Stephen Colbert: Nuclear reactors are as safe as oil, coal, and bank-robbing windmills

“We have to find the courage to do nothing.”


Stephen Colbert on nuclear power:

“It’s as safe as any other energy source.  Last year we had the BP oil spill, the Massey coal mine collapse, and let’s say a windmill robbed a bank.”

Colbert explains that he strongly agrees with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell: “Right after a major environmental catastrophe is not the time to try to prevent a future environmental catastrophe.”  Here’s the full segment:

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14 Responses to Stephen Colbert: Nuclear reactors are as safe as oil, coal, and bank-robbing windmills

  1. paulm says:

    Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon has said an EPR plant would have survived the earthquake and tsunami without radiation leaks. ….

    Suggesting that third-generation reactors like the EPR would have withstood the shock that crippled the Japanese plant is “sheer arrogance,” said Mycle Schneider, an independent researcher on France’s nuclear industry.

    “There’s no way we can say today that any plant in the world would have survived what happened in Japan,” he said.

    So how could a modern reactor have avoided those problems?


  2. Robert In New Orleans says:

    Colbert’s writers are geniuses in my humble opinion.

    His portrail of narcissitic right wing blowhard pundits is dead on.

    But underneath his TV persona there is a man of high intelligence and deep faith.

  3. What fabulous irony.

  4. dorveK says:

    Robert In New Orleans says:
    “But underneath his TV persona there is a man of high intelligence and deep faith.”

    Faith we can believe in?

  5. Jeff Huggins says:

    Laughter and Applause, But …

    I applaud Stephen Colbert for doing such a great and funny job of drawing attention to absurdity via the use of comedy, but …

    ,,, something is missing, because nothing is changing. In other words, something in our culture has somehow made too many of us accustomed to laughing at absurdities and being content to continue living with them! We laugh at dangerous absurdities (in our politicians, political system, and ourselves) and then don’t do anything to change them. (The fact that we don’t change things is the ultimate “joke”, on us, that we don’t prefer to acknowledge, because it makes us the stupid ones, not just the politicians.) Through comedy and the commercial co-option of comedy, we “adapt” to, and accommodate ourselves to, our self-defeating behaviors.

    So, although it’s funny — and Colbert is great at what he does — he (and we) all stop short of doing the things that are genuinely necessary to bring about sensible change. In this sense, present-day commercial comedy is funny but not at all courageous. There were other times in history during which making a clear, or even subtle, critical joke against the powers-that-be could have gotten the truth-teller jailed or kicked out of society or worse. But these times aren’t those, unless of course you critique your own network or boss or advertisers — and few do.

    So now that we’ve seen the joke, we come back to the same question as before: how do we change things? It’s going to take more than jokes, even good ones, of course.



  6. 350 Now says:

    Also, Ellen Page on Real Time with Bill Maher (3/25) delivered a convincing and cogent discussion on the attacks on the environment from multiple fronts. Worth a watch in reruns. Bill also discussed the “stolen emails” false bravado of the GOP. Ellen Page (who you may remember from Juno and Inception) has narrated a new film called Vanishing of the Bees. More at

    I agree Colbert and his writers are geniuses although much/most of their material whooshes over the heads of many, esp. those who don’t tune in each week night… He’s had several (though not near enough) scientists from various disciplines in his interviews.

    It is staggering to consider the impact both he and Jon Stewart could have in reaching their demographic with solid science savored in satire if only they’d commit to it … Oh, if only….

  7. David B. Benson says:

    paulm — Gen III nuclear reactors have passive cooling during a shutdown.

  8. 350 Now says:

    Link for Ellen Page’s interview on Bill Maher. Nothing new for the scientists on this blog but could be a great view for teens who follow her career. Quite the role model for youth! (scroll down midway and click on the “film” clip…

  9. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Well said Jeff #5, ME

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    lol, windmills who rob a bank :)

  11. paulm says:

    How do governments think they are going to fund new nuclear plants, waste management and decommissioning of old plants with the current recession and the cost of traditional fossil fuel enegy rising steeply on peak? Not to mention the additional complications due to GW.

    It’s all a pipe dream. Let’s get on with the cheaper ,cleaner and more resilient sun’s energy solutions.

  12. MacHeath says:

    Just a comment. All the reactors survived the earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. The damage was caused by 1. A major design fault and 2. A series of management failures following the initial shut down.

    The design fault was a simple one. Although there where back-up generators (which initially worked after the power was cut) their main diesel tanks were washed away. All the other electrical back-up systems where sited high enough to avoid the tsunami. This was the major design fault.

    Since the back-up generators ran out of fuel, the management at the plant have made a series of poor decisions which have led to a worsening of the crises.

    What they should have done was to provide some spare diesal on the first Friday, before the back-up batteries ran flat.

    So my point is simple the “cause” of the problem was poor design and poor management. These are factors that will exist at all nuclear plants where ever they are sited. Hence the concept of safe nuclear is fundamentally flawed just as is the uncrashable plane and unsinkable ship. We can’t “design” out poor design and/or remove human error.

  13. Richard Brenne says:

    350Now (#6) – You’re so right about Ellen Page – I was incredibly impressed. The group doing Eco-Village invited me with others to speak at the University of Oregon (I did – it was great) and I should’ve become more involved with them (and with Matt Groening and Trey Parker and Matt Stone all early in their careers before many had heard of them, helping the last two with the script of their first feature film) but didn’t think they were going anywhere – then Ellen said she spent a month with them!

    I swear I’m a perfect reverse barometer of who to get involved with. I also told a young comedian killing on the club circuit to tone it down, look at Buster Keaton and go deadpan like him – it was Jim Carrey! His comedy earnings: $200,000,000. My comedy earnings: $200 and a dog with a limp.

    Anyway, Ellen gave just about the best possible explanation of honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder in the amount of time she had, neither understating nor overstating what is known versus what is unknown and the magnitude of the problem.

    Then Mahar was similarly spot-on about Hackergate (too often called Climategate).

    The Democratic former gov from Pennsylvania was also passionate and great, but only about conventional Dem issues.

    Then David Brooks from the New York times was pompous, arrogant and 100 per cent humorless, including a particularly mean-spirited “joke” about the show that lie there writhing while everyone shifted in their seats awkwardly. It so came out of left (or I guess right) field on a stretcher carried by zombies that even the normally quick-witted Mahar had no idea how to react.

    I study these shows quite closely and Brooks was about the worst I’ve seen on that show, speaking through a smile as strained as a fundamentalist beauty pageant winner waving from a float in the world’s biggest gay pride parade.

    I’ve had several friends go on Colbert and Stewart and have talked with them about the experiences in depth both before and after. My dream is to see our fearless leader Joe Romm on both those shows, where I think he could be their most important guest ever.

    I was a candidate for a segment (not a guest) and spent about an hour talking with a producer (I think junior) from the Daily Show about how they should do more to address climate change. At the time Stewart had just been somewhat rude and confrontational to Al Gore and smarmily easy and almost conspiratorial with the discredited Freakonomics economist, getting it exactly backwards.

    I told the producer this and of course told him and other staff to read Climate Progress. Since then I haven’t seen Stewart get it so wrong, and several statements/jokes have been much better, though he and his show aren’t up to the standards of Colbert on climate and energy issues.

    And I don’t think my conversation had anything to do with the improvement of the Daily Show, they probably got infinitely more important feedback from infinitely more important people.

    Anyway, we need to act and not just laugh, as Jeff Hugggins says at #5, but we need to do it all. The counterculture that made great advances in civil rights for blacks, women and gays (with many more still needed) did it with some of the bravest and most charismatic leaders including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, great filmmakers like Coppola, Polanski, Nichols and Foreman, great musicians like Dylan, Joan Baez, the Beatles, Stones, Stevie Wonder and Who, and great comedians like Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Lily Tomlin and Richard Pryor.

    As I’ve said many times, we need it all. But Ellen Page and Bill Mahar last Friday were a great start in their areas.

    And speaking of funny, Merrelyn Emery, I just spent a hysterical evening with the great Aussie (formerly American) micro-biologist and agriculture (formerly GMO) expert Richard Jefferson. He seemed to be just about quoting you the way he spoke. He lives in Brisbane (we talked a lot about the flooding there). Do you know him?

  14. Joan Savage says:

    Thanks to Colbert’s staff who pulled together multiple video clips of politicians saying versions of, “Now is not the time.”

    Drawing a bit on Jeff Huggins (#5) step-back perspective on humor, what is it about hearing, “Now is not the time,” that has political traction?

    I’m guessing that the sentiment, “Now is not the time,” soothes anxiety and indecision. It allows people to be afraid but not admit it. In family language, it shows up when people feel like they don’t want any more risks, as in, “Now is not the time to ask your parents for anything.”

    If anyone counter-pointed with “This is the time..,” or Thomas Paine’s opening line, “These are the times that try men’s souls,” that would say that the risks are understood and no longer avoidable.