Paris Diary: Why Nuclear Needs to be Visible at COP21

By T. Marshall

I’ve been asked an unsettling question a number of times since I’ve been at the COP21 meeting in Paris this week, and that is “Why would nuclear be part of a climate conference?” The unfortunate genesis of the question is in the continued stigma that nuclear struggles to shake off as a “dangerous and dirty” energy. I wish you could have seen the face of a newspaper reporter from Bangladesh when I explained that nuclear is low-carbon, in answer to his question, “What’s the difference between nuclear and coal, aren’t they the same (carbon emissions)?”

Then there is the matter of an entire booth devoted to urging Japan to move ahead without nuclear energy, featuring a photo of an explosion at the Fukushima plant.

Nuclear for Climate

Nuclear for Climate booth at COP21 in Paris, France

The good news, however, is that Nuclear for Climate’s two booths (in the Blue Zone hall accessible only to delegates and media, and in the La Galerie business exhibit hall also accessible to accredited visitors) have had a steady stream of interested visitors. While some seem surprised, and some stop to tell us they are opposed to nuclear energy, the majority are genuinely interested in discussing how their nations are progressing with nuclear programs.

On the afternoon of December 2, representatives of the Association des Ingénieurs en Génie Atomique (AIGAM) from Morocco gave an interesting presentation at the Nuclear for Climate booth about their plans for building nuclear energy in the country by 2050. They are moving forward with government and private support, and a clear plan for the future.

Nuclear is also front and center at the U.S. Department of Energy exhibit, with a large 3-D printed model of a reactor. While we would have liked to see more mention of nuclear energy at the large U.S. exhibit in the “countries” hall, we are expecting nuclear to get much more attention once Secretary Moniz arrives this weekend.

Today, we’re looking forward to a press conference featuring climate scientists and environmentalists James Hansen, Tom Wigley, Ken Caldeira, and Kerry Emanuel, who are expected to make a major announcement in which nuclear will figure prominently.

There will be more to come for nuclear in the days ahead.

MarshallMs. Marshall is the Director of Communications and Outreach at the American Nuclear Society.



5 thoughts on “Paris Diary: Why Nuclear Needs to be Visible at COP21

  1. Tom Bond

    It is appropriate that COP21 is in Paris where emissions from electricity generation are just 40g/kWh (2014).

    (scroll to the bottom of the page, the French seem to be ashamed of this incredible climate saving achievement).

    This is 10 or more times less than Denmark, Germany, UK, USA, China, Russia, India, Korea, Japan or Australia.

  2. Eric_G

    The argument that coal is more radioactive than nuclear is just another reason to get rid of coal, not to move to nuclear. They’re already against coal. The greens want distributed low-density power, because they’re under the impression that Moore’s law and Metcalfe’s law apply to electricity generation. The funny thing is because they fail to understand how the Internet went from a peer-to-peer network to a client-server architecture (IE “The Cloud”). The very thing they cite as the model is looking more and more like the power grid than a mesh network.

    Metcalfe’s Law was over a dozen years old when Gilder named it. As Metcalfe himself remembers it, in a private correspondence with one of the authors, “The original point of my law (a 35mm slide circa 1980, way before George Gilder named it…) was to establish the existence of a cost-value crossover point–critical mass–before which networks don’t pay. The trick is to get past that point, to establish critical mass.”

    The idea that wind and solar will follow the “network effect” and at some point cross the inflection point where everything just works is often thought of as the reason for the subsidies, and an excuse for why renewables aren’t delivering. Just need to add a few more solar panels, a few more wind turbines, a little more interconnection, and it will all start to work. “The wind is always blowing somewhere” is often heard.

  3. James Greenidge

    Seasons Greetings!

    Edward, excellently said, and if all you said could be packed into 1 one minute TV Ad, nuclear energy would be well on its way to shedding its Darth Vader image. This is not rocket science nor needs any deep public research — ask BP Gulf rapidly using Ads to totally clean up its image after a lethal oil rig disaster despoiling half the Gulf coast. When I see Puppy Rescue and wedding salons able to run 1 minute Ads here in mass media central New York City (where Indian Point is fighting for its life), it just totally flips me out why the nuclear community and nuclear organizations can’t get together or separately swing such FUD-busting Ads as you’ve outlined. You can attend all the green conferences you want but nuclear’s repute is still in the toilet in public perception. You have to reach out and touch the public directly to educate and persuade then, not via ivory tower conferences. It can be done and quickly. BP Gulf expertly showed it. Am I to assume Puppy Rescue has deeper PR coffers and people keen than the entire nuclear community?? Why is the nuclear PR issue so shunned?? (I was going to say so radioactive but that’d be poor taste posting here).

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  4. Edward Greisch

    You have to start with the very basic basics, such as natural background radiation and elementary school explanations of how nuclear works. Also tell them Coal contains: Uranium and all of the decay products of uranium, Arsenic, lead, mercury, antimony, cobalt, nickel, copper, selenium, barium, fluorine, silver, beryllium, iron, sulfur, boron, titanium, cadmium, magnesium, thorium, calcium, manganese, vanadium, chlorine, aluminum, chromium, molybdenum and zinc. There is so much of these elements in coal that cinders and coal smoke are actually valuable ores. We should be able to get all the uranium and thorium we need to fuel nuclear power plants for centuries by using coal cinders and smoke as ore. Unburned Coal and crude oil also contain benzene, which is a carcinogen. The carbon content of coal ranges from 96% down to 25%, the remainder being rock of various kinds.
    The uranium decay chain includes the radioactive gas radon. Radon decays in about a day into polonium.


    Coal fired power plants cannot meet the same requirements for radiation release that nuclear power plants have to meet.

    Chernobyl released as much uranium as a coal fired power plant releases every 7 years and 5 months. You get 100 to 400 times as much radiation from coal as from nuclear. Natural gas can contain radon.

    Reference book: “The Rise of Nuclear Fear” by Spencer Weart. The fear started thousands or millions of years ago with the fear of witches, wizardry, magic etc. The design of the human brain is very bad. See “Religion Explained” by Pascal Boyer.

    “Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations”
    The fossil fuel industry is hiding the billion dollars it spends each year in the US alone now, to cover up Global Warming.
    The fossil fuel industry spreads fear of all things nuclear. It is the only way they can keep on selling $100 billion worth of coal per year in the US.

    The problem is ignorance caused by a poor education system.