PEST(EL) in the Nuclear Industry – Social Factors (part 7)

Last time we examined the industry demographics affecting development and growth of the industry. This week, we’re going to look at the social factors affecting acceptance of nuclear industry around the world.

Anti-Nuclear Movement

The nuclear movement has long had detractors that consistently find ways to try to eliminate the industry. Looking at the history of some of the major organizations and understanding the motivation can be instructive.

Friends of the Earth (FOE)

FOE was founded in 1969 when David Brower split with the Sierra Club over nuclear power. Today, they claim environmentalism and human rights as their focus areas with a loose coalition of member organizations around the world. Campaigning against nuclear power continues to be one of their prime focusses.

While they claim to be concerned about global warming, nuclear power is considered to be a “false” solution without


Founded originally to protest nuclear weapons testing in Alaska using peaceful means (ref. Wikipedia article), GreenPeace currently states it goals as follows:

Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organization that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace by:

  • Catalysing an energy revolution to address the number one threat facing our planet: climate change.
  • Defending our oceans by challenging wasteful and destructive fishing, and creating a global network of marine reserves.
  • Protecting the world’s remaining ancient forests which are depended on by many animals, plants and people.
  • Working for disarmament and peace by reducing dependence on finite resources and calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
  • Creating a toxin free future with safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals in today’s products and manufacturing.
  • Campaigning for sustainable agriculture by encouraging socially and ecologically responsible farming practices.

Greenpeace International

This list of priorities is most interesting in that dealing with climate change is stated as a top goal, but ending the use of nuclear power is not. When one looks further into the Wikipedia article, much is said about stopping the use of coal or oil. The article states that Greenpeace considers the nuclear industry to be a minor industry with major problems. Greenpeace has, however, launched several anti-nuclear campaigns, including terrorist acts against nuclear power plants in Spain.

This stance appears to be totally inconsistent. If climate change is a key concern, it would seem that using nuclear to lower carbon emissions and providing energy to countries desperate for more electricity (like India and China) would be far preferable to building more coal plants.

Sierra Club

Although the Sierra Club was initially not strictly anti-nuclear and actually supported the construction of Diablo Canyon. However, by the 1980’s the Sierra Club became firmly anti-nuclear. In fact, they oppose both nuclear fission and nuclear fusion.

As an aside, when I was a new engineer in California in the early 1980’s, I tried to join the local chapter of the Sierra Club, thinking that the best way to change their opinion was from the inside by convincing the local chapter that nuclear power was in alignment with their goals. When I attended the first meeting and they found out what I did for a living, I was politely asked to leave the meeting and my check for membership dues was returned to me.

Union of Concerned Scientists

Also founded originally to stop nuclear weapons testing, UCS nearly dissolved in the early 1970’s. It re-emerged as a “Nuclear Power watchdog” organization. While it claims NOT to be anti-nuclear, nothing in the records for UCS ever acknowledge positive aspects of nuclear power. When interviewed or quoted in the press, the UCS give a consistent, negative message to the public regarding nuclear power.


It is interesting to note that two of the four started out opposed to nuclear weapons and drifted into opposition of nuclear power. At least in the case of the UCS, this move was mostly to save the organization from oblivion. Of these organization, three claim to be concerned about global warming and yet continue to oppose nuclear power. It is mostly these groups that form the loudest anti-nuclear voices. While the organizations are quite large, many of their activities are not in direct opposition to nuclear power (with the exception of the UCS). Thus their membership does not reflect a referendum on nuclear power.

The NRC’s review process favors the interference of anti-nuclear groups. It does not take significant numbers of supporters, but only a few with relatively modest cost to develop arguments and submit contentions to the process. These contentions drive the cost up and increase the time required. The anti-nuclear organizations then claim that nuclear power is too expensive and takes too long.

Pro-nuclear organizations operate at some disadvantage. Except for unique situations like the current VY court case, there are few venues to stage a rally. Since the NRC doesn’t really have a mechanism to file “anti-contentions” to annihilate contentions (like matter and anti-matter), there is no easy way for pro nuclear grass roots organizations to directly support nuclear power in their community.

We who believe in nuclear power need to find ways to communicate about it and to publicize the positive aspects of nuclear power in responding to global warming, environmental effects of coal, and economic benefit to the community.

I’m headed out on vacation for the next couple of weeks. You may or may not see a blog from me while I’m gone. I’ll be back for sure in October.

3 thoughts on “PEST(EL) in the Nuclear Industry – Social Factors (part 7)”

  1. Margaret. Thanks for linking to my pix of the rally in support of Vermont Yankee!

    However, I disagree with you that there are few occasions to have a rally. For example, for every nuclear plant, once a year, the NRC presents its yearly review results at an open meeting near the power plant site. Around here, we can expect a large, costumed Blinky the Three Eyed Fish to be standing outside that meeting. In other words, plant opponents show up in force for the NRC meetings. At every plant, plant supporters could show up outside the NRC meeting, too.

    For every plant, also, there are probably occasional public service board-type hearings, environmental review hearings, etc. I am not saying we should hold rallies every time there is a meeting about the plant, but we should note that opponents look at the world that way. “Where can we get some publicity? Where can we make ourselves visible and get on the evening news?” And the more the opponents are on the evening news, the more people think that everyone is an opponent.

    Nuclear supporters can ALSO hold some support rallies, for any plant or facility.

    • You are right, of course.
      However, I still feel that the anti nuclear parties get a more natural platform to make their cause with contentions and other ways to try to block nuclear power. These filings are free publicity with the local press and cost little or nothing for them to do. We pro-nuclear folks have to do rallies and such and can’t directly influence in the regulators with “anti-contentions” to stop the other people who are usually a vocal minority, but manage to look much larger.

      Keep up the great work in Vermont!

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