On Friday, September 20, I took to the streets with a couple dozen other locals as part of the Student Climate Strike. I’m pleased to note that this political action seems to be part of a movement that is capturing attention and providing numerous “teachable moments.”
Like any good activist, I carefully chose my attire to send a desired message. Among my many pronuclear tee shirts, the red one with “Why Nuclear? Ask Me.” in white letters seemed to be the most appropriate.
Matched up with dark blue shorts – after all, this event was in Florida on a very late summer day – I think I looked appropriately patriotic.
When I arrived at the specified gathering place, i found a friendly, compact crowd of perhaps 20 people. They were sitting on the front steps of the Universalist Unitarian Church, which I later learned is the oldest church in Tarpon Springs.
My Son is a Reactor Operator
Some were conversing in small groups. Several were passing out fliers describing related events or affiliated groups, some were passing out signs to carry. One nice lady was asking people to sign a letter to Representative Kathy Castor, whose district is adjacent to that of Representative Gus Bilirakis, our congressman.
Her tee shirt said “Off Fossil Fuels” and the letter she wanted people to sign made a number of requests that were aimed at discouraging any fossil fuel extraction in or near the state of Florida. I told her I supported her message and her request, but asked her to explain what she thought could replace the tasks that fossil fuel performs for us.
Her quick response was to suggest that Bernie Sanders had laid out an extensive plan. That gave me the opening to ask her how she felt about the fact that Sanders had worked hard to close down a generating plant in Vermont that provided 70% of the electricity generated in Vermont without producing any climate changing gases.
That was when the really cool moment happened. She told me that she hadn’t been aware that Bernie was so actively involved in antinuclear activities and that she thought that position was wrong. She had been convinced by her son that nuclear was clean and safe. Her son is currently serving as a reactor operator on an aircraft carrier.
We agreed to keep in touch.
I then chatted for a bit with a young man with a head fully of curly red hair who shyly admitted this was his first public event as a member of Extinction Rebellion. More on him later.
Once the appointed time arrived, Rev. Murphy the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church, invited us into his church for some initial information and sharing.
The church had just completed a renovation that lasted for six years and was stunningly beautiful in its simplicity and environmentally themed art work. Rev. Murphy was justifiably proud of the building and the effort that the congregation had invested to restore their historic structure, which, among other issues, had been damaged by a sink hole.
Then Rev. Murphy asked if there were any students in the room who wanted a chance to speak. There were a few, but not many.
Then he asked if anyone else had anything they wanted to say about the theme of the event – addressing climate change.
I spoke about my experience of operating a submarine with a powerful engine that ran without consuming any oxygen or producing any waste gases. There were a number of friendly faces interested in what I was saying. One gentleman with a white beard and a cap indicating he was a destroyer veteran fed me some questions that gave me the opportunity to briefly explain how the Rockefeller Foundation paid the NAS to teach the public to be afraid of radiation.
A few other audience members thanked me for sharing and for teaching them something they did not know.
I could tell, though, that there were a couple of people in the front row who were visibly discomforted. After I’d talked for about 5 minutes, one of them said, “Enough, let’s move on.”
The following speaker, who was wearing a shirt that said “Quakers are way cooler than you think”, described how he and his partner had met while protesting the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. He mentioned the Clamshell Alliance, reminded the audience about TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima, blamed a recent breast cancer death of a friend in Pennsylvania on TMI and concluded by saying nuclear is not a solution to climate change.
After the short speeches were over and we were getting ready to head to Spring Bayou to continue our strike, I tried to talk with the Quakers. They were not interested. One of their friends did engage by thanking me for my service, telling me that she respected my point of view, and telling me that I was still wrong. She said she had been starting to change her mind until Fukushima happened and released radiation that was still harming “our fish.”
A few attendees came up to me to privately thank me for what I had said. It was clear that some of them were not keen on openly stating that they were interested in learning more about nuclear. I passed out several Atomic Insights business cards.
March to the Bayou
From the church, we walked to Spring Bayou, which is a focal point in the town. We held up our signs, posed for some photos, waved to passing cars and talked with other participants. There were no noisemakers, street theater performers, or musical instruments.
The march portion of the event lasted about 30 minutes.
After the event, I spoke with Reverend Murphy. He’s an interesting man who has been actively involved in the Sierra Club since the late 1960s. He remembered the “Atoms, Not Dams” campaign, the firing of David Brewer, and the transition of what had been a conservation group of wilderness lovers to a more politically active and influential national organization.
He expressed his own open-mindedness to the idea that the Club might have been wrong to oppose nuclear energy, especially in light of what we now know. He admitted that nuclear energy has turned out to be a lot safer than they thought it would be and he agreed that climate change is showing that it a necessary tool. He agreed that solar, wind and geothermal were not going to be able to do the job – at least for the foreseeable future.
He didn’t think some of his contemporary colleagues would ever change because they were too immersed in their antinuclear habits. He thought that there were a lot of open minds among younger people with environmental concerns and that Florida was a good place to be sharing the pronuclear message.
He then thanked me for what I was doing and asked me to keep it up.
I also spent quite a few minutes talking with A. J. Arestia, a young guy with a name tag indicating he was a candidate for office in the Florida legislature. He has a physics background and declared that he is one of a relatively small group of politicians that is openly and aggressively pro-nuclear. He spoke about how his opponent believes that we should be covering everything with solar panels and how he is trying to help people understand why that was an expensive fantasy that won’t solve any problems.
I’m going to see what I can do to help him craft his message so he can keep spreading his thoughts in ever more important venues.
As everyone else was dispersing, I met back up with the Extinction Rebellion guy with the curly red hair. We had a fascinating discussion about the incredible power locked up inside the atom. He asked me for my opinion about disarmament. That gave me the opportunity to describe the Megatons to Megawatts program and marvel at how few people know that 10% of US electricity for 20 years came from fissioning former Russian bomb material.
I feel pretty good about my decision to take some time from my normal retirement activities to meet with concerned citizens and share hopeful information.
In my opinion, it is terrific to see that people are concerned about their futures. The primary message from Greta Thunberg, the inspiration held up as the creator of the climate strike movement, is that we need to listen to scientists. She’s correct. They have provided the diagnosis. Now it’s time to find people who are skilled in the art of engineering solutions and those who specialize in producing vast quantities of clean, reliable and affordable energy.
It’s time to listen to the nukes. But no one will hear us if we just talk among ourselves.