Michael Shellenberger’s pro-nuclear lobby group ‘Environmental Progress’

Michael Shellenberger ‒ President of ‘Environmental Progress’, Ecomodernist, Time Magazine ‘Hero of the Environment’, Blatant Liar, Dangerous Idiot.

In this webpage:

Questions Michael Shellenberger won’t answer, blatant lies he refuses to correct

Here’s a list of questions sent repeatedly to Shellenberger in 2018. He has not responded. Questions 1 and 4-8 refer to lies that Shellenberger refuses to correct. Questions 2,3 and 9 refer to statements by Shellenberger which suggest a degree of mental derangement.

  1. You state “One of FOE-Greenpeace’s biggest lies about nuclear energy is that it leads to weapons.”[1] Leaving aside the point that the connections between civil and military nuclear programs are well understood[2] ‒ and a number of the connections are openly acknowledged by nuclear industry bodies and supporters[3] ‒ can you cite any FOE statements about nuclear power/weapons connections which could reasonably be described as “lies”?
  2. You assert that FOE “oppose cheap and abundant energy”.[4] Do you have any evidence to justify that statement?
  3. You assert that the anti-nuclear movement has a “long history of Malthusian anti-humanism aimed at preventing “overpopulation” and “overconsumption” by keeping poor countries poor.”[5] Can you provide any evidence in support of that statement that doesn’t date from the 1960s or early 1970s?
  4. In an ‘investigative piece’ aimed squarely at FOE and Greenpeace, you list three groups which you claim have accepted donations “from fossil fuel … investors”[1]. However FOE and Greenpeace aren’t included in the list of three groups. Do you have any evidence of FOE or Greenpeace receiving donations from fossil fuel investors, other than the 1969 donation to FOE that you frequently cite?
  5. You assert that donors and board members of FOE “are the ones who win the government contracts to build solar and wind farms, burn dirty “renewable” biomass, and import natural gas from the United States and Russia.”[1] Do you have any evidence to support that statement?
  6. You insinuate in a newspaper article that FOE accepts funding from natural gas companies.[6] Elsewhere, your group asserts that FOE is “fossil fuel-funded”.[7] Do you have any evidence to support those claims?
  7. You assert[1] that FOE keeps its donors secret and in support of that claim you cite an article that doesn’t even mention FOE.[5] Do you have any evidence to support the claim?
  8. You claim that FOE has hundreds of millions of dollars in its bank and stock accounts.[8] Do you have any evidence to support that statement?
  9. You assert that FOE’s “agenda has never been to protect humankind but rather to punish us for our supposed transgressions.”[1] Do you have any evidence to support that statement?

References:

  1. Michael Shellenberger, 16 Oct 2017, ‘Enemies of the Earth: Unmasking the Dirty War Against Clean Energy in South Korea by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/10/16/enemies-of-the-earth-unmasking-dirty-war-friends-of-earth-greenpeace-south-korea-nuclear-energy
  2. Nuclear Monitor #804, 28 May 2015, ‘The myth of the peaceful atom’, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/804/myth-peaceful-atom
  3. Nuclear Monitor #850, ‘Nuclear power, weapons and ‘national security”, 7 Sept 2017, https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/850/nuclear-power-weapons-and-national-security
  4. Michael Shellenberger, Mark Nelson, Madi Czerwinski, Michael Light, John Lindberg, and Minshu Deng / Environmental Progress, Aug 2017, ‘The High Cost of Fear: Understanding the Costs and Causes of South Korea’s Proposed Nuclear Energy Phase-Out’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/8/22/the-high-cost-of-fear
  5. Michael Shellenberger, 25 July 2017, ‘Greenpeace’s Dirty War on Clean Energy, Part I: South Korean Version’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/7/25/greenpeaces-dirty-war-on-clean-energy-part-i-south-korean-version
  6. Michael Shellenberger, July 2017, ‘Why the World Needs South Korea’s Nuclear’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/7/24/chosun-op-ed-why-the-world-needs-south-koreas-nuclear
  7. www.facebook.com/environmentalprogress/posts/1972320853034270
  8. Michael Shellenberger, Mark Nelson, Madi Czerwinski, Michael Light, John Lindberg, and Minshu Deng / Environmental Progress, Aug 2017, ‘The High Cost of Fear: Understanding the Costs and Causes of South Korea’s Proposed Nuclear Energy Phase-Out’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/8/22/the-high-cost-of-fear


Is there a future for ‘pro-nuclear environmentalism’?

Jim Green, 30 Oct 2017, RenewEconomy

For a longer version of this article please click here.

Michael Shellenberger is visiting Australia this week. He has been a prominent environmentalist (of sorts) since he co-authored the 2004 essay, The Death of Environmentalism. These days, as the President of the California-based ‘Environmental Progress’ lobby group, he is stridently pro-nuclear, hostile towards renewable energy and hostile towards the environment movement.

Shellenberger is visiting to speak at the International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne. His visit was promoted by Graham Lloyd in The Australian in September. Shellenberger is “one of the world’s leading new-generation environmental thinkers” according to The Australian, and if the newspaper is any guide he is here to promote his message that wind and solar have failed, that they are doubling the cost of electricity, and that “all existing renewable technologies do is make the electricity system chaotic and provide greenwash for fossil fuels.”

Trawling through Environmental Progress literature, one of their recurring themes is the falsehood that “every time nuclear plants close they are replaced almost entirely by fossil fuels”. South Korea, for example, plans to reduce reliance on coal and nuclear under recently-elected President Moon Jae-in, and to boost reliance on gas and renewables. But Shellenberger and Environmental Progress ignore those plans and concoct their own scare-story in which coal and gas replace nuclear power, electricity prices soar, thousands die from increased air pollution, and greenhouse emissions increase.

Fake scientists and radiation quackery

Environmental Progress’ UK director John Lindberg is described as an “expert on radiation” on the lobby group’s website. In fact, he has no scientific qualifications. Likewise, a South Korean article falsely claims that Shellenberger is a scientist and that article is reposted, without correction, on the Environmental Progress website.

Shellenberger says that at a recent talk in Berlin: “Many Germans simply could not believe how few people died and will die from the Chernobyl accident (under 200) and that nobody died or will die from the meltdowns at Fukushima. How could it be that everything we were told is not only wrong, but often the opposite of the truth?”

There’s a simple reason that Germans didn’t believe Shellenberger’s claims about Chernobyl and Fukushima ‒ they are false.

Shellenberger claims that “under 200” people have died and will die from the Chernobyl disaster, but in fact the lowest of the estimates of the Chernobyl cancer death toll is the World Health Organization’s estimate of “up to 9,000 excess cancer deaths” in the most contaminated parts of the former Soviet Union. And of course there are higher estimates for the death toll across Europe.

Shellenberger claims that the Fukushima meltdowns “killed precisely no one” and that “nobody died or will die from the meltdowns at Fukushima”. An Environmental Progress report has this to say about Fukushima: “[T]he science is unequivocal: nobody has gotten sick much less died from the radiation that escaped from three meltdowns followed by three hydrogen gas explosions. And there will be no increase in cancer rates.”

In support of those assertions, Environmental Progress cites a World Health Organization report that directly contradicts the lobby group’s claims. The WHO report concluded that for people in the most contaminated areas in Fukushima Prefecture, the estimated increased risk for all solid cancers will be around 4% in females exposed as infants; a 6% increased risk of breast cancer for females exposed as infants; a 7% increased risk of leukaemia for males exposed as infants; and for thyroid cancer among females exposed as infants, an increased risk of up to 70% (from a 0.75% lifetime risk up to 1.25%).

Applying a linear-no threshold (LNT) risk factor to the estimated collective radiation dose from Fukushima fallout gives an estimated long-term cancer death toll of around 5,000 people. Nuclear lobbyists are quick to point out that LNT may overestimate risks from low dose and low dose-rate exposure ‒ but LNT may also underestimate the risks according to expert bodies such as the US National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation.

Attacking environment groups

Shellenberger reduces the complexities of environmental opposition to nuclear power to the claim that in the 1960s, an “influential group of conservationists within Sierra Club feared that cheap, abundant electricity from nuclear would result in overpopulation and resource depletion” and therefore decided to campaign against nuclear power.

If such views had any currency in the 1960s, they certainly don’t now. Yet Environmental Progress asserts that Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FOE) “oppose cheap and abundant energy” and Shellenberger asserts that “the FOE-Greenpeace agenda has never been to protect humankind but rather to punish us for our supposed transgressions.” And Shellenberger suggests that such views are still current by asserting that the anti-nuclear movement has a “long history of Malthusian anti-humanism aimed at preventing “overpopulation” and “overconsumption” by keeping poor countries poor.”

In an ‘investigative piece‘ ‒ titled ‘Enemies of the Earth: Unmasking the Dirty War Against Clean Energy in South Korea by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace’ ‒ Shellenberger lists three groups which he claims have accepted donations “from fossil fuel and renewable energy investors, as well as others who stand to benefit from killing nuclear plants”. FOE and Greenpeace don’t feature among the three groups even though the ‘investigative piece’ is aimed squarely at them.

Undeterred by his failure to present any evidence of FOE and Greenpeace accepting fossil fuel funding (they don’t), Shellenberger asserts that the donors and board members of FOE and Greenpeace “are the ones who win the government contracts to build solar and wind farms, burn dirty “renewable” biomass, and import natural gas from the United States and Russia.” Really? Where’s the evidence? There’s none in Shellenberger’s ‘investigative piece’.

In an article for a South Korean newspaper, Shellenberger states: “Should we be surprised that natural gas companies fund many of the anti-nuclear groups that spread misinformation about nuclear? The anti-nuclear group Friends of the Earth ‒ which has representatives in South Korea ‒ received its initial funding from a wealthy oil man …” He fails to note that the donation was in 1969! And he fails to substantiate his false insinuation that FOE accepts funding from natural gas companies, or his false claim that natural gas companies fund “many of the anti-nuclear groups”.

Shellenberger’s ‘investigative piece‘ falsely claims that FOE keeps its donors secret, and in support of that falsehood he cites an article that doesn’t even mention FOE. Environmental Progress falsely claims that FOE has hundreds of millions of dollars in its bank and stock accounts.

Shellenberger claims that the “greatest coup” of FOE and Greenpeace in South Korea was an “Hollywood-style anti-nuclear disaster movie” which was released last year and has been watched by millions, mostly on Netflix. But FOE and Greenpeace had nothing to do with the production of the movie!

In light of all the above falsehoods, it seems a bit rich for Shellenberger to accuse anti-nuclear groups of being “flagrantly dishonest”. For good measure, he accuses anti-nuclear groups of being “corrupt” ‒ without a shred of evidence.

Environmental Progress has an annual budget of US$1.5 million, Shellenberger claims, and he asks how Environmental Progress “can possibly succeed against the anti-nuclear Goliath with 500 times the resources.” An anti-nuclear Goliath with 500 times their budget of US$1.5 million, or US$750 million in annual expenditure on anti-nuclear campaigns? Shellenberger claims that Greenpeace has annual income of US$400 million to finance its work in 55 nations ‒ but he doesn’t note that only a small fraction of that funding is directed to anti-nuclear campaigns. FOE’s worldwide budget is US$12 million according to Environmental Progress ‒ but only a small fraction is directed to anti-nuclear campaigns.

A future for pro-nuclear environmentalism?

The nuclear power industry is having one of its worst ever years. Environmental Progress is warning about nuclear power’s “rapidly accelerating crisis” and other pro-nuclear lobbyists have noted that “the industry is on life support in the United States and other developed economies“.

The biggest disaster for the nuclear industry this year has been the bankruptcy filing of Westinghouse and the decision to abandon two partially-built reactors in the US after at least A$11.5 billion was spent on the project. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg:

  • there has been a sharp down-turnin China’s nuclear program in the past two years;
  • Swiss voters supported a nuclear phase-out referendum;
  • South Korea’s new government will haltplans to build new nuclear power plants;
  • Taiwan’s Cabinet has reiteratedthe government’s resolve to phase out nuclear power by 2025;
  • Japan’s industry has been decimated by the Fukushima disaster;
  • India’s nuclear industry keeps promising the world and delivering very little;
  • France’s nuclear industry is in its “worst situation ever” according to a former EDF director and it faces crippling debts;
  • the UK’s nuclear power program faces “something of a crisis” according to an industry lobbyist(the estimated cost of the only two reactors under construction is A$40.4 billion ‒ and cost estimates have risen five-fold);
  • all of Germany’s reactors will be closedby the end of 2022 and all of Belgium’s will be closed by the end of 2025;
  • and last but not least, a High Court judgementin South Africa in April ruled that much of the country’s nuclear new-build program is without legal foundation, and there is little likelihood that the program will be revived given that it is shrouded in corruption scandals.

Industries tied to nuclear power are struggling. “It has never been a worse time for uranium miners”, said Alexander Molyneux from Paladin Energy in October 2016. He should know ‒ Perth-based Paladin was put into administration in July this year. Here in Australia, BHP produces uranium as a by-product of its giant copper mine at Olympic Dam in SA; Heathgate Resources operates the small Four Mile mine in SA; and Rio Tinto has finished mining uranium at Ranger in the NT and is processing remaining stockpiles before getting to work on a half-billion dollar rehabilitation.

Prices for uranium conversion (converting uranium to uranium hexafluoride) have been in freefall in recent years and the price for uranium hexafluoride has been in freefall. The price for uranium enrichment (increasing the ratio of uranium-235 to uranium-238) was at an all-time low last year and has fallen further this year.

The only nuclear industry that is booming is nuclear decommissioning ‒ the World Nuclear Association anticipates US$111 billion (A$145 billion) worth of decommissioning projects to 2035.

How much longer will the nuclear lobbyists keep flogging the dead nuclear horse? Perhaps not too much longer. It’s worth keeping in mind that nuclear lobbyists ‒ especially the self-styled ‘pro-nuclear environmentalists’ ‒ are few in number. David Roberts summed up the situation in 2013, when Robert Stone’s ‘Pandora’s Promise‘ propaganda film was launched:

“There is no budding environmentalist movement for nukes. Ever since I started paying attention to “nuclear renaissance” stories about a decade ago, there’s always been this credulous, excitable bit about how enviros are starting to come around. The roster of enviros in this purportedly burgeoning movement: Stewart Brand, the Breakthrough Boys, and “Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore,” who has been a paid shill for industry for decades (it sounds like the Pandora folks were wise enough to leave him out). More recently George Monbiot and Mark Lynas have been added to the list.

“This handful of converts is always cited with the implication that it’s the leading edge of a vast shift, and yet … it’s always the same handful. … In the movie, Shellenberger says, “I have a sense that this is a beautiful thing … the beginning of a movement.” I fear he has once again mistaken the contents of his navel for the zeitgeist.”

—- Dr Jim Green edits the Nuclear Monitor newsletter and is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia.


Nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger learns to love the bomb, goes down a rabbit hole

Jim Green, 6 September 2018, ‘Nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger learns to love the bomb, goes down a rabbit hole’, Nuclear Monitor #865, https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/865/nuclear-monitor-865-6-september-2018

In 2015, Nuclear Monitor published a detailed critique of the many ways nuclear industry insiders and lobbyists trivialize and deny the connections between nuclear power (and the broader nuclear fuel cycle) and nuclear weapons proliferation.1

Since then, the arguments have been turned upside down with prominent industry insiders and lobbyists openly acknowledging power-weapons connections. This remarkable about-turn has clear origins in the crisis facing nuclear power and the perceived need to secure increased subsidies to prevent reactors closing and to build new ones.2

One thread of the new sales pitch ‒ one which doesn’t fundamentally contradict long-standing denials of power-weapons connections ‒ has been a ratcheting up of the argument that countries with a thriving nuclear export industry, (necessarily) underpinned by a thriving domestic nuclear industry, are best placed to influence which countries can or can’t pursue weapons.3

Another thread of the new sales pitch ‒ and this really is new ‒ is to openly link to nuclear power to weapons, to celebrate the connections and to use them to lobby for greater subsidies for nuclear power.2 The US Nuclear Energy Institute, for example, tried in mid-2017 to convince politicians in Washington that if the AP1000 reactor construction projects in South Carolina and Georgia weren’t completed, it would stunt development of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex.4

The Nuclear Energy Institute paper wasn’t publicly released. But in the second half of 2017, numerous nuclear insiders and lobbyists openly acknowledged power-weapons connections and called for additional subsidies for nuclear power. The most important of these initiatives was a paper by the Energy Futures Initiative ‒ a creation of Ernest Moniz, who served as energy secretary under President Barack Obama.5

Even the uranium industry has jumped on the bandwagon, with two US companies warning that reliance on foreign sources threatens national security and lodging a petition with the Department of Commerce calling for US utilities to be required to purchase a minimum 25% of their requirements from domestic mines.6

Decades of deceit have been thrown overboard with the new sales pitch linking nuclear power and weapons. However there are still some hold-outs.7 Ted Norhaus, a self-styled ‘pro-nuclear environmentalist’, argues that to conflate nuclear power with nuclear weapons is “extremely misleading” because they involve different physics, different technologies and different institutions.8

Ben Heard ‒ a nuclear lobbyist in Australia whose ‘Bright New World’ lobby group accepts secret corporate donations9,10 ‒ attacked the Australian Conservation Foundation for its failure to acknowledge the “obvious distinction” between nuclear power and weapons and for “co-opting disarmament … toward their ideological campaigns against peaceful science and technology”.11

Heard wrote in December 2017: “Peace is furthered when a nation embraces nuclear power, because it makes that nation empirically less likely to embark on a nuclear weapons program. That is the finding of a 2017 study published in the peer-reviewed journal International Security.”11 In fact, that non-statistically significant finding sat alongside a contrary, statistically significant finding in the International Security journal article: the annual probability of starting a nuclear weapons program is more than twice as high in countries with an operating power reactor or one under construction.12

Until recently, another nuclear lobbyist continuing to deny power-weapons connections was Michael Shellenberger from the ‘Environmental Progress’ pro-nuclear lobby group in the US. He told an IAEA conference last year that “nuclear energy prevents the spread of nuclear weapons”.13 And he claimed last year that “one of FOE-Greenpeace’s biggest lies about nuclear energy is that it leads to weapons” and that there is an “inverse relationship between energy and weapons”.14 He concluded that article by asserting that “nuclear is our only source of energy with a transcendent moral purpose, to lift all humans out of poverty, reverse humankind’s negative environmental impact, and guarantee peace.”14

One of Shellenberger’s bright ideas was to launch a campaign to garner international support for the construction of nuclear power reactors in North Korea.15 That would ‒ somehow, magically ‒ curtail or end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. This “atoms for peace” initiative would be, in Shellenberger’s words, “one of the best means of creating peace with North Korea”.14 No matter that his “new framework” is much the same as the old 1994 Agreed Framework, which was a complete failure.16

Shellenberger’s backflip

In two articles published in August, Shellenberger has done a 180-degree backflip on the power-weapons connections.17,18

“[N]ational security, having a weapons option, is often the most important factor in a state pursuing peaceful nuclear energy”, Shellenberger now believes.19

A recent analysis from Environmental Progress finds that of the 26 nations that are building or are committed to build nuclear power plants, 23 have nuclear weapons, had weapons, or have shown interest in acquiring weapons.20 “While those 23 nations clearly have motives other than national security for pursuing nuclear energy,” Shellenberger writes, “gaining weapons latency appears to be the difference-maker. The flip side also appears true: nations that lack a need for weapons latency often decide not to build nuclear power plants … Recently, Vietnam and South Africa, neither of which face a significant security threat, decided against building nuclear plants …”17

Here is the break-down of the 26 countries that are building or are committed to build nuclear power plants:17

  • Thirteen nations had a weapons program, or have shown interest in acquiring a weapon: Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Japan, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, UAE.
  • Seven nations have weapons (France, US, Britain, China, Russia, India and Pakistan), two had weapons as part of the Soviet Union (Ukraine and Belarus), and one (Slovakia) was part of a nation (Czechoslovakia) that sought a weapon.
  • Poland, Hungary, and Finland are the only three nations (of the 26) for which Environmental Progress could find no evidence of “weapons latency” as a motivation.

Shellenberger points to research by Fuhrmann and Tkach which found that 31 nations had the capacity to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, and that 71% of them created that capacity to give themselves weapons latency.21

Current patterns connecting the pursuit of power and weapons stretch back across the 60 years of civilian nuclear power. Shellenberger notes that “at least 20 nations sought nuclear power at least in part to give themselves the option of creating a nuclear weapon” ‒ Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, Italy, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Libya, Norway, Romania, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, West Germany, Yugoslavia.17

Nuclear weapons ‒ a force for peace?

So far, so good. The pursuit of nuclear power and weapons are often linked. That’s a powerful reason to eschew nuclear power, to strengthen the safeguards system, to tighten export controls, to restrict the spread of enrichment and reprocessing, and so on. But Shellenberger has a very different take on the issues.

Discussing the Fuhrmann and Tkach article (and studiously avoiding a vast body of contrary literature), Shellenberger writes:17

“What was the relationship between nuclear latency and military conflict? It was negative. “Nuclear latency appears to provide states with deterrence-related benefits,” they [Fuhrmann and Tkach] concluded, “that are distinct from actively pursuing nuclear bombs.”

“Why might this be? Arriving at an ultimate cause is difficult if not impossible, the authors note. But one obvious possibility is that the “latent nuclear powers may be able to deter conflict by (implicitly) threatening to ‘go nuclear’ following an attack.” …

“After over 60 years of national security driving nuclear power into the international system, we can now add “preventing war” to the list of nuclear energy’s superior characteristics. …

“As a lifelong peace activist and pro-nuclear environmentalist, I almost fell out of my chair when I discovered the paper by Fuhrmann and Tkach. All that most nations will need to deter military threats is nuclear power ‒ a bomb isn’t even required? Why in the world, I wondered, is this fact not being promoted as one of nuclear powers many benefits?

“The answer is that the nuclear industry and scientific community have tried, since Atoms for Peace began 65 years ago, to downplay any connection between the two ‒ and for an understandable reason: they don’t want the public to associate nuclear power plants with nuclear war.

“But in seeking to deny the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, the nuclear community today finds itself in the increasingly untenable position of having to deny these real world connections ‒ of motivations and means ‒ between the two. Worse, in denying the connection between energy and weapons, the nuclear community reinforces the widespread belief that nuclear weapons have made the world a more dangerous place when the opposite is the case. …

“In the real world, nuclear weapons have only been used to end or prevent war — a remarkable record for the world’s most dangerous objects.

“Nuclear energy, without a doubt, is spreading and will continue to spread around the world, largely with national security as a motivation. The question is whether the nuclear industry will, alongside anti-nuclear activists, persist in stigmatizing weapons latency as a nuclear power “bug” rather than tout it as the epochal, peace-making feature it is.”

Shellenberger asks why the deterrent effect of nuclear power isn’t being promoted as one of its many benefits. A better answer to the one he offers is that the premise is nonsense. Nuclear weapons can have a deterrent effect ‒ in a uniquely dangerous and potentially uniquely counterproductive manner ‒ but any correlation between latent nuclear weapons capabilities and reduced military conflict is just that, correlation not causation.

In a second article, Shellenberger offers the contrarian wisdom that “nuclear weapons make us peaceful”.18 He writes:

“The widespread assumption is that the more nations have nuclear weapons, the more dangerous the world will be. But is that really the case? … [I]t is impossible not to be struck by these facts:

  • No nation with a nuclear weapon has ever been invaded by another nation.
  • The number of deaths in battle worldwide [per 100,000 of world population] has declined 95 percent in the 70 years since the invention and spread of nuclear weapons;
  • The number of Indian and Pakistani civilian and security forces deaths in two disputed territories declined 95 percent after Pakistan’s first nuclear weapons test in 1998. …

“The division of the world into nuclear-armed and unarmed nations has long been arbitrary and unfair. Nuclear-armed nations, except for France, hypocritically punished India for decades with trade sanctions for acquiring a weapon. …

“[A] world without nuclear weapons would be a world where relatively weak nations ‒ like France and Britain before World War II and North Korea and Iran today ‒ are deprived the only power on Earth capable of preventing a military invasion by a more powerful adversary. Who are we to deny weak nations the nuclear weapons they need for self-defense? The answer should by now be clear: hypocritical, short-sighted, and imperialistic.”

So Iran should be encouraged to develop nuclear weapons ‒ or perhaps Iran should be gifted nuclear weapons by an enlightened weapons state. Shellenberger cites long-term nuclear weapons proliferation enthusiast Kenneth Waltz, who claims that the “decades-long Middle East nuclear crisis … will end only when a balance of military power is restored”.18 Dictators Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi ought to have acquired nuclear weapons, according to Shellenberger, not least because they were killed and their regimes overthrown after they gave up the pursuit of nuclear weapons.18 Shellenberger cites a German academic who argues that a nuclear-armed Germany “would stabilize NATO and the security of the Western World”.18,22 We “should be glad that North Korea acquired the bomb” according to Shellenberger.18 And on it goes ‒ his enthusiasm for nuclear weapons proliferation knows no bounds.

What to make of Shellenberger’s conversion?

No doubt there will be more acknowledgements of power-weapons connections by nuclear industry insiders and lobbyists. As Shellenberger notes, the nuclear ‘community’ today finds itself in an increasingly untenable position denying the connections.17

What to make of Shellenberger’s advocacy of nuclear weapons proliferation? There is a degree of domestic support for nuclear weapons programs in weapons states … but few people support generalized nuclear weapons proliferation and few would swallow Shellenberger’s arguments including his call to shred the non-proliferation and disarmament system and to encourage weapons proliferation.

Understanding of the power-weapons connections, combined with opposition to nuclear weapons, is one of the motivations driving opposition to nuclear power. According to Shellenberger, the only two US states forcing the closure of nuclear plants, California and New York, also had the strongest nuclear disarmament movements.17

There is some concern that claims that the civil nuclear industry is an important (or even necessary) underpinning of a weapons program will be successfully used to secure additional subsidies for troubled nuclear power programs (e.g. in the US, France and the UK). After all, nuclear insiders and lobbyists wouldn’t abandon their decades-long deceit about power-weapons connections if not for the possibility that their new argument will gain traction, among politicians if not the public.

The growing acknowledgement ‒ and public understanding ‒ of power-weapons connections might have consequences for nuclear power newcomer countries such as Saudi Arabia. Assuming that the starting point is opposition to a Saudi nuclear weapons program, heightened sensitivity might constrain nuclear exporters who would otherwise export to Saudi Arabia with minimalist safeguards and no serious attempt to check the regime’s weapons ambitions. Or it might not lead to that outcome … as things stand, numerous nuclear exporters are scrambling for a share of the Saudi nuclear power program regardless of proliferation concerns.

More generally, a growing understanding of power-weapons connections might lead to a strengthening of the safeguards system along with other measures to firewall nuclear power from weapons. But again, that’s hypothetical and it is at best some way down the track ‒ there is no momentum in that direction.

And another hypothetical arising from the growing awareness about power-weapons connections: proliferation risks might be (and ought to be) factored in as a significant negative in comparative assessments of power generation options.

‘Shellenberger has gone down a rabbit hole’

As for Shellenberger, Nuclear Monitor has previously exposed the litany of falsehoods in his writings on nuclear and energy issues.16 In his most recent articles he exposes himself as an intellectual lightweight prepared to swing from one extreme of a debate to the other if that’s what it takes to build the case for additional subsidies for nuclear power.

A dangerous intellectual lightweight. Responding to Shellenberger’s more-the-merrier attitude towards nuclear weapons proliferation, pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman puts it bluntly: “Here’s the problem. The more nations have nuclear weapons, the more dangerous the world will be. Sooner or later some tin pot dictator or religious zealot, is likely to push a button and send us all to eternity.”23

Shellenberger’s about-turn on power-weapons connections provoked a hostile response from Yurman:23

“Shellenberger has crossed a red line for the global commercial nuclear industry, which has done everything in its power to avoid having the public conflate nuclear weapons with commercial nuclear energy. Worse, he’s given opponents of nuclear energy, like Greenpeace, a ready-made tool to attack the industry. …

“In the end he may have painted himself into a corner. Not only has he alienated some of his supporters on the commercial nuclear side of the house, but he also has energized the nonproliferation establishment, within governments and among NGOs, offering them a rich opportunity promote critical reviews of the risks of expanding nuclear energy as a solution to the challenge of climate change. …

“Shellenberger has gone down a rabbit hole with his two essays promoting the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Given all the great things he has done to promote commercial nuclear energy, it is a perplexing and disturbing development.

“It’s ok to be contrarian, but I fear he will pay a price for it with reduced support from some of his current supporters and he will face critical reviews from detractors of these essays. In the end public support and perception of the safety of nuclear energy may be diminished by these essays since they will lead to increased conflating of commercial nuclear energy with nuclear weapons. The fatal attraction of the power of nuclear weapons has lured another victim. It’s an ill-fated step backwards.”

References:

  1. Nuclear Monitor #804, 28 May 2015, ‘The myth of the peaceful atom’, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/804/myth-peaceful-atom
  2. Nuclear Monitor #850, 7 Sept 2017, ‘Nuclear power, weapons and ‘national security”, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/850/nuclear-power-weapons-and-national-security
  3. Nuclear Monitor #850, ‘Does the US need a strong nuclear industry to prevent proliferation abroad?’, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/850/does-us-need-strong-nuclear-industry-prevent-proliferation-abroad
  4. Amy Harder, 16 June 2017, ‘Nuclear scramble on tax credits’, www.axios.com/nuclear-scramble-on-tax-credits-2442400126.html
  5. Energy Futures Initiative, 2017, ‘The U.S. Nuclear Energy Enterprise: A Key National Security Enabler’,

https://energyfuturesinitiative.org/news/2017/8/15/efi-releases-nuclear-…

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/58ec123cb3db2bd94e057628/t/599479…

  1. Nuclear Monitor #857, 14 Feb 2018, ‘2017 in review: Uranium is best left in the ground’, https://wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/857/2017-review-uranium-best-left-ground
  2. Nuclear Monitor #858, ”Pro-nuclear environmentalists’ in denial about power/weapons connections’, https://wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/858/pro-nuclear-environmentalists-denial-about-powerweapons-connections
  3. Ted Norhaus, 14 May 2017, ‘Time to stop confusing nuclear weapons with nuclear power’, http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/energy-environment/333329-time-to-stop-confusing-nuclear-weapons-with-nuclear
  4. Friends of the Earth, ‘Ben Heard and the fake environment group ‘Bright New World’ that accepts secret corporate donations’, https://nuclear.foe.org.au/ben-heard-secret-corporate-donations/
  5. www.brightnewworld.org/how-to-give-our-donations-policy/
  6. Ben Heard, 12 Dec 2017, ‘Australian Conservation Foundation leverages peace prize against peaceful technology’, www.brightnewworld.org/media/2017/12/12/acfnot4peace
  7. Nicholas L. Miller, 2017, ‘Why Nuclear Energy Programs Rarely Lead to Proliferation’, International Security 42, No. 2, pp.40-77, www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/10.1162/ISEC_a_00293

Appendix: https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/8EMSFK
13. Michael Shellenberger, 30 Oct 2017, ‘Saving Power in Danger: Michael Shellenberger Keynote Address to IAEA’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/10/30/saving-power-in-danger-keynote-address-to-iaea-inter-ministerial-2017

  1. Michael Shellenberger, 16 Oct 2017, ‘Enemies of the Earth: Unmasking the Dirty War Against Clean Energy in South Korea by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/10/16/enemies-of-the-earth-unmasking-dirty-war-friends-of-earth-greenpeace-south-korea-nuclear-energy
  2. 1 June 2017, ‘US-Korea Letter’, www.environmentalprogress.org/us-korea-letter
  3. Nuclear Monitor #853, 30 Oct 2017, ‘Exposing the misinformation of Michael Shellenberger and ‘Environmental Progress”, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/853/exposing-misinformation-michael-shellenberger-and-environmental-progress
  4. Michael Shellenberger, 29 Aug 2018, ‘For Nations Seeking Nuclear Energy, The Option To Build A Weapon Remains A Feature Not A Bug’, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2018/08/29/for-nations-seeking-nuclear-energy-the-option-to-build-a-weapon-remains-a-feature-not-a-bug/#4288de6e2747
  5. Michael Shellenberger, 6 Aug 2018, ‘Who Are We To Deny Weak Nations The Nuclear Weapons They Need For Self-Defense?’, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2018/08/06/who-are-we-to-deny-weak-nations-the-nuclear-weapons-they-need-for-self-defense/
  6. Michael Shellenberger, 28 Aug 2018, ‘How Nations Go Nuclear: An Interview With M.I.T.’s Vipin Narang’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2018/8/28/vipin-narang-interview
  7. Environmental Progress, 2018, Nations Building Nuclear ‒ Proliferation Analysis, https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YA4gLOekXNXiwpggCEx3uUpeu_STBlN_gHD60B5QG1E/edit#gid=0
  8. Matthew Fuhrmann and Benjamin Tkach, 8 Jan 2015, ‘Almost nuclear: Introducing the Nuclear Latency dataset’, Conflict Management and Peace Science,

https://doi.org/10.1177/0738894214559672

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0738894214559672

  1. Christian Hacke, 6 Aug 2018, ‘As America Becomes Isolationist Under Trump, Germany Should Pursue Nuclear Weapons for Self-Defense’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2018/8/6/as-america-becomes-isolationist-under-trump-germany-should-pursue-nuclear-weapons-for-self-defense
  2. Dan Yurman, 30 Aug 2018, ‘The Fatal Attraction of Nuclear Weapons Lures Another Victim’, http://neutronbytes.com/2018/08/30/the-fatal-attraction-of-nuclear-weapons-lures-another-victim/

‘Almost Trumpian in its incoherence’: Critical responses to Michael Shellenberger’s promotion of nuclear weapons proliferation

Jim Green, 6 September 2018, ”Almost Trumpian in its incoherence’: Critical responses to Michael Shellenberger’s promotion of nuclear weapons proliferation’, Nuclear Monitor #865, https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/865/nuclear-monitor-865-6-september-2018

Ironically, one of the most thorough critiques of Michael Shellenberger’s dangerous advocacy of nuclear weapons proliferation1,2 was written by Environmental Progress attorney Frank Jablonski and published on the Environmental Progress website.3 Shellenberger is founder and president of Environmental Progress.

Jablonski writes:3

“From Shellenberger’s article2 you would conclude that, for any “weak nation”, or for the “poor or weak” persons within such nations, things are bound to improve with acquisition of nuclear weapons. So, for humanitarian reasons, the imperialistic nations and hypocritical people standing in the way of that acquisition should get out of the way. No. The article’s contentions are falsified by … logical untenability, things it got wrong, and things it left out. While Shellenberger’s willingness to take controversial positions has often been valuable, a “contrarian” view is not always right just because it is contrarian.”

Jablonski draws a parallel with NRA pro-guns propaganda:3

“The article seems to presume that if the nuclear non-proliferation framework is eliminated, nuclear capabilities will be quickly equalized through some kind of dystopian Oprah episode in which “YOU get a weapon, YOU get a weapon, EVERYBODY gets a weapon!!!”. The resulting equalization of capabilities will lead to peace, kind of in the vein of the NRA slogan that “an armed (international) society is a polite society”.

“This is, quite obviously, not how proliferation develops. Allowing ready access to nuclear weapons likely spreads them first to relatively strong nations that are already feeling international pressure, likely because of disturbing human rights records, hegemonic ambitions, or both. It may be hypocritical to try to deny nuclear weapons to autocracies that aspire to them, but these nations themselves can be “imperialist”, i.e., aspiring hegemons seeking to dominate their neighbors.

“By introducing the possibility that a neighboring nation may seek nuclear weapons, making such weapons broadly available disadvantages nations that prefer to spend their resources on development instead of militarization. There are good reasons for nations not to want to be pressured into a nuclear arms race with aspiring hegemons. …

“Forcing the weakest nations to compete for nuclear weapons to keep up with stronger and more aggressive neighbors is a recipe for harming the “poor and weak”, not helping them.”

On deterrence, Jablonski writes: “the fact that deterrence works in some circumstances does not mean that removing barriers to acquisition of nuclear weapons will result in generalized deterrence and stability”.3

As for Shellenberger’s attack on the “hypocritical, short-sighted, and imperialistic” who would “deny weak nations the nuclear weapons they need for self-defense”2, Jablonski writes:

“Who are these “hypocritical imperialists” that want to deny nuclear weapons to “weak nations”? I suggest that they include a lot of people who don’t want autocrats to get nuclear weapons, who don’t want nations forced into regional nuclear arms races, who want nuclear technology directed towards human welfare, and who want no-one, ever again, to die in a nuclear war.”3

‘Almost Trumpian in its incoherence’

Sam Seitz, a student at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, takes issue with Shellenberger’s claims that no nuclear powers have been invaded (“a pretty misleading statistic” and “wrong”); that battle deaths worldwide have declined by 95% (“fails to prove that nuclear weapons are responsible for this trend … as we are frequently reminded, correlation and causation are not equivalent”); that Indian and Pakistani deaths in two disputed territories declined sharply after Pakistan’s first nuclear weapons test in 1998 (“doesn’t account for non-nuclear factors like the role of outside mediation and domestic politics”); and that Nazi Germany invaded France because the French lacked a credible deterrent (“makes very little sense and conflates several things … also silly”).4

Seitz attempts to decipher one of Shellenberger’s indecipherable arguments:

“Shellenberger then argues that nuclear weapons moderate state behavior because “History shows that when countries acquire the bomb, they feel increasingly vulnerable.” (quote from Waltz) This makes absolutely no sense. Either nukes ensure existential security, preventing great power intervention, or they make countries more vulnerable, but to argue that nukes simultaneously make countries more and less vulnerable is almost Trumpian in its incoherence. And sure, maybe nuclear weapons promote foreign policy moderation, but that isn’t the same thing as internal moderation: The Cultural Revolution occurred after China had nuclear weapons, after all.”

Seitz points to another problem:

“Shellenberger presumably is only advocating for American acceptance of proliferation. After all, forcing other countries to go along with Washington is the exact kind of interference and American bullying he seems to so despise. But not every country will agree. Israel has struck nascent nuclear programs on several occasions, for example, and the Soviets almost launched an attack on the Chinese nuclear program. So, even if nuclear weapons make conflict less likely, attempting to acquire nuclear weapons actually tends to precipitate conflict as potential adversaries try desperately to stop a proliferator before it is too late. This is, after all, the reason the U.S. and its coalition partners invaded Iraq.”

Shellenberger points to the same problem, asking whether latency could “also be a threat to peace?” and noting Israeli and US threats to take pre-emptive action against Iran.1 He doesn’t offer an answer or explore the issue further. He might ‒ but doesn’t ‒ explore scenarios such as multiple simultaneous Chernobyl- or Fukushima-scale catastrophes deliberately inflicted by warring nation-states.

Friendly fire

Even those who Shellenberger cites approvingly in support of his arguments differ with him on fundamental points. He describes Vipin Narang as an “up-and-coming star in the field of nuclear peace and security studies”, but Narang doesn’t share his sanguine view about nuclear weapons security.5 According to Narang:5

“Pakistan may be one or two senior radicalized officers from having a threat to, or breakdown of, command and control. We assume there will be continuity in government, and regular transitions. The trouble is chaos or irregular leadership transitions, and uncertainty about the control of nuclear weapons in the state. Kim Jong Un has signaled that he has sole authority over nuclear weapons. But when he flew Air China to Singapore to meet with Trump, what if there had been rumor the plane had been shot down en route? What is his command and control? What if he feared being shot down and put in place a “dead hand” procedure which means, “If I’m shot down, you fire a nuclear ICBM at New York?” Rumors can go viral and there have been no way for those in Pyongyang to reach Kim, and they may have assumed the worst. These are the kinds of things that scare me.”

Asked by Shellenberger if it is the case that the more nuclear weapons states there are, the better, Narang responded:5

“Nuclear weapons do deter. I understand why weak nations want them. They do provide deterrence against invasion. They do provide existential protection. The question is are there some states, with certain regime types or civil-military relations, where the risks outweigh the perceived deterrence benefits?

“But states like North Korea, Pakistan, and Egypt have potentially more volatile domestic political situations than, for example Japan or Germany or India. And even India is very opaque about its management and security procedures and the US has been concerned about lax oversight even there ‒ and even the US itself is not immune to the risks of accidents, having had quite a few snafus of its own recently.

“So even in the most stable of states, the risk of accidents is real. Add to that mix the potential for violent domestic upheaval and one has to question whether having nuclear weapons possessed by a state at risk of coup or revolution is a good thing. You start getting into a world where more countries have them, there’s simply more systemic risk.”

References:

    1. Michael Shellenberger, 29 Aug 2018, ‘For Nations Seeking Nuclear Energy, The Option To Build A Weapon Remains A Feature Not A Bug’, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2018/08/29/for-nations-seeking-nuclear-energy-the-option-to-build-a-weapon-remains-a-feature-not-a-bug/#4288de6e2747
    2. Michael Shellenberger, 6 Aug 2018, ‘Who Are We To Deny Weak Nations The Nuclear Weapons They Need For Self-Defense?’, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2018/08/06/who-are-we-to-deny-weak-nations-the-nuclear-weapons-they-need-for-self-defense/
    3. Frank Jablonski, 24 Aug 2018, ‘Shellenberger Is Wrong About Proliferation’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2018/8/24/shellenberger-is-wrong-about-proliferation
    4. Sam Seitz, 6 Aug 2018, ‘The Nonproliferation Regime Exists for a Reason, Let’s Not Tear it Up’, https://politicstheorypractice.com/2018/08/06/the-nonproliferation-regime-exists-for-a-reason-lets-not-tear-it-up/
    5. Michael Shellenberger, 28 Aug 2018, ‘How Nations Go Nuclear: An Interview With M.I.T.’s Vipin Narang’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2018/8/28/vipin-narang-interview

Nuclear power’s weapons link: Cause to limit, not boost exports

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

By Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski, September 20, 2018

thebulletin.org/2018/09/nuclear-powers-weapons-link-cause-to-limit-not-boost-exports/

The criticism that supporters of US nuclear exports have found most difficult to counter has been that their wares give an importing country a big leg up on getting a bomb. For decades the exporters’ response has been to pretend this was not so. Now comes Michael Shellenberger, a prominent nuclear power advocate, who casts all this aside. Yes, he writes, there is a strong link between nuclear electricity and weapons, and in fact most countries that built nuclear power plants did so with weapons at least partly in mind. But this is not so much a confession as a sales pitch. He thinks the weapons potential of nuclear power plants actually prevents war—the weapons shadow cast by nuclear plants itself deters enemies—and that this attribute should be exploited as a sales advantage by US nuclear exporters.

Shellenberger’s assessment of the nuclear power-weapons link is important rhetorically because it comes from the nuclear side of the house. He has been celebrated by the nuclear industry and the conservative press as one of the new breed, “pro-technology,” environmental activists who joined the nuclear ranks and are not afraid to do battle with their colleagues over nuclear power. So, his admission about the closeness of civilian and military nuclear technology—realistically what lawyers call a declaration against interest—carries a certain weight and may convince people who have up to now resisted the notion.

But Shellenberger goes on. He was always a bit unrestrained in his advocacy of nuclear power, and in speaking of nuclear weapons he surpasses himself. In an earlier piece, he presents an anecdotal case on why nuclear weapons were a cure-all for world conflict.

He said if only “weak” France had nuclear weapons in 1940 then “strong” Germany would not have attacked. But what if Germany was the one with the bomb?

He also points to India and Pakistan: They had three large wars before they armed themselves with nuclear weapons but none afterwards, only “border skirmishes” with relatively low casualties. And if such conflicts got out of hand and led to nuclear weapon use, well, not to worry—Shellenberger cites an academic “expert” who claims that the nuclear conflict would surely be contained at the “tactical” level. In truth, of course, no one has any idea.

That the presence of nuclear weapons has reduced the frequency of war is an arguable proposition. But one only has to consider the experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis to realize it comes at the price of gambling on nuclear war. Most people have forgotten about them, but our nuclear forces are still on alert, and their use is not ruled out. The “experts” speak of deployment for deterrence only, but deterrence is predicated on use in certain circumstances.

All these inescapable uncertainties apparently got swept away in Shellenberger’s mind by the “Eureka” moment he describes in the latest article: Based on a paper by a couple of political science professors, he asserts that a nuclear power program itself provides a significant level of “deterrence-related” benefits — “a bomb isn’t even required.” He says that when he thought of this, he almost fell off his chair. Why, he wondered, was this fact “not being promoted as one of nuclear power’s many benefits?”

One reason is that it’s a ridiculous proposal based on half-baked ideas.

But there is a serious side to this too. Unfortunately, his views, foolish as they are, are not so different from primitive views privately held in high official and semi-official nuclear circles. It is useful to bring them out of hiding, and we have to thank Shellenberger for that.

Take the Bush Administration’s 2005 nuclear deal with India. It tore a gaping hole in the Non-Proliferation Treaty and yet was described as promoting nonproliferation. Is there anyone so foolish as to believe that hypocrisy? Or to doubt that India’s interest in the arrangement was mainly fortifying its nuclear weapons? And wasn’t the notion of supporting India as a strategic foil to China at the core of US interest?

Consider also the current administration’s efforts to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Saudi Arabia to facilitate nuclear exports to that country. One doesn’t even have to speculate about the Saudis’ interest in bombs—the Crown Prince famously made that clear. And from the US side, it is also clear that a reason to put nuclear technology in the hands of the Saudis is to frighten Iran.

The immediate nuclear issue now is what controls, if any, our government should impose on the proposed US-Saudi nuclear cooperative agreement. The sensible course from the security point of view, which Secretary of State Pompeo has publicly backed, is to make sure Saudi Arabia will not have the capacity to produce nuclear explosives—a controlling condition called the gold standard. But the Saudis are pushing back on that—for obvious reasons—and their supporters in the administration would like to relax the export controls that would apply, in part to get the business but also to have another stick to shake at Iran.

We should have none of this. It has been settled US policy for decades that we don’t want more countries with nuclear weapons or countries threatening to make them. Where we haven’t been consistent in applying that policy regarding nuclear power exports, we need to make corrections, not by exporting more, but less.