Pandora’s Boxes

A post on the NY Times suggests that blogs may soon be as passe’ as folded newspapers. Nevertheless, on the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog, we find, ‘Pandora’s Promise’ Director and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Debate Nuclear Options:

It’s a brisk and frequently heated exchange in which I barely had time to step in and separate or reorient the two men. Kennedy set the tone from the start by answering my request for his Siskel-Ebert style review with this line:

“If I had to characterize the film, I would say it’s an elaborate hoax. Almost every fact in it that’s presented as facts is untrue or misleading.”

Stone initially rocked in his chair as if absorbing a body blow, but held his ground. Kennedy’s most convincing points were on the economics of nuclear energy (an area the film avoids tackling), while Stone effectively challenged assertions about health risks.

The debate is also directly available on Youtube.

My takeaway is that both men agree that industrial society must A) decrease emissions leading to climate change, and B) maintain an electrical grid. They differ as to which strategy holds the most promise. Kennedy believes that nuclear options are not only far too costly, but dangerous, so he favors wind & solar. Stone believes that only nuclear power has the energy density to replace fossil fuels.

The moderator has promised a fact check, but I can offer a few notes. Stone repeats the common claim that there have been only three significant nuclear failures: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. As I previously wrote in Strontium In the Bone, there have been several more.

Few outlets mention the fire at Windscale, the ravaged test site Semipalatinsk, the hydrogen bomb contamination at Palomares or the nuclear waste explosion at Kyshtym. In A Survey of the World’s Radioactive No-Go Zones, Der Spiegel does describe many of the nuclear events that the atomic power industry would probably like us to forget, such as 1949’s radiation release at the Hanford Site in Washington State.

Stone’s defense of health risks relies heavily on claiming that coal is just as bad as nuclear, and denying any but WHO-approved statistics. But WHO and the UN scarcely even acknowledge the events near Kyshtym, complaining that Soviet studies of the area were not presented in English.

Stone also briefly mentions that there can be environmental drawbacks to Wind & Solar. Threats to raptors, and sludge from making solar panels do pale in comparison to the thousand-year half-life of nuclear waste, but could be dealt with. What is troubling is that – like the fossil fuel industry – the alternative energy industry prefers to silence or pay off its critics. Perhaps that is because many players in alt energy are closely allied with the fossil fuel industry.

One has to wonder if we really want to hand public money to either player.


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  1. The Nuclear Comments Section | Donal - August 19, 2013
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