Al Gore’s nuclear hypocrisy

Al-Gore

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of reading Al Gore’s latest volume, The Future. This not particularly tightly written book has among other things a section on biotechnology that shows that Gore’s attachment to science is somewhat fleeting. I may touch on that in a later post, however let’s consider a comment Gore makes about nuclear power.

In the climate change section entitled False Solutions, Gore expresses some scepticism on nuclear power, and says the following:

There is still a distinct possibility that the research and development of a new generation of smaller and hopefully safer reactors may yet play a significant role in the world’s energy future. We should know by 2030.

Similarly, in a Reddit Q & A, Gore bemoaned new reactor designs being long in the future:

New reactor designs hold promise but they are all at least 15 years away.

So, new nuclear reactor designs are 15-18 years away from coming about. Certainly not a good situation.

However, instead of moving the clock forward 18 or so years, let’s move it back 19 years. In 1994 the Clinton-Gore administration shut down work on the Integral Fast Reactor, the very type of reactor Gore is complaining about being years away. If this decision had not been taken we would not be looking at new reactors by 2030, but instead new reactors up and running right now, and also capable of running on nuclear waste.

So, what we have here is Al Gore using a situation he helped bring about as a reason to be skeptical of nuclear power. Instead what he ought to do is apologise for the wrong headedness of the Clinton-Gore administration on the issue, and support calls for the Obama administration to restart the IFR programme. Gore, unfortunately has long had a blind spot on nuclear power.

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8 thoughts on “Al Gore’s nuclear hypocrisy”

  1. Yes, it’s an interesting point. The path we find ourselves on is only one of many possible. For example, if some blokes hadn’t carried out a silly experiment on Chernobyl some 27 years ago, Europe’s electricity might (just might) be near 100% low-carbon (nuclear, hydro and wind). The UK might have built another dozen PWR reactors to follow Sizewell B significantly improving our energy security and carbon emissions. That nuclear future never happened, just as the IFR wasn’t developed in the 1990s. The question is where do we go from here?

    1. Chris

      Where do we go from here? The big problem is getting something that’s cheaper than coal. Coal will be burned so long as it’s cheaper. Next gen nuclear is probably the only realistic option here.

      Renewables right now don’t really have the potentially to stop the growth of coal. Because of intermittency wind or solar can’t stop a single coal plant being plant. Hydro can, but whether the costs of large scale hydro outweight the climate benefits is debatable. So the costs of renewables will need to come down, and large scale and cheap energy storage options will need to become available, and fast.

      Currently I can’t see anything other than nuclear stopping coal in India and China on a timescale that’s consistent with getting anywhere close to 450 ppm. Fortunately China is investing heavily in next gen nuclear, and thorium, so there is a shot that they could do what France did in the 70s and go all out on nukes. Otherwise 450 ppm will be overshot by a long way.

  2. The problem is not only that Gore has helped bring about the situation of not having fast reactors that are ‘shovel ready’. It’s also that he does not consider today’s reactors to be safe enough to be worth building to avert global warming.
    In essence, he says that global warming is less dangerous than climate change. In that case, I do not really see the point of organizing a big world wide negociation to hammer down a treaty against climate change: no one has ever done that for nuclear power, and rightly so in light of the relatively low number of deaths it has caused.

  3. Geez, that’s the same song over and over on enviro topics. Maybe someday there’s could be something useful, but I’ll make sure I stand in the way of research, funding and permitting in the meantime. And I’ll trash-talk it too.

    Such a passive-aggressive method to look reasonable while being a complete obstruction.

    1. Very true.

      I’m reminded of an opinion piece that once appeared in The Independent newspaper. It basically said GM crops held out great promise, however until there is clear evidence of that promise we should have a total moratorium on research into GM crops.

  4. FYI the fact that a decision was made by a president does not by itself prove that the vice-president advocated for it or even agreed with it. If you don’t have that proof, you’re being way too harsh on Gore.

    1. It’s not colloquially called an “administration budget proposal” for nothing. It isn’t harshly unfair to assume that Clinton and Gore were both well versed on their own budget proposal (and recall that Gore while VP was President of the Senate, and so not blind to its debates on the budget), especially in contentious budget provisions like the IFR zeroing, which involved much bickering between congress and the administration on this very issue, and was similar to ifr debates which had been going on for many years past, while Gore was a member of the Senate.

      https://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=103&session=2&vote=00175

      In my opinion both Gore and Clinton should be able to account for, justify, debate (etc) what their administration proposed and did. That’s how democracy is supposed to work.

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