Citation Needed

The nuclear energy discussion in Australia has recently escalated. Calm, mature debate as well as the putting forth of strongly-held viewpoints have certainly ensued, and the great thing about doing so in article comments is the ease of providing citations to justify ones position. But not all references are created equal, and I want to briefly help with what to look out for.

There are many anti-nuclear groups, and many even achieve good work unrelated to the subject of civilian nuclear energy. Here’s a sample from RationalWiki:

  • Friends of the Earth
  • Greenpeace
  • International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
  • National Resources Defence Council
  • Nuclear Information and Resource Service
  • Rocky Mountain Institute
  • Sierra Club
  • Union of Concerned Scientists
  • World Wildlife Fund, aka World Wide Fund for Nature

The distinguishing feature these groups share is invariably the unconditional rejection of nuclear energy, regardless of the recognition of its ultra-low emissions potential, along with resistance to consideration of all information conflicting with this stance or refuting its basis – and a similar refusal to consult nuclear professionals.

Many are household names. I learned recently that the Sierra Club was originally pro-nuclear. A group like NIRS might sound, to the uninitiated, like it might literally be what it’s called. But no, it is anti-nuclear – analogous to how the Australian Vaccination Network was anti-childhood vaccination. Moreover, there are two even trickier cases:

1. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a long-running organisation and periodical, probably most famous for the Doomsday Clock maintained since 1947. I certainly remember it from when I was a kid! I had to ask Rod Adams from Atomic Insights (a website that makes no secret at all of its pro-nuclear stance) for the low-down on this group:

That is a tough question.

The Bulletin has always been focused more on the hazards of nuclear weapons than on the opportunities associated with beneficial use of atomic energy. Many of its contributors recognize some of the value of the “peaceful atom,” but are so concerned about the risks that they accept many layers of added cost in order to assure protection from proliferation.

Some of the contributors take the position that the risks vastly outweigh the potential benefits and seek to phase out nuclear altogether.

From a strictly editorial perspective, the publication produces readable material that is abundantly referenced and worth reading, if only to understand — and pick apart —  the best arguments that the opposition has to offer.

2. World Nuclear Industry Status Report is a nuclear-critical and pro-renewable energy reference that is regularly cited by vocal proponents of the latter. It provides at least that – an authoritative-sounding reference. Though I won’t comment specifically on the completeness and bias of the material, the important point is it does not represent “the nuclear industry” – if any web resource does, it is the WNA.

Nuclear energy aside, if a non-governmental organisation or other group refuses to consult the relevant science and experts in a given field – for example, the efficacy of modern vaccines, the cause and potential impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, the ethics and safety of GMOs and nanotechnology – and adopts a publicly contrarian position, it is widely considered as an unreliable source for such subjects.

There is no justification for the historical exception – the double standard – made for civilian nuclear energy. James Hansen suggests other considerations:

The first concerns “Big Green,” the large environmental organizations, which have become one of the biggest obstacles to solving the climate problem. After I joined other scientists in requesting the leaders of Big Green to reconsider their adamant opposition to nuclear power, and was rebuffed, I learned from discussions with them the major reason: They feared losing donor support. Money, it seems, is the language they understand.

 

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