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No market for Australian uranium in India

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
M.V. Ramana and Cassandra Jeffery

In 2011, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) voted to overturn a ban on uranium sales to India.1 The Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement between Australia and India was then signed in 2014. The Australian Parliament subsequently passed a bill permitting its uranium mining companies to supply nuclear material to India.2 These efforts were supposedly intended to allow Australia to profit from Indian uranium purchases.

At the 2011 ALP national conference, then prime minister Julia Gillard argued that India was planning to generate 40 per cent of its electricity with nuclear energy by 2050.3 'Having access to this market is good for Australian jobs', said Gillard during the conference. The Australian Uranium Association projected that 'Australia could expect to sell some 2500 tonnes of uranium annually to India by 2030, generating export sales of AU$300 million' (US$205 million).4 But nearly a decade later, what is the reality?

Aside from a small shipment of uranium sent to India for testing in 2017, no uranium appears to have been exported to India from Australia.5 In 2018, India's Ministry of Atomic Energy stated that the country had signed contracts with firms from Kazakhstan, Canada, Russia and France to procure uranium.6 And in March 2020, India signed a contract with Uzbekistan.7 There has been no mention of Australia.

A large order for Australian uranium appears unlikely in the future as well. With a net generating capacity of only 6.2 gigawatts (GW), India does not have a large requirement for uranium in the first place.8 Further, Australian uranium can only be used for reactors under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, which attempt to ensure that no materials are used for nuclear weapons. Such reactors amount to less than 2 GW of India's capacity.9

India's nuclear fleet will not expand dramatically either. India's Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has a long history of setting ambitious nuclear power generation targets and failing to meet them.10 In 1984, the DAE promised a nuclear capacity of 10 GW by 2000. The actual figure in 2000 was 2.7 GW. By then the DAE had set a new target, 20 GW by 2020.11 Again, today's current capacity (6.2 GW) is nowhere close to this target.

Seven more reactors, with a total capacity of 4.8 GW, are under construction.12 But five of these reactors have been significantly delayed. Four of them were supposed to be commissioned in 2015 and 2016. But these reactors are now expected to start operating in October 2020, September 2021, March 2022 and March 2023 respectively.

The fifth is India's flagship project, the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR). Construction started in 2004 and the reactor was supposed to start functioning in 201013 but is now 'expected to commence production of electricity in October 2022'.14

Costs have increased, too. The PFBR's estimate has jumped from Rs 34.9 billion (US$457 million) to Rs 68.4 billion (US$896 million). And the PHWRs will cost around 40–45 per cent more than initially projected.

In contrast, India's renewable energy sector is a different story.15 Wind and solar power have only recently been introduced to India's energy mix, but both technologies are expanding rapidly while becoming significantly cheaper. Between 2016 and 2019, installed solar capacity increased from 9.6 GW to 35 GW, while wind capacity increased from 28.7 GW to 37.5 GW.16 In 2019, both wind (63.3 terawatt-hours (TWh)) and solar (46.3 TWh) power contributed more to overall electricity generation in India than nuclear power (45.2 TWh).17

India's renewable energy sector is expected to continue growing18, while nuclear energy will likely remain stagnant. Recently, the Department of Economic Affairs assembled a task force to 'identify technically feasible and financially viable infrastructure projects that can be initiated in fiscals 2020–25'. The task force foresaw renewable capacity increasing from 22 per cent of the total installed electrical capacity in 2019 to 39 per cent by 2025. Conversely, nuclear capacity stays around 2 per cent of installed capacity.

Even the Indian government expects the divergence between the growing renewable energy sector and the stagnant nuclear sector to increase as the rapidly falling cost19 of solar power makes nuclear power redundant.

Australian policymakers who advocated for exporting uranium to India were betting on the wrong energy source. Perhaps there were ulterior motives, including recognising India as a major power. But good policy cannot be made on the basis of false claims.

Australian uranium companies continue to insist that India is expanding its nuclear power capacity. Energy Resources of Australia Ltd's 2017 annual report claims that 'India has 22 reactors in operation and plans to generate as much as 25 per cent of electricity from nuclear power by 2050'.20 Paladin21 and Yellow Cake22 made similar claims in 2019.

Nuclear power has never constituted more than a few per cent of India's electricity supply. Given current trends, it will never amount to much more. Nuclear reactors are expensive and time-consuming to construct, factors that explain why the share of electricity supplied by nuclear power plants globally has declined continuously, from 17.5 per cent in 1996 to 10.15 per cent in 2018.23 This global trend must be considered by Australian policymakers as they deal with lobbyists for uranium mining and the push there to build nuclear plants.24

M.V. Ramana is Professor, Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security, and Director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, the University of British Colombia. Cassandra Jeffery is a recent Master's of Public Policy and Global Affairs graduate of the University of British Columbia.

Reprinted from East Asia Forum,


























Shellenberger's nuclear nonsense: The myth of the peaceful atom

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Nuclear is "the safest way to make reliable electricity", according to Michael Shellenberger in his book Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.1 It's a claim that could only be defended by trivializing the impacts of nuclear disasters and by ignoring the unique proliferation and security risks associated with nuclear power.

Shellenberger reduces the complexities of nuclear terrorism and security issues2 to a cartoonish singularity in Apocalypse Never, rejecting the idea that terrorists could steal spent fuel from a nuclear power plant and transport it to a reprocessing plant. He falsely claims that only antinuclear activists have attacked nuclear plants and ignores the history of nation-states launching military strikes on nuclear plants. He should ‒ but doesn't ‒ explore scenarios such as multiple simultaneous Chernobyl- or Fukushima-scale catastrophes at nuclear power plants attacked by warring nation-states.

It is on the topic of nuclear weapons that Shellenberger's dangerous ignorance is most evident. He "was always a bit unrestrained in his advocacy of nuclear power, and in speaking of nuclear weapons he surpasses himself" according to Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski, writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 2018.3

Shellenberger asserts in Apocalypse Never that "we are further from global nuclear war now than at any other point in the last seventy-five years since the invention and use of the bomb." But as the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists noted in Jan. 2020, national leaders have ended or undermined several major arms control treaties; US-Russia cooperation on arms control and disarmament is "all but nonexistent"; and there are unresolved, worsening political conflicts regarding nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.4 Thus the Board concludes that the world "is sleepwalking its way through a newly unstable nuclear landscape" and "arms control boundaries that have helped prevent nuclear catastrophe for the last half century are being steadily dismantled". The Board warns that "civilization-ending nuclear war ‒ whether started by design, blunder, or simple miscommunication ‒ is a genuine possibility."4

Shellenberger acknowledges the extraordinary destructive potential of nuclear weapons in Apocalypse Never, noting their potential to destroy "cities and perhaps even civilizations". But he nevertheless has nothing but nice things to say about them. He writes:5

"We need to correct our misunderstanding of nuclear energy. It was born from good intentions, not bad ones, nor from some mindless accident of science. Nuclear weapons were created to prevent war and end war, and that is all they have been used for and all they will ever be good for. "

Or as he put it in a 2018 article, nuclear weapons "make us peaceful".

His support for nuclear weapons stems partly from his belief in the power and infallibility of deterrence. As one dubious case study in support of that dubious argument, Shellenberger says that many feared nuclear war between India and Pakistan, but deterrence logic has prevented not only nuclear warfare but has for all practical purposes done away with the prospect of any "full scale war" between the two countries. Shellenberger cites one so-called "expert" who claims that nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan would be contained at the "tactical" level, while ignoring experts who have no such confidence.3

Shellenberger approvingly quotes Oppenheimer saying that "the atomic bomb is so terrible a weapon that war is now impossible." So nuclear weapons have put an end to warfare for all time … or at least, that would be the case if they were more widespread. Shellenberger said in an interview: "Smart guys … said 'this is going to end war', this is going to allow small countries to defend themselves against big countries. They're obviously right."

We needn't worry about North Korea because it will act like "other nuclear-armed nations", Shellenberger writes in Apocalypse Never, as will Iran if it acquires nuclear weapons. International support for the construction of nuclear power reactors in North Korea would ‒ somehow, magically ‒ curtail or end the country's nuclear weapons program, Shellenberger argued in 2017.6 The following year he argued that we "should be glad that North Korea acquired the bomb".5

Shellenberger doesn't explicitly promote the spread of nuclear weapons in Apocalypse Never, but he did so in 2018, promoting proliferation by "weak nations" such as North Korea and Iran and labeling anyone who disagrees as "hypocritical, short-sighted, and imperialistic".5 Only a balance of military power in the Middle East ‒ i.e. further nuclear weapons proliferation ‒ will end the decades-long Middle East nuclear crisis, Shellenberger claimed.5 And a nuclear-armed Germany would (somehow) stabilize NATO and the security of the Western World.5

Globally, nuclear deterrence between large nations has largely been responsible for a 95% decline in deaths from wars and conflicts since 1945, Shellenberger wrote in 2018, demonstrating a slim grasp of the difference between causation and correlation.7 He attributes that claim to an 'empirical' study which makes no such finding. The study found that when two states possess nuclear weapons, the odds of war drop ‒ but nuclear weapons and nuclear asymmetry are associated with higher likelihoods of crises, uses of force, and conflicts involving lower-levels of casualties.8

Gilinsky and Sokolski wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

"That the presence of nuclear weapons has reduced the frequency of war is an arguable proposition. But one only has to consider the experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis to realize it comes at the price of gambling on nuclear war."3

Nuclear weapons "make us peaceful"5 and in any case the idea of humans doing away with them is "fanciful".1 "We can't get rid of them, even if we wanted to", Shellenberger writes in Apocalypse Never, ignoring any number of successful efforts to curb nuclear proliferation, and "trying to do so has contributed to decades of tension and conflict, culminating in the unnecessary and disastrous U.S. and British invasion of Iraq in 2003."

To deal with the "existential angst" of the existence of weapons that can destroy cities and perhaps even civilizations, Shellenberger writes in Apocalypse Never that "the continued existence of nuclear weapons should remind us to be happy to be alive" and to remember that we all die!

Nuclear power/weapons connections

Shellenberger says he stands by his 2018 articles which acknowledge strong nuclear power/weapons connections and promote nuclear weapons proliferation.9 But in fact, he was done a complete U-turn regarding power/weapons connections and there has been no acknowledgement let alone explanation. Having argued pre-2018 that "nuclear energy prevents the spread of nuclear weapons"10 and that there is an "inverse relationship between energy and weapons"11, Shellenberger acknowledged in 2018 that "having a weapons option is often the most important factor in a state pursuing peaceful nuclear energy"12 and that "at least 20 nations sought nuclear power at least in part to give themselves the option of creating a nuclear weapon".13

Gaining "weapons latency appears to be the difference-maker" as to whether or not countries pursue nuclear power, Shellenberger argued in 2018, whereas "nations that lack a need for weapons latency often decide not to build nuclear power plants".13 The weapons latency of nuclear power is not a "bug" but rather it is an "epochal, peace-making feature" that should be promoted.13 Nuclear power "will continue to spread around the world, largely with national security as a motivation," he claimed in 2018.13

But before 2018 had even ended, Shellenberger was at war with himself, arguing that unremarkable IPCC comments regarding the links between nuclear power and weapons were "unsubstantiated fear-mongering".7 And he said last year that one of the reasons people oppose nuclear power is that "they associate it with the bomb, which is wrong, they are two separate technologies."14

In 2018, Shellenberger said that "in seeking to deny the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, the nuclear community today finds itself in the increasingly untenable position of having to deny these real world connections ‒ of motivations and means ‒ between the two.13

Now Shellenberger himself is in the untenable position of denying real-world connections that he has written about at some length.

He claims in Apocalypse Never that "antinuclear groups continue to deceive and frighten the public about nuclear energy" and they "do so with an eye to triggering fears of nuclear apocalypse." In fact, many nuclear critics have long understood the connections between nuclear power and weapons and have long understood that battles against nuclear power and weapons are two sides of the same coin.

Shellenberger is swept away with the idea that the latent weapons potential of a nuclear power program has "deterrence-related" benefits. Gilinsky and Sokolski wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:3

"[Shellenberger] asserts that a nuclear power program itself provides a significant level of "deterrence-related" benefits ‒ "a bomb isn't even required." He says that when he thought of this, he almost fell off his chair. Why, he wondered, was this fact "not being promoted as one of nuclear power's many benefits?" One reason is that it's a ridiculous proposal based on half-baked ideas."

The latent weapons potential of civil nuclear programs clearly enthuses some would-be aggressors, as demonstrated by national military attacks on nuclear facilities in Iraq, Iran, Israel, Syria and elsewhere ‒ attacks designed primarily to prevent adversaries acquiring nuclear weapons. Shellenberger asked in a 2018 article whether latency could "also be a threat to peace?", noting Israeli and US threats to take pre-emptive action against Iran.13 He doesn't offer an answer or explore the issue further.

Attacking nuclear critics

Shellenberger is a "bit unrestrained" in his advocacy of nuclear power, as Gilinsky and Sokolski put it, and still less restrained in his promotion of nuclear weapons.3 There's no restraint whatsoever in Shellenberger's bizarre attacks on opponents of nuclear power. In Apocalypse Never, he argues that "some activists who were originally focused on nuclear weapons disarmament began displacing their anxieties on nuclear reactors instead", and helpfully he offers a definition of the psychological concept of displacement as well as an analogy: "If the boss yells at us, we kick the dog because talking back to the boss is too dangerous."

Antinuclear groups "continue to deceive and frighten the public about nuclear energy" and they "do so with an eye to triggering fears of nuclear apocalypse", according to Apocalypse Never.

"Mixing up reactors and bombs" is the "go-to strategy for Malthusian environmentalists", according to Apocalypse Never. And once again bending reality beyond breaking point:

"Nuclear energy not only meant infinite fertilizer, freshwater, and food but also zero pollution and a radically reduced environmental footprint. Nuclear energy thus created a serious problem for Malthusians and anyone else who wanted to argue that energy, fertilizer, and food were scarce. And so some Malthusians argued that the problem with nuclear was that it produced too much cheap and abundant energy."

Anti-nuclear climate alarmists are on the warpath attacking "nuclear energy, which offers effectively infinite cheap energy, which they rightly view as a threat to their efforts to control food and energy production."15 Likewise, he claims that there is no energy scarcity with nuclear, which is a problem for climate alarmists who want "to take control of big sectors of the economy".16

In another variation of the argument, power-grabbing 'elites' are at work: "Climate alarmism isn't just about money. It's also about power. Elites have used climate alarmism to justify efforts to control food and energy policies in their home nations and around the world for more than three decades."17

Anti-nuclear climate-alarmist elites want to control food and energy production and other 'big sectors of the economy' in their home nations and around the world?



1. Michael Shellenberger, 2020, 'Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All',

2. See section 8 in joint submission to Victorian nuclear inquiry:

3. Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski, 20 Sept 2018, 'Nuclear power's weapons link: Cause to limit, not boost exports',


5. Michael Shellenberger, 6 Aug 2018, 'Who Are We To Deny Weak Nations The Nuclear Weapons They Need For Self-Defense?',

See also: Michael Shellenberger, 29 Aug 2018, 'For Nations Seeking Nuclear Energy, The Option To Build A Weapon Remains A Feature Not A Bug',

6. 1 June 2017, 'US-Korea Letter',

7. Michael Shellenberger, 8 Oct 2018, 'Attacking Nuclear As Dangerous, New IPCC Climate Change Report Promotes Land-Intensive Renewables',


9. Nick O'Malley interview with Michael Shellenberger, 7 July 2020,

10. Michael Shellenberger, 30 Oct 2017, 'Saving Power in Danger: Michael Shellenberger Keynote Address to IAEA',

11. Michael Shellenberger, 16 Oct 2017, 'Enemies of the Earth: Unmasking the Dirty War Against Clean Energy in South Korea by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace',

12. Michael Shellenberger, 28 Aug 2018, 'How Nations Go Nuclear: An Interview With M.I.T.'s Vipin Narang',

13. Michael Shellenberger, 29 Aug 2018, 'For Nations Seeking Nuclear Energy, The Option To Build A Weapon Remains A Feature Not A Bug',


15. Shellenberger email to Environment Progress elist, 22 July 2020

16. Sky TV interview,

17. Michael Shellenberger, 21 July 2020, 'Climate-change hysteria costs lives ‒ but activists want to keep panic alive',

Shellenberger's nuclear nonsense: economics, waste, radiation, disasters

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Michael Shellenberger claims that his book Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All1 is based on the 'best-available science'. But the book's many claims about nuclear issues are based on selective use of expert views, or attributed to anonymous 'experts' or even 'friends', or based on nothing at all.


"Nuclear has long been one of the cheapest ways to make electricity in the world," Shellenberger states in Apocalypse Never. In fact, it is now one of the most expensive. The latest Lazard report on levelized costs of energy shows that nuclear power is considerably more expensive than renewables:2


US$ / MWh



Wind power


Solar PV utility scale


Solar thermal with storage




Renewables coupled with storage are cheaper than nuclear. Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation provides these estimates in a recent report3 (with the Lazard figure included for comparison):


Low and high estimates (2020) A$/MWh

Nuclear ‒ SMR (CSIRO)


Nuclear ‒ Lazard (US$118‒192)


Wind + 2 hrs battery storage


Wind + 6 hrs pumped hydro storage


Solar PV + 2 hrs battery storage


Solar PV + 6 hrs pumped hydro storage


The "best-available science" refutes claims that nuclear power is expensive, Shellenberger claims in Apocalypse Never. If so, the best-available scientists need to update their best-available science to include the recent pattern of disastrous cost overruns. As the pro-nuclear Breakthrough Institute (which Shellenberger co-founded) noted: "Reactors under construction around the world, from Georgia and South Carolina to Britain and France, have struggled with crippling cost overruns and construction delays."4

In recent years, the Breakthrough Institute and other pro-nuclear lobby groups have bemoaned nuclear power's "rapidly accelerating crisis", a "crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West", "the crisis that the nuclear industry is presently facing in developed countries", and noted that "the industry is on life support in the United States and other developed economies".5,6 Ted Nordhaus from the Breakthrough Institute wonders what if anything can be salvaged from "the ashes of today's dying industry".7

Bizarrely, Shellenberger gives a reasonable snapshot of the current status of nuclear power in Apocalypse Never, followed by this caveat: "While all of the above is technically accurate, I carefully excluded key facts in order to be misleading …"

Here's a sample of his technically accurate snapshot:1

"Every effort to make nuclear plants safer makes them more expensive, according to experts, and higher subsidies from governments are required to make them cost-effective. Those soaring subsidies, combined with the financial cost of accidents like Fukushima, estimated to be between 35 trillion yen and 81 trillion yen ($315 billion to $728 billion) by one private Japanese think tank, make nuclear one of the most expensive ways to generate electricity.

"Meanwhile, from Finland and France to Britain and the United States, nuclear plants are way behind schedule and far over budget. Two new nuclear reactors at Britain's Hinkley Point C were estimated to cost $26 billion but will now cost as much as $29 billion. Expansion of a nuclear plant near Augusta, Georgia, which was supposed to take four years and cost $14 billion for two new reactors, is now expected to take ten years and cost as much as $27.5 billion. All of this makes nuclear too slow and expensive to address climate change, many experts say.

"Nuclear has what energy experts call a "negative learning curve," meaning we get worse at building it the more we do it. Most technologies have a positive learning curve. Take solar panels and wind turbines, for instance. Their costs declined 75 percent and 25 percent, respectively, since 2011. The more we make of them, the better we get at it and the cheaper they become. …

"Today, the developed world is abandoning nuclear. Germany is almost done phasing it out. France has reduced nuclear from 80 percent to 71 percent of its electricity and is committed to reduce it to 50 percent. In the United States, nuclear could decline from 20 percent to 10 percent of its electricity by 2030. Belgium, Spain, South Korea, and Taiwan are all phasing out their nuclear plants."

Shellenberger persists with his belief that nuclear power is cheap and indulges in evidence-free streams of consciousness such as this in Apocalypse Never:

"Only nuclear, not solar and wind, can provide abundant, reliable, and inexpensive heat. Thus, only nuclear can affordably create the hydrogen gas and electricity that will provide services such as heating, cooking, and transportation, which are currently provided by fossil fuels. And only nuclear can accommodate the rising energy consumption that will be driven by the need for things like fertilizer production, fish farming, and factory farming ‒ all of which are highly beneficial to both people and the natural environment."

Promoting his own work to prolong the lifespan of aging power reactors, Shellenberger writes in Apocalypse Never: "Few things make one feel more immortal than saving the life of a nuclear plant. Maybe that's because nuclear energy itself could be said to be immortal. One thousand years from now, future humans might still be producing nuclear power from the same locations they do so today."

But lobbying for subsidies to keep aging nuclear power plants operating is a tactic born in desperation. Shellenberger himself was desperate in 2017 following Westinghouse's bankruptcy filing: "I'm freaked out, honestly. If we were building nuclear plants, I wouldn't be so worried. But if nuclear is dying, I'm alarmed," he said.8

The Breakthrough Institute noted in a 2018 article that "moving from crisis to crisis, with mounting political and economic risk, is not a model for a sustainable industry" and bailouts such as that sought by FirstEnergy in the US amount to "policymakers and industry taking climate goals hostage to compensate for their failure to keep nuclear viable in the long run."4

FirstEnergy is now at the center of a corruption scandal concerning the nuclear bailout in Ohio, which gutted the state's renewables and energy efficiency laws while bailing out several coal and nuclear plants.9 Shakiba Fadaie and M.V. Ramana wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:10

"The enormous lobbying effort that won the subsidies used dark money–backed organizations that spent millions of dollars to sway voters and politicians. But it didn't stop with the bill being signed into law ‒ the lobbying also thwarted the ability of citizens to put the proposal to a democratic vote through a referendum, including by funding television advertisements that falsely claimed that China was "intertwining themselves financially in our energy infrastructure" and threatening "national security," implying that not going through with the nuclear bailout would somehow lead to Chinese control of Ohio's power grid. As confronting climate change gets in the way of corporate profits, such dirty battles are sure to emerge more often."

Lobbying for bailouts to keep aging reactors operating is a desperate tactic to save an industry with near-zero growth prospects. The number of reactor construction starts is nothing more than a trickle (an annual average of 4.3 from 2014‒19), the global reactor fleet is aging and the average age has passed 30. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) anticipates the closure of more than one-third of global nuclear power capacity from 2018‒2030 and the closure of 82% from 2018‒2050.11 The nuclear / renewables comparison could hardly be more striking: a record 201 gigawatts growth of renewable power generating capacity in 201912 compared to a loss of 4.5 gigawatts of nuclear capacity.13

Nuclear waste

Shellenberger claims in Apocalypse Never that nuclear waste "is the best and safest kind of waste produced from electricity production. It has never hurt anyone and there is no reason to think it ever will."

Inexplicably, he ignores radioactive streams across the nuclear fuel cycle apart from spent nuclear fuel. He asserts that "one of the best features of nuclear waste is that there is so little of it", which ignores, among other things, hundreds of millions of tonnes of radioactive tailings waste at uranium mines.

He falsely claims that nuclear is "the only form of electricity that internalizes its waste product" ‒ an odd argument even for spent nuclear fuel given that responsibility for managing it will be imposed on future generations for thousands of years to come.

"If an airplane crashed into the canisters of used fuel, the plane would explode and the cement-sealed steel canisters would likely remain intact," Shellenberger states without any evidence, and without any mention of the vulnerabilities of spent fuel stored in pools and the potential release of catastrophic amounts of long-lived radioactivity following accidents or acts of malice.14 A 2017 article in Science Magazine warns that an irradiated (spent) nuclear fuel pool fire at a nuclear power station would be far more damaging than the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission analysis acknowledges, and the Commission's inaction has left many US citizens and the economy vulnerable to undue risk from a fire caused by an earthquake or an act of terrorism.15

Spent fuel ‒ and high-level nuclear waste arising from reprocessing ‒ is destined for deep geological disposal. But Shellenberger is silent about the Feb. 2014 chemical explosion that closed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico for three years.16 WIPP is the world's only operating deep geological repository, accepting long-lived intermediate-level military waste. An alarming slide in safety and regulatory standards emerged soon after the WIPP repository opened in 1999. A US Department of Energy report blamed the explosion and radiation release on the operator and regulator of WIPP, noting their "failure to fully understand, characterize, and control the radiological hazard ... compounded by degradation of key safety management programs and safety culture."17

There are serious discussions about the risks associated with nuclear waste18-20 ‒ but Shellenberger's book isn't among them. On nuclear waste, as with so many other topics, he offers pop-psychology: "When I talk to people who fear the waste, they often can't articulate why they believe it is dangerous, but it appears to emanate from a conscious or unconscious fear of nuclear weapons."1

Radiation and health

Shellenberger falsely claims that the linear no-threshold model is based on "disproven methodology". The mainstream scientific understanding is that there is no threshold below which exposure to ionizing radiation is harmless. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation states that "the current balance of available evidence tends to favour a non-threshold response for the mutational component of radiation-associated cancer induction at low doses and low dose rates."21

Scientists are less confident about the linear part of the linear no-threshold model, but nevertheless there is heavy-hitting scientific support ‒ for example the 2006 report of the Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) of the US National Academy of Sciences states that "the risk of cancer proceeds in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold and ... the smallest dose has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans."22 The BEIR Committee also notes that a linear risk model may underestimate or overestimate true risks: "The committee recognizes that its risk estimates become more uncertain when applied to very low doses. Departures from a linear model at low doses, however, could either increase or decrease the risk per unit dose."

Shellenberger's group Environmental Progress described its former UK director John Lindberg as an "expert on radiation" when in fact he has no relevant qualifications and is a member of the pseudo-scientific organization 'Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information' which is at war with the linear no-threshold model and promotes fringe claims regarding alleged health benefits from exposure to ionizing radiation.23 Lindberg has moved on to the World Nuclear Association, while at the time of writing a video of Shellenberger is featured on the 'Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information' website!23

In Apocalypse Never, Shellenberger relies exclusively on the 'expertise' of Gerry Thomas in support of his claims about radiation and health, and the death tolls from the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. But Thomas is prone to misleading and irrational statements as discussed by Assoc. Prof. Mark Diesendorf in Nuclear Monitor last year.24

Chernobyl and Fukushima

There is passing acknowledgement in Apocalypse Never of the World Health Organization's (WHO) estimate of 4,000 deaths amongst those people most heavily exposed to ionizing radiation following the Chernobyl disaster. But Shellenberger rejects the estimate on the grounds that the linear no-threshold model is "disproven". He acknowledged around 200 deaths from Chernobyl radiation exposure in a radio interview, attributing that estimate to the WHO and the IAEA.25 But in fact UN agencies including the WHO and the IAEA were involved in 2005 study which estimated up to 4,000 long-term cancer deaths among the higher-exposed Chernobyl populations, and in a follow-up study in 2006 the WHO estimated an additional 5,000 deaths among populations exposed to lower doses in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.26 Estimates of the Europe-wide death toll are in the tens of thousands.27

Nobody will die from radiation exposure from the Fukushima disaster, Shellenberger asserts in Apocalypse Never. In fact, the WHO released a report in 2013 which concluded that for people in the most contaminated areas in Fukushima Prefecture, the estimated increased risk for all solid cancers will be around 4% in females exposed as infants; a 6% increased risk of breast cancer for females exposed as infants; a 7% increased risk of leukemia for males exposed as infants; and for thyroid cancer among females exposed as infants, an increased risk of up to 70% (from a 0.75% lifetime risk up to 1.25%).28 About 5,000 people will die from cancer as a result of radiation exposure from Fukushima fallout according to radiation biologist Dr. Ian Fairlie, basing his calculation on UNSCEAR dose estimates and a linear-no-threshold-derived risk estimate for fatal cancers (10% per Sievert).29

Nuclear power's worldwide "known total death toll is just over one hundred", Shellenberger writes in Apocalypse Never, a figure which obviously cannot be squared with scientific estimates of the death tolls from Chernobyl, Fukushima and other nuclear disasters.

Fukushima evacuation

Shellenberger complains in Apocalypse Never about the "over-evacuation of Fukushima prefecture" following the 3/11 nuclear disaster and the "1,600 (unnecessary) evacuation deaths". Elsewhere, has asserts that the Fukushima evacuation was "entirely unnecessary and indeed counterproductive" and it was the outcome of "fear-mongering".30 Evacuations were not ordered on the basis of fear-mongering; they were ordered on the basis of multiple fires, hydrogen explosions and presumed meltdowns, and a high degree of uncertainty about the state of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Shellenberger claims that UNSCEAR concluded in 2013 that the vast majority of the Fukushima evacuation zone was safe, nearly all residents could have returned long ago, and most should never have left.31 But the UNSCEAR report didn't conclude that the vast majority of the Fukushima evacuation zone is safe or that nearly all residents could have returned long ago, and it didn't state that most evacuees should never have left.32 The report states:

"The actions taken to protect the public significantly reduced the radiation exposures that could have been received. This was particularly the case for settlements within the 20-km evacuation zone and the deliberate evacuation zones, where the protective measures reduced the potential exposures in the first year by up to a factor of 10."

A 2017 Shellenberger article berates the Japanese government for failing to follow "normal protocols" by ordering Fukushima residents to evacuate instead of sheltering in place.31 He cites a 2015 IAEA report33 in support of that argument. Misrepresenting his sources is one of Shellenberger's bad habits. Nowhere in the IAEA report is there a proscription against evacuation in response to nuclear accidents. No IAEA report states that sheltering in place should be the "normal protocol" in the event of a nuclear accident ‒ the appropriate response depends entirely on the circumstances.

A 2011 IAEA report points to the impracticality of sheltering in place as a long-term response to elevated radiation levels following nuclear accidents:34

"Lesson 12: The use of long term sheltering is not an effective approach and has been abandoned and concepts of 'deliberate evacuation' and 'evacuation-prepared area' were introduced for effective long term countermeasures using guidelines of the ICRP [International Commission on Radiological Protection] and IAEA."

The limit for public radiation exposure in Fukushima fallout zones has been lifted from 1 millisievert/year to 20 mSv/yr. Shellenberger clearly believes that the limit should be raised but he doesn't offer a specific proposal. And he doesn't have to grapple with the trade-offs because he doesn't accept the mainstream scientific understanding of the health risks associated with low-level radiation exposure. Australian public health expert Assoc. Prof. Tilman Ruff gives an indication of the risks associated with the 20 mSv limit:

"To provide a perspective on these risks, for a child born in Fukushima in 2011 who was exposed to a total of 100 mSv of additional radiation in its first five years of life, a level tolerated by current Japanese policy, the additional lifetime risk of cancer would be on the order of one in thirty, probably with a similar additional risk of premature cardiovascular death."35

Radiation biologist Dr. Ian Fairlie notes that the issue of evacuation raises an "acute planning dilemma": "if evacuations are carried out (even with good planning) then illnesses and deaths will undoubtedly occur. But if they are not carried out, even more people could die."36


1. Michael Shellenberger, 2020, 'Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All',

2. Lazard, Nov. 2019, 'Lazard's Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis ‒ Version 13.0',

3. CSIRO, 2020, 'GenCost 2019-20 ',

4. Jameson McBride, 10 Apr 2018, 'How Not to Save Nuclear: Emergency Bailouts Aren't Climate Policy',

5. Nuclear Monitor #839, 8 March 2017, 'Is nuclear power in crisis, or is it merely the END?',

6. Nuclear Monitor #839, 'Nuclear lobbyists argue about how to solve the nuclear power crisis',

7. Ted Nordhaus, 27 March 2017, 'The End of the Nuclear Industry as We Know It',

8. Rob Nikolewski, 9 April 2017, 'The bankruptcy shaking nuclear energy to the core',

9. Leah C. Stokes, 22 July 2020, 'An FBI investigation shows Ohio's abysmal energy law was fueled by corruption',

10. Shakiba Fadaie and M. V. Ramana, 21 April 2020, 'A dirty battle for a nuclear bailout in Ohio',

11. International Atomic Energy Agency, 2018, 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050: 2018 Edition',

12. REN21, 'Renewables 2020 Global Status Report',

13. IAEA, 26 June 2020, 'IAEA Releases 2019 Data on Nuclear Power Plants Operating Experience',

14. Robert Alvarez, 9 August 2017, 'Pushing the storage horse with a nuclear waste cart: the spent fuel pool problem',

15. Edwin Lyman, Michael Schoeppner, Frank von Hippel, 26 May 2017, 'Nuclear safety regulation in the post-Fukushima era', Vol. 356, Issue 6340, pp. 808-809,

See also:

16. Nuclear Monitor #801, 9 April 2015, 'One deep underground dump, one dud',

17. US Dept of Energy, Office of Environmental Management, April 2014, 'Accident Investigation Report: Phase 1: Radiological Release Event at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on February 14, 2014',

18. World Nuclear Waste Report 2019 – Focus Europe,

19. Robert Alvarez, Hideyuki Ban, Charles Laponche, Miles Goldstick, Pete Roche and Bertrand Thuillier, Jan 2019, 'Report - The Global Crisis of Nuclear Waste',

20. Prof. Andrew Blowers, 24 April 2019, 'Nuclear Wastelands', Nuclear Monitor #874‒875,

21. UNSCEAR, 2011, 'Report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Ionising Radiation 2010',

22. Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) of the US National Academy of Sciences, 2006, 'Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR VII Phase 2',


24. Mark Diesendorf, 19 Nov 2019, 'Misleading claims about nuclear energy',

25. Nick O'Malley (Sydney Morning Herald) interview with Michael Shellenberger, 7 July 2020,

26. World Health Organization, 2006, 'World Health Organization report explains the health impacts of the world's worst-ever civil nuclear accident',

27. Nuclear Monitor #821, 6 April 2016, ''Pro-nuclear environmentalists and the Chernobyl death toll'',

28. World Health Organization, 28 Feb 2013, 'Global report on Fukushima nuclear accident details health risks',

29. Ian Fairlie, 2015, 'Summing the Health Effects of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster',

30. Michael Shellenberger, 16 Oct 2017, 'Enemies of the Earth: Unmasking the Dirty War Against Clean Energy in South Korea by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace',

31. Michael Shellenberger, Mark Nelson, Madi Czerwinski, Michael Light, John Lindberg, and Minshu Deng / Environmental Progress, Aug 2017, 'The High Cost of Fear: Understanding the Costs and Causes of South Korea's Proposed Nuclear Energy Phase-Out',

Direct download:

32. UNSCEAR, 2014, "Sources, Effects and Risks of Ionizing Radiation. UNSCEAR 2013 Report. Volume I. Report to the General Assembly Scientific Annex A: Levels and Effects of Radiation Exposure Due to the Nuclear Accident After the 2011 Great East-Japan Earthquake and Tsunami",

33. International Atomic Energy Agency, 2015, The Fukushima Daiichi Accident: Report by the Director General,

34. IAEA (Division of Nuclear Installation Safety and Department of Nuclear Safety and Security), 2011, 'Mission Report: The Great East Japan Earthquake Expert Mission. IAEA International Fact Finding Expert Mission of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi NPP Accident Following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami',

35. Tilman Ruff, 2013, 'A Public Health Perspective on the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster', Asian Perspective 37, p.523–549,

36. Ian Fairlie, 11 March 2018, 'Fleeing from Fukushima: a nuclear evacuation reality check',

Book review: Michael Shellenberger goes full Trump with reheated conspiracy theories

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Name a self-promoting American who peddles falsehoods1, contradicts himself, misrepresents and attacks climate change science and scientists, and thinks that environmentalism is a dangerous, quasi-religious cult.

That's right, Michael Shellenberger, who first came to prominence with his 2004 'death of environmentalism' attack on the environment movement2, and has kept himself in the spotlight by promoting nuclear power, demonizing renewable energy ("renewables are worse for the environment than fossil fuels"3) and demonizing the environment movement that he claims to be part of.

Shellenberger's latest round of self-promotion involves 'luke-warmism' ‒ downplaying the risks associated with climate change and attacking environmentalists for climate 'alarmism'. That's the focus of his new book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.4 Shellenberger has been misrepresenting and attacking climate science since 2010 if not earlier5 ‒ so his luke-warmism is reheated, and there's certainly nothing new about his demonization of environmentalists.

Shellenberger's current efforts to misrepresent and attack climate science read like a PR campaign clumsily constructed by a fossil fuel company. In response to sea level rise 'alarmism', he reassures us that "Netherlands became rich, not poor while adapting to life below sea level".6

A number of factual rebuttals of Shellenberger's latest round of misinformation have been written, and more will follow.7-11 Climate Feedback asked six scientists to review Shellenberger's lengthy opinion piece6 which promotes his book.12 They found its overall scientific credibility to be 'low' and most found it guilty of cherry-picking and misleading statements.

For example, Shellenberger's claim that "climate change is not making natural disasters worse" is inaccurate and contradicts numerous scientific studies linking climate change to temperature extremes, drought, precipitation patterns, and wildfires. His claims about species extinction are wrong, his claims about fires and their connection to climate change are misleading and contradict scientific studies8, his claim that 100% renewables would require increasing the land used for energy from today's 0.5% to 50% is wildly inaccurate12,13, and so on.

Daniel Swain from UCLA and the US National Center for Atmospheric Research said Shellenberger's article "presents a mix of out-of-context facts and outright falsehoods to reach conclusions that are, collectively, fundamentally misleading".12 Jennifer Francis from the Woods Hole Research Center said that "many statements are half-truths or based on cherry-picked information" and "some are outright false."12

Right-wing, anti-environment supporters

Predictably, the right-wing, anti-environment media are amplifying Shellenberger's misinformation.14,15 The Murdoch News Corp. press has been especially excited15 ‒ Shellenberger is "News Corps latest golden ''environmentalist' … pushing the Murdoch line against renewables" according to former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.16

Ketan Joshi joined the dots:15

"Shellenberger appeared three times on Sky News Australia, a News Corp outlet that relies heavily on major advertising dollars from several key fossil fuel companies and lobby groups; eg Hancock Prospecting and the federal and NSW Minerals Council. He wrote or featured in ten articles in The Australian, which regularly places full page advertisements from the coal lobby."

Climate science-denying organizations, including those with links to fossil fuel industries, are also falling over themselves to promote Shellenberger and his new book. You might think that Shellenberger would tailor his message to his far-right, anti-environment, science-denying audience. Surely the message they need to hear is that climate science denial is irresponsible and intellectually indefensible. But Shellenberger just trots out his usual lines: climate alarmism is rife; renewables are worse than fossil fuels; the environment movement comprises power-hungry, fossil-fuel funded ideologues; and nuclear power is a "problem" for environmentalists because its potential to deliver vast amounts of energy undermines their agenda "to take control of big sectors of the economy by being alarmist about climate change".17

Shellenberger sometimes walks back absurd claims if confronted. When asked in an interview to justify his assertion that climate change "is not making natural disasters worse"6, he acknowledged that climate change is causing "more intense hurricanes, longer fire season, more heatwaves" but that adaptation has lessened their impacts.18 When interviewed by sympathizers ‒ i.e. anti-environment climate science deniers ‒ Shellenberger doesn't walk back his falsehoods, but doubles down. "Climate needs to have its importance diminished", he told the Heartland Institute.19 "The main function of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] appears to be to terrify people. I don't know what else it does. … I'm not sure the organization needs to exist any more," he told his approving interviewers.

The fossil-fuel funded Heartland Institute promotes itself as "the world's most prominent think-tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change."20 Yet Shellenberger commended his Heartland interviewers for "sounding the alarm" about environmental alarmism. "Honestly, thank you guys for having been sounding the alarm on these issues for longer than I have," he said. "I'm sorry it took me so long to basically get into a position where I could tell the truth."19

The Shellenberger / Heartland Institute interview is mutual admiration from start to finish. The Institute's Donald Kendal said: "I shouldn't be speaking on behalf of the Heartland Institute, but I am pretty sure I can confidently say that we are in this mission with you and we would be glad to help in any way possible."19

Conspiracy theories, falsehoods, and pop-psychology

Tied to his growing affection for the anti-environment far-right is Shellenberger's willingness to subject environmentalists to bizarre, inaccurate attacks. Here's an example of a thin thread of evidence being blown out into a worldwide conspiracy theory. Friends of the Earth (FOE) US might (or might not) have received a donation in 1969 from an 'oilman' who supported a number of environmental groups and initiatives. Shellenberger leaps from one questionable factoid to a conspiracy theory directed at the entire environment movement, writing in Apocalypse Never that FOE "was pioneering the environmental movement's strategy of taking money from oil and gas investors and promoting renewables as a way to greenwash the closure of nuclear plants."

So the entire environment movement is a fossil fuel-funded conspiracy to shut down the competing nuclear power industry!

Shellenberger accuses FOE and Greenpeace of accepting donations "from fossil fuel … investors" and has ignored repeated requests to correct that falsehood.1 He asserts that FOE is "fossil fuel-funded" and has ignored repeated requests to correct that falsehood. He asserts that donors and board members of FOE "are the ones who win the government contracts to build solar and wind farms, burn dirty "renewable" biomass, and import natural gas from the United States and Russia," and has ignored repeated requests to correct that falsehood. He asserts that FOE has hundreds of millions of dollars in its bank and stock accounts, and has ignored repeated requests to correct that falsehood. Shellenberger wrote in 2017 that "natural gas companies fund many of the anti-nuclear groups"21 ... yet another falsehood.

Conspiracy theories, falsehoods, and lashings of pop-psychology: FOE's "agenda has never been to protect humankind but rather to punish us for our supposed transgressions "; FOE "oppose cheap and abundant energy" because of "Malthusian anti-humanism"; and FOE aims to keep "poor countries poor".1


Shellenberger's latest round of misinformation and self-promotion has attracted criticism even from some nuclear power advocates. Climate scientist Kerry Emanuel said he was "very concerned" about Shellenberger's opinion piece6 and is reconsidering his position as an adviser to Shellenberger's lobby group Environmental Progress.22 Emanuel said Shellenberger is "embracing disinformation" and that there is "plenty of evidence" that climate change is making natural disasters worse despite Shellenberger's claim to the contrary.

Climate scientist Tom Wigley said "some damage will be done" as Shellenberger's words "may be misrepresented by people who don't believe in human-caused global warming".22

Zeke Hausfather from the Breakthrough Institute (which Shellenberger co-founded in 2007) said that Shellenberger's opinion piece includes a mix of "accurate, misleading, and patently false statements" and that "inaccurately downplaying real climate risks is deeply problematic and counterproductive".12 Hausfather said the Breakthrough Institute and Shellenberger are "not on friendly terms" and Shellenberger "in no way reflects our views", partly because of disagreements "about the role of nuclear as a climate silver bullet vs. part of a broader portfolio of decarbonization technologies".23

Nuclear engineer Katie Mummah said: "Michael Shellenberger is not the only pro-nuclear environmentalist and many of us do not share his views on 1. whether or not climate change is a crisis 2. the value of renewables 3. how to communicate about nuclear energy 4. nuclear weapons."24

James Hansen, a member of the advisory board of Environmental Progress, said: "Well-meaning souls, (including my friend Michael Shellenberger) rightfully concerned about the effect of "gloom-and-doom" talk on young people, say that everything is hunky-dory, climate change impacts are exaggerated (they often are) and climate change is not a serious threat (unfortunately, it is)."25

Explaining Shellenberger

Shellenberger has gone full Trump. His facts are alternative. His attacks on environmentalism and renewable energy are as bizarre as Trump's. His self-promotion is Trumpian ‒ his long opinion piece promoting Apocalypse Never was removed because it violated Forbes' "editorial guidelines around self-promotion".22 His apology on behalf of the environment movement for climate alarmism betrays Trump-sized arrogance.6 His promotion of nuclear weapons proliferation26 and his downplaying of proliferation risks is "almost Trumpian in its incoherence" as one critic noted.27

The media are implicated in the conspiracy theories of both Trump and Shellenberger. "The activists and their media allies censor news articles. But eventually, the public will get to review the evidence and realize that the censors are wrong," Shellenberger wrote in an opinion piece for the Murdoch press.28

Industry funding might ‒ or might not ‒ offer a partial explanation for Shellenberger. An internal Nuclear Energy Institute report in 2017 said that the Institute had "engaged" Shellenberger "to engage with media through interviews and op-eds"29 The Institute later denied making any payments to Shellenberger but said that it had been a participant and registrant to meetings organized by Environmental Progress ‒ presumably for a fee.22 Desmog Blog notes that the largest donor to Shellenberger's failed run for California Governor in 2018 was Frank Batten Jr., who has testified on behalf of The Landmark Foundation promoting nuclear energy projects.30

In Apocalypse Never, Shellenberger says his previous "heightened anxiety" about climate change reflected "underlying anxiety and unhappiness in my own life that had little to do with climate change or the state of the natural environment." So perhaps there are psychological explanations for Shellenberger going full Trump?

A Trumpian inability to admit errors seems to be at play (leaving aside his faux apology for his previous climate 'alarmism'). Australian economist Prof. John Quiggin writes:31

"Michael Shellenberger's "apology essay" is the last gasp of "ecomodernism". Although ecomodernists make a lot of claims, the only one that is distinctive is that nuclear power is the zero-carbon "baseload" energy source needed to replace coal, and that mainstream environmentalists have wrongly opposed it.

"Historically, there is something to this. It would have been better to keep on building nuclear plants in the 1980s and 1990s than to switch from oil to coal, and it was silly for Germany to shut down nuclear power before coal. But none of that is relevant anymore, at least in the developed world. Solar PV and wind, backed up storage are far cheaper than either nuclear or coal. As a result, there have been very few new coal or nuclear plants constructed in developed countries in recent years. …

"At this point, Shellenberger is faced with the choice between admitting that the mainstream environmentalists were right or explicitly going over to the other side. He has chosen the latter."

Whatever the motives, Shellenberger's recent behavior has been "cynical and disingenuous" but effective in gaining media attention according to scientist Ken Rice.32 "If this wasn't such a serious topic, it might even be quite funny," Rice said.


1. 'Questions Michael Shellenberger won't answer, falsehoods he refuses to correct',



4. Michael Shellenberger, 2020, 'Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All',

5. Tim Holmes, 20 April 2010, 'Debunking Shellenberger and Nordhaus, again',

6. Michael Shellenberger, 29 June 2020, 'On Behalf Of Environmentalists, I Apologize For The Climate Scare',

7. Michael Tobis, 9 July 2020, 'Shellenberger's op-ad',

8. Ketan Joshi unpacks Shellenberger's misinformation about bushfires and their connection to climate change:


10. Robert Hunziker, 1 July 2020, 'Arctic Heat Overwhelms Green Infighting Issues',


12. Climate Feedback, 6 July 2020, 'Article by Michael Shellenberger mixes accurate and inaccurate claims in support of a misleading and overly simplistic argumentation about climate change',

See also

13. EU Science Hub, 30 Sept 2019, 'Converting just 1% of land to renewable energy production can provide EU's electricity consumption',

14. 9 July 2020, 'Fake environmentalist Mike Shellenberger spreads fake talking points to promote lie-filled book',

15. Ketan Joshi, 5 July 2020, 'Why an attempt to gamergate Australian climate journalism fell flat',


17. Sky interview with Michael Shellenberger,

18. Nick O'Malley interview with Michael Shellenberger, 7 July 2020,

19. 5 July 2020, 'Heartland interviews Michael Shellenberger on his new book, Apocalypse Never',,


21. Michael Shellenberger, July 2017, 'Why the World Needs South Korea's Nuclear',

22. Graham Readfearn, 4 July 2020, 'The environmentalist's apology: how Michael Shellenberger unsettled some of his prominent supporters',



25. James Hansen, 7 July 2020, 'It's all hunky-dory, but… Regional climate change and national responsibilities',

26. Nuclear Monitor #865, 6 Sept 2018, 'Nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger learns to love the bomb, goes down a rabbit hole',

27. Sam Seitz, 6 Aug 2018, 'The Nonproliferation Regime Exists for a Reason, Let's Not Tear it Up',

28. Michael Shellenberger, 21 July 2020, 'Climate-change hysteria costs lives ‒ but activists want to keep panic alive',



31. John Quiggin, 6 July 2020, 'Shellenberger',

32. Ken Rice, 1 July 2020, 'Apocalypse never?',

Nuclear Monitor #888 - 30 July 2020

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Full issue

To read this issue of the Nuclear Monitor, use the article links below (in orange), or to download the full issue as a PDF use the link above.

Please subscribe to Nuclear Monitor.

Our review of Michael Shellenberger's book Apocalypse Never has outgrown itself so we've split it into three parts:

Book review: Michael Shellenberger goes full Trump with reheated conspiracy theories: Shellenberger's book Apocalypse Never serves up 'luke-warmism' ‒ downplaying the risks associated with climate change and attacking environmentalists for climate 'alarmism'. But he has been misrepresenting and attacking climate science since 2010 if not earlier. His current luke-warmism is reheated, and there's certainly nothing new about his demonization of environmentalists.

Shellenberger's nuclear nonsense: economics, waste, radiation, disasters: Michael Shellenberger claims that his book Apocalypse Never is based on the 'best-available science'. But the book's many claims about nuclear issues are based on selective use of expert views, or attributed to anonymous 'experts' or even 'friends', or based on nothing at all.

Shellenberger's nuclear nonsense: The myth of the peaceful atom: Shellenberger thinks nuclear weapons "make us peaceful" and he promotes nuclear weapons proliferation. Having previously written at length about the many interconnections between nuclear power and weapons programs ‒ and having criticized the "nuclear community" for its "increasingly untenable position of having to deny these real world connections" ‒ Shellenberger himself now downplays and denies the connections.

No market for Australian uranium in India: M.V. Ramana and Cassandra Jeffery argue that Australian policymakers who advocated for exporting uranium to India were betting on the wrong energy source. Even the Indian government expects further divergence between the growing renewable energy sector and the stagnant nuclear sector. Nuclear power has never constituted more than a few per cent of India's electricity supply, and on current trends it will never amount to much more.

Nuclear power, politics, and the odyssey of former US NRC chair Gregory Jaczko

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
John H. Perkins, PhD

Gregory Jaczko is probably not a familiar name to anyone except those deeply steeped in the convoluted and contentious politics of nuclear power in the United States. These politics began at the end of World War II, shortly after the newly discovered processes of nuclear fission powered the nuclear bombs exploded over Japan in 1945. From 1946 to 1975, the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) governed and promoted both weapons and the emerging technology of nuclear power amidst constant debates about both. Controversy over safety forced the dissolution of the AEC, and its regulatory functions were picked up by the newly formed US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 1975. The theory behind NRC was that it would be divorced from the task of promoting nuclear power and serve strictly to regulate it. Nevertheless, the political squabbles over regulations moved directly from AEC to NRC and have endured to the present day.1

For some, Jaczko's involvement with the NRC may seem like ancient history. His appointment as a Commissioner on the NRC began in 2005, and President Obama elevated him to chairman of NRC in 2009. During Jaczko's tenure, many controversies over safety continued, exacerbated by the immense financial investments in the technology. In addition, Jaczko's personality and leadership style aggravated disagreements between him and the other four commissioners and between Jaczko and industrial and political forces committed to preserving and expanding nuclear power. He led NRC for three years before resigning under pressure in 2012.2

Now Dr. Jaczko has written a memoir telling his side of the story, Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator (2019),3 and the book provides one perspective about the future of energy and the global efforts to mitigate climate warming. These issues provide insights important for the strategic campaigns of anti-nuclear activists.

Jaczko's book can best be understood as two learning episodes. First, he had a tutorial under fire about the heated politics of nuclear power in Washington. Second, his conclusions about the safety of nuclear power (better put, the lack of safety) evolved during his service on the NRC.

Jaczko's political education in Washington

Jaczko realized as a graduate student in physics (University of Wisconsin, Madison) that he wanted to pursue a career different from an academic or research career in physics. He won a Science and Technology Policy Fellowship, sponsored by the American Institute of Physics and administered through the American Association for the Advancement of Science.4 These prestigious fellowships open the door for newly minted scientists to learn how to apply their academic expertise to real life political challenges by working for Members of Congress, and they often lead recipients to interesting careers in the policy and political worlds of Washington.

Jaczko arrived in Washington in August, 1999, but he did not arrive with anti-nuclear sentiments. He had never heard of the NRC,5 and his attitude towards nuclear power was one of marvel at the technological achievement of nuclear power but tempered by awareness of its safety issues.6

Jaczko first served on the staff of Representative Edward Markey (D, MA). Markey was a strong proponent of controlling nuclear arms and ensuring the safety of nuclear power plants.7 In March, 2001, he joined the staff of Senator Harry Reid (D, NV). Reid, the Democratic whip, later to become Senate Majority Leader, was focused on thwarting the 2002 law designating Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the repository for nuclear wastes.8 This law had ended a prolonged stalemate about exactly where the US would dispose of high level nuclear wastes and spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants, and it passed despite strong, formal opposition by the Governor of Nevada.

In 2003, Reid asked Jaczko to help find possible nominees for vacancies on the NRC, but then asked Jaczko if he, Jaczko, wanted to be a Commissioner. Confirmation of Jaczko's nomination took two years, and in 2005 he took his seat as one of the Democratic members of the NRC. His service on the staffs of Representative Markey and Senator Reid had marked him, in the eyes of the nuclear industry, as a potential problem, so he began his duties already known as potentially a different kind of Commissioner.9

Jaczko says very little about his service as a Commissioner from 2005 to 2009. Nevertheless, he describes this time as one of learning the supreme importance and power of the electric utility industry and other owners of nuclear power plants.10 Literally billions of dollars were invested in these machines, and their economic viability was at risk from regulatory changes issued by the NRC. Understandably, therefore, the nuclear industry wanted commissioners who believed in the industry and wanted nuclear power to be a commercial success.

The many companies comprising the industry had formed the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) in 1994 by consolidating older organizations dating to 1953. NEI currently has hundreds of members and is the trade association lobbying for the nuclear industry, including owners and operators of nuclear reactors plus firms designing, building, and providing fuel. In addition, NEI members also include supporting institutions such as universities, government research laboratories, consulting firms, nuclear medical producers, law firms, and others.11 As of 2019, a 55-member Board of Directors, representing the broad membership, governs NEI.12

From Jaczko's point of view:13

". . . NEI members have a history of acting as one. This solidarity gives them tremendous influence with Congress. NEI also has a huge impact on the decisions of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. . . Killing regulations, or even modifying them slightly, can produce savings of millions of dollars per year in operating costs, equipment purchases, and technical analysis. . .NEI shapes every NRC regulation, guidance, and policy. . . In any given month, I could be visited by as many representatives of the industry as I would be by public interest groups across my entire seven and a half years on the commission."

Jaczko knew that the NEI did not want him as chairman of NRC, but his truly formative lesson on Washington politics came when he went to the White House for a final interview before his elevation to be chair of the NRC. His interview with President Obama's chief of staff showed just how contentious his appointment was, and he left the interview with firm understanding: nobody wanted him to be chair except Reid, and in blunt, colorful language Jaczko learned that he was not to make any problems for the President!

Obama's motives were multiple. He had come into office with two major goals, health care and climate change, and he saw nuclear power as an aid to his larger goal of reducing CO2 emissions.14 Moreover, Obama had been a Senator from Illinois, a state deriving about 61 percent of its electricity from nuclear power (May, 2019).15 Thus as a Senator, he was anything but anti-nuclear, and he had probably come to know the lobbyists from NEI.

For his part, Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader from 2007 to 2015, wanted Jaczko to be chair, probably based on Reid's perception that Jaczko would help oppose construction of the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Reid had also maneuvered Obama into opposing the construction of the site, despite Obama's acceptance of nuclear power.16

Thus, from the very beginning of his tenure as chair, Jaczko was caught in a three-way pincer: NEI opposed him, Obama wanted nuclear electrical generation to continue, ignoring for the moment the dangerous spent fuel rods piling up at nuclear power plants. Reid, Jaczko's patron, did not want the waste repository in Nevada, period, so block construction at Yucca Mountain. How to deal with climate change and the debris from existing nuclear power plants were separate problems. Welcome to the competing interests and long knives of Washington, Dr. Jaczko, and good luck.

Jaczko's absorption of the political lessons of Washington were clear at the outset of his tenure as chairman of NRC, and Yucca Mountain quickly reinforced his understanding of exactly how treacherous nuclear politics could be. The US Department of Energy (DOE) owned the site, and during the George W. Bush administration had initiated the request for a license from NRC to dispose of spent fuel at Yucca Mountain. President Obama, however, honored his campaign promise and gave the orders to shut down construction, over the objections of his own DOE.

Legal issues at NRC tangled the request to withdraw the license request, and Jaczko emerged with scars based on his support for stopping NRC consideration of the project.17 Ultimately, the choice of continuing with the project was the responsibility of the Obama administration, but nevertheless Jaczko had engaged in the first of several battles and begun to acquire enemies who wished him out of his job. But even more ferocious battles were yet to come.

Jaczko's evolving views on safety and nuclear power

The second factor shaping of Jaczko's judgements about nuclear power began with the accident at a Japanese nuclear power plant, Fukushima Dai-ichi, on 11 March 2011. On that fateful day, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck just off the east coast of Japan, west of Fukushima Prefecture and northeast of Tokyo. The four reactors operating at Dai-ichi automatically shut down, and electric power from the grid to the plant was also lost. Thus, the electric power that normally provides needed cooling water to the reactors was lost.

Emergency diesel engines automatically switched on to provide power to continue cooling the reactors and storage areas for spent fuel rods. About 40 minutes later, a 14-meter (45-feet) high tidal wave swept ashore, destroying towns, killing many, and disabling the emergency generators for units 1, 2, 3, and 4 at Dai-ichi. Secondary emergency generation kick in, but after about a day they were exhausted. Hydrogen built up inside units 1, 2, and 4, and they exploded a few days later.18 The accident was classified as a category 7 event, the most serious because it meant a major release of radioactive debris.19 The situations at Fukushima (2011) and Chernobyl (1986) are the only two accidents to date so categorized.

An ordinary commissioner on the NRC would have no special duties to deal with an accident in a foreign country, but the chair, as head of the agency and spokesperson for it, was immediately in the spotlight as an authoritative voice about the dangers to US citizens in Japan and in the United States. He was also responsible for assisting the Japanese as requested. Furthermore, the plants in Japan had been designed in the US and were very similar to many operating US reactors. After 2011, Jaczko spent a substantial amount of his time dealing with the aftermath of the events at Fukushima Dai-ichi,20 and his subsequent troubles stemmed from the ways his mind-set had been changed by events in Japan.

I'll return to the ways in which Fukushima led to Jaczko's departure from NRC in a moment, but it's important to realize that the fact of other accidents and near accidents also shaped his changing attitudes toward safety and nuclear power. In the book, he summarizes events at Browns Ferry (Tennessee, 1975), Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania, 1979), Chernobyl (USSR, now Ukraine, 1986), and Davis-Besse (Ohio, 2002).21

Jaczko also devotes an entire chapter to the serious threats from natural disasters that threatened US nuclear plants but did not result in radiation releases. In Spring, 2011, floods on the Missouri River threatened Fort Calhoun (near Omaha, Nebraska), and in August of that year, an earthquake rocked North Anna (in Virginia, near Washington, DC). Fortunately, neither the earthquake nor the floods resulted in an accident, but Jaczko's discussion of them shows how he clearly believed "no accident" was more a sign of luck than intrinsic safety of the machines or the skill of operators in making their machines as safe as possible.22

Jaczko's discussion of safety planning at these two plants provided him the opportunity to explore the intricacies of two different engineering approaches that shaped the construction and operation of nuclear plants.23 Both Fort Calhoun (construction began 1966) and North Anna (construction began 1971) had been designed and built with engineering of safety based on deterministic methods. Under this concept, engineers predicted the hazards under both normal operations and under the most severe natural phenomena that could be imagined. They then designed the plant to more than withstand those threats. Deterministic methods could not provide a complete safety model of a plant, but they guided engineers to specific threats and remedies, and they were easier to explain to the public.

A method of safety analysis developed after these two plants were constructed, probabilistic risk assessment (PRA), started with a series of postulated events in the plant and then calculated the probability of the failure of safety equipment to control the event. One view of PRA was that it failed its primary purpose, which was to make a convincing, argument to the public that nuclear power was more than safe enough, even though PRA was an advance in understanding reactors and what could go wrong.24 Another view was that PRA was a technical success in opening new ways of managing nuclear reactors.25

Whatever the motivations for inventing PRA, the method entered NRC's regulatory schemes in 2004.26 PRA-based regulations could be more flexible than deterministic methods, but they also invited industry resistance to plant modifications. Managers could invoke cost-benefit considerations and ask why they had to make expensive changes based on accidents with extremely low calculated probabilities of occurrence.27 In addition, probabilistic methods were more difficult to explain to the public and were controversial among scientists and engineers.28

Jaczko, Fukushima, and his departure from NRC

Events at Fukushima shaped the remainder of Jaczko's contentious tenure as NRC chair. First, he appointed a task force to quickly outline the lessons that Fukushima should impart to the NRC and other national nuclear regulators. This group began work in March, 2011, and completed their assignment in July. Their conclusions focused on general improvements in NRC regulatory policy and some changes specifically aimed at the boiling water reactors operating in the United States that resembled those that exploded at Fukushima.29

Reverberations of the task force's report began almost immediately, but the effects were powerfully shaped by the history of nuclear power dating to 1954. In that year, the US Congress had opened development of nuclear power to private industry, which over the next two decades launched efforts by many private firms to build and operate nuclear power plants. The federal government would regulate safety, primarily through issuances of, first, a construction permit, and, second, after construction was complete, an operating license.30 The basic thought behind Congress' actions were to bring in the supposed efficiency and innovation that private industry had exhibited elsewhere.

For various reasons, however, private industry turned out to be, at best, of mixed competence in nuclear power. Plant construction time-schedules and costs proved difficult to control, and by 1978, the nuclear industry stopped asking for new construction permits.31 The anticipated launching of a nuclear-powered USA32 ground to a halt, and no further new applications for licenses to construct and operate came for three decades.

In 1992, the Congress began a series of reforms aimed at restarting the nuclear industry, and they changed the licensing from a two-step to a one-step process. The applicant could apply for a combined construction and operating license for a reactor of approved design. If building was to the approved specifications, the company could begin operating it without a second application.33

Unfortunately for those advocating more nuclear power, combined construction-operating licenses alone did not sway industry decision-making. It turned out that the real block to building new reactors was financing, not just the licensing procedures. In 2005, Congress approved several programs to help companies financially, the most important of which were Federal loan guarantees. Banks would loan to nuclear companies if the bank was guaranteed not to lose money. (In addition, some States allowed charging ratepayers for Construction While In Progress (CWIP), an alternative way of obtaining financing for building new reactors.34)

The Southern Company was the first applicant to receive a loan guarantee, of $8.3 billion, in 2010 from the Obama administration. The Company was ready to apply for its combined license in 2011, and, just a few weeks after Fukushima, Jaczko proposed to the other commissioners that NRC delay the licensing procedures. This resulted in a "no," so the Southern application went to a required public hearing in the Fall of 2011.35

It was here that Jaczko's growing concerns about safety met in a head-on collision with the power of immense amounts of money and thousands of construction jobs at stake. As he phrased the title of Chapter 9, it was an "Express Lane: The Nuclear Industry Licensing Juggernaut." Jaczko tried various ways to put the Southern Company on notice for safety improvements, but his efforts could not win the support of the other commissioners or the NRC staff. Ultimately, he voted no on issuing the license, but no other commissioners joined him.36

The aftermath of his failed attempt to slow down the first licensing procedures in over three decades launched Jaczko into a downward spiral, which ended in Harry Reid telling him that he would resign in May, 2012.37 Jaczko's described his "mistake" in the following way:

"There are significant safety enhancements that have already been recommended as a result of learning the lessons from Fukushima, and there's still more work ahead of us. Knowing this, I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened. But without this license condition, in my view, that is what we are doing."38

Jaczko, indeed, had been a different kind of commissioner and especially a different kind of chair of the NRC. He is probably the only person to have occupied those positions who developed a full-blown skepticism about the wisdom and necessity for continuing to encourage expansion of the industry, even though he acknowledged that existing nuclear plants in the US would continue operation for many years. Nevertheless, he believed that renewable energy especially offered many opportunities for safer and cheaper generation of electricity.39

Lessons from the Jaczko experience for anti-nuclear activists

I draw three lessons from Jaczko's memoirs. First, it is unrealistic to see the NRC as the engine that will close the nuclear industry in the United States. People with the expert knowledge to serve as commissioners will almost certainly come from training programs and experiences leading them to favor the technology. Jaczko was the exception proving the rule. Activist organizations can sue the NRC if they think it has violated one of its own rules, but that's about the extent of usefulness of direct interaction with the NRC itself. Instead, focus on persuading a majority in Congress that nuclear power's susceptibility to low-probability-but-high-consequence accidents makes it unsuitable as an energy source.

Second, nuclear power's weakest feature is its expense. The huge up-front capital expenditures needed to build a new plant, plus its long history of not building them on schedule, led to skepticism of the industry by financial institutions. Activists can work on Congress not to guarantee loans to the industry or insure lenders against delays in construction. Activists can also work with federal and state regulators of electricity markets not to allow higher rates for nuclear electricity or for rates funding Construction While in Progress. Starved of financing and subsidies, nuclear power will eventually disappear.

Finally, the plea that nuclear power is a good solution for climate change is refuted by calculating the costs and lengths of time nuclear plants need for construction, combined with the number of plants needed to make a dent in CO2 emissions. Point also to the opportunity costs of nuclear power: what could similar amounts of capital do to fully build out an energy economy based on renewable energy used efficiently? Renewable energy is not without its own challenges, but those pale in comparison with the intrinsic financial and safety weaknesses of nuclear power.40

John Perkins' latest book, Changing Energy: The Transition to a Sustainable Future, was published by the University of California Press in 2017. He's currently writing a new book on the prospects for a timely and complete transition to energy economies without fossil fuels and uranium (nuclear power). He has previously worked at the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Miami University (Ohio) and The Evergreen State College (Washington State). Perkins has published over 50 articles, book chapters, and reports on topics of energy, environment, and agriculture. He has an AB (Amherst College) and PhD (Harvard University) in biology.


1. J. Samuel Walker and Thomas R. Wellock, A Short History of Nuclear Regulation, 1946 – 2009 (Washington: United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NUREG/BR-0175, Rev. 2, October 2010), 1 – 49.

2. John M. Broder and Matthew L. Wald, Chairman of N.R.C. to Resign Under Fire, New York Times, May 21, 2012, found at, 24 August 2019.

3. Gregory B. Jaczko, Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019), 196 pp.

4. Meghan Anzelc, Gregory Jaczko, Ph.D. Physics, Commissioner, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (APS Physics, Forum on Graduate Student Affairs), found at, 19 August 2019.

5. Jaczko, Confessions, p. vii.

6. Jaczko, Confessions, p. 7.

7. Jaczko, Confessions, p. 4.

8. US Congress, "H.J.Res. 87 — 107th Congress: Yucca Mountain Development resolution." 2002, found at, August 20, 2019.

9. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 3 – 9.

10. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 10 – 13.

11. Nuclear Energy Institute, About NEI,, 21 August 2019

12. Nuclear Energy Institute, NEI Board of Directors and Executive Committee,, 21 August 2019.

13. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 12 – 13.

14. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 14 – 17.

15. Energy Information Administration, Illinois net electricity generation by source, May. 2019,, 21 August 2019. Percent calculated by author.

16. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 57 – 58.

17. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 67 – 68.

18. USNRC, Backgrounder on NRC response to lessons learned from Fukushima, September 17, 2018, found at, 21 August 2019.

19. International Atomic Energy Agency, International nuclear and radiological event scale (INES), found at, 21 August 2019.

20. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 70 – 95.

21. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 23 – 40.

22. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 104 – 115.

23. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 45 – 48.

24. John H. Perkins, Development of risk assessment for nuclear power, Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences 4 (2014): 273 – 287.

25. Thomas R. Wellock, A figure of merit: quantifying the probability of a nuclear reactor accident, Technology and Culture 58 (July 2017): 678 – 721.

26. Jaczko, Confessions, p. 48.

27. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 126 – 127.

28. Perkins, Development of risk assessment.

29. Charles Miller, Amy Cubbage, Daniel Dorman, Jack Grobe, Gary Holahan, and Nathan Sanfilippo, Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century (Washington: U.S.NRC, 2011), 83 pp.

30. Kathleen M. Saul and John H. Perkins, Nuclear power: is it worth the risks? In Green Energy Economies: The Search for Clean and Renewable Energy, ed. John Byrne and Young-Doo Wang (Transaction Publications, 2014): 276 – 295.

31. Irvin C. Bupp and Jean-Claude Darian, The Failed Promise of Nuclear Power: How the Nuclear Dream Dissolved (New York: Basic Books, 1978), 241 pp.

32. U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Civilian Nuclear Power: A Report to the President 1962 (Washington: U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, 1962), 67 pp.

33. Saul and Perkins, Nuclear power.

34. Saul and Perkins, Nuclear power.

35. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 135 – 138.

36. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 132 – 143.

37. Jaczko, Confessions, p. 160.

38. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 157 – 158.

39. Jaczko, Confessions, pp. 161 – 168.

40. John H. Perkins, Changing Energy: The Transition to a Sustainable Future (Oakland: University of California, Press, 2017), 232 – 237.

Aging nuclear plants, cost-cutting, and reduced safety oversight

Dr Edwin Lyman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, writes in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

"After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) set up a task force to assess whether there were deficiencies in its oversight of nuclear reactor safety. The task force came back with twelve major areas for improvement. Its top recommendation: The agency needed to strengthen its fundamental regulatory framework to reduce the risk that a Fukushima-scale accident could happen in the US. But after dragging their feet for years, the NRC commissioners finally rejected the proposal in March 2016, with then-Commissioner William Ostendorff concluding that "the current regulatory approach has served the Commission and the public well."

"Yet only a few years later, the NRC has reversed course. The agency now says it urgently needs to transform its regulatory framework, its culture and its infrastructure ‒ but in ways that would weaken, rather than strengthen, safety and security oversight. A key aspect of that transformation is an overhaul (or what the NRC euphemistically calls an "enhancement") of the Reactor Oversight Process, the NRC's highly complex system for determining how it inspects nuclear power reactors, measures performance, assesses the significance of inspection findings, and responds to violations. Overall, these changes ‒ many of which are being pushed by the nuclear industry ‒ could make it harder for the NRC to uncover problems and mandate timely fixes before they jeopardize public health and safety. ...

'At this time, the four sitting commissioners (there is one vacancy) have not all voted on the proposed reactor oversight changes, but the outcome isn't in much doubt. The Republican majority, under the direction of Chairman Kristine Svinicki, has already weakened the NRC's regulatory authority in other areas. For example, in a 3-2 vote in January 2019, the majority gutted the staff's proposed final rule for protection against Fukushima-scale natural disasters by eliminating the requirement that reactors be able to withstand current flooding and seismic hazards."

The full article is online:

Edwin Lyman, 29 Aug 2019, 'Aging nuclear plants, industry cost-cutting, and reduced safety oversight: a dangerous mix',

Hanford, the nuclear frontier

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Andrew Blowers

In the second of a series of articles on the local and social legacies of nuclear energy, Andrew Blowers looks at the history of nuclear activity at the Hanford site in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

Up in the Pacific Northwest of the United States in eastern Washington state the mighty Columbia River bends east, then south before turning west for its long journey to the Pacific Ocean. In this middle reach the river passes through a landscape that has been utterly transformed by the nuclear industry over the past three-quarters of a century. For it was here in December 1942 that Lieutenant Franklin T Matthias, flying over the area on a mission for the Manhattan Project, exclaimed: 'This is it!' He commented later that 'the site was so good that there couldn't be a better one in the country. It looked perfect in every respect.'1

It was big country, with few people, and above all isolated – just the place for the secret, war-driven purpose of making plutonium, the deadly fissionable material that, less than three years later, would be used to explode over the skies above Nagasaki. Hanford, in the American West, a frontier land where the Lewis and Clark expedition had passed in 1805, had become, a century and a half later, the American nuclear frontier, the Atomic West.2 This semi-desert region of bare and barren brown and yellow hills and plains of sagebrush interspersed with homesteads of settlers and homelands of Native Americans was transformed into a landscape of risk and ultimately a nuclear wasteland, 'the little-known reservation that is arguably the most polluted place in the western world'.3

Hanford is one of the US Department of Energy's nuclear military reservations, places which have combined to produce the American nuclear arsenal. It is one of the three oldest and key wartime sites, along with Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, New Mexico. Like them, it has the classic characteristics of a 'peripheral community',4 but over the years, as its mission has changed and its economy has developed and diversified, it has become less isolated and more integrated into the mainstream – evidence of the dynamic nature of peripheral characteristics. Nevertheless, Hanford remains, to an extent, a place apart, defined by its history and ongoing nuclear activity, which, in a somewhat perverse way, provides a stability and sustainability that will endure for decades to come. Hanford is a long-established nuclear wasteland that has reached a level of maturity and permanency which illuminates the persistence of nuclear in the era of nuclear's decline. Hanford's history, perhaps, also indicates nuclear's future.

'Peace! Our bomb clinched it!'

It is difficult now to imagine the frenetic activity and scale of the mobilisation of technology, science and human resources that brought about the transformation of Hanford in the wartime years. In these extraordinary circumstances homesteaders were evicted, responding with a passive acceptance of the exigency of war mingled with resentment at the loss of livelihood. Native Americans were banned from fishing and gathering in the area of the Hanford Reach. All that now remains of the pre-war settlements is an abandoned farm warehouse and a crumbling bank and high school marking the site of the tiny settlements of White Bluffs and Hanford.

The Hanford site covers 586 square miles (larger than Bedfordshire and half the size of Rhode Island). The outlying parts of the reservation have been left as wilderness – the protected areas of the Wahluke Slope to the north, the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River, and the Arid Land Ecology Reserve flanking the bare saddleback Rattlesnake Mountain to the west. As Roy Gephart, who has chronicled the nuclear landscape, puts it: 'It contains a portion of the nation's most dangerous waste while preserving some of the most unique desert ecology within the Pacific Northwest.'5

Within these precious and pristine surrounds lies the heart of Hanford. In those frantic few wartime years, Hanford became the largest construction site ever assembled in the USA, with at its peak in 1944 50,000 workers recruited from across the nation and housed in barrack-like segregated accommodation with communal facilities. In these primitive conditions in a harsh climate they fashioned an incredible nuclear complex. They built reactors (then known as 'piles') along the Columbia to produce spent fuel for chemical processing, in long and massive plants called 'canyons' which turned out the small amount of plutonium (13.6pounds, the size of a softball) assembled in the 'Fat Boy' Nagasaki bomb.

The Hanford workers had no idea what they were producing until it was revealed that 'It's atomic bombs' on the morrow of the devastating impact on Nagasaki. The revelation was met with a surge of patriotic pride in Hanford's winning the war. As Michelle Gerber, Hanford's historian, commented to me in 2004, 'Nothing can make you that proud ever again.'

Production and pollution

During the ensuing decades of the Cold War, Hanford was at the heart of the United States' military nuclear production. Along the Columbia a further fleet of reactors was built, and inland, at the centre of the site in the so-called '200 area', giant reprocessing and finishing plants took over from the wartime 'canyons' dedicated to the production of plutonium. Elsewhere, as well as hosting these facilities Hanford became the scene of a variety of non-military experimental facilities, such as the Fast Flux Test Facility breeder reactor. On the Columbia River is the Columbia Generating Station, a public nuclear power plant supplying electricity, the only survivor of a grandiose plan for five nuclear power stations in Washington state which failed in the face of financial overreach and environmental opposition.6

Expansion of production was accompanied by rapid urban development as the temporary settlements of wartime Hanford were replaced in the post-war period, and the population settled in towns just to the south of the reservation. Foremost of these was Richland, a veritable company town built and controlled by the government. In its spacious layout and social purpose it had echoes of Garden City and new town principles, as well as the integrated neighbourhood unit concept of Clarence Perry.7 Indeed, in its early years Richland conveyed an egalitarian community ethos, regulated and communal, while also expressing hierarchical values in the so-called alphabet ('ABC') housing of varying size and rent designated for different groups – 'upper echelons' (administrators scientists), mid level (managers, engineers), down to blue-collar smaller homes and single-sex dormitory blocks.

The sense of identity with history of this 'Atomic City' is expressed in such features as 'Bombing Range Road' and its identification as 'Home of the Bombers', with its mushroom cloud, the symbol of its high school football team. Remnants of the early days still survive, although since its incorporation in 1958 Richland, with Kennewick and Pasco, has formed the Tri-Cities, a modern small metropolis with a population of 54,000 in 1962, increasing to around 250,000 today.

With the area's almost single-minded focus on wartime and Cold War productive effort, the negative consequences were grossly neglected. By today's standards the treatment of wastes was casual, neglectful and irresponsible. Low-level liquid wastes were siphoned off into cribs and swamps, while an estimated 56 million gallons of highly active liquid wastes from reprocessing were pumped into 177 tanks (149 single shelled and 28 double shelled), some of which have been leaking for many years, posing a threat to groundwater moving to the Columbia. These tanks constitute the most intractable of Hanford's clean-up problems, requiring intense manipulation and management prior to vitrification – a solution which still seems a long way off.

According to one estimate, there are some 1,700 waste sites and 500 facilities to be decommissioned, most of them along the Columbia or on the central part of the site.8 The inventory includes around 450 billion gallons of liquids discharged to the soil, 5 million cubic yards of contaminated soil, and 80 square miles of contaminated groundwater. The full extent of the contamination of this palpable nuclear wasteland is impossible to gauge with accuracy and, as Roy Gephart argues, 'deciphering this entire inventory is less important than pinpointing, or at least bounding, those portions posing the greatest potential health risk'.9

For years the scale of the accumulating problem was unknown and unregarded. The operations at Hanford were shrouded in secrecy and cover-up as the site's overriding priority was to continue to respond to the country's defensive demands. There were myriad incidents and experiments, paying little heed to human health or environment.

The most serious was the notorious experimental 'Green Run' in 1949, when there was a deliberate release of radionuclides, including iodine-131, casting a plume of radioactivity stretching 200 by 40 miles east and south-west of Hanford and giving readings exceeding the contemporary exposure standards by hundreds of times in the downwind communities. The idea was to develop a monitoring methodology to enable the US to simulate Soviet bomb-making capacity.10 According to historian Jerry Gough, whom I interviewed in 1999, 'The atrocity of the Green Run was not the release itself but the fact they didn't know what its effects might be. This was outrageous.'11

From plutonium culture to environmental culture

The outrages enacted on the Hanford landscape during the Second World War and the Cold War were concealed by a 'plutonium culture' – a combination of patriotism, belief in nuclear technology, and unquestioning trust in expertise that pervaded the communities in what Kate Brown has called Plutopia.12 With the ending of the Cold War there emerged a gradual but ultimately decisive cultural transformation. There was a transitional period of a decade or so up to the early years of this century, during which, reluctantly at first but pragmatically, Hanford was coming to terms with its new role and relationship with the nuclear industry. Three key developments in the change can be perceived.

First, and most obvious, was that the ending of the Cold War signalled the end of production at Hanford. Indeed, production had been declining since its peak in the mid-1960s as the era of détente and arms limitation set in. It was the closure in 1987 of Hanford's N reactor (described by President Kennedy shortly before his assassination in 1963 as a project that 'symbolises our strength as a nation') that effectively brought Hanford's military role to an end. Thereafter, apart from some experimental and research facilities, Hanford ceased production altogether.

The second development was the shift from secrecy to greater openness, marked especially by the publication in 1986 by the then site manager, Mike Lawrence, of the records revealing the sheer scale of the legacy and the casual attitudes to risk that had prevailed. In an interview with me in 1999 he argued that 'what went on here was good and necessary' but that 'it was very secretive; we know best ... How can people understand if they are not told?'

The end of production and the revelation of the legacy precipitated the third development, a fundamental change in Hanford's mission to a focus on environmental clean-up. The process is durable, unending and intractable, complex, and, in some ways, controversial. The key challenges are: removing high-level wastes from leaking tanks; decommissioning the reactors along the Columbia; and decontaminating and decommissioning the huge reprocessing canyons. Apart from these massive projects there are the myriad problems associated with redundant facilities, waste dumps and other hazards, including the perhaps impossible task of dealing with radioactive plumes beneath the site.

Some progress has been made, notably the removal of spent fuel and progressive cocooning of the redundant reactors in interim storage, engineering the secure storage of plutonium, decommissioning redundant facilities, and cleaning up contaminated sites. But the most difficult and costly challenge is the clean-up and remediation of the tanks and the vitrification of the high-level wastes in the Waste Treatment Plant (WTP), the construction of which has been plagued by delays, technical problems and cost escalation. The ultimate aim of cleaning up the Columbia Corridor and concentrating the most problematic and hazardous activities in an inner core of 10 square miles at the centre of the site seems some way off.

The management of the clean-up process has been criticised for its institutional inertia, reliance on big contractors with short-term contracts, changing strategies, and low productivity. Bill Dixon, an engineer with experience of working at Hanford, told me in 2013: 'The approach has been for the gold standard, which makes WTP expensive and long term.' Rather than an open-ended commitment, the US Department of Energy, the ultimate paymaster, presses for an accelerated programme based on a risk-based approach to make sure less money is spent in a shorter timescale for a lower standard of remediation.

In the end 'clean-up is a conditional, negotiated state',13 and a collaborative approach called the Tri-Party Agreement has been in force since 1998, involving the Department of Energy, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and the state of Washington's Department of Ecology. This provides for a consensual approach on priorities, milestones, and actions. An element of public participation in clean-up is provided through the Hanford Advisory Board, with a broad stakeholder membership advising on major policy issues. Among the continuing controversies are questions such as: should all buildings be demolished; should all tank wastes be vitrified; should all reactors be moved to the central area; which areas should become available for unrestricted use – and when; and, the overarching question, how clean is clean enough? That question, given the uncertainties and different opinions, is a matter of both scientific and value judgement.

Stability and sustainability

Hanford has entered a mature and relatively stable stage in the relationship between its communities and the nuclear industry. The peripheral characteristics that were its raison d'être have evolved, and Hanford has undergone a profound change from isolation to integration – a community still marked by its nuclear history but no longer entirely defined by it.

Chosen for its remoteness to undertake a national strategic and secret operation, Hanford, although far from major centres, is far more accessible nowadays. The Tri-Cities is a fully connected and fast growing sub-regional centre. Its economic dependence on the nuclear industry, although still considerable, is much diminished. Fears of a steep post-production decline in the nuclear industry have been eased by the federal appropriation routinely provided to Hanford to the tune of $2 billion per year – around a third of the national nuclear clean-up budget. At the same time, the economy of the Tri-Cities has developed, with research laboratories (originally a spin-off from the nuclear activities) but also health services, food processing and wineries, high-tech industries, and regional retail and distribution services. Hanford's, or rather the Tri-Cities', economy is now neither dependent nor monocultural, but diversified and sustainable.

Hanford, created and supported by the state throughout its heyday, continues to exert political leverage. Politically speaking, Hanford is not just an environmental issue; it is a moral issue, which accounts for the obligation towards its clean-up mission felt by federal, state and local governments. There is still a residual sense of embattlement in a Republican pro-nuclear community within a Democratic state with pronounced anti-nuclear sentiments in the big cities to the west beyond the Cascade Corridor. But the mutual hostility of the years of nuclear production has abated, and mutual interest in clean-up has fructified. In short, a modernist discourse associated with the nuclear industry has shifted to a postmodern discourse of consensus and co-operation, reflecting the more complex economy and diverse society that constitutes the Tri-Cities area today.

A continuing legacy

Hanford's is a landscape traumatised by its wartime and post-war existence at the heart of the American nuclear-industrial complex. In this vast area are the remnants of a plutonium economy that has left a polluted landscape which will persist down the generations. 'Hanford represents one of the most daunting environmental catastrophes the world has ever known',14 comparable in scale and contamination to the contemporary Russian Cold War complex of Mayak near Chelyabinsk.15 The problems arising from an ageing infrastructure are difficult to contain. Major recent incidents include the collapse of a rail tunnel storing waste from plutonium production, further incidents of tank leakage, and risks to workers from demolition work.

It is intended to release most of the land to non-nuclear purposes. Already much is protected or conserved, and the stretch of the Columbia that runs through the site is under conservation as the Hanford Reach National Monument, a wildlife, fishing and recreational area, with the historic reactors dotted along its southern bank. In 2015 some of the historic nuclear structures, including the B reactor, were incorporated in the Manhattan Project National Historic Park, along with similar features at Los Alamos, New Mexico and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the other main wartime nuclear projects.

It will take time, resources and effort to achieve clean-up and to provide adequate, safe and secure interim storage for the Hanford wastes. The overall costs are estimated at over $100 billion, with a deadline for clean-up of 2060 – both likely to be exceeded. The WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) deep disposal facility in New Mexico, the destination for the military transuranic wastes buried at Hanford, has been suspended since 2014 owing to brine seepage. With the suspension of the national repository project at Yucca Mountain in 2008, a new process for finding a suitable site has begun. The slow progress with the vitrification plant and the lack of a national repository make a final solution for the disposal of vitrified high-level wastes a distant and uncertain prospect.

Hanford, the Atomic City of the West, was once at the nuclear frontier, creating weapons of devastating destructive power that left a nuclear wasteland. Today it is at the frontier of a massive clean-up project, described as 'the largest civil works project in world history'.16 The nuclear pioneers engaged in the defence of the nation appropriated a landscape truly awesome in scale, a sparsely settled wilderness in the mid-Columbia plateau, and transformed it into a scattered industrial complex in the sagebrush desert. Their successors have been left with the legacy of those years – a task of retrieval, containment, remediation and improvement to restore the landscape where possible and to withdraw those parts which are irremediable.

For the foreseeable future Hanford will remain a nuclear wasteland, where risk from wastes not fully comprehended or characterised lurk on and beneath its surface with no final solution yet in sight. It is a place where the impacts from a frenzied period of destructive impulse will linger indefinitely; a place where, in the words often attributed to Native American Chief Seattle, it may truly be said: 'We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.'


1. Quoted in J. Findlay and B. Hevly: Atomic Frontier Days: Hanford and the American West. University of Washington Press, 2011, pp.18-19

2. B. Hevly and J. Findlay: The Atomic West. University of Washington Press, 1998

3. M D'Antonio: Atomic Harvest: Hanford and the Lethal Toll of America's Nuclear Arsenal. Crown Publishers, 1993

4. The concept and characteristics of 'peripheral communities' were explored in the first article in this series ('Landscapes of the legacy of nuclear power'). In brief the characteristics are: remoteness, marginality, powerlessness, cultural resignation and resilience, and environmental risk. It may be noted here that the characteristics are dynamic, responding to changing power relations. For a more detailed analysis of the concepts of peripherality and peripheralization, see: A Blowers: The Legacy of Nuclear Power. Earthscan from Routledge, 2017

5. R. Gephart: Hanford, a Conversation about Nuclear Waste and Cleanup. Battelle Press, 2003, p.v

6. The Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) planned to build five large nuclear plants during the 1970s to serve Washington state. The project was a disaster, suffering cost overruns and delays, leading to one of the biggest defaults in history, with two stations never built, two halted during construction, and only one, that on the Hanford site, eventually completed. The scandal became popularised as WHOOPS!

7. C. Perry: 'The neighborhood unit, a scheme of arrangement for the family-life community'. In The Regional Survey of New York and its Environs, 1929, Vol. 7, 22-140

8. An estimate prepared by United Kingdom Nirex Limited for my visit in 2004

9. Hanford, a Conversation about Nuclear Waste and Cleanup (see note 5), p.5.3

10. The Green Run was a release in December 1949 of radioactive iodine-131 from 'green' (less-cooled) uranium fuel, apparently to test instrumentation for detecting Soviet bomb-making capability. It was not revealed until the 1980s, becoming notorious for the harm it may have caused in downwind communities

11. For a downwinder account of the unknown threats from Hanford, see T. Hein: Atomic Farmgirl. Mariner Books, 2003. She points out that the Green Run was only one of many deliberate and accidental post-war releases from the site. The Green Run released 8,000 curies in an estimated total of 740,000 during 1944-72 (p.xi)

12. K. Brown: Plutopia. Oxford University Press, 2013

13. Hanford, a Conversation about Nuclear Waste and Cleanup (see note 5), p.8.6

14. S. Shulman: The Threat at Home: Confronting the Toxic Legacy of the US Military. Beacon Press, 1992, p.94

15. D. Bradley: Behind the Nuclear Curtain: Radioactive Waste Management in the Former Soviet Union. Battelle Press, 1998

16. G. Zorpette: 'Hanford's nuclear wasteland'. Scientific American, 1996, Vol. 274 (5), 88-97

mPower: an obituary

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

March 2017 ‒ The mPower small modular reactor (SMR) project in the USA just got much smaller: it has been abandoned.

mPower was conceived in 2008 and announced to the world in June 2009. In July 2010, Babcock & Wilcox announced an alliance with Bechtel called Generation mPower. At the same time, Babcock & Wilcox announced that it would build an mPower test facility in Virginia, part-funded by a US$5 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalisation Commission.1

Generation mPower planned to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for design certification by 2013.1 The company aimed for NRC certification and a reactor construction permit in 2018, and commercial operation of the first two units in 2022.2

The idea was to produce scaled-down (195 MWe) pressurized light water reactors (PWR), drawing on decades of worldwide experience with (larger) PWRs and thus making NRC licensing simpler and quicker.3

Experienced, cashed-up companies ... a conventional reactor design ... R&D funding support from Virginia and from the federal Department of Energy ... what could go wrong?

It didn't take long for the project to fall apart. In 2013 Babcock & Wilcox said it intended to sell a majority stake in the mPower joint venture, but in February 2014 announced it was unable to find a buyer. In April 2014, Babcock & Wilcox announced it was sharply reducing investment in mPower to US$15 million annually, citing the inability "to secure significant additional investors or customer engineering, procurement and construction contracts to provide the financial support necessary to develop and deploy mPower reactors".1

More than 200 engineers, project managers, administrators, and sales-people were sacked in 2014.4

The Tennessee Valley Authority had been named as a lead customer and plans were developed to build up to six mPower reactors at TVA's Clinch River site at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.5 But in 2014, TVA ended the agreement to share design and licensing costs.

In November 2012, the US Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it would subsidize mPower development in a five-year cost-share agreement. The DOE's contribution would be capped at US$226 million, of which US$111 million was subsequently paid. That funding tap was switched off after Generation mPower downsized the project in 2014, but the company was not required to repay any of the DOE funding.2

The Generation mPower companies spent more than US$375 million on mPower to February 2016.2 Add that to the DOE's US$111 million contribution, and overall expenditure was nudging US$500 million.

In March 2016, Babcock & Wilcox and Bechtel came to an arrangement whereby Bechtel would attempt to secure further funding from third parties, including the DOE.2 However those efforts have been abandoned. On 3 March 2017, Bechtel notified Babcock & Wilcox that it was unable to secure sufficient funding and was invoking a settlement provision to terminate the joint agreement. Generation mPower will terminate the program in the next few months.3

Bechtel spokesperson Fred deSousa said: "Bringing a new reactor program through the design, engineering and regulatory process is a very complex and expensive proposition. It needed a plant owner with an identified location and an investor willing to wait a significant period of time for a return, and these were not available."6

Rod Adams ‒ who worked for B&W mPower as the Process and Procedure Development Lead from 2010 to 2013 ‒ gives some reasons for the demise of mPower:3

  • The financial crisis of 2008.
  • The continuing reduction in natural gas prices.
  • Management challenges associated with a fundamentally unequal partnership between two large, established companies, each with their own culture.
  • "The aggressive effort to market the Fukushima events as a nuclear catastrophe in order to suppress a growing interest in nuclear energy development".
  • "The entry of activist investors that purchased a large portion of B&W's stock and forced a major reevaluation of the project and the overall corporate structure".

Adams' statement about aggressive efforts to market Fukushima as a nuclear catastrophe is a cheap shot at environmentalists and other nuclear critics. His statement about "activist investors" is more intriguing. That's a story he discussed in a 2014 article.4 He notes that the February 2014 announcement to sharply reduce investment in mPower followed the purchase of Babcock & Wilcox shares by Wall Street investment funds. Those investment funds purchased enough stock to impose a restructuring plan that directed spending away from mPower. Their motives, according to Adams, were to prioritize short-term profits over medium-term investments, and to protect their investments in fossil fuels by killing off a potential competitor. And their statements about a lack of customer and investor interest were a concocted cover story.

So mPower was wedged between aggressive anti-nuclear marketeers and fossil-fueled corporate interests. Perhaps. Adams also offers a tendentious conspiracy theory about a "sabotage effort from within the nuclear industry".4

A longer version of this article was published in Nuclear Monitor #840, 21 March 2017, 'U.S. small reactor project just got smaller',


1. B&W mPower,

2. World Nuclear Association, March 2017, 'Small Nuclear Power Reactors',

3. Rod Adams, 13 March 2017, 'Bechtel And BWXT Quietly Terminate mPower Reactor Project',

4. Rod Adams, 9 May 2014, 'B&W mPower cover story about lack of interest is bogus',

5. World Nuclear News, 14 April 2014, 'Funding for mPower reduced',

6. Margaret Carmel, 15 March 2017, 'BWXT, Bechtel shelve mPower program',

Generation IV nuclear waste claims debunked

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Lindsay Krall and Allison Macfarlane have written an important article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists debunking claims that certain Generation IV reactor concepts promise major advantages with respect to nuclear waste management.1 Krall is a post-doctoral fellow at the George Washington University. Macfarlane is a professor at the same university, a former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission from July 2012 to December 2014, and a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future from 2010 to 2012.

Krall and Macfarlane focus on molten salt reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors, and draw on the experiences of the US Experimental Breeder Reactor II and the US Molten Salt Reactor Experiment.

The article abstract notes that Generation IV developers and advocates "are receiving substantial funding on the pretense that extraordinary waste management benefits can be reaped through adoption of these technologies" yet "molten salt reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors – due to the unusual chemical compositions of their fuels – will actually exacerbate spent fuel storage and disposal issues."

Here is the concluding section of the article:

"The core propositions of non-traditional reactor proponents – improved economics, proliferation resistance, safety margins, and waste management – should be re-evaluated. The metrics used to support the waste management claims – i.e. reduced actinide mass and total radiotoxicity beyond 300 years – are insufficient to critically assess the short- and long-term safety, economics, and proliferation resistance of the proposed fuel cycles.

"Furthermore, the promised (albeit irrelevant) actinide reductions are only attainable given exceptional technological requirements, including commercial-scale spent fuel treatment, reprocessing, and conditioning facilities. These will create low- and intermediate-level waste streams destined for geologic disposal, in addition to the intrinsic high-level fission product waste that will also require conditioning and disposal.

"Before construction of non-traditional reactors begins, the economic implications of the back end of these non-traditional fuel cycles must be analyzed in detail; disposal costs may be unpalatable. The reprocessing/treatment and conditioning of the spent fuel will entail costs, as will storage and transportation of the chemically reactive fuels. These are in addition to the cost of managing high-activity operational wastes, e.g. those originating from molten salt reactor filter systems. Finally, decommissioning the reactors and processing their chemically reactive coolants represents a substantial undertaking and another source of non-traditional waste. ...

"Issues of spent fuel management (beyond temporary storage in cooling pools, aka "wet storage") fall outside the scope of the NRC's reactor design certification process, which is regularly denounced by nuclear advocates as narrowly applicable to light water reactor technology and insufficiently responsive to new reactor designs. Nevertheless, new reactor licensing is contingent on broader policies, including the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and the Continued Storage Rule. Those policies are based on the results of radionuclide dispersion models described in environmental impact statements. But the fuel and barrier degradation mechanisms tested in these models were specific to oxide-based spent fuels, which are inert, compared to the compounds that non-traditional reactors will discharge.

"The Continued Storage Rule explicitly excludes most non-oxide fuels, including those from sodium-cooled fast reactors, from the environmental impact statement. Clearly, storage and disposal of non-oxide commercial fuels should require updated assessments and adjudication.

"Finally, treatment of spent fuels from non-traditional reactors, which by Energy Department precedent is only feasible through their respective (re)processing technologies, raises concerns over proliferation and fissile material diversion. Pyroprocessing and fluoride volatility-reductive extraction systems optimized for spent fuel treatment can – through minor changes to the chemical conditions – also extract plutonium (or uranium 233 bred from thorium). Separation from lethal fission products would eliminate the radiological barriers protecting the fuel from intruders seeking to obtain and purify fissile material. Accordingly, cost and risk assessments of predisposal spent fuel treatments must also account for proliferation safeguards.

"Radioactive waste cannot be "burned"; fission of actinides, the source of nuclear heat, inevitably generates fission products. Since some of these will be radiotoxic for thousands of years, these high-level wastes should be disposed of in stable waste forms and geologic repositories. But the waste estimates propagated by nuclear advocates account only for the bare mass of fission products, rather than that of the conditioned waste form and associated repository requirements.

"These estimates further assume that the efficiency of actinide fission will surge, but this actually relies on several rounds of recycling using immature reprocessing technologies. The low- and intermediate-level wastes that will be generated by these activities will also be destined for geologic disposal but have been neglected in the waste estimates. More important, reprocessing remains a security liability of dubious economic benefit, so the apparent need to adopt these technologies simply to prepare non-traditional spent fuels for storage and disposal is a major disadvantage relative to light water reactors. Theoretical burnups for fast and molten salt reactors are too low to justify the inflated back-end costs and risks, the latter of which may include a commercial path to proliferation.

"Reductions in spent fuel volume, longevity, and total radiotoxicity may be realized by breeding and burning fissile material in non-traditional reactors. But those relatively small reductions are of little value in repository planning, so utilization of these metrics is misleading to policy-makers and the general public. We urge policy-makers to critically assess non-traditional fuel cycles, including the feasibility of managing their unusual waste streams, any loopholes that could commit the American public to financing quasi-reprocessing operations, and the motivation to rapidly deploy these technologies. If decarbonization of the economy by 2050 is the end-goal, a more pragmatic path to success involves improvements to light water reactor technologies, adoption of Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations on spent fuel management, and strong incentives for commercially mature, carbon-free energy technologies."

Pyroprocessing: the integral fast reactor waste fiasco

In theory, integral fast reactors (IFRs) would gobble up nuclear waste and convert it into low-carbon electricity. In practice, the IFR R&D program in Idaho has left a legacy of troublesome waste. This saga is detailed in a 2017 article2 and a longer report3 by the Union of Concerned Scientists' senior scientist Ed Lyman. This will be of particular relevance if the US Department of Energy proceeds with its plan to support the construction of a 'versatile test reactor' based on GE-Hitachi's 'Power Reactor Innovative Small Module' (PRISM) design, which is based on IFR designs.4

Lyman notes that the IFR concept "has attracted numerous staunch advocates" but their "interest has been driven largely by idealized studies on paper and not by facts derived from actual experience."2 He discusses the IFR prototype built at Idaho ‒ the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II), which ceased operation in 1994 ‒ and subsequent efforts by the Department of Energy (DOE) to treat 26 metric tons of sodium-bonded metallic spent fuel from the EBR-II reactor with pyroprocessing, ostensibly to convert the waste to forms that would be safer for disposal in a geological repository. A secondary goal was to demonstrate the viability of pyroprocessing ‒ but the program has instead demonstrated the serious shortcomings of this technology.

Lyman writes:2

"Pyroprocessing is a form of spent fuel reprocessing that dissolves metal-based spent fuel in a molten salt bath (as distinguished from conventional reprocessing, which dissolves spent fuel in water-based acid solutions). Understandably, given all its problems, DOE has been reluctant to release public information on this program, which has largely operated under the radar since 2000.

"The FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] documents we obtained have revealed yet another DOE tale of vast sums of public money being wasted on an unproven technology that has fallen far short of the unrealistic projections that DOE used to sell the project to Congress, the state of Idaho and the public. However, it is not too late to pull the plug on this program, and potentially save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. …

"Pyroprocessing was billed as a simpler, cheaper and more compact alternative to the conventional aqueous reprocessing plants that have been operated in France, the United Kingdom, Japan and other countries.

"Although DOE shut down the EBR-II in 1994 (the reactor part of the IFR program), it allowed work at the pyroprocessing facility to proceed. It justified this by asserting that the leftover spent fuel from the EBR-II could not be directly disposed of in the planned Yucca Mountain repository because of the potential safety issues associated with presence of metallic sodium in the spent fuel elements, which was used to "bond" the fuel to the metallic cladding that encased it. (Metallic sodium reacts violently with water and air.)

"Pyroprocessing would separate the sodium from other spent fuel constituents and neutralize it. DOE decided in 2000 to use pyroprocessing for the entire inventory of leftover EBR-II spent fuel – both "driver" and "blanket" fuel – even though it acknowledged that there were simpler methods to remove the sodium from the lightly irradiated blanket fuel, which constituted nearly 90% of the inventory.

"However, as the FOIA documents reveal in detail, the pyroprocessing technology simply has not worked well and has fallen far short of initial predictions. Although DOE initially claimed that the entire inventory would be processed by 2007, as of the end of Fiscal Year 2016, only about 15% of the roughly 26 metric tons of spent fuel had been processed. Over $210 million has been spent, at an average cost of over $60,000 per kilogram of fuel treated. At this rate, it will take until the end of the century to complete pyroprocessing of the entire inventory, at an additional cost of over $1 billion.

"But even that assumes, unrealistically, that the equipment will continue to be usable for this extended time period. Moreover, there is a significant fraction of spent fuel in storage that has degraded and may not be a candidate for pyroprocessing in any event. …

"What exactly is the pyroprocessing of this fuel accomplishing? Instead of making management and disposal of the spent fuel simpler and safer, it has created an even bigger mess. …

"[P]yroprocessing has taken one potentially difficult form of nuclear waste and converted it into multiple challenging forms of nuclear waste. DOE has spent hundreds of millions of dollars only to magnify, rather than simplify, the waste problem. This is especially outrageous in light of other FOIA documents that indicate that DOE never definitively concluded that the sodium-bonded spent fuel was unsafe to directly dispose of in the first place. But it insisted on pursuing pyroprocessing rather than conducting studies that might have shown it was unnecessary.

"Everyone with an interest in pyroprocessing should reassess their views given the real-world problems experienced in implementing the technology over the last 20 years at INL. They should also note that the variant of the process being used to treat the EBR-II spent fuel is less complex than the process that would be needed to extract plutonium and other actinides to produce fresh fuel for fast reactors. In other words, the technology is a long way from being demonstrated as a practical approach for electricity production."


1. Lindsay Krall and Allison Macfarlane, 2018, 'Burning waste or playing with fire? Waste management considerations for non-traditional reactors', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 74:5, pp.326-334,

2. Ed Lyman / Union of Concerned Scientists, 12 Aug 2017, 'The Pyroprocessing Files',

3. Edwin Lyman, 2017, 'External Assessment of the U.S. Sodium-Bonded Spent Fuel Treatment Program',

4. World Nuclear Association, 15 Nov 2018, 'PRISM selected for US test reactor programme',

SMRs to power military installations and forward bases in the United States

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The US military experimented with small reactors in remote locations beginning 1954.1,2 Dr Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, summarizes the early experiments:3

"The Army Nuclear Power Program was initiated in 1954, in the heady early days of the atomic power era, to develop ground-based nuclear power plants for military use ‒ a mission distinct from the Navy's submarine nuclear propulsion program already well underway. Over two decades, the US Army built and operated eight small power reactors, ranging from less than one megawatt to ten megawatts of electricity, with limited success. The worst outcome was the 1961 core meltdown and explosion at the SL-1 reactor in Idaho, which killed three operators. Five of the reactors were designed to be portable to some degree, and three were deployed at remote military bases in Greenland, Alaska, and Antarctica. Although these reactors didn't explode, they proved unreliable and expensive to operate. Based on that experience, the program was shut down in 1977."

Efforts to renew the US military's interest in SMRs ‒ including microreactors in the range of 1‒10 MW ‒ have been underway for some time.4 Industry bodies such as the Nuclear Energy Institute have been proactive, and the Pentagon, with the support of Congress, is exploring the potential for the deployment of SMRs at defense installations for power generation, desalinating water and generating hydrogen for fuel. It is potentially a significant market: the Department of Defense manages more than 500 fixed installations and is the single largest energy consumer in the US.

Marc Nichol, the Nuclear Energy Institute's director of new reactor deployment, said in October 2018: "Small reactors are one of the most promising new nuclear technologies to emerge in decades. Energy is important to our national security; it must be reliable and resilient so that it's there when our men and women in uniform need it. Micro-reactors can enhance our capabilities by providing that resilient, 24/7 energy."5

However the plan is improbable and problematic. An article by current and former researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's Department of Engineering and Public Policy, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in July 2018, discusses the looming problems:6

"Because it is unlikely that further and substantial DOE funding will be dedicated to reinvigorating civilian nuclear power, and because the nuclear enterprise is unlikely to rebound on its own, some have advanced national security arguments to stem and reverse the perceived decline in US standing by assigning this task to the Department of Defense (DoD). Given the current political climate, which supports American primacy in areas of strategic importance, supporters in Congress, think tanks, the Army, and the Navy have floated the possibility of diverting large sums of money through the DoD to catalyze the development and deployment of SMR technologies.

"While we share the fears about the future of nuclear science and nuclear power in the United States, we believe that the proposal to try to address the problem through DoD leadership in development is both unwise and unlikely to succeed. There are several practical challenges. Any SMR that is designed to primarily serve the DoD would likely be too expensive for a commercial utility to deploy. The design specifications upon which the DoD would insist would likely render commercial variants infeasible (because, to minimize or avoid frequent refueling, it would likely need to use fuel that is enriched more than the current operating fleet standard of 5% U-235, and perhaps even greater than 20%) and economically uncompetitive in most of today's markets.

"Moreover, SMRs designed to serve a US base would face the same economic challenges as current commercial reactors, and there is no guarantee that a nuclear design would win the day in a competition for US military base power supply. Even siting, a purported advantage of having the military deploy SMRs, would be difficult. The DoD follows state environmental guidelines when they do not compromise the defense mission. The siting of SMRs would likely still become an issue for the DoD in a range of locations, and not just those that reject nuclear power outright. Finally, having the DoD take the lead in development risks creating several large, expensive, "too-big-to-fail" fiefdoms, which would detract from more pressing warfighting needs.

"In addition to the practical challenges, there are compelling normative arguments to be made against relying on the DoD to revivify the nuclear enterprise. These revolve around the role of the US military in American economic and civic life.

"First, the military develops new technologies when they are the only available solution to a problem. Scenarios proposed for military leadership in SMR design and development do not convincingly make the cut when balanced with alternatives, such as power purchase agreements. Second, we endorse the firebreak between the civilian and military nuclear programs because it has substantial normative value. Third, at a time when American civic and political norms rest on precarious ground, using the military to rescue a commercial industry degrades the social fabric from which it derives legitimacy. It also undercuts the DOE by underscoring its failure to enable the development of advanced reactors.

"Most troublingly, adopting this model would amount to an admission of failure on the nuclear industry's part. Defaulting to the national security argument in an effort to salvage the US commercial nuclear industry concedes the failure of the technical and economic arguments in favor of the technology. It also does little to drive commitment from industry that would generate broader deployment. Other options, including long-term power purchase agreements, coordination in human capital development, and research into grid security, constitute avenues for DoD involvement that are more politically credible and economically sound. However, it is unclear that any of these could have more than a modest impact on the development of a domestic SMR industry in the next few decades."

Project Dilithium

In January 2019, the US Department of Defense issued a call for information in support of its interest in acquiring small (1‒10 MW) power reactors for use at forward operating bases.

Edwin Lyman argues that the "inherently safe reactor" sought by the military is a myth:7

"All it really means is that in certain idealized scenarios, a reactor, after shutdown, could be adequately cooled by passive mechanisms, such as convective airflow. But passive safety cannot eliminate every pathway by which the reactor fuel could be damaged and release radioactivity. If a severe accident or sabotage attack were to induce more extreme conditions than the reactor was designed to withstand, all bets are off. How long would passive airflow keep nuclear fuel safely cool if, say, an adversary threw an insulating blanket over a small reactor? Or if the reactor were buried under a pile of debris? Moreover, it is hard to imagine that a direct explosive breach of the reactor core would not result in dispersal of some radioactive contamination. ... At best a release of radioactivity would be a costly disruption, and at worst it would cause immediate harm to personnel, render the base unusable for years, and alienate the host country."

Lyman notes that reactors deployed at forward operating bases or shipped through war zones would be prime targets of the enemy, and if commanders need to expend significant resources to protect them from military strikes, such reactors could become burdens rather than assets.7

Lyman commented on the proliferation risks:7

"The original RFI [request for information] stipulated that the reactor fuel had to be high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), which is uranium enriched to levels above the 5 percent uranium-235 concentration of conventional power reactors, but still below the 20 percent that marks the lower limit for highly enriched uranium (HEU), which is usable in nuclear weapons. Although HALEU is considered highly impractical for direct nuclear weapons use, it has greater proliferation potential than fuel with uranium-235 concentrations below 5% because of the reduced effort needed to enrich it to a weapon-usable level ‒ which is why the international community saw Iran's stockpiling of HALEU as a threat. If the Defense Department goes forward with Project Dilithium, other nations, including US adversaries, may be prompted to start producing HALEU and building their own military power reactors.

"An even more worrisome problem is that the revised RFI issued on January 22 no longer includes the HALEU requirement. That opens the door for reactors fueled with HEU ‒ a major proliferation threat. The Defense Department may be envious of NASA, which is moving forward with development of a tiny HEU-fueled reactor to power deep space missions while turning a blind eye to the proliferation risks. Or it may have decided that the current lack of availability of a sufficient quantity of HALEU for a demonstration reactor would cause an unacceptable delay. Or the omission may simply be a mistake. As of this writing, the contracting officer at Defense has not responded to a request to clarify whether this was an innocuous oversight or a deliberate gesture.

"Given the dubious strategic value, low chance of success, and potential for sparking a HALEU-fueled international arms race, what can explain the Defense Department's renewed interest in small reactors after decades of dormancy? To be sure, Project Dilithium didn't just spring out of nowhere. It is the culmination of a patient, decade-long effort by nuclear lobbyists to interest Defense and its congressional overseers in a costly product ‒ small nuclear reactors ‒ that few in the private sector seem to want. The Pentagon is precisely the savior small nuclear reactor vendors need: deep-pocketed and unbeholden to return-seeking investors. But this coup by the nuclear industry will do little to enhance US national security and could expose fighting forces to undue risk. Hopefully, pragmatists at the Defense Department will realize this and pull the plug on this misguided effort before billions of dollars are wasted on a fruitless search for a reactor as rare as a dilithium crystal."


1. Peter Rejcek, 25 June 2010, 'Powerful Reminder',

2. Hanne E.F. Nielsen, 23 July 2019, 'Remembering Antarctica's nuclear past with 'Nukey Poo'',

3. Edwin Lyman, 22 Feb 2019, 'The Pentagon wants to boldly go where no nuclear reactor has gone before. It won't work.',

4. Dan Yurman, 6 Oct 2018, 'DOD Seeks SMRs for Tactical Readiness at Military Bases',

5. Nuclear Energy Institute, 9 Oct 2018, 'A Big Move Toward Small: Micro-reactors and the Pentagon',

6. M. Granger Morgan, Ahmed Abdulla, Michael J. Ford, and Michael Rath, July 2018 'US nuclear power: The vanishing low-carbon wedge', Proceedings of the National Academy of Science,

7. Edwin Lyman, 22 Feb 2019, 'The Pentagon wants to boldly go where no nuclear reactor has gone before. It won't work.',

New report concludes nuclear "will play no meaningful role" in climate change abatement

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Nuclear and Information and Resource Service

Nuclear power is frequently promoted as a necessary solution to global warming, and a key means to achieve emissions goals. This is a major mistake, according to a new report published by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung‒New York City. The report ‒ "Nuclear Power and Climate Action: An Assessment for the Future" ‒ presents an industrial analysis of nuclear energy to assess its viability as a climate solution. From real and practical evidence, the report concludes that nuclear power is not a viable tool in the climate solutions toolbox, and that nuclear-free paths to phasing out greenhouse gas emissions are necessary, feasible, and cost-effective.

The report evaluates the technology from all sides: the potential for building new reactors, the prospects for continuing to operate existing reactors, and the commercialization of so-called "advanced reactor designs" in the mid-century timeframe. Analysis shows that nuclear power may not be available in any meaningful capacity by 2050. Existing reactor fleets in most of the world are already reaching the end of their mechanical lives and will mostly phase out within the critical climate timeframe, and strategies to reduce gas reduction must take this into account.

"Those who argue that nuclear power is necessary to reduce GHG emissions are gravely mistaken," said author of the report Tim Judson, Executive Director of the Nuclear and Information and Resource Service (NIRS). "The practical realities about nuclear energy show that it is a failed technology, which is on its way out. We have many more effective and promising tools in the climate action toolbox," continued Judson. "We must not waste time and money on trying to preserve a role for nuclear power, and align energy policies and investments with rapidly transitioning to renewables, efficiency, and carbon-free, nuclear-free climate solutions."

With the immense threats of climate change, it is tempting to overlook other environmental hazards in the effort to address it. That is a mistake with nuclear power especially, because its environmental impacts are so severe and long-lasting and so many of them intersect with and compound impacts of global warming as well as issues of climate justice. At every stage of its production ‒ from uranium mining to the production of radioactive wastes ‒ nuclear power pollutes the environment with some of the most dangerous, long-lived contaminants in the world and places undue stress on water resources.

Because fossil fuels make up 86% of global energy, decarbonization will require a total transformation of energy systems in most parts of the world. Renewable energies have proven to be the most promising option ‒ complemented by investments in energy efficiency, development of complementary technologies, and integrated reliably and resiliently. Evidence from places like Germany and California shows that nuclear power does not integrate well with renewables and phasing it out is likely to create greater opportunities to accelerate the phaseout of fossil fuels and the transformation of the energy system.

The report includes case studies showing that promotion of nuclear power entails significant climate opportunity costs, wasting time and financial investments that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonize energy systems much more rapidly and cost-effectively. For instance, in the United States, the Summer 2 and 3 reactors were cancelled after major cost overruns and construction delays bankrupted their manufacturer, after US$9 billion had already been spent. Had utilities invested in energy efficiency and renewables, the report finds, the utilities would have made substantial reductions in emissions and reduced electricity costs for their consumers.

Similarly, the state of New York in the US decided in 2016 to subsidize four aging, uneconomical reactors, at a projected cost of $7.6 billion by 2029 ‒ three times as much as will be spent to achieve 50% renewable energy standard in 2030. Had New York invested in energy efficiency instead of nuclear, it could achieve greater emissions reductions in 2030, at a cost reduction of $10.6 billion.

"The pursuit of nuclear power in South Africa would have permanently locked us into complicity in putting our country as a radioactive waste zone for centuries," said Makoma Lekalakala, Director, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, and 2018 awardee of the Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa. "By challenging the secret $76 billion agreement between South Africa and Rosatom, we exposed the role of corruption at the highest level of our government. The agreement would have forced South Africans to pay all the costs of a nuclear disaster, contaminated our environment and water with radioactive waste, and made electricity unaffordable for generations," continued Lekalakala. "We have all of the clean, affordable wind and solar energy we need in South Africa, and overturning the nuclear agreement has put us back on track for a healthy, sustainable future, free of fossil fuels."

"The imperatives of rapidly eliminating greenhouse gas emissions demand greater ambition in the implementation of the Paris Agreement," said Kerstin Rudek of Bürgerinitiative Umweltschutz Lüchow-Dannenberg of Germany, on behalf of the international Don't Nuke the Climate Coalition (a global network working to keep nuclear out of the climate agreements ‒ "Nuclear power has proved too expensive, too slow, and too unreliable to rapidly reduce emissions, and the vast majority of reactors around the world are likely to retire before 2050. A carbon-free, nuclear-free world is possible, but we can't get there by wasting time, money, and political will on failed technologies and false solutions like nuclear power."

The report concludes that the primary obstacles to rapidly phasing out fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions are political, not technological or economic. In particular, deceptive interventions by corporations invested in fossil fuels and nuclear energy have engendered inertia and confused the debate by, alternately, denying the reality of global warming and by presenting false solutions. Mitigating the economic and social impacts of climate action by ensuring a just transition for workers and impacted communities is key to charting a clear vision and building and sustaining the political will to accelerate emissions reductions and the phase-out of greenhouse gas emissions.

The report is online: Tim Judson, Nov 2018, 'Nuclear Power and Climate Action: An Assessment for the Future', Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung: New York,

Nuclear lobbyists celebrate Union of Concerned Scientists' 'backflip' on nuclear power

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Nuclear power advocates are celebrating the Union of Concerned Scientists' (UCS) new pro-nuclear position … although the organization has not changed its position and is not pro-nuclear (or anti-nuclear).

A recent UCS report found that 22% of nuclear power capacity in the US is unprofitable or will soon become unprofitable and that greenhouse emissions will rise to the extent that nuclear is replaced by fossil fuels.1 It thus offers support for broad policies that would in effect subsidize the ongoing operation of some nuclear plants as well as supporting other low-carbon technologies and policies. Support for nuclear subsidies is conditional on consumer protection, safety and security requirements, and investments in renewables and energy efficiency. On average, it would cost US$814 million annually to bring unprofitable plants back to a breakeven point according to the UCS report.

So, should unprofitable nuclear power plants be subsidized if they meet the UCS's criteria? Dr Gregory Jaczko, chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 2009‒2012, doesn't think so. In a media statement, Jaczko said: "The Union of Concerned Scientist models don't reflect the reality of the United States electricity market. Renewables are getting cheaper faster than expected and are in some cases the least expensive source of electricity. In contrast, nuclear has only gotten more expensive. New nuclear is a financial boondoggle: the four new plants licensed while I chaired the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are costing billions more than projected, and two of them have been canceled after spending $10 billion. Imagine how much carbon-free generation could have been deployed with that investment. Employing nuclear for climate change is like Dorothy seeking the Wizard of Oz to get home. It's an expensive enticing mirage."2

In any case, the substantive issues have been lost in a blizzard of fake news about the UCS allegedly shifting its position on nuclear power. Steve Clemmer from the UCS said "we are getting a bit more vocal" about the benefits of keeping nuclear plants open.3 That's as far as it goes ‒ hardly a backflip and hardly momentous. Moreover, the UCS's support for keeping reactors online is highly conditional.

Nuclear advocate Mark Lynas congratulated the UCS for having "broken with the anti-nuclear ideology that has been part of the advocacy group's DNA since the 1960s" and said the organization "deserves great credit for having the courage to take this step."4 The Third Way pro-nuclear group said that: "Coming from an environmental NGO as respected and intellectually rigorous as UCS, this report is a big deal."5

The Breakthrough Institute argued that "opposition to nuclear energy from the institutional environmental movement has been monolithic, so this marks a decided change in the nuclear landscape".6 And the Breakthrough Institute piece, titled 'The dam has broken', suggests that other groups might follow the UCS's lead: "this sort of thing often happens slowly, even imperceptibly, and then all at once".6

Ted Nordhaus from the Breakthrough Institute said: "UCS is the first major environmental NGO to recognize that nuclear energy presently, and for the foreseeable future, is a key climate mitigation technology."7 (As we recently noted in Nuclear Monitor, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change envisages nuclear power being a marginal climate mitigation technology, dwarfed by renewables.8) The UCS report is "particularly symbolic" and it marks a "remarkable shift", Norhaus argues. He says it is likely but "by no means guaranteed" that other major environmental groups will follow the UCS's lead on the issue.7

A Boston Globe editorial argued that the UCS report is "symbolically, a really big deal" as the group's name is "practically synonymous with skepticism toward nuclear energy", and it is "hard to imagine a group with stronger historic anti-nuclear bona fides than the Union of Concerned Scientists".9

In fact …

But in fact, the UCS has never been anti-nuclear ‒ or pro-nuclear ‒ and it hasn't changed its position. Alan Nogee, who worked at the UCS for 17 years, 12 of them as Clean Energy Program Director, noted in the aftermath of the release of the UCS report that:

  • UCS has never called for a general closure or moratorium on nukes.10
  • UCS left the Safe Energy Communication Council following the Chernobyl disaster, when the Council voted to endorse a moratorium on new nuclear power.11
  • UCS has rejected numerous requests to endorse shutdowns.12
  • UCS has "worked to close or keep-closed-until-fixed, a handful of plants with specific safety and/or economic problems. It has rejected MANY requests from state & local groups to help close other plants or to support no-nukes laws."13
  • The UCS always distinguished between the positive economics / climate impact of continuing to operate existing reactor versus the negative economics of new build, and the need to hedge against uncertainties as to the capabilities of energy efficiency and renewables.14

Alex Frank from the Hastings Group said of the UCS report: "In fact, UCS did not change its views on nuclear power. It did not support new nuclear construction. It did not support subsidies for any specific existing reactor. It did not conclude that every existing nuclear plant should stay open. It did not state that retired nuclear plants will all be replaced with fossil fuels. It did not urge scaling back support for renewable energy to allow for more support of nuclear. It did not minimize concerns about nuclear power safety or the lack of effective watchdog review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."

In an article titled 'Seven Things People Got Wrong with UCS' 'Nuclear Power Dilemma' Report, Clemmer said: "[D]espite reporting to the contrary, UCS has not changed its position on nuclear power. Has UCS advocated vigorously for policies to increase the deployment of renewable energy to address climate change? Absolutely. Have we been a longstanding watchdog for nuclear power safety? You bet. Do we now believe the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is an effective watchdog or that nuclear power safety concerns are overblown? Emphatically no. But UCS has long recognized that the current nuclear fleet is a significant source of low-carbon power and that nuclear plants should not retire precipitously without carbon-free replacements."15

Clemmer said "some of the media coverage and statements by the nuclear industry and other groups have mischaracterized our report and our past work". The seven points he makes to correct the record are as follows:15

1. The report does not promote new nuclear power plant construction.

While new nuclear plants could be built under a national carbon price or low-carbon electricity standard, our modeling shows they are too expensive compared to new wind and solar projects, energy efficiency programs, and natural gas plants with carbon capture and storage.

This isn't the first time UCS has shined a spotlight on the high costs of building new nuclear reactors. This 2016 UCS power sector deep decarbonization study found that nearly all nuclear and coal plants in the United States would be replaced by low-carbon technologies by 2050 under every scenario, except our "optimistic nuclear case."16

2. The report does not advocate for subsidies for any specific nuclear plants.

As explained by UCS President Ken Kimmell in his recent blog, "the report does not argue for subsidies to any specific plants. That case will have to be made in state-specific forums. Should states decide to support nuclear power plant subsidies, our report calls for them to be temporary and subject to periodic reassessment. Companies seeking subsidies must open their books and allow the public and regulators to make sure that the subsidies are needed and cost-effective, and that the same level of carbon free power cannot be provided during the relevant time period with less costly options."17 Any subsidies also must be part of a broader strategy to reduce carbon emissions that increases investments in renewables and efficiency.

3. Existing nuclear plants must also meet strong safety standards to be eligible for support.

Since the 1970s, UCS has been a leading nuclear safety watchdog. The new UCS report recommends that nuclear reactors must meet or exceed the highest safety standards under Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Reactor Oversight Process to be eligible for any policy or financial support. If the NRC weakens these standards, as proposed by the nuclear industry, UCS could no longer support this recommendation. At the same time, UCS will continue to push for better enforcement of existing regulations, the expedited transfer of nuclear waste from overcrowded cooling pools to safer dry cask storage, strengthened reactor security requirements, and higher safety standards for new plants. We also consider the NRC safety standards to be a floor, not a ceiling. States could encourage plant owners to make other safety improvements that go beyond current NRC standards.

4. Not every currently operating nuclear plant should stay open.

The report highlights examples where it might make sense to shut down existing nuclear plants that are saddled with major, reoccurring safety issues such as the Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts that Entergy is closing next year and the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio that FirstEnergy is threatening to close in 2020 if it doesn't receive subsidies. Other examples include Indian Point, due to its proximity to New York City, and Diablo Canyon, which is located near earthquake fault lines in California.

It also might make sense to shut down plants with high operating costs or ones that need to make major new capital investments to continue operating safely. Examples cited in the report include Crystal River in Florida and San Onofre in California, which were retired in 2013 following failed steam generator replacements.

5. Not every nuclear plant that retires early will be replaced with fossil fuels.

The report acknowledges that with sufficient planning and strong climate and clean energy policies, some existing nuclear plants can be replaced with renewables, energy efficiency, or other low- carbon technologies. For example, California passed legislation in September that commits the state to replace Diablo Canyon with zero-carbon energy sources by 2025. And states experiencing rapid wind and solar power deployment such as Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas could potentially replace their nuclear plants with low-carbon energy sources over a reasonable period of time. However, a significant portion of the electricity in most of those states is still generated by coal and natural gas. Replacing those fuels with renewables and efficiency would result in much greater emissions reductions than replacing nuclear plants, another low-carbon source of electricity.

6. UCS has long supported keeping existing nuclear reactors that meet high safety standards operating to combat climate change.

7. UCS has long supported a low carbon electricity standard (LCES), but not at the expense of renewable electricity standards (RES).

Renewable standards have been effective at reducing emissions, driving down the cost of wind and solar, and creating jobs and other economic benefits for states and in rural communities. They have also been affordable for consumers. Including existing nuclear power plants in state renewable standards could significantly undermine the development of new renewables and all the benefits that go along with them.

We recommend including existing nuclear in a separate tier of an LCES, as New York state has done, to limit costs to ratepayers and avoid market-power issues due to limited competition among a small number of large plants and owners.

A long history of fake nuclear news

The portrayal ‒ by some in the media and some nuclear lobbyists ‒ of the UCS report as a pro-nuclear turn is false and it is wishful thinking. Such misrepresentation is common enough. Here are some examples:

  • In 2016, the Wall Street Journal said the Sierra Club was debating its position on nuclear power. Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, said the organization "remains in firm opposition to dangerous nuclear power" and that the media article "reflects wishful thinking on the part of the nuclear industry"18
  • The Wall Street Journal claimed that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) was working to keep two aging reactors online in Illinois. Henry Henderson from the NRDC said the newspaper was "dead wrong on our goals, focus and motivation" and that the organization's efforts to reform energy policy "do not involve, or signal, a change in NRDC's long-held concerns about the role of nuclear energy in the country's generation mix."18
  • In 2007, in response to a beat-up about environmental support for nuclear power, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reported: "Instead of a story about a growing fervor for nuclear power among some environmentalists, the story is really one about a growing fervor to resurrect nuclear power among corporate and political elites, aided by a handful of mainly environmentalists-for-hire."19
  • In 2014, the BBC (and others) falsely claimed that Friends of the Earth UK was turning in support of nuclear power.20
  • In 2009−10, the World Nuclear Association heavily promoted a dishonest article claiming that Greenpeace UK had changed its stance on nuclear power.21


1. Steve Clemmer, Jeremy Richardson, Sandra Sattler, and Dave Lochbaum, Nov. 2018, 'The Nuclear Power Dilemma: Declining Profits, Plant Closures, and the Threat of Rising Carbon Emissions ', Union of Concerned Scientists,

2. Oliver Milman, 14 Nov 2018, Closing nuclear plants risks rise in greenhouse gas emissions, report warns',

Media statement: 9 Nov 2018, 'Former NRC Chair Statement on the Union of Concerned Scientists' report embracing nuclear power'

3. Oliver Milman, 14 Nov 2018', Closing nuclear plants risks rise in greenhouse gas emissions, report warns',

4. Mark Lynas, 15 Nov 2018, 'Environmentalists must embrace nuclear power to stem climate change',

5. Lindsey Walter and Ryan Fitzpatrick, 15 Nov 2018, 'Nuclear Closures and Climate Risks: Adding Context to UCS's Eye-Popping New Report',

6. Breakthrough Institute, 14 Nov 2018, 'The dam has broken',

7. Ted Nordhaus, 8 Nov 2018, 'A New Day for Nuclear Advocacy…and Environmentalism?',

8. Nuclear Monitor #867, 15 Oct 2018, 'IPCC bets on the renewables revolution',

9. Boston Globe ‒ Editorial, 9 Nov 2018, 'To fight climate change, environmentalists say yes to nuclear power',






15. Steve Clemmer, 16 Nov 2018, 'Seven Things People Got Wrong with UCS' 'Nuclear Power Dilemma' Report',


17. Ken Kimmell, 8 Nov 2018, 'Why We're Taking a Hard Look at Nuclear Power Plant Closures',
18. Nuclear Monitor #826, 6 July 2016, 'Manufacturing dissent: environmentalists and nuclear power',

19. FAIR, 22 Aug 2007, 'NPR Touts Pro-Nuke 'Environmentalists': Network's own nuclear links undisclosed',

20. 18 Sept 2014, 'Friends of the Earth UK's position on nuclear power', Nuclear Monitor #791,

21. World Nuclear Association, 13 Oct 2009, 'Greenpeace changes the politics',

Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #867 - 15 October 2018

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Transatomic Gen IV startup shuts down

We wrote about Transatomic Power's proposed molten salt reactor (MSR) in the last issue of Nuclear Monitor.1 Since then, the startup has shut down.2,3

Transatomic had raised more than US$4 million from Founders Fund, Acadia Woods Partners, and others. But it was unable to raise US$15 million required for the next phase of the project.

In 2016, following the revelation of false calculations, Transatomic abandoned its plan to use waste (spent fuel) as fuel and it abandoned the associated claim that its 'Waste-Annihilating Molten-Salt Reactor' could "generate up to 75 times more electricity per ton of mined uranium than a light-water reactor".4 Its waste-annihilating reactor was reinvented as a waste-producing, uranium fueled reactor.

Transatomic co-founder Leslie Dewan put a positive spin on the company's collapse: "Today the advanced nuclear technology sector is thriving, with over 70 advanced reactor projects in progress, financing actively flowing to new technologies, promising engagement with the NRC, multiple films and TV documentaries covering innovations, and even bipartisan political support."2

According to the Third Way pro-nuclear lobby group, "at least five companies are already working with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to prepare for licensing".5 In other words, not one of the Gen IV startups has gone further than to notify the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of their intent to engage in regulatory interactions ‒ and only five have taken that modest step.6

1. Nuclear Monitor #866, 24 Sept 2018, Film review: 'The New Fire' and the old Gen IV rhetoric,

2. Leslie Dewan, Sept 2018, 'Open-Sourcing Our Reactor Design, and the Future of Transatomic',

3. Energy Central, 2 Oct 2018, 'Transatomic Folds Its Tent ‒ Its Legacy May Live On',

4. James Temple, 24 Feb 2017, 'Nuclear Energy Startup Transatomic Backtracks on Key Promises',

5. John Milko, Todd Allen, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, 8 Feb 2018, 'Keeping Up with the Advanced Nuclear Industry',

6. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 'Advanced Reactors (non-LWR designs)', accessed 3 October 2018.

USA: Another nuclear power plant bites the dust

Exelon Generation's Oyster Creek nuclear power plant was retired from service on September 17 yesterday after almost 49 years of electricity generation. The single-unit boiling water reactor was the oldest operating nuclear power plant in the USA.1

"It's a sombre day," said Tim Moore, the plant's vice-president. "We watched emotionally as our reactor shut down for the very last time."2

"We're seeing the economic conditions regarding nuclear power plants erode," said Exelon spokesperson Dave Tillman.2

Oyster Creek was licensed to operate until 2029, but Exelon decided in 2010 to retire the plant early after revisions to New Jersey's water use rules would have required it to build new cooling towers at an estimated cost of more than US$800 million. Exelon announced in February this year that the plant, which was required to close by the end of 2019 under an agreement with the State of New Jersey, would cease operations at the end of its current operating cycle.1

400‒500 staff were employed at Oyster Creek and about 300 will be retained to carry out decommissioning work.

Environmentalists had long sought the shutdown of Oyster Creek over the years, citing corrosion that dangerously thinned its reactor vessel, and the leak of radioactive tritium into groundwater on the plant site. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, called Oyster Creek "a disaster waiting to happen. By closing early, it will help protect both the environment and public safety. We've been fighting this plant for more than 15 years and this closure is long overdue."2

Oyster Creek is the seventh permanent reactor shutdown in the US in recent years (2013 ‒ San Onofre 2 & 3, Crystal River, Kewaunee; 2014 ‒ Vermont Yankee; 2016 ‒ Fort Calhoun). Many others are slated for closure over the coming decade although state government bailouts are slowing that attrition.3 A little over half of the 48 operational reactors in the US have been operating for 40 years or more4 and the average age is 38 years.5

Exelon's senior vice president William Von Hoene said earlier this year: "I don't think we're building any more nuclear plants in the United States. I don't think it's ever going to happen ... They are too expensive to construct, relative to the world in which we now live."6

1. World Nuclear Association, 18 Sept 2018, 'Oyster Creek retires after 49 years',

2. Wayne Parry / Associated Press, 17 Sept 2018, 'Long held as oldest in US, New Jersey nuclear plant closes',




6. Steven Dolley, 18 April 2018, 'No new nuclear units will be built in US due to high cost: Exelon official'

Unraveling the New York nuclear subsidy scam

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Tim Judson ‒ Executive Director, Nuclear Information & Resource Service

Across the country, nuclear plant owners are insisting states and the federal government approve billion-dollar subsidies to bail them out ‒ even if they're profitable. In its 2016 Clean Energy Standard (CES), the New York State Public Service Commission quietly authorized charging ratepayers up to US$7.6 billion over 12 years on their electric bills to subsidize nuclear giant Exelon, so it would keep running upstate nuclear plants it threatened to close (FitzPatrick, Ginna, and Nine Mile Point). Since these surcharges kicked in last spring, New Yorkers have already handed over US$656 million and counting to prop up these failing nuclear plants.1

The nuclear subsidy scam started in New York, and it's getting exported. After they were imposed here, Exelon and other nuclear owners used the same playbook to obtain billions more in subsidies in Illinois (US$2.4 billion), New Jersey (US$3.6 billion), Connecticut (estimated up to US$3 billion), and soon, Pennsylvania and other states. They did it by falsely claiming their nuclear plants are "clean energy" and "zero emissions," and threatening to shutter them and terminate their workers if they don't get the money, escalating their lobbying activity all the while.

Such tactics shouldn't work, yet they do. For example, in New Jersey Exelon and PSEG threatened to close plants and spent a combined US$2.6 million last year on lobbyists, who kept dogging the New Jersey legislature until the unpopular subsidy package finally passed.2

To date, the fairness and legality of these subsidies have not been challenged and judged in court. But that's about to change. A suit in New York State Supreme Court (Matter of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater v. NYS Public Service Commission, Albany County, 7242-16) is finally examining whether these subsidies are illegal or improper, if they violate the public trust and due process of law, and if PSC overstepped its authority by granting them without due process. The suit, of which I am a plaintiff, survived motions to dismiss, and hearings are pending which will have far-reaching implications.

New York is where the nuclear subsidy trend started. The PSC sold subsidies as a way to preserve jobs and "carbon-free" power as a kind of radioactive "bridge" to developing renewables. Now the New York State Supreme Court could be where those specious arguments unravel.

Dirty, obsolete nuclear plants are neither "clean energy" nor "zero emissions" and don't deserve "zero emissions credits." Subsidizing them squanders billions that won't be invested in renewables or efficiency, the two best ways to lower greenhouse emissions and fight climate change. In its first year, New York's Clean Energy Standard spent 99.5% of its money to subsidize nuclear plants, and just 0.5% on renewables.

Nuclear subsidies aren't a public good, but a private wealth transfer, enriching wealthy nuclear owners at ratepayers' expense. As Illinois subsidies kicked in this year, Exelon Generations' earnings growth shot from 8% to a cork-popping 36%.3 In New Jersey, the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants obtained ratepayer subsidies, yet they're profitable and will remain so at least through 2021.4 Nuclear owner PSEG's CEO admitted to The Bergen Record the subsidy was calculated to guarantee an 18% profit ‒ almost double the average return for a regulated utility in New Jersey.5

Could it be that behind such greedy profiteering is an enlightened desire on the part of nuclear owners to save us from climate change or preserve local jobs and tax bases? Is it unfair to accuse them of ratepayer money grabs?

Hardly. A March 2017 presentation by a former Exelon lobbyist that recently resurfaced brags about its nuclear subsidies representing a huge return on its "investment" in lobbying and political influence.6 One slide asked rhetorically, "Is Politics Profitable?", and answers by comparing Exelon's outlays in New York for the FitzPatrick plant, capital expenditures, and lobbying and PR campaigns to the US$7.6 billion it got back in subsidies. It boasts that represented a "return on investment" of 750%. An image on the slide showed copious amounts of cash spiraling down a vortex.

That image is emblematic of what's wrong with these subsidies: lobbying and politicking for profit, dumping billions in ratepayers' money down the drain to enrich wealthy plant owners, instead of investing in renewables and efficiency. Those are the real issues, and as the New York State Supreme Court lawsuit goes to trial this year, they will finally get heard.

Tim Judson is the Executive Director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), one of the plaintiffs in the New York lawsuit.








California strives toward 'carbon neutrality'

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén ‒ WISE Sweden

On September 10, California Governor Jerry Brown announced a plan that raises the state's level of ambition with regard to its carbon footprint. The announcement came on the eve of a Global Climate Action Summit, a conference held in San Francisco and hosted by the Governor, to showcase 'best policies' to address the threats of climate change in regions and communities around the world.

In part, the plan follows guidelines for sourcing of the energy supply set out in (State) Senate Bill 100, a draft of which cleared the Senate in August. SB-100 was controversial ‒ most Republicans opposed it, Democrats supported it. The opposition included powerful agricultural interests and the state's major privately owned utilities. On the other hand, luminaries like ex-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (Republican) and former US Vice-President Al Gore urged its passage.

California had an ambitious climate policy even before the announcement. A Climate Scoping Plan adopted in 2017 charts the way toward the goal that all electricity sold to, or generated by, public and private users in the state should be from "renewables" by 2050. The new bill and executive order move the deadline forward, to 2045. Progress will be assessed at three checkpoints, with specified target shares of retail sales of "zero-carbon" electricity for each. The checkpoints set the pace of reform for public utilities and other energy providers in the state.

The Governor's executive order, however, takes a giant step further. Not only will electricity in the state be carbon-free "as soon as possible, but no later than 2045", the entire Californian economy will be "carbon neutral". That means that Californians will remove at least as much carbon from the atmosphere as they add to it. As stated in the Governor's order: "The achievement of carbon neutrality will require both significant reductions in carbon pollution and removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, including sequestration in forests, soils, and other natural landscapes." A truly ambitious goal.

Naturally, there are doubters.

Rich in energy resources, but ...

California, the most populous state of the Union and the fifth-largest economy in the world, uses quite a lot of energy and has a heavy climate footprint.

The California Energy Commission estimates that 32% of retail energy sales are generated from renewable sources today. Renewables are notoriously variable, but one sunny day this past June solar panels alone produced nearly half the state's electricity.

California also has the benefit of both geothermal (north of San Francisco; covering 6% of energy needs) and large-scale hydroelectric power to fill the gaps, albeit protracted drought in recent years has made even hydro something of a 'variable', too. For these reasons, increasing the efficiency of electricity storage media and upgrading the state's transmission grid system are key to achieving the plan's goals. Both are the object of high priority R&D programs started in the past few years.

The Executive Order sets out other principal climate policy measures:

  • "Requiring significant reductions of destructive super pollutants including black carbon and methane;
  • Supporting clean transportation to reduce petroleum use 45 per cent by 2045;
  • Setting a goal of 5 million zero emission vehicles by 2030;
  • Proposing to double the reduction in the carbon intensity of fuels by 2030;
  • Moving the state to 100 percent clean energy by 2045;
  • Requiring the state to double the rate of energy efficiency savings in buildings;
  • Extending and improving the state's cap-and-trade program;
  • Directing cap-and-trade funds to greenhouse gas reducing programs which benefit disadvantaged communities;
  • Developing a Forest Carbon Plan to better manage California's forest land."

Will nuclear power play any part in this?

'Renewable', 'zero-emissions', 'carbon-neutral'. The terms are used interchangeably – in daily parlance and, significantly, in the Governor's announcement. In an interview with MIT Technology Review, Jane Long at Livermore National Laboratories points out the importance of a slight change of wording in SB-100, compared to previous documents on the issue. The bill uses 'zero carbon' and 'zero emissions' as the criterion. The State of California has explicitly excluded nuclear power from its definition of renewable power resources, but nuclear power does qualify as a "zero-emission" resource in US usage. As noted above, the target is "carbon neutrality" for the state in 2045, a term that neatly skirts the lexical issue. Other than the ban on carbon emissions, there are no specifics as to how Californians will go about reaching that target.

Long term, the likelihood that any nuclear power in the mix would be generated in California is small. California has only two remaining nuclear power reactors, both at Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County (on the south-central coast). Today, the plant supplies about 8‒9% of the state's electricity, but in 2016 the operator PG&E announced plans to take the reactors offline in 2024 and 2025, before they become too much of an "economic liability", as the company put it. In January 2018, the Public Utilities Commission gave its unanimous approval.

PG&E cited changes in the California power supply and demand – notably the growth of renewables and greater energy efficiency. The emergence of community choice aggregators in many communities was a third concern. The head of PG&E's electricity division stressed the company's willingness and preparedness to adapt to these new trends. In sum, nuclear 'new build' appears to be out of the question.

California regularly imports electricity from a number of western states in the US. SB-100 prohibits reliance on electricity from any source that adds to carbon emissions, whether inside or outside the state. But, pending further clarification, the possibility that out-of-state nuclear facilities might be called upon cannot be ruled out.

'America' is greater than Donald Trump

California's climate policy has been described as "a symbolic strike against the Trump administration". Donald Trump has made headlines worldwide for his refusal to acknowledge the problems climate-altering emissions pose, a position which led him to take the US out of the 2015 Paris Agreement and to do what he can to promote both 'fracking' to extract fossil gas and a revival of coal mining in the country.

Mr. Trump may be the chief executive, but he is hardly representative of the US as a whole. A majority of states, 28 of the 50, have adopted climate policies that conform with the Paris accord – or better.


Executive Order to Achieve Carbon Neutrality:

Senate Bill 100:

Camila Domonoske, 10 Sept 2018, California sets goal of 100 percent clean electric power by 2045. NPR 24 Hour Program Stream,

Community choice aggregators:

Rob Nikolewski in San Diego Union Tribune: Nuclear power receives its death sentence in California (11 Jan 2018); Will natural gas go up when Diablo goes down? (11 Jan 2018); More setbacks for the nuclear power industry (3 Aug 2017).

Dana Nuccitelli, 17 Sept 2018, 'California plans to show the world how to meet the Paris climate target',

James Temple, 28 Aug 2018, 'California advances an ambitious climate policy that should be a model for the world'. MIT Technology Review,