Proposed Generation III Indian Plants Safe

By Dr. Patrick Moore.

As a co-founder and, for 15 years, a leader of the environmental organization Greenpeace, I once strongly opposed nuclear power. But after more than 40 years of environmental activism, I have changed my mind on that single issue. I say it’s time my former organization and the rest of the movement did the same.

As I visit India next week to discuss this important clean power source with colleagues from around the world, I will make the point that my movement – and myself included – erred back in the 1970s and 1980s in believing everything radioactive was evil. Yet, nuclear medicine, used to diagnose and treat millions each year, is widely considered a beneficial use of nuclear technology; the medical isotopes used in diagnosis and treatment are often made in nuclear reactors.

Along with nuclear medicine, nuclear energy should be placed in the category of beneficial uses of nuclear science. This is especially the case given the fact the environmental movement says CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption is a key contributor to what the movement calls ‘catastrophic global warming.’ Surely if the movement believes CO2 will cause cataclysm, then the movement should support the only available technology that can appreciably reduce CO2 emissions.

But that new thinking hasn’t yet emerged. As I read about the startup of the first unit of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP), I am saddened to see my old colleagues at Greenpeace stating KNPP is unsafe and risks a Fukushima-like incident. This is not correct. Indeed, India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is quite right when it states that, “post Fukushima safety measures are more relevant for older nuclear power plants,” and that new plants have sufficient safety measures to overcome situations such as those that happened in Fukushima. This is particularly true of the passively-safe Generation III+ and Small Modular Reactors (SMR) that are proposed for India by the United States and others.

Let us be very clear about Fukushima: No one died from radiation there, and according to the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima, the world’s best experts on the subject, no one will die in the future as a result of this event. More than 20,000 people tragically died in Japan as a result of the earthquake and its subsequent tsunami, while no one died as a result of radiation from the nuclear plant.
And yet, during the Fukushima incident, the US television network CNN ran a story headlined: “Nuclear crisis deepens as bodies wash ashore.” Given those victims died as a tragic result of an earthquake followed by a tsunami, then it is no wonder some bystanders might have wrongly concluded the plant caused these deaths.

It is also very instructive to note public support for nuclear power in the US, after having dipped immediately following the Fukushima event, has fully rebounded to the point where, once again, a majority of Americans support nuclear energy.

In India, where some 69 percent of electricity is generated by coal-fired plants, two very sound and clean options exist:
• Where there are suitable sites for hydroelectric development these should be developed as a first priority. India still has substantial hydro potential and it should be developed as needed. This is renewable, clean energy. • Where hydro is unavailable as a result of geographical limits, nuclear power generation is by far the best option, given it is clean, safe and reliable.

As a lifelong environmentalist, I am acutely aware of the important role the human species plays within the environment. My greatest hope is that Greenpeace learns the importance of including humans in its thinking. After all, more than one third of India’s rural population has no reliable electric services. Electricity is fundamental to increasing a society’s standard of living, eradicating poverty, creating individual economic potential and raising literacy.

For me and for a growing number of environmental leaders around the world, nuclear power generation is central to this important social development.

I only hope Greenpeace will someday support nuclear power generation and recognize this valuable humanist strategy of bringing clean, safe, reliable electricity to those who need it.

A co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, Dr. Patrick Moore is Chair and Chief Scientist at Greenspirit Strategies Ltd, advisors to government, industry and associations. He is author of Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist.

Dr. Moore will be the keynote speaker at the “Acceptance through Awareness” public forum at the Indo-U.S. Nuclear Energy Safety Summit, organized by the India Section of the American Nuclear Society in Mumbai on 11-12 October 2012