Mark Lynas Interview

About twenty minutes long. I just watched. Thanks to this tweet by Barry Brook for the link.

He talks about a film called “Pandora’s Promise” that will come into cinemas this year. That film is documenting several people’s change of mind from anti to pro nuclear (including Lynas).

He also explains why he supports nuclear energy. The reasoning goes somewhat like this:

One. The global warming crisis makes deployment of low carbon energy necessary.

Two. Renewable energy can’t do the job because it takes too much space and is intermittent.

Three. Therefore, the choice is between global warming and nuclear energy. Even if the latter has some problems, the former is much more serious.

The problem with this approach is at number two. Renewable not only can do the job alone, it will have to do the job without nuclear, which is in decline and can’t be counted on. Nuclear is hopeless as a global warming countermeasure.

That in turn means if assertion number two is actually right, well, then global warming will proceed unchecked. Be careful what you wish for.

And of course, if your path to support for nuclear leads over getting people to stop supporting renewable energy, you will have a much harder time convincing anybody than if you just pointed out that whatever low carbon energy renewable provides will always be less than renewable plus nuclear.

Bonus fact check: Germany has not 27 GW of solar now, as Lynas says in that interview, but already over 32.

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003,

6 thoughts on “Mark Lynas Interview

  1. My problem with Lynas – who in my interactions with him has always be personable and likable – is that he assembles evidence to fit his beliefs. I know we all do some extent but I’ve just never seen it more apparent. When he writes / talks / thinks about renewables his starting point is: they will never supply our needs, and what evidence can I find to support this.

    His latest attack on solar was that cadmium is more toxic than nuclear waste. I mean, straws, grasping. What percentage of PV includes cadmium? It’s just a bit sad really.

    His argument that there lacks an urgency in decarbonization, and he’s probably right, but he willfully ignores all of the “paradigm shift” arguments about renewables – end of base load mindset, distributed power, load shifting, storage possibilities, distributed ownership – because he’s locked in the mindset of big power plants and consumers. His model is faulty and he’s unable to change it, therefore nuclear is the only one that fits.


    1. I would not agree with that. When I see some factual mistake in Lynas’ advocacy (like the “27 GW” noted above), I assume it is an honest mistake. I don’t doubt his integrity.

      And while I don’t agree with his position on nuclear energy, I do strongly agree with his views on global warming.

      His latest comments on solar and cadmium were an attempt to show that there are waste problems that need to be addressed with all options. It came over as anti-solar, though maybe that was not the intention.

      Which is exactly one of my points above. Pro-nuclear advocacy that is – even wrongly – perceived as anti-renewable just has not much chance of success. Renewable is not going away anytime soon, it is on a massive extension course, and basing pro-nuclear advocacy on fighting it is dumb strategy as well as bad for the climate (if someone listens to that anti-renewable propaganda).


  2. For the complete reasoning, they are a few steps missing here.

    – Nuclear declines because a number of persons very intensively fight it
    – The persons fighting it include both many environmentalists and much of the fossil industry
    – Amongst the environmentalists, the reasoning is very frequently that nuclear radiation is so evil nuclear is must be stopped
    – Otherwise it’s that the waste is so evil, nuclear is must be stopped
    – The 2012 “IEA Tracking Clean Energy Progress” report makes clear that from 2001 to 2010, the investments in nuclear have been tiny relative to the one in renewables
    – Around 1300 billion $ were invested in renewable against about 130 billion in nuclear
    – So even if all the nuclear money was given to renewable the impact would be insignificant, it seems many pro-renewables don’t realize that
    – The report also shows that hydraulic brought most of the new power, growing 800 TWh against 530 TWh for non-hydro
    – Meanwhile coal had a net growth of 2300 TWh, dwarfing anything else
    – So the reason for the bad nuclear growth is not that it’s inefficient, but that no money has been invested in it
    – A lot of money has been invested in coal, a modern coal plant is only a little cheaper than a nuclear one, given that the operation is more expensive than nuclear, it should be quite fast hardly more expensive to have built a nuclear plant than a coal one
    – If the money that has been given to coal was given to nuclear instead, it could grow very fast and generate a lot of carbon free power. It’s no faster to build a coal plant than a nuclear one, still a very large of them happens !

    Maybe the nuclear later will be stopped and replaced by renewable when the storage is ready.
    It’s better than to build coal and hope that storage will get so cheap coal is really stopped for renewable. It’s easier to get people to stop an already built nuclear plant than a coal one. Stopping the coal one just never happens despite all it’s bad side.

    Many environmentalists don’t seem to care about the fact that by opposing nuclear the result was not more money going to renewable, but more money going to coal !
    There’s no need to remove the renewable money to develop nuclear, just give it the coal one.


  3. Of course the question is more complex than the three points I mentioned in my post. But I do think this is a fair way to summarize Lynas’ interview.

    While there may be room for a debate for the reasons of that, I do think we agree that nuclear is in worldwide decline.

    Therefore, I personally would not want to base my global warming strategy on the hope of reversing that trend.

    And based on your figures, where renewable investment beats nuclear by a factor of ten, that seems to be what is generally happening right now.

    I don’t think anti-nuclear voices are after the $130 billion invested in nuclear. They are mostly motivated by other factors.


    1. I did read several time the argument that the money spent in nuclear should be spent for renewable instead, from people who believed it would make a big change. For reference, the numbers above are based on the “IEA : Tracking Clean Energy Progress – Energy Technology Perspectives 2012” document that you reported earlier. It’s a 2001-2010 evaluation I made, based on the year by year amounts visible in figure 1.10 and 1.16.

      Also, in a perverse effect, it’s not impossible for the anti-nuclear slant to, at the end, have some negative consequences on the renewable deployment.
      Here it’s reported RWE claims not being rich enough anymore to easily deploy offshore wind if the revenue is not perfectly guaranteed. And as reported, the reason why they became a lot poorer recently is the forced closure of their nuclear plants.

      An interesting thing is that the original article used as source estimates the cost of lignite to be around 20 €, and the cost of nuclear around 25€. But the main reason for that is the uranium fuel tax is at 145€ per gram !

      So the German authorities can easily decide to make nuclear suffer a very large uranium tax per gram, whilst they consistently fail to do anything about the ridiculously low CO2 cost per ton ? Resulting in artificially using taxes to make lignite more profitable than nuclear ?
      That makes them appear a lot less green than they claim, and actually very amenable to the pressure exerted by fossil powers.

      It shows deciding people in Germany definitively prefer carbon to nuclear. But for the decline, be careful about blindly trusting sources like Wise that have been anti-nuclear almost 20 years before they started to consider the carbon problem.
      Globally many nations do not share Germany’s point of view, and they are a large number of nuclear projects nearing completion in the period 2013 to 2016, and also 2017. Nuclear is not, however strongly disappointing this will be for Wise, going to decline in that period, even if the two very bad 2011 and 2012 years will be hard to compensate.


  4. While it may be true that someone may have voiced the opinion that investments in nuclear should be done in renewable instead, I still don’t believe that most anti-nuclear voices are motivated most by that particular reason. Fear of radiation, dislike of large corporate structures, worry about long-term waste problems, worrying about what happens in a war are probably more common motives (it would probably get off topic here to start discussing here if these motives are valid or not).

    That uranium tax was part of a older deal of the present government, which introduced this tax in return for permit extensions. It is now litigated, since the utilities may have a point saying that the permit extensions are gone after 2011, so the tax should go as well.

    It is true that offshore wind requires large investments. It should not be true that those investments need backing by profits from written-down nuclear power plants. It is true that the recent statements by Altmaier and Rösler undermine trust in the system. That is damaging everywhere, but especially for large-scale investments.

    Who is “Wise”? I had not heard of them before, so I am not aware of having based any statements on them.


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