Crank of the Week – April 11, 2011 – National Catholic Reporter

Once again the forces of irrationalism are assailing nuclear energy, spurred on by the continuing crisis at the Fukushima plant in Japan. This time it is the National Catholic Reporter's turn to jump to conclusions and jerk its collective knee. Repeating the same old, hackneyed arguments, the same old tired untruths, the NCR editorial condemns the power of the atom. “What are the lessons of Fukushima?” it wails, and then answers its own question “We have been warned. Whether we are wise enough to act on that warning is up to us.” Judging from the comments posted by its own readers, people are wise enough to ignore the NCR's ignorant prattling.

In an editorial, entitled “On nuclear power, the warnings are clear,” published online in the National Catholic Reporter, the reflexive anti-nuclearism of the left is again on display. Sensing that the tragedy in Japan is an opening for their know-nothing arguments, the NCR has boldly slithered out from under their normal rock and struck at the heart of the now foundering “nuclear renascence.” Here is their opening salvo:

Like Three Mile Island in the 1970s and Chernobyl in the 1980s, we will be studying the lessons of Fukushima for decades to come. But at least one thing is clear today: The benefits of nuclear power are too few, and the consequences of serious mishap too great, to make it a reliable component of the energy supply the world needs in the decades to come.

Their conclusion? “Nuclear power is simply too risky. It is a temptation world governments must resist.” Right. Nuclear power is the most affordable, most environmentally friendly energy source known to mankind. It was only in the face of the most powerful earthquake in the history of Japan that the Fukushima accident occurred—certainly not normal operating conditions. Moreover, the reactors all survived the 9.0 quake, shutting down as they were designed to do. It was the 30 foot tsunami that followed which caused the disaster, not by directly harming the reactors but by destroying the plant's surrounding infrastructure and backup power systems.

Naturally, the ghosts of disasters past are revived to again frighten the public. Chernobyl, the only previous accident that rose to the level of a true disaster, is again the one exception that is supposed to proved that all nuclear power is too dangerous to even consider. Radiation give you cancer, they shriek!

As we write, the worst may be yet to come in Japan. This wretched story will take weeks, months perhaps, to unfold. But the prospect of a radiological cloud generated by failed containment forcing the evacuation of towns and cities is real, as is the poisoning of Japan’s food supply, or the onslaught of childhood leukemia similar to that which occurred at Chernobyl in Ukraine...

These scenarios serve as a warning to an energy-hungry warming planet tempted by the prospect of a non-carbon alternative to today’s energy sources: Don’t go there.

They then list “secondary reasons” to reject nuclear energy, calling them “compelling”:

  • Though hardly a fledgling industry, nuclear power costs too much. It is not financially viable without the type of capital subsidies that Obama is promising. In the wake of Fukushima, don’t look for private investors to be more enthusiastic about nuclear power that does not come with the promise of greater government subsidies.

  • Safe disposal of the waste generated by nuclear plants is simply impossible. Each of the disposal plans envisioned -- including in the U.S. placement of waste in Nevada’s Yucca Mountains -- brings with it a host of risks neighbors of the disposal sites reject. Who can blame them?

  • In this age of terrorism, the threat posed by nuclear plants -- either directly, through attacks on the plants themselves, or through the hijacking of the byproducts necessary to produce a nuclear weapon -- is a real and present danger.

  • Nuclear power is not at all emissions free, if emissions in relation to uranium mining, transportation, plant construction and decommissioning, and waste storage are included in the calculation. Globally, tripling nuclear capacity by 2050 might contribute 12.5 to 20 percent to the necessary emission reductions to reduce climate change. But such scenarios -- one plant every two weeks -- have no link to political reality, and the costs would be astronomical.

What totally uninformed drek, what utterly disingenuous tripe. Let's take these one at a time: First, existing nuclear power plants are among the least expensive sources of electricity around, cheaper even than coal. The reason that costs have risen in the US and other western democracies is that lawsuits by anti-nuclear activists can delay projects for decades. This greatly increases risk to investors and hence the cost of financing. There is nothing fundamentally expensive about nuclear power.

Second, disposal of the waste generated by nuclear plants is not “simply impossible.” Other nations have build successful waste repositories. The US halted the Yucca Mountain project for political reasons. If the voters of Nevada had disposed of some of their toxic political waste the repository would now be open.

Third, terrorists have never mounted a successful attack on a nuclear power plant. Nuclear materials are difficult to handle and dangerous if not handled correctly. Even if they could successfully take over a nuclear power plant, it would be incredibly hard for a gang of AK47 toting terrorists to haul off enough material to make a dirty bomb without getting radiation poisoning themselves. If NCR thinks this is easy, they should try a little investigative reporting by mounting a mock attack on a nuke plant.

Fourth, the argument that nuclear power causes pollution because of uranium mining, transportation and construction. How about the mining, construction and transportation of wind turbines, or solar cells? If these factors are considered all forms of human activity cause pollution. And even when such secondary pollution is considered, nuclear power remains the cleanest energy source on the planet. The only way for humanity to be completely pollution free would be for us to go extinct.

Finally, consider some of the remarks made by NCR readers:

  • Lamentably, the judgment of the left with respect to nuclear power vis-a-vis Japan has been impetuously issued and insufficiently informed. I am neither for nor against the development of additional domestic nuclear energy capacity; I simply possess a distaste for reactions of the knee-jerk variety, and, to my assessment, this is one such instance.

  • These knee-jerk reactions are like those toward GMOs - not very informed and based on emotion. Unfortunately both reactions have consequences that are far-reaching.

  • The NCR editorial of March 25, bad-mouthing nuclear energy is an embarrassment to the NCR, to science as well as to the Catholic Church. As with so many other media examples it elevates the level of science illiteracy which is frightening to many.

    The benefits of nuclear energy are manifold. Each reactor can produce huge amounts of electrical which is the most useful form of energy discovered in the last 1000 years. The NCR tutorial on risk was a stream of gratuitous nonsense.

  • I find it interesting that no where do you mention the word "France" who gets 70% of its power from nuclear plants, recycles its spent fuel at added cost, and has a spotless safety record, in large part due to extremely tight government regulation and oversight.

  • NCR is clearly out of its element of expertise here. Nuclear plants properly designed and operated are safe. Chernobyl was improperly designed. Three Mile Island was not a great disaster, and, if operators had not tried to override the automatic controls, would not have been a disaster at all. Yes, there are issues of storing the spent fuel rods, most of it political, however.

  • All the fatalities in Japan were from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, and like 3 Mile Island, no fatalities from the nuclear plant itself. There have been 36 deaths attributed to windmills, 36 more than nuclear plants.

  • Nuclear power as the primary source of electricity and home heating in the western world is utterly inevitable. All the talk of hundreds of thousands of expensive and inefficient and ugly windmills is just tilting at windmills. Likewise with solar panels, burning manure and tapping the earth's core for steam, and God knows what other silly daydreams. The modern nuclear plants are completely safe, completely clean and can generate almost limitless energy almost indefinitely. The strident opposition of the frightened is understandable, as was the Luddites' fear of flying and the fear of the electric toaster and so on. Nuclear plants by the thousands is inevitable but don't be too afraid as it will be quite safe as well as efficient and you will get used to it.

Seems that the flock isn't buying the shepherd's bullshit. It is easy to see why people have fallen away from the church, those associated with it insist on spreading lies as gospel. Of course, it's not as though the NCR editorial is the same as a papal encyclical. Quite frequently it is the ignorant lay believers who do the church the most damage. The truth is out there, but it isn't appearing on the NCR website.

A papal encyclical the NCR is not.

NCR claims to be a religious news source with worldly interests. What they are is just another worthless clutch of muzzy headed liberals, who's total scientific and technological ignorance does not prevent them from regurgitating timeworn mistruths. They should stick to covering parish picnics and investigating the diddling of altar boys. So, for carrying on the two thousand year old tradition of the Catholic Church being wrong on science, this Crank of the Week is for all those at the National Catholic Reporter.


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Nuclear Plants

What we have learned form Fukushima is that the back up electric generators need to be placed in hardened enclosures, such that unforeseen effects such as sunamis cannot get to them.

This is a very low tech, low cost fix.

All of the nuclear plants in the region around Fukushima all scrammed themselves just as they were designed. This part was a win. It was the inability to replace the lost backup electricity generators that has caused ALL of the problems that followed.


First you attack the UCC now the Catholic Church. I think you are just a bunch of secular humanist atheists. God made the universe, we only live here.


The Resilient Earth is not anti-religion, unless that religion is blind ecological irrationalism. There is a place for both religion and science in our world. If it is a question about the physical world, it belongs to science. If the question is about morality or the spiritual realm, it belongs to religion. As I said in the book, religion answers questions that science can't, while science answers questions religion shouldn't.

by their "logic"...

what has happened in japan has been a real tragedy. the earthquake and tsunami have killed tens of thousands of people, animals, and much infrastructure there on the coast. a true environmental catastrophe, without even taking into account the nuclear issue.

so.. since tsunamis kill so many and cause such truly devastating environmental damage i propose it should be illegal to build ANYTHING on any coastline in the world that could be ravished by such.

you know.. its better to be safe then sorry.

at least .. by their "logic"