Public perception of nuclear energy

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Despite the objective evidence of the safety and effectiveness of nuclear energy as a source of low-carbon energy there is widespread public perception that it is dangerous and uneconomic. This mis-perception has been perpetuated most obviously by the anti-nuclear movement, but also aided and abetted to an unknown degree by the fossil fuel industries.

See also Anti-nuclear movement

Communicating risk

Risk expert: Why radiation fears are often exaggerated Alison George; New Scientist; 23 Mar 2011

David Speigelhalter

What is it about nuclear energy that makes people particularly fearful?

There has been a lot of research on this. Nuclear radiation ticks all the boxes for increasing the fear factor. It is invisible, an unknowable quantity. People don’t feel in control of it, and they don’t understand it. They feel it is imposed upon them and that it is unnatural. It has the dread quality of causing cancer and birth defects. Nuclear power has been staggeringly safe, but that doesn’t stop people being anxious about it, just as airplanes and trains are an amazingly safe way to travel but people still worry far more about plane crashes than car crashes.

Information and advocacy

It’s time for environmentalists to give nuclear a fair go Barry W. Brook, Corey Bradshaw; The Conversation; 15 Dec 2014

Should nuclear energy be part of Australia’s (and many other countries') future energy mix? We think so, particularly as part of a solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent dangerous climate change. But there are other reasons for supporting nuclear technology. In a paper recently published in Conservation Biology, we show that an energy mix including nuclear power has lowest impact on wildlife and ecosystems — which is what we need given the dire state of the world’s biodiversity. In response, we have gathered signatures of 66 leading conservation scientists from 14 countries in an open letter asking that the environmental community: weigh up the pros and cons of different energy sources using objective evidence and pragmatic trade-offs, rather than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is ‘green’.

David MacKay’s foreword to COP21 edition of Climate Gamble J. M. Korhonen; Climate Gamble; 18 May 2016

Professor Sir David J C MacKay, famous for his excellent book “Sustainable Energy: Without hot air,” very kindly provided the following foreword for our COP21 edition of Climate Gamble.

It’s time to go nuclear in the fight against climate change Eric Holthaus; Grist; 12 Jan 2018

After holding steady for the past three years, global carbon emissions rose in 2017 by an estimated 2 percent. That increase comes amid the largest renewable energy boom in world history.

That irony points to what I see as an inescapable conclusion: The world probably can’t solve climate change without nuclear power.

Something big has to change, and fast, in order to prevent us from going over the climate cliff. Increasingly, that something appears to be a shift in our attitudes toward nuclear energy.

By nearly all accounts, nuclear is the most rapidly scalable form of carbon-free power invented. And, the technology is rapidly improving. But lingering concerns about waste and safety have kept nuclear power from staying competitive.

Is nuclear power worth the risk? Nathanael Johnson; Grist; 22 Jan 2019

These five people changed their minds about nuclear power. Are you next?

Liebreich: We Need To Talk About Nuclear Power Michael Liebreich; Bloomberg New Energy Finance; 3 July 2019

We need to talk about nuclear. And I mean really talk, in a truth-and-reconciliation, moving-forward kind of way, not a let’s-all-shout-slogans-at-each-other, my-tribe-versus-your-tribe kind of way. Serious people are finally talking about decarbonizing national economies by mid-century, but such talk must be accompanied by credible plans – and no plan can be considered credible if it does not deal explicitly with nuclear power.

If nuclear is in, what role will it play in the energy system? How are you going to ensure plants are affordable, built on time and to budget? How are you going to fund it? What are your assumptions about new nuclear technologies? And what is your long-term plan for nuclear waste?

If nuclear is out, then how are you proposing to meet the world’s growing energy needs? Not just current electricity demand, but also the power required to electrify transport, heating and industry? And not just when it is sunny or windy, but all day every day, every week, every month, every season?


Sarah Spath Sarah Spath; Mothers for Nuclear; 8 Jun 2016

I believe in sustainability. It angers me to think that poor decisions that we make today for convenience, frugality, or some political pat on the back to corporations are destroying our environment. We use nature as a credit card with no spending limit and overdraft the environment to live a plush existence with little concern for the eventual consequences.

Nuclear power has been top-down and hierarchical. These women want to change that. David Roberts; Vox; 21 Jul 2020

A new women-led, progressive energy group will devote itself to nuclear policy.

Nuclear power has long been a divisive issue in the environmental community. The enormous momentum of anti-nuclear sentiment from the ’70s and ’80s has clashed in recent years with a new wave of advocates who claim that deep decarbonization — eliminating the greenhouse gases that drive climate change — requires the assistance of nuclear power.

The embrace of nuclear in climate and progressive circles has been hampered by two factors. First, nuclear has traditionally been a huge and highly hierarchical industry, peddling enormous plants that cost billions of dollars and produce dangerous waste, with a history of special pleading and corruption — not the kind of industry progressives naturally lean toward.

Second, nuclear advocates have traditionally been, well, men. And not just any men, but the kind of men highly prone to mansplaining why they are rational and you are an over-emotional hysteric. (“Nuclear bros,” in the online argot.) There is a cohort of nuclear advocates who seem to have chosen the issue mainly as a pretext for bashing environmentalists. Insofar as they’ve attempted outreach to climate advocates, the nuclear bros have met limited success.

This has caused quite a bit of angst among the small but growing number of progressives who have turned to nuclear advocacy out of progressivism — out of a concern over climate change and its impacts on the most vulnerable.

Those activists see opportunities in the new generation of nuclear plants, which are smaller, cheaper, and safer than their predecessors, more congruent with the general movement toward distributed energy, microgrids, and community ownership.

But they have struggled to change the tenor of the conversation because they are scattered and lack institutional backing.

Now they are launching a group of their own: the Good Energy Collective, which will develop and advance progressive nuclear policy.

Four of the five board members are women, as are the co-founders: Suzy Hobbs Baker (currently creative director at University of Michigan’s Fastest Path to Zero initiative) and Jessica Lovering (currently a doctoral student in engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University).


Good Energy Collective: Progressive nuclear policy for a brighter future. website

Good Energy Collective is building the progressive case for nuclear energy as an essential part of the broader climate change agenda. We develop smart policies at every scale that will accelerate the equitable deployment of advanced nuclear technologies to equip communities to meet their diverse needs.

If nuclear energy is going to play a role in mitigating climate change, it’s going to need to look different. We don’t just mean new technologies; the entire industry needs to change from the ground up. We wanted to create a new kind of organization that would do just that, and we’re ready to get our hands dirty. Nuclear needs to grapple with the injustices of its history. We need to develop a social science research and environmental justice agenda to match recent engineering innovations. And most importantly, we need a diverse group of rising leaders on the left who can partner with the climate movement to create an aggressive, coherent vision to address climate change and inequality.

Iida Ruishalme / Thoughtscapism

Nuclear Energy Is the Fastest and Lowest-Cost Clean Energy Solution Iida Ruishalme; Thoughscapism; 27 Nov 2017

I’ve joked to my friends that if there is anything that proves how important I consider the clean energy topic to be, it’s me digging into electricity pricing. I have a natural aversion to economics – I’ve demoted that aversion somewhat from the position of idealist elitism it carried back when I was a teenager (anything to do with money was about greed and not worth considering). Now I acknowledge that my prejudice toward economics is a flaw in my character which means I’m probably missing a whole lot about a fascinating and complex aspect of societal dynamics. I’ve battled that weakness a couple of times to catch a glimpse of that complexity.

So, when I used to hear people complain about nuclear energy being expensive and slow to build, I would thoughtfully nod my head, thinking: “Well, they probably have a point, it’s expensive, and it’s quite a project to build a plant. Still, it’s important because it can provide astounding amounts of reliable carbon-free energy, so we just have to stomach that slow and costly process.”

You’d think I would have learned by now about the risks of making assumptions based on hearsay?

Off the Press: Nuclear Energy Is a Fast and Inexpensive Way to Improve the World Iida Ruishalme; Thoughtscapism; 11 Dec 2017

This piece was originally published in the Finnish newspaper Aamulehti on Friday 8th of November 2017. The article is based on an earlier English blog piece I wrote, which was quite a bit longer than the 4500 character limit at the paper, and unlike it, included plenty of graphs and hyperlinked sources.

We should produce more carbon-free energy in order to stop global warming, and avoid losing millions of lives to air pollution every year. But how? Despite the boom in renewable energy, carbon emissions in the world are on the rise. Concerning Finland’s largest source of carbon-free energy, the headlines in the media make for chilling reading: more delays and rising costs in the construction of nuclear power. Which is why I was astonished when I began digging up more exact numbers on the topic.

Despite delays, the construction costs of Olkiluoto 3 nuclear plant are comparatively small: when the plant comes into operation, its lifetime electricity generation is so tremendous, that the price of construction is at about a cent per kilowatt hour. The building costs of the next planned Hanhikivi plant is estimated to be similar per unit of energy. In Europe, construction costs of renewables, though drastically lowered, are still around four times as large at their cheapest. The price of building nuclear power, in other words, is only a threshold issue – not a long term argument against nuclear energy, but strongly in its favour.

Energy solutions in a changing climate Iida Ruishalme; Thoughtscapism; 6 Mar 2015

Many people respect the views of the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) on the state of the climate – at least roughly half of the global population perceives global warming as a threat. Most of them whole-heartedly acknowledge that we need to take action to mitigate climate change. The odd thing is, though, that a great many seem to ignore a significant portion of what the IPCC is saying when it comes to climate solutions.

James Lovelock


We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources, writes James Lovelock – civilisation is in imminent danger.

James Lovelock: ‘Any Further Interference Is Likely to Be Disastrous’ David Wallace-Wells; N Y Magazine 'Intelligencer'; 2 Oct 2019

Why do you think it has been so difficult to get nuclear power going again?
Because there’s propaganda. I think the coal and oil business fight like mad to tell bad stories about nuclear.

Why is that? Because historically they haven’t seen renewables as the same scale of threat?
Yeah. I mean, when you look at the death rates in the nuclear industry, it’s almost ludicrously low. In this country, I think, it doesn’t exist at all. Nobody’s been hurt.

And even if you look at the worst disasters, they’re nothing compared with the damage that’s done by burning coal.
That’s right. It’s a fake business. And it’s amazing that people have been persuaded by it. I wish you journalists would write out what happened, because just after World War II, there was a lot of interest in using nuclear power and the politicians are all for it. In fact, one of them said, it’ll be so cheap, it will be impossible to meter it. Which is — would that it were true! But the people with loads of money in the oil industry made sure that never happened. And of course the greens played along with it. There’s bound to have been some corruption there — I’m sure that various green movements were paid some sums on the side to help with propaganda.

Hansen, Wigley, Caldeira and Emmanual

Top Climate Scientists Dr. James Hansen, Dr. Tom Wigley, Dr. Ken Caldeira and Dr. Kerry Emanuel to Issue Stark Challenge at Paris COP21 Climate Conference 12 Nov 2015

Press Conference to take place on Thursday, December 3 at 14:00 in the Gallery of Solutions – Media Stage – Air and Space Museum, Paris, Le Bourget

Four of the world’s leading climate scientists, Dr. James Hansen, Dr. Tom Wigley, Dr. Ken Caldeira and Dr. Kerry Emanuel, will issue a stark challenge to world leaders and environmental campaigners attending the COP21 climate summit at a scheduled press conference in Paris on December 3.

Dr. James Hansen, Dr. Tom Wigley, Dr. Ken Caldeira and Dr. Kerry Emanuel will present research showing the increasing urgency of fully decarbonizing the world economy. However, they will also show that renewables alone cannot realistically meet the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C, and that a major expansion of nuclear power is essential to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system this century. (1)

Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley; The Guardian; 3 Dec 2015

To solve the climate problem, policy must be based on facts and not prejudice. Alongside renewables, Nuclear will make the difference between the world missing crucial climate targets or achieving them

All four of us have dedicated our scientific careers to understand the processes and impacts of climate change, variously studying ocean systems, tropical cyclones, ice sheets and ecosystems as well as impacts on human societies. We have used both climate models and geological records of past climates to better understand lessons from warmer periods in the Earth’s history and investigate future scenarios.

We have become so concerned about humanity’s slow response to this challenge that we have decided we must clearly set out what we see as the only viable path forward. As scientists we do not take advocacy positions lightly, but we believe the magnitude of climate change now presents an unprecedented moral challenge that compels us to speak out.

To avoid the worst effects of climate change, including continued sea level rise, the total loss of Arctic sea ice and devastating effects on human societies and natural ecosystems alike, rapid global decarbonisation is needed. The voluntary measures put on the table at Paris by over 100 nations are a welcome step, but unless there are strong measures to reduce emissions beyond 2030, global emissions would remain at a high level, practically guaranteeing that young people inherit a climate running out of their control. A new and intensified approach is clearly needed.

Everyone agrees that the most urgent component of decarbonisation is a move towards clean energy, and clean electricity in particular. We need affordable, abundant clean energy, but there is no particular reason why we should favour renewable energy over other forms of abundant energy. Indeed, cutting down forests for bioenergy and damming rivers for hydropower – both commonly counted as renewable energy sources – can have terrible environmental consequences.

Nuclear power, particularly next-generation nuclear power with a closed fuel cycle (where spent fuel is reprocessed), is uniquely scalable, and environmentally advantageous. Over the past 50 years, nuclear power stations – by offsetting fossil fuel combustion – have avoided the emission of an estimated 60bn tonnes of carbon dioxide. Nuclear energy can power whole civilisations, and produce waste streams that are trivial compared to the waste produced by fossil fuel combustion. There are technical means to dispose of this small amount of waste safely. However, nuclear does pose unique safety and proliferation concerns that must be addressed with strong and binding international standards and safeguards. Most importantly for climate, nuclear produces no CO2 during power generation.

To solve the climate problem, policy must be based on facts and not on prejudice. The climate system cares about greenhouse gas emissions – not about whether energy comes from renewable power or abundant nuclear power. Some have argued that it is feasible to meet all of our energy needs with renewables. The 100% renewable scenarios downplay or ignore the intermittency issue by making unrealistic technical assumptions, and can contain high levels of biomass and hydroelectric power at the expense of true sustainability. Large amounts of nuclear power would make it much easier for solar and wind to close the energy gap.

The climate issue is too important for us to delude ourselves with wishful thinking. Throwing tools such as nuclear out of the box constrains humanity’s options and makes climate mitigation more likely to fail. We urge an all-of-the-above approach that includes increased investment in renewables combined with an accelerated deployment of new nuclear reactors.

For example, a build rate of 61 new reactors per year could entirely replace current fossil fuel electricity generation by 2050. Accounting for increased global electricity demand driven by population growth and development in poorer countries, which would add another 54 reactors per year, this makes a total requirement of 115 reactors per year to 2050 to entirely decarbonise the global electricity system in this illustrative scenario. We know that this is technically achievable because France and Sweden were able to ramp up nuclear power to high levels in just 15-20 years.

Nuclear will make the difference between the world missing crucial climate targets or achieving them. We are hopeful in the knowledge that, together with renewables, nuclear can help bridge the ‘emissions gap’ that bedevils the Paris climate negotiations. The future of our planet and our descendants depends on basing decisions on facts, and letting go of long-held biases when it comes to nuclear power.



How fear of nuclear power is hurting the environment Michael Shellenberger TED; Jun 2016

How Fear of Nuclear Ends Michael Shellenberger; TEDxCalPoly; 5 Jan 2017

Michael Shellenberger shows us how the fear of nuclear power was created by people who had ideological fears or sought to exploit it for political gain, including California's former and current Governor, Jerry Brown. Indeed, even the Sierra Club was pro-nuclear in the 1960s.

Why I changed my mind about nuclear power Michael Shellenberger; TEDxBerlin; 17 Nov 2017

Examines effects of Germany's nuclear shutdown and talks about many of people's reservations about nuclear energy.

RTL interview

'Hoe minder kernenergie, hoe groter de opwarming' ('The less nuclear power, the greater the warming')

The American author and activist Michael Shellenberger was once a fierce opponent of nuclear energy. Until he went deeper into the dangers and the objections. 'Solar energy and wind will never run a whole economy. Nuclear energy is our only way for a livable planet, "says Shellenberger. Roderick Veelo talks to him about the energy transition about how things should not be done and how and how we fear nuclear power plants.

A Cubic Mile of Oil

Why I Favor Nuclear Power Ripu; A Cubic Mile of Oil; 21 Aug 2018

Covers CO2 emissions, environmental footprint, safety

Nuclear Power? Yes, but what about…? Ripu; A Cubic Mile of Oil; 17 Nov 2018

Covers waste, fuel supply, proliferation, dirty bombs

The Left

The Left Needs to Reconsider its Automatic Position Against Nuclear Energy

Media And Progressives Turn On Bernie Over Nuclear Power Andrew Follett, Energy and Environmental Reporter; The Daily Caller; 4th Apr 2016

The same progressives and media elites who typically fawn over presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders are now attacking him for his opposition to nuclear power, which they claim is an essential tool in the fight against global warming.

Sanders’s plan to phase out all of America’s nuclear reactors, which currently provide 20 percent U.S. electricity, is a “serious defect” in his global warming plans, progressive website Mother Jones published last week. Other media critics such as Slate andUSA Today have slammed Sanders for his anti-nuclear stance in the last month, claiming getting rid of nuclear power would do more harm than good.

Scientists are also lining up to oppose Sanders’s plan. Despite environmental opposition, most scientists and engineers agree nuclear power is actually great for the environment.

People’s Fission - A supporter's plea for Bernie Sanders to change his mind and embrace nuclear energy LEIGH PHILLIPS; New Republic; 14 Apr 2016

One of the main reasons that lefties like me don’t just back Bernie Sanders, but have an uncommon amount of trust in him, is his dogged, unflappable, remarkably un-politician-like hyperconsistency. For 40 years, he has stuck to the same script on campaign finance, on the billionaire class (even referring to “the richest one-half of one percent” way back in 1971, long before Occupy Wall Street), on the death penalty, on workers’ rights. In 1983, he was fighting for LGBT civil rights when Reagan administration officials still regularly subjected gays, lesbians, and people with AIDS to hate-filled ridicule. He opposed a dodgy trade deal with Panama long before the Panama Papers were leaked. On issue after issue, he’s been on the right side of history, years ahead of schedule.

But there’s one issue on which Sanders has been hyperconsistently wrong. One yuuuuge-ly important, planet-saving, tiny little thing. It’s his irrational, evidence-free opposition to nuclear energy.

Sanders—along with much of the left—needs to take another look at this issue. Because with his democratic-socialist, public-sector ethic, Sanders may just be the only candidate who could actually deliver the sort of mass build-out of nuclear power that the world desperately needs if we are to stave off catastrophic climate change. And even if he doesn’t become president, an informed change of heart on nuclear could convince many of his fans to follow suit.

The Right

The Real Climate Consensus: Nuclear Power James Taylor; Forbes; 3 Aug 2017

The scientific debate between warmists and skeptics makes for good media headlines, but policymakers and the American public should be told more about an important consensus between the two camps: the desirability of nuclear power.

A large number of prominent scientists warning about a climate crisis publicly support nuclear power as a zero-emissions power source. A large number of Democratic public policymakers warning about a climate crisis support zero-emissions nuclear power. And conservatives and skeptics who warn about the high costs and unreliability of wind and solar power support nuclear power as a reliable, cost-effective zero-emissions power source.

“Some 65% of AAS scientists favor building more nuclear power plants—a clear though not overwhelming consilience. Why? Because nuclear power generates green energy and does not rely on fossil fuels. A group of scientists, journalists and policy wonks calling themselves eco-modernists, have laid out a green case for nuclear energy in numerous forums. “Nuclear fission today represents the only present-day zero-carbon technology with the demonstrated ability to meet most, if not all, of the energy demands of a modern economy,” the group declared in what has come to be known as “An Ecomodernist Manifesto“.

Many of the most prominent scientists advocating government action to address global warming support nuclear power. The list of scientists who have voiced support for nuclear power is a virtual who’s who of prominent warmists. Here is a small sample of such scientists:


A powerful consensus, transcending scientific and political beliefs, supports nuclear power as an effective and affordable means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Perhaps we can overlook our political differences long enough to prioritize removing impediments to nuclear power in America and throughout the world.

Pruitt blasts Europe, Merkel for ‘hypocrisy’ on climate ANDREW RESTUCCIA; Politico; 12 Jul 2017

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt dismissed European critics of President Donald Trump's climate policies as hypocrites on Wednesday, while chastising German Chancellor Angela Merkel for phasing out her country's nuclear power plants.

"I just think the hypocrisy runs rampant," Pruitt said in an interview with POLITICO. "To look at us as a nation and say, 'You all need to do more' in light of what we’ve done in leading with innovation and technology — the hypocrisy is palpable in those areas."

Pruitt mentioned Merkel by name, urging the public to press her on the issue. If reducing carbon dioxide emissions "is so important to you, Madam Chancellor, why are you getting rid of nuclear? Because last time I checked, it’s pretty clean on CO
," he said.


Myths vs. Facts Flibe Energy

  • Thorium is just another idea being pushed by the nuclear industry.
  • Thorium as a nuclear fuel has been a failure
  • We know that it will take at least thirty years to build a thorium reactor.
  • Thorium reactors still need uranium or plutonium. This is a proliferation risk.
  • Using thorium would require a resumption of reprocessing in the United States
  • There’s no point to developing thorium reactors because it will still produce radiation.
  • Molten salt will explode on contact with air and water.
  • All radiation is dangerous at any dose level.
  • Radiation is a silent threat that is difficult to detect.
  • All radioactive material is dangerous, and a long half life means it is really dangerous.
  • radioactivity lasts forever
  • Nuclear energy equals nuclear weapons
  • The world will never change and accept energy from thorium.

Denialism and the 'Scientific Consensus': Naomi Oreskes' Attacks on Nuclear Energy and GMOs Expose Deep Divide Among Environmentalists Jon Entine; HuffPo

Radiation Alert: L.A. Gas Well Spewing LETHAL LEVELS Of Breathable Nuclear Material: “Fukushima Class Disaster”

Hiroshima and Nagasaki anti-nuclear propaganda debunked by the hard facts

lots of links

IRRADIATED The hidden legacy of 70 years of atomic weaponry: At least 33,480 Americans dead Will the nation’s new nuclear age yield more unwanted fallout?

Why You Can’t Build a Bomb From Spent Fuel