New report picks apart George Monbiot's support for nuclear power and finds significant factual and analytical errors

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at
Thu Mar 31 15:19:42 BST 2011

Hash: SHA1

Download the PDF of the "Monbiot critique" report from --


Free Range News and Alerts Network Press Release –- 
Thursday 31st March 2011


Writer and researcher Paul Mobbs claims that, "The concentration on either the 
nuclear or carbon issue in isolation detracts from a more meaningful and 
balanced debate about the impacts of the human system in general."

Today, environmental consultant and author Paul Mobbs(1) has released a 
detailed analysis of George Monbiot's claims regarding nuclear power. 
Published as part of his 'ecolonomics' newsletter series(2), it takes, point 
by point, Monbiot's claims regarding the environment movements position on 
nuclear power, radiation and health, and the significance (above over kinds of 
human activity) of coal burning on carbon emissions.

Rather than limiting the debate over the merits of nuclear versus coal, the 
report seeks to look at the issues George Monbiot has raised in the context of 
human ecology general –- our total impact on the environment rather than a 
single facet of it –- and finds that there is a more fundamental truth that the 
debate is ignoring; even with nuclear power human society would still be 

To summarise the main points:

# The media's treatment of George Monbiot's comments typifies a problem with 
both the reduction of the ecological debate to the views of a few iconic 
figures. This result in the presentation to the public of an unchallenging and 
technically poor analysis of the trends that will increasing define the limits 
of our lives over the Twenty-First Century. (page 2/3)

# The claims made by George Monbiot, along with other figures who have recently 
professed a pro-nuclear position such as Stewart Brand or Mark Lynas, are 
distorting the analysis of the proposals for new nuclear build because. As 
noted above, the message they give is partial and not well analysed, and does 
not accord to recent academic and public policy research. (page 2)

# If we look at the significance of the carbon emissions from coal burning 
globally, they are no more significant than the emissions from the use of oil. 
It's not possible to single out coal as being qualitatively worse than other 
industrial activities –- for example it is arguable, at the global level, that 
the impacts of agriculture have a much greater impact upon the general 
environment and climate change than coal burning. (pages 4-6) In many ways 
coal has become a convenient scapegoat to deflect criticism from the affluent 
Western consumer lifestyle in general. (page 18)

# The statement that radiation emissions from coal-fired power stations are 
"100 times" (two orders of magnitude) greater than an equivalent nuclear power 
plant is _wholly incorrect_. Although based upon a Scientific American article, 
the analysis presented is a complete misquoting of the original 1977 research 
paper produced by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which put the emissions 
from coal and two different nuclear technologies as within one order of 
magnitude (10 times) of each other. The 1977 study also indicates that 
radiation doses to certain organs (e.g. bones) was lower for some nuclear 
emissions whilst the dose to other organs, (e.g. the thyroid) from nuclear 
power was always greater than coal. Subsequent UK-based studies of the 
radiation dose from coal power and the use of coal ash in building materials 
found no such hazard to exist. (pages 7/9)

# Claims that the Fukushima Daiichi accident is not "like Chernobyl" are only 
correct in terms of the causative mechanisms –- the radiological impact, based 
upon sampling reports by the IAEA in their daily updates, indicates that 
contamination is approaching the levels typically found around Chernobyl's 
30km exclusion zone. (page 8)

# The claims that environmentalists' "exaggerate" the impacts of radiation are 
unfounded, and do not represent the current state of the scientific debate over 
radiation and health. There are many scientific grounds to criticise current 
dose models, which is why recent scientific studies have produced impacts for 
Chernobyl's death toll far higher than the “accepted” government and IAEA 
statistics. For example, a recent study published by the New York Academy of 
Sciences put the excess deaths from Chernobyl at 985,000 –- in contrast to the 
IAEA's figure of 4,000. In fact the head of the ICRP's scientific secretariat 
resigned in 2009 because existing dose models could not predict or explain the 
health effects of radiation exposures to human populations. (page 9/10)

# Any new nuclear build in Britain, if less than 9GW to 10GW of electrical 
capacity (or at least 7 new 1.6GW plant) will do nothing to reduce carbon 
emissions because of the retirement of existing nuclear plant –- and in fact, 
even replacing all existing coal and nuclear plants (34GW of capacity) with 22 
new nuclear plants would only reduce the UK's total carbon emissions by 12%. 
Contrast this reduction with, for example, the recent 12% reduction in 
emissions that has taken place over the economic recession, and we can see 
that there are other options available to reduce carbon emissions –- and many 
of these are much cheaper. (pages 12/13)

# In any case, nuclear is no more a secure form of energy than any other fuel 
since uranium production is also experiencing capacity problems that are the 
result of declining resource quality. Nuclear fuel production is likely to 
experience supply problems as new nuclear plants ramp-up demand, and globally 
uranium production may peak as early as 2030. (pages 11/12)

# If we look at the available data on the carbon emissions from fossil fuels 
since 1992, when the UN Convention on Climate Change was signed at the Rio 
"Earth Summit", emissions have, over the intervening 20 years, increased by 
50% when compared to the emissions of carbon over the previous 240 years of 
industrialisation. This demonstrates the complete political failure to address 
carbon emissions, primarily because we can't cut emissions without 
significantly changing the operation of the economic process, and that entails 
the end of "growth economics". (page 5)

# Most significantly, the issue of resource and energy depletion throws the 
operation of our present economic system into question –- the system can't 
grow if resource shortage create physical and inflationary pressures on the 
economy. In fact even if we were to cease carbon emissions tomorrow, the effect 
of other problems within the human ecological system –- such as food, water 
and mineral resource shortages –- will create a severe crisis over the next 
few decades. This is a fact attested to not just by environmentalists, but 
also by academic, public policy and intelligence agency research over recent 
years. (pages 13-16)

# Finally, and most significantly, the media and mainstream environmentalism's 
consumer-oriented infatuation with carbon is skewing the analysis of issues of 
human ecology and their public debate. We must develop a more broad-based 
critique of the political-economic process in order to understand and deal 
with these problems. The “deep green” members of the environment movement have 
always held such a viewpoint, but this has been marginalised, not only within 
George Monbiot's recent article, but also by the move of the large campaigning 
groups towards limited and often ineffectual “sustainable consumption” measures 
over the last two decades –- often promoted in return for sponsorship or 
political access rather than because on an objective analysis they are proven 
to “solve” the problems of human ecology. (pages 16-18)

To quote Paul Mobbs' views on George Monbiot's pro-nuclear argument --

"I can't help feeling that George has been "assimilated" by the misinformation 
of the nuclear-industrial lobby; add to that Stewart Brand, Mark Lynas and 
others of their ilk. Faced with the dilemma between representing a hard, 
unpopular truth; or... trying to make some perhaps positive but ultimately 
futile steps (in terms of the ecological trends and where they are heading) 
towards accomplishing some change –- they have decided not to stand for an 
interpretation of the data that makes the best sense because it represents 
such a challenge to existing political orthodoxy."

And he continued, relating the way the tobacco industry and their public 
relations advisor's have manipulated the scientific debate in the past –- 

" we've seen this week, George's article has created rather a clamour; 
and that, if nothing else, is really what I believe the nuclear lobby wish to 
do. It's not so much that George's efforts make any different to the bulk of the 
population; but amongst the environment lobby, the people who are likely to 
make trouble in the next few years as EDF and others apply to build new 
nuclear plants, it creates doubt and division –- and that, more than anything, 
is what vested interests seek to create today."

In conclusion, on the general philosophy of environmentalism, and the innate 
contradictions between the consumer-oriented message of Monbiot (and others) 
and the need for a fundamental change in society's relationship to the world 
it inhabits, he stated –-

"As individual environmentalists we are called upon to witness the world as we 
experience it, and to share that insight with others; there should be no 
expectation that we represent "the facts" –- such evidence, freely available, 
should stand for itself without any nuancing of its content. Of course, taking 
such a view can be challenging for many people; unpredictable change is so 
much harder to think about than than a reassuringly predictable and reliable 
stasis. Environmental philosophy challenges us to understand and solve this 
dichotomy. The question we have to resolve is a value judgement over which is 
the best option for us to adopt: Is it better to serve under an order that is 
delusional (in the face of the evidence, perhaps suicidally so), and by taking 
no action risking that if it collapses your lifestyle will be seriously 
compromised; or, by accepting the need for change, risking the seeming chaos 
of trying to adapt your lifestyle to escape that outcome?"

Speaking on the release of his report, Paul stated –- 

"I think that my greatest concern is that in the rush to fulminate at George's 
comments we may be missing the most important dimension of this debate –- the 
environment. The concentration on either the nuclear or carbon issue in 
isolation detracts from a more meaningful and balanced debate about the 
impacts of the human system in general. The fact is, even if we stopped all 
coal burning tomorrow by magicking hundreds of nuclear plants into existence, 
the eventual outcome for the human species over the course of this century 
would change very little. The crisis of human ecology is much greater than 
either the nuclear or carbon issue; and I believe that the fixation upon carbon 
emissions is leading us to ignore equally pressing trends that will also 
create just as much misery and servitude for humanity over the course of this 

Paul's critique of George Monbiot's justification of nuclear power is available 
via his web site –- 

or for the PDF version go to –-

For further comments or interviews he can be most easily contacted by email –- 
mei at –- or if necessary by telephone on 01295 261864 (for 
ecological reasons, he has no mobile phone).



1. For information on Paul Mobbs' past and present work visit his web site –-

2. The 'ecolonomics' (a contraction of the terms 'ecology' and 'economics') 
newsletter is an occasional publication that examines issues relating to 
energy, ecology and economics, and seeks to develop a more in-depth (in Paul's 
terms, unapologetically detailed, or as he uncompromisingly states, "My medium 
is the word, the argument and the reference") view of everyday issues that 
define human ecology. For further details see –- 

- -- 


"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burrough, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

Paul's book, "Energy Beyond Oil", is out now!
For details see

Read my 'essay' weblog, "Ecolonomics", at:

Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN, England
tel./fax (+44/0)1295 261864
email - mobbsey at
website -
public key -

Version: GnuPG v2.0.16 (GNU/Linux)


More information about the Diggers350 mailing list