Environmental Activists’ Nuclear Opposition Explained

May 4th, 2016 by Leave a Comment

The most climate-friendly reliable source of power is nuclear energy, yet environmental activists largely campaign against nuclear. Michael Shellenberger shares the fascinating history and motives of activists’ opposition in, “CLEAN ENERGY IS ON THE DECLINE — HERE’S WHY, AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT,” in Public Utilities Fortnightly.

Shellenberger writes:

Utilities that own nuclear power plants are in serious financial trouble. While it is tempting to blame low natural gas prices and misplaced post-Fukushima jitters, nuclear’s troubles are rooted in regulatory capture — a capture that finds its genesis in the origins of the U.S. environmental movement. This capture is now threatening to bring this climate-friendly energy source to the brink. …

How then did environmentalists come to view nuclear as bad for the environment?

Starting in the mid-sixties, a handful of Sierra Club activists feared rising migration into California would destroy the state’s scenic character. They decided to attack all sources of cheap, reliable power, not just nuclear, in order to slow economic growth.

“If a doubling of the state’s population in the next 20 years is to be encouraged by providing the power resources for this growth,” wrote David Brower, who was Executive Director of the Sierra Club, “the state’s scenic character will be destroyed. More power plants create more industry, that in turn invites greater population density.”

A Sierra Club activist named Martin Litton, a pilot and nature photographer for Sunset magazine, led the campaign to oppose Diablo Canyon, a nuclear site Pacific Gas and Electric proposed to build on the central Californian coast in 1965. Sierra Club member “Martin Litton hated people,” wrote a historian about the how the environmental movement turned against nuclear. “He favored a drastic reduction in population to halt encroachment on park land.”

But anti-nuclear activists had a problem: their anti-growth message was deeply unpopular with the Californian people. And so they quickly changed their strategy. They worked hard instead to scare the public by preying on their ignorance.

Doris Sloan, an anti-nuclear activist in northern California said, “If you’re trying to get people aroused about what is going on … you use the most emotional issue you can find.” This included publicizing images of victims of Hiroshima and photos of babies born with birth defects. Millions were convinced a nuclear meltdown was the same as a nuclear bomb.

Read the article in its entirety here: http://epillinois.org/news/2016/5/1/why-environmentalists-changed-their-mind-on-nuclear 

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