If you’ve ever taken a look at The Whole Earth Catalog you would expect its creator to be about as earthy-crunchy as the publication itself. It’s an compilation of products, books, clothing and other items one might need for the so-called hippie lifestyle that was published mainly in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The man behind it, Stewart Brand, recently made the very un-hippie move of supporting nuclear power.
In a recent interview to promote his new book, Brand told NPR News why he changed his mind:
I surprised myself. I used to be, you know, pretty much a kneejerk environmentalist on this particular subject. And then because of climate change I reinvestigated the matter and discovered that I’d been misled in many of the details on how nuclear works. And I finally got to the point where I’m so pro-nuclear now that I would I would be in favor of it even if climate change and greenhouse gases were not an issue.
[NPR's Scott] SIMON: So tell us exactly what you learned.
Mr. BRAND: Well, what I learned, you know, Ive been researching this stuff for a book I did called Whole Earth Discipline. And the research led me into looking at what are the real threats of radiation — way less than we thought; what really happened at Chernobyl — way less than we thought; what are the efficiencies of nuclear — way better than I thought; what is the tradeoff against solar and wind, and one of things environmentalists are just learning now is that because solar and wind are so dilute, they make an enormous footprint on the land in order to collect them and then another large footprint with the long transmission lines.
He also touches on the issue of nuclear waste storage, nuclear power plants as terrorist targets and other items.
Amory Lovins, a friend of Brand who many would think of as a kindred spirit as the head of the eco-minded think tank Rocky Mountain Institute, has said Brand is outright wrong on nuclear power. Lovins notes:
[Brand] disclaims knowledge of economics, saying environmentalists use it only as a weapon to stop projects. Today, most dispassionate analysts think new nuclear power plants’ deepest flaw is their economics. They cost too much to build and incur too much financial risk. My writings show why nuclear expansion therefore can’t deliver on its claims: it would reduce and retard climate protection, because it saves between two and 20 times less carbon per dollar, 20 to 40 times slower, than investing in efficiency and micropower.
The two cordially debated their points on another radio show last year, touching on micropower and safety issues at nuclear plants. At the time, they also pointed out that their debate was similar to one going on in Washington:
BRAND: Amory, question, what do you make of the rather pro-nuclear stance of the current administration?
LOVINS: I think there are differing views within the administration. And I think the differences between our views are mirrored there and that our discussion will be helpful in informing those internal debates. I think also a lot of the pressure comes from members of Congress more than members of the administration.
Brand noted that powerful Democrats seemed “more pro-nuclear every day” — an observation perhaps borne out last week by the Obama administration’s loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors in Georgia.