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WILLIAM TUCKER: When It Comes to Nuclear and Global Warming, It’s Cult-vs.-Cult

By William Tucker

Is there some law somewhere that says you can't believe in global warming and nuclear power at the same time?

This is one of the most puzzling things about the energy debate.  Those people who are most passionate about global warming are the most rabidly opposed to nuclear power.  And those who are most willing to go along with nuclear power insist that global warming is all a hoax.  I ran into this when I was publishing my book, Terrestrial Energy.   One prominent global warming skeptic advised me to throw out an entire chapter on the warming controversy, saying I would forever tarnish nuclear by associating it with a passing fad that was bound to be discredited.  Another very good friend refused to review the book for a major magazine because he said I had "fallen for all that global warming stuff."

I don't even try to reason with the other side.  Well, actually I do.  Two summers ago I caught Bill McKibben at a solar festival in Vermont.  He's the man who founded the 350 Movement and drove Jimmy Carter's old solar panels to the Obama White House.  My wife and I caught him backstage after he had given a rousing address to the Woodstock-style assembly, half of whom were sporting buttons to "Close Vermont Yankee.". If he was really serious about global warming, I asked him, shouldn't he embrace nuclear, the only energy technology that can realistically provide enough energy to an advanced society while cutting carbon emissions to near zero?

McKibben looked wistfully at the hillside filled with long-haired hippies.  "I understand what you're saying," he said.  "But supporting nuclear right now would split this movement in half."

McKibben is now looking awfully good for his observations that global warming will not only mean higher temperatures but more violent storms driven by more intense heat in the oceans and atmosphere.  When someone makes a prediction and it comes true, you've got to show some respect.  But being right about one thing shouldn't mean that you can just abandon logic when you suddenly find you don't like where it's leading you.

Very few people have been willing to maintain this kind of integrity.  James Lovelock has been one and he' s been excoriated for his apostasy.  Christie Whitman and Patrick Moore have run a very honest campaign at CASE, but of course they're just "tools of the nuclear industry.". It's like trying to be a Protestant and Catholic at the same time.  People tell you it can't be done.

I was at a conference a year ago in Knoxville when Matt Wald of the New York Times said he thought the effort to promote nuclear power amounted to a religion.  I said I thought it just represented scientists who understood the technology but if anything resembled a secular religion it was the environmental movement, with nuclear playing the part of the devil.  Yet there's a cultish quality to the global-warming deniers as well.  They can never admit that there's considerable evidence on the other side and plenty of good reason to be concerned.  It would be more than refreshing if people on both sides could admit that the other may have a point.