NZZ: Mr. Lovelock, did you open a bottle of champagne on January 1st ?
J Lovelock: No. After the Christmas holidays with the family I needed some rest.
NZZ: In 2004 you published a text in the “Independent” entitled: “Nuclear power is the only green solution”. Almost 20 years later, on January 1st, the EU said: “Nuclear power is a green solution”. This announcement created what reaction with you?
J. Lovelock: I have no idea what arguments and counter-arguments the EU discussed. But I’m glad she’s finally beginning to understand that burning carbon is the root cause of today’s climate problems. Only nuclear energy can meet the massive energy needs of modern civilization. While impressive amounts of energy can be obtained from renewable sources such as wind, solar or hydropower, the sources are not consistent or reliable.
NZZ: On the other hand, nuclear energy creates new problems: Is it really “sustainable” to leave vast amounts of dangerous waste behind for future generations?
J. Lovelock: Falsehoods circulate about nuclear energy that stubbornly persist. So, for example, the amounts of nuclear waste are not huge at all. Compared to the waste from burning coal or oil, they are actually very small. France produces a lot of energy from nuclear power. My wife and I were given a tour of the nuclear waste disposal sites and we saw for ourselves how insignificant the problem of disposal is.
NZZ: Did you never have any doubts about your attitude, for example after Fukushima?
J. Lovelock: What happened at Fukushima? Most people will say there was a massive nuclear explosion. In fact it was a natural disaster, a tsunami that killed over 15000 people. The tsunami also damaged the local nuclear power plant, but no one was killed.
NZZ: What about the radiation?
J.Lovelock: This is another almost impossible to eradicate untruth about nuclear energy: that any amount of radiation, no matter how small, can cause cancer. If that were the case, I probably wouldn’t be answering your questions now, at almost 103 years of age. It’s as if we’ve all forgotten that, for example, the vital element potassium is radioactive.
NZZ: You helped shape the environmental movement in the 1970s, but nuclear power was not and is not considered green by them. Why haven’t you found more supporters for nuclear energy?
J. Lovelock: I actually made myself unpopular with my advocacy of nuclear power as safe energy. I believe there was massive propaganda against nuclear energy from the coal and oil industries as they saw it as a threat to their prosperity. In addition, many lack physical and chemical understanding, and young scientists often prefer biology to these mathematics-heavy subjects.
NZZ: Does the announcement of the EU indicate a shift in the budget of social fears? It seems as if the fear of climate change has become greater in recent years than that of a nuclear catastrophe.
J.Lovelock: In the beginning, the fear of nuclear power plants was based on the experience of the atomic bomb and its horrific consequences. Nuclear power plants were seen by many as a large bomb in their own neighborhood. And indeed, today we fear climate change in much the same way that we feared the bombs after World War II.
Source: NZZ, January 13, 2022, by Claudia Mäder; Interview was conducted in writing. [publizised in German language, translated by D.Koeppel]
Who is James Lovelock? An unconventional Eco-leader.
If his age didn’t forbid it, James Lovelock would be called the “enfant terrible” of the eco-movement. The 102-year-old physician, chemist and biophysicist has had a major influence on the environmental movement. But his views have always been a source of controversy. In the 1970’s, the British citizen drafted the Gaia theory: According to this, the whole earth is to be understood as a large living being, as an organism that regulates itself. Controversial in science and popularized by various environmentalists, the Gaia hypothesis is continued today by thinkers like Bruno Latour.
With the help of a selfinvented detector, Lovelock was also able to measure the concentration of chlorine-containing poisons in the atmosphere early on – his device helped identify the ozone problem.
In contrast to the majority of the Greens, who were gaining strength at the time, the independent researcher never criticized nuclear power and made himself the dedicated advocate of nuclear energy from the 2000s onwards. Lovelock has served as Honorary President of the Nuclear Environmentalists group and has published books touting nuclear power as the only and best solution. At the same time, he also warned urgently and in sometimes apocalyptic scenarios of the dangers of climate change.
In recent times, the scientist’s tech optimism has replaced any alarmism. Lovelock advocates geoengineering strategies to curb climate change and believes that artificial intelligence will peacefully rule the earth in the future. His most recent book was also dedicated to this topic: “Novozene” appeared by publisher C.H. Beck, in 2020.
The bigger picture
Read here this blog’s author take – adding “my mustard” so to say. Above position by Mr. Lovelock is a controversial one. The recent announcement by the EU adds to the controversy.
During COP26 (December 2021) a Mr. Grossi (IAEA) made a statement that nobody died of nuclear radiation at Fukushima (2011). Perhaps a severe case of “ease of representation”? Although the linked statement notes, that the Japanese Government declared the first death due to radiation in 2018.
As a personal anecdote, during a physical visit to the nuclear reactor in Goesgen, Switzerland in 2009, our group of students was given the information that the radioactive waste of the electricity consumption for a one family house, amounts to the seize of an average seize thimble. For fairness sake I should add that the definition of “nuclear waste” entails much more than just the used nuclear fuel.
Maintaining these opposing facts and or representations does induce a headache.
I myself, am acknowledging that:
- a) a large % of the primary energy is still produced by burning CO2 emitting Fossil fuels;
- b) the budgeted CO2 Emission is aprox. 500 GT CO2 (a gigaton is 1 billion tons; 1 000 000 000 t) until the global temperature rise of 2! (not 1,5) degrees Celsius is reached, and
- c) the fossil fuel industry has already located aprox. 3 000 GT of fossil carbons in the ground.
- If one now subtracts b) from c) one arrives at carbon fuel equivalent of ~ 2 500 GT, which should be left in the ground, aka not burned, noting that the value of that resulting 2 500 GT fossil carbon is aprox. 1 500 Trillion USD. ( 1 500 000 000 000 000 USD). (K.S. Robinson, The ministry for the future, p.29)
Another case of follow the money?
Update 20/03/22: The Ukrainian war makes for some unexpected mitigating circumstances, such a oil price hight, gazprice rise of >20% in a few days and most importantly; the extension of Beligum`s exit from nuclear power, by 10 Years.