Readers responded to last week's rant about the alleged "green credentials" of Patrick Moore, now a fervent fan of nuclear power, asking for a response to his content, not his résumé. To be frank, How the World Works hasn't figured out its stance on nuclear power -- my main interest last week was to point out that Moore's activities of the last 20 years, as a recipient of funding from logging and mining interests, and now the nuclear power industry, are far more relevant to understanding why he's saying what he's saying now than his, as the Natural Resources Defense Council calls it, "ancient history" as a bona fide Green. If you're looking for environmentalists with integrity who are for nuclear power, try Stewart Brand. Patrick Moore does not pass the sniff test.
There seems little doubt that as oil prices continue to rise, the economics of nuclear power will continue to improve, as will the economics of wind, solar power, and biofuels. But as the wily Moore reminds us, let's also not forget coal. Coal is the peak-oil wild card -- we've got tons of it, and it's cheap. But as global-warming culprits go, burning coal is near the top of the list. Which is why I was very interested in an as yet unpublished letter the Natural Resources Defense Council sent to the Washington Post in response to Moore's column last Sunday.
The NRDC is dead-set against nuclear power. In a letter signed by Dr. Thomas Cochran, the NRDC's "nuclear program director," he writes, "We dont have to imperil the future of our children and grandchildren to combat global warming pollution. We can reduce it by more than 70 percent with improved efficiency, wind power, solar, thermal and photovoltaic power, on-site waste heat cogeneration, advanced gasified coal-fired plants that capture and store carbon dioxide emissions, and increased use of biofuels for transportation."
How the World Works pondered the seeming oxymoron of "clean coal" a week ago. It seems here like more of a public relations campaign than anything else. Coal-fired gasification plants that sequestered all the carbon dioxide they produced would be terrific. The problem is, carbon sequestration on a large scale doesn't seem to be quite ready for immediate deployment. In theory it's a great idea, especially if our government required any new coal-fired power plants to be carbon-neutral.
But do we currently live in such a world? What seems most likely, as oil prices rise, is that we're going to watch both the coal industry and the nuclear power industry push forward aggressively, while regulators smile and wave.
Pick your poison.