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King CONG vs. Solartopia


King CONG vs. Solartopia

Harvey Wasserman

As you ride the Amtrak along the Pacific coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, you pass the San Onofre nuclear power plant, home to three mammoth atomic reactors shut by citizen activism.

Framed by gorgeous sandy beaches and some of the best surf in California, the dead nukes stand in silent tribute to the popular demand for renewable energy. They attest to one of history’s most powerful and persistent nonviolent movements.


The nuclear power industry owes its existence to the billions of public dollars pumped into it from its very inception. No plant has ever been built by a private company. The output of these reactors is surprisingly low, so picking them off with localized green energy projects was relatively simple.
The problem now is the incoming congress and senate, and the over thirty state governments that are now controlled by the Koch brothers and the fossil fuel industry. They are about to begin a concerted war against green energy. Entire states are about to outlaw green power grids. Some already have.
What I believe will happen is what i predicted would happen politically this past summer. The federal government will g bat shit crazy in the next two years implementing every policy they can to eviscerate Green energy and privatize all government services. That will be the que for the most liberal states to go it alone. They will develop and implement their own medical systems, their own education and regulatory systems, and yes, their own green power grids. They will, in essence, secede from the union without actually filing the paperwork. And the new conservative federal government, filled with Koch libretarians and federalists and states rights nuts will have backed themselves into a corner. They will either have to use the power of the federal government to stop them, which flies in the face of their entire philosophy, or let them go, and risk that those states will continue to prosper while the rest of the nation flounders, all but disproving the entire sociopolitical philosophy of America's conservatives.


San Onfre closed in Jan. 2012. Natural gas generation that year went up through July 2012 by 24% when compared to the same period of 2011. Electricity imports through July 2012 were approximately 90 percent higher than in the first half of 2011. Here's the generation profile for that period:

Compare the renewables' slice after closing San Onfre to the same period the previous year.

"As I recently detailed in an online article for The Progressive, atomic energy adds to rather than reduces global warming."

It looks like the commenters at that article have already pointed out its main defects. Yes, atomic energy production does release some CO2, and so, strictly speaking, "adds" to global warming, but the same can be said of wind, solar, geothermal, and hydropower production. Indeed, every major energy production option we have involves some release of CO2. But some are far worse than others, so we can still choose the options which add the least and try to displace those that add the most. And on that count, nuclear is roughly as low carbon as the leading renewable options, and has at least as much potential to displace fossil generation.

"All reactors emit Carbon-14."

True, at roughly 2 grams per year from a gigawatt-scale pressurized water reactor and less than 4 grams per year per gigawatt boiling water reactor. All the reactors of the world release less CO2 from C-14 in a year than would be released by burning one gallon of gasoline. This is tiny even compared to the annual CO2 footprint of just one Naomi Klein, or Al Gore, or Leonardo DiCaprio, and I don't see anyone hyperventilating over their CO2 output. (Not even when DiCaprio took the super-yacht Topaz to Brazil to attend World Cup Soccer--a ship which can consume more than $5000 worth of fuel per hour, emitting some 2700 tons of CO2 per tank-load--which would be way more than a hundred-million gigawatt-years worth of CO2 from nuclear C-14 emissions.)

"The fuel they burn demands substantial CO2 emissions in the mining, milling, and enrichment processes."

The nebulous word there is "substantial". Here's a study which investigated the actual quantity:

Bottom line: "Canadian uranium mining-milling contributed only 1.1 g CO2e/kWh to total life cycle GHG emissions from the nuclear fuel cycle" (Compare this to the grid average of 768 g CO2e/kWh--a mix which already includes hydro)

I actually agree the kind of nuclear power we use now is a dead end and is not likely to grow much beyond where we are now, but it just seems way premature to be celebrating the victory of the Solartopian revolution at this point. That's like spiking the football about 95 yards short of the goal line. Renewables and today's nuclear put together are still not enough to keep fossil fuel consumption from increasing year after year. And until we come up with cheaper, mass-produced reactors or cheap bulk grid-storage, they aren't likely to for at least another decade. There are differences of opinion about which alternative options have the best shot at success, but I don't see much point to the debate when it would be relatively cheap to develop all of them and let the best options win on their merits.


Clean energy must be controlled by clean hands.

Corps want their filthy mitts on anything that makes money. Keeping them from cornering the renewable market has to be a core principle for anyone claiming to care about environmental justice.


An excellent point, uls. We have the example we have to follow if we want to save civilization and millions of threatened species--the US WWII industrial mobilization. But that created the military industrial complex, and by extension, all the other interlocking industrial complexes--security-prison ic, medical-insurance-banking ic, food-ag- chemical-medical ic, etc.

We have to build and then coordinate and operate a phenomenal amount of stuff and systems of stuff in the next 10 years or less if we're going to survive another century, and then to thrive, have democracy and continue to survive past that we need to make sure the same thing doesn't happen with a renewable industrial corporate complex. Germany's doing well democratizing its grid as it renewablizes, other places somewhat and of course the US lags way behind, as does Russia, and China's not doing great that way.

The most effective and humane way to do that will be as the mobilization happens, but that's less likely to happen fully. (We had a more racially fair country at the end of WWII than at the beginning because of Frank and Eleanor Roosevelt's leadership and the activism of millions, but it was still grossly unfair, for example.) We may have to create a lot of structures and institutions that we need to dismantle after. We'll need to think about moderating inequality and the use of profit to motivate vs. creating co-ops and government corporations like (but better than) TVA and BPA. We should be discussing that everywhere now.


Okay Amigos ~ Wasserman summarizes why I hold my beliefs. Great article. SOLAR Yes, Tar NO. For many years I've stated that fracking will become the SECOND worst environmental disaster on Earth ~ behind nuclear. In fact, all environmental disasters combined will never equal the devastation of nuclear. We might need another 1000 years to explore nuclear. First to deal with the tailings of mining uranium. So it is already a given that we don't do nuclear.
I also suggest that SOLAR is so damn obvious. We have an attachment to the sun forever, and all we do is RECEIVE the energy. No digging, no explosions, no destroying the Earth to continue living here. Wind power will change with the climate changes so it is better to invest in SOLAR. Besides, vertical turbines are much more efficient than propeller blades. Let's quit fartin around and get our SOLAR up.