From the Library: Amory Lovins’ Nuclear Writings

RMI’s Cofounder and Chief Scientist, Amory Lovins has been questioning the viability of nuclear energy to safely and economically meet our energy needs for the last 35 years in his lectures, writings, research, and consulting work. Always a prolific writer, Lovins has been particularly vociferous with this argument since Japan’s Fukushima disaster, writing four pieces about nuclear energy in the last few months.

Two of these pieces deal specifically with Japan’s energy future. In “Learning From Japan’s Nuclear Disaster” (originally published on the website for PBS’ Nova) and “Soft Energy Paths for the 21st Century” (written at the request of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Lovins argues that nuclear power is costly, dangerous and a poor alternative to renewables.

Furthermore, he argues, it isn’t just the Japanese that have put themselves at risk; American nuclear plants are as perilous as their Asian counterparts and have no business case to support their development.  (Note: “Soft energy paths” may sound familiar; it’s the term that Lovins’ coined in his influential 1976 article in Foreign Affairs, “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken” and the title of the subsequent book, Soft Energy Paths: Toward a Durable Peace.)

In April, Lovins provided featured commentary in an online debate hosted by The Economist. Experts on both sides weighed in on the question: would the world be better off without nuclear power? In his essay, Lovins lays out nuclear’s risks: accidents happen and are bad for business, saving energy is getting easier and cheaper, nuclear is too expensive to justify, and innovation and increased production are making renewables cheaper in the meantime.

Finally, The Electricity Journal published “Renewable Energy’s Footprint Myth” in July, which rebuts Stewart Brand’s argument that renewable electricity takes up more land than nuclear. In fact, Lovins argues, the contrary is true. Data reveals that renewable energy supplies, including wind and solar, use significantly less land area than nuclear’s full footprint. Estimates of nuclear’s land use that only account for the physical power plant are misleading because they fail to consider the land required for mandated security perimeters, mining, milling, and waste storage. The land used by wind turbines is small compared to nuclear because of the large amount of undisturbed land between turbines that can be used for other purposes. Solar, meanwhile, is predominately roof-mounted and uses no extra land.

Continue to look to Amory Lovins and RMI’s other writers and researchers for insight and analysis in RMI’s online library.