Discussing Mark Lynas’ “Nuclear 2.0: Why a Green Future Needs Nuclear Power”

Mark Lynas just released an “Amazon short” title called Nuclear 2.0.

The book description at Amazon has this to say:

Lynas shows that with wind and solar still at only about 1 percent of global primary energy, asking renewables to deliver all the world’s power is “dangerously delusional”.

That got me interested. Maybe he’s talking about my “dangerous delusions”. I happen to think that it is the other way round. It is a delusion to hope for the nuclear bailout. Renewable energy will have to do the job alone.

It also claims in its first sentence, rather arrogantly:

Everything you thought you knew about nuclear power is wrong.

How does Lynas even know what his readers think? And how is claiming everything disagreeing with his views is wrong anything else as extremely annoying arrogance?

The first clear error came a couple of pages in. Lynas writes:

“I had entirely overlooked the world’s most abundant source of low-carbon power.”

That is not nuclear. It’s hydro. According to the 2012 edition of the IEA Key World Energy Statistics, nuclear generated  2756 TWh in 2010, while hydro generated 3516. Of course, nuclear is down as a consequence of the Fukushima accident, clocking in at only 2346 in 2012.

That makes nuclear the most abundant source of low-carbon power generation reductions. I expect plenty of more reductions from this source.

He then claims:

nuclear power provides 15 percent of global electricity

Nope. Even in 2010, the percentage was at 12.9, and it has of course declined substantially after that, again according to the IEA report cited above.

Not a good start, considering this claim:

using the very latest factual data

Next, a whopping mistake that makes me want to stop reading right there:

our task is to generate thousands of terawatts of power per year.

Newsflash: Power generation per year is measured in TWh, not terawatts. And “thousands” doesn’t cut it either. How can Mark Lynas, a reasonably competent journalist, make such a simple mistake?

And right then, he writes something I agree with completely:

Most importantly, the pro-renewables and pro-nuclear tribes will have to join forces if we are to confront the vested interests which threaten to keep this planet on its current trajectory towards disaster.

I have my doubts, though, if calling the other side “delusional” and “dangerous” will contribute to such a goal.

I also completely agree with the analysis that fossil fuel has given humanity, on average, a much better life since the industrial revolution. If one could choose the ideal age to live in, right now would be a rather good choice. Still receiving the many benefits of burning fossil fuel at a rate of 5.3 million over its reproduction, but still not feeling the more unfortunate effects of global warming.

Lynas then writes a couple of pages on how solar and wind will never be enough to achieve anything, citing numbers about the share of primary energy supply (which is a great way to make solar look bad and nuclear look good, with all the heat energy completely wasted in nuclear plants, but conveniently included in the primary energy balance).

If Lynas is right, there will be no solution for global warming. It’s as easy as that. Nuclear certainly won’t come to the rescue. It’s in decline, and will decline further.

But Lynas doesn’t understand the beauty of exponential growth. If solar growth world wide goes down to the lowest value recorded in the past twenty years (30 percent), then it will take solar supply only until 2030 to top world electricity demand, as Eduard Heindl kindly explains in this recent post (in German).

Lynas is opposed to building new hydro, because of “fragile riverine ecosystems”. Newsflash: those will be destroyed anyway if global warming proceeds unchecked. China has installed 230 GW of hydro in 2012 and will increase that to 290 GW until 2015. That compares to World nuclear capacity around 380 GW in 2010. Would Lynas rather get rid of all that low-carbon Chinese hydro capacity to protect some “fragile ecosystem” or other? I certainly don’t think the World could afford this kind of luxury.

Remarkably, nothing Lynas writes about the German “Energiewende” is wrong. Of course, shutting down nuclear capacity will, all things equal, lead to more CO2 emissions. The new renewable capacity must make up for the missing nuclear energy before it can displace coal. That’s just common sense.

But it is also common sense that calling for nuclear in Germany is a fringe minority loser position. If your global warming strategy requires nuclear power in Germany, get used to a warmer planet.

Lynas acknowledges that nuclear has a cost problem. He fails to mention though the part of the problem that comes from a stronger renewable penetration. That means that nuclear power plants can’t be expected to run around the clock any more, and it also means that the days of high peak noon power prices are gone for good.

Around the end I find out that the title “Nuclear 2.0” means limiting global warming to 2.0 degrees by using nuclear power (which is not what one would assume from reading the title on its face).

The main thesis of the book is that everybody opposed to fossil fuel should work together in an “all of the above” strategy, though strangely one that excludes the real largest source of low carbon power (hydro). That used to be my position, until I found out that most pro-nuclear people are trying to slow down renewable energy, since they (correctly) perceive that their dreams of playing with plutonium won’t get anywhere with viable alternatives in place, and with renewable eating their lunch and dinner in the marketplace.

The “all of the above” idea is nice, but it won’t work in practice. We are in another Great War of Currents, and people need to chose their sides. Someone advocating “all of the above” like Lynas will probably alienate everybody in sight.


Published by kflenz

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

6 thoughts on “Discussing Mark Lynas’ “Nuclear 2.0: Why a Green Future Needs Nuclear Power”

  1. Karl. A couple of points about your claimed “mistakes” I am supposed to have made.

    1. Nuclear power is the most “abundant” source of power – but hydro has a larger share. That’s why I chose the word “abundant” – having spent months looking at the energy statistics, I am well aware that hydro generates slightly more power. Hydro is not abundant – it is geographically very limited, and basically maxxed out because of ecological constraints. More big dams will mean more extinctions of fish, more destruction of freshwater biodiversity.

    2. Nuclear power provides 15% of electricity. That was true in 2005, which is the year I am talking about if you read the passage properly. Again, I am well aware that it has declined since then.

    3. Terawatts – all the way through the book where I am talking about totals of power generation I use TWh. Perhaps you are nitpicking here, in order not to have to deal with the facts?

    4. I don’t say anywhere that we should remove current hydro. Of course this would do the same as removing nuclear, and push up emissions.

    It is sad that you choose division over unity – perhaps it shows that climate is not so far up your list of priorities as you think. That is of course your call – but my prediction is either your team will lose, or the climate will.


  2. Thanks for your reply. In order:

    1. If you include potential, in contrast to actual records, of course solar is the most abundant resource. So your claim is false either way, and it is at least misleading.

    2. In my post above I clearly made the connection to your claim of “using the very latest factual data”. I guess it’s my fault for thinking that claim had some substance to it. Again, your text is misleading at best.

    3. This is just a simple mistake, and you should acknowledge and correct it, instead of attacking me for pointing it out.

    4. I am glad to hear your opposition to hydro is limited to new installations, something I would not have known reading the text. I still think that “all of the above except new hydro” doesn’t make much sense.

    As to the final remark, I am not “choosing” division. I wish you were right and “all of the above” was possible. I don’t believe it is.


  3. Re the low-level radiation debate, Mark Lynas’s beliefs in a threshold of 100mSv and in hormesis are unscientific and just plain wrong, as is his implication that Chernobyl’ s final death toll will be of the order of 50 or so. His position is also a minority one among the scientific establishment. The nuclear industry and its new clutch of the terminally naive are hyping the “Only 50 deaths from Chernobyl!” myth for all they’re worth. It wouldn’t read quite so well were they to use scientific establishment estimates and shout “Only 50,000 deaths from Chernobyl!”. So. irrespective of possibly even larger risks from global warming or coal, the radiation debate matters hugely.

    The following is my Amazon review of “Nuclear 2.0” at http://www.amazon.com/Nuclear-2-0-Future-Kindle-Single-ebook/product-reviews/B00DUV3N6E/ref=cm_cr_dp_qt_hist_one?ie=UTF8&filterBy=addOneStar&showViewpoints=0 …….

    Mark Lynas, in “Nuclear 2.0”, commits the same errors he ascribes to the anti-nuclear movement, except that where anti-nuclear activists allegedly exaggerate, Mark Lynas relentlessly minimises.

    Lynas quotes UNSCEAR and others in an effort at scientific respectability, but the quotes are often selective and misleading. For example, re Chernobyl, UNSCEAR is correctly quoted as offering reassurance to individuals that the personal risks are low, but there is no mention whatever that UNSCEAR also clearly states “Although the numbers of cancers projected to be induced by radiation exposure from the accident are very small relative to the baseline cancer risk, THEY COULD POTENTIALLY BE SUBSTANTIAL IN ABSOLUTE TERMS” (my emphasis – even a “very small” increase of say, 0.5%, in baseline risk would cause, say, 10,000 extra cancers in a 10 million population, assuming normal cancer mortality of 20% of all deaths). This, from the very agency – UNSCEAR – that Lynas is using to establish credibility, is surely worth at least a mention, especially from someone claiming scientific objectivity. Nor is there any mention that earlier World Health Organisation reports put the eventual excess cancer death toll among the cleanup workers at 4,000, and in the most affected areas of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus alone at a further 5,000. And the harm is unlikely to stop there.

    Similarly, Lynas mentions UNSCEAR’s recent warning that collective dose should not be used to estimate future cancer deaths at Fukushima, without mentioning that the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), the WHO, and many other scientifically reputable government agencies, have previously all used collective dose to estimate cancer deaths, or that ICRP and UNSCEAR are not saying NO risks/deaths, they are warning of UNCERTAINTY at very low doses. They even admit that this uncertainty could be in either direction – that lower dose radiation could, over part of the graph, be proportionately MORE damaging than higher doses ie supralinearity. This is completely ignored by Lynas. Re hormesis or a low dose threshold, the ICRP and many others have carefully examined the evidence, and have firmly rejected them in favour of LNT. The LNT “debate” is bogus. At every turn of the debate, Lynas presents the view that makes nuclear look best. UNSCEAR’s warnings of uncertainties re the MAGNITUDE of the risks, NOT their existence, has been elevated by Lynas into a complete dismissal of the risks, flying in the face of established radiological science. This magical thinking, designed to make inconvenient (for the nuclear industry) cancer risks disappear, may be a suitable approach for a propagandist, but one can hardly simultaneously wrap oneself in the science flag.

    Re a mythical 100mSV limit, Lynas, in the teeth of the growing evidence, fights a rearguard action to cast doubt everywhere except on the pro-nuclear position. However, as far back as 2001, the ICRP, in “Radiation and Your Patient: A Guide for Medical Practitioners” advised doctors that “The higher dose diagnostic medical procedures (such a CT scan of the abdomen or pelvis) yield an effective dose of about 10 mSv. If there were a large population in which every person had 1 such scan, the theoretical lifetime risk of radiation induced fatal cancer would be about 1 in 2,000 (0.05%).”

    So why is the evidence sufficient for patients exposed to 10 mSV (NB 10 mSV, not the 100 mSv claimed by Mark Lynas as some kind of threshold) to be warned of a 1 in 2,000 risk of fatal cancer, but not sufficient to clearly warn “a large population”, exposed to similar radiation levels from a nuclear disaster, of similar risks? Instead the risks are usually buried in specious technobabble about “insignificant” increases in the baseline cancer rate and misleading claims that “no health effects will be detected”, while admitting quietly that thousands or tens of thousands may actually die. Why are the risks from 10mSv enough to warn doctors and patients, but, according – sometimes – to UNSCEAR and the ICRP, not enough to even estimate, not even roughly estimate, overall cancer deaths from Chernobyl and Fukushima? Could it be that such clear, direct estimates give embarrassingly large – to the nuclear industry – estimates of 20,000 – 40,000 fatal Chernobyl cancers and 1,000 – 3,000 fatal cancers from Fukushima? Could this just possibly have some bearing? (There has recently been a spate of disgraceful articles by young, gullible ex-Greens claiming that the Chernobyl death toll is “only” about 50. How would those article have read if they were shouting “Hey! We got it all wrong about nuclear power! The dangers have been wildly exaggerated by those irrational, alarmist, anti-science eco-loons! Did you know that Chernobyl’s final death toll from cancer will be a mere 20,000 – 40,000???”)

    Lastly, Lynas gets his sums badly wrong. In a bungled attempt to discredit LNT, he quotes figures from Preston et al (2004) “Effect of recent changes in atomic bomb survivor dosimetry on cancer mortality risk estimates”, Table 3. He claims “……those receiving doses below 100 mSv had no observable increase in risk at all. Out of the 68,467 people in the below 100 mSv category, 7,657 died of cancer before 2000, out of an expected number of cancer deaths totalling 7,655. The difference* is too tiny to have any statistical meaning. This latter conclusion is critically important. No convincing evidence has ever been obtained, despite many hundreds of studies, showing a statistically significant correlation between cancer incidence and radiation exposures of less than 100 mSv. ” (* Difference is 2).

    There are actually other widely accepted studies showing excess cancer risk at doses well below 100mSv, from Alice Stewart’s work, from studies of radiation workers, from CT scans, even from background radiation studies, but forget about them. Just look up Table 3 yourself (You’ll have to register – free – at the Radiation Research Society web journal). It shows cancer deaths roughly as predicted by LNT in various dose bands from 2,000 mSv down. It does show only 2* fitted excess cancer deaths in a lower category, but it’s in the below 5 mSv (FIVE mSv, not 100 mSv) category, and it shows fitted excess cancer deaths in the 5-100 mSv category to be 44. These 44 sub-100mSv deaths have simply disappeared in Lynas’s account. It’s easy to draw “critically important” conclusions when you lose statistics that don’t suit. But don’t get caught.

    Mark Lynas is one of a number of naive people (George Monbiot, Michael Shellenberger, even Jim Hansen) trying to discredit LNT, and insulting the anti-nuclear movement as being ignorant, irrational and unscientific. There is a deluge of scientific evidence, some of it going back decades, supporting LNT. The evidence is increasing all the time that lower and lower doses have an effect consistent with LNT predictions. In contrast, the evidence for a threshold, never mind hormesis, is speculative, largely confined to laboratories, generally contradicted by real-world epidemiology, and has been considered and firmly rejected by the ICRP, BEIR etc.

    Lynas and co. might like to consider the following from “The radiobiology/radiation protection interface in Healthcare” (Martin et al, 2009), published by the Journal of Radiological Protection and available at the Institute of Physics website.

    “The 21st L H Gray conference gathered leading experts in radiobiology, radiation epidemiology, radiation effect modelling, and the application of radiation in medicine to provide an overview of the subject………

    Epidemiological evidence from the Japanese A-bomb survivors provides strong evidence that there is a linear relationship between the excess risk of cancer and organ dose that extends from about 50 mSv up to 2.5 Sv, and results from pooled data for multiple epidemiological studies indicate that risks extend down to doses of 20 mSv. Thus linear extrapolation of the A-bomb dose-effect data provides an appropriate basis for radiological protection standards at the present time…..

    The Japanese A-bomb survivor group provides data for a population with a wide range of ages who received relatively high doses primarily from external radiation……. The results have proved that there is a linear relationship between cancer risk and organ dose between about 100 mSv and 2.5 Sv (Hall 2009). If data from A-bomb survivors who received doses between 5 and 125 mSv are grouped together and the excess risk plotted against a mean dose, the data give a definite excess relative risk for cancer mortality and a value which agrees with the LNT extrapolation of the A-bomb survivor data for a mean dose of about 40 mSv (Brenner et al 2003)………

    Another area of study which is relevant when considering carcinogenic effects at low doses is the induction of childhood leukaemia in children radiographed in utero with doses of 10-20 mSv (Stewart et al 1956, Knox et al 1987). These studies provide further evidence that effects do occur at doses down to 10 or 20 mSv…….
    Data from the UK, USA and Canada have been combined to give results for 95 000 radiation workers who received a mean individual cumulative dose of 40 mSv (Cardis et al 1995) and data from 15 countries pooled to give 400 000 workers with a mean cumulative dose of 19.4 mSv (Cardis et al 2005b). Results from both studies indicate an excess relative risk of leukaemia that is statistically significant………..

    Comparative studies on groups exposed to different levels of natural background radiation do not have the statistical power to detect effects on cancer incidence, because of the small numbers receiving higher doses (BEIR 2006, Hendry et al 2009). Based on current risk estimates a population of 10 million would be required in order to prove whether there was a high incidence of solid cancer in an area where the population was exposed to 10 mSv yr−1, whereas the populations that have been studied comprise less than 100 000 individuals. Populations that have higher doses from radon exposure provide the best indicator of a link between cancer and dose at lower dose levels. Results of a European project, which combined data from a number of individual case control studies in member states, show a clear increase in the risk of lung cancer among residents of homes with an enhanced concentration of radon (above 150 Bq m−3)……

    …the LNT dose-effect model is the most appropriate one to adopt to describe the risks of cancer and provides a workable practical framework for the operation of protection………….”

    In an earlier article, Lynas thanked “…..Professor Wade Allison for his help on the research”. Allison is a physicist, with no scientific expertise in radiobiology, who wants to increase the statutory radiation protection limits by a factor of 1000. It is worth considering what the normally understated and polite Dr. Keith Baverstock, who led the Radiation Protection Programme at the World Health Organisation’s Regional Office for Europe from 1991 to 2003, thinks of Allison’s theories…….

    “Back to Allison and his brand of pantomime biology: he is not a misguided crank, he understands the scientific process, he is surrounded with colleagues in Oxford he could consult and in two years he has not heeded the warnings of, I am sure, many experts that he is simply wrong. I don’t believe he is deliberately peddling untruths either. So what is his problem? One can only conclude that he is deluded. It seems that one can become so obsessed with an idea that any challenge to it is somehow expelled from consciousness. I believe on this issue Allison is a menace to society and I am not alone in that; he was, I understand, told as much by a senior radiobiologist at a scientific meeting in London last month: he still filed his evidence to the HoC S&T Committee though on 22 December and whether he realises it or not he is attempting to mislead them when he claims the scientific high ground and dismisses genuine scientific opinion as politics. He should either withdraw his book or re-title it ‘Radiation and Unreason’ and ask for it to be displayed in bookshops and libraries under ‘fiction’.”

    Mark Lynas’s dreadful book should join it.

    For anyone interested in a more scientific approach to the crucial low level radiation debate, Dr. Ian Fairlie’s site is the best I’ve found so far (Dr. Fairlie, like Dr. Baverstock, is a professional in radiobiology).

    Best wishes,
    Chris Murray.


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