The Green Party, Nuclear Power, and Party Discipline

Is the Green Party too rigid in its opposition to nuclear power? Is nuclear power a safe alternative to fossil fuel? Are the Green Party concerns about the long term (seven generations) impact of nuclear power more important than the short term energy consumption needs of today’s generation?

Based on the interest in this story last week, I felt compelled to post this interesting story out of the UK. A Green Party Candidate for Parliament is finding himself in hot water for suggesting that atomic energy might have a role in fighting climate change. From The Independent:

Chris Goodall, prospective parliamentary candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon, upset many party members with his assertion in yesterday’s Independent that atomic energy has a role to play in the fight against climate change. Mr Goodall was one of four prominent environmentalists disclosed as having had a change of heart about the nuclear issue, having moved from an anti-nuclear stance to believing that atomic power is a necessary part of the energy mix in the struggle to cut carbon emissions and halt global warming.

The others are Lord Smith of Finsbury, the former Labour cabinet minister who now chairs the Environment Agency; Stephen Tindale, a former executive director of Greenpeace, and Mark Lynas, the author of two studies of climate change. But while the others are in essence free agents, Mr Good-all’s case is distinctive in that his views are now formally at odds with one of his own party’s key policy positions.

Resolute opposition to nuclear power has been a cornerstone of Green party policy for years, as is made clear in the party’s principal policy document, Manifesto for a Sustainable Society, which states unambiguously that a Green government, on taking office, would set a deadline for phasing out all nuclear power.

Mr Goodall’s remarks had left many party members “seriously concerned”, the Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas, MEP, said last night. “It is of great concern to me that a candidate should be promoting a policy which is at odds with the party manifesto, and I shall be taking that forward,” she said. “In any party, you have a range of different views, but once selected as a parliamentary candidate, you have a particular responsibility.”

The matter would be dealt with by the party’s regional council, after speaking to Mr Goodall directly, she said. Asked if this would include disciplinary action and possibly even de-selection as a candidate, Ms Lucas would only say: “We will be taking appropriate measures.”

The Green Party of the UK and the USA both explicitly oppose nuclear power in their platforms. The Green Party globally was formed just 30 years ago, in many places it formed as a union between anti-nuke activists, peace activists, environmental activists, and social justice activists. These roots still run deep in the Green Party, but are they now being challenged? At least one European Green Party caught hell for their reluctant support for a war (was it Kosovo or Iraq?). The Green Party of Mexico is catching hell for their support of the death penalty.

Are nukes on the table or not?

Ronald Hardy


  1. Ross,

    As I understand it, the main issue for state approval of Vermont Yankee liscense extension is how much extortion the state legislature will be able to extract from the reactor corporate owner.

    Vermont has the lowest CO2 emissions per capita of the 50 states. It burns no fossil fuel for power generation. Much of their electricity is imported from Canada plus, of course, VY nuclear power plant.


  2. Responding to Kimberly and Zeleni’s comments about economics and net CO2 emissions:

    The best way to sort out such questions is cap or tax air pollution, CO2 emissions, and energy imports from unfriendly/unstable nations, and then let the market decide how to proceed. This way, non-emitting sources will compete objectively, on-merit, and this should result in achieving the greatest reduction in emissions at the lowest cost.

    One of the best parts of this is that the market tends to sort out the real truth. Thus, it beats the approach of having everyone try to convince the govt., using arguments and perhaps flawed studies, and then having the govt. choose which energy sources to pursue. Apparently, Kimberly is willing to disregard the net CO2 emissions studies given by both Bill Young and myself. Perhaps she would agree to accept the judgment of the market.

    On that subject, how does one arrive at the conclusion that a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system would only “count” the CO2 (or lack thereof) emitted at the nuclear plant itself? If uranium ore mining and enrichment involved the emission of a large amount of CO2, then the price of reactor fuel would increase accordingly. If building the plant emitted large amounts of CO2, then the plant’s construction costs would go up, due to increased raw material costs, etc.. The fact that all these things are automatically caught is one of the beauties of the market approach.

    It should also be noted that sources like solar and wind power are known to require a much larger amount of raw material (e.g., concrete and steel), per amount of energy generated. Net emissions associated with the mining and processing of these materials will show up in solar and wind’s costs.

    Most nuclear advocates are strongly support carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems, or any other system that allows non-emitting sources to fairly and objectively compete. Tellingly, renewables advocates (and/or nuclear opponents) are often NOT willing to allow such a free and fair market. Instead, they insist on policies that give large subsidies to renewables and do nothing else and, in case even those subsidies are not enough, policies that literally require the use of renewables, regardless of cost or practicality (i.e., renewable portfolio standards).

    In the stimulus bill, there was a proposal to have ~1/3 of the energy loan guarantee program be open to all non-emitting sources (renewables, nuclear, and coal w/ sequestration), where they would compete, on merit, for the loans. The “environmentalists” just couldn’t have that, and program was changed to that renewables only need apply, for all of the loans.

    For the record, in addition to outright mandates for their use, subsidies for renewables are much higher than any nuclear recieves, and this has been true for decades. The R&D budget for conservation and renewables is also ~50% larger than nuclear’s. The US Energy Information Administration gives the subsidies recieved by each energy source at the link below. The per-kW/hr subsidies for each source are listed in the right column of the table on Page 6.

  3. Ross,

    The answer is, old dirty fossil fuel plants in the region will be fired up. And the risks/impacts from those plants (as well as the CO2 emissions) will be thousands of times higher than any from the Yankee plant. Oh, and the costs of power from those plants will be much higher as well.

    And, BTW, if one were to all the sudden build a bunch of renewable capacity, how could you justify using it to close down (i.e., replace) the nuclear plant, as opposed to shutting down a similar amount of dirty fossil capacity in the area. No matter how you look at it, closing a nuke makes no environmental sense, until one has shut down every last fossil plant in the area first. Until that happens, your still basically choosing fossil fuels over nuclear, as opposed to choosing renewables over nuclear.

    Even the increased dose rate at the plant fenceline (not that any one lives there) would still be a small fraction of natural background levels. Even though background levels vary widely (by a factor of several), no evidence of any increase in death or disease (e.g., cancer) has been found in higher natural background areas (such as Colorado). If increasing one’s annual dose by a factor of three (by living in a high natural background area) has no measurable impact on one’s health, how could increasing it by only a few percent have any impact?

    Western nuclear plants have no measurable impact on public health. Never have. No reputable studies have ever found any effects. For the reasons I give above, none are ever expected to.

  4. I’m not sure how trustworthy the Progressive Party’s blog is, but they said that there ARE increased cancer rates near the plant, Jim, because it is not being run properly.

    Plus, I would definitely favor renewables over nuclear. To say that there would be no benefit from shutting down a nuclear plant and replacing it with renewable energy is intellectually dishonest, IMHO.

  5. @Ross – What Jim said is not intellectually dishonest. He was trying to help people understand prioritization. If we are able to build sufficient renewable capacity to allow reliable power without keeping all existing plants up and running, why would we select an operating nuclear plant as the first one to shut down?

    Most of the material inputs have already been made, the concrete and steel were produced a long time ago, and about half of the uranium fuel used in the US each year comes from destroying weapons and using some of that material along with already mined uranium. There is little in the way of enrichment energy input – the inventory already exists.

    In contrast, coal, gas, oil and wood fired power plants need a continuous supply of combustion fuel that has to be extracted and transported to the plant. For a plant the size of Vermont Yankee, the material inputs for the competitive combustion options would require at least 50 train car loads per day. In addition, all of the combustion alternatives result in the release of about CO2 that is about 3.5 times as much by mass as the input fuel.

    Continuing to operate Vermont Yankee will result in the production of about 2 containers worth of used fuel every 18 months. Considering the fact that there is already an inventory of used fuel that will have to be stored and monitored, just what are the advantages of shutting it down?

    It is also fundamentally dishonest to claim that intermittent renewables like solar and wind can replace a power plant that supplies continuous power at full capacity more than 85% of the time. Essentially ALL of the time that a plant like VY is not operating is planned well in advance for a time when the overall demand for electricity is seasonally low. In contrast, the sun sets every day, the days are inherently much shorter in the winter when people need reliable heat and light, and the wind blows on its own rather unpredictable schedule.

  6. I am not clear that anyone answered my questions. Someone posted these figures:

    Several studies of life cycle emissions have been conducted of comparative electrical generation technologies. With one exception, they are pretty consistent. Here is some data from a typical one:

    (All in tons of CO2 per gigawatt-hour)

    Coal: 1,041
    Natural gas: 622
    Solar PV: 39
    Nuclear: 17
    Wind: 14

    This particular study was a doctoral thesis at the University of Wisconson. Here’s the link: http://fti.neep.wisc.edu/pdf/fdm1181.pdf

    But, do those figures count the carbon footprint of uranium mining? I would not guess they do. And, that is what I am saying. That the government, and in turn other researches, keep “cheating” on the true cost and carbon cost of nuclear by starting the figures when the uranium is already mined, milled and on-site. And, that is a fantasyland. Those things cost time, labor, and carbon.

    Also, how can you compare energies without costing in the likelihood of mistakes or disasters, and those cost of those potential disasters. Like Chernobyl.

    One of my friends brothers was in the army in Germany during the time of Chernobyl. He said you could see the nuclear cloud moving over the countryside.

    I live in Long Island. And, many of us believe that our breast cancer rates are sky high in part because of nuclear experiments at Brookhaven National Lab. When bad stuff like that happens, the government doesn’t even let people do the proper research to get to the truth of the matter.

  7. @Kimberly – yes the numbers quoted for life cycle CO2 emissions DO include the carbon footprint of uranium mining. In fact, they include pessimistic assumptions about mining, fabrication and enrichment portions of the “life-cycle” costs that are a quite bit higher than those actually measured in currently operating facilities.

    The challenge that confronts most of us who favor nuclear technologies, often after decades worth of study of all energy technologies, is that nothing we say seems to be believed. I have just finished engaging in a lengthy discussion on Salon.com where I was accused of being a shill, stupid, and hopelessly outdated.

    You say one of your friends was in Germany during the time of Chernobyl and saw the “nuclear cloud moving over the countryside”.

    Okay, but I and many of my friends have actually operated much safer nuclear power facilities right here in the US. I am passionate about this discussion partially because I pass by coal fired power plants every day on my way to work and I see the uncovered coal cars lined up on the tracks for miles beside the roads that I travel. Every day, I see the evidence that burning coal for power production is causing harm to our shared environment.

    For The Atomic Show, a labor of love that may eventually become something that brings a few dollars during my retirement, I have interviewed people like Ted Rockwell, a spry man in his late 80s who was Rickover’s Technical Director when the Nautilus was developed and built and Ray Haroldsen, also a man in his 80s who was a technician at the National Reactor Testing Station starting in the early 1950s. He was one of the people assigned to pick up the pieces of an experimental reactor called BORAX when the AEC purposely caused it to “explode” by rigging its control rods to be suddenly ejected.

    We spoke last year – Ray is in great health. You can listen to the interviews by going to the Atomic Show blog (http://atomic.thepodcastnetwork.com) and searching for his name. Ray and Ted are not unique; I know dozens of people of advanced age who have spent their entire careers working closely with radioactive materials.

    I realize those are just anecdotes, so if you want to really learn and read what the studies have shown about the health effects of the types of low level radiation expected from both normal operations and even accident scenarios with contained reactors, you can read a study that is going to be published this month titled “Nuclear Energy and Health”. It is available in press press form at:


    There is a lot of material that disputes what some of us are trying to share here. Please understand that there is a lot of money to be made in a competitive energy market by the established players if they can successfully slow or halt the introduction of a disruptive new technology like nuclear fission.

    (Yes, despite the fact that we have been using it commercially since 1957, the very basic technology of fission is still quite new compared to well-known and understood forces like combustion, sunlight, and wind.)

    It is a pleasure engaging in thoughtful discussion that does not resort to name calling or character assassination. I respect your questioning attitude, I hope you can respect my efforts to share personal testimony even if it refutes your long held beliefs.

  8. Rob, maybe I was harsh when I said intellectually dishonest, but if you look at how the Progressive Party is describing the Vermont Yankee, it might be worth shutting down! It’s being run improperly, so it’s causing cancer rates to spike, among other problems.

    He was saying that he would rather have nuclear power than renewable power, even if their production capacity was equal, as I understood it. And I don’t understand that opinion.

  9. Dear Rod,

    I found out you were a registered lobbyist in Florida. For disclosure purposes, are you willing to say what issues you are currently lobbying for, and how many states you are registered in?

    I care passionately about nuclear energy. Though, I am not the most articulate on the subject. So, I am going to quit this conversation.

    I am hoping (and kinda think) that at this point, being pro-nuclear is a dead issue inside the Green Party.

    But, there is a lot of work to be done by activists to remind the public the dangers of nuclear energy, and why it is just, so unnecessary.

    I also think that people should take caution that on one of Rod’s web-sites he is pretty much encouraging pro-nuclear folks to disrupt Green Party meetings with the pro-nuclear agenda. That is a pretty radical thing for a lobbyists to propose. A kind of backwards demonstration, I guess – the people with the political jobs going to a small, progressive party to disrupt?

    From a simple google search:

    Lobbyist – Rod Adams
    Lobbyist Rod Adams, Lobbyist vCard … Campaign and Election News – Covering Key Races Around the Country – Swing State Project …
    http://www.floridalobbyistdirectory.com/Lobbyist.aspx?id=2100 – 233k – Cached – Similar pages


    From Rod’s Energy Collective Blog:

    “I know there are people who think that talking to dogmatic people is about as much fun as scraping your fingernails on a blackboard, but it can be worth doing. Your effort might even result in encouraging a few party members with questioning attitudes to disrupt a meeting or two.”

  10. Kimberly,

    Rod Adams has always been up front on both his background and what he does. The quote you mention is no doubt driven by the utter nonsense and personal attacks he endured on the Salon. com thread he mentioned.

    I think Ron’s main message (and others) is that facts and knowledge are essential to a healthy debate. This thread has been excellent in that regard. What frustrates a number of people (myself included) are those that have pre-conceived notions of a topic that are several steps removed from the facts. That would not be such a problem if people were open to learning and discussing versus turning their back and closing their minds.

    People turn their backs for a number of reasons. My great grandmother never believed we actually landed a person on the moon. Fine. Some people believe nuclear reactors can explode (a la nuclear weapon style). Fine, if you believe that. Just do not go around claiming that as fact and trying to indoctrinate others.

    I think you will find that the vast majority of people that support nuclear power care dearly about the Earth, the environment, and the future prosperity of people. I certainly do.

    In the interest of disclosure, I have worked at a national laboratory for 30 years on fusion and fission energy research. I am also familiar with nuclear weapons and understand proliferation concerns. I have no ties to any commercial, industrial, or corporate interests.

  11. Kimberly, the Rod Adams quote you display doesn’t tell industry people to disrupt meetings. It says to discuss the issue with Green members on the off-chance that THEY might disrupt a meeting or two. Not the same thing!

    And not even unethical. How else should pro-nuke people approach the issue?

    Besides, I have been at many public meetings disrupted by Greens. I think it’s a pretty fair suggestion.

    Too bad you’re quitting the debate.

    P.S. Full disclosure: I am a former paid lobbyist for a pro-nuke labor union. My current lobbying is for the developer of a hydrogen production technology (non-nuclear).

    Here’s me debating nuclear energy (for free) with somebody who was at the time Canada’s most successful Green candidate:


  12. I find that very interesting, Kimberly. The facts are essential to a quality debate, but so is honesty and honest intentions.

    To all of the lobbyists and pro-nuclear people in this discussion – how did you find it?

  13. @Kimberly – Though I grew up in South Florida, I have lived in Annapolis MD for the past 10 years. I am not sure who the guy is that works in Juno Beach, but we are not the same person and not related.

    As progressives should know from the misuse of name lists under the unconstitutional Patriot Act, it is dangerous to assume that two people with the same (or similar) names are the same person.

    Simple “google searches” can bring a world of information or misinformation depending on how they are used.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights
    Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast

    PS @Ross to answer your question – I found the Green Party watch post about the Florida construction work in progress/clean energy efforts via a Google Alert that I have that looks for stories and discussions about new nuclear power plants. I found this post via an invitation from a participant.

    I am passionate about the issue and devote many hours to the discussion, but I really truly do it for personal reasons. The reasons are complicated but some are related to my desire to pay back for all of the benefits that I have received as a government servant for the past 32 years.

  14. I don’t understand – Democrats like nuclear power, Republicans like nuclear power, Greens don’t. Democrats are in power, Republicans share power, Greens have none.

    Why is it so important to try to get the Green Party to change their position?

    The Green Party was founded by anti-nuclear activists, as well as peace activists, environmentalists, feminists, civil rights workers – anti-nuclear power is at the root of the Green Party.

    Why change that when the two political parties that have any power in this nation are already in the pro-nuclear camp?

    Is it a “deal-breaker” for joining the Green Party? Are some of the atomic activists (note: that is a gentle term not a hostile one) actually considering joining the Green Party due to our positions on the war, on poverty, ecologically based economies, anti-corporatism, etc. but are hung up on our anti-nuclear power position?

    I would find that hard to believe.

  15. @Ronald – politics is not always about literal “power” but about influence and setting the terms of the debate. You seem surprised that some of us would put in so much time in discussion with a party that has no real seat at the table here in the US, but I believe that people like Ralph Nader (a sometimes Green Party candidate) and Cynthia McKinney have standing and help set the agenda.

    Besides – this forum is on the World Wide Web and there are places like Germany where the Green Party has political power. In that country, the Green Party is currently clinging to a policy implemented by a guy who now sells natural gas for the Russian gas monopoly that will result in replacing some of the world’s best run nuclear plants with coal and gas plants. That is not good for any of us.

    I am a pretty peaceful guy, though I have worn a military uniform most of my adult life. I do all I can to help convince others in my profession to avoid fights rather than start them or cling to them.

    I am a strong believer in civil rights, do most of my volunteer work for environmental groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and consider myself a lifelong feminist. (One of my strong influences was my maternal grandmother. She was a very strong woman who raised two daughters by herself as a divorcee who left an abusive husband in the 1940s. I married a marine biology major who has spent a good portion of her professional life working for an environmental non-profit. I have two adult daughters, both of whom have successful professional careers with strong math and science requirements.)

    For me, it is important to help people with whom I share many philosophies to understand that opposition to nuclear fission power is almost a de facto position in favor of continued growth in coal and natural gas consumption.

    Heavy metal fission is a natural phenomenon that uses materials that are not difficult to obtain but that have few other uses. It is far better than depending on massive collectors that are idle much of the time or depending on burning materials that are better suited as food or fertilizer.

    Finally – the ONLY way I know to destroy the explosive potential of heavy metal is to break each atom in half. It will take a very long time (thousands of years) to rid the world of the potential to destroy life on earth through nuclear weapons, but it is a worthy task to attempt. When people build machines that can break (fission) heavy metals, they release incredible quantities of useful heat that can be turned into electricity and other power applications that CAN make life better for people who care about their overall effects on others.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights
    Proud to be called an “Atomic Activist”

  16. Ross,

    I was not saying that I favor nuclear power over renewable power. I was saying that as we bring renewables on line, we should shut all the fossil plants down first, before we shut down any nuclear plants.

    In terms of health effects from nukes, I tried to address that in my post. There is literally no chance that assertions of tangible health effects around any nuclear plants is true. It is verified by extensive measurements all around the plant that noblody living around it is getting a significant dose (less than 1% of natural background). Natural background levels vary by a factor of several, and no correlation between background levels and disease/death incidence has ever been observed.

    No official bodies (state, federal, academic/scientific, etc..) have ever recognized any health effects from US nuclear plants. No reputable studies have ever shown any.

  17. Kimberly,

    All of the net CO2 emissions studies DO account for all emissions associatd with uranium mining and enrichment. If they did not, nuclear’s net emissions would be zero (or virtually zero). Non-zero figures are also shown for renewables, as the studies account for contruction and associated materials.

    As for accounting for other risks and negative impacts, this is the subject of external cost studies. These scientific studies quantify the negative public health and environmental risks/impacts and put them in monetary terms. One such study is the ExternE study (at http://www.externe.info/) performed by the European Commission.

    All these studies show similar results. They show very high external costs for coal and oil plants (4-8 cents/kW-hr), enough to roughly double their cost. For natural gas plants, the external costs are lower, ~1 cent/kW-hr. For nuclear and renewable sources, the overall external costs are a fraction of a cent per kW-hr.

    The external cost for nuclear includes all risks/impact, such as plant accident risk, long-term waste risk, and uranium mining impacts. The fact is that scientific analyses show that all of these risks/impacts are fairly small.

    Basically, the story is the same for overall external costs as it is for total net CO2 emissions. Fossil fuels are the real bad actors, and both nuclear and renewables have tiny effects compared to fossil fuels. Differences between nuclear and renewables are relatively minor.

    Even if one believes that renewables are even better, one has to accept/believe that replacing fossil fuels is, by far, the greater priority. Thus, if nuclear can help reduce fossil fuel use faster (vs. a renewables only approach), then it should be supported. All indications are that this is very much the case.

  18. BTW, if you go to the upper right corner of page 23 in the report I linked in my post #36, you will see it state how it includes uranium mining, processing, and enrichment.

  19. Apologies to Rod since he is not the same Rod as I found as a lobbyist. Sorry for the mistake.

    So, I guess the atomic web-sites do belong to this Rod. So, I guess, perhaps, he is just a person with a strong agenda.

    I am glad that others have stepped up to this conversation. As I have said, I am not into it. I am not scientific enough to argue science. Since I am no longer in the Green Party, I don’t feel like I have to sit here and defend the turf.


  20. “Ronald Hardy // Mar 1, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Why is it so important to try to get the Green Party to change their position?”

    I am not sure anyone is advocating that. I think it is more about having a conversation, and not being bound by dogma.

    I was a member of CBE (Californians for a Better Environment) before they re-branded themselves. I left after I decided they were more about litigation than facts.

    I live in Northern California and I am up in the Sierra Nevada a couple of time each month; it renews me. I see the Altamont wind farm from my office; it depresses me. I think we need an honest conversation about energy realities. Unfortunately, too many people are avoiding that conversation….

  21. Jim – I think the issue in Vermont is not what to shut down in order to expand renewables, but what to replace a nuclear plant with if they replace it.

    Ronald, that’s why I was saying that it might be a good thing that the GP is anti-nuclear, as long as it doesn’t crush opposition to its official agenda.

  22. Ross,

    You said the progressive party is citing a rise in cancer in Vermont.

    I searched the Vermont Department of Health web site and the only aberrant statistic I could find is an incidence of breast cancer in two counties on the western border of northern Vermont (Addison and Chittendon) which is statistically more prevalent than either the national average or the state average. Windsor county, where VY is located in the southeast corner of the state, is below the state average.

    You also asked how (and why) I am on this website: I initially checked it out because Rod Adams (www.atomicinsights.com) said he had engaged a discussion on the site. I have stuck around and commented because we want the same thing: a habitable earth for our children and grandchildren.

    My personal judgement is that the best shot at having an habitable earth in 1000 years is to promptly shut down coal generated electricity and replace it with a combination of nuclear and renewable generation. This certainly is not the only issue towards achieving that goal but it is probably the main one on which we would disagree.

    I have no desire to disrupt the Green Party but I would be pleased (and suprised) to influence a change in platform. I am pretty comfortable with the Green Party principles except for the nuclear power issue. I probably would not vote green unless I thought they had a real shot at winning the particular election because, generally speaking, I do see a difference between the Democratic and Republican parties and if you vote for a 3rd party candidate you are not helping choose between the first and second place candidate.



  23. The Eco-Action Committee of the GPUS has begun to work on a policy proposal on energy. http://www.gp.org/committees/ecoaction/index.php Those who continue to find comfort in the strokes from advocacy groups have failed to provide the political leadership for anything for the last 20 years and it is good when parties renew their outlook and develop a new approach towards issues AND the voters.

    This is about real politics and there are real answers needed. We do get to set the table and not simply take things off the table. The Green Party is a political party and it is time to address strategy issues and avoid morality plays.

  24. Do you think this is the first time this “Green” spoke those words?
    So what the heck is the platform safe nukes
    aye yai yai

  25. You think this is the first time he spoke those word?
    Whats the platform in Britt land?
    Safe nukes??

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