There’s this thing that happens when you engage properly and with honest commitment on the question of winning back a safe climate for our future. Eventually, you get it. You get that without nuclear power, we can’t do it. We just cannot get emissions down to where we need them for a halfway decent chance of avoiding a climate catastrophe.
Then, you suddenly get something else: nuclear proponents can’t just be vile right wing industrialists. Maybe they are people who care enough to have (in many cases) challenged their prejudices and to take steps to fight for a change they believe in. Maybe they care deeply for the natural environment and for people everywhere.
Here are some people who get it, and are doing something about it. Some are house-hold names. Some are well-known environmentalists. Some are well-known and inspiring to me, and worth telling you about.
This list started as a list of environmental “switchers” who had changed their mind about nuclear. As my journey has progressed I have been influenced by more and more amazing people who are not so easily put in the switcher box. But they matter, because we need to see the whole picture of how nuclear power fits into a pathway for a much better world.
So please enjoy my updated and newly catergorised list. No doubt it will keep growing along with the understanding of the critical role of nuclear power in the 21st Century.
These environmentalists have moved from opposition to vocal supporter of nuclear power technology.
George Monbiot is a popular columnist with The Guardian newspaper in the UK, and author of Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning. He has been a tireless campaigner for effective action on climate change and one of the strongest voices against the farce of climate change denial. A long time opponent of nuclear power, since the Fukushima nuclear event Monbiot has become a strong and compelling voice for the essential contribution of nuclear power in avoiding climate catastrophe. He was and remains one of my strongest influences.
Gwyneth Cravens is a novelist and journalist, and a former card-carrying nuclear protester. Her tale is one that is familiar to me: frustration with our climate and energy predicament leading to exploration of nuclear power, leading to revelation at just how wrong we have been, and just how much damage we have done by blocking it. She then wrote Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy , which has become one of the seminal texts for caring people who are needing to explore nuclear power anew. You can read a detailed interview from 2007 with Gwyneth here.
Ted Nordhaus is the Chairman of the Breakthrough Institute, a political think tank in the United States, an author, researcher, and political strategist. With Michael Shellenberger, he published the seminal essay “The Death of Environmentalism” in 2004 and the controversial and critically acclaimed Break Through, Why We Can’t Leave Saving The Planet To Environmentalists in 2007. Time Magazine named Ted a “Hero of the Environment” in 2008, and dubbed his work “prescient.” Ted has been professionally involved in environmentalism for ages but he and his co-author Michael Shellenberger only “got it” on nuclear power post the publication of their highly influential book Break Through.
Michael is president and co-founder of Breakthrough Institute. He is co-author with Ted Nordhaus of Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility (Houghton Mifflin 2007). The book received the 2007 Green Book Award and a starred review from Publishers’ Weekly, which called the book “Convincing, resonant, and hopeful.” He’s a great guy, highly pragmatic, and he and Ted share an obvious determination to leave a positive legacy.
Mark Lynas is the author of The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans, one of the best environmental books I have read. He has previous written two major books on climate change – High Tide: News from a warming world (2004) and Six Degrees: Our future on a hotter planet (2007), which won Science Book of the Year from the Royal Society in the UK. He is a frequent speaker around the world on climate change science and policy.
So yep, you could say Mark Lynas cares about climate change. He also gets it. You can read all about his views on nuclear on his fantastic blog, but here is some of what he had to say in an October 2011 interview:
It’s blindingly obvious, actually, and I don’t know why it took me so long. The current deployment of nuclear power worldwide of 430 reactors reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 2 billion tons per year. And that really is the beginning and the end of the argument if you’re in the slightest bit concerned about global warming.
Read the full interview here
Tom Blees has a lot to answer for… his book Prescription for the Planet has probably done more than any other to move thinking people to the cause of nuclear power. James Hansen, Barry Brook, Tom Wigley and myself, in all cases the imprint of Tom’s work on our approach has been indelible. He has opened the eyes of many to some game-changing facts: the seemingly “intractable” problem of nuclear waste is nothing of the kind, and we have all the fuel we need for the next 1,000 sitting around right now!!! When I met Tom after a debate at Adelaide University, I said to him “I just can’t help but wonder about any book that talks about a painless remedy… surely this can’t be real”. Tom shrugged his shoulders and said to me “I know! I thought the same thing. But it’s real”. I still believed the answer lay in “pain” for me and my developed country fellows. Prescription for the Planet taught me that instead of pain we have to fight for understanding that tackling the climate crisis intelligently will gift a future more incredible than we can imagine.
Oh yeah, he also heads the Science Council for Global Initiatives, a group of people so freaking smart I thank my stars they are the good guys.
Fred Pearce is an environment writer with The Guardian Newspaper in the UK, and author of The Last Generation: How nature will take her revenge for climate change. Another nuclear opponent of long standing, in November 2011 Fred got it in a big way, and published this column where he said:
I never thought I’d say this – but the future is nuclear. Or it should be…We don’t have to pay through the nose for a low-carbon future. All we have to do is to conquer our fear of nuclear power.
Fred joins the growing ranks of intellectually honest and caring environmentalists for the 21st century.
You have to love Stewart Brand. He shames the notion that nuclear power advocacy is exclusive from environmental concern. He edited “The Whole Earth Catalogue” back in the late sixties and early 70′s, and was involved in organising the first Earth Day. Like most truly talented thinkers, he has the shown the capacity to keep learning and changing and is now a prominent pro-nuclear environmentalist with a well-known (and simply outstanding) book Whole Earth Discipline: Why dense cities, nuclear power, transgenic crops, restored wildlands and geoengineering are necessary. To think I believed I was rocking the boat…
Speaking of boat rockers, how about Geoff Russell? He is a longstanding member of Animal Liberation… not exactly a renowned hot bed of pro-nuclear activism. But Geoff does not let social norms get in the way of truth. A professional mathematician and decidedly independent thinker, Geoff pointed out what seemed obvious to a lot of people who tried the CSIRO diet eating such a staggering amount of meat every week can’t possibly be healthy…This appetite for fact above norm is precisely what makes him such a persuasive nuclear advocate. Geoff is better researched, better prepared, better reasoned and more morally driven than the other side. Geoff keeps delivering great articles for the Australian web media, and was good enough to provide me with some comments for this page.
Having been anti-nuclear forever and mixing in predominantly anti-nuclear circles, it was a difficult decision to even consider the issue (of nuclear power). But …Once the genie escaped the bottle, there was no pushing it back. My original reassessment focused on Integral Fast Reactors, but over time I realised that modern reactors of all kinds were top quality highly reliable engineering and that my prior nuclear fears were thoroughly irrational. They had more in common with a phobia than a position.
The Climate and Environmental Science Experts
It was despair regarding the inadequacy of our solutions in the face of climate change that led me to re-appraise nuclear power. The opinions of these scientists ought be compelling to those entertaining a re-think on nuclear for this reason.
Dr James Lovelock
James Lovelock is a celebrated scientist the modern father of the Gaia principle, that our planet is can be likened to, and behaves and responds like, a self-regulating, living organism. He and his work were embraced by environmentalism… right up to the point where he pointed out the absolute necessity of nuclear power as a response to the deepening climate crisis. He said:
“I am a Green, and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy”.
The response? At least in part, he has been turned on, including by Friends of the Earth, who, rather than pausing to consider whether this decorated scientist may have a point, seeks to paint him as some kind of loon. It’s that kind of intellectual immaturity that today leaves me seriously wondering who is more dangerous for our climate: the fossil fuel lobby selling us the problem, or those sections of the environmental lobby slinging mud on those fighting for the solution.
Dr James Hansen
James Hansen is perhaps the most globally recognisable climate change scientist. Hansen’s early work in climate change modelling and projections has been hugely influential, and he was a loud and early voice sounding the alarm on climate change to the US Congress in the 1980s. Hansen put himself at considerable professional risk by maintaining his outspoken position on climate change action during the years of the Bush Jr administration. He is the author of Storms of My Grandchildren, which is on the DSA recommended reading list. I don’t know anyone who has done more to safeguard our future than James Hansen. He is now continuing this work as climate activist and an advocate of nuclear power to aid the immediate cessation of coal burning.
Professor Barry W Brook
Barry is a friend of mine and one of the most switched on, passionate people I have ever met. He is the Director of Climate Science at Adelaide University, and Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change. Originally a conservation biologist by training, he also runs the amazing blog Brave New Climate, is on the board of the Science Council for Global Initiatives and the International Awards Committee of the Global Energy Prize. One of the world’s true polymaths, Barry is a formidable voice for nuclear power and Australia’s most prominent voice on this issue.
Professor Tom Wigley
Tom is yet another scarily good climate scientist who gets it. He’s a senior scientist in the Climate and Global Dynamics Division of the University Corporation of Atmospheric Research. He has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for his major contributions to climate and carbon-cycle modeling and to climate data analysis.
He is one of the most highly cited scientists in the climate science discipline. He has published on a diverse collection of topics in climatology including data analysis; climate impacts on agriculture and water resources; paleoclimatology; and modeling of climate, sea level, and the carbon cycle. He has served as lead author in each of the six major scientific reviews of the greenhouse problem.
All of this makes Tom one of those people I really, really pay attention to when he says “we need nuclear power to solve this problem” and “people don’t realise just how bad climate change is”.
Professor Corey Bradshaw
Corey is a conservation biologist at Adelaide University and author of the outstanding and well-read blog Conservation Bytes. Corey is the embodiment of eco-pragmatism. He has no illusions about the extent of the crises we face, and he proposes solutions and approaches that will secure us the best potential outcome. His concern for the future of our planet and the natural systems on which we all depend are deeply held and sincere. He has the courage to put words to this conviction in pieces like this. Sitting comfortably in this mix is an entirely straightforward support for nuclear power. These days, I am lucky to call Corey a mate and I look forward to continuing to learn from him.
Sometimes the nuclear debate can get both heated and detailed, and context can be lost. When your work and passions take you face to face with some of the worst of human suffering, in both type and scale… well, it provides a little perspective. The humanitarians in this list understand full well the importance of clean energy for development, the importance of development for making the world a better place, and the risk climate change poses to all the good things we have already achieved. For them, nuclear power is simply an essential part of the plan for the 21st Century.
So since Bill Gates made mega-bucks in computers, why should I listen to him on energy? Well, since 2006 he has been full time with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest charitable institution in the world. They focus on those boring things that kill loads of people, stuff like malaria, tuberculosis, lack of vaccinations, HIV, poor agricultural output in Africa, stuff like that. They are obviously going after those things that can make the big, fundamental differences in the lives of the world’s poorest, so my ears pricked up when I heard Bill Gates say this:
Energy and climate are extremely important to these people (the world’s poorest two billion). In fact, if you could pick just one thing to lower the price of to reduce poverty, by far you would pick energy
I’m listening, Bill. You should to. Click on the link above, his TED talk is an absolute cracker.
Professor Jeffrey Sachs
While completing my Masters in Sustainability in 2005, I wanted to make sure I was addressing the human element adequately, so I wrote an essay on poverty. My cornerstone text was The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs. It remains one of the most influential books I have ever read.
Sachs is Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a professor of sustainable development. Sachs cares about people. He understands economies, why they work and what to do when they are failing. He is well attuned to the role of healthy and productive eco-systems in these challenges and the critical importance of responsible environmental stewardship.
So I really hope people will listen to him on nuclear power:
We won’t meet the carbon targets if nuclear is taken off the table…Emissions per unit of energy need to fall by a factor of six. That means electrifying everything that can be electrified and then making electricity largely carbon-free. It requires renewable energy, nuclear and carbon capture and storage – these are all very big challenges.
The Credible Hulks
Have you ever been told not to believe someone about a nuclear matter because they “work in nuclear”?
But of course, if someone is really, really knowledgeable on this topic, that’s where they are going to work.
Instead of weighting their contribution upward, we are referred to other “experts” with some respectable background qualification or history, who have spent years or even decades working outside the nuclear industry, in active opposition to it.
Weighting the latter group over the former would be like listening to the advice of a violinist who packed it in after a couple of years and started professionally objecting to orchestras.
To the true experts, I am grateful. When I have needed to dig deeper and understand something better, it is the likes of these people I have to thank. They are not only great professionals, they are also proud of what they do and unafraid to bring their knowledge to a vital debate. Sitting on the sidelines is not how they see their responsibility.
Professor Gerry Thomas
Professor Gerry Thomas is of the Imperial College, London. You can read about her here, but I will sum her CV up as “qualified to her eyeballs on radiation health impacts”. What make Prof. Thomas especially interesting is that, in her own words:
I actually was a member of the UNSCEAR committee on the Health effects of the Chernobyl accident and wrote the section on the molecular biology of thyroid cancer. I can assure you that none of us are in the pay of the nuclear industry. I was anti-nuclear until I worked on the after effects of the Chernobyl accident – now I am very pro-nuclear as I realise that we have an unwarranted fear of radiation – probably due to all the rubbish about a nuclear winter we were fed during the cold war.
You can here more from Professor Thomas in this excellent video which examines the health impacts of Chernobyl.
As Gwy Cravens recently remarked, when you are researching nuclear power, angle after angle and issue after issue, there is a site you seem to keep coming back to. That’s Atomic Insights, and it’s the product of one Rod Adams. Atomic Insights is one of the world’s best gathering places for nuclear advocates. Rod has done as much as anyone (and more than most) to build a global nuclear community. A former Engineer Officer on a nuclear submarine, Rod now works for Babcock and Wilcox, furthering their development of Small Modular Reactors. Rod is a big fan of transparency, so his CV is available in full here.
On four occasions I have had the pleasure of joining Rod on his podcast, The Atomic Show, which recently celebrated its 200th episode. This speaks of an extraordinary commitment. Rod is proud of what he does. His work is detailed, well sourced, well-argued and robust, and there is little in the nuclear world that escapes his notice. That’s what makes Atomic Insights the site it is, and that’s why I’m glad to add Rod to my list.
Professor Doug Boreham
I first came across Doug Boreham as a guest speaker in Adelaide in 2011. Doug is a Canadian who teaches at McMaster University, where he is an Associate Professor of Medical Physics and Applied Radiation. He worked for ten years as a radiation biologist at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. Doug’s specialist expertise is in the study of the biological effects of low dose radiation exposures in humans and other creatures. Having got to know Doug, he joined me for the launch of Zero Carbon Options, where he spoke of the realities of living in nuclear communities and working in the nuclear industry in Canada. Doug is an excellent speaker, a great guy and an invaluable expert voice.
Professor Wade Allison
When I needed to move my understanding of radiation up a few levels, the text I turned to was Radiation and Reason, by Professor Wade Allison. Wade’s book is an excellent manual for the non-specialist in understanding radiation: what it is, how it occurs, how it is perceived, how it is used, how it is measured, where and how it has caused harm. The information is clear, concise and impeccably referenced. Wade takes it further, and discusses the risks we are running from our broad misunderstanding of radiation, through the influence this has on our use of the many benefits of this knowledge. It is absolutely recommended reading on nuclear.Wade is a nuclear and medical physicist at the University of Oxford.
If we really want things to change in this space, where would be without our communicators?
Robert is a lauded documentary film-maker with a long history in nuclear issues and environmentalism. His film “Radio Bikini” (1987) documented the nuclear testing program around Bikini Atoll and was nominated for an Academy Award. Twenty-five years later, Robert’s soon-to-be released film, Pandora’s Promise, will be hitting screens mid-year. When I had the pleasure of meeting Robert we bonded on a key point: planning energy strategy on the assumption that we cannot change minds on nuclear power is a complete mistake. We can, and we will. In Robert’s own words:
Pandora’s Promise is without question the most personal and important film of my career. I’ve learned that just about everything I thought I knew about energy turned out to be wrong. And most of what I thought I knew about nuclear energy and its historical events has turned out to be precisely the opposite of what really happened.
Suzanne is the brain behind Pop Atomic Studios, an organisation which uses “the power of visual and liberal arts to enrich the public discussion on atomic energy”. Suzy’s work has a fantastic pop aesthetic that helps to impart the positive truth about nuclear while retaining a fantastically independent quality. Suzy is also one of the driving forces of the Nuclear Literacy Project, “an independent resource to help the public learn more about nuclear technologies and to understand how they affect our daily lives”. The goal of NLP is to “to provide a basic context so that a non-technical person can determine fact from fiction regarding the operation of nuclear plants and enlarge his or her perspective”. Another committed person, doing amazing things because she knows there is a better world out there for the winning. Enjoy this fantastic TEDX clip of Suzy.