Joris, a frequent contributor to Atomic Insights discussions, provided the following story in a recent comment. I have lightly edited his comment, mostly to provide some white space with paragraph breaks.
I hope his remarks provoke thought and discussion. As Atomic Insights readers know, I firmly believe that the success – so far – of the antinuclear movement can be attributed to the economic and political power of nuclear energy’s competitors. However, I am occasionally reminded that people like the one that Joris describes below are unwitting pawns in the ongoing effort to knee-cap the most capable replacement for coal, oil, and natural gas.
Dear Rod and other experts,
I had the opportunity a few days ago of talking to a bright young anti-nuclear activist about the way Fukushima has helped the anti-nuclear cause. Pretty quickly we got into the difference between what actually happened at Fukushima, and what has been reported about it by anti-nuclear lobby groups such as the one he was involved with.
I braced myself for a debate about how serious the nuclear accident really was, health effects, long term effect, cleanup costs, etc. But I was completely taken off-guard by what he told me right off the bat. He actually *agreed* that the seriousness of the accident was greatly overstated and that the health effects were likely te turn out to be as small as to be nonexistent.
My response was, of course, to ask how he could align this with the scaremongering and misinformation being spread by the anti-nuclear parties. He then explained to me that the facts about nuclear energy, it’s safety and even it’s positive economic effects were not relevant. He said that scaremongering and misinformation where the appropriate and moral strategy of anti-nuclear groups.
He said that the ideology of sustainability and anti-nuclearism was so important for the future of humanity that facts should be of no concern. Moreover: if the invention of fake information (i.e. lies) about nuclear energy could bring closer the day of elimination of nuclear power from the earth, then that meant that producing and spreading fake information should (and indeed was) a top priority of all anti-nuclear groups.
So then I asked him why he thought that it was moral and defensible to lie to people. He said that people in general cannot and do not base their views and opinions on facts, so the value of facts versus fiction was relative. In order to bring about the disired outcome (i.e. a nuclear free world) fiction could be (and in fact was, in his opinion) a much better way to do it then facts.
Finally, I asked him why he thought nuclear power should be eliminated even after he told me that he agreed that nuclear power was good for the economy. His reply was simply that an additional goal of the antinuclear movement (as far as he was concerned) was in fact the reduction of economic activity, since according to him, the greatest cause of ecological damage was increased economic activity.
So in his mind, the fact that nuclear power was a boon for the economy was all the more reason to try to eliminate it. In closing, I told him that a reduction in economic activity would also reduce his own prospects for a high quality of life and prosperity. But he didn’t agree with me. He said that further economic expansion was of no use to him, because he believed in living a simple life.
He said that economic expansion was bad for people because it distracted from the true quality of life, which consists of community and social activities that are mostly threatened by improved prosperity, rather than improved by it.
I’m still trying to understand what to make of this exchange, but one thing occured to me. It is necessary to realise that perhaps a large part of the anti-nuclear groups share the same type of ‘power down, simple living’ ideology supported by this young (and deeply mistaken IMO) man. In that case, not only do nuclear proponents need to explain that nuclear power is safe and affordable, but also that economic expansion is a good thing that should be pursued.
Personally, I’m all for economic expansion. I’ve always thought it was very naive to think that economic expansion should be stopped. I think there is much more expansion needed, if only to help the poorest half of the world population to emerge from the most abominable poverty. And to do that, I can’t see any other way than to rely heavily on clean, intelligent, affordable and sustainable nuclear technology.
The attitude seems incredible to me. I occasionally visit “the simple life” on backpacking trips, but the experience generally reinforces my appreciation of such creature comforts as air conditioning, hot showers, washing machines, electric ovens, computer networks, and, perhaps most importantly, refrigerators. As the Heritage Foundation video titled Powering America clearly recognizes, every one of those comforts requires energy in large, continuous, predictable and growing quantities.
If people like Bud and the misanthropic antinuclear activist with whom Joris spoke want to live the simple life free from the inventions of mankind, why do they feel empowered to impose that lifestyle on all of the rest of us? I have no sense of guilt and am getting more and more angry about the sanctimonious attitude of those for whom “powering down” and energy conservation is an end in itself.
One of my many mantras is “more power for more people.”
I would be hopelessly depressed if it was not for the fact that I understand the abundant inheritance with which nature (God, if you prefer) has endowed the people on Earth in the form of both fissionable material and the knowledge with which to put it to safe and effective use. If coal, oil and natural gas were all that we had, our future prospects would be dire in the extreme. It would not even be worth waking up if all we had was wind and solar.