Climate Change and Nuclear Energy: We Need to Talk

By Suzy Hobbs Baker

During my undergraduate studies in art school, I created a body of artwork about micro-organisms. After taking my two required biology courses, I was completely obsessed with cyano-bacteria and diatoms (they are still a central theme in my home décor). Learning that every cell in my body has mitochondrial RNA identical to these ancient life forms floored me, and made me feel completely connected to the planet and all of the other life on it in a very concrete way.

These phytoplankton are not only our actual ancestors – they absorb CO2 and pump out oxygen, which created a unique environment that gave rise to the variety of oxygen-loving species that exist on our planet today (including humans). I wanted to glorify these little powerhouses and to encourage others to think about how these simple, tiny life forms could create a transformation on a global scale. It’s really quite inspiring.


Ocean Acidification

While I was making artistic monuments to single celled organisms in the ceramics studio, new research was emerging about ocean acidification affecting these beautiful and integral pieces of our ecosystem. As the ocean absorbs excess carbon from humans burning fossil fuels, the pH of the ocean is rapidly changing. This means that our ancient oxygen-making pals cannot properly do their job. As their ocean home becomes inhospitable, they are dying off in droves. This not only impacts the ocean’s ability to naturally sequester man made carbon emissions; it also negatively impacts the entire food chain, since they are the primary food source for other multi-cellular ocean creatures, some of which we enjoy eating.

Oh, and did I mention that these little phytoplankton are also responsible for creating the ozone layer that protects all life on the planet from cosmic radiation, and they churn out 70-80% of the oxygen we breathe? These creatures are much more than just a pretty floating form.

Ocean acidification is the issue that brought me to supporting nuclear energy. Ocean acidification is an often-overlooked aspect of climate change that is potentially more threatening than the heat, the super storms, the fires, the drought, the crop losses, and all of the other trends that we are seeing now, which climate scientists have been warning us about for decades.

Climate Change and Nuclear Energy: Like Oil and Water?

It didn’t take long for me to find out that in the nuclear industry, climate change is not something we all agree on. Discussing climate change as a concern is often polarizing, and brings up intrinsic conflicts of interest in the larger energy sector (the companies who design/build/run the nuclear plants also happen to design/build/run the fossil fuel plants). I’ve been advised by people who deeply care about me, and the success of my organization, not to bring up climate at all, and to be extremely careful not to base my support of nuclear on climate issues. I’ve also been specifically advised not to make the argument that nuclear energy is the only solution to climate change.

When you are the new kid, it is usually best not to make waves if you can help it. So, for the most part, I have heeded that advice and held my tongue, despite myself.

However, as I watch the news (and my wilting vegetable garden) and see the magnitude of human suffering that is directly related to increasingly severe weather events, I cannot keep silent. Climate change is why I am here supporting nuclear energy, so what am I doing not talking about it?

The CEO of Exxon Mobile recently made clear that despite his company’s acknowledgement of the irrefutable evidence of climate change, and the huge ecological and human cost, he has no intentions of slowing our fossil fuel consumption. In fact, he goes as far to say that getting fossil fuels to developing nations will save millions of lives. While I agree that we need stronger, better energy infrastructure for our world’s poorest nations, I wholly disagree that fossils are the right fit for the job.

Fossil fuel usage could be cast as a human rights issue only to the extent that access to reliable and affordable electricity determines what one’s standard of living is. At the same time, fossil fuel usage is the single largest threat to our planet and every species on it. Disregarding the impacts that fossil fuel use poses, merely to protect and increase financial profits, is unethical, and cloaking fossil fuel use as a human rights issue is immoral.

Although we are all entitled to our own opinions and beliefs, the idea that climate change and ocean acidification are even up for debate is not reasonable. Just think: The CEO of the largest fossil fuel company in America freely speaks out about climate change, while nuclear energy advocates are pressured to stay silent on the subject.

Silence is No Longer an Option

I am someone who avoids conflict, who seeks consensus in my personal and professional lives, and so I have followed the advice of well-meaning mentors and stayed silent in hopes of preserving a false peace within my pro-nuclear circles, including my family and friends. But my keeping silent is now over— starting here and starting now—because this is too big and too important to stay silent. I am not alone in believing this, and the nuclear industry does itself no favors by tacitly excluding the growing movement of people who are passionate about the need to use nuclear energy to address climate change.

And nuclear power is the only realistic solution. It would be great if there were also other viable solutions that could be easily and quickly embraced; however, the numbers just don’t work out. Renewables and conservation may have done more good if we had utilized them on a large scale 40 years ago, when we were warned that our ecosystem was showing signs of damage from fossils fuels…but at this point it’s really too late for them. And burning more fossil fuels right now, when we have the technologies and know-how to create a carbon-free energy economy, would be the height of foolishness.

In the meantime, there is real human suffering, and we here in the developed world are directly causing it. Our poorest brothers and sisters cannot escape the heat. They cannot import food when their crops fail. They cannot buy bottled water when there is a drought. They cannot “engineer a solution” any more than my childhood friends the phytoplankton can.

Energy Choices as an Ethical Obligation

We have an ethical obligation to stop killing people with our energy consumption. That statement may sound oversimplified, but let’s be honest—we know that fossil fuels kill approximately 1.3 million people each year through respiratory diseases and cancers, and the death toll for climate change related events rises every day. Yet, we do nothing but dither about climate change politics. Where is the outrage?

The fossil fuel industry has been successful at presenting a united front and maintaining consistent strategic communications. In contrast, the safety record and clean energy contributions of nuclear are always overshadowed by politics favoring fossil fuel use. If anything, nuclear advocates should be particularly sensitive that the very same politics are happening with climate science.

We should be championing nuclear energy as a science-based solution, instead of enforcing a meek code of silence. People from outside the nuclear industry, like Gwyneth Cravens, Barry Brooks and Tom Blees, have pointed out these relationships, yet the nuclear industry has yet to internalize and accept these realities.

How can we expect people to listen to science and not politics when it comes to nuclear energy, but not climate change?

Disagreeing with a policy does not change the facts. You can disagree with policy to limit carbon emissions, but that doesn’t change the fact that our fossil fuel consumption is changing the PH of our oceans. Many people disagree with the use of nuclear energy, but that doesn’t change the fact that nuclear is our largest source of carbon free electricity and the safest source of electricity per kilowatt hour.

Nuclear Must Lead by Example

If we want the public to overcome the cognitive dissonance between science and policy when it comes to nuclear energy, we need to lead by example and overcome our own cognitive dissonance when it comes to climate change — even if it means risking our own interests as members of the larger energy industry. We are not going to run out of fossil fuels any time soon, so the decision to move to carbon-free energy—to move to nuclear energy—must be made willingly, and based on ethical principles, not the limits of our natural resources.

As green groups wait endlessly for renewable technologies to have some kind of breakthrough, and nuclear supporters stay mum on climate change, we continue using fossil fuels. Our collective inaction is allowing the destruction of our planet’s ecosystem, the dying of our oceans, and the suffering of the poorest members of our own species. The climate conversation has become so convoluted by politics and greed that many smart, compassionate people have “thrown in the towel.” We should be more concerned than ever at our lack of a comprehensive global response.

I strongly believe that there’s still time to reclaim the dialogue about climate change based on ocean acidification evidence, and to use nuclear technologies to improve the long-term outcome for our planet and our species. The first step is acknowledging the complicated and unique role of the nuclear industry in this conflict, and the conflicts of interest that are impeding open communication. The second step is to realize that the climate change community is a potential ally, and that openly addressing the subject of climate change in our communications is in the best interest of the nuclear community. The third step is choosing to do the right thing, not just the polite thing, and reclaim our legitimate role in the energy community as the “top dog” of carbon-free electricity, instead of quietly watching natural gas become “the new coal.”

Climate change is not going away—it is getting worse—and each one of us in the nuclear community has an ethical obligation to speak up and to do something about it. I am speaking up for the oceans, for the cyano-bacteria and diatoms and our shared mitochondrial RNA that still fills me with wonder at the beauty of this world. Please join me if you can, to speak up for what you love—and if you cannot, please understand that we all remain nuclear advocates, and that the nuclear community is much stronger with the no-longer-silent climate change harbingers in it.

Hobbs Baker

Suzy Hobbs Baker is the executive director of PopAtomic Studios, a nonprofit organization that conducts educational outreach through the Nuclear Literacy Project. Baker is an ANS member and a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

21 Responses to Climate Change and Nuclear Energy: We Need to Talk

  1. It is my opinion that stripped to its essentials, opposition to the idea that AGW is a consequence of GHG emissions among the public is rooted in fears that any schemes to ameliorate the problem will impact the individual financially, ether by limiting their use of an automobile or requiring a change in the way they heat their homes or both. Unfortunately nuclear energy supporters are not immune to these pressures. It is simply too easy to dismiss this as bald-faced hypocrisy, but at the same time we need to forge, at the very least, a workable position on the matter that can garner broad agreement, or the issue will drive a wedge in the pronuclear movement that could do considerable damage.

    This doctrine (to call it what it is) must be forged in such a way that it provides a clear statement on the matter that we can all get behind and that is grounded in the practical, keeping a distance between our stand and that of the hair shirt greens who would roll the clock back two centuries to deal with the problem. And we must not concern ourselves with carbon credit schemes of any sort recognizing that these fall far out of the remit of nuclear energy support.

    To that end we should limit our position to supporting the use of nuclear energy to generate electric power in fixed stations and perhaps for heavy marine applications and nothing else at this point. Should all those users of carbon fuels be converted, the issue of light transportation fuels can be left for another time. The fact is that the automotive industry as a whole is very aware of the issue and of the need to reduce the cost of operating their products and are making great strides in the right direction on their own responding to simple market pressures. They need no input from us.

    At the same time we must clearly assert that regardless the atmosphere cannot be considered an unlimited sink for GHG, and that whatever the underlying mechanisms, there is overwhelming evidence that the climate is changing. This will result in shifts in precipitation that will not always be benign, and will put pressure on fresh water supplies. We need to point out that the only technology that can power the levels of desalination that will be needed to offset fresh water shortfalls is nuclear energy.

    I believe that this two-pronged approach, emphasizing fixed power generation and desalination, while leaving transportation issues out of the debate can serve as a common ground on the subject of climate change as it applies to support of nuclear energy. We simply don’t need to solve all problems at once.

    Robert Gauthier

  2. Thanks Suzy. Very good points you make.

    Narrowing down some areas on what we can all agree on is a good idea. The idea of using nuclear to fight pollution of the air we breath and pollution of the water that supports our ecosystem is enough of a powerful argument in favor of nuclear energy. If it happens to also prevent an increase in the average temperature which is less provable then that would be a positive outcome.

    Also as Robert points out the effects of extreme weather conditions can also be remedied by the benefits of nuclear energy such as distilling water.
    The car manufacturing has improved and it does not hurt to point out that charging batteries for electric cars will take a lot of electricity. Trading battery life for carbon dioxide is not a good idea. Nuclear energy could solve this.

    The idea of of the ozone that you mention being depleted because of the harm done to phytoplankton is news to me. Thanks for pointing this out.

    So there are several areas we can agree that nuclear energy can help fix. Let’s round up some more beneficial and undeniable facts that nuclear energy can bring. (Do we need more?) After all if global warming does exist there is still a long list of factors that are more local that nuclear energy can fix that ultimately would lower temperature increases. These local benefits would also have global benefits.

  3. Suzy Hobbs Baker

    Robert and Rick, thank you both so much for your thoughtful feedback. I completely agree that we need to identify the common ground in the situation and work from there.

    The climate conversation often leads to heightened emotions and polarization, and it is important in my mind to find a way to have a construction discusion among all groups in involved. The nuclear industry plays such a unique role in that we have the technology to help reduce the impacts of climate change, and we are ingrained in the energy sector with the fossil fuel industry- it’s actually a good position to be in, especially if we can think of both the fossil companies and green groups as allies.

    I realize that not everyone is going to agree on every aspect of the climate conversation, but there are a lot of shared interests among all the groups involved (nukes, fossils industry, environmentalists, the public), and that is a good place to start. We all want to keep the lights on, while doing the least amont of financial and environmental damage, after all.

  4. I should also add that I agree 100% that the situation is URGENT.

  5. Theodora Crawford

    Rhetoric such as “hair-shirt Greens turning back the clock two centuries” certainly does nothing to enhance serious civil dialog; it does make one wonder what’s in it for you?

  6. In nuclear science, technology, and energy we benchmark our computer models with real experiments and real measurements (for example, we measure the temperature with a thermometer or a carefully and tracebly calibrated thermocouple, we don’t imply it from artifacts), we don’t manipulate the data with unvalidated computer methods, and we correct for known biases such as building a bus depot next to a Stevenson station. Yet many nuclear scientists and engineers are willing to accept the results of unvalidated computer codes that predict dire consequences of AGW without even examining the technical evidence–I don’t get it.

    Of course the globe has been warming since the last little ice age (or it was before 1998 anyway, maybe not in the past 14 years). That’s what it is supposed to do–or cool, like it did for two major periods during the 20th century. It’s either going to warm or cool, which is worse? (c.f. “Let them eat cake,” global cooling cost Marie her head).

    There are many, many environmental reasons for promoting increased reliance on nuclear energy, and I can’t cover them all in a 45-min speech, so I don’t need AGW.


    PS: the ocean is quite basic, it is not becoming “acidified,” that’s just another fear-mongering buzzword.

  7. What is in it for me is maintaining a standard of living that has not been reduced by following ideologues that hate technology. In my opinion, those that would see energy use restricted as an end in and of itself are dangerous and that they have embraced AGW to further their agenda is a large part of the problem in using climate change as a motivating reason to promote nuclear energy.

  8. Suzy Hobbs Baker

    Things that I know do not work: name calling and telling people that their concerns over something (nuclear or climate) are illegitimate.

    I want to put forth a platform on climate/environment that is large enough for many different perspectives to agree on. So rather than change people’s mind, I want them to figure us to common goals and how to move forward on them, even if they have different motivation for doing so. Like Denis said- there are many reasons to support nuclear, and if all nuclear supporters work together we have a better chance of making headway.

    When we sub-divide and sub-divide into smaller factions (climate change vs. no climate change, this reactor vs. that reactor) we can do a lot of damage to our own interests, and waste a lot of time and resources. I am very ready to move past debating and identify common ground, so we can work together to meet our shared goal of increasing the safe and peaceful use of nuclear energy. I hope that others will join me in adopting this attitude of tolerance for different perspectives and collaboration.

  9. Again the question becomes: Can the atmosphere serve as an unlimited sink for GHG? If you are asserting this, you have to provide something in the way of justification and that argument is at least as weak, if not weaker than the evidence for AGW.

    Any major hypothesis that has postulated some significant change in the way we understand the world goes through growing pains, and indeed the case for AWG is not as strong as it should be. However there is more than enough evidence to suggest that the idea that GHG are playing a role in climate change cannot be rejected outright as being without foundation. While more work is necessary, claims that it is all nonsense and should be ignored are just as foolish as those that take a doctrinaire stand in support.

    At any rate, clearly the climate is shifting more rapidly now than in the recent past, and even if it has historically gone through major shifts before, this time it will have a very large impact on humanity because of the size of the population. Mass migration, or mass starvation have been the usual way these changes have been balanced, but these are not available options anymore. Lack of fresh water, loss of arable land regardless of the cause will have to be addressed, ether mitigated by cheap abundant energy, or by armed conflict. I would prefer nuclear be used to bring about the former, rather than the latter.

    The point here being that the impacts of a shifting climate will be upon us long before the science has explained why it is happening to everyone’s satisfaction and we need to react to the reality, not the theory.

    Rob Gauthier

  10. James Greenidge

    Way to go, Suzy!

    You make excellent points that ought be heeded by the public affairs departments of all nuclear utilities and community support groups! I’d to add my own view that Greenhouse Gases issue automatically clears itself up if one just hawks the far more directly impacting and far more tangible air pollution issues. This is the seldom used ace in the hole that boggles me. Again, if one had a (non-cartoonish) PSA depicting the medical effects of fossil fuel air pollution vs nuclear emissions combined with comparative industry operations/accident worker/public mortality rates, you’d have one potent argument for nuclear power that turns opposing views into public health hypocrites. I would not mince words or examples nor shy mentioning Fukushima — heck, that’s an ace plus mention as excellently reported by Micheal Radcliffe

    Unfortunately to me, the major lens on the world and reality for a lot of people is through the media and this is the battlefield where promotion and education and de-FUD’ing of nuclear energy really must take place. It’s really far too late for local/neighborhood nuclear education initiatives, as admirable and noble they are, to have a hard wide effect on voting blocs; we have to take the enlightenment to the venue where it’d shine on the most for the best bucks. The superb talents employed at local public nuclear education programs need to be promoted to the national stage to ply such people-relating skill on YouTube and PSAs. While YouTube is within the production funding range of most pre-nuke blogs, to do the much more widespread and pricier PSAs, the nuclear professional organizations/unions/agencies must step up to bat if anything but in their own self interest against the pitchforks out to skewer them. If nuclear blogs hosted a pot going towards funding the pro-nuke PSA effort (I don’t know who’d produce such but there are plenty of pros in nuclear blogs who know YouTube/iPod stuff like the back of their hand) I’d dig beneath the barrel and dredge out some bucks toward the effort myself!

    I pray such pro-nuclear YouTube productions or PSAs don’t go the way of these modern inane pseudo-geeks science show hosts who pass themselves off as Mr.Wizards on the Discovery and Science shows which I won’t name because they’re too many! Sweet and simple and non-techie to enlighten the unwashed. If I were writing such a PSA script it’d go like my totally original wild sketch here. Envision your own apt accompanying illustrations and please pardon the hogging space!

    * * *

    You’ve heard lots about nuclear energy but do you know the true things?

    What is nuclear or atomic energy? Simply put, the atom — the smallest bit of anything there is — – is made of particles which are stuck together by incredible force created by the Big Bang long long ago. Sometimes a little of this energy and particles naturally leak out or escape from some weak atoms, like the potassium atoms in your bananas and the Radon gas atom seeping from the ground around your house and from other elements in stones and rocks in buildings and rocks, but most atoms are way stronger holding themselves together which is a good thing or you’d have no matter to build things with! When energy and particles escape from atoms it’s called radiation. There’re different kinds of radiation. Much is heat which we use to make electricity. Some radiation can be stopped by a sheet of paper and powerful ones need a wall of concrete. Think of radiation as invisible sunlight and you’ll get the drift; it’s not a glowing creeping cloud out to get you like many scary and uneducated movies show! Radiation’s all around us since time began — especially when you go out in sunlight!

    One way to release lots of useful energy from strong atoms is by splitting them, which is what a nuclear reactor does, kind of like how a cue ball breaks up a fresh rack of pool balls. The easiest atom to do this with on earth is the uranium atom. Like smacked pool balls flying apart, particles fly off away from smashed atoms , and like the sound energy of a cue ball smacking the balls, radiation energy is emitted from the split atom. Because nuclear reactors are so good at creating lots of useful heat the uranium core of a operating reactor would melt without being cooled the same time, and that’s why they’re built inside thick and sturdy pressure vessels designed to keep the uranium and radiation in even in case of a bad accident.

    So what happened at Fukushima in Japan as some of you are wondering? Well, a rare super earthquake caused a rare tidal wave that swept over the plant and drowned the generators that cool the reactors. The core overheated as you’d expect — and the vessels and containment structure keep the uranium and radiation inside as expected — even though it wasn’t designed for such a rare catastrophic even. Such is the safety margins involved in building these plants. As a result no one was killed or severely injured at Fukushima — which cannot be said of fossil fuel plants that were wrecked in the very same quake. Or other industries touched by the quake like trains and buildings. Nor was the infamous massive evacuation necessary by the (cluelessly desperate) officials because the latest Nuclear energy, even in its worst days for 60 years worldwide has killed less people than a single non-jumbo jet crash — a record of safety that cannot be touched or challenged by other industries. In fact, you really want clean air and less pollution and no greenhouse effect and less people hurt in bad energy accidents, nuclear has proven itself really the best place to go. We can show it…Blah Blah Blah

    * * *

    Well, that’s my little PSA/YouTube script. Full of simplistic holes for sure, but maybe there’s a seed there for some producer to work on!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  11. Frank Eggers

    I wish that the article had covered the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR). It circumvents the problems with our current technology and the public would find it more acceptable.

    I strongly recommend the book “Super Fuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future” by Richard Martin. It is readily available from the usual sources. It explains LFTR technology and it’s history. It is MUST reading for anyone concerned with nuclear and energy issues.

  12. Denis,
    You say that “There are many, many environmental reasons for promoting increased reliance on nuclear energy, and I can’t cover them all in a 45-min speech, so I don’t need AGW.”
    Can you give me your top 10 reasons. I would like to use them.

  13. Here in Australia the Green Movement has given us a Carbon Tax and caused a massive swing of public opinion against the Green Left. This will probably cause the issue of clean energy wiped off the agenda for a long while. Australians are extremely hostile toward nuclear energy owing to very effective activism back in the 70s. These boomers still seem to shape popular opinion but I find young people more open minded. I believe strongly that nuclear should be a much bigger part of the energy mix. The hysterical scare mongering that goes on all the time seems to have quite an impact on public opinion. As a field of human endevour I find a coal mine a far scarier prospect than a Nuclear Power sataion and would certianly prefer one next door. I hope to speak up in favor of this option given the oportunity. Best Wishes !!

  14. @Denis

    There are many facts that can be calculated and do not really need to be directly measured. For example, if we measure the amount of coal, oil and gas that is going into power plants, factories, refineries and engines of all kinds, we can infer that the vast majority of that material will be converted into CO2. We know that CO2 is a relatively inert gas and that it remains in the atmosphere for a very long time.

    It does not require any kind of modeling – accurate or not – to predict that filling the atmosphere year after year with more CO2 than is absorbed through natural processes will lead to a rise in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Since we burn enough hydrocarbon materials every year to produce about 30 billion excess tons of CO2, that concentration increase is not terribly slow.

    Do you know what will happen as a result of that change in atmospheric chemistry? If not, I suppose that you are okay with humans performing a mass experiment with the only atmosphere in the universe that we are sure can support a reasonably mild climate and human life forms.

    Since we have a capable alternative power source that does not produce any CO2 at all (directly) there is no reason to keep performing the experiment as quickly as we are today.

    I realize that you are a political conservative and that this issue directly challenges at least one of your favorite hobbies, but I suspect you are enough of a scientist to recognize that there is a good reason for avoiding uncertain outcomes if you have an alternative approach.

  15. @Frank Eggers

    Though I like LFTR technology, I firmly reject the notion that it circumvents any major issues with current technology or that it would receive greater public acceptance if it was ready for immediate deployment.

    The situation is not unlike that of the seemingly unified support for the fast breeder reactor in the early 1960s. “Everyone” agreed that it was the path for the future and all AEC research money was redirected away from the commercially successful light water reactors to fund its development.

    What nearly all nuclear advocates failed to recognize was that reason the coal industry was one of the biggest proponents of the fast breeder was that they knew it would require a couple of decades of research before it was ready for full deployment. In other words, it would not be competing for market share. Any money directed away from improving the commercial light water reactors was seen as a good thing by the coal industry.

    If you read Rick Martin’s book critically, you can find dozens of passages where he seems to be supporting natural gas as a better near term power source than already proven emission free, safe nuclear reactors. I challenged him directly on that seeming dichotomy – considering the fact that he professes real concerns about the climate.

  16. Rob Brixey

    The IPCC fraud cost the Anthropogenic Global Warming adherents their very last shred of credibility. Re: “Hide The Decline”
    Credibility is the basis of licensing and operating nuclear power plants in the US. Lacking this – call the concrete trucks, the plants will all be decommissioned due to squandered of public trust.

    When “nuclear” is tied to “AGW” in rhetoric – dubious integrity is being linked to the nuclear power industry and over 50 years of hard work.

    Avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
    Pay attention to “the company you keep.”

    Tie yourselves to such activist fraud – but do NOT pretend to associate me, my company, or my industry with that charade.

    Integrity and reputation require a lifetime to build and a single bad decision to squander.

    Count me “out” on AGW. Liars in the crowd.

  17. ANS blog reader

    An excellent article about dealing honestly with the facts. I say this in spite of not agreeing with you on every point about what the best solution to sequester carbon and cool the planet is. You mention only the use of nuclear versus the use of renewable sources of energy. But there are other mitigation options, having to do with re-thinking land use. There are ways to use land that both sequesters carbon and increases albedo and that, meanwhile, provides both nourishing food and biodiesel fuel. Some of them can even be interplanted in urban and residential areas, providing shade, rather than competing for use of land. They are not talked about much in the media, but they ought to be. Also, the media is only beginning to recognize that GW, whatever its cause, is going to stress concrete and steel structures beyond their design bases, and heat river and lake water beyond temperatures for which the plants were designed. That makes any kind of thermal plant, including all current commercial nuclear designs in use, far less useful and far less safe. I think your main point about facing facts no matter how it might affect the industry in which one works or has investments, is the most important point, though. That’s what needs to change, before anything else can be changed. Well done.

  18. Suzy Hobbs Baker


    As a nontechnical person, I trust nuclear professionals on issues pertaining to nuclear energy, and I trust climate scientists on issues related to climate. I offer the same respect to both groups.

    The crux of this article is asking folks in the nuclear industry to stop shouting down people who acknowledge climate change as a threat. Many people come to the conclusion that we need nuclear energy solely due to their concerns about climate change and CO2 emissions. If someone wants to buy and promote your product – it makes little sense to tell them they are “liars” and refuse to associate with them…that is a nonprofessional and ineffective way to handle a disagreement ( especially with someone who fundamentally supports what you do).

    I am not saying you have to buy into climate science, but I am asking to have my concerns acknowledged as part of the growing pronuclear movement. I really don’t think that being treated with respect and compassion is too much to ask.

  19. Much as I love LFTR, I have to recognize that it creates the same problem with the current nuclear industry that nuclear power creates with the electric-power industry as a whole: it tears up huge chunks of the existing business model (fuel enrichment and fabrication, coal mining/transport, gas drilling/pipelines) and promoting it alienates the people who make their living from them.

    The problem with our current slow pace of advance is that too many entrenched interests have the power to block disruptive innovation. We NEED those disruptions!

  20. Suzy, this is a good article but I think you overplayed this just a little:

    did I mention that these little phytoplankton are also responsible for creating the ozone layer that protects all life on the planet from cosmic radiation

    Actually, Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field protect us against most kinds of cosmic radiation, including solar protons, solar X rays and cosmic rays.  It’s free oxygen which produces the ozone layer which protects us from mid-range ultraviolet radiation, but we’d have an ozone layer no matter what created that oxygen.  Diatoms, dieffenbachia, chlorella, cypress… if they made enough oxygen they’d do the trick.  Diatoms got there firstest with the mostest, so lucky us.

    my keeping silent is now over— starting here and starting now—because this is too big and too important to stay silent. I am not alone in believing this, and the nuclear industry does itself no favors by tacitly excluding the growing movement of people who are passionate about the need to use nuclear energy to address climate change.

    And nuclear power is the only realistic solution.

    I’ve been saying much the same thing for quite a while, including making lists with climate change conspicuously omitted just to show how strong the case for nuclear is no matter where you stand on the “solid science” vs. “slimy leftist conspiracy” axis.

    Our biggest problem is that many people, especially on the left, have been so brainwashed that they can’t distinguish between nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs.  They are so full of propaganda that they have to be un-taught the falsehoods before they can be taught the truth.  That is a huge job, and thankless to boot.  Its mirrored on the right end of the political spectrum by the brainwashing about climate change; all the major political orthodoxies have glaring falsehoods mortared into their philosophical foundations.

  21. Suzy Hobbs

    Poet- I said that phytoplankton are responsible for creating the ozone layer because they are the source of the oxygen that makes up the ozone layer (which is cited in the article) – which is a slight delineation, however I was careful to say phytoplankton, not just diatoms. And in terms of pumping out oxygen cyanobacteria got there first, not diatoms. Diatoms are just the most visually interesting to me as an artist, and that is the reason I use them to represent the larger group of phytoplankton.