Persistent Prejudice Against Nuclear – Can Anything Be Done? Part I

By Jim Hopf

Last month I reported on court victories on the nuclear waste issue. While such victories are welcome, in my view things are not going well overall for the industry, and it’s not clear the situation will improve much in the future unless some things change.

I’ve often spoken about the unlevel policy/regulatory playing field that works against nuclear (where nuclear is held to standards that are orders of magnitude more strict than those imposed on competing sources). Some believe that the unlevel playing field is due to the power and influence, on government, of competing energy sources, and I believe that there may be some truth to that. However, I’ve also come to believe that such policies are the result of deep prejudices against nuclear power (and nuclear pollution, relative to other forms of pollution) that are held by many, if not by most of the public. (Whether or not the influence of competing sources is responsible for the public prejudice, as well as unfair policy, is another debatable topic.)

Requirements on nuclear, aimed at avoiding even a small chance of the release of pollution, are absurdly strict because (as Japan shows) the public is completely intolerant of nuclear pollution, while they appear to care relatively little about continual, and far more harmful, pollution by other industries and energy sources. An argument that we must do everything possible (at all cost) to prevent significant releases of radioactivity because the public reaction may destroy the industry is actually hard to dismiss. Unfortunately, it appears that those same efforts are pricing nuclear out of the market, and are even more surely leading to its demise. (We are essentially left to pray for the outlawing of coal [essentially] as part of a global warming policy, along with a huge increase in natural gas prices in the future. Either that or some mandate for non-fossil sources that includes nuclear, such as a Clean Energy Standard.)

Thus, it seems to be a Catch-22 situation. The bottom line appears to be that it is difficult if not impossible for an energy source to survive in the marketplace if substantial public prejudice against it exists. In Part 1 of this essay, I will illustrate, through several examples, the tremendous prejudice that the public, all over the world, holds against nuclear power (and any pollution that could possibly result from it), compared to other energy sources and/or sources of pollution. In Part 2, I will explore what may possibly be done to address this seemingly intractable situation.

Residents of (polluted) Beijing run for cover after Fukushima

beijing coal 301x201News reports showed that many Beijing residents panicked in response to the Fukushima event, scurrying for shelter, buying up radiation detection equipment and medicines. This, despite the fact that the plant was over a thousand miles away, downwind. Also despite the fact that Beijing’s air pollution represents a continuous, ongoing risk that is millions of times larger than any that could possibly result from Fukushima; enough to shorten the average resident’s life span by ~15 years (and over 5 years in Northern China overall). Despite the overwhelmingly larger risk/impact from the air pollution, the public’s response to that seems far more muted.

Smoking parents in Fukushima won’t let their children out to play

In Fukushima prefecture, many Japanese families with smokers are refusing to allow their children to play outside. This, despite the fact that most of those families live in regions where radiation levels are well within the natural range, and despite the fact that the risks from lack of exercise (obesity, etc..) as well as secondhand smoke are many orders of magnitude larger than any risks from Fukushima radiation.

Baseless refusal to eat fish

People in Japan and throughout the Orient are refusing to eat fish caught anywhere near Fukushima, regardless of what the doses are or how thoroughly the fish have been checked. There are even scare stories about fish caught throughout the Pacific, even on the US west coast. This, despite the fact that doses from any Fukushima isotopes (in local fish that pass the tests, and in any non-local fish) are orders of magnitude lower than those that occur from naturally-occurring isotopes in the fish.

Japan reacts to Fukushima by lowering the acceptable concentrations of radio-isotopes (man-made only!). That, of course, is having a reverse impact and is actually increasing fears, as it basically told the people that radiation is more dangerous, and it results in more fish failing any tests. Meanwhile, larger health risks from non-nuclear related pollutants in fish, such as mercury, are relatively ignored, with no rigorous testing of fish for those toxins, and little public reluctance to avoid fish due to their presence.

Japan decides to use fossil fuels instead of nuclear

In response to an event at one plant, as a result of an unprecedented, biblical, ~1000-year pair of natural events (9.0 earthquake and huge tsunami), Japan decides to shut down all its nuclear plants and replace them with fossil-fueled power generation, including coal. This is done in the name of “public health and safety,” and advocates for resuming nuclear generation are accused of valuing economics (and profit) over public health and safety.

This, despite the fact that those fossil sources represent public health risks and environmental impacts that are thousands of times higher than any related to Japan’s nuclear plants. Fukushima caused no deaths and is projected to have no measurable public health impacts, whereas (worldwide) fossil fuel use causes ~5000 deaths every single day. But, alas, expert opinion on the relative risks of nuclear vs. fossil generation are ignored by the public. The Japanese fossil-fueled power generation used to replace their nukes will likely result in thousands of Japanese deaths every year, as well as inflicting enormous economic costs and greatly increasing CO2 emissions. Japan has recently stated that it will be giving up on most of its emissions reduction goals.

Fukushima decontamination vs. cleaning up Beijing’s air

china protest 307x201The Japanese are considering trying to cleanup the large parts of Fukushima region down to a level of 100 mrem/year, at enormous cost. This, despite the fact that 100 mrem/yr is ~1% of the radiation level at which any significant health impacts are clearly seen. It’s not clear that there’s ever been such an example of spending so much money for so little (if any) public health benefit. Meanwhile, other means of reducing public health risks and environmental impacts (such as reducing air pollution in Beijing, perhaps?) that would yield thousands to millions of times as much benefit per dollar spent still haven’t been done.

Even under the linear no-threshold (LNT) assumption, reducing dose rates in the (rural) area around Fukushima to 100 mrem/year (vs., say, 1000 mrem/year) is orders of magnitude less cost effective than countless other potential environmental initiatives, given the low health risks involved and the small affected population.

Even Korea? – Say it ain’t so

Even Korea, which has a strong nuclear program and had plans for getting increasing shares of its power generation from nuclear, has started to drink the Kool-Aid. In response to a scandal involving falsified QA paperwork, it is now planning on reducing nuclear’s future share of power generation, and using fossil fuels instead. Never mind the fact that the fossil-generated power will be orders of magnitude more dangerous and harmful (regardless of the QA issues). Instead of correcting the problem, and punishing those involved, the Koreans will decide to punish their people, and environment, by using more fossil fuels in lieu of nuclear.

Poor developing countries – Dirty coal OK – Nuclear, No!

Coal is actually the world’s fastest growing energy source. Coal-plant pollution control requirements are also far more lax in the developing world. Global warming concern? Forget it!

One reason for coal’s growth is that coal-fired power generation with lax pollution controls is cheap, and poor developing countries can’t afford to spend significantly more money on cleaner generation sources that are more expensive. Those nations, and their poor populations, are more focused on cost than risks from air pollution (relatively speaking).

Those (above) concepts don’t appear to apply to nuclear. Compromises on nuclear safety to reduce cost would never be allowed, by either the international community or the public in those nations. Polls show significant opposition to nuclear in the developing world, even in nations that get most of their power from highly polluting coal plants. There is often significant resistance, in poor nations’ populations, even to nuclear projects that will be held to high standards, while there seems to be relatively little public pressure to reduce coal plant pollution. Those populations seem to have no sense of the level of hypocrisy involved. (Nor do Australians.)

No reason to worry – Radiation was not from nuclear industry

This article discusses a YouTube video where someone measured radiation levels of almost 1000 mrem/year on a beach near San Francisco. Local authorities quickly investigated and pointedly assured the public that while radiation levels were indeed elevated (several times over the expected natural background levels), they were from naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM), specifically, thorium and radium isotopes. They said that the sand with elevated radium and thorium concentrations may be natural, or may have been due to an oil pipeline that used to be in the area.

Of interest is the fact that the main theme of the communications from local authorities was not that there were elevated radiation levels, or how high they were, but the fact that the radiation was NOT from Fukushima. Apparently, that’s all that matters. They went on to tell the public that the level of radiation is not a concern, and that the beaches are still safe. Just don’t let your children eat the sand. I can’t say I blame them. Public attitudes are such that this IS all that matters. Can you imagine the reaction if there were ~1000 mrem/year locations on a California beach that were due to Fukushima (Cs-137)? There would be panic. Bedlam. But hey, no, there’s nothing to worry about. You can go on with your lives. No response necessary. The radiation did not come from the nuclear industry. Just the oil industry, perhaps. It’s always been there (which makes it OK?).

Nuclear industry jobs – The only ones that don’t matter?

coal ad 258x201Many politicians have gone to the mat to prevent even the most reasonable coal and oil pollution regulations, in order to preserve coal industry jobs in their states. Indeed, based on the numbers, they appear to be willing to accept over 13,000 American deaths every single year, as well as global warming, in order to preserve (some) jobs in an industry that employs a total of ~83,000 (coal mining) jobs.

Meanwhile, with the exception of complaints by some local politicians after a local nuclear plant closes, no such support is given to the nuclear industry, or any related jobs. In the case of San Onofre in California, the state’s congressional delegation did nothing or actually acted to get the plant closed. The message:  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. The (more than 2000) plant jobs be damned. They also showed little concern for the air pollution, global warming, and power cost implications of closing the plant.

I personally have never seen any higher-level politicians make arguments in support of the nuclear industry (overall) on the basis of jobs that it would create, or preserve. (Local politicians have extolled the jobs created by existing, local projects.) I hear such arguments all the time for just about all other sources. It’s almost as if nuclear industry jobs are uniquely invisible. It’s as if they (we) don’t matter.

Political opposition to fossil regs – Not nuclear regs

In addition to the jobs angle, the fossil industry in general receives far more political support than nuclear.

A large amount of opposition, among politicians and the public, has arisen against global warming efforts and pollution reduction efforts in general. Despite what scientists say, a large fraction of the public and politicians have simply decided that they do not believe in global warming, or that they are unwilling to do anything about it. Also, even the most reasonable air pollution regulations (that EPA analyses show to cost only on the order of $10,000 per life saved) are strongly opposed.

Political and public debate focuses only on the costs (i.e., the “destruction” of the coal industry, job losses, small increases in power costs, etc.), and rarely discusses any benefits (e.g., over 13,000 lives saved annually, reduced CO2 emissions). All it is, is a “war on coal.” That is how they’ve managed to frame the debate. No attempt is made to address or challenge the scientific studies showing horrendous impacts of fossil fuel pollution. It’s simply ignored, and not discussed.

On the nuclear side, almost the exact opposite is true. All discussions focus only on safety, while cost matters little. Despite the fact that nuclear regulations, overall, are orders of magnitude less cost effective, on a dollars-per-life-saved basis, it’s almost blasphemous to suggest any reductions in nuclear requirements (i.e., safety) in order to reduce power costs, let alone to allow the industry to survive or to save nuclear jobs.

Post Fukushima NRC regulations

Unlike fossil regulations, there is almost no high-profile political resistance to strict nuclear regulations. In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is ratcheting up nuclear regulations/requirements even further, in response to Fukushima, despite the fact that Fukushima showed that the consequences of a worst-case, full meltdown accident are vastly smaller than had always been assumed. Those assumptions (thousands of immediate deaths plus tens of thousands of eventual deaths) are what formed the basis and justification for the extremely strict regulations and requirements that had been placed on nuclear before Fukushima. The rational response would be to discuss what requirements could be responsibly relaxed. But the public will likely never tolerate any such discussion.

EU state aid rules

The European Union may not allow Britain to decide to use nuclear, even if it wants to. The reason is that any support (subsidy) for nuclear may constitute illegal “state aid.” The idea is that different energy sources should be allowed to compete on a fair playing field, and member states should not be allowed to favor one industry over another.

However, massive subsidies, or outright mandates, for renewables are exempt from those rules. Thus, it’s pretty clear that it’s actually about political popularity, and not any real, objective principles. Furthermore, how can banning nuclear, by any member state, not be considered a form of state aid for competing (most notably fossil) energy sources? Not exactly allowing nuclear to compete, is it? It also must be understood that regulations can affect the market every bit as much as subsidies can. How can holding nuclear to standards thousands of times higher, in terms of dollars-per-life-saved (or per unit of environmental impact avoided), than fossil fuels not be considered a form of state aid?

Nuclear impacts intolerable – No credit for benefits

The general problem nuclear faces is that it is essentially required to be non-polluting energy source, where even a small chance of pollution must be avoided almost regardless of cost. But then, policy (in most countries) treats it as though it were a dirty source. Unlike other clean sources (e.g., renewables) it is required to compete directly with dirty sources that are allowed to pollute the environment, cause global warming, and inflict enormous public health impacts, for free. No credit at all, financial or otherwise, is given for nuclear’s non-polluting, non-CO2 emitting nature. With the exception of a handful of new plants (in the United States), nuclear receives none of the large subsidies or (more importantly) outright mandates that renewables receive.

coal and nuclear 406x201

Yes, it’s prejudice

I’ve come to believe that the public attitudes and policies described above can be accurately described as prejudice. Like other forms or examples of prejudice, it is mostly baseless; not supported by facts or data. People are clinging to those attitudes no matter what the scientific community tells them. It essentially involves being intolerant of small “sins” (i.e., risks or impacts) from nuclear while freely accepting far larger “sins” from other energy sources or industries. In that respect, it resembles many other, historical forms of prejudice. Policy in this country, and elsewhere, is to hold nuclear to far stricter standards simply because people don’t like it (as opposed to having any objective basis).

In my view, this situation is unacceptable. In addition to being unjust, I doubt that the industry will be able to succeed in such an environment. Whatever the source of this prejudice (competing industry propaganda, media bias, or lingering stigma from the bomb), it shows no sign of abating, for the foreseeable future. In Part 2 of this essay, I will explore what might possibly be done in response to this situation.




Jim Hopf is a senior nuclear engineer with more than 20 years of experience in shielding and criticality analysis and design for spent fuel dry storage and transportation systems. He has been involved in nuclear advocacy for 10+ years, and is a member of the ANS Public Information Committee. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

57 thoughts on “Persistent Prejudice Against Nuclear – Can Anything Be Done? Part I

  1. Mitch

    > I must disagree,
    though. Public confrontations/debates like this usually seem to harden positions despite the attempt to do the opposite. <

    Worked good enough for antis! Like in "Mad Men" the best way to sell a product is to shove its strong points up into one's face. May not sound nice but least you get respect for standing up to fight instead of sitting down to tea and taking it on the chin for 30 more years.

  2. greg bilionis

    Thank you for the reply James. I must disagree, though. Public confrontations/debates like this usually seem to harden positions despite the attempt to do the opposite. The well disciplined ones usually result in a great discussion but not much more.

    These meetings should be private sit-downs, at the executive level at first. Of course there should be a broad public campaign, but a lot can also be accomplished when the Sturm und Drang of public politics is removed.

  3. James Greenidge

    Re: greg bilionis
    “One more thought, has there been any serious effort to engage NP’s biggest critics? Not through letters to The Times or blogs, but actual face-to-face sitdowns? Establishing a partnership with a major environmental organization would have a huge impact.”

    Ideally I’d like to’ve seen a major nuclear education onslaught in the media and airwaves yesterday, but then there’s also a low-expenses alternative that can be thrown together in a week to de-fang FUD purveyors: For ANS or NEI or other professional nuclear organizations to broadcast an open challenge to top antinukers and Green honchos to engage in a live telephonic YouTube roundtable debate and — yes, insinuate that their turning down the challenge forfeits the truthfulness and fidelity and validity of all their hit-and-run “facts” and assertions. Bluntly, He who chickens out is a lying scaremonger. Rod Adams occasionally does such roundtables as a one-man operation on his “Atomic Show” so it ought be no effort for a major nuclear professional organization to effect — after all they’d only justly be promoting their own survivial, right? This kind of open challenge would easy and cheap and effective for pro-nuke groups to initiate and put antinukers publicly on the carpet like the slaggard media have never done. See if they drop the ball. The antis sure haven’t.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  4. greg bilionis

    One more thought, has there been any serious effort to engage NP’s biggest critics? Not through letters to The Times or blogs, but actual face-to-face sitdowns? Establishing a partnership with a major environmental organization would have a huge impact.

  5. greg bilionis

    One other thought, do you think there has a large-scale effort to reach out directly to NP’s biggest critics? I don’t mean letters in The Times or blog pieces, but actual sit-down, face-to-face meetings? Landing a partnership with a major environmental group would have a huge impact.

  6. greg bilionis

    Jim, I imagine I would be no different than you if I had to deal with this year in and year out. That’s why you need individuals like myself, “defectors”, to make the case. Pandora’s Promise didn’t get much traction but was still an effective project. Right or wrong, messaging is better received from those who are considered on “your team”. That and proper framing, such as this article. People may bristle a bit at the use of the term prejudice in relation to a method of energy production but you’ve managed to reframe the discussion. One of the bigger consideration for me was the immorality of depriving this technology from those who would benefit most: those in the developing world.

    It’s really a fascinating situation to examine from a marketing/branding/messaging standpoint, not to mention psychology and sociology. I can envision a sustained, multifaceted campaign if the industry would step up with greater levels of funding. Many of the industry leaders in the US don’t seem very interested in rocking the boat due to their holdings in fossil fuel plants. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Perhaps it’s time to turn to the new players and bigger innovators in the field, such as Gates, etc. Bypass the big dogs.

    I look forward to part 2.


  7. Mark Francis

    I’ve been shaking my head over this for a while now. Prejudice, irrationality, ideological brainwashing, whatever you want to call it, nuclear hate (as my son would call it) is frustratingly ubiquitous. And sadly, it is not the only pathology in the public mind (but out of respect for the scope of this forum I won’t elaborate on the others ;-)). The only thing I want to know is: Where the %^$# is Part 2? Thanks, Jim.

  8. timqueeney

    Excellent piece. The California beach case, wherein the elevated radiation level was judged to be “okay” because it didn’t come from Fukushima, is human nature at its humorous best.

  9. Jim Hopf


    Your story is encouraging; a sign that our efforts have not been in vain.

    As to your point about kindness and being effective, I know (intellectually) that it is very true, but it can be hard to execute sometimes. As the years/decades go by, with no tangible improvement in (wrong headed) public attitudes on nuclear, it’s easy to get frustrated and bitter, and I’m sure that reduces our effectiveness with the public, as our anger and impatience sometimes comes through. I actually may be getting worse in that regard myself, as time goes by.

  10. greg bilionis

    It is prejudice, and I was a bigot. A shocking thing to discover when one is fairly pragmatict in most things. It quite literally taken me years of reading articles, reports and blog discussions to overcome this condition. (Thanks Rod, Meredith, Jim et al) I’ve swung and believe we need much more NP in this country and around the world, especially the developing nations. But it was a long, long road. Even after I had reached my conclusion intellectually, I was still emotionally invested in the opposite. The cognitive dissonance is strong in this one.

    Trust me when I say this, kill it with both knowledge and kindness. Being right should not be the goal, being effective is much more important. Many of the industry’s most knowledgeable supporters are the worst ambassadors. The blunt force approach simply won’t work with something this deeply entrenched. I did the research because I was curious. I suspect most people aren’t.

    Anyway, there’s one more in the trench with you (in spirit at least). I find myself at a crossroads in my career so perhaps there’s a role for me yet!

  11. Steven B. Krivit

    Jim, thanks for your further thoughts. I’m looking forward to part 2.

    The root problem is fear. It pervades EVERYTHING that EVERYBODY in this business says and does.

    It pervades every response and reaction by everybody who fails to appreciate what nuclear energy has to offer.

    I know the root of the problem, how to approach it and how to resolve it. But it will require resources and obtaining resources are not my area of expertise. If there are people who have complementary experience, and similar motivation and enthusiasm, please contact me.

    Steven B. Krivit
    Publisher and Senior Editor, New Energy Times
    Editor-in-Chief, 2011 Wiley Nuclear Energy Encyclopedia

  12. Martin Kral

    I have written many letters to the local newspaper editor here in Southeast New Mexico. Every letter has one unique theme regarding something that is in the current news cycle. Today, I wrote a letter about the water shortage in New Mexico and offered multiple solutions from prayer to transferring water from another location. I shared that there really isn’t a shortage of water because 70% of the earth’s surface is water. However, I pointed out that there was one solution that would work long term: desalination. Of course that requires a lot of energy. Viola! Now I talk very simplistically about the nuclear option. BTW, I live in the middle of gas and oil country so I am very careful to protect that industry at the same time. I never discount fossil or renewable, but I keep nuclear in the paper every month.

  13. radioredrafts

    Maybe you could make the reactors smaller and cuter and get Bert and Ernie to endorse the new models.

  14. James Greenidge

    Dr.K S Parthasarathy:
    Good comments and good perceptive brain food! If only the media was wise and balanced enough to tap such! If you have pointers to the rest of your comments and features please supply them! Good work!

    Re: “International Fusion Research in my Backyard? Yes, Please!” By Suzy Baker.

    I wanted to comment there but it’s off, but I thought it was interesting and funny and maybe a little cynical how as far back as the New York’s World Fair where I saw a General Electric exhibit of a “real” fusion reactor — replete with crew in white lab coats milling around — that fusion advocates wisely or shrewdly divorced the “nuclear” moniker out of “thermonuclear fusion” to reap better (clueless) public acceptance and positive image. The “science” shows on cable TV are notorious for this; nary will you hear an utterance of “nuclear” when they brush on fusion. When you mention “fusion” in the streets you often get familiar but quizzical looks from people who say they’ve heard of such in a good idealistic way and think far more for it than less — as long as you don’t say it’s nuclear!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  15. Tom K

    Your article makes an interesting point (although indirectly) that the number of people involved in a particular activite determines it’s perceived, risk not the science. Perhaps this is how wars are tolerated.

  16. Meredith Angwin


    Thank you for the thoughtful reply and the good words about my work.

    My own perspective is different: if someone supports nuclear but doesn’t believe in climate change…okay by me! If they support nuclear and also want to prevent climate change…even better, because this fits with my own views! But in either case, I say to the person: “Welcome and glad to have your support for nuclear energy!”

    I am probably in a different headspace about this than many people might be.

    Thank you for the note. I value your friendship and your very effective nuclear advocacy.


  17. Weenchit

    Seems to me that the public’s rejection of nuclear power is a symptom, not the cause. I believe that for whatever geopolitical reasons our government has decided not to allow nuclear technology to flourish. They do this indirectly by creating a giant, inefficient, complicated bureaucracy that makes sure nothing gets done. Take the “Blue Ribbon Commission” as an example: 18 months of dry talking and long before the end (even if Fukushima hadn’t happened) people had tuned out because it was so boring and aimless. All we got were some diffuse list of things we need to do before we do nuclear for real that will never happen. They put that baby to bed. Even nuclear medicine despite its enormous potential doesn’t have the backing it deserves. However, if the US government decided to do it, I think they would plow through all the roadblocks in a heartbeat and suddenly estimates for how long it will take to get a new reactor designed and built would shorten to completely realistic timeframes. Public opinion would be manipulated to the positive just as it is currently manipulated to be against the industry and the technology. But for some reason, perhaps it’s special interests, perhaps it’s just too easy to expand the already mature fossil fuel industry (while simultaneously fostering global warming hysteria for political gain), they just won’t do it. It has nothing to do with fears about safety, “waste”, weapons proliferation or cost; all these kinds of issues have engineering solutions. I am not at all worried about public opinion. I’ve changed attitudes about nuclear almost every time I’ve talked with someone about it. It’s not hard. What I really want is to know exactly and for sure why our government really does NOT want nuclear technology to move forward. Then we might have some idea what to do.

  18. Jim Hopf

    One of the main points of the article, which Zach seems to have missed, is that pubic prejudice is one of the main reasons WHY nuclear has become more expensive (than fossil fuels). It is a primary root cause. It is the reason for regulations that are thousands of times more strict, which in turn results in high costs.

  19. Suzy Baker


    My apologies- I should have clarified/specified that to (nonprofessional, volunteer) online advocacy & outreach. Basically that bulk of the industry’s educational outreach relies on using nuclear professionals as volunteers in classrooms & chatrooms alike – without sufficient comms, outreach or education training. And there are some folks who are great nonprofessional advocates, but for me they are often overshadowed by the hostility of others. I want to clarify now that we do have many very amazing, skilled communicators in the nuclear sector- yourself included! Again, my apologies for the far too broad blanket statement.

    Having had so many negative experiences in this space, I tend to come in with my dukes up. Few things bring out the trolls like talking climate, gender equality and social justice- my big topics- so I may well have a skewed experience in that I’ve been attacked far, far more often by nuclear proponents than opponents.



  20. Meredith Angwin

    Um…I just want to say that it took me a long time to write my comment. It follows the Brian/Suzy interchange, but it has nothing to do with that interchange, which I did not see when I was writing my comment. That interchange was posted while I was writing. I have no comment at all on the merits of either side in that interchange.

  21. Meredith Angwin

    Okay. I have been wanting to say something about some of Baker’s comments, but I have held back due to my general admiration for Suzy Baker. But I disagree with some things she said, and it has become personally important to me to say something about one of her statements.

    Baker wrote: Shouting people down with “the facts” and being satisfied with being “right”, even if you ultimately come across as a jerk (ie: the current outreach & communications norms in the nuclear sector) are ineffective to the point of doing additional damage to public acceptance.

    That is not how I see nuclear advocates behaving. All the shouters I know are in the opposition camp. The nuclear communicators (at least, the communicators that I know) spend huge amounts of time trying to communicate facts and feelings without being confrontational. Plus, this section by Baker comes very close to saying: “the norm for nuclear communicators is to act like a jerk.” That is perhaps too strong a paraphrase—but maybe not. At any rate, Baker’s direct quote sounds to me like a blanket negative statement about a group of people.

    In my opinion, many communicators have succeeded in moving the needle toward public nuclear acceptance. I’m thinking of Stone’s movie; pioneer blogs by Barton, Adams and Yurman; Cravens’ book. These big efforts are bolstered by people like me: second-tier bloggers, local activists, etc.

    Why aren’t we there yet? Why isn’t nuclear accepted by the public? Baker seems to be saying that it is because we aren’t good enough communicators. I don’t think that is the whole explanation, or even the majority explanation. In other words, I disagree with her about nuclear communicators, how we behave, and how effective we are. Yes, we can improve, but we are doing some things right as well as some things wrong. At least, that is my opinion.

    Baker herself has done very effective communications in favor of nuclear energy, including her art, work as Nuclear Tourist, and the Nuclear Literacy Project. I have immense admiration for her work, and I hate to be in the position of disagreeing with her so strongly about the general state of nuclear communication.

  22. Brian Mays

    Wow indeed, Suzy! I share what I thought was good news about the progress that I have observed that women have been making in the nuclear industry and in the field of engineering in general and end up being quite surprised about how threatened you feel about it — stopping just shy of attacking me over it.

    I apologize for intruding on your world view, but perhaps you are right that you are better off retreating into your shell. I’ll try to be more careful in the future. Have a nice day.

  23. Suzy Baker

    Wow, Brain. That is the furthest thing from what I’ve said. But thanks for exemplifying the kind of trolling behavior that silences women online, keeps me out of pronuclear online spaces & is the reason I’ve turned off all my comments. Great work. No wonder the nuclear sector is so loathed.

  24. Brian Mays

    I believe that you work for a multinational company that requires 20% female hires due to federal policy in their home country,

    Suzy – Er … No, I don’t think so — perhaps in Europe, but not in the US. But I think that these women would be disappointed with you implying that they owe their positions to some arbitrary quota. Lord knows we wouldn’t want to suggest that a woman can get a job in engineering based on her own merits. ;-)

  25. Rod Adams


    The “nuclear industry” has not been trying to build more economical plants. In fact, it went for nearly 40 years without building anything new.

    On the other hand, the nuclear power plant operators have worked hard to make their plants more economical by instituting planned maintenance systems, streamlining outage schedules, improving operator training, improving operational experience sharing, peer reviews to share best practices, and a host of other improvement. The results have been rather impressive, with average capacity factors moving up from about 55% in the 1970s to nearly 90% year after year for the past dozen years.

    The total O&M cost, including fuel, for existing nuclear power plants is far below that of any other thermal power source. For power that you can depend on and schedule, the only sources that beat nuclear in O&M are hydro and geothermal, both of which are geographically limited to very specific types of places and both of which have few prospects for expansion. Here are the current O&M cost numbers from NEI using 2012, the most recent year available:

    Nuclear – 2.40
    Coal – 3.27
    Gas – 3.40
    Petroleum – 22. 48

    Please note that the average price of natural gas increased by more than 50% from 2012 to 2013, so more recent numbers will reflect that increase.

    My point is that in areas where the nuclear industry has worked hard to improve, it has done so.

    Capital costs certainly have plenty of room for improvement; we are out of practice in that segment of the business.

  26. Mitch

    > And Mitch- please- share with us some examples of past failed “BIG dynamic, positive, inclusive frameworks for dialogue”. …<

    Ever watched "MAD Men"? Kelloggs and Ford and Getty Oil didn't sit the public down in a circle for a kum-bye-ya tea session to coo them to buy their stuff. They crashed the airwaves and print to 'bell and sell them' on their product. Get in the public's face with ads and commercials. That's the brass tacks of successfully marketing yourself. Something nuclear's never done and the chickens are coming home to roost. The antis and greens never been dainty getting their word across the public and guess what – they're winning!

  27. Meredith Angwin

    I want to thank Dr.K S Parthasarathy for his comments. I used to live within a short walk of Montara beach and Montara Mountain. These are both within a few miles of the Half Moon Bay beach, where all the excitement was. That whole area is within the Franciscan Formation which is REALLY diverse bunch of rocks.

    On Montara Mountain, there were areas of metamorphic rock, granite-type rocks, everything. It was great for looking at flowers: the flowers varied according to the rocks underneath. For example, some plants will only grow on serpentine. (And parts of the California serpentine used to be mined for mercury.) Anyhow, it would not surprise me to find almost any rock-forming element in that Franciscan mix –it’s wild. Lots of thorium on the beach below it…sure, why not?

    But I had forgotten about those diverse rocks. It was a pleasure to be reminded of them.

  28. Suzy Baker


    Improvement ≠ gender balance or equality.

    As a woman, who works on the issue of diversity in the nuclear sector, I can say with a great deal of confidence (and statistics) that this is still a very big problem. Our professional society conferences don’t have so much as sexual harassment policies in place. Slowly inching forward, while being decades behind other sectors is not actually worthy of celebration…

    NTM- I believe that you work for a multinational company that requires 20% female hires due to federal policy in their home country, which is far from representative from the norm in the rest of the world. The thing about these types of trends is that they only continue when people or policy push them forward. Like the recently announced DOE “Diversity in Energy” program. It actually takes a lot of work to make these types of changes.

  29. Brian Mays

    … we struggle to attract and retain women, etc.

    Suzy – Heh … you’ve obviously not been around some of my younger colleagues. I recall a project that I worked on a couple of years ago (one of the larger projects I’ve worked on in my career), in which the big challenge was to finish the project in a timely manner, because over half of the engineers working on the project were soon going to be out on maternity leave. The pressure was quite obvious at meetings. ;-)

    Your thinking is 30 years in the past. Today is much different than it was back then. The nuclear sector is no different than any other field of engineering or the physical sciences and, in fact, is doing quite better than some. The number of smart young women who choose to go to engineering school and enter the work force has increased substantially in the past 25 years. I noticed a difference even between the time when I was an undergraduate and when I was later a graduate student teaching undergraduates. The difference was even more noticeable after I got a job and began to help recruit engineering graduates for my company.

    Most of these women are still young and at the early phases of their careers, but they are already moving up into management. Currently, my manager is a woman; the CEO of the subsidiary that I work for is a woman; and until a few years ago, the CEO of my international parent company was a woman. I basically work for a bunch of women, and this trend is only going to continue.

  30. Rezwan Razani

    Thanks Jim! Great post. It takes an all of the above effort to change deeply reinforced social norms. But we live in a world where gay marriage and pot are systematically being legalized and openly embraced. Nuclear energy can’t be far behind. For some people, facts alone work. For others, try a cultural, narrative based approach to prejudice:

    Most importantly, give it time and repetition from multiple angles. Bit by bit, people are won over. And then there’s a tipping point. Your cause is just. You will prevail.

  31. Ken Brown

    Coal power in the US is also under attack. New regulations on emissions and politicians pushing for CO2 sequestration (compressing it and pumping it underground) for newly built coal fired power plants is moving construction of new plants to natural gas. Gas supplies are currently high due to the controversial practice of Fracking, but those wells tend to peak rapidly and fall off in production sharply. Prices are likely to swing by large degrees in the coming years.

    It doesn’t seem that the US government is willing or even capable of long term planning when it comes to energy. Government investment in technologies such as LFTR Thorium based reactors and other modern nuclear designs will be needed if the US is to stay even moderately competitive in the world market. Cheap and consistent electrical energy is a basic necessity for industry. Other countries such as China and Russia are leaving the US behind in this area.

    China has already taken over the manufacture of nearly all of the consumer goods that the US public purchases. At one time US politicians were telling us not to worry as the US was going to be selling China major appliances, cars and high tech devices. They managed to grossly underestimate China as usual. Already some major appliances are imported from China. In the next couple of years we are likely to see automobiles made in China on car dealer lots across the US. China is completely wrecking their environment to deliver electricity at a low rate, when they start replacing their coal plants with clean nuclear ones, they will have the best of both worlds.

    Wealth is ONLY created by adding value to raw materials. A “Service” economy is just a euphemism for a “failed” economy. The loss of manufacturing jobs is impacting the US economy more and more each day. In another decade we can save on eduction by only having to teach half of the children to say “Would you like fries with that?” and “Welcome to Walmart” though I highly doubt that the savings will have much of an impact on the national debt.

    Cheap, reliable and clean power will be necessary if the US has any hope of regaining any sizable manufacturing sector which is the only way the country is going to have any chance paying down the national debt and investing in the future. Renewables are not reliable, Coal and natural gas are not clean. The only option to meet all three requirements above is nuclear power.

  32. Rod Adams

    @Robert Margolis

    Absolutely. We need to answer the often unspoken question – “What’s in it for me?” That important task was certainly a part of the success of the movements I mentioned; reducing barriers to participation in the economy and the rest of civil society for such large groups of people had widespread advantages.

    One way is to take a different tack from the traditional economy of scale folks. Instead of engineers being asked “how big can it be,” they ought to be asked, “how low can you go.” Have you ever seen a photo that showed the size of the core for EBR-1, for example?

    My imagination about tiny nuclear devices that serve people has always been fired by the RTG display I saw in the Maryland Science Museum when my kids were small. A device about the size of a dime powered a pacemaker constantly. It would still be producing half of its original power after 87 years of operation. Tritium powered “beta-batteries” are almost as impressive, with power that drops by 50% after 12 years of constant supply.

    We can build tiny devices. We can supply clean power for millions. We can drive ships and submarines. What are we waiting for?

  33. Suzy Baker


    I agree that you can ( & should) fight for something without being (primarily) antagonizing or condescending. Much of the current pronuclear movement in my experience, consists of people trying to one up each other in debate, satisfied with “being right” without making change. In fact I tend to stay out of PRONUCLEAR comment threads and chat rooms because they are often such hostile spaces. We need to learn to set egos aside and work collaboratively like the other ongoing movements you mentioned. We also need to learn the language of social justice and use it carefully, without appropriating it.

    The nuclear sector is quite rich (compared to other sectors), mainly white and mainly male- so to convincingly appeal to the public as “oppressed” is going to take a lot of nuanced, knowledgeable, authentic dialogue. We also run the risk of falling into a post-colonial “savior” narrative when we talk about delivering energy solutions to the developing world. This is a very tough line to walk, since the nuclear sector hasn’t actually internalized the benchmarks of social justice- we lack diversity, we struggle to attract and retain women, etc.

    I also strongly agree with Jim that the issues we fact are rooted in decades of technical solutions to political and public acceptance problems.

    And Mitch- please- share with us some examples of past failed “BIG dynamic, positive, inclusive frameworks for dialogue”. Being that I do this professionally, I’m shocked that I’m not in the know about them…

  34. ZachR

    The main “prejudice” the nuke lobby needs to address is the simple fact that nukes are not economically viable. They’ve been trying for decades and failing harder with each passing year.

    P.S. Hilarious to see ‘Rod Adams’ trying to compare nukes with LGBT and civil rights movements! That is a massive sense of victimhood on display there!!

  35. Tom Galioto

    Great summary of the negative public perception of nuclear power and of our collective difficulties in explaining its benefits. I also believe that the comments above by Rod Adams on the three social movement successes is pertinent to our situation with nuclear. Although the nuclear argument is much more based upon facts and figures whereas the social movements are based more upon rights and fairness, we should look at the similarities and build upon them to break down barriers against nuclear. In addition, I feel that unfortunately the primary players in the nuclear industry are currently too focused on self-preservation and competitiveness with others within the industry itself (eg protection of proprietary designs, cost of power advantages with other utilities, etc, etc). We need to have a more common core focus on what we share and how we can better advocate for nuclear power with the public and through the mainstream media. I’m certainly willing to participate however I can to assist in such an effort. I ask that ANS take the lead in coordinating such an effort for us all.

  36. JimHopf


    Your comparison to the civil/women’s rights movements is very apt. In fact, you’ve successfully anticipated some of the content of my Part 2 article…..

  37. Robert Margolis

    While I agree with Rod that we need a greater social and moral component to our arguments, we also need to connect the benefits of nuclear to people’s lives. Unfortunately, it is not enough to show nuclear kills fewer than fossil fuels. Most people would not support banning cars and making everyone take the bus even if it saved thousands of lives. We need to show the public that nuclear means better lives for all.

  38. Dr.K S Parthasarathy

    Mr Jim Hopf in his excellent article referred to the video on elevated radiation levels in Californian beaches. There is no “actor” in this video. You hear the voice of the video-grapher and a reading device indicating the counts per minute (CPM) value of the gamma radiation levels. Maximum reading was 156 CPM and the mean lower level was 30 CPM. It appeared very “threatening” to those without domain knowledge.

    The video went viral with over 720,000 people watching it. Over 1430 persons made comments which reflected the fear of the public. The reassurances were couched in technical jargon.

    No news outlet noted that the US geologists discovered monazite, a mineral containing thorium, a naturally radioactive material in those beaches over 109 years ago. D T Day, reported it in 1905. The monumental book titled “The Geologic Occurrence of Monazite” by William C Street, referred to it. Brief notes on it fell on deaf ears
    Even now many people believe that the mythical shadow of Fukushima extends up to California!
    This writer would like to invite the video-grapher and his like minded followers to some of the beaches of Kerala, in the South-West corner of India where in many places they may get readings of the of 2500 CPM or more. The annual doses to inhabitants in the region are known to be up to 70 mGy in some locations. Over 100,000 people live there. They lead uneventful lives except when over enthusiastic scientists and news hungry journalists visit them! Many studies were carried out. None could demonstrate any adverse health effect linking to radiation levels.
    No mainstream news papers were willing to publish such results.
    The efforts continue.

  39. Rod Adams

    PS – I didn’t read all of the comments before I posted mine. In response to Suzy, please understand that my advocacy of fighting for our rights does not mean picking fights with everyone. As demonstrated by the three successful movements that I mentioned, progress requires a lot of friendships and supportive alliances.

    We can be friendly fighters, but we must remember the importance of confidence and assertive behavior in weakening the hold of prejudicial beliefs or assumptions.

  40. Rod Adams

    If prejudice is the problem, then we have at least three good models that demonstrate the way to make progress. Women’s rights, civil rights and LGBT rights movements show that you do not overcome prejudice by accepting it or by reinforcing the superstitions of the oppressors.

    Each one of those movements, in their own way, made progress (with room for continued progress) by developing the confidence to fight for their rights.

    Our technology is too darned important for the world to accept the status quo to to passively allow the oppressors — whether they are rich and powerful fossil fuel interests, misguided idealists, or people who honestly desire a world with a much smaller number of people who use far less power to live less abundant lives — to continue winning every battle.

    I’m willing to march for nuclear energy and to start more aggressively demanding the right to pursue the craft for which I was trained. Are you?

  41. Gary Lewis

    Great job Jim.
    I should read your past posts

    Looking forward to part 2
    Gary D. Lewis
    Member Board of Directors
    Environmentalist for Nuclear Energy

  42. Jim Hopf

    Steven Krivit,

    I too have seen the apathy in the industry. People who just want to go about their technical jobs and not get involved in politics and public outreach.

    However, in my view, an even more significant “suicidal” tendency among nuclear engineers is their willingness (almost eagerness, it seems) to be held to impeccible standards, far above those applied to competing industries. “Please, tell me to jump even higher….. ” I suppose it arises from some sense of professional pride.

    Many actually think that having one event in non-Soviet nuclear’s entire (50+ year) history that kills noone, has no measurable health impact, but requires ~100,000 people to move (temporarily) is unacceptable. That, in a world where fossil generation causes hundreds of thousands of annual deaths, along w/ global warming. Many believe that the solution to the industry’s problems is to achieve an even higher level of technical excellence (advanced reactors and fuel cycles, etc.). Some in the R&D sphere may even play up nuclear “problems” to justify continued research grants.

    They seemingly have no notion that they’re trying to apply a technical solution to a political, regulatory, and public prejudice problem. Also, no notion that demanding an ever higher level of technical perfection causes nuclear to be uncompetitive with other sources, resulting in more fossil fuel use and higher, not lower, public health risks and environmental impacts.

    Anyway, I’ll talk about some of these issues in Part 2.

  43. Jim Hopf


    The China example was one of my favorites. Another favorite is the one about the radiation on the beach in CA. It’s extremely telling. Yeah, radiation levels are 1000 mrem/hr on the beach, but the only important issue is whether or not it came from Fukushima. As long as it wasn’t, it’s no real concern. And this is from govt. agencies.

  44. Jim Hopf


    I hope that your happy scenario comes to pass, but even if it does, the cost of Britain’s new nuclear power will be needlessly expensive, due to many of the causes I’ve discussed. The EDF strike price is very discouraging (high).

    I find it very difficult to accept that new nuclear would be that expensive. And it sure doesn’t have to be. If nuclear regulations (and dollars per life saved criterion) were remotely in line with those applied to other industries, the cost of Britain’s new nuclear would be far lower, about half IMHO.

  45. Steven B. Krivit

    I know how to change the conversation. GLOBALLY.

    I have changed the conversation with every person that I have met who was afraid of nuclear power and who gave me ten minutes of their time. It is easy. I can also lead this shift on a larger scale. Is anybody interested? Perhaps we can have a more detailed conversation in Reno.

    James Greenidge wrote: “suicidal lack of motivation by the nuclear ‘industry’ (nuclear plant owners, atomic workers unions. nuclear labs, schools, manufacturers, nuclear media, etc)”

    My experience thus far echoes Greenidge’s experience.

    I have advised a few people in this industry that I know how to change the global conversation. I have had no response. Maybe they were just too resigned to accept things the way they are. Maybe I wasn’t talking with the right people.

    If my strategy is applied effectively, it will bring about a major global shift in attitude toward and acceptance of nuclear power. It cannot happen overnight, but a significant shift within five or ten years is a lot better than no shift at all.

    If there are stakeholders in the nuclear industry who a) are willing to envision that a major shift in public awareness is possible, b) have a desire to see this shift and the benefits it will bring not only to the entire industry but also to the general public, and c) are willing to commit the necessary resources, please contact me.

    Steven B. Krivit
    Publisher and Senior Editor, New Energy Times
    Editor-in-Chief, 2011 Wiley Nuclear Energy Encyclopedia

  46. Meredith Angwin


    Great article: historical AND geographical context! Thank you for this well-written article and the huge amount of work that went into it!

    The example of people in China who are more afraid of Fukushima than of their own life-shortening air pollution—that says it all, and not just about China.


  47. Cory Stansbury

    Just amazing, Jim. Every time I see one of your articles, I stop what I’m doing and read it. This just takes all of my frustrations and puts them into one article. Bravo!

  48. Mitch

    Nuke ain’t dead yet, Jim! Nice job!

    > – We have to create BIG dynamic, positive, inclusive frameworks for dialogue if we want people to see nuclear differently. <

    Yea, that's worked real well the last 40 years, right?

  49. Suzy Baker

    I look forward to the next part of this article. Being well liked matters tremendously. There is an immense amount of social science on the issues of public acceptance and support, which largely dismissed by the nuclear sector. Shouting people down with “the facts” and being satisfied with being “right”, even if you ultimately come across as a jerk (ie: the current outreach & communications norms in the nuclear sector) are ineffective to the point of doing additional damage to public acceptance.

    It’s much more than education that is needed. We have to create BIG dynamic, positive, inclusive frameworks for dialogue if we want people to see nuclear differently.

  50. Steve Aplin

    Nice work. Here’s a happy scenario:

    1. The EU prohibits the UK from financially supporting new nuclear.

    2. Cameron wins a majority in the next UK election (2015).

    3. Cameron, as per his promise, holds a referendum on EU membership.

    4. UK voters, well informed by now that the EU’s (largely Germany-driven) anti-nukery has led to price AND carbon spikes in German electricity and that France is the right model to follow for low prices AND carbon in electricity, vote to withdraw from the EU.

    5. Cameron’s government supports first wave of new nuclear builds.

    6. UK CIPK (CO2 intensity per kWh) of grid electricity drops by a half, to just over 200 grams.

    7. UK voters indicate they will support the halving yet again of the UK’s CIPK.

    This is not implausible.

  51. Brian Mays

    When you believe in things that you don’t understand,

    Then you suffer,

    Superstition ain’t the way

    — “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, 1972

  52. James Greenidge

    Awesome Work, Jim!

    This is the MOST important issue that has EVER been featured on most any nuclear blog. It’s been the 900 ton gorilla in the corner that most nuclear advocates sweep under the carpet in lieu of easier navel-gazing debates about whose reactor type is best. The best immediate patch to nuclear recovery and acceptance is public education, Education, EDUCATION! Assuaging the public with the straight story and history and stats about nuclear power is Ace Priority #1 for any nuclear comeback and it sadly seems, due to suicidal lack of motivation by the nuclear “industry” (nuclear plant owners, atomic workers unions. nuclear labs, schools, manufacturers, nuclear media, etc) itself, that this task must be left to a maverick gung-ho pro-nuclear group to pass the cup to splash ADULT public education ads and PSAs citing nuclear’s virtues. If there were an ad chart listing a comparative scoring of all industrial impacts, in-operation and in accident, listing eaches mortality rates and public health and environmental effects, nuclear power would win hands down in minimum effect — something you’d imagine the public idealizes and desires. But they are totally Clueless of such stats! Anti-nuclear groups must be scratching their heads over their shut-down victory champagne of why the nuclear community hasn’t exploited and flaunted its own superior virtues. It is insane to hold back hawking your own advantages, and worst, to let others slander and diss them totally unchallenged as the antis have very successfully done. Tylenol and BP Gulf have shown AGGRESSIVE ad campaign can turn your sullied repute around, but one must have the GUTS and sense of self-preservation to do it!

    Can’t say enough on this but I can’t groom any stroke now. Waiting on chapter 2!

    Keep up the great work!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  53. Marcel F. Williams

    The only thing worse than the fear of nuclear energy is the fear of being impoverished and the allure of getting rich. While many countries struggle with the issue of nuclear energy, China has 29 reactors currently under construction, Russia has ten reactors under construction. But the US currently has only about 5 reactors under construction.

    China is going to do whatever is necessary to economically dominate the world. So they’re intent on being the leader in nuclear energy because they know nuclear power makes a country richer and the environment cleaner.

    The US will probably not see any significant increase in nuclear power plant construction, IMO, until small nuclear reactors are ready to be built. And even these may be confined to existing sites. Not a big deal, IMO, since each existing site in the US could probably accommodate 8GWe of nuclear energy production– more than enough to replace fossil fuel electric generation in the US.

    Mitigating the fear of nuclear energy in America will never be substantially reduced until the nuclear industry stops being afraid to aggressively advocate commercial nuclear energy on television while also criticize the fossil fuel industry and the renewable energy industry. TV adds would also be an opportunity to educate the public about radiation being part of our natural environment.

    But the industry just going around saying we’re trying to do things as safely as possible is pretty much falling of deaf ears.

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