A nuclear error
'No Nukes' co-founder challenges Stewart Brand's new environmentalism
by Harvey Wasserman
July 14, 2010
The Pacific Sun's June 18 cover story, "The Whole Stewart Brand,"
http://www.pacificsun.com/story.php?story_id=4018 received quite a
reaction--one could call it "nuclear reaction"--from readers shocked
that the Whole Earth Catalog founder would voice such strong support
for nuclear power and GMOs. Renowned "no nukes" environmentalist
Harvey Wasserman asked if he could submit this rebuttal:
Stewart Brand now seems to equate "science" with a tragic and
dangerous corporate agenda. The technologies for which he
argues--nuclear power, "clean" coal, genetically modified crops,
etc.--can be very profitable for big corporations, but carry huge
risks for the rest of us. In too many instances, tangible damage has
already been done, and more is clearly threatened.
If there is a warning light for what Stewart advocates, it is the
Deepwater Horizon disaster, which much of the oil industry said (like
Three Mile Island and Chernobyl) was "impossible." Then it happened.
The $75 million liability limit protecting BP should be ample warning
that any technology with a legal liability limit (like nuclear power)
cannot be tolerated.
Thankfully, there is good news: We have true green alternatives to
these failed 20th-century ideas. They're cheaper, safer, cleaner,
more reliable and more job-producing than the old ways Stewart advocates.
Stewart and I have never met. But we have debated on the radio and
online. Thank you, Pacific Sun, for bringing us to print.
Stewart's advocacy does fit a pattern. He appears to have become a
paladin for large-scale corporate technologies that may be highly
profitable to CEOs and shareholders, but are beyond the control of
the average citizen, and work to our detriment. Because he makes so
many simple but costly errors, let's try a laundry list:
1. Like other reactor advocates, Stewart cavalierly dismisses the
nuclear waste problem by advocating, among other things, the stuff be
simply dumped down a deep hole. This is a terribly dangerous idea and
will not happen. Suffice it to say that after a half-century of
promises (the first commercial reactor opened in Pennsylvania in
1957) the solution now being offered by government and industry
is...a committee!!! Meanwhile, more than 60,000 tons of uniquely
lethal spent fuel rods sit at some 65 sites in 31 states with nowhere
to go. Like the reactors themselves, they are vulnerable to cooling
failure, terror attack, water shortages, overheating of lakes, rivers
and oceans, flooding, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes, and much
more. This is no legacy to leave our children.
2. Equally disturbing is the industry's inability to get meaningful
private liability insurance. The current federally imposed limit is
$11 billion, which would disappear in a meltdown even faster than
BP's $75 million in the Gulf. According to the latest compendium of
studies, issued this spring by the New York Annals of Science,
Chernobyl has killed some 985,000 people, and is by no means
finished. It has done at least a half-trillion dollars in damage. The
uninsured death toll and financial costs of a similar-scaled accident
in the U.S. are incalculable, but would clearly kill millions and
bankrupt our nation for the foreseeable future.
3. Stewart points out that there are also risks with wind and solar
power. But clearly none that begin to compare with nukes, coal or
deep-water drilling. If reactor owners were forced to find reasonable
liability insurance, all would shut. A similar demand for renewables
and efficiency would leave them unaffected.
4. Renewable/efficiency technologies today are cheaper, faster to
deploy and more job-creating than nukes. It takes a minimum of five
years to license and build a new reactor. The one being done by AREVA
in Finland is hugely over budget and behind schedule. There is no
reason to expect anything better here. Among other things, the long
lead time ties up for too many years the critical social capital that
could otherwise go to technology that can quickly let the planet heal.
5. Like others who doubt the possibility of a green-powered Earth,
Stewart posits the straw man of reliance on a deployment of solar
panels that would blanket the desert and do ecological harm. In fact,
the National Renewable Energy Lab estimates 100 percent of the
nation's electricity could come from an area 90 miles on a side, or a
relatively modest box of 8,100 square miles. But as we all know,
that's not how it will be done. Solar panels belong on rooftops,
where there is ample area throughout the nation, and an end to
transmission costs. Likewise, wind farms do not "cover" endless acres
of prairie, their tower bases take up tiny spots that remain
surrounded by productive farmland. In this case, currently available
wind turbines spinning between the Mississippi and the Rockies could
generate 300 percent of the nation's electricity. There's sufficient
potential in North Dakota, Kansas and Texas alone to do 100 percent.
Cost and installation times put nukes to shame. The liability is nil,
as is the bird kill, which primarily affects obsolete, badly sited
fast-spinning machines in places like Altamont Pass. Those must come
down, and there will certainly be other surprises along the way. No
technology is perfect, and we need to be careful even with those that
are green-based. But as we have seen, further threats on the scale of
Chernobyl and the Deepwater Horizon cannot be sustained.
6. As for GMO crops, Darwin was right. Plants evolve to avoid
herbicides just as bugs work their way around pesticides (which
Stewart correctly decries). Now we see that "super-weeds" are
outsmarting the carefully engineered herbicides meant to justify the
whole GMO scheme, bringing a disastrous reversion to horrific, lethal
old sprays. Chemical farming may be good for corporate profits, but
it can kill global sustainability. In the long run, only organics can
7. Stewart mentions that he is paid only for speeches. But a single
such fee can outstrip an entire year's pay for a grassroots organizer
or volunteer. What's remarkable is that the nuclear power industry
spent some $645 million lobbying for its "renaissance" over the past
decade--more than $64 million/year. It has bought an army of
corporate lobbyists and legislators. Yet only a handful of folks with
rear guard environmental credentials has stepped forward to fight for
the old fossil/nuclear/GMO technologies.
Stewart is certainly welcome to his own opinions. But not to his own
facts. Pushing for a nuclear "renaissance" concedes that it's a Dark
Age technology, defined by unsustainable costs, inefficiencies,
danger, eco-destruction, radiation releases, lack of insurance,
uncertain decommissioning costs, vulnerability to terrorism and much more.
That the industry must desperately seek taxpayer help, and cannot
find insurance for even this "newer, safer" generation, is the
ultimate testimony to its failure. By contrast, renewables and
efficiency are booming, and are a practical solution to our energy
needs, which the corporate clunkers of the previous century simply
It's been a long time since the Whole Earth Catalog was published.
Its hallowed founder should wake up to the booming holistic green
technologies that are poised to save the Earth. They are ready to
roll over the obsolete corporate boondoggles that are killing Her.
Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, the disasters in the coal mines and the
Gulf remind us we need to make that green-powered transition as fast
as we possibly can.
Harvey Wasserman, an early co-founder of the grassroots "No Nukes"
movement, is senior adviser to Greenpeace USA, and author of
'Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth.' www.harveywasserman.com.
Stewart Brand Interview
by Mark Squire, Good Earth Natural Foods, Fairfax
July 13, 2010
(In regard to the Pacific Sun's June 25 interview, "The Whole Stewart
Brand," in which the Whole Earth Catalog founder talks about changing
his attitude about nuclear power and genetically modified organisms.)
Is Stewart Brand getting so old that his memory is failing him?
Doesn't he remember the power industry's public-relations folks
telling us that nuclear-power generation would provide Americans with
power "too cheap to meter"? Meanwhile the Monsantos of the world were
bragging that pesticides would allow us to feed all the world's
inhabitants so we could finally end hunger.
Are we so naive to buy such lies, yet again, from the same
corporations that gave us huge cancer rates, that even the most
conservative scientists now agree are connected with the radiation
and pesticides released by these two industries?
Stewart Brand's views are dangerous in that they neither take into
account the history of the corporations involved nor the unbiased
science that those same corporations seem hellbent on preventing the
American people from seeing. The Japanese and Europeans have rejected
GMOs in their food supply. Shouldn't we be asking why? I, for one,
will never trust the corporation that poisoned us with PCBs, and
then, as court documents reveal, hid the contamination from those who
were ill. This same corporation is now altering the proteins in our
food supply? Are we really that naive?
I am embarrassed for you, Stewart, that you adhere to such lame
science as your statement suggests, "Well, we know it's not bad for
you because we've been eating (GMOs) for 10 years." Isn't that the
exact statement made by the tobacco and then the pesticide
industries? Please do a serious review of the science on both sides
of the GMO issue before talking about the "overdose of regulations we
have" or leading your readers to believe that chemical farming
systems make the soil "richer and richer." Sure sounds like public
relations BS to me, not any view that should be coupled with the word "long."
Also, if you want a cheap and renewable source of omega-3s, just put
some flax seeds in your bread, as has been done since Roman times,
with none of the risk associated with gene tinkering.