In 2000, the worlds top environmentalist, James Lovelock pioneer of the «Gaia hypothesis» on the interconnectedness of life on our planet stood nervously before a meeting of Friends of the Earth members. He had come to deliver a new message to his peers, a message he wasnt certain they were ready to hear.
The time has come for us to go nuclear.
The statement, which stunned Lovelocks audience, was the culmination of some hard thinking that led him to the conclusion that global warming was the single greatest environmental danger facing humanity. Fossil fuels were killing the planet. But what could be done? Alternative power sources solar, wind, geothermal werent nearly at the stage to provide substantial relief. Something else would have to save the Earth.
Just before the Friends of the Earth meeting, Lovelock had spent time talking with Bruno Comby, a man with an answer. Comby was a nuclear physicist by training, who had spent several years working for the nuclear industry in France. Concerned over what he felt were larger problems facing the world, Comby quit his job to start a natural-living research organization focused on organic gardening, air pollution, and, of course, climate change. But the more he studied environmental issues, the more he thought back to his old line of work. Nuclear power, he realized, was the clean energy solution that the Earth desperately needed. Comby wrote a book on the subject and founded the advocacy group Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy (EFN).
When Comby and Lovelock met, they found they shared numerous views, including Lovelocks growing realization that nuclear power might be a solution to global warming. Hand wringing aside, atomic energy was already one of the only emissions-free electricity sources widely in use across the world. Unlike most renewable power sources, the technology was well developed and not limited by location the way hydro, solar, and wind energy are. Chatting with Comby helped persuade Lovelock to finally go public with his support for nuclear power.
Spurred by Lovelocks endorsement, the green nuclear movement has steadily gained momentum over the past few years, with EFN now boasting over 6000 members and supporters in 50 countries. The cause got a further shot in the arm this past May when Lovelock published an editorial in Londons Independent entitled «Nuclear power is the Only Green Solution». In the article, Lovelock begged his fellow environmentalists to end their opposition to nuclear plants, saying that the green community is «more concerned about threats to people than with threats to the Earth, not noticing that we are part of the Earth and wholly dependent upon its well-being.»
Lovelock himself does few interviews these days, but we recently caught up with Bruno Comby, president of EFN, to find out what effect the organizations efforts, and Lovelocks celebrity endorsement, are having on worldwide opinion of nuclear energy, and the impact that a reversal of opinion on the issue within the environmental community could have for already hot uranium stocks.
Comby told us that his organization is in fact finding surprisingly strong support amongst environmentalists. «Since EFN has been participating in public events,» he says, «people in these organizations come to us and say, We know youre right.» He believes that green support for nuclear energy has been increasing over the past years as the specter of climate change has become more prominent. But environmentalists who favor nuclear power, he told us, have in the past been silenced by the green movements hard line anti-nuclear agenda, set by groups like Greenpeace that largely control funding to smaller organizations. «Those who are smart enough,» he says, «understand that theyd better remain anti-nuclear… or they get fired.»
So why are the top dogs in the green community so staunchly against nuclear? «Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund… have international money coming from other countries,» Comby says. «And when you go up to the source, it ends up with the oil companies or the Arab countries. They have a strong interest in suppressing the nuclear industry.»
Despite what Comby believes is special interest-driven anti-nuclear sentiment, he told us that the work of EFN, combined with endorsements like Lovelocks, is changing minds in the green community. «A lot of people write to EFN sort of shattered,» he says, «saying things like, I heard that James Lovelock supports nuclear. Are there really advantages to nuclear energy? Theyve always been told that nuclear power is bad, and then they hear just the opposite, and the guy who tells them is the pope of environmentalism.» Comby also points out that some local chapters of Friends of the Earth now support nuclear, and that Frances second-generation environmental political party is pro-atomic energy.
Comby attributes the increasing amount of pro-nuclear sentiment partly to the realization by many green thinkers that renewable energy, while an important goal, cant provide the quick fix needed to head off the climate change catastrophe they fear. «The problem of global warming is the number one environmental threat for the planet today,» he told us. «Renewable energy should be developed, energy conservation should be encouraged, but these just dont face up with the numbers. Nuclear is the only alternative we have to replace significant amounts of oil and gas. Its by far the safest and the cleanest energy available today.»
Combys organization is growing quickly last year opening a North American chapter and the group continues to lobby governments, other environmental organizations, and anyone else who will listen, on the dire need to switch from fossil fuels to atomic power while theres still a chance to prevent the worst effects of global warming. Their suggestions about the dangers of climate change are, of course, sometimes met with skepticism, but one thing is certain: the green nuclear movement is just one more sign that atomic power is indeed enjoying a long-overdue resurgence. If EFN succeeds in its efforts, and a major group such as Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Fund come out for nuclear, then the single largest obstacle to a wider adoption of nuclear as the fuel of the future will have been removed and the recent gains uranium prices and many of the uranium stocks we are following -- will be just the beginning.
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