Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Building Green Without Spending It






By Dr. Patrick Moore

It’s time to move green building beyond its current niche status and into the mainstream.

We know how to measure the affordability and availability of building products, but how do we determine which materials are environmentally friendly?

Dana Bres is a research engineer with Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing in Washington. ``Sustainability is a term that is still being defined,” says Bres. “We want products that are durable. We want products that are affordable. We want products that don't adversely affect the environment. We want products that can be used flexibly.”

Fortunately, tools are being refined that help builders and consumers choose. Life-cycle analysis (LCA) is the science of examining a product’s entire life from extraction of raw materials and manufacturing to transportation and installation to final disposal or recycling.

Two of the most important environmental features of products are renewability and durability. Renewable materials and energy sources are green by nature. Durable materials last longer and require less upkeep.

A material that’s both highly sustainable and practical from a cost perspective is wood. Wood is the most abundant renewable building material on earth. Wood demand keeps land forested that might otherwise be permanently cleared. Trees soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing greenhouse gases associated with climate change.

Wood also scores very well on life cycle tests. Life-cycle analysis shows wood requires far less energy to manufacture than either steel or concrete. It can be used for a wide variety of applications including framing, cabinetry, and cellulose insulation.

What’s durable as well as affordable? Plastics such as vinyl, polyurethane and polystyrene. Vinyl has led the way in plastic’s growth in home and commercial building and is now used for everything from piping, siding and windows to flooring and wallcovering. Guaranteed for 50 years and requiring no painting, vinyl siding eliminates upkeep costs. More than half derived from common salt, vinyl scores well on life cycle tests, including energy usage.

The greenest energy system is geothermal energy, also known as ground source heat pumps. A single geothermal unit can heat, cool and provide hot water, resulting in a home that uses at least 50 percent renewable energy. Geothermal costs more than a conventional natural gas system but monthly bills are reduced by as much as 40 percent.

A model sustainable home might use a wood frame, vinyl siding and polyurethane or polystyrene insulation. The home might have a combination of wood and vinyl flooring, allowing for both the natural beauty of wood and the durability and affordability of vinyl. Composite windows, decking and railings could also combine the best properties of both materials.

If vinyl isn’t your idea of a green home, consider this: money saved up-front on durable, energy-efficient materials can be spent on other environmental add-ons. The dollar savings could be applied to purchasing that ground-source heat pump, in case the long-term dollar savings didn’t already make the sale.

We need an example of such a home – one that consumers, builders and architects can point to and learn from.

Building the model home should involve cooperation among practically minded environmental organizations, affordable housing advocates and the building industry groups that represent these materials. It might include a non-profit, such as Habitat for Humanity, which builds cost effective, quality homes for those who could otherwise not afford them.

No other aspect of our lives has a greater environmental impact than the materials and energy sources we use in our homes. Green building on a mass scale would have a profound impact for the betterment of this earth.
Dr. Patrick Moore was a co-founder of Greenpeace and is now Chairman and Chief Scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd., http://www.greenspiritstrategies.com/

Environmental Movement Has Lost Its Way





By Dr. Patrick Moore, PhD

I am often asked why I broke ranks with Greenpeace after fifteen years as a founder and full-time environmental activist. While I had my personal reasons—spending more time with a growing family rather than living out of a suitcase most of the year—it was on issues of policy that I found it necessary to move on.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, the environmental movement made a sharp turn to the political left and began adopting extreme agendas that abandoned science and logic in favor of emotion and sensationalism. I became aware of the emerging concept of sustainable development—the idea that environmental, social, and economic priorities could be balanced. I became a convert to the idea that win-win solutions could be found by bringing all interests together around the same table. I made the move from confrontation to consensus.

Since then, I have worked under the banner of Greenspirit to develop an environmental policy platform based on science, logic, and the recognition that more than six billion people need to survive and prosper, every day of the year. The environmental movement has lost its way, favoring political correctness over factual accuracy, stooping to scare tactics to garner support. Many campaigns now waged in the name of the environment would result in increased harm to both the environment and human welfare if they were to succeed.

So we’re faced with environmental policies that ignore science and result in increased risk to human health and ecology. To borrow from the vernacular, how sick is that?

Genetic Enhancement:

Activists persist in their zero-tolerance campaign against genetically enhanced food, yet there is no evidence of harm to human health or the environment. Genetically enhanced (GE) crops reduce chemical pesticides, boost yield, and reduce soil erosion. Enriched with Vitamin A, Golden Rice could prevent blindness in 500,000 children every year in Asia and Africa if activists would stop blocking its introduction.

Salmon Farming:

The campaign against salmon farming, based on erroneous claims of environmental damage, scares us into avoiding one of the most nutritious, heart-friendly foods available. Salmon farming takes pressure off wild stocks, yet activists tell us to eat only wild fish. Is this how we save them, by eating more?

Nuclear Power:

Activists continue to lobby against nuclear energy, the only non-greenhouse gas-emitting power source that can replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand. Renewable energies such as wind, geothermal and hydro are only part of the solution.

Vinyl:

So-called environmentalists want to ban the use of chlorine in all industrial processes. Yet the addition of chlorine to drinking water has been the greatest public health advance in history, and 75% of our medicines are based on chlorine chemistry. Activists call for a ban on polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl), claiming it is the “poison plastic”. There is not a shred of evidence that vinyl damages human health or the environment. Apart from lowering construction costs and delivering safe drinking water, vinyl’s ease of maintenance and its ability to incorporate anti-microbial properties is critical to fighting germs in hospitals.

Hydro Electricity:

International activists boast they have blocked more than 200 hydroelectric dams in the developing world and are campaigning to tear down existing dams. Hydro is the largest source of renewable electricity, providing about 12% of global supply. Do activists prefer coal plants? Would they rather ignore the needs of billions of people?

Wind Power:

Activists argue wind turbines kill birds and ruin landscapes. A million times more birds are killed by cats, windows and cars than by all the windmills in the world. Wind turbines are works of art compared to some of our urban environments.

Forestry:

Trees are the most abundant, renewable and biodegradable resource in the world, yet activists tell us to reduce our use of wood. Forests are stable and growing where we use the most wood, and diminishing where we use less. Using wood sends a signal to the marketplace to plant more trees and produce more wood. There is about the same forest area in North America as there was 100 years ago.

The Prognosis:

Activists’ zero-tolerance, fear-mongering campaigns would ultimately prevent a cure for Vitamin A deficiency blindness, deplete wild salmon stocks, decrease the safety of health care, deprive developing nations of clean electricity, stop renewable wind energy, block a solution to global warming, and contribute to deforestation. How sick is that?

Co-founder of Greenpeace, Dr. Patrick Moore is Chairman and Chief Scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver, Canada. http://www.greenspiritstrategies.com/.

Nuclear Energy: Dr. Moore's Statement to US Congressional Committeed





“Nuclear energy is the only non-greenhouse gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand.”

—Dr. Patrick Moore, PhD

Introduction

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me hear today to testify about why nuclear energy is a vital component for America’s energy future.

First, let me say a few words about who I am and where I’ve come from.

Founding Greenpeace

I was born and raised in the tiny fishing and logging village of Winter Harbour on the northwest tip of Vancouver Island, in the rainforest by the Pacific. I didn’t realize what a blessed childhood I'd had, playing on the tidal flats by the salmon spawning streams in the rainforest, until I was shipped away to boarding school in Vancouver at age fourteen.

I eventually attended the University of British Columbia studying the life sciences: biology, forestry, genetics; but it was when I discovered ecology that I realized that through science I could gain an insight into the mystery of the rainforest I had known as a child.

I became a born-again ecologist, and in the late 1960's, was soon transformed into a radical environmental activist.

I found myself in a church basement in Vancouver with a like-minded group of people, planning a protest campaign against US hydrogen bomb testing in Alaska. We proved that a somewhat rag-tag looking group of activists could sail a leaky old halibut boat across the North Pacific Ocean and change the course of history.

This was the birth of Greenpeace.

Activism in Action

In 1975 we set sail deep-sea into the North Pacific against the Soviet Union's factory whaling fleets that were slaughtering the last of the sperm whales off California. We put ourselves in front of the harpoons in little rubber boats and made Walter Cronkite's evening news.

That really put Greenpeace on the map.
In 1979 the International Whaling Commission banned factory whaling in the North Pacific and soon it was banned in all the world's oceans.

From Confrontation to Consensus
By the mid-1980's Greenpeace had grown from that church basement into an organization with an income of over US$100 million per year, offices in 21 countries and over 100 campaigns around the world, now tackling toxic waste, acid rain, uranium mining and drift net fishing as well as the original issues.

We had won over a majority of the public in the industrialized democracies. Presidents and prime ministers were talking about the environment on a daily basis.

For me it was time to make a change. I had been against at least three or four things every day of my life for 15 years; I decided I'd like to be in favor of something for a change.

I made the transition from the politics of confrontation to the politics of building consensus.

After all, when a majority of people decide they agree with you it is probably time to stop hitting them over the head with a stick and sit down and talk to them about finding solutions to our environmental problems.

Sustainable Development

The term sustainable development was adopted to describe the challenge of taking the new environmental values we had popularized, and incorporating them into the traditional social and economic values that have always governed public policy and our daily behavior.

We cannot simply switch to basing all our actions on purely environmental values.

Every day 6 billion people wake up with real needs for food, energy and materials. The challenge for sustainability is to provide for those needs in ways that reduce negative impact on the environment.

But any changes made must also be socially acceptable and technically and economically feasible. It is not always easy to balance environmental, social, and economic priorities.

Compromise and co-operation with the involvement of government, industry, academia and the environmental movement is required to achieve sustainability.

It is this effort to find consensus among competing interests that has occupied my time for the past 15 years.

Environmental Extremism

Not all my former colleagues saw things that way. They rejected consensus politics and sustainable development in favor of continued confrontation and ever-increasing extremism. They ushered in an era of zero tolerance and left-wing politics. Some of the features of this environmental extremism are:

Environmental extremists are anti-human. Humans are characterized as a cancer on the Earth. To quote eco-extremist Herb Hammond, "of all the components of the ecosystem, humans are the only ones we know to be completely optional". Isn't that a lovely thought?

They are anti-science and technology. All large machines are seen as inherently destructive and unnatural. Science is invoked to justify positions that have nothing to do with science. Unfounded opinion is accepted over demonstrated fact.

They are anti-business. All large corporations are depicted as inherently driven by greed and corruption. Profits are definitely not politically correct. The liberal democratic, market-based model is rejected even though no viable alternative is proposed to provide for the material needs of 6 billion people. As expressed by the Native Forest Network, "it is necessary to adopt a global phase out strategy of consumer based industrial capitalism."

I think they mean civilization.

And they are just plain anti-civilization. In the final analysis, eco- extremists project a naive vision of returning to the supposedly utopian existence in the garden of Eden, conveniently forgetting that in the old days people lived to an average age of 35, and there were no dentists. In their Brave New World there will be no more chemicals, no more airplanes, and certainly no more polyester suits.

The Case for Nuclear Energy

What does environmental extremism have to do with nuclear energy?

I believe the majority of environmental activists, including those at Greenpeace, have now become so blinded by their extremism that they fail to consider the enormous and obvious benefits of harnessing nuclear power to meet and secure America’s growing energy needs.

These benefits far outweigh any risks.

There is now a great deal of scientific data showing nuclear power to be an environmentally sound and safe choice.

The Current Situation

In America today you are faced with a situation whereby nuclear energy supplies 20 per cent of your energy needs.

Yet America’s demand for energy continues to increase and in the coming decades this demand may increase by some 50 per cent over current levels.

If nothing is done to revitalize the American nuclear industry, the industry’s contribution to meeting US energy demands could drop from 20 per cent to 9 per cent.

What sources of energy would make-up the shortfall?

Very likely, the US would turn to an even greater reliance on fossil fuels.

Fossil Fuels

A significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) seems unlikely given our continued heavy reliance on fossil fuel consumption. An investment in nuclear energy would go a long way to reducing this reliance.
According to the Clean Air Council, annual power plant emissions are responsible for 36% of carbon dioxide (CO2), 64% of sulfur dioxide (SO2), 26% of nitrogen oxides (Nox), and 33% of mercury emissions (Hg).

These four pollutants cause significant environmental problems, including acid rain, smog, respiratory illness, mercury contamination, and are the major contributors to GHG emissions.

Among power plants, the dirty and old coal-fired plants produce the most pollution.

According to the Clean Air Council, while 58% of power plant boilers in operation in the U.S. are fueled by coal, they contribute 93% of Nox, 96% of SO2, 88% of Co2, and 99% of the mercury emitted by the entire power industry.

Prominent environmentalists see nuclear energy as solution

Prominent environmental figures like Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Gaia theory hypothesizer James Lovelock, and Hugh Montefiore, Friends of the Earth founder have now all stated their strong support for nuclear energy as a practical means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while meeting the world’s increasing energy demands.

I too place myself squarely in that category.

UK environmentalist James Lovelock, who posited the Gaia theory that the Earth operates as a giant, self-regulating super-organism, now sees nuclear energy as key to our planet's future health. ''Civilization is in imminent danger,'' he warns, ``and has to use nuclear—the one safe, available energy source—or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet.''

In a recent edition of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review, Stewart Brand writes that nuclear energy’s problems can be overcome and that:

The industry is mature, with a half-century of experience and ever improved engineering behind it. Problematic early reactors like the ones at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl can be supplanted by new, smaller-scale, meltdown-proof reactors like the ones that use the pebble-bed design. Nuclear power plants are very high yield, with low-cost fuel. Finally, they offer the best avenue to a “hydrogen economy,” combining high energy and high heat in one place for optimal hydrogen generation.

Nuclear energy: a proven alternative

Indeed, nuclear power is already a proven alternative to fossil fuels.

The United States relies on nuclear power for some 20% of its energy needs, and produces nearly one-third of global nuclear energy.

Despite its current limited supply, nuclear energy now provides the vast majority (76.2 per cent) of the US’s emission-free generation.

In 2002, the use of nuclear energy helped the US avoid the release of 189.5 million tons of carbon into the air.

In fact, the electric sector’s carbon emissions would have been 29 per cent higher without nuclear power.

And while hydro, geothermal and wind energy all form an important part of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, without nuclear energy that reliance will likely never diminish. In 2002, carbon emissions avoided by nuclear power were 1.7 times larger than those avoided by all renewables combined.

The impact of additional nuclear energy generation

Nuclear energy has already made a sizeable contribution to the reduction of GHG emissions in America.

But more must be done and nuclear energy is pointing the way.

A revitalized American nuclear energy industry, producing an additional 10,000 MW from power uprates, plant restarts and productivity gains could assist the electric sector to avoid the emission of 22 million metric tons of carbon per year by 2012, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute – that’s 21 per cent of the President’s GHG intensity reduction goal.

While current investment in America’s nuclear energy industry languishes, development of commercial plants in other parts of the world is gathering momentum.

In order to create a better environmental and energy secure future, America must once again renew its leadership in this area.

Safety

As Stewart Brand and other forward-thinking environmentalists and scientists have made clear, technology has now progressed to the point where the fear-mongering being spread by activists about the safety of nuclear energy bears no semblance to reality.

The Chernobyl and Three Mile Island reactors, often raised as examples of nuclear catastrophe by activists, were very different from today’s rigorously safe nuclear energy technology.

Today, approximately one-third of the cost of a nuclear reactor is dedicated to safety systems and infrastructure.

The Chernobyl reactor, for example, was not outfitted with the fully-automated, multiple levels of safety and redundancy required for North American reactors.

While the 1979 Three-Mile Island incident was the result of a much older technology, the incident also demonstrated how American safety and containment strategies worked to ensure no leakage from the reactor core.

Other benefits from nuclear energy

Besides reductions in GHG emissions and the shift away from our reliance on fossil fuels, nuclear energy offers two important additional and environmentally-friendly benefits.

First, nuclear power offers an important and practical ticket to the “hydrogen economy.”

Hydrogen, as a generation source of electricity, offers the promise of a clean, green energy.

Automobile manufacturers continue to improve hydrogen fuel cells and the technology may, in the not-too-distant future, become a major source of energy production.

By using excess heat from nuclear reactors to create hydrogen, an affordable, efficient, emission-free way of hydrogen production could be developed to power this future green energy economy.

Second, around the world, nuclear energy could be used as solution to another growing crisis: the increasing shortage of fresh water available for human consumption and crop irrigation.

Globally, desalinization processes are being used as a means of creating fresh water.

Again, by using excess heat from nuclear reactors, water could be desalinized and the ever increasing demand for fresh water could be met.

Conclusion

I want to conclude by emphasizing that nuclear energy – combined with the use of other alternative energy sources like wind, geothermal and hydro – remains the only practical, safe and environmentally-friendly means of resolving America’s energy crisis.

If America is to meet its ever increasing demands for energy, then the American nuclear industry must be revitalized and allowed to grow.

The time for common sense and scientifically-sound leadership on the nuclear energy issue is now.

Thank you.
Co-founder of Greenpeace, Dr. Patrick Moore is Chariman and Chief Scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver, Canada. www.greenspiritstrategies.com

Corporate Plaudits In Peru




By Patrick Moore, PhD

The day I visited the Peruvian mountain village of La Oroya, I watched Mayor Clemente Quincho lead a noisy march of thousands of demonstrators.

Their loud slogans and emotional chants would remind anyone of the protests long associated with environmental and civil rights activism. In many ways, that's what this was.

But this wasn't your ordinary demonstration. These vocal townsfolk demonstrated in favor of the continued operation of an 80-year-old copper and lead smelter -- both because it's the town's lifeblood and they support efforts of the company, Doe Run Peru, to improve social and environmental conditions.

Unfortunately for La Oroya townsfolk, this doesn't sit well with international advocacy groups like Oxfam, Christian Aid and Friends of the Earth -- who have made Doe Run one of the latest targets in their ongoing anticorporation, antidevelopment campaigns. These campaigns ignore the wishes of developing-world communities the international groups profess to defend.

As I've seen in so many other parts of the world and in so many other industries (Indonesia's pulp and paper industry is just one good example) it's often not really about making the world better; it's about money and power for these groups.

Let's look at how this is playing out in Peru. La Oroya sits in a steep mountain valley, 12,400 feet up in the Andes northeast of Lima, where there are few resources other than minerals on which to base an economy.
Its huge smelter has operated eight decades. Typical in metallurgical operations, plant emissions have created community health and environmental challenges. Indeed, conditions were so bad in the years before Doe Run Peru came to the town in 1997, one observer interviewed by Newsweek called them "a vision from hell."

Since Doe Run's arrival, matters have steadily improved. Lead in the workers' blood is down more than 30 percent, air lead emissions are down more than 35 percent, and discharges into local rivers have decreased significantly. Industrial safety has improved dramatically at the smelter, which has gone more than a year without a single lost-time accident.

While the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been squawking, Doe Run has put its nose to the grindstone, working with townsfolk to improve conditions. Since buying the operation from Peru's government, Doe Run has spent $140 million. It is spending more than another $150 million on improvements to help reduce plant emissions and provide more and better community services.

Responsible environmentalism abounds. Initially focusing on reducing emissions like cadmium and sulfur, as required by its purchase agreement with the government, Doe Run Peru's on-site assessments soon found other concerns, such as air lead emissions, posed more significant health risks to the locals.

This kind of science-based reassessment of priorities, with its inherent costs, represents the responsible role of Doe Run Peru as part of the La Oroya community. Last year, with strong local and labor union support, Peru's government agreed and allowed Doe Run Peru to apply for an amendment to its environmental operating agreement that reflect these new priorities.

While the company has made considerable progress on lead-level reductions in La Oroya, sulfur emissions reductions will require more work. Previous smelter operators never addressed this at all, and there simply hasn't been time enough to complete the massive sulfur extraction plant that will bring stack emissions down to acceptable levels. The company has pledged to continue working toward this goal.But investment in pollution controls isn't the only reason the La Oroya townsfolk support Doe Run Peru. The company also funds health care, education and hot lunches for local children.

It has carried out the first community-wide blood-level surveys, using Centers for Disease Control protocols, and installed systems to treat sewage and storm water. It has also supported vocational training for some 8,000 women, resulting in dozens of new businesses. It has planted thousands of cypress trees along streets and is helping farmers boost dairy productivity.

But the NGOs continually cry foul. I wonder: If La Oroya is really the disaster the NGOs say it is, why did they show no interest in it until only a few years ago—well after Doe Run Peru came to town—and not in the previous 75 years of operation?

I spoke directly to the mayor and to local doctors, foresters, farmers and social workers. All felt the company was doing its best to improve social, economic and environmental conditions in the region. This contrasts starkly with Christian Aid, Oxfam and the others—who have done nothing even remotely approaching this kind of tangible progress that is making a real difference for La Oroya's people.

I've been fortunate to have traveled throughout the world and to have seen the sustainable development debate from many sides. Doe Run Peru is a good, responsible citizen of the La Oroya community. The international community -- and especially the NGOs in Peru -- should heed the chants of the thousands of demonstrators who regard Doe Run Peru as an important part of their sustainable future.

Let Doe Run Peru and La Oroya continue working together for a brighter future -- without self-interested NGO interference.

Patrick Moore is co-founder of Greenpeace, chair and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver, Canada. Dr. Moore was invited by the Doe Run Co. to visit its facilities and assess their sustainable development efforts.


http://www.greenspiritstrategies.com/

Monday, October 17, 2005

An Environmentalist Revisits Nuclear Energy






An Environmentalist Revisits Nuclear Energy

By Patrick Moore, PhD

Nuclear energy is the only non-greenhouse-gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global energy demand.

Yet it’s clear to me that much of the environmental movement—including Greenpeace, the group I co-founded and helped lead for 15 years—has lost its way, caught up in politically correct ideology and stooping to sensationalism to garner support.

As a prime example, Greenpeace and others fail to consider the enormous and obvious benefits of harnessing nuclear power to meet and secure America’s growing energy needs.

These benefits far outweigh the risks. There is now a great deal of scientific evidence showing nuclear power to be an environmentally sound and safe choice.

Today nuclear energy supplies 20 percent of U.S. electrical energy. The demand for electricity continues to rise and, in the coming decades, may increase by 50 percent over current levels. If nothing is done to revitalize the U.S. nuclear industry, the industry’s contribution to meeting U.S. energy demands could drop from 20 percent to 9 percent.

What sources of energy would make up the difference? It is virtually certain that the only technically feasible path is an even greater reliance on fossil fuels. According to the Clean Air Council, annual power plant emissions are responsible for 36 percent of carbon dioxide, 64 percent of sulfur dioxide, 26 percent of nitrogen oxides and 33 percent of mercury emissions

These four pollutants cause significant environmental impact, including acid rain, smog, respiratory illness, mercury contamination, and are the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

Prominent environmental figures like Steward Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Gaia theorist James Lovelock and the late Bishop Hugh Montefiore, former Friends of the Earth leader, have stated their strong support for nuclear energy as a practical means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while meeting the world’s increasing energy demands.

I place myself squarely in that category. Indeed, nuclear power is already a proven alternative to fossil fuels.

Nuclear energy prevents the release of 697 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air, had this electricity been produced by coal. In fact, the electricity sector’s carbon emissions would have been 28 percent higher without nuclear power.

Nuclear energy is the only non-greenhouse-gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global energy demand.

A doubling of nuclear energy production would make it possible to reduce significantly total greenhouse gas emissions nationwide.

But I also believe there should be a much greater emphasis on renewable energy production. The two most important renewable energy technologies are wind energy, which has great potential, and ground-source heat pumps, known as geothermal or GeoExchange.

Answering Nuclear Energy’s Critics

As Brand and other forward-thinking environmentalists and scientists have made clear, technology has progressed to the point where activist fear mongering about the safety of nuclear energy bears no resemblance to reality.

The Chernobyl and Three Mile Island reactors, often raised as examples of nuclear catastrophe by activists, were very different from today’s rigorously safe nuclear energy technology. Chernobyl was an accident waiting to happen: bad design, shoddy construction, poor maintenance and unprofessional operation all combined to cause the only terrible accident in reactor history. Three Mile Island was a success story in that the radiation from the partially melted core was contained by the concrete containment structure; it did the job it was designed to do.

Today, approximately one-third of the cost of a nuclear reactor is dedicated to safety systems and infrastructure. There are over 100 nuclear reactors in the United States and more than 400 worldwide that are producing electricity every day without serious incident.

The fact that reactors produce nuclear waste is often used to support opposition to them. First, there is no technical obstacle to keeping nuclear waste from entering the environment at harmful levels. Second, this is already being accomplished at hundreds of nuclear power sites around the world. It is simply an issue of secure containment and maintenance. Most important, the spent fuel from reactors still has over 95 percent of its potential energy contained within it. Spent fuel should be stored securely so that in the future we can use this energy productively.

Nuclear reactors produce plutonium that can be extracted and manufactured into nuclear weapons. This is unfortunate but is not in itself justification for eliminating nuclear energy. It appears that the main technologies that have resulted in combat deaths in recent years are machetes, rifles, and car bombs. No one would seriously suggest banning machetes, guns, cars or the fertilizer and diesel that explosives are made from. Nuclear proliferation must be addressed as a separate policy issue from the production of nuclear energy.

Other Benefits From Nuclear Energy

Nuclear power offers an important and practical pathway to the proposed “hydrogen economy.” Unfortunately there are no hydrogen mines where we can source this element directly. It must be manufactured, from fossil fuels, biomass, or by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. Splitting water is the only non-greenhouse gas emitting approach to manufacturing clean hydrogen.

Additionally, nuclear energy could be used to solve another growing crisis: the increasing shortage of fresh water available for human consumption and crop irrigation globally. By using nuclear energy, seawater could be desalinized to satisfy the ever-growing demand for fresh water without the carbon dioxide emissions caused by fossil-fueled power plants.

Conclusion

Nuclear energy—combined with the use of renewable energy sources like wind, geothermal and hydro—remains the only practical, safe and environmentally friendly means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing energy security. The time for common sense, scientifically sound leadership—and growth—on the nuclear energy issue is now.

Co-founder of Greenpeace, Dr. Patrick Moore is chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver, Canada. www.greenspiritstrategies.com