Nuclear fears at climate change dinners

Over the last two semesters, I have attended four dinners on climate change and policy organised by our university. The speakers were quite interesting and focused on different aspects of the issue; beginnning with the science, the psychology of inertia against climate change, the health impacts of climate change including those on mental health, the legal issues involved in climate change legislation, the thrust by (a frustratingly low number of corporations) towards sustainable technologies, and the possible uniting of people of faith and those who do not have religious faith in fighting climate change as a common cause. There was also a session on alternative technologies.

While all of the people at the dinners were smart, articulate, responsible and congenial, I found some rather frustrating if polite opposition to nuclear energy among all of them. Reactions ranged from “What do you do with all that plutonium?” to “Even if coal kills more people, I am just less comfortable about things that I cannot see (like radiation)”. Needless to say, these reactions left me disconcerted, especially because they came from intelligent people. While not all of them are unfounded, they demonstrate some rather simplistic thinking. We have to dispel such doubts from these people’s minds, because we need the likes of them on board to push advocacy of nuclear energy. I am not sure what we can do publicly to increase awareness among such people. The problem as I have said before is that unfortunately this country has a large burden of history involving nuclear weapons that makes a fresh and sprightly look at nuclear energy much more difficult than a similar look at biofuel and solar power, which sounds cooler to many. However, there are always some central points that are common to doubts about nuclear energy in people’s minds, and I think everybody needs to keep reminding people about addressing them:

1. Waste: NOT largely a technical issue, but a political one. Dangerous precisely because of lack of processing.
2. Chernobyl and TMI: Chernobyl an abomination and anomaly on the industry, could never happen here. TMI did not directly kill anyone, and both these accidents killed way lesser people than industrial pollution.
3. Terrorism: Concerns addressed before. Hard to steal nuclear material. No fly zones around nuclear reactors. Much more likely for terrorists to choose much simpler methods.
4. Radiation: Much much less dangerous than many other things in daily lives…including falling vending machines.

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