!
So with my final opportunity, I sought to understand just how, technologically speaking, the Greens expect to meet their target, by specifically asking whether solar thermal with storage is the only baseload technology that they can unequivocally support. Based on the response, I am concerned that in the policy is resting on little more than an article of faith that the technology the Senator has seen in action in Spain can deliver on our every baseload need.
We need hope, but hope is not a plan.
Where I clearly got under the Senator’s skin was suggesting that the policy was not consistent with a climate emergency at all, but rather about pushing preferred technology. I essentially asked whether a lifelong environmentalist does not actually care about the environment! Herein lies a quite a paradox.
I can’t come to a position where I believe Senator Milne does not care about climate change. On a great number of the fronts where this fight has been waged, it is The Greens who have held the clearest line in Australian politics. This makes their ideological objection to nuclear power all the more distressing.
It seems that moving to a position that is at least open to discussion of the nuclear option is more frightening and confronting than climate change itself. I have posited before that when we ask people to change their minds about something big like nuclear power, we are asking more than that. We may be asking them to change their identity and their roles.
That’s a highly confronting process, and it’s possible. That’s really what makes the tale of Pandora’s Promise so compelling. We see a generational stalwart like Stewart Brand who had the courage to follow through on his rhetorical question to self:
“I’m against nuclear… But what if what I have been thinking all this time is wrong?”
So today, I am talking to the Greens, and other caring environmentalists who either reject nuclear power or are wavering. Please, follow Stewart’s example, ask yourself the question and take some steps to find out. Pandora’s Promise is touring Australia in October, accompanied by the director for Q&A. Tickets for Adelaide are already on sale and selling very fast.
I have never been so glad to be wrong as I was about nuclear.
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When spent fuel is recycled in an Integral Fast Reactor, a golf ball of uranium can provide as much power as 800 elephants worth of coal