This is a sort of personal one, folks.
Growing up in Australia, my experience informs me of a prevailing anti-nuclear sentiment which tends to cling like a habit. I think I remember asking about what was going on when this Chenobyl thing was smoking away on the tv, and received a basic explanation couched in concern over general safety and unrelated events like Hiroshima and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
My father’s old watch had a radium dial. I’d nick it at night to stare at the glow. Despite being fascinated with nuclear energy as I grew, the habit remained, preened by the weapon testing efforts of the French in the 90s, the concerns over long-lived waste. I read Niven and Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer and remember being surprised and intrigued that not only was the fictional San Joaquin nuclear power plant depicted as entirely benign, its functional survival became pivotal to the survival of civilisation.
Then there was the controversy around the proposed waste dump in my state. Fortunately, I’d started uni by that time and could consult lecturers on the matter. Turned out there was radioactive waste stashed under the chemistry department. I finally faced my first fear at a proper personal level: the radiation wasn’t doing anyone any harm.
If you are worried about radiation (like what you might imagine is floating around in those pictures of deserted Fukushima villages, or out to sea east of the crippled power plant), please indulge me for a minute, and imagine not being worried or afraid of it.
Now, ask yourself, how much you actually know about nuclear energy?
I ask myself this all the time, and my only response is to seek out more information. After all, you can only know something if it is true. I found a blog by a retired professional which brings together much of what I have absorbed disparately via comment threads and web surfing over many years.
The way I see it, you can make do with the old way of absorbing news, which will essentially always pander to the ingrained habit of nuclear scepticism – why risk putting readers off and losing advertisers? Or you can treat that as a launch pad and delve for the unfiltered facts which will actually serve to inform you and benefit your knowledge. There is always confirmation bias to be wary of, but that is why, despite the now-obvious urgency of this issue, it has taken me years to reach this position. And confirmation bias swings both ways, remember.
So if the first time you thought hard about nuclear was after the Touhoku earthquake and tsunami, and found yourself freaking out about radioactive oceans, there is a sober voice to calm you. Ever wanted to know what actually happened in the Ukraine? It’s sort of hard to believe that there are several plants like Chernobyl still operating without incident, let alone the fact that the other three reactors at the site carried on generating quite safely long after the disaster. But somehow, they were safe enough.
Even Three Mile Island seems more like a cautionary tale in the success of redundant safety systems of Gen-II reactor designs when presented by someone who understands everything about it.
Another great communicator is Gordon McDowell. I’m proud to have helped crowdfund his upcoming documentary.
There’s a common brand of environmentalist who is ready to quote respected, consensus scientific conclusions on the likelihood and consequences of climate change due to our civilisation’s GHG emissions, but then perpetuate misunderstanding and paranoia regarding nuclear power and the nature of radiation with little or no respect for the facts presented by comparable scientific institutions, nor the experience of professionals such as our blogger above. I’ve noticed something about such hypocrites: they’ll never ask you why you’re in favour of nuclear.
The information I’m sharing is about being consistent in these issues. I hope it gets you thinking. And more importantly, I hope it gets you knowing.