I own a t-shirt that says “Ask me about nuclear energy.” On the back there’s an image of a cooling tower and the words: “Sustainable. Ecological. Independent.” I wore it to my daughter’s first day at our village music kindergarten class a few days ago.
I had a cold, so I also wore a warm shirt and a shawl, and had counted on keeping my views on energy policy a private wardrobe-matter on the occasion. But when we got there, little sweaty from hurry, it turned out that my shy 4-year-old refused to let go of me for the entire lesson. I ended up holding her hand, dancing around the room, playing boats bobbing on the waves with my t-shirt in perfect view of all the other parents sitting at the end of the room (…little nuclear icebreaker on the chilly ocean of popular opinion…).
I berated myself for feeling so exposed, but I couldn’t help it. Maybe having been spit on and having “fascist” yelled at my face for supporting nuclear had something to do with it – I was aware that the topic could evoke quite raw emotional responses. So I had expressly decided not to wear that t-shirt at pick-ups or parental evenings during our kids’ first weeks at school and kindergarten, so as not to cause unnecessary tensions between me and the parents of their classmates right off the bat. What made me feel even worse about potentially evoking the other parents’ ire: my daughter wanted me to ask another mother in the group after class if her daughter would come to my daughter’s birthday party next weekend.
Where’s the shame in 2 million lives saved?
Rationally, it’s incredible that I should feel ashamed or intimidated for supporting nuclear energy in public. If I feel this way merely for wearing a t-shirt, what about the people who leave their kids to school every day and then head for their jobs at nuclear power plants? Imagine the thousands of people working every day in my neighbouring country, Germany, where the fear-mongering against nuclear power is established on an institutional level (grossly misleading statements from public officials, strong political pressure) – and for what? Should they feel ashamed for helping produce low-carbon energy that has saved millions of lives from air pollution?
Nuclear stigma in action
If only the extent of this stigma was me feeling embarrassed in my t-shirt. But no. It leads to countless instances of nuclear being swept under the rug. It can be seen in how the media celebrates any city or country for running even a day on renewable electricity (whether or not they actually did) – but in how almost no one knows that the large Canadian province Ontario has quit coal power for… a day? Or for a week? A month? No…
Ontario has had a fossil-free grid for four years, since 2014, 60% thanks to nuclear energy. But who has heard about it?
The stigma is also visible in how climate exhibition of the Swedish National Museum insists fossil fuels must be replaced by ‘renewables’ alone, and includes false figures about shares of wind energy surpassing nuclear energy by 2014 in their presentation (page 24). Despite their own pie chart showing nuclear as the largest source of low-carbon energy in Sweden, the National History Museum has internalised nuclear stigma and is, astonishingly enough, advocating energy policy to the public on the basis of politically favoured technologies instead of providing information on carbon emissions.
It is even seen in the way IPCC analysis about the competitive life-cycle price on nuclear power is tucked away in the report’s appendix, and how their unequivocal conclusion that nuclear is needed to meet the 2 degree goals (see page 304) is hardly known by any of the environmentalists who otherwise rely on IPCC for climate science.
Despite this chilly treatment, a growing number of environmentalists, including some of the world’s foremost conservation biologists, climate scientists, and many grass–roots non–profit organisations are standing up against the pressure and demanding we use all the best tools to help us decrease the burdens on human health and the environment. Many world leaders are also waking up to the necessity of using nuclear in the climate fight – confirmed yet again by a MIT study published this week.
In this spirit, a group of European friends of nuclear power gathered to meet in Amsterdam last weekend. It is telling that the anti-nuclear group WISE (which is renewable industry funded, and partners with Greenpeace) found the mere act of us meeting objectionable enough for them to put up a tent outside the place to demonstrate. These loud populist voices are a large reason for that many people are left with a vague fear of nuclear, and that those who think there are important merits to nuclear energy feel alone, intimidated by the angry repercussions of publicly or privately coming out as ‘pro-nuclear.’
What do nuclear supporters want?
The organisers had envisioned gathering together some 20 people for the meeting, but on the day of the meeting, more than 50 supporters jammed into the cosy basement room underneath a classics cinema building alongside one of Amsterdam’s many canals.
I was particularly happy to meet a young Swedish Green Party member, who had become disillusioned by finding holes in her party’s arguments, and who now hosts the site ‘talk nuclear power now’ – pratakarnkraft.nu. I hope this is also a sign of change, akin to what has happened in Finland this summer, where the Green Party changed its official statement to no longer being categorically opposed to nuclear energy.
The enthusiasm and urgency to act among us was tangible. Listening to the many voices of the people present, it was clear that we were there because we wanted to make the world a better place. The discussion returned again and again to topics like mitigating climate change, ending air pollution, protecting the environment, and lifting people from poverty – in short: we support nuclear to develop societies with plentiful energy in order to unlock human potential and save nature.
We were not there to be angry or to demonstrate against an enemy – we wanted to help bring about sustainable change. Considering personal experience many of us have had interacting with the public, and taking into account many opinion surveys, voting patterns, and winds of political change, it was clear that there were actually quite large groups of people across Europe who are already in favour of nuclear power – and out of the rest, many are curious and open to learning more. I believe there are a great many out there, whose views are based on scary impressions which they have simply not thought of examining more thoroughly before, like it was for me (for my perspective, see Nuclear Waste: Ideas vs Reality).
Cause to celebrate!
Empowered by our experience of getting to know so many others who think like us, we wanted to let all other nuclear supporters elsewhere in Europe know they are not alone. We wanted also to let the tens of thousands of workers in the nuclear industry know that we appreciate their work. And we wanted the chance to be proud of the fact that human ingenuity has developed such fascinating methods of producing energy, in ways that save lives and nature.
We decided to make this wish come true in Munich on the beautiful Marienplatz, on 21st of October, in the form of a Nuclear Pride Fest – an event where everyone can feel welcome to express their reasons for appreciating nuclear energy.
We also want to offer any curious members of the general public a welcoming atmosphere and the opportunity to come and join us, take part in face-painting, singing, games, food, and flowers – much in the spirit of how we welcomed the WISE demonstrators at our Amsterdam meeting place with group song, “We can’t help falling in love with U[ranium]”, lead by Generation Atomic‘s own Opera singer, Eric Meyer. (Spot yours truly in a grey dress right behind the tent pole, holding one of the signs: “Be wise, get #SeriousAboutCO2”)
By the way – what happened after that music class, where I revealed myself as openly supportive of nuclear? The other mom chatted happily with me after class, and was delighted for the invite to the birthday party. A good lesson for me about overcoming my own preconceived notion about other people’s views on nuclear energy!
If you are interested in other environmental topics, you can find my other pieces under Climate and Energy and The Environment. If you would like to have a discussion in the comments below, please take note of my Commenting policy, and be warned that sometimes it takes me a while to have the time to go through comment log. In a nutshell:
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