Prophets of Doom

A number of institutes and think tanks now exist that are dedicated to the idea that environmental collapse is eminent due to unrestrained technology, epitomized by nuclear energy. Based mostly in Washington, these groups work in synergy and many of their members float in and out of association with the Safe Energy Communication Council. Among the most interesting groups who determine the national flavor of environmental activism and opposition to nuclear technology are Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute (formerly a representative of Friends of the Earth), Dianne D'Arrigo of Nuclear Information Research Service and Jeremy Rifkin of the Foundation on Economic Trends. All have contributed to the efforts of the Safe Energy Communication Council to foreclose the nuclear option by opposing Yucca Mountain. ROCKY MOUNTAIN INSTITUTE

"Eschatology is the religious doctrine or study of the last or final state of affairs, such as the end of the earth or resurrection . . . . Eschatological thinking in the environmental movement characterizes the Friends of the Earth." [Price, Jerome; The Antinuclear Movement, 1982]

One of the major actors during the 1970's and 1980's opposing the nuclear industry was Amory Lovins, then of the Friends of the Earth and now of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass Colorado. Lovins and Marvin Resnikoff worked together in New York in the late 1970's on anti-nuclear action within New York, protesting the shipment of plutonium within the state. Lovins close ties with Marvin Resnikoff provide historical clues to why and how Yucca Mountain is now opposed.

The origins of Friends of the Earth are deeply rooted in anti-nuclear activism:

"The emphasis on conservation reflects the origins of Friends of the Earth. It was established by David Brower in New York City in 1969 as an alternative to the Sierra Club. Brower believed that traditional conservationist societies were not concerned with nuclear proliferation, the most serious environmental threat in both a military and ecological sense. Neither would the traditional organizations concern themselves with inflation, unemployment, or similar inequities that are often produced by environmental abuse." [Price, Jerome; The Antinuclear Movement, 1982]

The Friends of the Earth have proven to be a highly effective thorn in the side of not only the nuclear industry, but fought the Boeing SST, the Concorde and the trans-Alaska pipeline as well. They also helped Senator Edward Kennedy's attempt to block passage of the Price-Andersen Act in 1977 which provides insurance for nuclear operators. In other words, they're old hands at trying to choke nuclear power and have a hand in devising strategy against Yucca Mountain through their position as a coalition member of the Safe Energy Communication Council.

Lovins' biography from his 1984 book "Ener gy Wars" points out some of the limitations of resumes from the anti-nuclear lobby:

"Amory Lovins, born in Washington DC in 1947, is a consultant physicist who has lived in England since 1967. After two years each at Harvard College and at Magdalen College, Oxford he became Junior Research Fellow of Merton College, Oxford in 1969, but resigned in 1971 to become full-time British Representative of Friends of the Earth, Inc. (and, in 1979, Vice President of Friends of the Earth Foundation). He received an Oxford MA degree by Special Resolution in 1971 and a DSc degree honoris causa from Bates College in 1979. Twice appointed Regents' Lecturer in the University of California (Berkeley, energy policy, spring 1978, and Riverside, economics, spring 1980), he was 1979 Grauer Lecturer in the University of British Columbia. In 1980 he was appointed to the Energy Research Advisory Board of the US Department of Energy."

A consultant experimental physicist since 1965, Mr. Lovins has concentrated on energy and resource strategy since about 1970. His current or recent clients, none of whom is responsible for his views, include several United Nations agencies, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the MIT Workshop on Alternative Energy Strategies (WAES), the International Federation of Institutes for Advanced Study (IFIAS), the Science Council of Canada, Petro-Canada, the US Energy Research and Development Administration, the US Congresses' Office of Technology Assessment, the US Solar Energy Research Institute, Resources for the Future, the governments of Colorado, Montana, Alaska and Lower Saxony, and other organizations in the US and abroad. He is active in energy affairs at a technical and political level in about fifteen countries, and has published several books, several monographs, and many technical papers, articles, and reviews. [Lovins, Amory; Lovins, Hunter; Energy Wars, Friends of The Earth, 1980]

If Lovins was truly a consultant physicist in 1965, he would have been eighteen years old at the time. By our count, Lovins would have had twenty-three or more affiliations when the above bio was written in the mid eighties, which added to the books (which take approximately a half year in preparation) might bring the consultations and major accomplishments to thirty. At the then ripe age of approximately thirty-eight, over a twenty year working period if we include college, this brings Lovins devotion to any major aspect of his career to approximately nine months. Despite the length of this resume, as with many of the other resumes of environmental activists, it appears Lovins has little practical experience.

The National Geographic gave Lovins coverage in a February 1981 Special Report:

"How much energy do we need? Just enough to do each task, balancing the cost of getting more energy against the cost of wringing more work from what we already have. Investing this way over the next 20 years could reduce energy use. in the U.S. by a quarter and nonrenewable fuel use by nearly half - with two-thirds increase in gross national product, unchanged lifestyles and more jobs. . . . .

Available renewable sources are not cheap, easy or instant, but they are cheaper, easier and faster than synfuels plants or still costlier power stations" [National Geographic, Energy Special Report, 1991]

If Amory Lovins had been right in 1981 that alternative energy technologies which stress conservation were capable of boosting the economy by two thirds, certainly he should be the alternative energy tycoon of the 1990's. A sizeable amount of energy conservation did take place during the 1980s, principally through market mechanisms that put a premium on efficiency, but it is not clear that we had no change in lifestyle. Energy utopia and the real world are two different places and we have yet to see any of our professional alternative energy gurus actually turn a profit making the various devices they promote as energy cure-alls.

The significance of Amory Lovins in relation to Yucca Mountain is not only his advocacy of a non-nuclear "soft energy path", but equally important was his activity at the origins of the anti-nuclear protest movement as an organizer. Some of Lovins' strategies, as well as those of his friend Marvin Resnikoff, are now being reincarnated at Yucca Mountain. One of Lovins' most significant victories, and a harbinger of the tactics implemented in Nevada, was his intercession in Germany at the proposed Gorleben geologic waste repository. According to Luther Carter in Nuclear Imperatives:


. . . . in the fall of 1977 (Count Hermann) Hatzfeldt, attending a conference in the United States, came in contact with Amory Lovins of Friends of the Earth, prominent proponent of solar energy and other soft technologies as alternatives to nuclear power. From Hatzfeldt's discussions with Lovins there emerged the idea for the Gorleben international review at which plans for the integrated fuel cycle center would be subjected to analysis and criticism by foreign and German experts knowledgeable about reprocessing and waste management. . . . . .

. . . . the state announced the list of panelists who supported the Gorleben proposal. There were thirty-seven of them, twenty from outside Germany. . . . The foreign panelists came from a half dozen countries and included nuclear physicists, fuel cycle specialists, and experts on health physics. . . . . The distinguished physicist and philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizacker, then director of the Max Planck Society's Institute for Research on Life in the Scientific Technical world,was asked to preside over the meetings. . . . .

Before the review was to open in Hannover, Hatzfeldt invited Lovins and a number of other Gorleben critics to meet von Weizacker during a weekend retreat at Schloss Crottorf, Hatzfeldt's ancestral estate some fifty miles east of Cologne. Hatzfeldt respected von Weizacker even though not sharing his acceptance of nuclear technology. . . . . Hatzfeldt believed that if the critics came to know Weizacker at least part of the suspicion would be relieved.

Over the weekend the critics gave von Weizacher, in broad outline, a preview of their critique of the Gorleben project. Lovins, leading the discussion on the crucial question of whether Germany needed reprocessing and an expanded program of nuclear energy argued as follows: The German economy did not necessarily require more energy; if more were needed, it probably could be obtained by further gains in energy efficiency; if a convincing need for new energy supplies should arise, it would probably not be for electrical energy, and if it were the best way of meeting it would not be from nuclear reactors but from more benign sources. Lovins and von Weizacker are said to have established a rapport. Von Weizacker seemed much engaged, for example, when in an informal evening recital that Hatzfeldt arranged, Lovins played Chopin nocturnes and Beethoven sonatas on one of Crottorf's Bechstein grand pianos. Jonathan F. Callander, a Gorleben critic and geologist from the University of New Mexico, told me that through this recital Lovins established a new level of communication with von Weizacker, who "was very taken by this other dimension of Lovins."

The Gorleben International Review opened in Hannover on March 28, 1979 -- the same day that the Three Mile Island accident began grabbing headlines around the world. To say the least, this coincidence affected the atmosphere of the hearings, and no doubt had a bearing on its outcome. As Lovins has put it, "simultaneously you had on page one stories about the Gorleben hearings and stories about whether the Three Mile Island reactor was going to do itself in. That certainly helped create some atmosphere of skepticism about [the project proponents'] safety claims. " But the impact of the events at Hannover and Harrisburg went beyond news coverage. The Gorleben Review had opened in the middle of the week; by the week's end up to 140,000 anti-nuclear protestors fromall over Germany had converged on Hannover (peacefully, as it turned out), according to police estimates . . . .

The proceedings took the form of a debate in which the critics statements were always followed by rebuttals by the pro-Gorleben panel of experts. Inasmuch as Prime Minister Albrecht did not want the debate focused on the details of the Gorleben project, the critics found themselves frustrated in presenting their case, especially as it related to the merits of the Gorleben salt dome as a repository site.

Yet Albrecht was to find reason not to allow licensing to proceed for the integrated fuel cycle center DWK had proposed. The tens of thousands of protestors who had gathered in the streets of Hannover could hardly be overlooked . . . . [Carter, Luther, Nuclear Imperatives And Public Trust, Resources For The Future, 1987, p270-275]

Clearly, Yucca Mountain is only the latest stage in a movement dedicated to stopping nuclear technology and nuclear waste disposal world wide. The coalition of anti-nuclear activists that Lovins represents are professionals, with an international record of success at disrupting the advance of nuclear technology. There are two issues to note about the Gorleben incident:


Jeremy Rifkin is one of the most prominent anti-technologists of our time, a vortex of radical environmentalism. Rifkin's occasional ties to the Safe Energy Communication Council link his philosophy to the opposition against Yucca Mountain. Rifkin is currently president of the Foundation of Economic Trends, a Washington based environmental group with a staff of 14. Among its current concerns are stopping the use of bovine growth hormones and halting genetic engineering. Rifkin touches Yucca Mountain because of his writing for the Safe Energy Communication Council:

The year: 2035. Massive dikes around New Orleans, Miami and New York are holding back rising sea water. Phoenix is baking in its third straight week of temperatures above 115 degrees. Decades of drought have laid waste to a once-fertile Midwestern farm belt. Hurricanews batter the Gulf Coast, and forest fires continue to blacken thousands of acres across the country.

Science fiction? Hardly. These are the sobering global warming or "greenhouse effect" scenarios that many scientists believe may happen if we continue to pollute our environment [Rifkin, Jeremy; Global Warming: What You Can Do, Viewpoint, Safe Energy Communication Council, 1989]

Rifkin's book, The Emerging Order: God in the Age of Scarcity, is a Rosetta Stone that helps connect some anti-nuclear activism and Christian evangelical /environmental groups. Vice-president Al Gore has many of the same philosophical foundations as Rifkin through the environmental organizations of the Southern Baptist church. In fact, in the early 80's, then Senator Gore was the first to bring Rifkin before Congress to testify on environmental matters. Rifkin and Gore seem to hold in common an apocalyptic Southern Baptist thermodynamic environmentalism. Rifkin's influence on Gore affects Yucca Mountain in the sense that Gore may be called on to lead a "Blue Ribbon Commission" to evaluate nuclear technology.

In a chapter titled "Limits To Growth", Rifkin lists our energy options:

"It's hard for most of us to imagine that the usable oil on this planet will be gone in the next twenty years or so. . . ."

". . the external costs associated with extracting and harnessing coal energy make it impossible to entertain even the prospect of mining even a fraction of what remains. . . . the environmental dangers associated with burning massive amounts of coal make it prohibitive. . ."

"The fact is, the energy required (in terms of costs) to retrieve shale oil in a usable form is so high that the net energy return is minimal."

"It is estimated, even at current rates, that worldwide expansion of nuclear plants will within twenty years generate enough fissionable material in international transit to make 20,000 atomic bombs. . . . . Even if United States nuclear power continues to level off, it will be necessary to find new burial sites as often as every two or three years after the turn of the century to accomodate all the waste. This in turn will necessitate strict monitoring and around-the-clock armed guards on each site for thousands of years to insure against leakage into the biosphere."

"Solar energy is diffuse, unevenly distributed and unavailable at night, and it varies with climate, the seasons and the geography of the planet. For all these reasons solar power does not lend itself to massive centralized systems of collection and dispersal - the kinds of energy grids that our highly industrialized economies call for." [Rifkin, Jeremy; The Emerging Order: God in the Age of Scarcity, Putnam, 1977, p47]

Written in 1977, Rifkin mistakenly predicted the end of the oil economy by 1997 and assumed a Yucca Mountain would need to be built every two or three years. Although the Emerging Order was written in 1977 at the height of the energy crisis, Rifkin's thinking seems not to have changed much since then. We are left with the uneasy feeling that there are no solutions to impending energy doom. Rifkin based his pessimistic world view on a distortion of a law of physics called the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Industrial technology, then, creates temporary order, but at the expense of speeding up the overall process of moving from low entropy to high entropy. In other words, the more we exploit and expend the low-entropy matter and energy around us in the natural world in order to create a more efficient order in a concentrated time span and place, the greater the overall chaos we ultimately create in a larger world. [Rifkin, Jeremy; The Emerging Order: God in the Age of Scarcity, p67]

The larger world Rifkin should be talking about is the entire universe, a volume so grand that we can not even calculate its full extent. Throwing chaos off into this larger volume only threatens humanity on the time frame of many billions of years, not within the forseeable future.

Unfortunately, Rifkin's views drift through the environmental lobby in Washington. Rifkin's impact on Yucca Mountain comes because his philosophy of impending environmental collapse is part of the milieu which drives anti-nuclear lobbying within the Beltway. In fact, the only way to avoid thermodynamic collapse, at least as Rifkin envisions it, is by developing new energy resources. Thus, nuclear energy would be a prime candidate for aleviating environmental chaos, not a source of environmental problems.