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School classroom, ghost town of Priypat near Chernobyl (image by Tim Suess via flickr.com).

Michael Shellenberger is a nuclear salesman posing as a new generation environmentalist with unsubstantiated energy "solutions", writes Noel Wauchope.

LAST WEEK, The Australian excelled itself in uncritically regurgitating nuclear lobby propaganda in the article'Nuclear the "only option" to replace coal and gas: Michael Shellenberger'. 

To start with, they describe Shellenberger as 'one of the world’s leading new-generation environmental thinkers'. Well, that is sort of, a bit, right. Shellenberger is well known as the founder in 2003, with Ted Nordhaus, of The Breakthrough Institute — a nuclear front group dedicated to promoting “new generation” nuclear reactors. He is not a new generation environmentalist, as his focus is solely on the nuclear industry.

In the same opening paragraph, Shellenberger is described as 'a former renewables advocate to Barack Obama'. Well, Shellenberger’s advocacy consisted of lobbying Obama to promote not renewables but nuclear power. He is described as 'now a global champion for nuclear energy', as if he had only recently become a convert from renewables.

The Australian goes on to quote Shellenberger’s statements against renewable energy, uncritically, despite the fact that he provides no evidence for them:

"[Wind and solar] are doubling the cost of electricity and they have big environmental impacts. All existing renewable technologies do is make the electricity system chaotic and provide greenwash for fossil fuels."

And:

"[Opposition to nuclear] is like a superstitious religious belief."

Shellenberger was a one of Time Magazine’s '30 Heroes of the Environment' in 2008. True. However, he was chosen and discussed in Time by Bryan Walsh, a nuclear proponent and a member of The Breakthrough Institute. That choice was strongly disputed by genuine leading environmentalists Bill McKibben and Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. 

Having thus established Shellenberger’s very shaky credentials as an environmentalist, The Australian gets to the gist of the story:

'Michael Shellenberger  will visit Australia in Nov­ember to promote a rethink on nuclear at a minerals industry conference.'

We are told that Germany’s renewable energy transition is not successful and that Shellenberger believes better education about nuclear power is needed as well as 'a leap forward in scientific literacy about radiation'.

He says:

"The reality is the death toll from Chernobyl in 1986, after 20 years, is less than 200 people."

As we have come to expect from The Australian and from Michael Shellenberger, no references are given to back up these statements.

Also unsurprisingly, The Australian quotes Shellenberger’s conclusion without comment:

"Nuclear is the only technology that can lift everyone out of poverty and reverse human ­impact."

As often happens, this article is followed by numerous positive comments, often glowing with praise, if somewhat lacking in information or insight. There were no negative comments. But then, only registered readers of The Australian are allowed to make comments. It is tiring but necessary to refute bald claims made by very manipulative nuclear spruikers.

Where to start? 

Here are some links to thoughtful articles which address claims made in this article:

  • The cost or electricity from renewables?

'Renewable energy versus nuclear: dispelling the myths about costs', by Mark Diesendorf, Associate Professor in Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales.

  • Death toll from Chernobyl accident?

'Radiation harm deniers? Pro-nuclear environmentalists and the Chernobyl death toll', by Dr Jim Green, National Nuclear Campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and Editor of the Nuclear Monitor.

  • Nuclear lifting the world out of poverty?  

'Nuclear Power Cost', from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Read more by Noel Wauchope at antinuclear.net and nuclear-news.net and follow her on Twitter @ChristinaMac1.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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