Why Is George Monbiot Shilling For Nuclear Power?

George Monbiot. Photo: SlimVirgin (CC)

George Monbiot. Photo: SlimVirgin (CC)

Brian Gordon writes:

Helen Caldicott and George Monbiot have recently attacked each other in anti and pro-nuclear articles, and honestly I now am entirely unsure of the truth. Both claim scientific backing, though Monbiot appears to shred Caldicott’s claims. I have a great deal of respect for Monbiot; back when I was doing my own research on climate change (I was a sceptic and was attempting to see if it was real, was human-caused, was dangerous, etc, and I read lots of real science in the process), I found him to be ruthlessly honest and perfectly aligned with the actual science.

That said, I think the pro-nuke crowd, now including George Monbiot, is making two grave errors. The first is claiming that low levels of radiation are safe.

As an example of this, something that really struck me as a blow to the nuke movement was a seemingly unrelated article posted on Reddit a few weeks or so ago discussing the nude-o-scanners used by the TSA. The author interviewed a scientist who flat-out said that the scanners would cause cancer in some people. The reasoning went thusly:

  • The risk of a mutation caused by the scanners is very low, say 1-in-10,000,000
  • However, many tens of millions of people pass through the scanners each year
  • Therefore, some of those people will develop cancer caused by radiation from the scanners

In this case, “low risk” still means “will cause cancer in some people.” Not everyone wants to take that risk, and may be unhappy about others forcing that risk upon them.

This brings me to my second point; Monbiot seems just as political in supporting nuclear energy as Caldicott is in opposing it. In fact, this seems a common theme among many pro-nuclear ‘environmentalists.’ Take these paragraphs from his article, my emphasis added:

If…we make the wrong decisions, the consequences can be momentous. …that countries [will] shut down their nuclear power plants or stop the construction of new ones, and switch instead to fossil fuels. Almost all of us would prefer them to switch to renewables, but it seems that this is less likely to happen.

In response to the Fukushima disaster, for example, the German government insists that it will replace its nuclear plants with new renewable power sources – particularly large wind farms. But as most of its wind is in the north and much of its nuclear capacity is in the south, this will require a massive new construction of power lines. That gives the government just as much of a political headache as the current anti-nuclear protests. The new lines are also likely to take around 12 years to build, raising the possibility of shortages.

In other words, Monbiot (and “almost all of us”) think renewables are a better idea, but will support nuclear because it seems politically more feasible. Chalk one up for the nuclear lobby. He also states that new power lines will take about 12 years to build – which is about the amount of time required to build a nuclear plant, assuming it’s not stopped by the kinds of mass protests recently seen in Germany.

Read more here.

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  • GoodDoktorBad

    Politics will be the death of us all. Monbiot can go take up residence in Japan if he’s so unconcerned with radiation.

  • Anonymous

    Politics will be the death of us all. Monbiot can go take up residence in Japan if he’s so unconcerned with radiation.

  • Voidthought

    What better way to offset a person who is said to be quote, “…a very clued up professional who will not be bought or intimidated into silence: Dr. Helen Caldicott” by bringing in another person who is “…ruthlessly honest and perfectly aligned with the actual science.”(both quotes from this article and “Dr. Helen Caldicott On The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster”) This site lives up to its name, disinformation. Low levels of radiation may be safe according to George Monbiot but who the hell would want to be subject to radiation anyways?

  • Voidthought

    What better way to offset a person who is said to be quote, “…a very clued up professional who will not be bought or intimidated into silence: Dr. Helen Caldicott” by bringing in another person who is “…ruthlessly honest and perfectly aligned with the actual science.”(both quotes from this article and “Dr. Helen Caldicott On The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster”) This site lives up to its name, disinformation. Low levels of radiation may be safe according to George Monbiot but who the hell would want to be subject to radiation anyways?

  • Voidthought

    What better way to offset a person who is said to be quote, “…a very clued up professional who will not be bought or intimidated into silence: Dr. Helen Caldicott” by bringing in another person who is “…ruthlessly honest and perfectly aligned with the actual science.”(both quotes from this article and “Dr. Helen Caldicott On The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster”) This site lives up to its name, disinformation. Low levels of radiation may be safe according to George Monbiot but who the hell would want to be subject to radiation anyways?

  • Voidthought

    What better way to offset a person who is said to be quote, “…a very clued up professional who will not be bought or intimidated into silence: Dr. Helen Caldicott” by bringing in another person who is “…ruthlessly honest and perfectly aligned with the actual science.”(both quotes from this article and “Dr. Helen Caldicott On The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster”) This site lives up to its name, disinformation. Low levels of radiation may be safe according to George Monbiot but who the hell would want to be subject to radiation anyways?

  • Voidthought

    What better way to offset a person who is said to be quote, “…a very clued up professional who will not be bought or intimidated into silence: Dr. Helen Caldicott” by bringing in another person who is “…ruthlessly honest and perfectly aligned with the actual science.”(both quotes from this article and “Dr. Helen Caldicott On The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster”) This site lives up to its name, disinformation. Low levels of radiation may be safe according to George Monbiot but who the hell would want to be subject to radiation anyways?

  • Voidthought

    What better way to offset a person who is said to be quote, “…a very clued up professional who will not be bought or intimidated into silence: Dr. Helen Caldicott” by bringing in another person who is “…ruthlessly honest and perfectly aligned with the actual science.”(both quotes from this article and “Dr. Helen Caldicott On The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster”) This site lives up to its name, disinformation. Low levels of radiation may be safe according to George Monbiot but who the hell would want to be subject to radiation anyways?

  • Voidthought

    What better way to offset a person who is said to be quote, “…a very clued up professional who will not be bought or intimidated into silence: Dr. Helen Caldicott” by bringing in another person who is “…ruthlessly honest and perfectly aligned with the actual science.”(both quotes from this article and “Dr. Helen Caldicott On The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster”) This site lives up to its name, disinformation. Low levels of radiation may be safe according to George Monbiot but who the hell would want to be subject to radiation anyways?

  • Voidthought

    What better way to offset a person who is said to be quote, “…a very clued up professional who will not be bought or intimidated into silence: Dr. Helen Caldicott” by bringing in another person who is “…ruthlessly honest and perfectly aligned with the actual science.”(both quotes from this article and “Dr. Helen Caldicott On The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster”) This site lives up to its name, disinformation. Low levels of radiation may be safe according to George Monbiot but who the hell would want to be subject to radiation anyways?

  • Malk

    I don’t know if it is a “political” issue or not, but the fact of the matter is nuclear power has been one of the best things the idiots of this planet have come up with in the past hundred years. Radiation is a bitch, but fossil fuels kill way more people, and that’s every year, not once ever in all of history. Natural gas, fossil fuel, etc, huge pollutants to the air/soil and people. The best choice would be to go wind/solar/thermal, but no one is willing to do that. It costs space and money and countries and tax payers hate that. You can’t even get light rail in half of the world because tax payers never agree on it.

    Radiation is a bummer, but low levels of it are all around you all the time every day. A little bit on the wind from Fukushima 60km out is not going to affect a grown adult; let alone someone in America, Korea, or Russia. I live in Japan and the government has been laying it down pretty clear: don’t let children under 6 drink tap water within these various prefectures where radiation has been detected in the water. Leafy plants in these prefectures have been found to contain low levels of radiation fallout from Fukushima, etc. It’s not really an option to just whisk yourself away on a fantasy getaway to Okinawa for most of the people who lost their families/homes/jobs/clothes/banks/etc. An it’s not really an option for most countries to just up an drop nuclear power unless they’re willing to spend 10-20 years constructing new ways to cope.

    Personally I think the answers are out there, but big business has been stifling clean power for decades. Maybe some good will come of all this in the form of a “breakthrough” or “re-discovery” of a hyper-dimensional power source or better solar power panels, or some such.

  • Malk

    I don’t know if it is a “political” issue or not, but the fact of the matter is nuclear power has been one of the best things the idiots of this planet have come up with in the past hundred years. Radiation is a bitch, but fossil fuels kill way more people, and that’s every year, not once ever in all of history. Natural gas, fossil fuel, etc, huge pollutants to the air/soil and people. The best choice would be to go wind/solar/thermal, but no one is willing to do that. It costs space and money and countries and tax payers hate that. You can’t even get light rail in half of the world because tax payers never agree on it.

    Radiation is a bummer, but low levels of it are all around you all the time every day. A little bit on the wind from Fukushima 60km out is not going to affect a grown adult; let alone someone in America, Korea, or Russia. I live in Japan and the government has been laying it down pretty clear: don’t let children under 6 drink tap water within these various prefectures where radiation has been detected in the water. Leafy plants in these prefectures have been found to contain low levels of radiation fallout from Fukushima, etc. It’s not really an option to just whisk yourself away on a fantasy getaway to Okinawa for most of the people who lost their families/homes/jobs/clothes/banks/etc. An it’s not really an option for most countries to just up an drop nuclear power unless they’re willing to spend 10-20 years constructing new ways to cope.

    Personally I think the answers are out there, but big business has been stifling clean power for decades. Maybe some good will come of all this in the form of a “breakthrough” or “re-discovery” of a hyper-dimensional power source or better solar power panels, or some such.

  • Malk

    I don’t know if it is a “political” issue or not, but the fact of the matter is nuclear power has been one of the best things the idiots of this planet have come up with in the past hundred years. Radiation is a bitch, but fossil fuels kill way more people, and that’s every year, not once ever in all of history. Natural gas, fossil fuel, etc, huge pollutants to the air/soil and people. The best choice would be to go wind/solar/thermal, but no one is willing to do that. It costs space and money and countries and tax payers hate that. You can’t even get light rail in half of the world because tax payers never agree on it.

    Radiation is a bummer, but low levels of it are all around you all the time every day. A little bit on the wind from Fukushima 60km out is not going to affect a grown adult; let alone someone in America, Korea, or Russia. I live in Japan and the government has been laying it down pretty clear: don’t let children under 6 drink tap water within these various prefectures where radiation has been detected in the water. Leafy plants in these prefectures have been found to contain low levels of radiation fallout from Fukushima, etc. It’s not really an option to just whisk yourself away on a fantasy getaway to Okinawa for most of the people who lost their families/homes/jobs/clothes/banks/etc. An it’s not really an option for most countries to just up an drop nuclear power unless they’re willing to spend 10-20 years constructing new ways to cope.

    Personally I think the answers are out there, but big business has been stifling clean power for decades. Maybe some good will come of all this in the form of a “breakthrough” or “re-discovery” of a hyper-dimensional power source or better solar power panels, or some such.

  • Seanolearyoz

    Civilisation cannot survive without an enormous upshift in the use of nuclear power, globally. The anti-nuclear propaganda is pumped out by the British Empire whose goal is to dismantle industrial society, bring on a New Dark Age to usher in global feudalism with a drastically-reduced human population.

  • Seanolearyoz

    Civilisation cannot survive without an enormous upshift in the use of nuclear power, globally. The anti-nuclear propaganda is pumped out by the British Empire whose goal is to dismantle industrial society, bring on a New Dark Age to usher in global feudalism with a drastically-reduced human population.

  • DRLECHCTER

    Dr strangelove loves you and has his biggest surprise waiting for you. If anything happens to the grid and or industrial civilization then this country has like a hundred fukushimas all ready and packed to the brim full of fuel rods waiting for the right set of circumstances to end life on this planet.

    We love george monbiot and you pro nuclear posters.
    xoxo

  • DRLECHCTER

    Dr strangelove loves you and has his biggest surprise waiting for you. If anything happens to the grid and or industrial civilization then this country has like a hundred fukushimas all ready and packed to the brim full of fuel rods waiting for the right set of circumstances to end life on this planet.

    We love george monbiot and you pro nuclear posters.
    xoxo

    • DRLECHCTER

      Just in case my fit of sarcasm was not perfectly clear; There are hundreds of nuclear plants in this country, many of them older and in worse shape than Fukushima’s and most of them full up with spent fuel rods in their cooling pools because they still have not figured out what to do with the shit. Those reactors are all dependent on a functioning infrastructure to keep them from failing and the cooling pools cooling.

      • GoodDoktorBad

        I don’t think they have enough manpower to distribute skilled nuclear workers in the event of accidents. These cooling systems have to recirculate the water (because it is radioactive and can’t be released anywhere safely) in a massive heat disapation system that, in its complexity and inherent volitiltiy it is inevitable that there be failures. You don’t have to be a nuclear engineer to be aware of this. Its alot like an old boiler type radiator system, lots of pipe and heat exchangers or radiators to control the pressure of all that hot water and steam. Except in that system, you can turn off the heat. You can’t turn off the heat in those cooling pools. While I’m sure they back-up systems, they too fail or are inadequate to handle extreme situations.
        We are playing with some really big, really nasty match sticks here…

  • DRLECHCTER

    Just in case my fit of sarcasm was not perfectly clear; There are hundreds of nuclear plants in this country, many of them older and in worse shape than Fukushima’s and most of them full up with spent fuel rods in their cooling pools because they still have not figured out what to do with the shit. Those reactors are all dependent on a functioning infrastructure to keep them from failing and the cooling pools cooling.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think they have enough manpower to distribute skilled nuclear workers in the event of accidents. These cooling systems have to recirculate the water (because it is radioactive and can’t be released anywhere safely) in a massive heat disapation system that, in its complexity and inherent volitiltiy it is inevitable that there be failures. You don’t have to be a nuclear engineer to be aware of this. Its alot like an old boiler type radiator system, lots of pipe and heat exchangers or radiators to control the pressure of all that hot water and steam. Except in that system, you can turn off the heat. You can’t turn off the heat in those cooling pools. While I’m sure they back-up systems, they too fail or are inadequate to handle extreme situations.
    We are playing with some really big, really nasty match sticks here…

  • http://twitter.com/jonathancobb Jonathan Cobb

    1. The title prejudicially calls Monbiot a shill without giving any evidence, rather than saying “Why is Monbiot in favour of nuclear”.
    2. The author misrepresents Monbiot’s statement about renewables. He clearly is saying he, and everyone else, would prefer Germany, having shut down some nuclear capacity, to be using renewables *instead of coal* to make up the lost output, not that he would prefer renewables to nuclear.
    3. The issue of whether or not the time to build a nuclear plant is the same as the 12 years to build power lines for renewables in Germany doesn’t apply in Monbiot’s example because the nuclear plants are already there.

    Monbiot’s point is that the consequence of shutting down existing nuclear plants in Germany will mean years – perhaps decades – of additional fossil fuel generation, not renewable.

  • http://twitter.com/jonathancobb Jonathan Cobb

    1. The title prejudicially calls Monbiot a shill without giving any evidence, rather than saying “Why is Monbiot in favour of nuclear”.
    2. The author misrepresents Monbiot’s statement about renewables. He clearly is saying he, and everyone else, would prefer Germany, having shut down some nuclear capacity, to be using renewables *instead of coal* to make up the lost output, not that he would prefer renewables to nuclear.
    3. The issue of whether or not the time to build a nuclear plant is the same as the 12 years to build power lines for renewables in Germany doesn’t apply in Monbiot’s example because the nuclear plants are already there.

    Monbiot’s point is that the consequence of shutting down existing nuclear plants in Germany will mean years – perhaps decades – of additional fossil fuel generation, not renewable.

  • Steve O

    I highly recommend David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air” (free download at withouthotair.com). He’s one of the few people that actually took the logical step of calculating how much power we could get from sustainable sources, and it’s ridiculously unfeasible to rely completely on renewable sources, certainly within the next 20 or 30 years, but, probably for longer than that. We need nuclear power, because it is much safer than fossil fuels, and much more efficient than other sources.

    People have always dislike nuclear power, and it has always been our best option. It’s not just politics; it’s reality.

  • Steve O

    I highly recommend David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air” (free download at withouthotair.com). He’s one of the few people that actually took the logical step of calculating how much power we could get from sustainable sources, and it’s ridiculously unfeasible to rely completely on renewable sources, certainly within the next 20 or 30 years, but, probably for longer than that. We need nuclear power, because it is much safer than fossil fuels, and much more efficient than other sources.

    People have always dislike nuclear power, and it has always been our best option. It’s not just politics; it’s reality.

  • Peterd1

    low risk is different from low dose. At very low doses no connection between radiation and cancer has been shown, even though linear models (i.e. lower doses = lower risks) would predict them. Simple as that.

  • Peterd1

    low risk is different from low dose. At very low doses no connection between radiation and cancer has been shown, even though linear models (i.e. lower doses = lower risks) would predict them. Simple as that.