The accident at Fukushima was a test for the global environmental movement. Concern about global warming over the past decade led many greens to reconsider their long-standing opposition to nuclear power. But old habits die hard. Caught between their anti-nuclear sentiments and their increasingly apocalyptic fears of global warming, environmentalists have mostly made the wrong choice.
With global energy and fossil fuel use continuing to grow, and international efforts to place a cap on carbon emissions in shambles, many greens viewed the Fukushima as a seemingly straightforward environmental menace - and one that chalked-up quick victories, as Germany turned its back on nuclear, and China announced a moratorium. Within days of the accident anti-nuclear greens began making outsized claims about the danger to the public.
Many of these claims were wildly inaccurate, but they had their intended result. Green campaigners fell back in line. Fukushima showed that, for most environmentalists, nuclear's low-probability risks trump both the existential threat of climate change and 2m deaths annually from air pollution. Green campaigners have, ironically, fallen prey to the same misperception of risk they all too often see in a public indifferent to global warming: an obsession with dramatic but infrequent threats, while ignoring those that are banal but far more deadly.
Many greens dismiss this criticism by claiming that the choice between nuclear and fossil fuels is false. But in this, environmental hysteria about nuclear power is matched by green delusions about renewable energy. Since at least the 1970s, greens have argued that wind and solar, when combined with energy efficiency, could meet our energy needs without resort to nuclear power or fossil fuels. Faith in what is called the "soft energy path" has taken on an almost religious quality among green activists. Yet, despite decades of subsidies, solar and wind still make up a tiny percentage of energy virtually everywhere in the world.
Anyone who thinks turning away from nuclear will lead to more renewables need only look at what has happened in Germany. After Fukushima, it shut down seven of its 17 nuclear plants. The result has been that emissions have risen as much as 10 per cent, according to Reuters, partly due to electricity imports from coal-burning nations such as the Czech Republic.
David Fuller's view I strongly concur with this article, fearing that it will be a considerably more dangerous and less healthy world without the current generation of nuclear reactors, including the pebble-bed variety.Back to top