Persistent Prejudice Against Nuclear – Can Anything Be Done? Part 2

By Jim Hopf

In last month’s post, I made the case that there is substantial prejudice against nuclear power among much of the public in most of the world. As a result, nuclear is held to requirements thousands of times as strict as other energy sources and industries, resulting in nuclear being rendered less competitive economically. This in turn results in the use of fossil generation instead of nuclear, despite the fact that the operational record, the data, and all scientific analyses show fossil-fueled generation to be orders of magnitude more dangerous and harmful.

But alas, this doesn’t seem to matter to the public, or policy-makers, or regulatory agencies. Their apparent view is that even small, or very rare, amounts of nuclear-related pollution are completely unacceptable, whereas continual pollution from other sources (most notably fossil fuels) is not a serious concern. They continue to just ignore what the numbers, and experts, are telling them, concerning relative risks/impacts.

The question is: What can possibly be done to change this unacceptable (in my view) situation? As it seems I cannot fit all my thoughts on this matter into a single article of reasonable length, I will begin this month by discussing a few ideas that are held by many in this industry as to what should be done. Next month, I will explore another idea that I have, which (it seems) hasn’t been considered.

Improved technology

Most of us who work in the nuclear industry are scientists and engineers, so there is a tendency for us to think the answer to the industry’s problems (reactor safety, waste, etc.) is the development of better technology (e.g., advanced reactors and fuel cycles). There is a tendency to believe that inadequate technology is the source of the problem, and that once better technology is developed, the problems will go away. The public will accept nuclear with open arms, it will be competitive economically, and it will capture increasing market share.

My belief is that this view is largely naive. As I said in last month’s post, it is an attempt to apply a technological solution to what is not a technological problem. It is mostly a political, regulatory, and public prejudice problem, as opposed to any lack of objective, technological merit of nuclear power.


The waste “issue” provides a clear example. Even a hypothetical, perfect, closed fuel cycle still involves at least one repository (for fission products) and a waste longevity of ~500–1000 years. Any real, practically achievable fuel cycle will fall short of that. Waste will still have to be shipped to the repository, and so the transport “issue” will not go away.

Shipping_Cask_01 234x150It is, frankly, naive to think that having a somewhat shorter (but still unfathomably long for the public) waste life will reduce public/political opposition to a repository one iota. It shows a complete misunderstanding of the source of opposition. Opposition is NOT about genuine concern for the well being of people living in what is currently Nevada from 10,000 to 100,000 years from now. It is about feeling singled out as the nation’s sole “waste dump” and the sense that a repository is being imposed, rather than being voluntarily agreed to. That, along with fears of transport accidents and various scares that may drive away tourism or reduce property values. None of these issues will be solved or even ameliorated by advanced/closed fuel cycles.

The real truth is that nuclear’s (tiny, contained, and well managed) waste stream has always been and always will be an orders of magnitude smaller risk (short term and long term) than the wastes and toxins of other industries. The real problem has always been the public not understanding that, as opposed to any lack of technology. No technology will solve that (real) problem.

It’s not as though the news is all bad on the waste front, however. It appears that local communities in both New Mexico and Texas have voluntarily expressed support for the idea of hosting a high level waste repository. Not only that, but their state governments (usually the real source of political resistance) have expressed a willingness to at least consider the idea. Both provide an example of the change in the public acceptance and political equation that occurs when the initiative is voluntary.


With respect to reactor accident risk, many advanced reactors and small modular reactors claim core damage or accident frequencies that are orders of magnitude lower than those of today’s reactors. But again, do you really think that talking to the public about probabilistic risk assessment analyses and 10-8 vs. 10-4 core damage frequencies will have any significant effect on public opposition? If they were numerate, and based their views on scientific, numerical analyses, they wouldn’t be opposed to nuclear (including today’s reactors) in the first place. For them, an accident is either “possible” or it’s not.

SmartSMR1 200x160It could be plausibly argued that essentially precluding even one significant accident or release, any time this century, would reduce the risk of negative political reaction that could significantly set back the industry (like what’s happening in Japan). But I would argue that the probability is already quite low, especially given post-Fukushima improvements and lessons learned (along with the lack of tsunami and 9.0 earthquake potential in the United States).

In any event, the biggest issue for new reactors is not lack of public acceptance, but cost. This is especially true in the Southeast, where most new reactors would be built anyway. If nuclear isn’t cost effective, the possibility of the industry’s political rejection some decades from now due to a severe accident is moot, since the industry will have died off anyway. Some feel that advanced reactors will be far less expensive, but this is debatable and remains to be seen.

Many concepts, such as SMRs, give up size and power density in exchange for inherent safety advantages, resulting in the far lower accident probabilities discussed above. The lower power density and smaller size will tend to make SMRs more, not less, expensive. The hope is for volume production to reduce cost. However, what’s really needed is to use the SMR’s, or advanced reactor’s, fundamental advantages  to reduce cost, as opposed to further reducing (already extremely low) accident risk. What needs to be discussed is what other (Nuclear Regulatory Commission/quality assurance) requirements can be relaxed so that accident risk is a little better than current plants, but costs are significantly reduced. However, any such discussion would be blasphemous, for both the public and the NRC. Never mind the fact that requiring reactor accident risk to be as low as possible simply means that fossil fuels will be used instead, resulting in a large increase in public health risk.

Also unclear is the real benefit of having a reactor with a smaller potential source term, such as an SMR. The current public and regulatory mindset strongly suggests that smaller releases will simply result in stricter dose criteria being applied, with little reduction in cleanup cost or response in general. It will be 100 mrem/year, or even 10 mrem/yr, vs. 1,000 or 2,000. The dynamic is that the industry will have to “give until it hurts.” “How much does it cost? How much you got?!” If you doubt this, note that many states have applied a criterion of 10 mrem/year to an ultra-hypothetical, most-exposed individual, for plant decommissioning projects. (The cost-per-life-saved on that criterion is incalculable….)

The real question is whether any technology can compete if there is such prejudice against it and if it is held to standards thousands of times as strict as competing sources. One approach is to develop some miracle technology that can compete even under a spectacularly unfair playing field. Another is to try and make the playing field more fair. Suffice it to say that I have strong views on which path is more likely to be successful.

Repudiating LNT

Many in our industry believe that the answer lies in winning the scientific debate on the health effects of low-level radiation. The goal would be to obtain a formal rejection of the Linear No Threshold Theory (LNT) by the world scientific community. In its place, a dose rate threshold would be established, below which it would be recognized that there are no health impacts.

Radiations_at_low_doses 200x142What this threshold would be is open for debate. One idea would be ~1 Rem/year, as that is roughly the top end of fairly common natural background levels, since no evidence of correlation between natural background level and disease rates have been found. Another often mentioned number is 10 Rem/year, the lowest dose rate for which clear statistical evidence of health impacts has been found. Some advocate even higher threshold values.

At that point, ostensibly, government policies would be changed in response to the new scientific consensus. That would include post-accident (release) evacuation policies, cleanup standards, and standards for radiation levels in food and water. Performance requirements for repositories would also be (dramatically) changed.

While all of this will definitely help, I have doubts as to whether it will be sufficient to achieve the needed changes. The problem with this idea, again, is that it assumes that public opposition, or even regulatory policy, is objective and rational in nature, and not subject to political influence and prejudices. As I’ve shown through numerous examples, the public, politicians, and even regulatory agencies are already ignoring science, and what the scientific community says.

japan nuclear protest square 252x201Even assuming the LNT, nuclear’s public health risks and environmental impacts are orders of magnitude lower than those from fossil fuels. Even assuming the LNT, the total eventual impact of Fukushima (the only significant release of pollution in non-Soviet nuclear’s entire history) is less than that inflicted every day by fossil fuels. And yet, after Japan considered setting a reasonable (~1‑2 Rem/year or higher) threshold, below which dose reduction (cleanup) efforts would stop, they retreated and agreed to apply a 100 mrem/year threshold (i.e., a fraction of natural background) due to “public outcry”.

Here in the United States, where coal plant pollution continues to kill ~13,000 Americans every single year, and we have events like massive spills of toxic coal ash piles and other toxic chemicals directly into rivers and water supplies, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering regulating nuclear plant tritium releases, despite the fact that these have never had any health impact, with little potential to do so, even assuming LNT.

Also, as I discussed in this post, even the “improved” EPA Public Action Guideline applies a 10‑4 to 10-6 lifetime cancer risk criterion, but only for Superfund sites and nuclear accident scenarios, in a country in which ~25 percent of the population dies of cancer, while continual deaths of tens of thousands per year from fossil fuel pollution (overall) is tolerated. It is clear that political power and influence, as opposed to objective science, is influencing, if not governing, these decisions.

If one assumes a linear relationship between dose and cancer risk, it follows that total health impacts (cancers, deaths) scale directly with collective exposure, i.e., the integral of dose times the number of people exposed (in units of man-Rem). If government policy is ostensibly based on LNT today, you would think that said policy would treat all man-Rems the same. In a clear sign that policies and standards are not objective or science based, that is not true, by many orders of magnitude.

The fact of the matter is that, while LNT, along with a 10‑4 to 10-6 lifetime cancer risk criterion, will be applied to cleanup standards after any nuclear plant release, vastly larger sources of public collective exposure are simply ignored. These include all exposures from natural background (e.g., radon), air travel, and medical exposures to some extent. Exposures to naturally occurring radioactive materials from all other industries (such as coal plant emissions or old oil pipes off the California coast) are also generally ignored.

Radon is estimated to expose on the order of 100 million Americans to hundreds of millirem annually, resulting in an annual collective exposure on the order of 25 million man-Rem. According to the LNT, this results in on the order of ~10,000 annual deaths. Medical exposures are also a huge source of collective exposure (with CAT scans alone causing ~29,000 annual deaths, according to LNT), and the medical community is only starting to pay attention to the issue, with patients and many practitioners hardly thinking about it at all. Both of these sources of collective exposure are orders of magnitude larger than the collective exposure that would result from a worst-case nuclear accident, even if no cleanup efforts were made.

And yet, nothing is being done about them. Little to no money is being spent. People aren’t even being warned (not saying they should be). In all those areas (radon, medical), collective exposures could be reduced at a cost (in dollars per man-Rem avoided) that is many orders of magnitude lower than the amount we’re planning on spending cleaning up affected areas after a nuclear plant accident. If we really believed in the LNT, and really (and objectively) cared about reducing collective exposure, we would focus on those areas instead.

The LNT is not the problem. Its selective application is the problem. However, one might argue that, even though the LNT is now arbitrarily only being applied to the nuclear industry, if we get the scientific community to agree to a threshold, regulatory agencies would lose their justification for doing so. They would be compelled to respond by dramatically increasing allowable doses. Personally, I have my doubts, given the influence of politics and (prejudiced) public opinion on such decisions. Regulatory agencies respond to public opinion and political pressure, perhaps even more than they respond to scientific consensus or fact, as the examples I give above show.

Again, the biggest problem the nuclear industry faces is the high capital cost of new reactors, as well as high operating costs of existing reactors, due to extreme regulations. Does anyone really think that if the scientific community agrees to a threshold, the NRC will voluntarily drop most nuclear plant safety regulations, under the theory that having meltdowns is now okay? Those regulations, not accident liability, are the main source of high nuclear costs. On this front, I don’t see any impact at all.

Policy support

One possible way for nuclear to succeed in the future is by improved policies that place some value on its non-polluting, non-CO2 emitting benefits. As I stated in my last post, nuclear’s problems competing in the marketplace are largely due to the fact that it is essentially required to be a clean energy source (i.e., to spend whatever it takes so that there is virtually no chance of ever polluting), while it is treated like a dirty source in the market. Other clean sources (renewables) receive tremendous subsidies and outright mandates for their use. Nuclear has to compete directly with dirty sources, especially coal, that get to emit pollution and CO2 for free. Their huge impacts on the environment, the climate, and public health are not weighed at all. If the cost of power from an old, dirty coal plant is so much as 0.1 cents/kW-hr more than that of a nuclear plant (or a gas plant), it is used instead.

capitol 180x135There are some signs of hope on this front. Some states, as well as some large organizations, have been making reference to the concept of nuclear being grouped in as a clean, non-emitting source, as part of a climate change policy. The idea of a Clean Energy Standard that includes (and equally treats) all non-CO2-emitting sources has been considered by congress and the administration. A new proposal from (outgoing) Senator Max Baucus had similar ideas. Nuclear utilities such as Exelon are also starting to call for policies that support the continued operation of existing nuclear plants, where some type of credit for their environmental benefits is given. The administration has also expressed concern over the possibility of nuclear plant closures, and has acknowledged their benefits (without making any specific policy proposals). The European Union has also just revised its climate change policies to reduce renewables (only) mandates somewhat and to allow more flexibility in meeting CO2 emissions reductions targets (targets that were actually made more aggressive).

On the other hand, there are other signs of how far we have to go in terms of fair treatment of nuclear. The EU is making more noise about not allowing Britain to subsidize new nuclear, even if it wants to, because it would give nuclear an advantage over other “industries” (fossil fueled generation, that is). The EU has always held renewables subsidies exempt from this requirement, of course (despite the fact that they are/were far larger than the nuclear subsidies being considered). Among the reasons given for disallowing a nuclear subsidy is that nuclear might take market share away from (i.e., have the temerity to compete with) renewables. Again, the idea is that nuclear has to compete directly with dirty sources. No credit for its profound pollution and CO2-emissions benefits is to be given.

And then, of course, there’s always hope that a CO2 tax or cap-and-trade system will eventually come about. However, even if policies come about that make nuclear competitive, either by raising the cost of fossil-fueled generation or subsidizing nuclear generation, the fact remains that nuclear generation will be needlessly expensive; far more expensive than it should be. That by itself will be very unfortunate. And the only way to address that problem is to take on the excessive level of nuclear regulation, and the public prejudice that is the source of it.

Public 0utreach

Many believe that public outreach and education will go a long way toward ameliorating the public/policy prejudice issues I’ve been discussing. Many people (including some who’ve been reading these posts) agree with my contention that trying to use technological solutions to what is a non-technological problem will not work. I concur that public outreach and education efforts are indeed helpful.  That is why I’m a member of the American Nuclear Society’s Public Information Committee. However, as reluctant as I am to disappoint, I have to confess that I’m not that sanguine that public outreach efforts will produce the necessary changes, for the foreseeable future.

clean energy 180x90Perhaps I’ve become cynical, but I’ve come to believe that policy, and even public opinion, is significantly influenced by rich and powerful industries. They have significant influence over both government and the media, through lobbying efforts and advertising. Not only do they often advertise directly in the media, but they also exert indirect influence on actual content (news reporting).

I don’t believe the situation is at the point where the media literally, and consciously, sets out to harm nuclear and give fossil fuels an advantage. However, if the fossil industry (and their ad buys) are a significant source of one’s revenue, one naturally becomes reluctant to do anything that will upset them. On top of that is the fact that the public is very scared of nuclear, and so hyped, scary stories about anything nuclear sells papers. This in turn increases nuclear fear, and so on and so on. These are the reasons why relatively small nuclear events (and risks) get an astonishing amount of coverage, while much larger fossil issues get almost no coverage at all. The media (particularly in Japan) has talked endlessly about what are really minor issues (and potential threats) at Fukushima, while saying nothing at all about the much larger public health impacts/risks from fossil generation, including that which Japan is using instead of nuclear.

The fact is that the nuclear industry, to the extent it even exists at all, is nowhere near as large or as powerful as the fossil industry, or the “environmental” groups that oppose nuclear. Most efforts on nuclear outreach are volunteer (unpaid), as the nuclear utilities or construction firms have shown little interest in a serious effort. It may even be that any significant effort in nuclear outreach (especially one that relies on bringing up the negative impacts of fossil fuels) may draw an opposing media (public “education”) effort by those much more rich and powerful industries. In fact, many argue that it’s precisely what they have been doing, for decades.

The fact of the matter is that we are hopelessly outgunned in this area. And as I’ve said, the public prejudice is persistent. It’s not likely to go anywhere, anytime soon. We have to ask ourselves if that is acceptable, or if there is a quicker, more direct, more effective approach to having nuclear be treated fairly, by the public, the government, and the market.

One more option?

court gavel 150x96This leads me to one final option that may possibly be worth exploring. There are other examples in history of persistent public prejudice, including the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities, as well as sexual orientation. In those cases, efforts were made to “win the hearts and minds” of the majority, but the fact was that the prejudice was not going anywhere, anytime soon. The pace of changes in attitudes was not sufficient. So, the victims (targets of prejudice) turned to the courts to address the problem. In many cases, they were successful. This leads to the question:  Is it time for the nuclear industry to have its day in court? I will explore this possibility in next month’s post.




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.

25 thoughts on “Persistent Prejudice Against Nuclear – Can Anything Be Done? Part 2

  1. David Davison

    Excellent article Mr. Hopf, I think you have concisely outlined the problem, and I agree with your solutions, particularly the legal challenge. While we wait for an industry that so far, has not been up to this or any other kind of challenge against FUD, perhaps we can prosecute a vigorous campaign in the electronic and print media. I myself could use help in battling the lies & distortions regarding nuclear power in general, and San Onofre in particular, in the editorials of the San Clemente Times. I’ve contributed so much that I think I’ve wore out my welcome. The tin-foil hat crowd has a pool of folks that consistently peddle their propaganda, much of which is materially false. Most of the distortions now revolve around Spent Fuel and DCS issues–a subject I’m sure you have an opinion on.
    Thanks again for a great article.

  2. Biem

    There is a huge difference between dose and dose rate (and the confusion contributes to radiophobia). The lowest dose rate for which clear statistical evidence of health impacts has been found is 10 Rem -but received in a single exposure (less than an hour). For continuous exposure, no health impact has been observed under 1 mSv/h : such a radiation rate would lead to 8.7 Sv/year (870 rem/year) – and that is a “No-observed-adverse-effect level”…

  3. Bill Bromley

    Excellent article. I wish there were a way to dispute your somewhat dismal outlook on changing public perception, but I have been trying to do that for 30+ years without much success. Even those who believe me while we’re in contact succumb to the overwhelming negative anti-nuke pressure when released back into the mainstream.
    I would like to help, but I’m running out of steam, particularly as far as nuclear in the U.S. is concerned.

  4. Patrick M

    Last night, I was speaking with a friend about nuclear power, and we were discussing the difference between nuclear safety perception and reality.
    I used the analogy of people who are afraid of flying due to accident fears but would rather drive, despite the fact that flying is safer than driving.

    There is irrational fear of LARGE but UNLIKELY risks that is greater than fear of less risk that is more likely. Consider if you took a pill that could gurantee you wouldnt die for the next year… BUT it also lowered your life expectancy by 1 month overall. Would you take it? Many people would.

    Nuclear suffers from the perception of big risks or big perceived risks that are not likely. It also suffers from the false fear of radiation ( the ‘no safe dose’ myth). But it is not worth fighting that in the context of nuclear power plant advocacy because, after all, an ideal nuclear plant would emit zero, so suggesting ‘its ok’ is counterproductive, and suggests that one tolerates emissions. In reality, its just a matter of good design and operations to get to ‘5 NINES’ 99.999% goodness there. and what remains perhaps should be explained that low emissions below the natural level that many people get in their lives is not a health concern.

    There are solutions:
    – Technology-wise, we have to admit there are risks, however small. Why not make those risks go to zero? we need to get away from LWR technology and move to more inherently safe nuclear technology that makes the large-scale TMI / Fukishima accident impossible. We can do this with liquid coolant, either lead-cooled or molten flouride salt cooled reactors. The fact is that there are great ideas in the Gen-IV reactor realm that are both cheaper AND safer. If we want nuclear to succeed we need to build those reactors.
    – Policy-wise, we need to support innovation. we dont get safety from statis, but from improvement.
    – Treating nuclear as the clean, renewable energy source that it is would be a step forward.
    – … that means moving ahead with ‘breed-n-burn’ type reactors that use U-238 so we have less waste and more power generation. nuclear waste is a red herring issue, always was. (again an issue of scale: Simple solution – store it all at WIPP for 100 years, then go and reprocess it and reuse all but fission products, which are stored another 400 years. The end.)
    – Regulation is a problem, but mainly because it is stifling innovation. So dont push to relax regulation, push to get innovations accepted. Specifically, this means getting licensing approved on new reactor concepts, new fuels, new materials in reactors, etc.

  5. G.R.L. Cowan

    Figure 18.2, “Taxation of energy in Japan on a carbon emission basis”, of “Taxing energy use: a graphical analysis”, OECD 2013, shows oil and gas for electricity generation being taxed 1000 yen per tonne CO2 — about $10.

    By approximating natural gas to be pure methane, we get that a tonne of it, in giving 49.91686 GJ, gives 2.74326 tonnes CO2, so $26.50 tax. The 49.9 GJ is 47.312 MMBTU, so per MMBTU the take is US$0.560.

    Some of the forbidden-to-restart nuclear electricity has been replaced with coal (expensive), some with gas (super-expensive), and some with oil (why would you even care about money?). Supposing gas, the fuel in the middle of that price range, does the whole job, the extra gas use is about 2.8 billion MMBTU per year, and that makes the tax windfall US$1.6 billion a year, $130 million a month.

    So in Japan, as in other first-world countries, nuclear energy advances by impoverishing City Hall. This is necessarily a slow process.

    Dr. James E. Hansen has occasionally promoted a fee-and-dividend solution to fossil fuel-caused climate disruption, but he doesn’t seem to understand the fees are already in place, already strongly affecting government behaviour. Only the dividend needs to be put in place.

    He is more of a friend than he used to be ( ). If more people here could suggest to him, “Dividend first”, with a strong option of “Dividend only”, it might help.If someone here could

  6. Neil Craig

    I agree about LNT, indeed I suspect the opposite theory, hormesis, that low level radiation is beneficial is correct. I have done a collation of links of evidence against LNT I did intend to also include scientific evidence for it but there is literally none.

    I have suggested a legal right (possibly constitutional amendment) to allow any regulation to be challenged in court on the grounds that it requires actions at least 4 times more onerous per life saved than other regs in comparable industries. This cost benefit analysis would certainly allow nuclear industries to overthrow most of its regulatory burden and it would be difficult for politicos to explain why they were against it.

    But what we really need is a rottweiller charity willing to go all out at anti-nuclear campaign. To sue anybody good cases of lies about the industry. To advertise that newspapers that give coverage to false scare stories and don’t give at least as much coverage to the truth (ie almost all of them) are, by definition, corrupt, lying, fascist scum who cannot be trusted to tell the truth on anything else.

    And that governments that give money to promote “environmental” issues, they approve of, are engaged in totalitarian fraud if they don’t give an equal amount to technology promoters – just as much as a Democrat (or Republican) Governor who gave money to his own party would be criminally liable.

    All of which unfortunately needs a bit of money to start it rolling.

  7. Jim Hopf


    Building on what I said (to Brian, above) but with a European perspective, I think improving political support will help more over there than in the US. The reason is that political opposition, as opposed to economic competitiveness, is a bigger part of nuclear’s problems in the EU.

    Fossil fuels (esp. gas) is more expensive over there, at least for now. Although European climate policies are not placing a significant economic penalty on coal right now (in a true sign of the disfunction of EU GW policy), eventually as the economy recovers and allowable emissions levels continue to decrease, their cap-and-trade policies will eventually begin to bite, and they should result in significant reductions in coal use (one would hope).

    At that point, even over-regulated nuclear power will have a good chance of competing, unless it is stymied by outright political opposition (as is the case in Germany, and several other nations). Thus, it could be that in Europe, the court challenge approach may not be necessary as reduced regulation may not be necessary for nuclear to be competitive. The political shifts you refer to may be sufficient.

    What would be helpful, in Europe is to get rid of the excessive renewables subsidies and mandates, and to have policies (like cap-and-trade) that treat non-emitting sources equally become predominant. There are signs of some movement in that direction. We all keep waiting for humanity to ACTUALLY take climate change seriously, and not just use it to push a pre-existing, renewables-only agenda.

  8. Jim Hopf

    Thanks, Brian,

    I hope my response didn’t come across as disagreeing, to a significant extent, with your comment. We’re largely in agreement (about public attitudes, etc..).

    My only question/concern is on the regulatory side. Even if public/political support improves, will there ever be any significant scaling back of nuclear regulations and requirements, to reasonable levels that are on a par with those applied to other industries (on a cost per unit safety benefit basis)? Once one goes down the road of overly stringent, prescriptive regulation, it’s hard to come back. Once regulations are in place, they tend to remain. Are there any examples of any significant relaxation of regulations, after they’re established (and have been in effect for awhile)?

    Perhaps the main reason I’m exploring a court option is that I see it as the only means by which meaningful reductions in nuclear’s regulatory burden could be achieved. If such reform cannot be achieved, I feel that the only hope then would be policies that increase requirements and costs on fossil fuels (most notably, GW policies and stricter air pollution controls). And yes, the likelihood of those policies being enacted will be very much a function of public and political support.

    At risk of jumping the gun on my own (Part 3) post, the truth is that there are many reasons to doubt that any court challenge will be successful. It may be that the most it will achieve is to increase public awareness of the level of inequity in the regulatory playing field.

    If the court approach doesn’t work, the only hope we’ll have left is the gradually improving public attitudes that you refer to. That may eventually lead to supportive policies that I discussed in my post, which could include some govt. support of nuclear along with restrictions on fossil fuels. We would also be left to hope that natural gas prices eventually increase (significantly) and that future policies largely preclude the use of coal.

  9. Mark Miller

    GREAT article Jim! LNT is at the ROOT of much of the radiophobia that the world has been victimized by. It has no scientific basis for low-dose and low-dose-rate radiation, especially below 10 rem (0.1 Sv). Epidemiology not likely to provide answers. We MUST use the correct null hypothesis to avoid a logical fallacy! (The null hypothesis IS: “There is no effect of radiation exposure below 10 rem (0.1 Sv)”.) The burden of proof must be borne by whatever alternative hypothesis one chooses to test (e.g. LNT, hormesis, etc.)
    Check out the website to learn more.

  10. Joris van Dorp

    Jim Hopf, great article. Really, well done. Very insightful and complete. You hit all the right points, IMO. Thanks a lot, I will be pointing people to this one often.

    FWIW, from my personal experience, some of the anti-nuclear groups like Greenpeace are suffering from mounting internal stress from members of their ranks who are increasingly uncomfortable with the anti-nuclear dogmatism they are forced to swallow. It’s a pressure-point that should be exploited much more, IMO.

    As an example, I found out that our national Green party had an internal review of nuclear power after Fukushima. The review was performed by technical experts of the party. The result of the review was quite astonishing, in that the majority voted in FAVOUR of a role for nuclear power, despite Fukushima! Yet this hasn’t seemed to have any effect on the official (strongly negative) position on nuclear power of that party. I’ve since been pressuring members of that party to take the conclusion of their own expert committee seriously. I ask them: why do you not listen to your own experts? I have several times been met with dumbfounded silence during conversations, after arguing the issue in this way. This whole affair is clearly causing serious stress for the party members. In a positive way.

    Let nuclear advocates search and find such pressure-points within the ranks of the anti-nuke groups they face off with. Certainly, if some or many of the popular anti-nuclear groups become publicly pronuclear, then this could have very positive consequences for the public perception of nuclear power. It could leverage a lot of closet-pronuclearism and lead to big changes quickly. Quicker than a court case?

  11. Graham V. Walford

    The article and comments are all excellent and reflect great thought and effort. In my own activities which appear intertwined and include nuclear science (where I make my living) consideration of our biosphere and climate change, creationism and evolution endless debate etc., I have found myself in debates with opponents of all the above. The following appears consistent:
    1. Financial Interest? does the criticism come from a group or someone who makes their living in oil , coal, etc?
    How much time has the criticizing person or group spent actually studying the problem?
    What is their qualification?
    What is the source of their information
    Do they have a dog in the fight? i.e. it is very difficult to have a religious discussion with someone as the consideration of looking over the abyss into what could be nothingness is more than most can bear. Don’t expect the manager of the Creationist museum near Cincinnati to concede any points with evolution. Scientists and engineers accept error and naturally modify technical arguments.
    How much time does a party actually spend studying the information and then making up one’s mind?
    Conspiracy theories?

    In looking at the above and other basic comments – Reasoning is not what drives a balanced discussion on our nuclear profile. Only a very small proportion of the population appears to question and think and that is our crisis of today. I like to debate a technical or science based issue – but when there is a component of the above in it, all bets are off having a good outcome.
    I have been successful in debates to take the issue from nuclear power and change the argument to address the belief structure of the group arguing. Take the fight to their corner -

  12. James Greenidge

    Break down seeming “nuclear problems” into public comprehensible bite-sized chucks:

    Re: Milton Caplan
    “… hard to imagine them being worse and in both cases the outcome in terms of human life is modest – Chernobyl killing just over 50 and Fukushima a total of Zero.”

    1. Or Mr/Miss Layperson, you can pack all nuclear-plant fatalities of over FIFTY years WORLDWIDE on a singe city BUS. You’d need at least a couple of OCEAN LINERS to accommodate those of the fossil fuel industries. And that’s not counting the immediate neighborhoods fossil accidents sometimes put away without the help of superquakes and tsunamis.

    2. Nuclear plant fuel “waste” is the same little truck-sized size going out as going in once after several years. Where do you think all the waste from miles of stuffed coal and oil rail cars weekly feeding a oil/coal plant goes out?

    3. This town in Iran/Brazil/India/wherever lives happy and healthy with a radiation background several times that of the region of Fukushima. It’s no Love Canal.

    4. Nuclear “waste” can be processed into new fuel. Can you do that with coal and gas, Mr. Layman?

    Ad-publicizing little ditties like these demystify de-terrorize and de-FUD nuclear energy to a nuclear clueless public and CAN turn a besmirched image around. But the nuclear industry/community must ACT and not let Homer Simpson define their image!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  13. Brian Mays

    Jim – I’m just biding my time waiting for installment no. 3. :-)

    Sorry, I forgot to clap earlier (it’s hard to clap over the internet) and express my appreciation for your series on prejudice. Well done. Please forgive my poor manners for not making this clear before now.

  14. Mitch

    Most people think the courts is a cheat way to go around voting issues. The way Bush got over Gore by the courts left LOTS of sore feelings coming back to bite! Nukes can’t afford to do that because it’ll only stoke more distrust and hate IMHO.

  15. Jim Hopf

    Seth and Brian,

    It may be true that nuclear opposition is currently “soft” with the majority of the public, and the anti-nuclear cause isn’t as high profile as it was decades ago. Not high on people’s agendas.

    That said, the main way the industry is being impacted is not through direct political opposition. Political opposition is having its main impact indirectly, through excessive regulation. Fear of public/political reaction does drive NRC to be overly cautious (especially given how the industry doesn’t fight back much; certainly nothing like the fossil fuel industry).

    Thus, I may agree that some of the attitudes will slowly die off, or at least be reduced. I don’t see the regulations dying off, though, and I struggle to see nuclear ever being competitive under the current, grossly unfair regulatory playing field.

    As I’ve stated, my position is that, barring policies that make fossil fuels significantly more expensive, nuclear regulations will have to be relaxed significantly. I firmly believe that this is justified, given the relative risks involved (nuclear vs. other energy sources and sources of risk in general).

    However, can you imagine the public/political reaction if we tried to actually get nuclear regulations significantly relaxed? The opposition (which yes, may include fossil industry supported opposition) would have a field day! It may not be high on people’s agenda now, but it would be then!

    I’m not sure it’s politically possible to get nuclear regulations relaxed to a meaningful degree. Take Fukushima, and how we learned that the impacts of even a worst-case meltdown are several orders of magnitude *smaller* than what had always been assumed. And yet, very few people are arguing that nuclear regulations should be relaxed. Most are arguing that they should be further increased (in response to that “unacceptable” event).

    Given all this, I think we may have to turn to the courts to get any meaningful change (i.e., a regulatory playing field that is even remotely level).

  16. Jim Hopf


    If you read my post carefully, you’d see that I never actually attacked LNT. I personally don’t believe in it (not all the way down to zero anyway), but that wasn’t my point. I was actually questioning how much help it would be (to eliminate LNT).

    As for places where LNT, for radiation exposure, is applied outside the nuclear industry, I’d love to see some examples. By industry I don’t mean just nuclear power, but all areas other than natural background, medical and air travel. As for NORM exposures due to non-nuclear industries, there is sporadic application of LNT. We have the case of a phosphate mine in Florida where it (and Superfund) is being applied, apparently (EPA is trying, anyway). But we also have the case of old oil pipelines off the CA coast where the radiation apparently just doesn’t matter, since it’s NORM from the oil inudstry as opposed to Cs-137 from Fukushima.

    Even if there are a couple examples of LNT (and very low allowable disease risk) being applied outside the nuclear industry, the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of public collective exposure is from sources like natural background (including radon) and medical exposures, for which almost no effort is being made to reduce exposures. Spending enormous sums in one area to reduce collective exposures (man-Rem) and spending nothing at all on far larger sources of collective exposure, that could be reduced at a thousanth of the cost (per man-Rem) is indefensible.

    If you are a true believer in LNT, and (therefore) want to reduce public collective exposures, why don’t you go where you could do some real good, and get into the area of radon abatement and/or finding ways to reduce medical exposures? Nuclear industry activities, even including preventing meltdowns or cleaning up afterward, will always represent a negligible contribution to humanity’s overall collective dose.

  17. Brian Mays

    There are other examples in history of persistent public prejudice, including the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities, as well as sexual orientation. In those cases, efforts were made to “win the hearts and minds” of the majority, but the fact was that the prejudice was not going anywhere, anytime soon. The pace of changes in attitudes was not sufficient.

    Well … things eventually changed, and it didn’t all have to do with winning hearts and minds. For example, Jesse Helms died five years ago.

    So, how old again is Jane Fonda? And Michael Douglas has already had cancer, which according to some of the hints he has dropped had nothing at all to do with radiation or radioactive materials (unless he was doing something that was very, very kinky ;-) ).

    Sometimes attitudes change because the old attitudes simply die off.

    Speaking of dying off and going away, when was the last time that any of the artists who performed for the 1979 “No Nukes” concert had a hit?

  18. Marcel F. Williams

    The commercial nuclear industry simply needs to aggressively advertise itself as the safest and cleanest energy technology ever invented and as the best solution to dealing with global warming.

    And if critics attempt to use Fukushima or even Chernobyl as examples of nuclear catastrophes then this provides the nuclear industry to present to the public fossil fuel and even renewable disasters that have been far more harmful to humans and to the environment.


  19. Brian Mays

    Though blogging is much easier.

    Trolling with Google Alerts set for “LNT” is even easier than that.

  20. Bob Applebaum

    Repudiating LNT is analogous to fossil fuel advocates suggesting repudiating the theory of anthropogenic global warming. Both theories are the current scientific consensus. And LNT is not “only being applied to the nuclear industry”. That is a delusion. If you want to get the scientific community to agree to a threshold, GET THE EVIDENCE to convince them. Otherwise, you are engaging in another delusion. So, stop blogging, and do the science. Though blogging is much easier.

  21. Milton Caplan

    A good article. I have been saying for some time now we need a paradigm shift. We in the industry need to take some responsibility for the fear. After all, the issue is a simple one – fear of radation (nuclear) is extreme.
    This all comes from the potential belief in a doomsday scenario. Doesn’t matter what the risk is when the potential consequence from a bad accident is considered to be apocolyptic. And we in the industry have fed this fear. We say – yes a terrible outcome is possible but not too worry because we are smart folks and we have it all under control.
    In my view the real lesson learned from accidents such as Fukushima is that this doomsday scenario is not really the case. We have had two really bad accidents (Chernobyl and Fukushima) – hard to imagine them being worse and in both cases the outcome in terms of human life is modest – Chernobyl killing just over 50 and Fukushima a total of Zero. But the fear remains. So we need to change our message to a very simple one – and it will take many years to get the public to buy in but it is worth it.
    The message is “Our industry is very safe – the risk of a bad accident is very low – and in the case of another accident we can protect the public from harm. Full stop.No use trying to convince anyone accidents are impossible – rather we need to say they are improbably and when one does happen, we can still keep you and your children safe.
    This will start to change the conversation.

  22. seth

    Note that despite the large levels of opposition in Japan, a responsible government in Japan is proceeding with all due speed at firing up its nukes – cost is the driving force there. Japan’s Abe government ran on nuclear restarts promising the public that all safety faults including criminal acts which put safety equipment under 50 year flood levels, would be corrected. Their massive electoral success shows even Japanese nuke opposition is soft.

    In British Columbia, despite enormous public opposition to oil pipelines and tankers, Big Oil is proceeding apace with development of 2 massive and dangerous pipelines and tanker ports. Corrupt politicians are perfectly capable of ignoring public opposition.

    In Ontario and the US southeast the public is significantly in favor of nuke power, despite the Big Oil’s saturation of the media with antinuclear propaganda. Yet governments there are basically antinuclear with their palms greased with Big Oil lolly.

    Pro nukers are often guilty of buying into the nonsense that nukes are more expensive than gas or coal. Rather than filthy lies from Big Oil’s paid stenographers, in South Carolina. SCANA’s real numbers, sworn under oath under penalty of perjury for a real first of a kind nuke build by an extremely inefficient American private utility now under way in S Carolina at twice the cost of similar units in China and high wage Korea , puts paid to this nonsense.

    “Why Nuclear?” If you look at the chart at the top right of the slide below, SCANA provided their all-in cost estimates for nuclear ($76/MWh), natural gas ($81/MWh), coal ($117/MWh), offshore wind ($292/MWh) and solar ($437/MWh). For them, “new nuclear continues to be the low cost alternativ”

    Goggle “SCANA2011AnalystDayPresentation.pdf”

    Built by an efficient public utility like TVA or OPG with its much lower cost of money that $76 drops to $40 4 cents a kwh

    Appears to me that nuclear’s problem is Big Oil corruption of our legislative process. Public opposition is soft with folks not really buying Big Oil’s propaganda but not getting contrary views in the all anti all the time corrupted media.

    Big Oil is dumping gas as fast as it can keeping prices low, while at the same time bribing politicians, so it can displace coal and nuclear. Coal producers are fighting back cutting coal prices to the bone and switching gas plants back to coal. As we’ve seen recently, gas prices are widely expected to double shortly to cost of production as producers unable to sustain losses drop out. Google “were-headed-to-8-00-natural-gas”

    Not a single gas power plant would be built if owners had to guarantee the input price of fuel for 60 years like nukes in effect do. These sharks just build the dirt cheap gas plant and pass the gas price costs on to the rate paying sucker while tacking on a 15% gratuity needed to satisfy the graft.

    Fortunately Chinese society is far less corrupt than our own, with the added impetus of low resources and deadly air pollution. Just the operating costs of existing Chinese coal plants is higher than new Chinese nukes.

    The ‘singularity” needed will be the 2017 in service date of China’s under construction factory produced, rail transported, like for like replacement of coal plants – no license needed, HTGR 70% devoted to synfuel production, running at a penny a kwh.

    In 20 years the West’s ghg spewing economy will have descended to 3rd world status running on 40 cents a kwh wind and 90 cents a kwh solar but getting all its energy from 17 cents a kwh gas, while the Chinese zero GHG economy will be laughing at our stupidity while running their prosperous country on penny a kwh Gen IV nuclear.

  23. Marsha Freeman

    From the top, this is a fight against the cultural paradigm shift that took place starting in the late 1960s, and has brainwashed a portion of the public to believe that scientific, technological, and economic growth is impossible and immoral. No part of what the anti-nuclear movement says contains any rational argument, and cannot be countered primarily on that level. Going back to the Middle Ages, with windmills, etc. will support a population comparable to that in the Middle Ages, with a live expectancy also comparable. What do you propose to do with the billions of people that windmill technology cannot support? The history of mankind is based upon increasing energy consumption per capita, by moving to higher levels of energy-flux density. “Renewables,” fossil fuels, nuclear, eventually, fusion.

  24. Martin Burkle

    Thank you. You have expressed exactly what I have been felling about the nuclear industry (if there is one). I have not read anywhere your line of thinking expressed as clearly and applied to so may aspects of the problem. Nice work!

    I suppose many of us daydream a bit about winning the big PowerBall lottery. I do. I have decided to take my two hundred million and set up a non-profit trust with the money to be spent over a 20 year period for the promotion of nuclear electricity. I want you and Susie Hobbs on my board.

    Since polls show that women are as a group more anti-nuclear, the trust’s advertising will be directly to women. The first source would be NPR as a sponsor of either the morning or evening shows (All Things Considered). “This show is sponsored by the Clean Energy Foundation supporting carbon-free nuclear reactor electricity.” The sponsorship will run for 20 years with ever changing tag lines.
    A TV add series would be also be implemented. I believe that advertising over long periods of time actually affects public opinion.

  25. James Greenidge

    Excellent feature thought ought be posted on ever nuclear blog if not forwarded the email of every mainstream media outlet!

    Additionally, I think there’s a tendency to over-intellectualize a complex solution to a simple problem. It’s like that “Get Smart” shtick that a much too simple solution is just stupid — but it works! The public is scared dejesus of nuclear energy because they’ve been fed seldom if ever corrected mis/malinformation and movie nightmares through the decades. They see the world through the green-tinted lens of a unbalanced media and how else can they see nuclear any clearer? It’s time to hijack that lens and confront your slanderers. The reason Greenpeace and FOE & Co. get away with sowing FUD it is because there’re “out there” stirring things up in the grassroots public in major, not in piecemeal niched channels or Tupperware parties whose nuke awareness ed effect Homer Simpson wipes out in a single night. It’s a case of Will and Guts to implement obvious measures.

    I often cite “Puppy Resce” ads here in New York City metro, a small time outfit making a big splash and public perception big time in the nation’s top priciest media market. Puppy Rescue’s entire budget is surely a fraction of the coffee budget of the top nuclear professional organizations, but pound per pound their public awareness and education is far far greater. Again I cite how Tylenol and BP Gulf salvaged an almost intractable public perception disaster by rebounding from cower mode and slamming their retort front to the mainstream public instead of wasting time consulting their Yodas what to do. Any reputable ad firm on Madison Ave can pull nuclear’s bad image bacon out of the fire _right now_ — but ONLY if they’re asked and tapped. You enlighten the public of your sterling merits and healthy advantages compared your opposition and they’ll get on the backs of windvane pols to do the right thing. Ask yourself; what other companies or industries out there have marketed themselves the same way nuclear power (and nuclear-base community) has and survived much less prospered?

    It really isn’t Saturn V science. God knows the Greens knew this ages ago — and maybe they saw the reason they could run totally amok twisting fact and records with totally unchallenged FUD is because they see that the nuclear community is still trying to figure out just how many nuclear engineers it takes to change a light bulb.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

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