Co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, Dr Patrick Moore, who has since emerged as one of the strongest advocates of nuclear power, was in Mumbai to deliver the keynote address on “Acceptance through Awareness” at a public forum at the Indo-US Nuclear Energy Safety Summit at IIT, Powai. In an interview with Yogesh Pawar, apart from pushing for nuclear energy, genetically modified crops and large hydel power projects he also slammed the green movement for “being anti-environment”.
You keep insisting that nuclear energy is the safest alternative? Do you really think so despite Chernobyl, Three Mile Island or most recently Fukushima?
No one is saying that these were not disasters. But it is also a disaster that 1.2 million die in accidents every single year. Many are pedestrians who lose their lives for no fault of theirs. But I haven't heard anyone demand that driving or walking be banned because its unsafe.
Take the case of the Bangiao dam burst in China in 1975 — 26,000 people were killed immediately. Another 100,000 died in the days that followed since overwhelmed authorities could not respond adequately with relief and rehabilitation. It was the worst dam-burst in terms of casualties throughout history. But neither China nor any other country has stopped building dams or reservoirs.
The pursuit of safety is a continuous process and we need to learn from our mistakes and make future projects safer. I think it is an overreaction to say nuclear energy should be banned.
The Bhopal gas disaster was one of the world's worst industrial disasters. Today whether it is Jaitapur or Kudankulam, Bhopal is the benchmark which shows how prepared or willing the government is to intervene with relief and rehab. Aren't locals' fears justified then?
I know that the Bhopal tragedy was terrible. It has left a permanent psychological scar on people's minds. But the safety standards of nuclear plants are many times higher. Unfortunately the psychosocial fears that that our pop environmentalists seemed to imbue their propaganda seems to work just like Hollywood/Bollywood trends or some cult or religion. If we allow that to dictate the way we move head, we will never move at all.
There are many who say nuclear energy is being pushed with an eye on profit despite there being many other alternatives like solar and wind power.
This is propaganda spread by some organisations like Greenpeace who are lying. The wind turbines or solar panels need to be backed by gas turbines or coal based power plants. This is exactly what is happening in Denmark and Germany where the green movements like to show case when they want to talk about countries giving up nuclear power. Look at the carbon emission figures since this happened and you see that emissions in Europe are growing.
Coal in the world is also not ever lasting resource. In the coming years when we run out of gas and oil which are not half as abundantly available we will have to liquify energy from coal for transport. Lets save for then. Why waste it on generating power when this can be done with nuclear energy?
But there are vested interests that want to oppose everything that they disagree with.
You mean other than nuclear power projects?
Yes. Take hydel power. It is the most environment friendly way to generate power. But whether here in India or Brazil, politics over these projects is sought to be complicated in such a way that nothing can move. One would think film makers like James Cameron are sensible, but see the way he's going into forests, painting his face and opposing dams. It is one thing to protest when you have interrupted 24x7 power supply, but what about those who actually live without power?
But in India the track record of the government has been very bad with big dams which have caused a lot of displacement and misery?
Displacement is something that is part of the development narrative. It cannot be wished away. The Three Gorges dam in China for example displaced a million plus people. But see what it has done for the region. Huge tracts have become irrigated which means there is more food. The annual floods and devastation they brought in their wake have been reduced since there is better control on the water.
Every case needs to be looked at separately. All factors need to be weighed in before a a decision on displacement is made.
Lets come back to your claim that nuclear energy is the safest. If so, why are the nuclear vendors fighting shy of liability?
That is like expecting that if a ship sinks mid ocean, the man who nailed in the rivets will be held responsible. How will the real estate market react if the builders are held liable for every single building that collapses? I know I am no expert on legal matters but I see this being used for obstructing projects than anything else.
You have come a long way from being an opponent of nuclear power to being an advocate for it? This has not endeared you to the green lobby, many of who have strong things to say about you?
Well they can say what they want but others like Stewart Brand, Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs, and Steel), and Tim Flannery (environmental author) have joined us as pro-nuclear environmentalists
As a co-founder of Greenpeace, even though I was a scientist, I made the same mistake my colleagues did. We equated nuclear energy with nuclear weapons and decided all things nuclear were evil. It was an honest mistake. We were totally focused on the threat of nuclear war during the Cold War. Nuclear testing was what Greenpeace started on and we were peaceniks, and I think it's fair to say that the anti-nuclear-energy movement to some extent was formed out of the peace movement.
But in retrospect, I believe we failed to make an important distinction between the peaceful versus the destructive uses of a technology. To reiterate, there are many technologies that are very good but have the power to used destructively. Cars can be made into car bombs as long as you have a little bit of fertilizer and diesel oil. Machetes have killed more people than any other weapon in the last 20 years, over a million, and yet they're the most important tool for farmers in the developing world.
Why are all green movements labelled obstructionist by people on the other side? Is that a convenient way of avoiding answering some of their questions?
I don't think so. The charge that the organisations like Greenpeace have made it rather lucrative to obstruct is true. When I was leaving Greenpeace was US$100 billion affair. Today it should be nearabouts US$400 billion. With the way they are going they are already opposed to all radioactive elements, halogens and many others. Its reached a laughable extent where they are now opposed to half the periodic table, cutting of trees and genetic engineering. Worse this is done in the name of environment and human welfare. Why Greenpeace suggesting environmentalists should be against “mining”? Have these people stopped riding bicycles, texting on cell phones, typing on laptops, and riding mass transit? How could they say anything more ridiculous?
Surely you are not calling cutting of trees environment friendly?
Cutting and replanting them actually helps trap more and more carbon-dioxide. In fact we will need material to build for all times to come. If you do not use wood you are going to use something even more harmful. I have always said grow more trees and use more wood.
You have also supported GM crops?
Yes, the opposition to them is baffling. As they will help create more food and help farmers too. Look at the wonders Bt cotton has done here in India. Or the potential Bt Brinjal
But farmers are dying because of Bt cotton?
That's just propaganda by the likes of Vandana Shiva and others. They are propagandists, not scientists. What I'm telling you is based on science and logic.
As an advocate for nuclear power who speaks very strongly in its favour, don't you see a conflict of interest in the fact that the fora you choose to do so from like this summit are funded by some of the biggest corporate players in the nuclear lobby?
I know it may seem like there is some conflict, but the fact is I support these "biggest corporate players in the nuclear lobby" because they are the ones who are building and operating nuclear power plants.
The point is I support nuclear energy, so how is it a conflict that I support the people and corporations who are providing us with nuclear energy? I am proud to work with these people because they are the ones who are providing a technology that does not use fossil fuels and is clean and sustainable. It is important to distinguish between the nuclear power plants which is the technology and the "nuclear lobby" which is the politics of trying to get more nuclear plants. I believe there should be more nuclear plants so obviously I am on the side of what you call the "nuclear lobby".
Greenpeace is against nuclear energy so they are on the side of the "biggest players in the anti-nuclear lobby". As a matter of fact they are "one of the biggest anti-nuclear lobbies". In order to decide which position makes the most sense it is not about "lobbies", it is about which technology can do the job at a reasonable price. I say wind and solar are hopeless and I say nuclear can do the job.