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Nukes Are No Answer To Climate Crisis

Ralph spends the entire hour with physicist and former Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dr. Gregory Jaczko, talking about his book “Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator.”

Dr. Gregory Jaczko served as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 2009-2012, and as a commissioner from 2005-2009. As Chairman, he played a lead role in the American government’s response to the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. Dr. Jaczko is now an adjunct professor at Princeton University and Georgetown University, and an entrepreneur with a clean energy development company. He is the author of Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator.

“There are a lot of people running around, talking about how nuclear is the only way we’re going to solve climate change. And it just reminds me of these predictions back in the ‘60s of how we were going to have an entire country powered by nuclear power. A generation has forgotten those promises, and now they’re latching onto nuclear as some kind of solution to climate change. That, to me, is a real mistake.” Dr. Gregory Jaczko, former Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and author of “Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator”

31 Comments

  1. Afdal Shahanshah says:

    This interview was a huge missed opportunity to talk about molten salt reactors and which criticisms still apply to them. Regardless of which side is right, it continues to frustrate and disappoint me when nuclear energy critics seem to ignore this growing conversation on radically-different reactor and infrastructure ideas.

    Also there’s no such thing as “corporate socialism”. Socialism is not “when the government does stuff”, it’s the complete antithesis of the capitalist mode of production. PLEASE stop abusing the word, Ralph.

    • robert says:

      If it is not clear what you are trying to say, it is clear to most folks what is meant by corporate socialism. for more on this see eg https://www.thenation.com/article/inverted-totalitarianism/

      • Bruce K. says:

        “Corporate socialism” is a phrase that is just just to “fritz” with people’s minds.

        For those on the Right it contains the word “socialism” to make it something they can attack and be wary of.

        For those on the Left it contains the world “corporate” to make it something they can attack and be wary of.

        The best quote on this matter is from Giovanni Gentile, the philosopher of fascism:

        “Some critics equate too much corporate power and influence with fascism. Often they cite a quote claimed to be from Mussolini: “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”

        Fascism is corporatism … the merger of state and corporate power. What we have today that puts corporations – NOT on an equal footing with people/citizens, it puts corporations above people.

        For socialism, I like the quote from Michael Moore’s movie “Capitalism: A Love Story” by the late Tony Benn … “socialism is democracy”

    • robert says:

      “corporate socialism” is when government policies and programs tend to favor the corporate owners – for more see eg
      https://www.thenation.com/article/inverted-totalitarianism/

      • Afdal Shahanshah says:

        Not that he would have been right had he supported your argument, but Sheldon Wolin doesn’t even mention the word socialism in that article you linked. Calling government subsidies and bailouts for private capitalists “corporate socialism” is nonsensical word salad because socialism is democratic control of means of production. If you want an actual example of something that MIGHT appropriately be called corporate socialism you can point to the Mondragon Corporation (a corporation of individual democratic workplaces). Socialists are not without criticisms for the worker cooperatives in Mondragon though.

    • Paul Gunter says:

      What is so radically different about molten salt reactors when Detroit Edison already partially melted Fermi-1 down in the 1960’s? Materials can still fail from a whole host of known acronyms of age-related degradation still not understood. Bill Gates is in recent headlines going to the federal government asking for huge taxpayer subsidies to build his mini-nuke assembly line because he doesn’t want risk his billions on a scheme that doesn’t even have a market.

    • You have valid points there Afdal Shahanshah . It is a worry that molten salt reactors and other new nuclear gimmicks are also being touted as cures for climate change – despite the facts that they are physically non existent at present, could happen only with big tax-payer funding, and would never be deployed in time to have any effect on global warming (and they wouldn’t have any effect even if built today, anyway)

      As to ‘corporate socialism’ – I think that the term is quite useful. I understand that in America, “socialism” is a dirty word. (Never mind the fact that it stands, in general, for a philosophy of co-operation, rather than cut-throat ‘survival of the toughest’, and it’s an idea that might be quite useful for survival of the human species) .

      I think that the term is useful – because it seems that Americans see ‘socialism’ as the wickedest thing ever – so ‘corporate socialism’ is a kind of sarcastic term, that could make Americans stop and think. (I’m not sure that thinking is an acceptable activity in USA, though).

    • Bas Gresnigt says:

      Molten Salt Reactors are virtually dead. Far to expensive due to:
      – the needed two heat exchangers in series, which imply low flexibility. While high flexibility is required in the coming high wind and solar environment.
      – the abrasive effects of the 700degree molten salt on the best steel known, so these heat exchangers with their km long pipes won’t last long.

    • Stewart Moore says:

      OK, welfare for the rich would be an apt observation.

  2. David Faubion says:

    You and Dr. Jasko gave us an idea of the cost that taxpayers face and will face in bailing out the nuclear power industry. Not long ago I heard an environmental activist scholar declare that the cleanup, the safeguarding and the decommissioning of nukes will be the most expensive boondoggle we will ever face. Of course climate mitigation, adaptation and restoration is now likely to top nuke vigilance.

  3. Bruce K. says:

    My main question at this point would be can anyone give us an inventory of the damage from the Fukushima disaster in Japan? I think this is about the worst thing we could have ever imagined and it is very important to be able for citizens to be able to understand the risks of nuclear power.

    My reasons for wanting to see nuclear power succeed, even though I do no think it can for maybe over 100 years from now, if ever are twofold. The first is that we are going to need incredible amounts of clean electrical power in the future if we ever want to be able to save and preserves our environment. The second is that we humans are so bad at considering what can go wrong with things. Consider if we transformed to all solar power and there was some major global castastrophe like a giant meteor hit the Earth, or there was a limited nuclear war, or something goes wrong with the climate anyway and we have clouds all over the planet for years, or we have a large number of volcanos erupt and ash clouds go into the atmosphere for years. If we are totally dependent on solar power we will face death and catastrophe like the dinosaurs did within a short time. A supply of nuclear power could save us. We could desalinate oceans of fresh water and pump it around the planet to places that do not have water. We could power all cars, trucks and trains with clean power. We could begin to clean up the planet with enough dependable clean energy.

    I have no doubt that there is nothing so complex about nuclear power that most college educated or equivalent science, math and physics conversant people could not be trained to understand it or competently work in a nuclear power station. That it, it should not take an Einstein to operate or maintain a nuclear power station. It is the design and manufacture of the plants that are the issue, and with all the amazing technology we have today in terms of sensors and computer it is an eternal shame on us that we cannot get this work. The question is why?

    So, I also have no doubt at some point in the future that nuclear ( fission or fusion ) will power the planet in the future, even with the so-called breeder reactor that can generate its own fuel.

    But, to go along with that I also have no doubt that there is no way human beings can manage the politics, the engineering decisions, or the economics of nuclear power. There is no nuclear priesthood of excellence that can ever be trusted to design and run nuclear power. We have thousands of years of experience with “priesthoods” becoming corrupt, and they seem to always become corrupt. Building better humans ought to be something we do and we better do it before we start to do all these other things.

    I believe the same problems that exist for nuclear power also pertain to the GMO food industry, and I believe you all did a very interesting show with Steven Drucker whose book I read when it came out. With current economic incentives the way people are, the way governments are, the way corporations are, they cannot be trusted.

    Capitalism the way it is today is a guarantee of destruction. It does not work for health care. It does not work for
    havesting things from nature. We are ruining the planet, and creating billions of people whose actions are unthinking that are hacking and destroying our own humanity that we evolved through hundreds of thousands of years and cannot perfect because of war and greed. There is no reason for any of this or to hold on to this system, especially as a universal way to manage everything …. just leave it to chance and greed.

    I’d like to see the government, maybe NASA, maybe DARPA take on the task of rationalizing the engineering or nuclear power and waste processing and build up a system that is as safe as possible and then start to replicate that system under government control. Waste heat is also a problem so perhaps these plants could be build somewhere where that heat can be used to warm cities, farms or greenhouses. The problem with that is that the way Republicans are hacking at and rigging our government, even the government is not immune from the corporate capitalist corruption.

    All these screw ups, like in North Carolina, and everywhere else, are all around money and politics, and we are certainly not going to solve the human nature problem any time soon, so no sane person can support nuclear power …. and it is a crying shame.

  4. Andy Schmidt says:

    It’s irresponsible to completely reject nuclear power as a potential solution to climate change.

    There was no discussion here of efforts to design better and safer nuclear reactors in the wake of the Fukushima accident—small modular, molten salt, integral fast, thorium-fueled, and others. The U.S. government/NRC needs to help these efforts with licensing, driving innovation, providing oversight, etc. If we want to get serious about climate change, we need to get serious about nuclear by enabling these latest technological innovations.

    I used to think that windmills, solar panels, and electric cars would save the world. I no longer believe that. They will always be minor players in the energy mix because they simply can’t provide electricity at the huge scale needed to meet demand, while also mitigating global climate change with reduced CO2 emissions. Wind is especially problematic, with its low power density, landscape sprawl/blight, persistent noise that causes ongoing health problems for local residents, and thousands of bird and bat kills (with no consequences to the wind industry).

    There is some hypocrisy here, in declaring that nuclear power is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs, while not saying a word about the ongoing threat of nuclear weapons. There have been some frightening weapons accidents and near-disasters since WWII, and we’ve been extremely lucky that these incidents haven’t been worse.

    I’m a lot more worried about a mentally unstable President with access to nuclear launch codes than I am about the potential dangers of modern nuclear power.

    • Paul Gunter says:

      The comic strip “Peanuts” still gets a laugh over the decades when Lucy offers Charlie Brown yet another kick at the football. Why? Because Charlie Brown never learns from experience and the same result. Similarly, nuclear power repeatedly fails the market test leaving utilities financially flat on their back with out-of-control cost of construction and time to completion delays. Even completed, utilities are coming back looking for a bailout from ratepayers and taxpayers because of non-competitive operating costs. In reality, it isn’t funny. Time has run out for dirty, dangerous and expensive nuclear power.

    • Stephen Verchinski says:

      Ah, no. Time for a R. Buckminster Fuller and no nukes, commercial or military. Done with that. It’s not carbon free and its a costly system.

      • Andy says:

        Nuclear is as close to carbon free as we’re going to get, at the scale needed to meet demand over time. Yes current nuclear in the U.S. is costly and takes too long to go on line. The whole process needs to be modernized and upgraded. Newer companies like transatomic deserve a chance to prove their viability. Upfront costs would still be high but overall cost over time would be low, with the bonus of lower emissions than other sources. The U.S. Navy already uses nuclear powered aircraft carriers that can operate for 18 years without refueling. France manages to store its nuclear waste without problems. These are success stories that should inspire us to aim higher.

  5. john martin says:

    I think thorium reactors may be part of the solution to our energy future. I think they should be looked at before writing nuclear energy off for good.

  6. Andy Schmidt says:

    One example of a next-generation nuclear power company that inspires with its vision and its commitment to solving the problems of older generation power plants.

    http://www.transatomicpower.com/

  7. Phill Bradshaw says:

    Great respect for Ralph, but this vid does a disservice to humanity. A housecat & a mountain lion r both felines – 1 would b extremely dangerous 2 keep as a pet, the other is not. Likewise, there is more than 1 kind of fission reactor. All we heard about here was UPWR’s – uranium pressurized water reactors which I agree r 2 dangerous 2 use & should be abandoned. But LFTR’s – liquid fluoride thorium reactors – r like the house cat. Instead of needing power 2 keep them safe, LFTR’s need power to keep them running. Lose power & it will shut itself down w/o human intervention. 2 much tech to explain in a comment – see below.
    So why aren’t we using LFTR’s? In ’71 Tricky Dick told those in charge of nukes [military-industrial complex] 2 pick 1 nuke tech & abandon the others. Given the choice between “dangerous, but good @ making A-bomb material” & “safe, but lousy @ breeding A-bomb material” which do u think they chose?
    Please type “LFTR” into YouTube’s search box. Lots of vid’s including 1’s that discuss risks. Then please, revisit the subject in a discussion w/ Kirk Sorensen – former NASA engineer, current CEO of Flibe energy.

  8. Brett Stokes says:

    Wow, thanks.

    A real whistle blower is a wonderful development in the deadly struggle between humanity and the nuclear cartel.

    Global nuclear shutdown is a high priority – and such a shutdown is a vital part of real solutions to climate change.

    Thank you for so clearly exposing the treacherous fraud that nuclear is a good investment.

  9. robert dresdner says:

    Ive heard positives about the way modular designs can save costs and also about how France and China implements nuclear power. In the US, the issues or problems seem to be how nuclear power is implemented in the US. A show focusing on how advanced nuclear is implemented in other countries is needed.

  10. Ben Truscott says:

    Many of the comments above have expressed my concerns with completely abandoning nuclear power. When it comes to complex topics such as this, I have to rely on expert opinion. Your guest, Dr. Gregory Jaczko, is definitely an informed expert, and his revelations are very concerning and relevant. Yes, we need to phase out dangerous, poorly designed, power plants, and its sounds like we need to re-focus on regulatory safety. Jaczko is of the mindset we need to completely abandon nuclear, but my question to him is show me how fast can you supply the energy the world needs without nuclear energy, and even if you can, how much land/sea mass that will render unlivable?

    I recently read (as best I could) MIT’s interdisciplinary report “The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World” (http://energy.mit.edu/research/future-nuclear-energy-carbon-constrained-world/) , and they highlight all of the challenges mentioned in your show – especially cost. However, one graphic in their introduction is that the modeling they performed showed the overall energy cost of going completely non-nuclear would actually cost more than with continuing to supplement total energy with Nuclear.

    However, cost may be the least of our concerns in the coming decades. I have a feeling the US government will be testing out the limit of deficit spending to try and claw us out of a real national emergency. And if big oil & coal think they can sneak out of the room and collect their get out of jail free card, they have another thing coming. The amount of money they have spent to mislead the public regarding the science will not serve them well in the court of public opinion when people start waking up to the reality that this very well might be the beginning of a what is being termed the Holocene mass extinction. The ocean has buffered us pretty well so far, but when the ocean goes, so does the land!

    We need more politicians and civic groups demand that climate disruption is the true issue of our time and stop dragging down the rest of the world in trying to implement solutions.

  11. Billy says:

    IF our top priority is mitigating climate impact, then low carbon energy solutions are what we must develop.
    IF waging the legacy anti-nuclear battle is our all-consuming cause, then we will pursue that distraction to our detriment.

    They are mutually exclusive. We must choose. You’ve made your choice quite clear. I hope that thinking people will not simply internalize your conclusion, but go on to study this further before reaching their own conclusions.

    We cannot afford to get this wrong.

    • Andy says:

      Exactly! I was really disappointed in how this show presented such a narrow, ignorant perspective. It’s all in the title, which is essentially “Nuclear power—BAD.” It was completely lacking in scientific literacy regarding the energy and power density of the various energy sources. If you start talking vaguely about wind as any kind of realistic solution to climate change, I start rolling my eyes and tuning out. Given the massive scale of current global energy consumption and the increasing demand over time, nuclear absolutely has to be part of the solution. Let’s hear a show about how to phase in new nuclear designs that are smaller, denser, and safer than legacy nuclear power.

  12. Bill Wolfe says:

    You want rogue regulator? Check this whistleblower and coverup out at the nation’s oldest nuke plant, Oyster Creek:

    State Officials Block Open Testimony by DEP Nuclear Whistleblower
    http://www.wolfenotes.com/2010/11/state-officials-block-open-testimony-of-dep-nuclear-whistleblower/

  13. dale west says:

    The large long term cost of decommissioning a contaminated nuclear power plant and its hazardous spent fuel is always being minimized in the economics of building a new nuclear plant of any design. Generating energy with such a dangerous material is absurd when there are so many safer & cleaner options. Every decade this repackaged corporate nuclear “snake oil show” comes back to town. How could nuclear power ever be classified a sustainable process.

  14. Dr. A. Cannara says:

    Having spoken with Jaczko when he headed NRC, I wonder why he’s so busy writing and giving interviews. Is he benefitting from his uninformed anti-nuclear utterances? He certainly wasn’t knowledgeable enough in nuclear topics to be more than a political appointee at NRC, as so many of Trump’s agency heads are.

    Amazing how Jaczko seems to think actual scientists who understand the need for nuclear power aren’t credible, but he is.

    Perhaps Jaczko is operating as Nader did when he caused Bush W to be elected? We know Nader didn’t understand automotive engineering too. Perhaps neither of them know, or think on, what JFK bothered to do for clean, secure energy: http://tinyurl.com/6xgpkfa

    Dr. A. Cannara
    650 400 3071

    * https://cgscholar.com/community/community_profiles/sustainability/community_updates/23864
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2014/12/15/an-open-letter-to-environmentalists-on-nuclear-energy/ (Aussies)
    https://e360.yale.edu/features/why-nuclear-power-must-be-part-of-the-energy-solution-environmentalists-climate (Rhodes)
    https://en.tempo.co/read/news/2017/02/08/055844486/Nobel-Laureate-Underlines-Importance-of-Nuclear-Energy
    http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2017/11/23/0200000000AEN20171123007100320.html (Chu)
    https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/ecomodernist-podcast/id1187756406 (Allison)
    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/21/opinion/to-slow-global-warming-we-need-nuclear-power.html
    http://climatechange.environment.harvard.edu/joseph-lassiter
    http://www.nci.org/conf/rhodes/index.htm
    Lovelock 2013 — “We need nuclear power soon”…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYP22KfI8lw&feature=youtu.be or: https://tinyurl.com/y8d2hjqe
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1520658/Greens-guru-offers-to-bury-nuclear-waste-in-his-garden.html
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_IIY6qgerY&feature=youtu.be
    https://www.nytimes.com/video/science/earth/1194817109084/making-a-case-for-nuclear-power.html (2006)
    http://tinyurl.com/kn22qcn (Hansen, Caldeira, Emanuel, Wigley)
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2486894/Scientists-urge-climate-groups-nuclear-power-warn-wind-solar-fulfil-worlds-energy-needs.html
    http://decarbonisesa.com/2014/06/30/another-climate-scientist-joins-calls-for-nuclear/
    http://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/news/scientists-tell-greenies-embrace-nuclear-save-plan/2502717/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXTPKGuQhzQ&feature=youtu.be
    http://www.science20.com/news_articles/james_hansen_to_mitigate_climate_change_nuclear_energy_should_be_included-154923
    http://tinyurl.com/m5qp8vf
    http://tinyurl.com/necct2l
    (Hansen vs Big Green) http://tinyurl.com/nh3bsh6
    “I also recommend that the public stop providing funds to anti nuke environmental groups. Send a letter saying why you are withdrawing your support. Their position is based partly on fear of losing support from anti-nuke donors, and they are not likely to listen to anything other than financial pressure. If they are allowed to continue to spread misinformation about nuclear power, it is unlikely that we can stop expanded hydro-fracking, continued destructive coal mining, and irreversible climate change.”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNnaTKfUQ3Y (2017)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1f4BKsFrCA&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2n6lBPHpZjMluCCQ1JcGaPgCIrFFSrXy5PPXU1l5yj11V5xV5CCkq8i4U (2018)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9C_yFlDzFM&feature=youtu.be&app=desktop (neg CO2)
    http://epillinois.org/news/2016/4/6/james-hansen-condemns-bernie-sanders-fear-mongering-against-indian-point
    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/more-views-on-nuclear-power-waste-safety-and-cost/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=1
    http://www.slideshare.net/Revkin/dot-nuclear-1-2214-lettersigned-by-4-nuclear-scientists-and-engineers
    https://www.facebook.com/download/823098194404759/An-Open-Letter-to-Environmentalists.pdf
    http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/news/10.1063/PT.4.2433
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzbI0UPwQHg

    • Afdal Shahanshah says:

      If you’re trying to convince people of your position on a Ralph Nader blog comment section, it’s probably not wise to preface it with uninformed garbage of your own like “Nader… caused Bush W to be elected”.

      There’s been 4 presidential elections in US history where the case can incontestably be made that vote splitting altered the outcome of the election, and (sadly) Nader’s candidacy in 2000 simply didn’t garner enough votes to make the cut.

  15. Larry Beckham says:

    There are some 65,000 tons of nuclear waste now in “temporary” storage throughout the U.S., on the site were it is created. Most is in pools of water until it cools enough to moving to “dry casks”. That takes about ten years. Then the U.S. Federal Government take responsibility it and the cost. In 2009, it was 22%. The cask will crack in 30 to 100 years. The waste will be toxic for about 250,000 years. The waste is prefect to make a “dirty bomb” for a terrorist. This insane 250,000 years program is largest subsidy that any government has given any industry. Yet was allow more and more to be found. What human organization has ever large 10,000 year, let alone 250,000 years. This sheer madness from just a purely economic standpoint. And a crime to the children’s, children’s, children’s, children’s, children’s…

  16. Andy Schmidt says:

    Oh, and there’s also Third Way’s Advanced Nuclear Summit from 2016.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eot9GFYQPl8

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