Nuclear power’s time has come!

For decades, pioneering environmentalist Stewart Brand, the founder and editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, opposed the use of nuclear power. Now he sees it as vital to efforts to combat climate change.

Earlier this month, Brand made the case for nuclear power in a debate with Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California. (TED is a nonprofit that stands for technology, information and design and is dedicated to “Ideas worth spreading.”)

His outspoken support for nuclear power comes as the White House has been pushing for the first new nuclear plants in the United States in three decades…

Brand says his turnabout began in 2002, when the Global Business Network, a consulting organization he co-founded, did a project on climate change for the U.S. Secretary of Defense. In an interview with, Brand said the project showed him that the globe’s climate can change abruptly: “It goes over some tipping point and suddenly you’re in a situation that you don’t like and you can’t go back. That got me way more concerned about climate as a clear and present danger than I had been.”

Looking for a surefire way to cut greenhouse gases, Brand said the alternative to burning coal became clear: “We already had a very good supplier of …electricity. It worked like mad and was as clean as it could be — and that was nuclear.

“Looking at nuclear more closely made me look at coal more closely and I got to realizing what a horror it was across the board, and as I learned more about nuclear, I started learning all this stuff that my fellow environmentalists had been careful not to let me know about.”

Brand spoke to Wednesday. Halfway down the page is the edited transcript.

Working days while studying engineering at night school, I was a technician in an R&D lab for a key vendor to builders of nuclear power plants starting back in the 1950’s.

I never had a problem with the science or safety solutions we were capable of within the nuclear power industry. Cripes, I still get checked-on every decade or so because the building I worked in had been the pilot plant for cladding uranium power rods. Never a peep after more than a half-century.

What turned me from support for the industry was the overwhelming corruption of cost-plus budgeting from Uncle Sugar. Guaranteed padding the cost of construction, manufacture, production – with diminished concern for quality control or modernizing design. It was a cash cow, a welfare plan for companies like Westinghouse.

But, knowledge and science advance even if politicians don’t. Other countries like France continued with new generations of design and fiscal oversight, kept the wheel turning. I’m pleased to see Stewart Brand never stopped learning.

21 thoughts on “Nuclear power’s time has come!

  1. Mr. Fusion says:

    Nuclear is not a clean energy supply. The fuel and finished waste are extremely toxic and hazardous.

    Having said that, proper handling can, and does, diminish the probability of injury. The major problem is the spent fuel. That is much less an engineering problem than a political problem.

    Until we can get a suitable storage site we are only asking for trouble. And Yucca Mountain was not suitable.

    • Cinaedh says:

      Let’s fire all the nuclear waste up into space and maybe discourage all those aliens from spying on us all the time.

      Hey! Maybe they know how to make it benign or even turn it into something useful? Beings who know how to go faster than the speed of light probably know lots of useful things.

      • Mr. Fusion says:

        I like the way you think.

        I have long believed the best disposal site would be in far northern Canada. There are several abandoned mines in the very geographically stabilized Canadian Shield. The remoteness of the areas can only aid the security. If some use can be found in the future, the waste would still be recoverable.

        • Cinaedh says:

          Sorry, Mr. Fusion. There may be a hitch in your plan.

          More than ten years ago, I think, Toronto decided they were going to truck all their garbage up to Timmins and dump it into a gigantic, abandoned, open pit mine.

          There would have been a pretty well endless stream of trucks, driving back and forth.

          The people who live up here blocked the Trans-Canada Highway and the railroad tracks, essentially cutting the entire country in half and said, “Fuck you! This is pristine wilderness and you’re not going smell it up and pollute it. Look after your own damned garbage!”

          The garbage is now being trucked to the pristine wilderness in the United States.

          Sometimes, living next to a country where they all think “Greed is Good” – is very useful. If you pay them enough, they’ll do anything, sort of like a desperate crack whore.


          • Cinaedh says:

            “…swearing is wasted energy…”

            Agreed but I distinctly remember saying “Fuck you!” at the time and I was just attempting to be as accurate as possible in my reporting of the incident.


          • Mr. Fusion says:

            Yes, I lived in Toronto and agreed the plan was bad.

            I’m not suggesting an open pit mine a few miles from down town Timmins. An abandoned deep rock mine miles from any large town. The amount deposited would be minuscule compared to Toronto’s garbage, wouldn’t smell, and be enclosed in inert, stable containers.

      • moss says:

        It’s simpler than that.

        Aside from building reactors which don’t produce the sort of waste our backwards designs do, the French recycle 95% of “waste” into new fuel rods.

    • Press release says:

      “An international team of scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the US have discovered a material that can clear out radioactive waste from nuclear plants more efficiently, cheaply, and safely than current methods.”
      Nuclear energy is one of the cheapest alternatives to carbon-based fossil fuels. But nuclear-fuel reprocessing plants generate waste gas that is currently too expensive and dangerous to deal with. Scanning hundreds of thousands of materials, scientists led by EPFL and their US colleagues have now discovered a material that can absorb nuclear waste gases much more efficiently, cheaply and safely. The work is published in Nature Communications.”

  2. Fukushi Max says:

    The United States gets 19 percent of its electricity from 99 nuclear power plants, more than a third of which are scheduled to shut down due to their age between 2029 and 2035, and given the amount of time it takes to get a new nuclear power plant designed, approved and built, the industry is running out of time on some of those plants. Adding to the industry woes are the proliferation of new natural gas plants, as well as solar, wind and other renewable resources of power projects. (New York Times; 03/21/2016)

    • Daniel 5 says:

      Nuclear plants face crisis of ageing : The nuclear industry worldwide faces an escalating battle to keep ageing reactors running as about a quarter of components and computer systems become obsolete. …Three-quarters of the problems were caused by ageing equipment, partly because buying replacement parts proved impossible. And finding people with the expertise to operate obsolete equipment is a problem as experienced staff retire.

  3. Update says:

    (8/25/17): “Duke Energy Cancels the Lee Nuclear Project, Files for 13.6% Rate Increase” “The company stated in a press release that nuclear power is a “vital component” of Duke Energy’s generation portfolio. However, it is seeking utility commission approval to cancel the development of the Lee Nuclear project due market uncertainty. “Most notably, risks and uncertainties to initiating construction on the Lee Nuclear project have become too great and cancellation of the project is the best option for customers,” according to the company statement. “Duke Energy will maintain the license to build new nuclear at this site in the future if it is in the best interest of customers.”
    The recent bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric Company, a subsidiary of Toshiba Corporation, is cited as a major factor. Westinghouse designed the AP1000 reactors that were to be used at the Lee site, as well the V.C. Summer and Vogtle nuclear plant expansions. Westinghouse was also the principal contractor on the three projects.
    The Vogtle plant in Georgia is now the only remaining nuclear project under construction in the U.S. Georgia ratepayers have already invested $4.5 billion in the facility.”

    • Cascading failure says:

      “Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy in March, brought down by cost overruns at two nuclear power projects it is working on in the United States — the Vogtle project now being built by Southern Co. in Georgia, and the V.C. Summer project in South Carolina that was being built by SCANA and Santee Cooper until the partners abandoned the project in July.
      In the wake of the bankruptcy filing, Westinghouse CEO Jose Gutierrez said earlier this month the company would exit the nuclear construction business. The fixed price construction contracts Westinghouse signed for the two U.S. nuclear projects were a primary source of financial problems that brought the company down.
      Westinghouse’s financial problems are also a concern for Toshiba, Westinghouse’s corporate parent, which in April reorganized its business operations in an effort to insulate itself from potential fallout from Westinghouse’s bankruptcy.
      Analysts say Westinghouse’s bankruptcy makes new U.S. nuclear construction unlikely in the short term, at least until the potential commercialization of small modular reactors in the early 2020s. But Westinghouse officials say the prospects for new nuclear plants remains robust in countries such as China and India.”

  4. Fo'sho says:

    BEIJING, Aug. 28 (Xinhua) — China highlighted international cooperation on nuclear safety in the draft nuclear safety law submitted to the top legislature for a third reading on Monday. The new draft was submitted to the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee on Monday at the start of its bi-monthly session.
    (NYT) “A new nuclear safety law in China is ready to be passed, state media said on Monday, adding that the legislation will help prevent and deal with accidents and promote development of the industry.
    Safety in China’s nuclear industry has become increasingly important as it seeks to increase exports of its nuclear technologies. China has already signed agreements to build reactors in Argentina, Romania, Egypt and Kenya.
    It plans to build more than 60 nuclear plants at home in the coming decade and will see total domestic capacity rise to 58 gigawatts by the end of 2020.”

  5. Rutherford says:

    “Hoping to revive the moribund U.S. nuclear power industry, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced this week it will help build two radically new nuclear reactors within 7 years. Funded by DOE’s new Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, the designs include exotic features such as cooling by sodium or helium instead of water in a bid to be safer and more economical than conventional power reactors.
    …DOE will split the total cost of building each plant with private industry. Each project receives $80 million this year and could receive a total of between $400 million and $4 billion in funding over the next 5 to 7 years. The agency also intends to make additional, smaller awards this year for less mature ideas.”

    • Update says:

      Several U.S. utilities back out of deal to build novel nuclear power plant (11/4/20)
      “Plans to build an innovative new nuclear power plant—and thus revitalize the struggling U.S. nuclear industry—have taken a hit as in recent weeks: Eight of the 36 public utilities that had signed on to help build the plant have backed out of the deal. The withdrawals come just months after the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), which intends to buy the plant containing 12 small modular reactors from NuScale Power, announced that completion of the project would be delayed by 3 years to 2030. It also estimates the cost would climb from $4.2 billion to $6.1 billion.”

      • Meanwhile says:

        “Rolls-Royce plans 16 mini-nuclear plants for UK” (BBC)
        “The government says new nuclear is essential if the UK is to meet its target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 – where any carbon released is balanced out by an equivalent amount absorbed from the atmosphere.
        But there is a nuclear-sized hole opening up in the energy network.
        Six of the UK’s seven nuclear reactor sites are due to go offline by 2030 and the remaining one, Sizewell B, is due to be decommissioned in 2035.
        Together they account for around 20% of the country’s electricity.
        …In addition to the six nuclear plants going offline by 2030, there’s another challenge. You have to factor in a massive increase in electricity demand over the coming decades.
        That’s because if we’re going to reach our net zero target, we need to stop using fossil fuels for transport and home heating.
        The government has said this could lead to a three-fold increase in electricity use.”

  6. Cигналу АЗ-5 says:

    “Why are nuclear plants so expensive? Safety’s only part of the story : A look at the history of nuclear power in the US, and why plant costs have soared.”
    “Sources of Cost Overrun in Nuclear Power Plant Construction Call for a New Approach to Engineering Design”

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