“We stopped the bomb and saved whales, but made one mistake, equating nuclear energy with weapons”

Flailing under anti-nuclear power plant protests in India and in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident, the Indian nuclear establishment got the former Greenpeace International director, Patrick Moore, to take on the “myths” allegedly propagated by his former organisation and endorse nuclear power as a sustainable energy option.

Author of the book, Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout-The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist, Mr. Moore spoke on Friday at a two-day Indo-U.S. Nuclear Energy Safety Summit supported by the Department of Atomic Energy here. He said he was co-founder of Greenpeace way back in the 1970s while being a student of ecology at the University of British Columbia. He sailed on Phyllis Cormack, a fishing vessel, to protest against underground nuclear weapons testing off Alaska. Hailing from a family of timber loggers, he said he was taken in by the fledgling organisation’s opposition to nuclear testing and the hydrogen bomb.

However, Greenpeace India has refuted Mr. Moore’s contention that he was a co-founder and said the organisation had been in existence even a year before he approached it in 1971.

Mr. Moore quit Greenpeace in 1986 after it demanded a ban on chlorine and all its products. Greenpeace created sensational misinformation and spread fear, he alleged. “I hope I am a sensible environmentalist, I stopped the bomb and saved the whales, but we made one serious mistake in our campaign: we equated nuclear energy with nuclear weapons,” he said.

Nuclear power plants were more sustainable, he said, terming radiation fears irrational. “When you get into a car or walk across the road, it’s the most dangerous thing,” he said. The U.S. had built the largest number of nuclear power plants and they were 27 times safer to work in than in a heavy industries plant. Quoting a 2004 study from Columbia University, he said nuclear plant workers had less cancer and less disease and they lived longer than the average citizen.

So far there had been only three major nuclear accidents, he said: Three Mile Island, where no one was injured and the accident was the result of a big mechanical failure; Fukushima, where again no one died of radiation; and Chernobyl, the only accident that caused deaths because of a “stupid” design based on military reactors which were inherently unsafe and capable of a runaway reaction, which was what happened. Of the 56 recorded deaths in Chernobyl, 34 people died in a firefighting operation, he pointed out. He congratulated India on recognising that Fukushima did not mean the death of the nuclear industry but it was only a hiccup, and it didn’t kill anyone with radiation. On the contrary, more than 20,000 died in the 2004 tsunami, he pointed out.

The green movement had convinced the world that wind and solar power could replace coal and nuclear power, and this was a myth, Mr. Moore contended. Greenpeace praised Germany and Denmark for their renewable energy, but in reality Germany was investing in new coal plants and half of Denmark’s power came from coal plants. Mr. Moore, a supporter of the former President George Bush’s stand against Washington signing the Kyoto Protocol, said the U.S. was replacing coal with gas and reducing its carbon emissions.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Moore said he would not hold Greenpeace alone responsible for the “myths,” but it was part of a larger movement. “Greenpeace is the tip of the spear — they set a lot of trends. I saw the writing on the wall long ago when they decided to call for banning chlorine and termed PVC ‘poison plastic’. They are against half the elements on the Periodic Table.”

‘Pop environmentalism’

Greenpeace promoted “invisible poisons.” “You make people afraid of something they can’t see,” he said. After the Save the Whales campaign, people sent over $10 million to Greenpeace in the 1980s and now it would have in excess of $400 million. Attributing its success to “pop environmentalism,” he said opposing things had become a fad or a cult. “It has gone so far off from a sensible course of action,” he said, warning of “intellectual Dark Ages” in terms of public understanding of environmental issues.

In a statement, Greenpeace refuted Mr. Moore’s “anti-environmental” stance and said he frequently cited his affiliation with Greenpeace to gain legitimacy in the media. He had been a paid spokesperson and lobbyist for the nuclear industry, the logging industry, and the genetic engineering industry for over 20 years. Mr. Moore did not found Greenpeace, it clarified. He applied for a berth on the Phyllis Cormack boat in March 1971 after Greenpeace had been in existence for a year.