Q: What are the drivers for that?
Moore: For a lot of people, it is climate change. A lot of people see that connection between nuclear energy and reducing greenhouse gases. Some still haven’t recognized that nuclear power is nearly 75 percent of the clean electricity and is the most important carbon-free technology.
It’s clear to me that the big change that needs to be made is in clean electricity, which means reducing the use of fossil fuels and increasing nuclear energy with a bit of wind power in the mix. The clean energy can then be used to run geothermal heat pumps in all our buildings, eliminating fossil fuels for heating, cooling, and hot water. The clean electricity can also be used to charge batteries in plug-in electric hybrid cars that are coming along soon. If we actually did just those three things, we could move into a far less carbon intensive world without huge economic pain.
Electric hybrid vehicles are going to come down in price; geothermal heat pumps are already reasonable in price. They actually pay for themselves rather rapidly. The question is: will we go in that direction? For me, it’s a bit frustrating because I have a really clear picture in my mind of which technology changes are the best ones to make right away and it isn’t wind and it isn’t solar. Yet, there’s a whole cadre out there that is saying that those are the solutions. We know from looking at Germany and Denmark that they’re not. They’re simply not the total solution. Denmark has quit its wind program. They know they overbuilt it. I think Germany is beginning to realize the same thing.
I just think that everybody should study France, which uses nuclear energy for 80 percent of its electricity, versus Germany in terms of energy and climate policy and the results in per capita emissions. Just look at the numbers and the current trends in those countries and decide which model is best from an air pollution point of view, from a greenhouse gas point of view, from a geopolitical point of view, you name it. France wins hands down.
Q: Looking at public opinion research, we saw in a recent survey roughly two-thirds of the public who associated nuclear energy at some level with climate change solution. Does that surprise you?
Moore: No it doesn’t. I think that people understand that nuclear energy is not a carbon dioxide emitter. On the other hand, there’s a recent Gallup poll showing that only about a third of Americans think that climate change is caused by people. I’ve always maintained that we don’t know where the science of climate change is going to go. We can’t actually predict the future; we’re simply using computer models.
The actual truth will come out as time goes on as to which way the climate is going to go. Hopefully our knowledge of what drives climate change will increase now that we have developed such a strong focus on it. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that a lot of money is going into self-fulfilling prophecy in the climate area.
I don’t think that the nuclear industry should hang its hat entirely on the climate change issue. It’s always seemed to me that there are other really good reasons to move to an energy policy that is much more sustainable, a long-term energy supply that doesn’t just burn up all of our fossil fuels. To me, the air quality, conservation and geopolitical factors should drive people toward nuclear power being the smartest thing to do in energy. It would be a good idea to use nuclear energy for baseload power and save fossil fuels for plastics and for liquid fuels instead of using it all to make electricity in baseload plants.
Q: Should the United States consider recycling uranium fuel?
Moore: The United States authorized Japan to build a $30 billion recycling plant for nuclear fuel, but we can’t get one of our own going here. It’s becoming very logical to a lot of people that recycling is the way to go. I know a lot of people have been counting on Yucca Mountain as a disposal facility, but I think that the delay there is a silver lining in that it is causing us to rethink the whole back end of the fuel cycle and to face up to the recycling issue rather than just thinking about putting fuel rods in Nevada.
Q: What would you do to change the public’s perception of the nuclear energy industry?
Moore: I think we’re on the right track in changing public opinion and understanding with the CASEnergy Coalition and with the other public education initiatives that are going forward. People are learning at a very fast rate. Almost three years ago, no one knew that France has 80 percent nuclear energy and now everybody who reads or keeps up with current events knows this. So there’s been lots of progress made on that front.
It’s just about straight forward communications to the public. There’s no substitute for that. Everybody is aware of environmental issues and everybody is working on those things. Yet the haulers of wood and drawers of water in this world are portrayed by the urban environmental activists as being the enemy of the planet.
In industrial countries, most consumers live in the urban centers and they vastly outnumber the people who are providing them with all of the materials and food and energy from out there in the great hinterland. This is why it has been easy for urban environmental elites to work on this vast majority of city people who don’t know where milk, steel, concrete and electricity actually come from. They can color their impression of the destruction that is being wrought on the planet out there by these extractors of materials, which are actually being done for those who live in the city.
I’ve always seen that because I grew up in a small resource community and then went to the university and got some science training. I could see the connection all my life, but most people don’t. That to me is something that, on a general level, needs to be conveyed more accurately: The fact that electricity doesn’t come from the plug, but from the use of nuclear energy or the burning of fossil fuels or from renewables.
Ecology and environmentalism are about knowing where things come from before you use them and where they go after you finish with them. It’s the full life cycle analysis. Awareness of the full life cycle gives you a holistic understanding of how the world works rather than just being in your little world. It’s hard to correct that, or to develop any measure that does vastly increase people’s understanding of where they fit in the world. Energy is a classic example in that it underlies virtually every good and service there is in the world. It’s the most ubiquitous of all the commodities and yet the most invisible. We don’t even think about it until it’s not there when we need it. —Read more articles in Nuclear Energy Insight and Insight Web Extra.
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