19 Oct 2011: Interview

Britain’s Mark Lynas Riles
His Green Movement Allies

Activist Mark Lynas has alienated his green colleagues by renouncing long-held views and becoming an advocate for nuclear power and genetically modified crops. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he explains why he rethought his positions and turned to technology for solutions.

by keith kloor

In his new book, The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans, British author, journalist, and environmental activist Mark Lynas argues that the world’s gravest ecological problems can be addressed with existing technological solutions. For environmentalists, he writes, “This means jettisoning some fairly sacred cows.” Nobody knows this better than Lynas, who has recently renounced his own previous positions and now embraces nuclear power and genetic engineering. That has enraged his erstwhile colleagues in the green movement, yet Lynas is unapologetic.

“We cannot afford to foreclose powerful technological options like nuclear, synthetic biology, and genetic engineering because of Luddite prejudice and ideological inertia,” he writes in The God Species.

Mark Lynas
Mark Lynas
In a recent interview with Yale Environment 360 contributor Keith Kloor, Lynas talked about his change of heart, his embrace of genetically modified crops as a key solution to possible food shortages, and his disgust at seeing some environmentalists largely ignore the devastation from the recent Japanese tsunami while over-hyping the dangers of radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant. “They believe in what they’re doing, but these people are nuts,” says Lynas. “And they’re doing real harm by spreading fear.”

Yale Environment 360: The main thesis of your new book is that humans have to take an active role in managing the planet if we want to keep it from being “irreparably damaged.” But much of what you prescribe, such as wider deployment of nuclear power and genetically engineered agriculture, is anathema to many greens. This also flies in the face of your own history as an environmental activist, in which you were anti-nuclear and anti-GMO until just a few years ago. What’s caused you to do an about-face?

Mark Lynas: Well, life is nothing if not a learning process. As you get older you tend to realize just how complicated the world is and how simplistic solutions don’t really work... There was no “Road to Damascus” conversion, where there’s a sudden blinding flash and you go, “Oh, my God, I’ve got this wrong.” There are processes of gradually opening one’s mind and beginning to take seriously alternative viewpoints, and then looking more closely at the weight of the evidence. It was a few years ago now that I first started reassessing the nuclear thing. But I didn’t want to go public then. I knew that would be the end of my reputation as an environmentalist, and to some extent, it has been.

e360: Really?

Lynas: I mean, I’ve lost friends over this. And I’ve made some new ones. It’s an issue that divides almost like no other.

e360: You argue that nuclear power is necessary if we want to simultaneously meet the world’s demand for energy and still tackle climate change.

Lynas: It’s blindingly obvious, actually, and I don’t know why it took me so long. The current deployment of nuclear power worldwide of 430 reactors reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 2 billion tons per year. And that really is the beginning and the end of the argument if you’re in the slightest bit concerned about global warming. And all of the oft-stated green objections to nuclear power are either urban myths or an order of magnitude less important than global climate change.

e360: What about the meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami? Has that given you pause?

Lynas: Of course it’s given me pause. It is a tragic thing that happened. Although, I suppose we can be glad of the fact that it’s still a non-fatal accident in terms of anyone dying or being seriously injured from radiation.

Of course, one thing that really bewilders and saddens me is how the Fukushima accident has overshadowed the enormous tragedy of the tsunami and all of the lives lost and the devastation that was brought about
Fukushima illustrates how we’ve got this obsession with dangers of radiation far, far out of proportion to reality.”
from that. And somehow it illustrates how we’ve got this obsession with the dangers of radiation far, far out of proportion to the physical reality. I was particularly struck by seeing pictures of Chinese shoppers panic-buying salt or iodine tablets. And these are people who are living in cities which are so polluted that their life expectancy will be foreshortened by a lot more than if they happened to be living in the Fukushima exclusion zone.

So our assessments of risk are way skewed when it comes to nuclear power. We [allow] irrationality to dictate policymaking. And that’s been the reaction of the German government [and it’s anti-nuclear stance] — to elevate irrational policy-making into a sort of guiding principle.

e360: You attribute much of this fear to scare-mongering by environmentalists.

Lynas: After the accident, Greenpeace was running around giving press conferences in their white biohazard suits. There were anti-nuclear activists planning to go and sell chalk pills to supposedly save the children of Fukushima. They believe in what they’re doing, but these people are nuts. And they’re doing real harm by spreading fear. What we know from Chernobyl is that the psychological impacts of fear of radiation are worse — in terms of health outcomes — than the actual damage of the radiation itself. We need to learn the lessons of this and that nothing is without consequences, nuclear scare-mongering included.

e360: Speaking of consequences, you’ve been assailed by some as a “Chernobyl death denier.” Is that true?

Lynas: It’s an absurd term, which has been bandied around and it just goes to show how unfortunate the whole denial language is now — to accuse someone of being a denier if they disagree with you. Frankly, nuclear is not an environmental issue, in the sense that the so-called green movement portrays. I mean Chernobyl was a win for biodiversity in a direct sense because of the flourishing wildlife in the exclusion zone and I imagine that if
They believe in what they’re doing, but these people are nuts. And they’re doing real harm by spreading fear.”
the Japanese have to stop fishing around Fukushima, that will improve the marine environment there, too, despite the additional radiation. I don’t mean to be facetious, but that’s just a truism.

So it’s a health and safety issue and needs to be properly managed for the sake of humans; that’s undoubtedly true and completely obvious. But by and large, the widespread use of nuclear power means we don’t have to cover so much of the land surface with wind farms and we don’t have to convert so much agricultural land to grow biofuels and so on. I really can’t see the continued sense in opposing it.

e360: In your book, you argue that GMOs [genetically modified organisms] are a win-win for the environment and also an important tool in the fight against climate change. But in 2008, in an article for the Guardian, you wrote that, “the technology moves entirely in the wrong direction, intensifying human technologies and manipulation of nature, when we should be aiming at a more holistic ecological approach.” What caused you to change your mind?

Lynas: Well, I actually refer to that article in my new book as being a real turning point. To be brutally honest, the article was something I’d dashed off in 20 minutes without doing any research. And it was reading some of the online comments from readers, just pointing out that I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, which really brought me up short. And I decided at that point, basically, to shut up for awhile and do some reading, which I then did for two years. I didn’t write about this issue again for a while, right up until the book. But I think what gave me the courage to just be honest with others about this was reading Stewart Brand’s recent book [Whole Earth Discipline: An Eco-Pragmatist Manifesto] because he really just lays it down straight and I thought, “Well, if he can put it in these terms, so can I.”

e360: So briefly, what’s the case for GMOs and why, in your mind, is there such opposition to it, especially in Europe?

Lynas: There are arguments for and against, as with any technology. But most of the concerns we had 10 years ago about health and environmental
There hasn’t been a single GMO-related health issue I’m aware of after over a decade of research.”
impacts were clearly overblown. There hasn’t been a single GMO-related health issue I’m aware of after over a decade of research and testing. And environmentally GMOs have been beneficial, even in their current limited sense, which merely promotes monoculture with herbicide tolerance and insect-resistance. In the future we will be looking at nitrogen-efficient, drought-tolerant GMO crops with many other traits, which will minimize land use whilst increasing yields.

e360: There is the conventionalism that we need to reduce consumption to reduce our carbon footprint and alleviate the stress on the planet. Yet you argue in the book that what the world needs more of is economic growth. But if everybody starts to adopt the lifestyle of Americans or people in the UK, that would not be a net plus for the world, for planetary boundaries.

Lynas: That is obvious, but it’s going to happen anyway. The converse of trying to convince people not to develop and not to become more wealthy is also similarly doomed to failure. I don’t see many people going to Beijing and walking around with sandwich boards saying, “Don’t buy cars, don’t buy TVs, don’t buy refrigerators.” I mean, is that a political movement that’s going to take off? I don’t think so.

We have to deal with the very rapid emergence and development of the poor parts of the world and I think that enormous increase in human progress is something to be celebrated. It’s clearly been a miraculous transformation to see hundreds of millions of people [emerge from] poverty, a new middle class emerging in India, China, Brazil, and some of the other big economies. And they are catching up with us because our rates of consumption are not increasing by most measures. So the world is getting more equal; so that’s good.

e360: You also say that urbanization is something that could help save the environment. Does that mean more people should be moving to the cities?

Lynas: Well, more people are moving to the cities whether I like it or not. These are not environmental policies; these are life choices that people make across the world, in the developing world more particularly, to increase their economic opportunities, in particular.

e360: Why is increasing urbanization good for the environment?

Lynas: Land use is one of the crucial planetary boundaries. And having more people concentrated over smaller areas is necessarily a good thing
No one should have a pie thrown in his face because he challenges conventional wisdom.”
in terms of land use efficiency. You can see in many developing countries like Vietnam and Costa Rica where you get forest area increasing as abandoned croplands and ranchlands revert to secondary forests. And so biodiversity benefits as a result. That’s because people are moving to cities and often they’re leaving subsistence agriculture. It isn’t necessarily good for the environment to have huge numbers of people living in rural areas.

e360: I understand that you’re the climate change advisor to the president of Maldives. What does that entail?

Lynas: I’ve been the president’s advisor on climate since 2009. That involves briefing the president on the latest state of the science and helping formulate the strategy for the Maldives in terms of how the country goes forward with international negotiations and how it presents its plight to the world.

e360: So how do you juggle all these hats — journalist, environmentalist, climate change advisor? There’s a section in your book where you recount the final frenzied hours of the Copenhagen talks, which were behind closed doors and off limits to journalists. You describe the last minute roadblocks thrown up by China, India and Saudi Arabia. That got you in some trouble.

Lynas: I originally wrote that up in the Guardian, just a few days after it happened. I really shouldn’t have done it. I wasn’t in the room as a journalist; I was in the room as an advisor to a head of state. And it was one of those very rare things where you just have to write about it because the world needs to know. The Chinese government was extremely upset about the article and my role in it...

But I think in some ways being honest has actually helped shift things because when it came to [the 2010 climate talks in] Cancun, the Chinese were absolutely determined not to be blamed for any deadlock and were probably a lot more constructive and respectful than in previous meetings. Now I’m not in any way claiming credit for that. But I think in many ways the process has improved immeasurably and the atmosphere has improved immeasurably since Copenhagen.

MORE FROM YALE e360

Stewart Brand’s Strange Trip:
Whole Earth to Nuclear Power

Stewart Brand’s Strange Trip: Whole Earth to Nuclear Power
When the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog embraces nuclear power, genetically engineered crops, and geoengineering, you know things have changed in the environmental movement. In an interview with Yale e360, Stewart Brand explains what has shifted his thinking about what it means to be green.
READ MORE
e360: You seem to have undergone quite a personal and professional transformation. Ten years ago, when you were a frontline activist, you walked into a bookstore and threw a pie in the face of [Danish author] Bjorn Lomborg, who had just published The Skeptical Environmentalist. The book was quite controversial at the time and perceived by many to be unfairly critical of environmentalists, probably similar to the way your book will now be perceived by a good many greens.

Lynas: Believe me; the irony has not gone unnoticed. And there have been a lot of rumors, and discussions about when exactly I’m going to get my pie in the face. I still tend to hear about these things in advance and take precautions.

e360: Have you talked to Lomborg since that incident?

Lynas: Yes, I have made an abject apology to him on a couple of occasions and he’s been gentlemanly enough to accept it in very good grace. And in an odd sort of way, we’ve become quite friendly. I actually have found that I have a high regard for the work he does, even though I still don’t agree with a lot of his conclusions. I think what Lomborg does is genuine, and no one should have a pie thrown in his face because he challenges conventional wisdom.

POSTED ON 19 Oct 2011 IN Climate Oceans Policy & Politics Policy & Politics Europe 

COMMENTS


It is difficult to take this fellow seriously when he issues such pronouncements as "these people are nuts" (name-calling is the province of bloviators, not real analysts) and that Chernobyl and Fukushima were "wins for biodiversity in a direct sense." First time I've ever heard anyone suggest that nuclear contamination is a benefit to biodiversity.

Just because he's managed to find a publisher for his book doesn't mean we need to pay attention to him.

Posted by Dave Harmon on 19 Oct 2011


I appreciate Mr. Lynas willingness to take a second look at the "givens" in some quarters of the environmentalist movement. I also like his phrase "ideological inertia." And from all I've read in the media I can agree with his contention that atomic energy is an issue that really devides people.

While I've worked in the nuclear power industry for many years, I'm not necessarily an advocate for it or for any energy source in particular. There is no right or wrong answer to our big energy questions. The key (in my mind) is to make decisions based on the real world of electric energy production and energy needs, and what our values are. I think we've done a lot of debating on the latter, but on the former, we mostly hear chatter from energy experts who have never produced any electricity themselves. This has been like getting a review of a new car from someone who has watched in the distance, rather than driven it himself, or, god forbid, actually worked on the engine.

Of course, detailed energy talk can be pretty boring. As a less-tedious resource that can provide an insider's take on nuclear power and how an unpleasant event at an atomic fun factory might unfold, I've written "Rad Decision," a novel available free online (with no sponsors and no advertisements). It also turns out the climatic event is a lot like Fukushima, oddly enough. Just Google the title for the website - plenty of reader reviews there.

Life is nothing if not a learning process, as Mr. Lynas says. We'll make better decisions about our energy future if we first understand our energy present.

Posted by James Aach on 19 Oct 2011


Its a pity that this man has sold his soul so readily to the corporate powers. It may be that they financed the publication, whoever 'they' are? Nuclear industry types? Biotechnologists? Agrichemical industrialists? Who else could it be to persuade such an individual? Or could it be a banker with more money than sense?

It really matters not that he rants against us enviro's like we were trying to drag the human race back to the dark ages when in reality the path that he and his cohorts have chosen to tread is actually the short-cut to that very same place that he professes is our destination of choice. The fact is it couldn't be further from the truth. It is merely less profitable and to the corporate types profit is everything. You only have to look at how much planet has been trashed in exchange for a quick buck.

When we have finally burned all the oil and polluted the planet with toxic agrichemicals and disfigured all the natural lines of genetic purity with GM mad cap experiments to no avail, all in our rampant charge towards global control of everything, the net result will be an almost impossible existence where people will be living in truly dire conditions brought about by people like Lynas and his cohorts. Not exactly where he professes to want to take us in his interview or in his preachings. But it is certainly where we will be if we keep trashing the planet for the inedible paper stuff.

Oh and for the record with reference to his love of nuclear power et al there are probably only about 35 years worth of nuclear fuel left on the entire planet if we continue to use it at the current rate. Note I said 'Current rate'. There are several countries determined to embrace nuclear power for both electrical generation and the development of weapons grade nuclear material. Oh and note that nuclear power is not meant to mean solely power stations generating electricity. It also refers to the abuse of nuclear power to destroy something aka ICBM's, DU shells and a whole host of other nasty weapons of mass destruction????

So if all the new nuclear power plants are built in the timescale suggested by these very same nations then by 2020 there will be less than 10 years of nuclear fuel supplies available. This is according to the geological data currently available online (USGS, IAEA etc) should anyone care to check. Additionally from day one the price will go up as the market demand increases. Its all about charging what the market can stand and it will be desperate to keep up with the Jones at all costs. The US can keep printing money like there is no tomorrow because in reality there isn't one. Not if they have their way with the last remaining oil nations not under their military occupation.

Nothing like making a quick profit when the opportunity presents itself. Just go ask the bankers.

Posted by Kev C on 19 Oct 2011


He comes across as just another contrarian who sells books and articles with ever-changing shocking points of view. His arguments are Internet chat room rhetoric of the worse sort, full of logic fallacies and playing into the divide. I don't take him as operating in good faith.

Posted by Steve on 19 Oct 2011


Mark,

Thank you for having the courage to reexamine your thinking. On both counts, nuclear energy and GMO, I think that you are quite right and that you have a firm understanding of the problems the world faces. Might I also suggest that you look into food irradiation.

Posted by Cal Abel on 19 Oct 2011


The real nuts are the climate change deniers whose ignorance-based ideology and growing political clout pose the greatest threat to our planet. At least the anti nukes acknowledge the root problem and are simply haggling over the solution. Perhaps after careful consideration of Mr. Lynas’ logical, fact-based, common sense approach, they will change their minds as he did. They’re half way there, fear mongering and all. So let's reserve our verbal artillery for the real nuts.

Posted by Penelope Dackis on 19 Oct 2011


I tend to use words like nutter etc myself to get my point across, it alienates some and engages others. But one person's nutter is another's early warning system. I think Mark is a serious and credible early warning system to us all to think much more carefully and seriously about our positions on many aspects of climate change and other social and risk issues.

Personal attitudes to his point of view must not be allowed to polarise opinion about the need to
evaluate the issues in the round. The 9 Planetary Boundaries that Mark's book is all about are a brilliant framework through which to consider all of our innovations. I wish people talked about them more.

Good luck Mark, don't let the bgrs get you down!

Posted by Hilary Sutcliffe on 19 Oct 2011


I certainly understand how quickly you become reviled by most environmentalists when you take a stand for reason. No one ever thinks about the fact that some issues are in effect diversionary tactics. I'll bet the purveyors of the 1001 estrogenic compounds in major commerce feel blessed that environmentalists have put so much effort into stopping "Frankenfoods" that they have no breath left for this far more relevant threat to our health

It's like when George W. Bush got behind hydrogen economy research big time...you knew it was a diversionary tactic...don't do anything real, with near term consequences, like ratcheting down on the CAFE standards or incentivizing hybrid vehicles...divert attention onto something that is utterly impractical. It's like a bull fighter who deceives the bull into charging his red cape.

One of my favorite environmental non-stories which is actually really important is that we are depleting phosphate rock even faster than petroleum. When that runs out, we will have a very hard time adapting agriculture to 50X more expensive phosphate fertilizer. Try to find a story about that!

Posted by Roger Faulkner on 19 Oct 2011


It's just not that simple.

Refuting Greenpeace's arguments has little to do with deciding whether or not this and other technologies maybe harmful to the environment.

For example. GMO - read up on the ongoing debate regarding farmed salmon to get a better idea of how GMOs can really mess up the environment and potentially cause the extinction or decimation of one of the keystone species in the wild. Really all you need to know about GMOs and their potential to destroy natural systems is contained in a book by Charles Darwin published quite a long time ago.

I recommend reading A Conspiracy of Optimism: the history of the US Forest Service after WWII by Paul Hirt. A very good and well documented narrative about man's use of technology in our endless quest of deriving a free lunch from natural systems.

Posted by Andy on 19 Oct 2011


I'm glad to see that some one else shares my views on nuclear energy. It's cleaner and safer than anything else out there. It's really the clearest way to reduce CO2 emissions. All electric cars sound good but if the electricity to power them comes form coal burning power plants or even Natural Gas plants all you've really done is alter where the CO2 is produced. Hydrogen powered cars face the same problem. Hydrogen is produced by reacting high pressure steam with methane or ethane to produce H2 gas and CO2. No CO2 coming out of the tailpipe but it's still being produced.

Wind farms sound great but again we are talking about big changes in wind patterns if they are going to replace coal oil or natural gas plants. Cover the Desert with solar panels you use huge amounts of land, and what happens at night? What if it's cloudy?

Posted by Bob Krieger on 20 Oct 2011


Sir......let's look at why things are happening now:

1...Added CO2 in the atmos now allows increased yields in crops around the world. We'll be better able to feed the seven billion...then eight. Forests are growing faster, and even old, old trees are getting bigger.

2...Higher temperatures in the past helped civilization. The first era was at the time of the pyramids, the 2nd was the Roman warm period at the time of Christ, the 3rd allowed those old norwegians to populate Greenland, (followed by the Little Ice Age), and now our present warming period since about 1850.. Each helped us, and so is this one, and a little more will, also.

3...Because added CO2 helps, let's this thoroughly rather than condemn it without very good reason.

Let's RESEARCH this thoroughly...we do not know now what's best...! Mark knows all of this and everything he says in the above matches..

Posted by Vernon A. on 20 Oct 2011


Natural Background Radiation exceeds the radiation from the reactors at Fukushima. I would not evacuate. Coal contains thorium, uranium and all of its decay chain, and arsenic. We could get all of our nuclear fuel from coal ash and cinders. See: clearnuclear.blogspot.com.

Denver has more radiation than Chernobyl, but Ramsar, Iran has 12 times as much natural background radiation as Denver.

Some background reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Background_radiationhttp://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/publications/2000_1.html

Posted by Asteroid Miner on 20 Oct 2011


Mr. Lynas is essentially quoting Stewart Brand — I guess he's a convert. My wife and I saw Mr. Brand give a slick, smug presentation of his views at Oregon State University. I must say we were shocked. He has clearly embraced corporate agendas, with little regard for the long-term consequences of his proposed "solutions." We're not sure why: assuming he isn't taking corporate money, we surmise he may have adopted an anti-environmental position to try to remain relevant and cutting-edge as he approaches the end of his otherwise brilliant career.

The problems with Mr. Brand and Mr. Lynas's proposals for planetary stewardship — the promulgation of nuclear energy, GMOs and, in Brand's case, albedo geoengineering — are too fundamental and multi-faceted to critique in a short post. However, they can be summed up as just another set of techno-fixes, pushing us further down the same path that we've stumbled along to enter our present environmental crisis.

Whole-earth, holism, they are not — in fact, they are the opposite: reductionist and technocratic. And nothing less than a whole-earth, holistic paradigm shift can save civilization at this point.

Posted by Philip S. Wenz on 20 Oct 2011


Yuk, Yuk, Don't make me babysit your nuclear waste for the out of sight future. For any of you thinking this guy is rational, go study, all nuclear, from the vast expanse of already released particles into the environment, to life forever vunerable to its exposures.

Posted by Jessie on 20 Oct 2011


Wow. Mark Lynas is apparently one of the most ignorant people in activism or a complete liar.

I'm all for new tech and nuclear power when it can be done safer in future, but while there is no 'dead-man switch' for maintaining cooling pooles for spent fuel it is an unacceptable risk. Mark Lynas apparently knows better than the Asian correspondent.

Chernobyl was a great success too. Lucky most of Fukoshima's radiation went into the sea, so 20-30 years from now I'm sure there won't be any related deaths or illness. What, does he think people just drop dead after inhaling an 'hot-particle' or two?

Anyway the GMO was the worst, that was a discusting commentary, GMO is the single greatest threat to the ecology of the planet.

Any idiot with access to google scholar could find a study on a few generations of rat, to tell you that. But it is all apparently too difficult for our friend Mark.

Posted by Rob on 20 Oct 2011


Hilary Sutcliffe wrote: 'Personal attitudes to his point of view must not be allowed to polarise opinion about the need to evaluate the issues in the round.'

So do tell me where we get our opinions and ideas from if it is not from personal attitudes about particular points of view? Maybe they just materialise on the front page of a newspaper or appear as if by magic from some great oracle of wisdom that no-one has ever seen in public but just 'exists' for our benefit?

Sounds all too 'Orwellian' for my liking.

Besides the consensus is that to continue with these dangerous technologies with the current mechanical and physical systems we have at our disposal will lead very quickly to a complete failure of our species to survive beyond 2050 without coming into open conflict, scrapping with each other over the last pitiful resources available to us.

Wouldn't it be more sensible to support sustainable energy systems that we know will be around long into the geological future? Rather than putting all our egg's into one or two baskets, committing ourselves to an unsustainable use of more fossil fuels wouldn't it be more sensible and independent thinking to use solar energy from panels on every homes rooftop? The corporate energy companies don't want us to do that because it will impact their profits. Awe bless. Maybe they should learn to diversify their business more.

Simply because we as a species have become so selfish as to believe the corporate hype that says we will go hungry, thirsty, cold and live in perpetual darkness with no TV, Xbox, Wii or any of our other little toys to play with if we abandon fossil fuels, our future path will continue the same as before. In a nut shell there are too many people out there who believe the hype and disbeleive the truth, even when it hits them straight between the eyes.
Its not how I envisage the future sustainability of life on the planet but hey what do I know? I'm just spouting a personal attitude about the problems facing us. What could I possibly contribute to the survival odds of humanity?

Nothing like following the Emperor's Tailors down the dead end alley.

PS Nuclear radiation may be higher in some areas than at Chernobyl or Fukishima but then so are the numbers of cancer clusters too. Maybe you should all take a look at a broad set of data and not the corporate and government data. After all the government are merely the corporations puppets. Bought and paid for.

Posted by Kev C on 20 Oct 2011


I find this interview extremely shallow.

- Mark Lynas advocates nuclear power for the future ! Great ! Give us some number Please:

- What is his estimate of uranium reserves in term of the total amount needed to sustain world electrical consumption.

- How fast (with the same level of safety as let's say fukushima) can you build the amount of plants necessary. For the moment, I know only that the new french generation, EPR claimed to be safe and cheap is costly and always delayed both in Finland and France, so it seems that engineers are not as gifted as journalists. May be journalist should become engineers (much less glamorous).

- How much resource do you need to build so many plant and are there so many ideal spots left to build them (obviously fukushima was not ideal).
Nuclear is not only about uranium and cement, it is about handling extreme materials and that requires very exotic material like zirconium which some french engineer in a recent book published by centrale paris estimated max reserve at 40 years. So if nuclear plants are multiplied what is going to happen with all these rare confinement materials that will have to be discarded forever ? Where are you going to get them from ?

- Reactors like the french superphenix are still not working and may very well never be an option a well as the extremely complicated thorium one. When we see how difficult it is to build the epr in an era of cheap oil and sufficient material reserve, we can have extreme doubts about other science fiction projects.

- What about wastes if they, during these 100 000 years, are digged out and sold to make dirty weapons, for examples by contaminating on purpose water to weaken other parts ? Unlikely ? ???

There are so many points in this interview that are arbitrary statement, like saying that concentrating people in towns is a solution (towns requires transportations, industriel agriculture and all this is a known factor of land and energy waste). But the one I like the best is that one:

"So the world is getting more equal; so that’s good."

This only show one thing: activism is a failure because it does not convey any understanding but stays at the mediatic level. And ageing activits just become conservative.
By the way, yes they are people who advocate no car and less consumption. Even in China you have many "luddites", like peasants fighting expropriation. Off course, they tend to avoid walking around in beijing with sandwich boards. The reason is very simple: China is not a democracy.

Posted by kervennic on 20 Oct 2011


Lynas needs to stare at this for a while:

http://inmotion.magnumphotos.com/essay/chernobyl

Posted by Harry White on 20 Oct 2011


Ignorance and belief are the enemy of reason in this debate. I encourage everyone to look at the data in detail and think again. As elsewhere in this thread the reality is not the convential ideology/belief. Only nuclear power can replace the power demands of a developed economy when fossil has gone. All solar derived real time alternatives are totally inadequate and uncontrollable, as many well researched and respected stdies since 2004 demonstrate very starkly RAE, DECC, OECD.

The problems of nuclear waste safety, disposal and nuclear processing and hence sustainability are technological and very dealable with. Just needs a comitment and not a prescriptive EC policy for subsidy profits. The primary problem is adequate , low cost, deliverable and controllable energy to power all the things we need when fossil has gone, including synthetic fuel and de salination, etc. Not doable with so called allternatives .Its the only long term solution to maintaing a developed economy, which is why the ASEAN/BRIC countries are getting on with it. We just need to get on with it.

The whole debate about safety and safe radiation levels is open, the LNT hypothesis is only that, disproved by the data. Check out radiation Hormesis, we are evolved in radiation and need it for a healthy life. The exclsuion zones are at 4x levels that ensure the health of people in SW France, etc,

Irrational ideology and fear of nuclear power threatens our economic and climate future. Finally the Uk has done a lot to reduce emissions and is 2% of global totals. We are grandstanding to an irrational EC aganda driven by German Greens who have quite another real political agenda.

Posted by Brian Catt on 20 Oct 2011


I appreciated a nuanced and rational approach to the world's problems. I haven't read any of the comment by readers---yet. I am sure I will see ridiculous attacks against Lynas from those who have been, well indoctrinated: no facts will ever change their position that nuclear power and biotech are evil.

Posted by R parker on 23 Oct 2011


Without fossil fuel money, the antinuclear groups would be no more effective, nor rewarding to belong to, than antifluoridation groups.

But there is a lot of fossil fuel money, both in private hands and in public ones (governments are the biggest oil and gas interests). So they can deceive a lot of people, for a while. Lynas wised up.

Posted by G.R.L. Cowan on 24 Oct 2011


Well, I was giving Mark credit in his honesty, but then he said that he made comments on GM crops and food that he'd "dashed off in 20 minutes without doing any research". What kind of expert in anything does he see himself as if that is his style? To quote the tired "there hasn't been a single health related issue" with GM foods ignores the fact that there has not been a single health related study either...if you don't look you won't find.

And then the win for Chernobyl? Where has he been living ...clearly in total isolation and ignorance.

Good luck with his new book...I'm sure he will win hearts on the other side of the fence, but at what cost to his reputation which has been revealed as shallow?

No loss to the Green movement but a real embarrassment to the deniers.

Posted by Jane on 29 Oct 2011


Sorry Mark but:
Nuclear power is neither clean nor safe nor cheap.

Indeed, the oposite is true. Nuclear power is saddled with three major unresolved risks: plant safety, nuclear waste, and most menacing of all, the risk of military proliferation.

Fossill-fuel and nuclear energy belong to the tecnological utopias of the 19th and 20th centuries, which were based on a belief in the innocence of the technologically feasible and an the fact that, at the taime, only a minority of people worldwide, largerly in the West, benefited from technological progress.

By contrast, the 21st century will be informed by the realization that the global ecosystem and its resources, which are indispensable for human survival, are finite, and that this implies on enduring responsibility to preserve what we have. Fo more, see: Joschka Fischer, project-syndicate.org

One can imagine what is going on right now with new or emerging sciences and technologies, i.e. Nanotech, Biotech, Geo-engineering, Cognitive, Informatic, etc. Worst case scenario is not escluded, dear Mark.

Posted by NIJAZ DELEUT KEMO on 30 Oct 2011


Perhaps we need to beware of 'the brightest and the best' playing stupid and remaining electively mute in the face of what could somehow be simple, obvious and real regarding both the nature of the human species and the finite, frangible planetary home we inhabit. We face a culture of silence with regard to the growth of the human population on Earth. As a consequence, a colossal, human-induced tragedy is being precipitated in our time. But this is not the whole problem being utterly avoided. Even among top-rank scientists with appropriate expertise, extant scientific research of human population dynamics and overpopulation is being willfully ignored. Attractive preternatural thought and specious ideologically-driven theory by non-scientists, namely demographers and economists, about the nature of the human population have been widely shared and consensually validated in the mainstream media during my lifetime. This unscientific thought and theory is not only misleading but also directly contradicted by scientific evidence toward which first-class scientists have “turned a blind eye” for way too long. That is to say we have two challenges to confront and ovecome. The first is the culture of silence. The second is the deliberate collusion within a sub-culture of experts who have determined not to acknowledge, examine and report on vital scientific research. Some scientists have referred to “the first challenge” as revealing the facts of “the last taboo”. What I am asking scientists to do is address “the last of the last taboos” by reviewing and reporting findings of unchallenged scientific research of human population dynamics from two outstanding scientists, Hopfenberg and Pimentel(2001), Hopfenberg(2003, 2009). At least to me, it appears the denial of the population issue by people everywhere and the denial of scientific research of human population dynamics/overpopulation by scientists with adequate expertise have resulted in a betrayal of humanity and science itself. This failure of intellectual honesty and moral courage among so many so-called experts with unaccepted responsibilities to assume and unfulfilled duties to perform is as unfortunate as it is unprecedented. A good enough future for children everywhere appears to be at risk on our watch and we are bearing witness now and here, I suppose, to the way silence ‘kills’ the world.

Everything within me makes one thing crystal clear: among the species of Earth only human beings with feet of clay possess the capability to honestly, consciously, courageously and deliberately behave in ways that run counter to their strongest drives. Evidence for this statement has been occurring ubiquitously since of the first days of Homo sapiens on Earth, I suppose. As we know, our species has exploded to seven billion in the 'blink of an eye'. Is it not inconceivable that at least some small percentage of human beings have always been acting and continue to act in ways that provide evidence of the subjugation of the most powerful of their instincts to their even more formidable capacity to think, judge and will. I would go so far as to guess that not one day in human history has passed without a human being overcoming what is instinctual.

Our instincts to survive individually and to propagate the human species globally are the most potent instincts. But in our time these instincts, that have served humankind so well from our earliest days on Earth, appear to reached a point in space-time when they are pernicious and dangerous to future human well being, life as we know it, and the planet as a fit place for the children to inhabit. Among the species in our planetary home, perhaps human beings are the first species ever to be in the position of precipitating a massive extinction event. So gifted, well-endowed and unique a species as Homo sapiens, one that appears to be potentiating some sort of unimaginable global ecological wreckage, can surely begin making necessary changes in behavior for the sake of the future human well being.

Posted by Steven Earl Salmony on 13 Nov 2011


What Kev C and many of the rest of the critics of Lynas do not know when they say things like "at the present rate ... there are only (less than 100) years worth of uranium left)" is that the present rate of consumption of uranium does not use half a percent of the energy that can be extracted by technology already proven.

The Integral Fast Reactor project, conducted for about 30 years at Argonne National Labs in the USA, created as much fissile fuel during operation, as it consumed. Spent rods, metallic instead of the miserable oxide ceramics of LWR usage, were pyroprocessed to separate ALL the fission products from ALL the neutron capture products and the original uranium. The resulting fission products, the true waste, is on the order of a ton per gigawatt-year, and its radioactivity is very high at first, because all of the fission products are short lived. Bung all that in a cooling pond, and reconstitute the uranium and plutonium by robotic machines to make new fuel rods.

Posted by albert rogers on 09 Jan 2012


Mr. Salmony is right, the most utterly unsustainable behaviour is the human population increase. But Richard Dawkins, in "The Selfish Gene" I think, points out that birth control is a perfectly simple -- not always easy -- way to defy our genes.

Posted by albert rogers on 09 Jan 2012


Either quit overbreeding the planet, (or) use GMO and Nuke to stave off disaster. There is no other choice except accelerate the cataclysm...

Posted by TJ Williams on 15 Jan 2013


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Keith Kloor, who conducted this interview for Yale Environment 360, is a New York City-based freelance journalist who writes frequently on the environment and climate change issues. A former editor at Audubon Magazine, his writing has appeared in Nature, Science, and Archaeology magazine.

 
 

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