Though there are many benefits of nuclear energy and many reasons to justify the claim that it is superior to fossil fuel combustion, one particular aspect of the technology is being given credit by many journalists for its recent rise in popularity – it does not produce any carbon dioxide during plant operation. It also does not produce any other air pollution – no NOX, no SOX, no fly ash, and no mercury, but those pollutants do not seem to have captured the current attention of major media sources; they are apparently old news.
I have no qualms about reminding people who are concerned about climate change that their concern should lead them to a reconsideration of any previously held negative position about using nuclear energy. One does not have to be an alarmist demanding immediate, costly action to be concerned about the long term effect on atmospheric chemistry that is an inevitable result of dumping approximately 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide into our shared air every single year.
Aside: Though I am tempted, like many lazy writers, to abbreviate the name for the pollutant of concern, I think it is important to remember that we are not discussing “carbon” emissions but “carbon dioxide” emissions. There is a very real and important difference. Carbon is a fuel source and is generally a dense, solid material. Coal is about 75% carbon. Carbon dioxide is a gas that is the result of a heat releasing chemical reaction between the oxygen in our atmosphere and the carbon fuel source. Therefore, the pollutant that needs to be captured and sequestered, if the fuel source is a hydrocarbon, is a diffuse gas that also includes oxygen, a vital component of air that all living creatures need. Does anyone really believe that we should come up with a system that will permanently remove oxygen from the biosphere and bury it underground? Does anyone really believe that we can pump a gaseous substance cheaply or that it will remain stuck in the very rocks that we have been tapping for more than a century to release oil and methane gas? End Aside.
Back to my main point, which is to let you know that some anti-nuclear activists have recognized that a focus on climate change as a near term crisis has encouraged a new discussion about nuclear energy. They have seen that there are more people who are talking about atomic fission’s obvious benefits and superior characteristics when compared to burning fossil fuels. Professional anti-nuclear activists want to do all they can to squash that new discussion and to make sure that nuclear is left out of any agreements or list of tools that are officially pronounced as mitigations or offsets useful in addressing carbon dioxide emission concerns.
Those groups intent on keeping nuclear off the table are attempting to organize December 12, 2009 as a day of action that they are calling “Block the path to nuclear power!” Another slogan they are using is “Don’t Nuke the Climate”. They are providing interested associates with a pretty simple organizing strategy aimed at gaining the maximum possible media exposure even if there is not much participation. Here are some of the organizing hints given:
This action is easy to set up, even if you’re only 3 or 4. It consists in symbolically “blocking the path to nuclear power”, by preventing access to the premises of a nuclear power utility (commercial agency, headquarters, nuclear facility, …) with ribbon reading “Don’t nuke the climate!”. For instance, in France, the targeted firm is EDF, one of the biggest electric utility in the world, which runs all of the 58 civilian nuclear reactors of France. During the action, the campaign’s message will also be made very clear with a banner easily held by 2 people, and with stickers and posters, very useful to temporarily « redecorate » the targeted premises !
The closed perimeter can be relatively small (for instance a few metres in front of the show window and entrance of a commercial agency). This action aims primarily at multiplying a similar and strong picture throughout the world on this very day. Your action may of course last as long as you wish. As a rough reference, two hours can be enough if you warned the local media in advance.
One obvious response to this would be to close your eyes and ignore it. That is probably what the established industry will do – they will quietly endure the protests and wait for them to go away. My personal observation is that such a response may be tactically expedient but it is strategically short sighted because the protest photos will be used for many years as “evidence” of a great up swelling of popular opinion.
It would be better if nuclear energy supporters would plan to be ready with cameras that have wider angles to show just how tiny the demonstrations are. If anyone reading Atomic Insights takes any good photos of little groups of protesters, please feel free to send them to me. I would love to post them here.
It might also be time for pro-nuclear activists who have good relationships with local journalists to ask them to cover any protests factually – showing just how limited any opposition is and telling the other side of the story by interviewing knowledgeable employees or industry observers. Professional nuclear workers are seen by the public as credible – hard hats and work clothes are perfectly acceptable and probably far better than a suited spokesman stationed behind a podium at a press conference.
Of course, I could be wrong. Please feel free to share your thoughts.