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January 20, 2019

President Rodrigo R. Duterte

Malacanan

JP Laurel Street, San Miguel

Manila 1005, NCR, Philippines

Dear President Duterte,

We are writing as concerned scientists, environmentalists, and global citizens to encourage you to support the inclusion of nuclear energy in your pursuit of clean energy. We applaud your efforts to increase the share of electricity in the Philippines that comes from clean, reliable, and secure energy sources.

While the Philippines benefits significantly from geothermal energy, the share of electricity it generates from clean energy sources has fallen from 55 percent in 1986 to 25 percent in 2017. The reason was that most of the growth of the country’s energy supply was met by fossil fuels.[1]

Now, Philippines is at risk of increasing its dependence on the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal. It is currently the largest source of electricity in the country, and is expected to grow significantly. About half of the coal Philippines consumes is imported at a cost of about ₱50 billion ($1 billion) a year.[2] The Philippines has the 16th most expensive electricity out of 44 nations, according to a 2016 study by Manila Electric Co.[3]

We encourage the Philippines to consider using nuclear to reduce its reliance on coal and other fossil fuels. In 1963, the Philippines received a research reactor from the U.S. under President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program, and from 1976 until 1984, the Philippines built the Bataan nuclear power plant in Luzon, but never started it. The plant has been maintained over the years and thus with a refurbishment could be operational within a few years. Doing so would be a positive next step to making nuclear energy a key source of electricity for the Philippines.

Few people realize that nuclear energy is the safest way to produce reliable electricity.[4] The reason for this is because it does not create outdoor air pollution, which kills 4.2 million people a year.[5] In fact, nuclear power has saved over 1.8 million lives by preventing the burning of biomass and fossil fuels.[6]

Nuclear power also protects the natural environment by requiring far less land and resources than other energy sources — an especially important attribute for the Philippines, a biodiversity hotspot. Due to the energy density of nuclear fuel, coastal nuclear plants in the Philippines would require 180 times less land[7] and 17 times less construction material than solar.[8]

Had the 71 terawatt-hours of fossil fuel electricity that Philippines consumed in 2017[9] been provided instead by solar farms like the nation’s largest in Cadiz City, a land area the size of Metropolitan Manila would be required — and at a cost of ₱4 trillion ($80 billion).[10] And because of the inconsistent nature of solar energy, which would only generate about 20% of the electricity implied by its installation size[11], a major expansion of solar or wind in the Philippines would require the continued operation of expensive backup fossil fuel plants.

Wind power fares scarcely better on the basis of either footprint or cost, while also posing significant danger to bats and migrating birds. To replace just the quantity of the Philippine’s fossil electricity production from 2017, 193 wind farms the size of the largest in the country would need to be constructed, covering 1320 square kilometers and at a scaled cost of ₱4.5 trillion ($87 billion).[12]

Because uranium is so energy dense, nuclear plants create very small amounts of waste. For example, all of the used fuel ever produced in the United States can fit in a thirty-foot stack on a football field.[13] And unlike every other method of producing electricity, nuclear power is the only way that safely manages and pays for its waste.

Though clean energy is important in protecting our shared atmosphere, reliable energy is especially important for island nations, as coal and most natural gas must be imported. This means that unfavorable international developments in world markets or in surrounding territorial waters can become threatening to prosperity and stability. Nuclear energy offers the ability to store many years of fuel, thus providing economic and physical security of supply.

We encourage you to compare the advantages and disadvantages of different clean energy technologies as you develop a future for your country. We believe that nuclear energy can be the vital link between nature, prosperity, and peace in the Philippines.

Signed,

Michael Shellenberger, Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” President of Environmental Progress

Dr. James Hansen, Climate Scientist, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Dr. Tom Wigley, Climate and Energy Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

Dr. Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden. Winner of the National Medal of Science, 2001

Dr. Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Joe Lassiter, Professor, Harvard Business School

Dr. Michelle Marvier, Professor, Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University

Dr. David Lea, Professor, Earth Science, University of California

Dr. Barry Brook, Professor of Environmental Sustainability, University of Tasmania

Dr. Paul Robbins, Director, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Richard Rhodes, author, Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Dr. Gerry Thomas, Professor of Molecular Pathology, Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College London

Dr. Philip Thomas, Professor of Risk Management, University of Bristol

Dr. Wade Allison, Professor Emeritus of Physics, Oxford University

________________

[1] Data from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2018

[2] Data from MIT’s Atlas of Economic Complexity, for year 2016. Available: https://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/profile/country/phl/

[3] Manolo Serapio Jr and Enrico Dela Cruz, “In power hungry Philippines, some advocate a nuclear revival,” Reuters, May 22, 2018

[4] Markandya, A., & Wilkinson, P. “Electricity Generation and Health,” The Lancet, 370 (9591), p. 979-990, 2007.

[5] World Health Organization (WHO), 2016. https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/

[6] Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen, “Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power,” Environmental Science and Technology, 2013

[7] Comparison between a facility like Bataan Nuclear Plant if operated, and assumed production from Cadiz City solar farm. If operated at 85% capacity factor, Bataan’s 570 megawatt (net) capacity would produce 4.3 terawatt-hours per year on an approximate land area of 0.2 square kilometers, for a density of 21.6 terawatt-hours per square kilometer. Cadiz City as detailed in (8) has a power density of 0.12 terawatt-hours per square kilometer.

[8] “Quadrennial Technology Review: An Assessment of Energy Technologies and Research Opportunities,” United States Department of Energy, Table 10, 2015.

[9] BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2018

[10] Details on the solar farm near Cadiz City from Ellera, T., “Unveiling of P10-B solar plant set March 3,” Sun Star Bacolod, February 12, 2016.

Calculation assumes production factor of 15% for installed solar capacity (DC) in the Visayas; measured solar farm area of 1.48 km; solar farm capacity of 132.5 megawatts (DC); and reported solar farm price of ₱10 billion.

[11] Iban Vendrell, “Philippine solar resource characterization, challenges and implications for the sector”, Presentation at 2015 Asia Solar Energy Forum. Available:https://tinyurl.com/ycbochz3

[12] Burgos Wind Farm in northern Luzon is expected to produce 370 gigawatt-hours per year of electricity while covering 6.86 square kilometers, with an estimated construction cost of $450 million: “Burgos Wind Project, Ilocos Norte”, Power Technology.

[13] “Safely Managing Used Nuclear Fuel”, Nuclear Energy Institute.

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Save French Nuclear Power!Meeting to Plan Spring Action in ParisSaturday, February 9, 2019

Meeting: 10:00 to 16:00 pm :: Cocktails: 17:00 :: Dinner 18:00

What: Meeting hosted by the Nuclear Pride Fest to organize pro-nuclear public action in Paris in Spring 2019 to protest proposed nuclear plant closures.

Why: The French government could close 14 nuclear reactors to make way for natural gas and renewables which would increase electricity prices and air pollution.

How: Email madison@environmentalprogress.org if you are interested in helping to organize the public action and would like to attend the Saturday February 9 planning meeting.

All are welcome. This will be a meeting for all people regardless of political persuasion.

Travel scholarships available for students and low-income individuals.

Action organized by Nuclear Pride Fest and co-sponsored by Les Voix du Nucléaire (“Voices of Nuclear,” France); Environmentalists for Nuclear (France); Saving Our Planet (France-UK-Norway); Stitching Ecomodernisme (“Ecomodernist Society,” Netherlands); Environmental Progress (U.S.); Partei der Humanisten (Germany); Mothers for Nuclear (Switzerland); Nuklearia (Germany); Ökomoderne (“Ecomodernist Society”, Germany); Students for Nuclear(U.S.).

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Dear Friends,

Thank you for all of your help making Environmental Progress’s third year (!) a huge success!

Can you believe all that EP and the pro-nuclear movement accomplished in 2018?

Electoral victory in Taiwan

— Pro-nuclear victory in New Jersey

— Historic pro-nuclear “pride fest” in Germany

— Dozens of news and feature articles about EP’s research and advocacy

— Public debate tilts pro-nuclear in Netherlands

— Pro-nuclear “Madame Secretary” episode on CBS

— Publication of “The Complete Case” for nuclear, three years in the making

Debunking myths about nuclear and renewables at Forbes

— Seven open letters to governments and 25 total to date

Can you help us to make 2019 even bigger? Please consider a tax-deductible donation to support EP’s efforts.

We have big things in the works. Nuclear remains in serious trouble around the world, from Taiwan to France.

The momentum is on our side, but we need to grow our movement to achieve our mission.

For nature and prosperity for all!

Michael

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President Emmanuel Macron

President of the French Republic

55 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré

75008 Paris, France

CC:

President Mauricio Macri

The Honourable Scott Morrison

His Excellency Michel Miguel Elias Temer Lulia

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau

President Xi Jinping

His Excellency Donald Tusk

Chancellor Angela Merkel

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

President Joko Widodo

President Sergio Mattarella

His Excellency Shinzō Abe

President Enrique Peña Nieto

President Vladimir Putin

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

His Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa

President Moon Jae-in

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

The Right Honourable Theresa May

President Donald Trump

Dear President Macron,

We are writing as scientists, scholars, and concerned citizens to warn you of a persistent anti-nuclear bias in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on keeping global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.[1]

While many of the scenarios in the IPCC report call for the expanded use of nuclear energy, the report nonetheless repeats misinformation about nuclear energy, contrasts nuclear negatively to renewables, and in some cases, suggests an equivalency with fossil fuels.

While IPCC authors note that public fears of nuclear are an obstacle to its diffusion, in several instances they reinforce unfounded fears. Please consider the following:

  • Nuclear is the safest way to make reliable electricity[2] and has saved over 1.8 million lives that would have been lost prematurely to deadly air pollution.[3]

  • Nuclear plants produce just 12 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour (kWh) as compared to coal plants, natural gas plants, biomass plants, and solar farms which produce 820, 490, 230, and 48 grams of CO2/kWh, respectively, as used in the IPCC’s own publications.[4]

  • Of humankind’s exposure to ionizing radiation, 88% comes from natural causes and 12% from human-made causes with just 0.04% from nuclear plant emissions.[5]

  • The increased risk of mortality from living in a large city, where concentrations of air pollution are high, is 2.8 times greater than the increased risk of mortality for Chernobyl clean-up workers who received the highest levels of radiation exposure.[6]

  • There is a consensus among leading radiation scientists that nobody should have been relocated after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi because the evacuation caused far more harm than the radiation that escaped from the plant could have.[7]

  • Because uranium has an energy density one to three million times higher than coal, nuclear plants require the fewest fuel and material inputs, giving them the smallest mining and land use impact of all energy sources.[8]

  • While nuclear provided 11% of electricity globally last year, solar and wind provided only 1.3% and 3.9%.[9]

  • Because of their inherently intermittent nature, solar and wind energy sources rarely substitute on a one-to-one basis for fossil fuels and must be backed up by fossil fuels, hydroelectric dams, or some other form of large-scale storage.[10]

  • The peak deployment of nuclear energy around the world has occurred more than 10 times faster than the peak deployment of solar and wind, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Science.[11]

The above facts are crucial for putting the role of nuclear in context and yet were either not included in the IPCC report or were insufficiently highlighted.

Moreover, in several instances IPCC authors make misleading claims about nuclear power including:

  • An alleged debunking of the above-mentioned 2016 study in Science through the use of a 2018 study published in a journal[12] with an impact factor of just 10 percent of that of Science;

  • The suggestion that building new nuclear plants must be a slow process[13] despite evidence from the recent past that nuclear capacity can be installed very rapidly when required[11];

  • A statement[14] suggesting a connection between “nuclear installations” and “childhood leukemia,” and no mention of recent research finding higher radiation exposure from coal plants and the manufacturing of solar panels than from nuclear.[15] While the authors acknowledge that there is “low evidence/low agreement” to support their claim, in reality there is no valid evidentiary support for it and the supposed connection has been thoroughly dismissed in the literature[16];

  • A claim that nuclear power “can increase the risks of proliferation”[17] and that the "use of nuclear power poses a constant risk of proliferation"[18] even though no nation in history has ever created a nuclear weapon from civilian nuclear fuel under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency;

  • A claim that nuclear has “mixed effects for human health when replacing fossil fuels,”[19] which is contradicted by the large body of scientific research, cited above, showing that nuclear saves lives;

  • Repeated concerns raised about nuclear waste[20] without acknowledgment or clarification that spent fuel is safely contained, usually on site, nor any mention of the waste from other low-carbon energy sources, including solar panels, which contain toxic metals including lead, chromium, and cadmium, and which in most of the world lack safe storage or recycling.[21]

Such fear-mongering about nuclear has serious consequences. As IPCC itself acknowledges, public fears of nuclear are behind the technology’s slower-than-desirable development.[22] Equally troubling, public fear of nuclear drove the panicked over-reaction to past nuclear accidents, including mass evacuations, which health experts agree had a far larger negative impact on human health than the low-levels of radiation that escaped from the plants.[23]

Where nuclear has proven capable of providing cheap and reliable zero-carbon power to large modern economies from France to Canada to Sweden, solar and wind, which IPCC treat more favorably, have not, in large measure because they require a constant source of back-up energy. And where IPCC report authors offer “policy interventions” to mitigate the challenges of scaling up solar and wind, they do not offer similar policy interventions for nuclear.

While we are gravely disappointed by the double standard with which the IPCC treated nuclear and other low-carbon energy sources, we are hopeful that you, as the head of state of a large modern economy, can rectify such misinformation through your words and actions.

We strongly encourage you to do everything in your power to speak out for nuclear and expand its share of electricity production, heating, and transport, including shipping production, to achieve the intertwined goals of climate change mitigation, pollution reduction, and poverty alleviation.

Signed,

Tom Wigley, Climate and Energy Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

David Lea, Professor, Earth Science, University of California

Barry Brook, Professor of Environmental Sustainability, University of Tasmania

Paul Robbins, Director, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Richard Rhodes, author, Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Gerry Thomas, Professor of Molecular Pathology, Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College London

Philip Thomas, Professor of Risk Management, University of Bristol

Wade Allison, Professor Emeritus of Physics, Oxford University

Joe Lassiter, Professor, Harvard Business School

Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden. Winner of the National Medal of Science, 2001

Andrew Klein, Past President, American Nuclear Society

Mark Lynas, Alliance for Science, Cornell University, author, The God Species, Six Degrees

Bill Lee, Professor of Nuclear Engineering, Imperial College London and Bangor University, U.K.

Steven Pinker, Harvard University, author of Better Angels of Our Nature

Michelle Marvier, Professor, Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University

Tony Roulstone, Department of Engineering, Cambridge University

Martin Lewis, Department of Geography, Stanford University

Simon Henry Connell, Department of Mechanical Engineering Science, University of Johannesburg

Joshua S. Goldstein, Professor Emeritus, International Relations, American University

Malcolm Grimston, author of The Paralysis in Energy Decision Making, Honorary Research Fellow, Imperial College London

David Dudgeon, Chair Professor of Ecology & Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong

Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World

Robert Stone, filmmaker, “Pandora’s Promise”

Myrto Tripathi, Voices for Nuclear, France

Staffan Qvist, co-author, A Bright Future (PublicAffairs 2019)

Norris McDonald, President, Environmental Hope & Justice

Valerie Gardner, founder, Climate Coalition

Carl Page, co-founder, Anthropocene Institute

Kirsty Gogan, Executive Director, Energy for Humanity

Michael Shellenberger, Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” President, Alan Medsker, Environmental Progress

Steve Kirsch, CEO, Token

Rauli Partanen, Ecomodernist Society (Finland)

Ecomodernist Society (Netherlands)

Saving Our Planet (France)

Kristin Zaitz and Iida Ruishalme, Mothers for Nuclear (U.S. and Switzerland)

Rainer Klute, Nuklearia, Germany

Rebecca Lohfert Boas, Ren Energi Oplysning (Denmark)

Amardeo Sarma, co-founder, Partei der Humanisten, Germany

________________

[1] “Global Warming of 1.5 degrees,” IPCC, October 2018.

[2] Markandya, M., and Wilkinson, P., “Electricity Generation and Health,” Lancet, September 15, 2007. Kearns, J. O., Thomas, P. J., Taylor, R. H., Boyle, W. J. O., 2012, "Comparative Risk Analysis of Electricity Generating Systems Using the J-Value Framework", Proc. IMechE Part A: J. Power and Energy, Vol. 226, pp. 414 – 426, May.

[3] Kharecha, P.A., and J.E. Hansen, “Prevented mortality and greenhouse gas emissions from historical and projected nuclear power,” Environ. Sci. Technol.,2013.

[4] Scholenger, S., et al., “Annex III, Table A, III.2,” Climate Change 2014, IPCC, 2014.

[5] “Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM),” World Nuclear Association, May 2018.

[6] Smith, J., “Are passive smoking, air pollution and obesity a greater mortality risk than major radiation incidents?” BMC Public Health, 2007.

[7] Thomas, P., et al., “Coping after a big nuclear accident,” Process Safety and Environmental Protection, November 2017.

[8] U.S. Department of Energy, “Quadrennial Technology Review,” Table 10, 2015; Murray, R.L. et al., Nuclear Energy: An Introduction, Elsevier, (7th edition), 2007.

[9] “Statistical Review of World Energy,” BP, 2018.

[10] Clack, C., et al., “Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 27, 2017. Thomas, P. J., 2012, " The limits to wind power and the cost of standby generation", Proc. IMechE Part A: J. Power and Energy, Vol. 226, 514 – 531, June.

[11] Cao, J. et al., “China-U.S. Cooperation to Advance Nuclear Power,” Science, 2016.

[12] Lovins, A., et al., “Relative deployment rates of renewable and nuclear power: A cautionary tale of two metrics,” Energy Research and Social Science, April 2018.

[13] De Conninck et al., " Chapter 4: Strengthening and implementing the global response", 4.3.1.3 Nuclear Energy, p. 4-19, line 23, , IPCC, 2018

[14] Roy, J., et al. “Chapter 5: Sustainable Development, Poverty Eradication and Reducing Inequalities,” p. 52, Table: Row Nuclear/Advanced Nuclear, Column: Disease and Mortality, IPCC, 2018

[15] United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation, “Radiation Exposures from Electricity Generation,” Sources, Effects, and Risks of Radiation of Ionizing Radiation 2016, 2017.

[16] For a recent review, see: Janiak, M. K. (2014). Epidemiological Evidence of Childhood Leukaemia Around Nuclear Power Plants. Dose-Response, 12(3), 349–364. http://doi.org/10.2203/dose-response.14-005.Janiak

[17] Roy, J., et al. “Chapter 5: Sustainable Development, Poverty Eradication

and Reducing Inequalities,” 5.4.1.2 Energy Supply: Accelerated Decarbonisation, p. 5-23, line 43, IPCC, 2018

[18] Roy, J., et al. “Chapter 5: Sustainable Development, Poverty Eradication and Reducing Inequalities,” p. 5-57, Table: Row: Nuclear/Advanced Nuclear, Column: Reduce illicit arms trade, IPCC, 2018

[19] Roy, J., et al. “Chapter 5: Sustainable Development, Poverty Eradication and Reducing Inequalities,” 5.4.1.2 Energy Supply: Accelerated Decarbonisation, p. 5-23, line 44, IPCC, 2018.

[20] Roy, J., et al. “Chapter 5: Sustainable Development, Poverty Eradication and Reducing Inequalities,”, p. 5-52, Table: Row: Nuclear/Advanced Nuclear, Column: Disease and Mortality. , IPCC, 2018

[21] Enbar, N. et al., “PV Lifecycle Analysis,” Electric Power Research Institute, 2016; Weckend, S., “End of Life Solar PV Panels,” IRENA, 2016.

[22] De Conninck et al., " Chapter 4: Strengthening and implementing the global response", 4.3.1.3 Nuclear Energy, p. 4-19, line 48, , IPCC, 2018.

[23] International Atomic Energy Agency. (2015). The Fukushima Daiichi Accident: Report by the Director General. Vienna, Austria. Retrieved from https://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1710-ReportByTheDG-Web.pdf

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Speech to Women in Nuclear, Canada, September 27, 2018

By Michael Shellenberger

1.

Let’s start with the bad news: nuclear power is in decline. As a share of electricity globally, nuclear peaked in the mid-1990s at nearly 18 percent. Today it is under 10 percent. As total generation, nuclear peaked in the mid-2000s, a half decade before Fukushima, which reduced it further. Now we are at risk of losing twice as much nuclear as we add over the coming decade.

The reason is obvious: people don’t like it. In a recent worldwide survey, just 28 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of the technology in comparison to 60 percent for natural gas and 85 percent for solar. Nuclear is viewed as above average only in reliability, when compared to other energy sources, and below average on every other metric including safety, trustworthiness, and environmental friendliness. In the U.S., support for nuclear is at an all time low. Just 44 percent support it, which is 18 points less than its peak of 62 percent in 2010.

Women are the main cause of nuclear’s unpopularity. In the U.S., 74 percent of men support it but only 45 percent of women. Now, you might be thinking: Canada is different — and you would be right, but only in part. Ontario is the sole province where nuclear has majority support, and only barely, at 54 percent. In every other province, the majority is opposed. The 30 point gender gap in Canada is identical to that in the United States. And after the 2011 Fukushima panic, support for nuclear among men remained steadfast but declined among women.

The reason for nuclear’s low support seems obvious: around the world, people think it’s dangerous — including in Canada, where 55 percent believe the word “dangerous” describes nuclear very well or well — more than any other.

But is it? Not in comparison to other energy sources. In fact, according to the most comprehensive and recent study, published in the British medical journal Lancet,  nuclear power is the safest way to produce reliable electricity.

Even unreliable forms of electricity, like wind turbines, are more deadly than nuclear, resulting in myriad deaths like of these two maintenance workers in Denmark who huddled together before they were killed by fire, and falling, in 2013, shortly after this video was taken.

Nuclear doesn’t contaminate the air,  and air pollution results in the premature deaths of seven million people per year. As a result, nuclear has saved at least 1.8 million lives that would have been lost to pollution. But obviously, facts like these don’t matter enough because if they did, nuclear should be the most popular rather than least popular energy source.

There is more than 40 years of study into nuclear’s gender gap. At first it was thought women were less informed than men. This turned out to be incorrect. Tellingly, nuclear is less popular with female scientists than it is with male scientists.

Social scientists then blamed the disempowerment of women relative to men. Support for this hypothesis came from the fact that various studies found that other demographic groups, particularly racial minorities, demonstrate similarly low support for nuclear. Scientists have explored two reasons for this: that less powerful individuals have less to gain from the system nuclear is perceived to be a part of, and/or less powerful individuals are more fearful in general.

There is no doubt some truth to these hypotheses, but they aren’t the whole story.  A recent survey found that where 60 percent of whites support nuclear, so do 58 percent of Hispanics, which is within the margin of error, and 50 percent of blacks. While that 10 percentage point gap is significant gap, it is still just one-third less than the nearly 30 percentage point gap between men and women

What gives? Why is nuclear so unpopular in general, and unpopular among women in particular? To answer those questions we have to go back in time — back to the rise of nuclear fear.

2.

In 1962, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club asked a young man working for him to investigate a site in northern California where the electric utility wanted to build a nuclear plant. After the young man, David Pesonen, spent the day there, he had an epiphany. “It was a turning point in my life,” he recounted later. “I had a feeling of the enormousness of what we were fighting; it was anti-life. I began to see it as the ultimate brutality, short of nuclear weapons.”  

On his return, Pesonen told the Sierra Club’s board of directors that he could stop the plant’s construction, but that typical conservationist arguments wouldn’t be enough. To win, they would need to convince the local people that radiation from the plant could contaminate them and cause cancer. Pesonen was inspired by growing public concern with the radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing, which had been making its way into the teeth of infants.

The ground was being prepared for their campaign already. In 1956, half of media stories about peaceful nuclear power in the U.S. had positive titles while the other half were neutral. Four years later, just one-quarter of the titles were positive.

A big part of the reason was weapons fall-out. “Radioactivity is poisoning your children,” read a banner splashed across the cover of a January 1957 issue of McCall’s, a leading women’s magazine (another headline on the cover, next to the wide-mouthed baby, was, read, apparently without irony, “How to Relax in 10 Minutes.”)  

Four years later, the journal Science published an article documenting how levels of strontium-90, a radioactive isotope produced by weapons testing, were 50 times higher in the teeth of children born during nuclear weapons testing than before. It was still 200 times less than the levels known to cause cancer, but the study still generated headlines, and alarm, worldwide.

In response, parents — and mothers in particular — demanded that President John F. Kennedy negotiate an end to weapons testing with the Soviet Union, which he did two years later. Banning weapons testing became a cause celebre for the burgeoning women’s movement. “Men have always played irresponsibly with human life,” wrote Midge Decker in an article for Harper’s in 1963, “while women have always protected it.”

Even so, the Sierra Club’s male-dominated board of directors was taken aback by Pesonen’s proposal to frighten the public about the risk of radioactive fall-out. “Don’t you dare mention public safety,” one of them warned Pesonen. “The Sierra Club can talk about scenic beauty, and maybe the loss of scenic beauty, but not about public safety. That’s not our job.” Few Club directors had any problem with nuclear plants per se. Several were, in fact, advocates of it, seeing nuclear as the best alternative to burning coal and oil, or damming rivers for hydroelectricity. Another Sierra Club director called Pesonen an “extremist.”

And so Pesonen quit and started a new organization.  His two main allies, Hazel Mitchell and Doris Sloan, were women. Together they produced and distributed a report claiming that the proposed nuclear plant would create “death dust,” nuclear fall-out, that would contaminate the local milk. They attached notes to 1,500 helium balloons, and released them. The notes read, “This balloon could represent a radioactive molecule of Strontium-90 or Iodine-131. Tell your local newspaper where you found this balloon.” The local dairy farmers, alarmed by the apparent danger, if not to their milk then at least to their businesses, started donating money to Pesonen’s cause.

Until then, fears of radiation from nuclear had been largely confined to weapons, not energy. By linking the two they tapped fears, especially strong among mothers, that their children could be poisoned, and eventually won the day. “If you’re trying to get people aroused about what is going on,” Sloan explained later, “you use the most emotional issue you can find.”

3.

By the end of the decade, the anti-nuclear faction had taken over the Sierra Club. Fear of radioactive contamination had trumped fears of air pollution. The environmental organization was soon joined by Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate, and a new group, Friends of the Earth, founded by a former Sierra Club Executive Director  “[A] million people,” he claimed, “die in the Northern Hemisphere now, because of plutonium from atmospheric [weapons] testing.” Said Nader in 1974, ”A nuclear accident could wipe out Cleveland, and the survivors would envy the dead.”

Nader brought anti-nuclear leaders from around the country to a Washington, D.C. and trained them on his take-no-prisoners style of play. The same year, the new head of the Sierra Club wrote a strategy memo to the board. “Our campaign stressing the hazards of nuclear power will supply a rationale for increasing regulation,” he wrote, “and add to the cost of the industry.”

Over time people came to describe and think of nuclear weapons, energy, waste, and fall-out as contaminations of nature generally, and the body specifically. “Thoughts about waste had unmentioned resonances,” notes the historian Spencer Weart in his essential study, The Rise of Nuclear Fear.

“When some critics called radioactive wastes “sewage” they were suggesting thoughts of excrement. The nuclear industry itself described its wastes as products of the ‘back end’ of nuclear fuel processing… industry workers described radioactively contaminated objects as “crapped up” while a psychological study found the word ‘wastes’ evoked disgust.”

Linguistically, foul words for excrement are used in anger to express anger. The father of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer once said “The atomic bomb is shit,” because it is not good for anything. “[O]n every level of human thought,” Weart concludes, “radioactive wastes — in association with weapons — were seen as filthy insults against the proper order of things.”

In other words, the public came to see nuclear as dirty only after it saw it as dangerous, and thus immoral. ''The critics of our society are using nature in the old primitive way: impurities in the physical world or chemical carcinogens in the body are directly traced to immoral forms of economic and political power,” wrote anthropologist Mary Douglas, who analyzed anti-nuclear activists the same way she did other cultures. “Laws of nature are dragged into sanction the moral code.”

Disgust, psychologists remind us, is a deeply primal emotion. We've all had the experience of triggering it. My wife and I were at a restaurant in Oakland, California recently, and fell into a conversation with a friendly couple next to us. They were in the restaurant business and, after my wife described what she did, it was my turn. No sooner had I said, “nuclear —“ than they both nearly shouted with agony, “Oh, god! Don’t say that word!” as though they wouldn’t have reacted so strongly had I called it atomic power instead. They seemed angry at me for having contaminated their dinner.

What happened next was that nuclear’s alleged danger was displaced, psychologically, first from nuclear bombs to nuclear plants and then to nuclear waste, as we might displace our upset at our boss onto our spouse. Writes Weart:

All the elements of classic displacement were indeed present. There was persistent anxiety about nuclear war. There was an inability to dispel the anxiety in the only genuine way, by getting rid of the bombs. Finally, there was a target toward which the frustrated feelings could redirect themselves, and all the more easily because of many of the associations between bombs and reactors

Women have good reasons to be more sensitive to bodily contamination than men. Even before the science of radiation women have known intuitively for thousands of years that their children, particularly those in utero, are uniquely vulnerable to contaminants that could threaten their health and even lives. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that by the late 1970s, women anti-nuclear leaders came to be so influential.

One of them was Jane Fonda, one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. In 1979 she produced and starred in “China Syndrome,” an anti-nuclear blockbuster that depicted nuclear accidents as apocalyptic and triggered a nationwide panic when a reactor in Pennsylvania melted down (hurting nobody), just 12 days later. In a documentary-style interlude in the middle of “China Syndrome,” Fonda showed mothers speaking out at public meetings to halt nuclear plants — just as Nader and the Club were organizing activists to do across the country.

Another was Helen Caldicott, an Australian pediatrician who became famous for her advocacy with Dr. Benjamin Spock, the child-rearing expert, in the 1970s. Warm, emotional, and seemingly qualified, Caldicott had a flair for the dramatic. At a 1979 No Nukes rally, Caldicott carried a black coffin with a sign that read, “Babies Die First.”

Fetuses, babies and young children are 10 to 20 times more susceptible than adults to the effects of radiation,” she told thousands of people. What drove her? She had read the 1957 novel, “On the Beach,” about a nuclear war set in Australia. “It frightened the hell out of me,” she told The New York Times, in a fawning 1979 profile. “I’m still frightened.”

Caldicott’s power, The Times explained, came from the fact that “She spoke not as nuclear scientist but ‘as a pediatrician, a mother and a world citizen.’ The headline of The Times read, “Helen Caldicott’s Many Lives: Pediatrician, Mother, Activist.” But the regional newspapers that picked up the Times story gave it a blunter headline: “Pediatrician believes babies more susceptible to radiation.”  

It was the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island, and resulting panic, that pushed her into the mainstream. “The unflinching face and urgent voice of Helen Caldicott was all over the television screen,” said the Times. The Times article kept stressing the crucial point: Caldicott wasn’t just a qualified, as a pediatrician, she was active and engaged as a mother.  

“We cannot remain in our laboratories, our hospitals, our offices anymore,” she said. “I'm learning to teach people through love, not hate…. What I do now is to appeal to their goodness as human beings on the radiation issue. They've got children, they've got bodies. I try to appeal to their emotions… Have the people who build these weapons ever seen a child die of leukemia? I have.”

Wait, weapons? I thought we were talking about nuclear power? The two were constantly, and easily, being conflated. Just have a look at the poster advertising the No Nukes concerts, initiated shortly after Three Mile Island. Supposedly it was aimed at nuclear energy. But in the background looms a mushroom cloud with very nearly the same menacing shade of orange used on the poster promoting “The China Syndrome.”

Their campaign worked. By the 1980s, 150 percent more nuclear power was cancelled or killed than was built.

4.

A big part of what gave the anti-nuclear movement its energy, and later its credibility, was the notion that nuclear energy wasn’t needed. "All of the solar energy technologies that can replace fossil fuels are in hand, some are already economically competitive with conventional sources, and many are rapidly approaching that point,” anti-nuclear leader Barry Commoner said in 1975.

In the meantime, anti-nuclear activists decided fossil fuels were better. “Unlike nuclear, which risks long-term genetic damage,” said one Sierra Club leader in 1974, “coal’s impacts won’t be felt generations from now.” Over the next 45 years, renewables would be promoted and depicted as a way to harmonize human society with the natural world.

Nuclear even more than fossil fuels represented humankind’s break from the natural order — something the nuclear industry itself has promoted with with its depictions of nuclear in dehumanized industrialized landscapes rather than in its natural ones.

In one way, the nuclear industry responded to Three Mile Island and the anti-nuclear movement exceedingly well, improving safety and performance. It improved worker training, worker-machine interfaces, and management techniques in order to reduce unplanned outages. It shortened planned outages, in ways that lifted capacity factors — the share of the year nuclear plants operate — from 55 to over 90 percent. These measures demonstrated not only that the nuclear industry was responsive to public concern but also that safety and profitability go hand-in-hand.

But in other ways, the male-dominated nuclear industry let its technocratic approach run ahead of the humanism that had characterized the vision of Atoms for Peace. Nuclear scientists in universities and laboratories promoted the idea that radically different reactor designs, smaller reactors, or thorium instead of uranium, would yield some kind of safety advantage that would also translate into lower costs.

In reality, large water-cooled nuclear designs remain the safest and cheapest form of nuclear, after decades of experimentation, for the..

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Chinese translation of Forbes article, “Taiwanese Government Sparks Hunger Strike After Rejecting Signatures For Pro-Nuclear Referendum” 

黃士修,一位31歲的民主運動人士,以絕食運動抗議政府違反選罷法。(廖彥朋提供)

台灣政府正被指控帶頭違反選罷法,因其拒絕接受包括前總統及環保人士等人簽署、預定於11月份投票的以核養綠公投連署書。

 

    『我不是在要求人們支持核能』,31歲的黃士修這樣說。黃士修是臉書核能流言終結者粉絲團的共同創辦者之一。從上週四(9月13日)連署書被拒接後,黃便在台灣的中央選舉委員會大門前開始進行絕食運動,『我是在要求政府讓人民有選擇的機會』

 

    八月時,台灣前總統馬英九先生簽署了以核養綠公投連署書,並且加入環保人士的行列,站在台北街頭一起收集民眾簽署的連署書,為此公投的推動注入新的支持力道,並觸發廣泛的媒體涵蓋率。

 

   『反核主張已過時』, 馬前總統這樣說。『新趨勢是如何減少二氧化碳排放以減緩全球暖化』。

 

以核養綠公投還是有可能成案。公投策劃者說他們已經在9月6日送出31萬5千份已簽署的連署書, 比法律要求的28萬2千份還要多。

 

但是公投推動人士說,當政府在9月13日拒絕他們想遞交的另外2萬4千份連署書時,他們的勝算就降低了。

 

『這是瀆職!』國立清華大學核工教授葉宗洸說。『首先,他們不斷任意把繳交期限往前挪,從9月14日改到9月10日,之後又改到9月6日。然後,在9月13日,他們拒絕了我們(第二次)遞送的連署書。』

 

公投策劃者說他們遞送額外的連署書目的在於增加以核養綠公投成案的機率但卻遭(中選會)以技術性理由拒收。

 

中選會的新聞稿中提及:『各階段程序甚少彈性…為恪遵守程序規定,該會自不得再為收件。』

 

但是黃士修說有一位中選會的代表在9月12日時,在有錄影存證的電話通話中告訴他,她會收這些多交的連署書,而且甚至告訴他要跟她碰頭的話,要從哪個門進入中選會大樓。

 

『24小時之後,中選會改變了心意,且在我們面前直接關上了大門』葉宗洸教授說。

 

黃士修說,他們的連署活動受到廣大的支持,這些人都反對目前這個持反核立場的政府。以僅僅33%同意票數當選的蔡英文總統,在去年因為減核造成超過一半用戶大停電的事件後,支持度開始下跌。拒收連署書不是台灣政府第一次試圖阻撓此番擁核行動所採取的行動。台灣法律明訂連署者在交出一開始的2000份提案書並取得資格可以進行第二階段連署活動後,有6個月的時間可以收集連署書。儘管他們在三月就交出那2000份提案書,台灣政府卻只准許他們從7月才能開始收集連署書(亦即只有約兩個半月時間可以收集超過28萬2千份連署書)。

 

有著多年高額補助,太陽能及風電卻只提供台灣不到5%的電力

在台灣,核能受到各方人士支持,包括關心土地使用及氣候變遷的環保人士,以及擔心這個島過分依類進口能源的人們。台灣現在有97%的能源都從國外進口。

 

即使有著政府多年高額補助,去年一整年,太陽能和風能兩者加起來只提供台灣不到5%的電力,而核能提供13%電力 – 若台灣啟動所有現有的核反應器,可以提供23%的電力。

 

儘管近來有報告指出,台灣燃煤發電廠的空汙問題每年造成1000個人死亡,蔡英文政府在今年初還是通過了一個新的燃煤電廠興建案。

 

去年十月,全球氣候專家James Hansen和其他多位權威環境科學家一起以『致蔡英文總統公開信』敦促蔡英文總統能重返核能。『台灣若想用太陽能取代核反應器的發電,需要花710億元美金(超過台幣兩兆元)來興建617個其提出的最大的太陽能發電廠址,才有可能。』

 

週二(9月18日)下午將是黃士修絕食的第125小時,而葉宗洸教授說黃已經因為長時間未進食,變得十分虛弱疲累。另外一個挺核領導者廖彥朋說,在黃士修被強制送醫後,他會接力進行絕食抗議運動。

 

『我進行這個絕食運動,其實不是為我自己,也不是為了公投』黃士修說。『我做這件事,是為了台灣的民主與法治。』

 

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Click here to download a copy of the complaint filed by civil rights leaders in California state court.

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By Mark Nelson and Madison Czerwinski

California and Germany could have mostly or completely decarbonized their electricity sectors had their investments in renewables been diverted instead to new nuclear, a new Environmental Progress analysis finds.

In 2017, Germany generated 37 percent of its electricity from non-carbon sources.[1] In pursuing the Energiewende, Germany will have invested $580 billion in renewable energy and storage by 2025.

If Germany had invested in nuclear instead, it could have built 46 1.6 GW EPR reactors at the $12.5 billion per reactor cost of the U.K.’s Hinkley Point C. German companies assisted with the design of the EPR and the reactor was explicitly planned to meet the strictest European regulations.

In this scenario, EP assumes that a Germany pursuing nuclear power would maintain the same level of nuclear generation as it produced annually before implementing its nuclear phase-out in 2011, about 133 TWh per year.

With 46 EPRs operating at 90 percent capacity factor, Germany could first eliminate all coal, gas, and biomass electricity, then make up for today’s 150 terawatt-hours per year of wind and solar from its renewables investment, all while exporting 100 terawatt-hours of electricity to its neighbors (double 2017’s actual exports). Finally, with the remaining 133 terawatt-hours, Germany could decarbonize its entire light vehicle fleet including all 45 million of its passenger vehicles.[2]

California, by contrast, has much higher solar irradiation and patches of stronger wind speeds compared to Germany. In 2017, California generated 53 percent of its electricity from non-carbon-emitting sources.[3]

An estimation similar to Bloomberg’s for Germany of California’s total spending through 2025 on its energy transition was not available, so we used publically-available data on certain California solar and wind projects to estimate the state’s total capital investment on solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, and wind since 2001.

We estimate that the state has invested $100 billion.[4] This represents both a narrower categorization of spending and a narrower time-frame than Bloomberg’s estimates for Germany.

If California had instead at the turn of the millenium chosen to pursue nuclear energy, it would have found that South Korea at that time was building its OPR1000 reactors on-time and under-budget.[5] As the OPR1000 was a lightly-modified 1GW-capacity version of the 1.3GW reactors built next door to California in Arizona at Palo Verde, which still export power into the state today, it is assumed that these Korean reactors would have been licensable by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for construction in the U.S.

We assume that a fleet of 20 OPR1000s could have been built in California, perhaps four to a plant, for a cost of $5 billion per reactor, more than double the cost of construction in South Korea. Coastal and inland nuclear plants in California were planned to host up to six 1GW reactors, as at Diablo Canyon where only two were eventually built.

In this scenario, EP assumes that California pursuing nuclear power would keep San Onofre and Diablo Canyon in service while also keeping its large hydro and geothermal electricity production.

Then, with 20 OPR1000s operating at the current U.S. national average 93% capacity factor and San Onofre and Diablo canyon still online, California could be producing 200 terawatt-hours of clean electricity — more than total in-state generation in 2016 and 97 percent of in-state generation in 2017.

Careful siting of these new nuclear plants would reduce or eliminate the need for new transmission projects currently being built in the state to deal with distant solar and wind farms. However, those project costs were not included in estimated spending in California.

These scenarios for Germany and California were chosen to be similar to the scale, speed, and price of nuclear expansion in France from 1980 to 2000. It would of course have been necessary for a successful nuclear transition for Germany and California to have shared France’s governmental and societal support for nuclear energy.

However, government and social commitment for nuclear may indeed turn out to be cheaper and easier in the long run than harnessing fluctuating solar and wind energy flows, as the living examples of France, Germany, and California show.

The authors are grateful to Barrett Walker of the Alex C. Walker Foundation whose back-of-the-envelope calculations inspired this analysis.

________________

[1] 2017 generation data from BP Energy Outlook 2018

[2] Assumes German hydro produces 20 TWh per year. Assumes light duty vehicles operating at 5km per kWh of charge, with 555 vehicles per 1000 inhabitants from the European Environment Agency. Annual light duty mileage estimated as 673.9 billion km (743.82 billion km all-vehicle mileage minus 9.4% from heavy vehicles, as estimated by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure for 2014). Capacity factor of 90% for EPR reactors chosen to be representative of recent German reactor performance, from IAEA-PRIS. In this scenario, no generation from wind, solar, biomass, coal, gas, or oil is included.

[3] 2017 generation data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

[4] Estimate relies on cost information available for certain representative wind, solar PV, and solar CSP projects in California, scaled to match total capacity of each type online as shown in reporting by the California Energy Commission. Utility-scale solar PV is based on the $2.4 billion cost for Topaz Solar Farm’s 550MW facility. Solar thermal costs are based on $2.2 billion for Ivanpah’s 392 MW and $1.6 billion for Mojave Solar Project’s 250 MW. Distributed solar costs estimated from the totals documented by California for its California Solar Initiative which ran from 2007 through 2018 and required applicants to report system costs. A total of 1.8GW(ac) were installed for a total cost of $11.0 billion. See our figures and documentation here.

[5] For history of the costs of South Korea’s OPR1000 fleet, see Lovering et al. 2016. Most OPR1000s were built for an overnight-cost-of-capital of under $2 billion (2010 USD).

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Friends!

I’m very happy to invite you to attend a historic, pro-nuclear power demonstration in Munich, Germany, on Sunday, October 21, from 10 am to 4 pm!

The official name of the event is the “Nuclear Pride Fest,” and its founding purpose is to save and expand nuclear energy in Europe. The Fest will be held in Marienplatz, Munich’s central plaza.

We are hoping that people come from around the world to participate in this event, and that hundreds participate from within Europe — including families who work in nuclear power.

Nuclear Pride Fest Weekend will be child-and-family-friendly — with fun things for kids, including face-painting and games, workshops, and child care for parents.

Scholarships to cover the cost of travel are available to pro-nuclear student leaders and activists doing grassroots and social media organizing in their home nations.

For more information about attending or getting involved, please email Madison@EnvironmentalProgress.org

If you would like to make a donation to cover the airfare of a pro-nuclear student leader from around the world, please click here.

The event is being organized by independent grassroots civil society organizations but they are are urging families whose members work in nuclear power plants to attend.

The founding Nuclear Pride Coalition members are

The Nuclear Pride Coalition convened last weekend in Amsterdam. The event opened with its 50-plus participants singing an Elvis song “Falling in Love With You,” where the “You” was replaced by a “U” — the symbol for uranium in the periodic table of elements — to anti-nuclear protesters.

The group then gave daisies to the protesters, who are affiliated with WISE International, a group funded by renewable energy interests. In response, the WISE activists smiled and applauded.

Coalition members view saving and expanding European nuclear power plants as essential to protecting the natural environment, including the climate, and/or safeguarding Europe’s energy security from growing over-dependence on imported natural gas.

You can read account of the meeting’s founding by Iida Ruishalme of Mothers for Nuclear here and by Rainer Klute of Germany’s Nuklearia here. Wrote Iida:

Rationally, it’s incredible that I should feel ashamed or intimidated for supporting nuclear energy in public. If I feel this way merely for wearing a t-shirt, what about the people who leave their kids to school every day and then head for their jobs at nuclear power plants? Imagine the thousands of people working every day in my neighbouring country, Germany, where the fear-mongering against nuclear power is established on an institutional level (grossly misleading statements from public officials, strong political pressure) – and for what? Should they feel ashamed for helping produce low-carbon energy that has saved millions of lives from air pollution?

The event was inspiring. All in attendance felt strongly about doing something positive — just like that morning’s song and flower-giving to WISE International.

Nuclear Pride Coalition founders recognize that our name is inspired by the Gay Pride movement and hopes that LGBT+ nuclear leaders and activists embrace our coalition name as a compliment, and not appropriation. We warmly encourage their participation.

- Michael

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M.I.T. Associate Professor of Political Science Vipin Narang

by Michael Shellenberger

Recent decades have seen the growth of a large body of scholarly literature about why nations seek nuclear weapons, but far less on how they do it.

In 2016, Vipin Narang, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote a landmark article, "Strategies of Nuclear Proliferation," for the journal International Security. In it Narang evaluated four strategies that nations pursue for nuclear proliferation:

  1. hedging (“develop the option for a weapon”);
  2. sprinting (“weaponize as quickly as possible”);
  3. hiding (weaponize without being discovered);
  4. sheltered pursuit (weaponize before patron abandons client”).

And Narang lists three kinds of hedging: “technical hedging, insurance hedging, and hard hedging.” They are listed in order of furthest to closest to pursuing a weapon

  • Technical hedging involves having peaceful nuclear power but no weaponization work and only fringe elements discussing a weapon.
  • Insurance hedging includes technical potential to create weapons-grade materials, limited weaponization work, and periodic discussion of a weapon.
  • And hard hedging is having the capability of creating weapons grade materials, work on weaponization, and mainstream discussion of a weapon.

I reached out to Narang to ask how he would categorize nuclear energy-seeking nations in his typology. He said that he would categorize U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia as engaged in insurance hedging, and Egypt and Bangladesh in technical hedging.

“My reading of Turkey,” Narang told me, “is that it may already be anticipating a rupture with the US or NATO and is therefore laying the groundwork to replace the nuclear umbrella the US provides.”

Other highlights:

  • North Korea provides "the blueprint" for nations seeking to acquire a weapon;
  • Sweden and Switzerland sought nuclear power in large measure to have the option of acquiring a weapon;
  • Saudi Arabia may choose Russia over the U.S. or South Korea to build its nuclear plant to avoid obstacles to creating a weapon; 
  • Japan is already so weapons capable that it would likely need just three to six months to create a weapon; 
  • Nuclear weapons prevented full-scale war between India and Pakistan but also allowed lower-level conflicts;
  • It is in U.S. interests to help nuclear weapons nation, including adversaries, to improve command and control of their weapons;
  • In peacetime, there is very little risk of accidental use;
  • The use of a nuclear weapon by any nation would more likely result in an immediate cessation of hostilities than an escalation;
  • Proposals for the U.S. and other nations to put in place "no first use" policies and reduce readiness are unlikely to be adopted for strategic military reasons.

As an up-and-coming star in the field of nuclear peace and security studies, Narang's views are worth considering.  

Michael Shellenberger: Your article changed our view of how nuclear energy diffuses into international system. It now appears to us that national security, having a weapons option, is often the most important factor in a state pursuing peaceful nuclear energy.

Vipin Narang: There are countries genuinely interested in power, and then it is possible that sometimes the temptation arises to think about military applications of nuclear energy — or, alternatively, they always had the temptation and pursued energy in order to have a future weapons option. [Former Indian Prime Minister] Nehru, for example, had no illusions and knew what the reactor was good for. The weapon option was always in the back of their minds. They took advantage of [nuclear technology sharing program] “Atoms for Peace” and others took advantage of the NPT bargain later on.

Western Europe is a classic example. Take Switzerland and Sweden. Both are neutral nations outside of NATO that had a very deep interest in weapons and a program through the 1960s. Today they are championed as nonproliferation nations, but both militaries were very interested in having the basis for a nuclear weapons program if necessary. Both used nuclear energy to explore those options.

[Texas A&M Professor Matthew] Fuhrmann’s argument is that energy tempted them into weapons. But your view that weapons drove nations to energy, not the other way around, may be more accurate given what we now know about many of these countries. The correlation may in fact go the other way. These countries used energy to generate weapons options, and nations like Switzerland and Sweden gave up the option but kept nuclear energy.

And we forget that Brazil and Argentina had enrichment programs. In Brazil it was run by the Navy. They said, “We need it for our submarines,” but that’s just hop skip and jump away from having weapons grade uranium enrichment.

MS: Has the discipline of nuclear weapons and security studies changed significantly recently?

VN: Up until 2016, Obama’s Prague speech calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons was the defining moment of 2010s. China was modernizing its arsenal but not increasing it. The rest of world thought the U.S. commitments were strong, and both superpowers were reducing their deployed arsenal. But we never actually substantially reduced our upload capability. It would shock people who think we reduced our arsenal size to learn how much we still have. We put a lot in storage not decommissioning.

India and Pakistan were having arms race, but few people outside of us who study South Asia were paying attention. But then Trump mentions tippy top weapons, North Korea is off to the races, and we‘re building missile defense systems that scare Russia and China. Missile defenses are portrayed as largely defensive systems, but they can support highly offensive strategies against states with small nuclear arsenals, since it allows us to potentially neutralize a handful of incoming warheads. We may say they are for North Korea, but if we can make the Chinese nuclear force look like North Korea’s by attacking their nuclear systems on the first, missile defenses—if they work, which they don’t yet—can theoretically intercept the “residual” force.

So missile defenses, more than our nuclear systems themselves, terrify the Russians and Chinese if we could ever get them to work. So now they think they need to build up to defeat missile defenses. Putin is describing nuclear-powered cruise missiles to evade them.

Add to that the fear that the U.S. won’t live up to its extended deterrence commitments, and some of our allies start considering acquiring their own nuclear weapons for deterrence. So everyone is fending for themselves.

MS: Is the system of extended deterrence falling apart?

American foreign policy goes in cycles and we are in retreat mode. When America goes into retreat, the question our allies ask is “who will defend us.” The answer sometimes is “ourselves.” They go into self-help mode, and weapons are ultimate insurance against invasion.

The debate in Germany about whether to get a weapon is reigniting. I would be surprised if they did it. But after World War II, Chancellor Adenauer was serious about a French, Italian, German shared nuclear weapons program. This idea is back and it’s not totally fringe any more.

Sometimes our allies will publicly flirt with it in the hopes that the US will provide stronger reassurances to them. But the flirtation also prepares for a world in which they actually face US abandonment and may have to develop their own nuclear deterrents. Japan has been playing that game for decades, and now it seems some elements in Germany are considering it as well.

MS: What’s happening in Turkey?

VN: Because Turkey is a NATO ally, it enjoys a formal extended deterrence guarantee from the United States. In addition, we store about 50 B-61s [nuclear bombs] deployed at Incirlik in secure vaults, albeit under US control. Any flirtation with a nuclear weapons program should—according to my theory—be aimed at eliciting greater assurance from the US or preparing for abandonment.

But Turkey may be sui generis because our relationship is so fraught and now they are playing footsie with Russia. When the coup attempt happened last year people worried about the 50 B-61s stored at Incirlik because there were reports that the base commander was a Gulenist. It would be difficult for anyone to access the US nuclear weapons stored there, but it is important to remember that the safety features on these weapons are only designed to “delay” unauthorized use, not “prevent” it. I don’t see any good reason for us to continue to maintain tactical nuclear weapons on Turkish soil anymore. They are increasingly a liability, not an asset.  

And my guess is that Turkey may be preparing for the day that withdrawal occurs. My reading of Turkey is that it may already be anticipating a rupture with the US or NATO and is therefore laying the groundwork to replace the nuclear umbrella the US provides.

It would be a classic case of [weapons] insurance hedging. But it’s not clear what threat there is to Turkey. It’s not from Russia, but maybe they are pricing in a future nuclear Iran, if my theory is right. But wouldn’t surprise me if Turkey abandons the US or vice versa, and its nuclear efforts put them closer to the Saudi and UAE model.

MS: How would Turkey do it?

VN: North Korean President Kim Jong-un has shown the blueprint. If you want a meeting with the president of the U.S., and insurance against an invasion, then get a nuclear weapon. Do it secretly. Make it ambiguous.

North Korea has provided the blueprint for a lot of these countries. Build a reactor, pull out of NPT, kick out the inspectors. Last year was the critical moment for North Korea’s weaponization as they tested long range missiles and higher yield nuclear weapons designs. Once they did so, they declared that they achieved  completion of their deterrent force. And countries know that the US is very cautious militarily against states with nuclear weapons. An Indian general in fact remarked that the most important lesson of the 1991 Gulf War was that no one should ever fight the United States without a nuclear weapons capability.

The most fruitful pathway for Turkey is uranium enrichment, not a reactor, which would have to be under international safeguards. Uranium enrichment is probably easier to hide, though perhaps a less efficient pathway. You can try with civilian reactors. Taiwan had a hole in its spent fuel pool. Syria tried. But it’s much harder.

And I would be surprised if the  Israelis allow Turkey to have an operational reactor. Israel wouldn’t attack NATO country. But if Turkey left NATO all bets would be off. Israeli policy has essentially been no reactors in the region—it bombed Iraq’s and Syria’s. So if history is any guide, Israel won’t let anyone in the region get an operational reactor.

MS: Most nuclear energy industry experts say it would be a no-brainer for Saudi Arabia to hire South Korea to build its nuclear plant. But Saudi Arabia is taking a long time to pick between South Korea, the US, Russia, and China. What’s going on?

VN: It may be that they’re worried about proliferation-resistance in South Korean nuclear plant design. Russian reactors may not have that same resistance. They just don’t care as much. The U.S. Westinghouse design is very difficult to use to create a weapon if under safeguards. If they go with the Russians, that might indicate their intent. If they breakout of nonproliferation treaty (NPT), nothing stops them. But my guess is that Saudi Arabia would prefer a US extended deterrence guarantee to an indigenous nuclear weapons program. At this point, however, this is all speculative.  

MS: How would Saudi Arabia do it?

VN: You have to get through hard phase of building a reactor, getting it hot, having a reprocessing facility, and then getting the safeguards out of the reprocessing side. North Korea pulled out of the NPT early — 1993. Israel, India, and Pakistan never signed.

Saudi Arabia has long been  rumored to have a deal with Pakistan to — in an emergency — have Pakistani nuclear weapons be deployed on Saudi soil. The Saudis invested billions  in Pakistan’s nuclear program. The rumors have persisted, though the Saudis don’t talk about it, and the Pakistanis deny it. But ultimately, the path of least resistance is if the Saudis could say to Trump, “we’ll stop [pursuing a weapon] if we get explicit guarantee from you.”

MS: So then is the civilian nuclear reactor a waste of time for nations pursuing a weapons option?

VN: I’d push on both doors. The North Koreans and the Pakistanis did this also. The advantage of reactors is an infrastructure if you do decide to pursue the option. In many ways, the plutonium pathway is more attractive and potentially more efficient from a weapons standpoint. And you don’t have to scale up enrichment and need massive uranium deposits. The centrifuge approach to enrichment isn’t particularly easy given how strict the export control lists are these days for components. The Iraqis tried so many different ways with enrichment in the 1980s and had little success.

Saudi Arabia might have been [Pakistani nuclear scientist] A.Q. Khan’s fourth customer beyond North Korea, Iran and Libya. It wasn’t Iraq. Nobody knows who it is in the open source. I’ve long suspected Saudi Arabia or Syria because they would be obvious candidates. If it’s the Saudis, they may have some uranium enrichment designs and capability already. But, in general, a determined state would probably try to push on both doors. Maybe there are reasons you’d prefer plutonium. I’d try both, because if you lose one you may still be able to hide the other.

MS: How else might those nations pursue a weapon?

VN: You can do what Pakistan did in the 1980s and develop the capability but stop just short of weaponization—though Pakistan in the 1980s had the advantage of a US administration that was willing to look the other way. They went right up to component separation and said, “we don’t have weapons” because they aren’t assembled. We have the pit [core of the weapon] and a non-fissile [nuclear] component. But it’s not assembled. And the US in fact turned a blind eye when Pakistan did that in the late 1980s. We said they didn’t have weapons because they aren’t assembled, and Reagan certified as much every year. But for all intents and purposes they could rapidly assemble them. They were much closer to a weapon than simply having the basis for fissile material production. And closer than Iran was in the early 2000s when they were just doing the theoretical and low-level experimental work on warhead,  wiring, triggers, and other theoretical and engineering work to put yourself in a position to compress time to becoming weapons power. Pakistan was the last screw away. Iran was much farther, and there is a lot in between, such as Japan.

MS: You point to Japan as a model of a nation that is very close. Are they just six months away from a bomb?

The lore is three to six months, but no one really knows. An X-box has more sophistication than a crude nuclear weapon. Japan is totally different from any other hedger because they have control of the full  fuel cycle.. No other NPT state has full control of their fuel cycle. At the same time, Japan even more than South Korea is terrified of becoming the next France, and have to provide its own security. Recall that French Prime Minister Charles De Gaulle said, once the USSR developed ICBMs that could hit the US homeland, “You won’t trade Pittsburgh for Paris. We’re not interested in sharing. We want our own nuclear weapons force that isn’t subjugated like the British nuclear weapons are to NATO.”

MS: Shouldn’t we be glad India and Pakistan have weapons since it has reduced wars?

VN: That’s probably fair at one level. Since both states acquired even covert nuclear weapons capabilities, they have had the longest period of peace across the international border. Nuclear weapons have, at one level, stabilized the region. They cured the previous disease, which was massive conventional war, at least for now. It didn’t solve all the problems. But just because medicine has a side effect, you don’t not give the medicine.

Pakistani provocations persist but that they haven’t gone to full-blown conventional war. Because of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, India hasn’t retaliated for those provocations with military action across the international boundary. The downside is that Pakistan may now believe it has a shield behind which it can launch terrorist attacks against India, and that is a real problem. But for now, India has been restrained and stayed it retaliatory hand.

The question is how long can that persist? India said maybe we could retaliate below a certain threshold, but hasn’t tried it yet. The worry is that India’s leaders, or the public, say at some point “enough is enough.” How many terrorist attacks can you accept in your major cities without doing something? India has, and continues to, experiment with options to enable limited or total retaliation. At the conventional level, however, Pakistan’s threat of using battlefield nuclear weapons on Indian forces should they cross the international border has thwarted those efforts. But India is searching for answers to that paralysis. There aren’t many good options for it.

MS: Is it the case that more nuclear weapons states there are, the better?

Nuclear weapons do deter. I understand why weak nations want them. They do provide deterrence against invasion. They do provide existential protection. The question is are there some states, with certain regime types or civil-military relations, where the risks outweigh the perceived deterrence benefits?

But states like North Korea, Pakistan, and Egypt have potentially more volatile domestic political situations than, for example Japan or Germany or India.  And even India is very opaque about its management and security procedures and the US has been concerned about lax oversight even there—and even the US itself is not immune to the risks of accidents, having had quite a few snafus of its own recently. So even in the most stable of states, the risk of accidents is real. Add to that mix the potential for violent domestic upheaval and one has to question whether having nuclear weapons possessed by a state at risk of coup or revolution is a good thing.  You start getting into a world where more countries have them, there’s simply more systemic risk.

MS: But wouldn’t getting the bomb demand greater command or control from nation-states?

Pakistan may be one or two senior radicalized officers from having a threat to, or breakdown of, command and control. We assume there will be continuity in government, and regular transitions. The trouble is chaos or irregular leadership transitions, and uncertainty about the control of nuclear weapons in the state. Kim Jong Un has signaled that he has sole authority over nuclear weapons. But when he flew Air China to Singapore to meet with Trump, what if there had been rumor the plane had been shot down en route? What is his command and control? What if he feared being shot down and put in place a “dead hand” procedure which means, “If I’m shot down, you fire a nuclear ICBM at New York?” Rumors can go viral and there have been no way for those in Pyongyang to reach Kim, and they may have assumed the worst. These are the kinds of things that scare me.

MS: So on the one hand you don’t think Pakistan and North Korea will give up their nuclear weapons, on the other hand they make you nervous. What do you do about that?

VN: It’s heresy to say this in Washington, but we have strong incentive once a nation gets the bomb to help them put in place robust command and control systems so that they are confident in it. We want nations with nuclear weapons to only become more stable, and not fear for the survivability of their force, which can give them very itchy trigger fingers by putting them in so-called “use them or lose them” situations.

The dirty secret is we don’t want a nation with just tens of weapons because then they will fear that we’ll disarm them in an attack [by finding and destroying all their nuclear systems, completely disarming them and freeing us to topple the regime]. Pakistan is more confident today because it has 150 - 200 weapons. It isn’t worried about being in a “lose them or use them” situation against India. And so we worked with them on command control. The US government did a lot with Pakistan on safety, security and command and control, though there were limits as to how much we could do and how much Pakistan would accept. But everyone took it seriously and there’s an understanding that a nuclear state is unlikely to disarm, so the challenge is ensuring robust and safe command and control of the weapons and removing fears that it might lose its nuclear arsenal in an attack.

MS: Isn’t that a paradox, though? Aren’t we saying we’ll try to stop you from getting a weapon but once you get one we’ll help you?

VN: We have spent so much time trying to stop nations from getting weapons so that we don’t have to accept other nuclear powers outside of the NPT. Our entire grand strategy is premised on stopping most nations from getting weapons, though we turned a blind eye to Israel and Pakistan. But we have forcibly stopped, or induced, adversaries from acquiring them, and one should not forget that one of the most powerful nonproliferation tools in our kit is extended deterrence, which dissuades our allies from pursuing nuclear weapons. But if nonproliferation fails, then challenge then becomes ensuring that any new nuclear state manages the weapons safely and securely. So the paradox is that we try hard to stop them, but if it fails, then we have to tacitly accept that they have them and not necessarily help them, but at least encourage robust command and control institutions and survivability so they won’t have fears of us, or others, disarming them in an attack.

MS: Is it the case nuclear weapons only end, prevent, and reduce the size of wars?

VN: There is a debate over whether they have coercive value as well. That is, do nuclear weapons help you change another state’s behavior and get them to do something they otherwise wouldn’t? It’s hard, because it is often not credible to threaten them with nuclear weapons if they don’t stop, for example, harassing your ships. But China did justify its acquisition of nuclear weapons in the 1960s on the basis that the US was coercing it in East Asia. But it was also the case that we were a superpower, so it’s hard to attribute that perceived coercion to nuclear weapons. But there is a persistent belief amongst some policymakers that nuclear weapons may provide some coercive value., even though in Arms and Influence, Thomas Schelling said deterrence was easier than compellence.

MS: What about this idea of a “virtual nuclear arsenal” where nuclear-armed nations make it harder to use them by removing warheads from missiles, or disarming..

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