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 CNN.com, 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 CNN.com 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.