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'Stop nuclear energy! - demonstration on the Champs de Mars, Paris, in front of the Eiffel Tower. Photo: GLOBAL 2000 via Flickr (CC BY-ND).
'Stop nuclear energy! - demonstration on the Champs de Mars, Paris, in front of the Eiffel Tower. Photo: GLOBAL 2000 via Flickr (CC BY-ND).
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Nuclear lobbyists' epic COP21 fail. Our next job? Keep their hands off climate funds

Jim Green

16th December 2015

The nuclear industry has had a disappointing COP21, writes Jim Green. Lobbyists were there en masse desperately trying to get pro-nuclear wording into the Paris Agreement, and they failed. The word does not occur even once in the entire document. But we must prepare for the next battle: keeping nuclear power out of the $100 billion a year Green Climate Fund.

'Big Green' opposes nuclear power, and so does small green. And dark green and light green. Efforts by nuclear lobbyists to split the environment movement have failed. And that fact alone represents a victory for the entire green movement.

The nuclear industry and its supporters were busily promoting nuclear power - and attacking environmentalists - before and during the COP21 UN climate conference in Paris.

All the usual suspects were promoting nuclear power as a climate-friendly energy source: the World Nuclear Association, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Energy Agency, the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency, the US Nuclear Energy Institute, and so on.

The Breakthrough Institute has been promoting its pro-nuclear "paradigm-shifting advocacy for an ecomodernist future" and arguing against the "reactionary apocalyptic pastoralism" of anyone who disagrees with them.

In reality the Breakthrough Institute is anything but 'paradigm shifting'. It endorses all things capitalist ... even the Kardashians, apparently. A glowing endorsement in the National Review states:

"Ecomodernists are pro-fracking. They advocate genetically engineered crops (GMOs) ... Most distinctively, the ecomodernists are pro-growth and pro-free markets. 'The Kardashians are not the reason Africans are starving,' chides Alex Trembath, a senior researcher at the Breakthrough Institute ..."

Bill Gates was in Paris to announce the formation of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition - which has been suspiciously vague about exactly what kind of 'clean energy' it wants to finance research into. It seems likely the capital the Coalition attracts will be directed disproportionately to nuclear R&D.

Robert Stone, director of the Pandora's Promise pro-nuclear propaganda film, launched a 'resource hub' called Energy For Humanity, promoting "more advanced, mass-producible, passively safe, reactor designs".

Rauli Partanen and Janne Korhonen, members of the Finnish Ecomodernist Society, have been attacking environmentalists for opposing nuclear power. Rebutting a rebuttal by Michael Mariotte from the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Partanen and Korhonen offer this gem:

"Even the much-maligned Olkiluoto 3 nuclear project [in Finland] turns out to be very fast way of adding low-carbon energy production when compared to any real-world combination of alternatives."

A single reactor that will take well over a decade to build (and is three times over budget) is a "very fast way" of adding low-carbon energy? Huh? Maybe that's why a second reactor of the same EPR design to be built at Okiluoto was cancelled in May 2015, while the main players are locked in a €10 billion legal battle.

'The instransigent network of anti-nukes' versus Astroturf

Partanen and Korhanan authored a booklet called 'Climate Gamble: Is Anti-Nuclear Activism Endangering Our Future?', and crowdfunded the printing of 5,000 copies which were distributed for free at the COP21 conference.

James Hansen and three other climate scientists were in Paris to promote nuclear power. Hansen attacks the "intransigent network of anti-nukes" that has "grown to include 'Big Green,' huge groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund and World Wide Fund for Nature. They have trained lawyers, scientists, and media staff ready to denounce any positive news about nuclear power."

By way of sharp contrast, the impoverished US nuclear industry could only rustle up US$60 million (€55m) to lobby Congress and federal agencies in 2013-14.

So is there an undercurrent of grassroots pro-nuclear environmentalism waiting to burst forth if only their voice could cut through Big Green hegemony? Perhaps Nuclear for Climate, promoted as a 'grassroots organization', is the environmental network to take on Big Green?

Well, no. Nuclear for Climate isn't a network of grassroots environmentalists, it's a network of more than 140 nuclear societies. It isn't grassroots environmentalism, it's corporate astroturf.

And the list of 140 associations includes 36 chapters of the 'Women in Nuclear' organisation and 43 chapters of the 'Young Generation Network'. One wonders whether these organisations have any meaningful existence. Does Tanzania really have a pro-nuclear Young Generation Network? Don't young people in Tanzania have better things to do?

Nuclear for Climate has a website, a hashtag, a twitter handle and all the modern social media sine qua non. But it has some work to do with its messaging. One of its COP21 memes was: 'The radioactive waste are not good for the climate? Wrong!' So radioactive waste is good for the climate?!

Has the nuclear lobby achieved anything?

But in the face of all its efforts and extravagant budget lines, the nuclear industry's hopes for the COP21 conference were dashed. As Michael Mariotte from the Nuclear Information & Resource Service writes:

"The international Don't Nuke the Climate campaign had two major goals for COP 21: 1) to ensure that any agreement reached would not encourage use of nuclear power and, preferably, to keep any pro-nuclear statement out of the text entirely; and 2) along with the rest of the environmental community, to achieve the strongest possible agreement generally.

"The first goal was certainly met. The word 'nuclear' does not appear in the text and there are no incentives whatsoever for use of nuclear power. That was a clear victory. But that is due not only to a global lack of consensus on nuclear power, but to the fact that the document does not specifically endorse or reject any technology (although it does implicitly reject continued sustained use of fossil fuels).

"Rather, each nation brought its own greenhouse gas reduction plan to the conference. 'Details', for example whether there should be incentives for any particular technology, will be addressed at follow-up meetings over the next few years. So it is imperative that the Don't Nuke the Climate campaign continue, and grow, and be directly involved at every step of the way - both inside and outside the meetings.

"As for the strongest possible agreement, well, it may have been the 'strongest possible' that could be agreed to by 195 nations in 2015. By at least recognizing that the real goal should be limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Centigrade rather than the 2 degrees previously considered by most nations to be the top limit, the final document was stronger than many believed possible going into the negotiations.

"That said, the environmental community agrees that the agreement doesn't go far enough and, importantly, that the commitments made to date do not meet even this document's aspirations."

Public opinion remains firmly anti-nuclear

So the nuclear industry didn't make any gains at COP21, but is it making any progress in its broader efforts to attract public support? It's hard to say, but there's no evidence of a shift in public opinion.

A 2005 IAEA-commissioned survey of 18 countries found that there was majority opposition to new reactors in all but one of the 18 countries. A 2011 IPSOS survey of nearly 19,000 people in 24 countries found 69% opposition to new reactors, and majority opposition to new reactors in all but one of the 24 countries.

Is the nuclear industry having any success winning over environmentalists? Around the margins, perhaps, but the ranks of 'pro-nuclear environmentalists' (PNEs - an acronym previous used to describe 'peaceful nuclear explosions') are very thin. As James Hansen complained in the lead-up to COP21, the Climate Action Network, representing all the major environmental groups, opposes nuclear power.

'Big Green' opposes nuclear power, and so does small green. And dark green and light green. Efforts by nuclear lobbyists to split the environment movement have failed. And that fact alone represents a victory for the entire green movement.

The nuclear lobby certainly isn't winning where it matters most: nuclear power has been stagnant for the past 20 years and costs are rising, whereas the growth of renewables has been spectacular and costs are falling.

One of the recurring claims in the pro-nuclear propaganda surrounding COP21 is that renewables can't be deployed quickly enough whereas nuclear can. But 783 gigawatts of new renewable power capacity were installed in the decade from 2005-2014. That's more power producing capacity than the nuclear industry has installed in its entire 60+ year history!

The nuclear lobby didn't even win the battle of the celebrities at COP21. OK, James Hansen, Bill Gates and other pro-nuclear celebrities put up a good fight against pro-renewable celebrities such as conservationist David Attenborough. But the pro-renewable celebrities raising their voice during COP21 included Pope Francis. And he's infallible!

Next - keeping nuclear out of the Green Climate Fund

But we must now look forward to the next battle, one the nuclear lobbyists are already fighting. They are pushing for nuclear power to be included in the UN's Green Climate Fund (GCF), intended to finance developing country mitigation and adaptation activities.

One commitment in the Paris Agreement is that rich countries will collectively mobilise $100 billion per year into the GCF. So if the nuclear lobbyists succeed in their aim, vast sums could be diverted into nuclear programs at the expense of renewables and other genuine climate change mitigation and adaptation programs.

We must not let them get away with it!



Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter, where this article was originally published.

Nuclear Monitor is published 20 times a year. It has been publishing deeply researched, often strongly critical articles on all aspects of the nuclear cycle since 1978. A must-read for all those who work on this issue!


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