Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, March 14, 2011
By

With the terrible human toll from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami catastrophe only now being comprehended, and the grave follow on crisis at the country’s nuclear power plants unfolding by the hour, the anti-nuclear power crowd has already begun issuing statements such as the one Greenpeace put out saying that “nuclear power cannot ever be safe.”

Predictably, reports Geoffrey Lean in the Telegraph, “battle lines” are being drawn:

On Saturday, some 50,000 anti-nuclear protesters formed a 27-mile human chain from Germany’s Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant to the city of Stuttgart to protest against its government’s plans to extend the life of the country’s reactors. Green politicians in pro-nuclear France urged an end to its dependence on the atom, and Ed Markey, a leading Democratic US Congressman, called for a moratorium on building new reactors in seismically active areas.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel, after holding a meeting of the German cabinet on the issue, reaffirmed her confidence in the safety of nuclear power. The leader of Silvio Berlusconi’s party said that Italy would stick with plans to build new reactors. And a spokesman for US Senator Lisa Murkowski said it would be “poor form for anyone to criticise the nuclear industry, or pronounce the end of nuclear power, because of a natural disaster that has been a national tragedy for the Japanese people”.

Poor form, indeed. Now we have an example of an unseemly statement on nuclear power at the worst possible time from a religious leader.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Orthodox hierarch based in Istanbul, Turkey, today called for nations to stop using nuclear power and to adopt “green” energy technologies:

… with regard to the explosion of the nuclear reactor and the aftermath of a nuclear adversity, there is indeed a response that we are called to make. With all due respect to the science and technology of nuclear energy and for the sake of the survival of the human race, we counter-propose the safer green forms of energy, which both moderately preserve our natural resources and mindfully serve our human needs.

Our Creator granted us the gifts of the sun, wind, water and ocean, all of which may safely and sufficiently provide energy. Ecologically-friendly science and technology has discovered ways and means of producing sustainable forms of energy for our ecosystem. Therefore, we ask: Why do we persist in adopting such dangerous sources of energy? Are we so arrogant as to compete with and exploit nature? Yet, we know that nature invariably seeks revenge.

This is magical thinking about very practical policy questions and complex technology overlaid with a spiritual gloss. The statement also attempts a clumsy preemption of what will be an inevitable and necessary policy review worldwide of nuclear power in the wake of the Japan disaster. But even as the dead are being pulled from the wreckage in Japan, we’re getting a finger-wagging lecture about Mother Nature seeking her revenge and the stupidity of our “dangerous” sources of power. Not for nothing is Bartholomew known as the Green Patriarch.

According to the Energy Information Administration, nuclear power will generate 17 percent of U.S. electricity needs by 2035. That’s down only slightly from the current 20 percent. If we shut down nuclear power, what will we replace it with? As Louie today pointed out in his post, the push for renewable or clean technologies has largely been driven by government incentives. Why isn’t the technology advancing more rapidly, despite the billions poured into these projects? What would be the economic consequences of shunning fossil fuels in favor of Bartholomew’s “sun, wind, water and ocean” driven technologies? (What would a tsunami do to wave power technology?). The EIA is projecting that coal will still provide 43 percent of U.S. electricity needs in 2035. Why is that?

The patriarch could be more effective if he stuck to principles of Christian stewardship of the environment and left the practical implications to those who have some expertise in these matters. Bartholomew has extended himself outside of his competency with this statement on Fukushima and nuclear power. He, or his advisors, should read the following words from Steven Hayward’s new AEI booklet Mere Environmentalism — A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World before crafting similar statements in the future.

There is a fine line between applying biblical faith to social conditions in the service of God’s purposes, and becoming an adjunct of current secular political and social trends. A spirit of discernment is the most needful thing when considering the intersection of Christian faith and social issues, lest Christian thought become reinterpreted and subsumed as a mere component of contemporary social idealism. Indeed, the allure of compelling secular perspectives on social issues, usually and confusingly derived from the Christian heritage of Western civilization, needs to be regarded as a classic form of temptation. Often there will be overlapping aspects of Christian and secular approaches to social issues. The primary task of a Christian thinker, therefore, is to focus on what is distinctive about a Christian approach to an issue.

Full text of the patriarch’s March 14 statement follows:

Message on the nuclear explosion at Fukushima

It is with burdened and painful heart that the entire world is witnessing the drama of the tragic earthquake, which over the last days has afflicted Japan and cost numerous lives of our brothers and sisters. Moreover, it is with much anguish and sorrow that we behold the related devastation in the Land of the Rising Sun as well as in other nations of the Pacific. Every corner of the planet is offering prayers both for the repose of the departed souls and for the support of those who continue to be grieved and imperiled by the ensuing seismic tremors and ferocious tsunami. Lamentably, yet another calamitous consequence has struck the region with the explosion of the nuclear plant at Fukushima, rendering still more frightening the recent nightmare in Japan.

The disastrous ramifications of this event will become more evident over the next days. Of course, with regard to the earthquake, no human response is adequate. The causes and results eclipse human words. Nevertheless, with regard to the explosion of the nuclear reactor and the aftermath of a nuclear adversity, there is indeed a response that we are called to make. With all due respect to the science and technology of nuclear energy and for the sake of the survival of the human race, we counter-propose the safer green forms of energy, which both moderately preserve our natural resources and mindfully serve our human needs.

Our Creator granted us the gifts of the sun, wind, water and ocean, all of which may safely and sufficiently provide energy. Ecologically-friendly science and technology has discovered ways and means of producing sustainable forms of energy for our ecosystem. Therefore, we ask: Why do we persist in adopting such dangerous sources of energy? Are we so arrogant as to compete with and exploit nature? Yet, we know that nature invariably seeks revenge.

From the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we raise fervent prayers for our beloved Japanese people for the trial and tribulation it currently faces, while at the same time passionately appeal to all those responsible for a reconsideration of the nuclear policy of nations throughout the world.


  • Steve

    There has been no nuclear explosion.

    Nor have any of the reactors exploded as of this time.

    There was a hydrogen gas explosion in non-reactor rooms of the buildings due to a build-up of that gas in those rooms.

    These events are not good things, but they aren’t the catastrophic, apocalyptic things that the media and the Oecumenical Patriarch make them out to be.

  • Roger McKinney

    I’m ambivalent about nuclear power. It seems a lot like sky diving: you can do it for a long time if you make no mistakes, but the margin for error is tiny and the consequences of error is disastrous.

  • http://www.acton.org John Couretas

    From an editorial in yesterday’s Guardian (HT: Roger Pielke Jr.’s Blog):

    For all the emotive force of events in Japan, though, this is one issue where there is a pressing need to listen to what our heads say about the needs of the future, as opposed to subjecting ourselves to jittery whims of the heart. One of the few solid lessons to emerge from the aged Fukushima plant is that the tendency in Britain and elsewhere to postpone politically painful choices about building new nuclear stations by extending the life-spans of existing ones is dangerous. Beyond that, with or without Fukushima, the undisputed nastiness of nuclear – the costs, the risks and the waste – still need to be carefully weighed in the balance against the different poisons pumped out by coal, which remains the chief economic alternative.

    Most of the easy third ways are illusions. Energy efficiency has been improving for over 200 years, but it has worked to increase not curb demand. Off-shore wind remains so costly that market forces would simply push pollution overseas if it were taken up in a big way. A massive expansion of shale gas may yet pave the way to a plausible non-nuclear future, and it certainly warrants close examination. The fundamentals of the difficult decisions ahead, however, have not moved with the Earth.

  • http://www.acton.org John Couretas

    James Delingpole in The Telegraph warns that “Wind farms kill whales: blubber on the green movement’s hands.”

    So wind farms don’t just despoil countryside, frighten horses, chop up birds, spontaneously combust, drive down property prices, madden those who live nearby with their subsonic humming, drive up electricity prices, promote rentseeking, make rich landowners richer (and everyone else poorer), ruin views, buy more electric sports cars for that dreadful Dale Vince character, require rare earth minerals which cause enormous environmental damage, destroy 3.7 real jobs for every fake “green” job they “create”, blight neighbourhoods, kill off tourism and ruin lives, but they also

    KILL WHALES!

    more here.

  • Pingback: links for 2011-03-16 | The 'K' is not silent

  • Pingback: Partido Verde alemán respalda el “apagón” nuclear « malcolmallison

  • Pingback: Video: The False Promise of Green Energy | @ActonInstitute PowerBlog

  • Pingback: Video: The False Promise of Green Energy | Koinonia

  • Pingback: Video: The False Promise of Green Energy…and the "Green" Patriarch | Catholic Canada

  • Pingback: The False Promise of Green Energy [VIDEO] - AOI Observer