I’m in this Solarpunk group on Facebook. At least once a month, there’s a post about whether nuclear power has a place in solarpunk. If I get involved I always say the same thing that nuclear power is neither solar nor punk, it’s AtomState. I went on about this on Twitter last year (lightly edited here):
I’ve seen lot’s of advocacy of nuclear power in #solarpunk social media recently – mainly MSR/thorium reactors. The appeal of #solarpunk to me has always been:
1) a vision of cultures powered within the Earth’s energy budget of received solar radiation, whether that be converted into useful energy by plants or by technology,: SOLAR
2) of communities resistant to authoritarian control, centralised authority and limitations on individual freedoms: PUNK.
If you are concerned about climate change but would like life to carry on pretty much as it is now then I can see the appeal of nuclear power. It’s a form of energy which is not directly sourced from fossil fuels (and in those terms is arguably ‘low carbon’), and it’s one which would provide baseload for an electrified society, and perhaps sufficient power to avoid the need for significant lifestyle change in the rich countries of the world.
I don’t see that as a #Solarpunk future though – that’s Atom’punk’. Nuclear fission whether based on Uranium, Plutonium or Uranium/Thorium mixes depends on mining stocks rather than capturing flows – it’s NOT SOLAR.
Nuclear power also requires centralised control to ensure safety, security and long-term waste storage. It’s not a technology that can be used by an individual or a community directly, nor adapted/hacked by them. It produces radioactive wastes which persist longer than a human generation – meaning the legacy & costs of a current nuclear energy user are passed on to future others including the unborn, restricting their freedoms – it’s NOT PUNK.
Switching the energy source to one that avoids the need for significant lifestyle change in the rich countries of the world will tend to mean that current trends are replicated and that current negative tendencies are continued. The overshoot of planetary boundaries and the shortfall in the global social foundation are likely to persist. The more that the solar part of #Solarpunk is based on technologies dependent on extractive mining the more it resembles existing systems and Atom’punk’ futures. Nevertheless, the particular qualities of nuclear technology discussed above suggest to me that Atom’punk’ futures fall into a different category to Solarpunk.
One consistent and plausible approach to the future is that the global problematique demands ameliorative and mitigating action at scale, international collaboration by state actors and engineering solutions on the planetary level. This type of future certainly might include nuclear power but it also certainly wouldn’t be punk.
…actually don’t know why I’m using the term ‘AtomPunk’ here – all nuclear power is AtomState.
Jay Springett replied, succinctly, with a tweet of his own from 2014:
Anyway, week ago there was another one of these things in the FB Solarpunk group:
The familiar theatrics played out again: I said ‘AtomState blah blah blah’, someone went on about thorium reactors, someone else proposed garage based DIY cold fusion or something. Most folk were against it, but I found the pro-nuke guys (all were guys) couldn’t really let it lie, and just went on an on and on. So I replied with this:
Every time this comes up here, the discussion is like: do electric guitars have a place on MTV unplugged? And a bunch of people get involved talking about how keytars are not the same as the electric guitars the loud bands used to play and how folk shouldn’t judge electric guitars on the basis of what they were like 60 years ago. Some other people come in and say: well, whether you like it or not, acoustic music is going to have to include electric guitars if you want it to get heard. Meanwhile a bunch of acoustic music fans are going: hey look, it’s fine if electric guitars are your thing – but you don’t have to play in our group, you can go form your own.
I guess I’m extra-sensitive about this, as contra the online stans for molten salt reactors and fusion-in-a-bucket heads, I live a few miles from the planned site of a new power station using actually in the world nuclear technology. Where they want to turn most of this:
They, in this instance, being BradwellB Group an alliance between China General Nuclear Power Group and Électricité de France. So much for ‘taking back control’. Resistance to the planned station is rising, especially as the BradwellB Group is persisting with a ‘public consultation’ right now in the face of the Coronoavirus public health emergency, where understandably people’s attention is elsewhere. They’ve cancelled all their presentations and travelling exhibition in favour of an online surrogate.
The consultation was already a) premature – the reactor they are proposing hasn’t been approved by the UK government yet; and b) a sham. It’s all: do you want the new road for lorries carrying hundred of tonnes of material everyday to go through this land we don’t own, or this other land we don’t own? – and it’s not all: do you want us to build a massive new industrial complex and associated radioactive waste store in a quiet rural location, on a flood cell by the North Sea coast in the middle of a marine conservation zone – or not?
It doesn’t seem very punk to me.