Nuclear Is No Option

A few months ago, I posted here a compendium of reasons why I live in Germany. Though I’d intended the post as an answer to all those who’ve asked in the past, writing it also helped me to see through the myths I’d taken too seriously (i.e. all Germans are green) and helped me better understand myself in the political landscape here. Because like it or not, politics are a necessity in getting environmentalism to have the greatest impact.

As I reread the post, I realized that many of the things I wrote about had more to do with Germany’s social democracy and less with its green principles – which for an American like me seemed like two sides of the same coin but which for Germans are two very very different political stances. Up until three years ago, however, the two political parties (the Greens and the Social Democrats) were ruling bedfellows, maintaining control of the parliament and pushing through some of the legislation that appealed to me most, including the requirement that all nuclear power plants go off-line by 2020. It was, by most accounts, a Green party measure. But it also benefited the social democrats’ legislative ideas in many ways; most notably, it allowed them to battle long-time unemployment through the creation of thousands of “green collar jobs”.

In the comments to the post, however, someone named Richard said, “I was loving everything you were saying up until you rejoiced at the fact that nuclear power plants were being taken offline. That told me you hadn’t actually done your homework.” In fact I had, and I responded to that, but still, the comment got me wondering: since when did environmentalists start agreeing with nuclear? And then this article, “Atomic Dreams” from The Earth Island Journal fell into my lap:

According to a 2005 ABC News survey, only one-third of Americans approved of “building more nuclear plants at this time.” Nuclear proponents needed a way of convincing people that atomic energy deserved a second shot. Enter climate change. While nuclear power generation isn’t entirely carbon neutral—uranium mining and enrichment require vast amounts of fossil fuel energy—atomic plants are cleaner from a carbon standpoint than natural gas or coal-fired power stations. Posing nuclear energy as a response to global warming seemed a useful way to reintroduce nuclear power to a public that hadn’t been forced to think about it for years.

It’s an interesting read, especially for those interested in learning how a cause du jour can sway public opinion, for better and for worse.

About Courtney Tenz


  1. Indeed there are mixed feelings on this one. To me, on a gut level, nuclear just seems wrong. I have visited power plants for tours to see if it changed my feelings and it didn’t. I camped out in VT with a friend one time, on his land, and it was very near the cooling towers of VT Yankee. The hum and steam coming from that place was ominous. Perhaps I have seen too many Simpson’s episodes with three-eyed fish, but messing with atomic structure and the like just doesn’t seem smart. I am a 70’s baby so The China Syndrome, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island still linger.

    My friend and I have discussed this for years. He feels that “truly green” energy has to be nuclear because when it comes down to the bottom line, it is the most economically viable. For him, poverty is the true divider. To be green and responsible is to be thrifty and think about the masses.

  2. What the article lacks in honesty it makes up in thoroughness. I don’t think the author left out a single cliché ever told by anti-nukes. He even made up one of his own: “Nuclear plants could reduce the need for waste storage by ‘reprocessing’ the fuel, but that would create weapons-grade radioactive material.” Not only does the author fail to distinguish between information and misinformation, he doesn’t even hesitate to invent his own misinformation. Reprocessing reduces the need for waste storage by 97% (it’s curious that he left out the figure) and the recycled materials have way too many of the wrong isotopes and way too few of the right ones to be used for bombs.

    If you look at the history of US nuclear plants, two startling facts stand out: nuclear energy has the best safety record of any energy source and nuclear energy has the best environmental record of any energy source.

    We can discuss this at any level you like, but the end conclusion will be the same. Renewable energy only works if backup energy is available. The only backup energy sources are nuclear energy and fossil fuels. If you do the arithmetic, here’s how it stacks up: To minimize the harm of global warming will take all the renewable energy we can manage, all the nuclear plants we can build, and more conservation than anyone wants.

  3. I disagree that nuclear is economically viable- in fact many banks won’t lend money to plant builders because there is such poor return on them and they are so risky. They definitely require government subsidies (tax dollars) to build and that’s where we can all have an effect. I am shocked and saddened to see so many environmentalists come out in favor of nuclear power. Not only is the mining for uranium incredibly destructive and utilizes incredible amounts of fossil fuels, but the waste is an issue that still hasn’t been solved. We are talking cancer-causing radioactive materials that find homes in the poorest parts of the world. And nobody ever talks about what happens in 2,000 years when that waste is still incredibly toxic but borders, languages, and cultures can move and change- what kind of warning can we leave for future humans? in just 50 years, waste sites in the former Soviet Union have been ‘lost’ due to shifting governments. The permanency of the waste means it is just irrisponsible to produce more of it.

    Aside from those issues, I believe that centralization of power (which ANY plant- coal, nuclear, natural gas) is part of how we got into the mess we are in. We need to decentralize and create energy locally- solar, geothermal, small hydro, wind- whatever your local area has an abundance of. Take the power away from the big guys and it’s cleaner, safer, and cheaper!

  4. Starre, you shouldn’t be shocked to see environmentalists favoring nuclear energy. Real environmentalists have always favored it because it has the best safety record and the best environmental record of any energy source there is.

    What we’re seeing now is a confrontation between scientific environmentalists and political activists who have been promoting their own unhidden ideology. In between are people who care about the environment but who can’t distinguish between fact and falsehood.

    It’s curious that people who claim to be environmentalists focus so much on economics. Unfortunately, it’s given anti-nukes another chance to spread misinformation. The utilities who propose to build nuclear plants aren’t worried about finding financing. Nuclear plants don’t require subsidies. What they require are coherent energy and environmental policies. Currently, fossil fuel burners are allowed to pollute at a rate that thousands of Americans die from the pollution every month. They generate greenhouse-gases at a rate that is changing the world’s climate. Yet, they receive subsidies in the form of tax credits. As it is, the nuclear plants that are to be built will receive much less in the form of subsidies than renewables receive. For more on this topic, please see

    But back to the environment. Uranium mining is not “incredibly destructive.” It is no more destructive than any other kind of mining and is many times less destructive than coal mining. The idea that “cancer-causing radioactive materials that find homes in the poorest parts of the world” is just silly. That is a real problem with solar waste, which is just electronic waste on a monstrous scale. It’s true that such toxic materials, including lead, mercury, and cadmium, are being shipped to poor countries and are poisoning the people there. But nuclear-energy wastes have never been treated that way. In fact, you can’t point to a single incident where nuclear-energy wastes have caused harm to any person or any thing.

    Why is it that no one cares about coal wastes, which are piling up in huge heaps and sludge ponds, are many times more dangerous than nuclear wastes, and last forever? But to address your question directly, the US and the other nuclear countries are moving toward recycling. In recycling, the valuable fuel materials are removed for re-use. What’s left is only 3% of what there was and it loses its radioactivity much faster; fast enough that it will be harmless in some centuries. That’s something that can be managed with confidence. The piles of coal wastes will be there forever and they’ll always be a threat.

    You’re certainly right that we need to develop local, renewable energy sources. But they won’t be enough. For more information, please see and

  5. hey there starre,
    I hope i am reaching you. i used to pick you up in nyc when you were 3 years old. ypur grand mum called me. we went to my parents victorian house in nj.
    you were so sweet and happy. slept with my standard poodle,who
    luv emily [email protected]
    ps terrible problem with this computer sorry

  6. I live in Seoul, but I have a lot of friends here who have lived in Germany and they all talk about how everyone is green there. I recently took a science class where we debated about the nuclear issue. It seems all of the options have their good and bad points. Why doesn’t the option- force people to use less energy- ever come up? Requiring everyone that is physically able to use bikes and mass transportation or something like that.

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