The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Friday 29 March 2024

Nuclear: Not Now

I was recently told about a film/documentary directed by Oliver Stone. Released in 2022 Nuclear Now is an unabashed pro-nuclear energy documentary. Stone’s film promotes nuclear as the method by which climate change is to be averted.

Since the disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima many countries around the world have been cutting back on their nuclear energy programs. Nuclear Now attempts to make the case for halting that decline and rebuilding the nuclear business.

This blog, however, argues – Nuclear: Not Now.

Stone’s documentary, and Oliver Stone himself, begin with a false premise, prompting him to ask the wrong questions. In turn, this leads to erroneous answers.

The false premise is that climate change is a problem to be solved. Beginning with this premise, the film asks: ‘How can we produce more electricity and still cut down on carbon emissions to halt the climate crisis?’ (my emphasis) Stone’s answer to this question – nuclear energy.

However, climate change is not a problem to be solved. There are at least two falsities in this assumption. First, climate change is a symptom, not a cause of something damaging. The cause, if anything, is humanity’s overshoot of planetary boundaries, with climate change being one of those boundaries. Secondly, climate change is part of a much larger phenomenon – a predicament. A predicament is multi-faceted, complex, and inherently unsolvable. A predicament has an outcome (or outcomes) which cannot be predicted, and certainly unable to be controlled by human intervention.

Because of this basic misunderstanding of what climate change is, and how it is manifested, Nuclear Now asks the wrong questions, and hence, gets the wrong answers.

Just Suppose

However, let us make an assumption of our own. Let us suppose that nuclear energy is one of the options available to us to reduce carbon emissions. If it is an option, then how viable is it?

Even with this (futile) assumption, the answer to whether nuclear energy is viable must still be – No!

What follows are just four areas in which the film is in error, or at least, misleading.

1. No climate gases. This claim is ludicrous. From the mining of uranium, to its transportation, to the construction of reactors, to the storage of nuclear waste, the entire nuclear process emits GHGs (Greenhouse gases). The entire process must be considered, not simply the final production of electricity in a built nuclear reactor.

2. Nuclear energy kills far less people. Appealing to this argument is akin to asserting that the death rate from car accidents in my country is okay because it is less than that of a neighbouring country. This argument, is actually an argument for reducing entirely our dependency upon electricity and other energies. The film claims that because the deaths from nuclear accidents have been limited that the technology is safe. Ironically, the film gives the example of the Bhopal chemical disaster in India. A gas leak at the Union Carbide Corporation factory in 1984 resulted in the deaths of an estimated 8,000 people in the first two weeks, and a similar number since. Well over half-a-million people suffered various injuries as a result of the leak. Undoubtedly the US based company (Union Carbide Corporation) as the majority owner of the factory considered it to be safe also! Until the disaster!

A number of other examples of industries that kill people at a greater rate than nuclear are presented in the film. All the examples given (and many more) begs these question: Is industrialisation killing us? Is industrialisation safe? But, these questions never get asked in the film.

Of the nuclear accidents that have happened the film suggests that ‘poorly designed reactors,’ ‘controls were not in place,’ or that ‘human error’ were the cause of these accidents. Yes, all this may be true – human beings are fallible. We do make mistakes. However, if these mistakes and poor designs have led to accidents in the first few decades of nuclear energy, how much more likely is it that mistakes of a human-nature will occur during the coming thousands of years (for that is the length of time that nuclear waste remains toxic and lethal)? The consequences of such a human mistake could be significantly greater than the Bhopal disaster.

3. The increase in use of solar and wind-powered energy are contrasted with that of nuclear in the film. The film notes that these ‘renewables have been going on top of fossil fuels, not replacing them.’ Exactly, and so too has nuclear. During the heydays of reactor construction and operation, the electricity produced by nuclear did not replace that of fossil fuels – it added to the use of electricity. This is a classic example of the Jevons Paradox at work. A paradox that the film makes no mention of.

Jevons Paradox states that when a fuel is made cheaper, more accessible, or simply available, then the use of that fuel will increase, not decrease. Greater numbers of nuclear reactors will increase the consumption of electricity, not decrease it!

4. The most grievous point the film makes about nuclear is that it must be scaled up quickly. The film makes the point that approximately 400 nuclear reactors currently supply 10% of the world’s electricity needs. ‘Reactors,’ the film claims, ‘could be built on a factory scale.’

But, what would this mean? One person who has attempted to answer this, and has done the calculations required, is Dr Simon Michaux, a professor of physics, mining, and geology. Dr Michaux’ arithmetic shows that at current levels of reactor building, decommissioning, and replacement, the earth has about 300 years worth of Uranium reserves.

However, if the world were to ramp up the construction of nuclear reactors, as Stone would want, then those reserves would be depleted within 75 years. Even then, with such a vigorous and aggressive program, less than 70% of fossil fuels would be phased out. Imagine how quickly reserves were to be depleted to reduce the use of fossil fuels by even 50%!!

The real problem (if a ‘problem’ is conceded) is that the question is not nuclear vs fossil fuels. It is a question of supply vs demand. Our demand keeps increasing. Increasing supply is not going to solve that.

IN the final moments of the film, Stone comments ‘We may have reached a point where Earth is asking us – “do you know what you are doing?”’

Exactly! Sadly, the film/doco Nuclear Now does not answer the Earth’s pressing interrogation.


1. Dr Simon Michaux, interviewed by Nate Hagen in Minerals and Materials Blindness, The Great Simplification, 18 May 2022

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