by Rob Lownie
Thursday, 20
October 2022
Explainer
07:15

Greta Thunberg kills off the anti-nuclear campaign

The climate activist's change of heart is only one of many
by Rob Lownie
Greta Thunberg criticised German plans to shut down its three remaining nuclear plants

A change in mind from the world’s most famous environmental campaigner shows just how marginalised the case against nuclear power has become. In an interview last week, Greta Thunberg criticised German plans to shut down its three remaining nuclear plants, branding the move “a bad idea” and a “mistake” if it necessitated switching to coal. For this she received praise from Christian Democrat and Free Democratic Party politicians in the country, and even won over figures from the German Right who had previously been dismissive of her activism.

Shortly after these comments, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz yesterday vowed to extend the operation of all three plants until April of next year. In doing so, he has risked the wrath of the anti-nuclear Green party which makes up one-third of the nation’s traffic light coalition

But in truth, Thunberg’s comments are indicative of a prevailing international mood which, in light of the global energy crisis, recognises the need for nuclear power instead of impractical renewable alternatives. In Germany, where there has been a frantic scramble to wean itself off cheap Russian gas, the need is particularly acute.

The Swedish climate activist is not the first public figure to perform a volte-face on nuclear energy. In the US, Democrat Representative for Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declared in 2020 that the proposed Green New Deal (GND) “does leave the door open for nuclear.” The GND, and Ocasio-Cortez’s views on energy, had evidently developed in the fifteen months since she insisted that there would be “no space” for nuclear power in the quest for renewable and sustainable sources. 

Shorn of high-profile figureheads like Thunberg and AOC, the anti-nuclear coalition around the world is noticeably dwindling. This month Austria, which has been anti-nuclear since a 1978 referendum, made good on its intention to challenge the European Union’s inclusion of nuclear energy, as well as natural gas, in its list of supposedly green investments. According to the nation’s environment minister, Leonore Gewessler, the two are neither green nor sustainable, and their inclusion on the list amounts to ‘greenwashing’ on the part of the EU. This challenge has also been supported by Luxembourg. 

Spain, though not a co-signatory, is nonetheless officially critical of nuclear energy too. At last year’s COP26 summit, Portugal and Denmark were convinced to join a European anti-nuclear alliance alongside Germany, Austria and Luxembourg. 

Yet these countries’ politicians may be out of step with their voters on this issue. In a survey conducted in Denmark this August, 46% of respondents said they would vote for the use of nuclear power in a referendum, while 39% said they opposed it. According to a YouGov poll from last year, only 20% of Spanish people think that the country should not generate nuclear energy, whereas 40% think it should be a major part of Spain’s energy mix, equal to renewable sources like solar and wind.

Germany’s change of tack reflects its leaders’ awareness that, as the fourth largest economy in the world and a key player in energy markets, the country has to leave the option of nuclear power open. More and more countries will follow Germany’s lead in revising their position on nuclear energy, with Japan now pondering an extension to the limit on the operation lifespan of its nuclear plants. 

Meanwhile, campaigners who were once central to the anti-nuclear cause have also shifted in their views when confronted with the utility of nuclear power. Across Europe and beyond, critics of nuclear, for now, are nowhere to be seen.

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Aaron Argive
Aaron Argive
1 month ago

This describes the Progressive’s Mind. Whinge, caterwaul, howl at the moon while the rest of humanity lives their lives, builds our societies and infrastructure, innovates for all of humanity. Just know that the majority are no longer interested in humoring childish musings.
It’s going to be a cold expensive winter of “realistic proportions” for much of Europe giving everyone time to reconsider their magical thinking. Warming themselves with single source sustainable pour over coffee wearing Andean Alpaca mittens as they blame everyone else will make it much more tolerable.

Walt French
Walt French
1 month ago
Reply to  Aaron Argive

Did you read the article about “progressives” dropping their opposition to nukes, before you started your little tirade?

The facts of how we can stop toasting the planet have changed, thanks to Putin, so actual thinkers are re-prioritizing, while it seems you’re just blasting those you disdain for trying to have a better world

Last edited 1 month ago by Walt French
Andrew Holmes
Andrew Holmes
1 month ago
Reply to  Walt French

I think Argive has a point. The data on nuclear have been available for years. Their opposition has been irrational for years. And their opposition has been effective in blocking sensible policies. Hooray for the shift. But, characterizing Progressives as having more passion than brain is fair.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 month ago
Reply to  Walt French

“…for trying to have a better world.” How noble. How selfless. How wonderful you are. You remind me of people from my youth – let me think who they were. Oh yes – the religious people I grew up around. Virtue signalling brutes. Sanctimony and self righteousness never go out of style.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
1 month ago

I have no interest whatsoever in the views or the vacuous witterings of this attention -seeking schoolgirl. It’s a mystery to me why anyone bothers to report them.

She is a slightly ridiculous media fad – nothing more. A latter day “child saint” with a small retinue of gullible worshippers. People need to get real.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 month ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

wife potential for Prince Andrew?

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 month ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

You seem less mature than her.  
Her views are as valid as those of many twice her age. We’ve all seen how people much older than her are making a dog’s dinner of running the UK lol.
If you disagree with her, set out your points in a calm and rational manner, whilst eschewing snide little personal attacks in substitution for debate.  

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

What’s the point arguing points when her views change, ironically, with the weather.

Christo R
Christo R
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

It’s never been about her views so no point in debating them. Her views are whatever gets her the most attention…. that is all. You won’t even be debating her if you did it in person you would be debating the chips on her shoulders.

Yes…. yes I dare…how do I do it… as above where I did it.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 month ago

The opposition of Big Green to nuclear power demonstrates that they don’t believe their rhetoric on man made global warming. If they did they would be fully behind nuclear.

Colin MacDonald
Colin MacDonald
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Exactly. If they really believe we’re in the middle of a climate “emergency” they should be advocating the cheapest nuclear reactors NOW, after all they present only a hypothetical danger, whereas the “settled” Science tells us that conventional energy will kill us all.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

What, exactly, is “Big Green”?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Are you just trolling the comments of others today, or might you contribute?

Martin Brumby
Martin Brumby
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Indeed. And it is worth reminding readers about Democratic Senator Timothy Wirth’s recollections of the 1988 Senate hearings concerning “Climate Change”, which is pretty much where all this nonsense started.
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/hotpolitics/interviews/wirth.html
The NASA Scientist chosen the present the “Scientific” evidence to those assembled was Jim Hansen. Always a hardline Green activist.
He has for many years pointed out that so-called “Renewables” were completely useless to power any kind of civilised society and that nuclear energy was (in his view) the only credible alternative to “Fossil Fuels”.
That’s about the only thing that Hansen has said, that makes sense.
Although there is clearly no significant problem with “Fossil Fuels”, either.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Who needs nuclear power when you have wishful thinking

Ian Denno
Ian Denno
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

That would be fine, except for the matter of what happens to nuclear waste. To the best of my knowledge, all the waste that’s ever been produced by nuclear power plants is sitting around in bunkers, potentially being aggravated by moisture leaking into the containers, while they try to figure out how to get rid of it safely.
I once met a lady whose job was making presentations on the future of waste for her local nuclear power station. Her conclusion was ultimately, “45 years ago they gave us 50 years to figure out what to do with the waste, but they’ve extended that to 75 years now so we’re safe for the time being.”
If they figure it out, then great. But what if they don’t?

Andrew Holmes
Andrew Holmes
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Denno

The issue of nuclear waste in the US has been blocked by what appears to me to be a bizarre standard and nasty politics.
The standard is 10,000 years of passive safety.
The nasty politics was Obama effectively turning over certification of the much studied Yucca Mountain disposal site to a powerful senator whose support he needed. The senator’s constituents opposed the site. Therefore, no certification and the site effectively abandoned.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Denno

There’s nothing to figure out. It’s exceptionally terrible garbage but there’s extraordinarily little of it. Yucca mountain got a lot of headlines but was a great example of why government sucks. They picked a site for political reasons that was geologically terrible. There are better options. The best one I’ve heard is deep salt mines. https://www.agronomy.org/news/science-news/are-salt-deposits-solution-nuclear-waste-disposal/

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago

Facing the prospect of a winter without heating really changes peoples’ perspective, doesn’t it? Here are the facts. Humanity has discovered exactly two ways to generate on-demand power without generating carbon dioxide. One is burning pure hydrogen, and the other is nuclear fission. The former sounds good, until one considers where the hydrogen comes from. It has to be extracted from coal, gas, or oil, so it’s basically what we’re doing now with an extra step to extract the hydrogen, and that process still produces carbon dioxide. Nuclear is starting to look pretty good to a lot of people at this point. The sad thing is that the anti-nuclear movement was driven by paranoia and fear, not science or economics or even safety concerns. Nuclear power has always been safer and less polluting than most other power sources, but high profile disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima make impressions and create irrational public fear. Nice to see Greta has enough intelligence to see beyond that. There may be hope for her yet.

Last edited 1 month ago by Steve Jolly
Gordon Black
Gordon Black
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Three ways, in Norway it’s all Hydro.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

You’re right, and it Iceland, it’s all geothermal. This is why I specified ‘on-demand’, meaning we can put the power plant where we need the power, turn it on when we need it, etc. These sources of power are great, and should be utilized to the greatest extent possible, but they aren’t available everywhere. Most of the dams that can be economically built and used for electricity in the US already have been. That’s not to say your suggestion doesn’t have merit. There are still dams that are not fitted for power generation that could be, and micro-level hydrogeneration can be used in many places with relatively small water sources at certain times. Still have to have an on-demand source for certain places and times.

Martin Brumby
Martin Brumby
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Just an ardent plea.
If anyone is seriously considering that “There are still dams that are not fitted for power generation that could be, and micro-level hydrogeneration can be used in many places with relatively small water sources at certain times.”…..
PLEASE let’s have a proper, detailed examination by qualified Dam Engineers, of the implications of these bright ideas, backed up with qualified Electrical Engineers examining the implications for the Grid and, most importantly by a full (honest) cost-benefit analysis and by a modest pilot project paid for by investors rather than by poor bloody tax-payers.
We’ve already flushed many billions down the toilet on wave and tidal generators, geothermal studies, carbon capture and storage, dropping weights attached to ropes driving dynamos and dozens of other cunning wheezes that never stood even a remote chance of actually working, let alone being cost effective.
And that’s before considering whirligigs and solar subsidy farms.
It might also be good to properly examine whether Carbon Dioxide is a problem in the first place. (It certainly isn’t).

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin Brumby

I’d suggest we apply the same hard-nosed CBA approach to new nuclear, too, which has a terrifically poor record of arriving on time and delivering without huge public subsidies – not so far including the costs of burying the waste when that moment arrives. It’s not that simple.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin Brumby

You’re not wrong. Really everything should be subjected to some sort of cost-benefit analysis, though these are not immune to the rampant green bias that animates so many bureaucrats. Putting a generator at a dam that already exists and/or giving taxpayers a subsidy for installing a micro-generator on their property seem to me, at face value anyway, a good deal less expensive than say, waving a magic wand to erase billions of dollars in student loan debt, or sending every American two thousand dollars to sit on their asses for months to protect our woefully unprepared healthcare industry from the massive financial losses they would have incurred due to COVID.

Neil Adshead
Neil Adshead
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

This is a common misconception of electricity generation in Iceland. The majority is generated by hydro dams, whereas geothermal is used for electricity generation plus the direct heating of homes and buildings. Aluminum smelters are in Iceland due to cheap and reliable hydro-generated electricity.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  Neil Adshead

Thank you for the insight. I stand educated 🙂

Snapper AG
Snapper AG
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

More people die in coal mining accidents every year than have died from nuclear accidents in history. And all those nuclear deaths were at Chernobyl from a reactor that had no containment vessel. Zero people died from Fukushima.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 month ago
Reply to  Snapper AG

“Zero people died from Fukushima.”
Took the words right out of my mouth.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  Snapper AG

Exactly my point. These few incidents that represent the worst case scenarios in terms of bad design and natural disaster have been used by the anti-nuclear lobby to poison public opinion against our best non-fossil fuel power source when they are far safer than the average coal mine or oil platform.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 month ago

Both James Lovelock, who originated the concept of Gaia and George Monbiot of the Gaia Foundation became advocates for the use of nuclear power as part of the transition to greener energy around a decade ago. Both were serious thinkers.
Greta Thunsberg, whilst no doubt serious, i wouldn’t yet describe as a thinker but an activist. But still, she’s showing signs of getting there.
Nuclear fission to produce energy will hopefully become a legacy technology as the realisation of nuclear fusion comes closer. The latest estimates for a working fusion reactor coming on stream are around 2040, with the UK at least as advanced as any nation in this field. It should be said that we do have a tendency to squander technological leads, but the potential for unlimited energy isn’t something that should be exploited by any one nation, beyond perhaps an initial phase of passing on expertise and training.

Last edited 1 month ago by Steve Murray
Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Problem with Fusion is that it has been definitely available in 20 years since the 70s (IIRC). If Thorium had been bomb-making stuff we would all have a thorium reactor at the bottom of the garden by now The problem with government research is that the scientists don’t want to be put out of well paid jobs so they (like many unCivil Servants) drag their feet and have even been known to lie to the government of the day. I came across thos sort of behaviour as a junior submarine Officer in the late 60s/early 70s, not just in weaponry but in communications, navigation, etc. We need someone with sufficient technical knowledge to be able to suss-out the chaff and have the power to kick-arse. There are such people about but the Blob are (obviously) averse to having them in their midst and will twist-and-turn every which-way to thwart them.

Last edited 1 month ago by Doug Pingel
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

If it was only governments that were working on it, that would be one thing, but there are a lot of companies both large and small working on fusion power, and they are expecting a return on their investment at some point. More than that, fusion power is likely to get swept up in the technological arms race brewing between the US and China.

Paul Walsh
Paul Walsh
1 month ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

I believe the Indian government are still working on Thorium reactors. Hopefully they will get them working.

James P
James P
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Monbiot’s a nut.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 month ago
Reply to  James P

Even a nut with a stopped clock is capable of telling the right time twice a day.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 month ago
Reply to  James P

Because you disagree with him?
Again, set out your points, in a calm and rational manner.
Lazy insults are a poor substitute for rational debate, don’t you think?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

And where is your contribution to the rational debate Frank?

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago

Why are we talking about this ignorant and hysterical child again?

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Calm down.
Lazy insults are a poor substitute for rational debate, don’t you think?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

True, but you don’t seem to be prepared to contribute to the constructive discussion.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 month ago

tedious little child

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago

The real question here, is why has it taken these idiots so long ?

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian Barton
Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Not as intelligent as you, obviously.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Yup trolling.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago

I suppose Putin’s war has some silver linings (like Covid did too) – review of energy logistics and greater acceptability of nuclear power.

Sophy T
Sophy T
1 month ago

So everyone in the world has to do what Greta Thunberg says?

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 month ago
Reply to  Sophy T

No – whatever gave you that idea? Are you drunk?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Trolling again?

Martin Brumby
Martin Brumby
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

I assume that this is how to “contribute to the constructive discussion.”

Christo R
Christo R
1 month ago
Reply to  Sophy T

How DARE we not?

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 month ago

Australia should build mirrors in the outback, concentrated on water towers to create steam, turn turbines, and generate electricity. This has been done and is a practical, low-cost way to generate power. Each mirror needs a motor to turn it as the sun moves across the sky. What do y’all think?

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
1 month ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

Uh, what would power the motors? Am I stupid here?

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 month ago
Reply to  Betsy Arehart

The apparatus, as described, is producing electricity. Otherwise, the sun which is shining on the mirrors could also be shining on some solar panels nearby.

Australia does have an awful lot of uranium (for when the sun isn’t shining).

Saul D
Saul D
1 month ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

Like all environmental issues, the priniciples sound great, but the practicalities what you have to look at – like the numbers and logistics.
How much electricity do you really get out for what capital spend? Not maximum momentary capacity as is typically reported for green projects – but actual annual output.
Then how many of these would you need to get 1GWyear’s worth of electricity produced (ie same as a basic nuclear power station)? And how much would building sufficient units cost compared to nuclear?
And how do you cope in the dark, with the dust, or the rain, or half-time of an FA Cup final? No handwaving like ‘use batteries’ without also doing the numbers, since then you need double the generators – one for now, and one to charge the battery, plus the batteries as additional costs.

Martin Brumby
Martin Brumby
1 month ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

Already tried in the Nevada desert, where birds incinerated in flight were called ‘smokers’.
But besides that, cost billions, made no useful contribution to energy supply, now defunct. R.I.P.
Please get your head around the fact that weather dependent energy is only useful as generation of last resort, because in any civilised society, we need energy 24/7 and so adequate reliable energy supply in the hours of darkness when the wind isn’t blowing (or blowing too hard) is essential.
Almost all the cost of the reliable energy has to be found whether wind and solar are doing anything or not.
And also don’t forget that the reasons why most turbines and the vast majority of solar panels are now made in China are (a) because Xi Jinping is a lot brighter than our own Beloved Leaders, but also (b) because you can’t realistically make either without nuclear or fossil fuel energy (usually coal).