Rezwan Razani - July 07, 2013
Nuclear energy proponents and fracktivists have overlapping concerns.
Fracking holds nuclear energy back with the low cost of energy. And Fracktivists would like to see fracking stop for environmental reasons.
As each day goes by, more frack wells are drilled, more pipelines invested in. The oil and gas industry continues its reign. Coal keeps growing, it just gets shuffled off to poorer countries, and allegedly, the incentive for mountaintop removal increases as a way to keep down costs. Nuclear + renewables continue to be held at bay. Temperatures continue to rise.
Given the overlapping concerns, a partnership between nuclear proponents and fracktivists seems worthwhile. Let’s unite and conquer!
Adding nuclear power to the fracktivist agenda shows that fracktivists are sincere in wanting to solve the energy problem and provide power to our civilization, not just say “no” to everything. Adding fracktivist energy to the nuclear platform is crucial to reversing public perception of this form of energy.
Of course, there is a slight hiccup - the lingering suspicion between the two groups. Some bad blood. Lack of trust. The casting of aspersions. Fracktivists tend to see nuclear energy proponents as industry shills, willing to make a quick buck at the expense of health and safety (“there is no safe dose of radiation”). Nuclear energy proponents tend to see fracktivists as ill informed and anti-nuke.
Luckily, reality contradicts these stereotypes. I attended a screening of Pandora’s Promise with a group of my fracktivist friends. The movie shatters some stereotypes about the health and safety of nuclear energy. Watching the movie with fracktivists shatters stereotypes about narrow thinking of environmentalists. Indeed, I found many to be fascinated by the possibilities of nuclear energy. Nuclear curious. Ready to consider the pros and cons and full of follow up questions.
This is great news! An activist is worth a lot more than an apathetic dinner guest for action on an issue. Activists respond to calls to action. They are…active. They are people who will call their senators and congressmen and write letters and show up to rallies and get out and spread the word. This is something we haven’t see on behalf of nuclear energy. If activists see the merits in a cause, they are quick to do something about it. Sometimes they act too quickly, on poor information.
When you get the right information on the table - let’s assume Pandora’s Promise is that information - it opens up a new horizon of useful, powerful, mutually, globally beneficial action.
My Kingdom for an Infographic
The movie is a great start in the conversation. More is required. My friends had more questions than the movie could answer, questions about the impact of nuclear energy mining, transport and plant operation on water and the surrounding environment. Well documented information (infographics, videos) that compares fracking and nuclear energy side by side would go a long way to clarifying things and building common cause.
Unfortunately, the definitive EPA fracking report may not be issued for another two years. Please post links to any other studies that would compare nuclear and fracking processes below. Thanks!
Canvassing for Nuclear
True to the spirit of activism, my fracktivist friends weren’t content to sit and talk about the movie. They went a step further. Several volunteered to spend a day canvassing on behalf of nuclear energy. Fusion or fission - that was up to me.
Yes, activists don’t mess around. Talking makes them restless. They want to get out there and act!
Now the question is: what pro nuclear issue should we canvass a neighborhood on?
A Case Study
I was feeling euphoric about this surge of activist interest, but a challenge quickly emerged. The LinkedIn “Nuclear power: the Next Generation” group has a discussion about the need to change the de minimus dose limit. The argument is that the minimum radiation dose limits are set too high and this high standard is not necessary according to research in health risks and epidemiology.
As it stands, nuclear power plants are obligated to spend a lot of money to meet these allegedly unnecessarily high standards. Relaxing the limit would save the power plants money, reducing the cost of nuclear power. This would benefit the public (lower prices), utilities and investors. It would make nuclear more competitive with fracking
Bear in mind that unlike nuclear energy, Fracking is exempt from key federal environmental regulations. This double standard of regulation would be a useful thing to add to the Fracking vs. Nukes infographic.
The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 contained a provision that has come to be known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” an exemption for gas drilling and extraction from requirements in the underground injection control (UIC) program of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Other exemptions are also present in the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
I’m not sure you could get fracktivists to go out and canvass on behalf of relaxing standards for nuclear energy. They are more inclined to canvass on behalf of increased regulation for fracking. The question is, which is easier to do? Convince people of the science behind low dose radiation safety, or reverse the “Halliburton loophole”? What is the best strategy?
Building Trust and Crowdsourcing Radiation Monitoring
It comes down to trust. The activists need to trust the nuclear community. Can they? Does the nuclear sector really have the best interests of the public in mind? What would be some ways to show that?
One idea: go from nuclear energy being about power, to making it about empowerment. Give people a way to connect directly with the information. Hands on. Hand out dosimeters. Hook up measuring devices from every power plant to apps that people can have access to. Give them the means to monitor power plants and radiation levels, and their own radiation and daily exposures for comparison. Don’t limit this to radiation. Connect your risk app to other risks, so that nuclear radiation is put in perspective. Coal plant radiation, chemical plant spills, e-coli outbreaks, etc.
The USGS has a great model for this - their “Did you feel it” Earthquake detection program. And the map, so you can be on top of any earthquake. This kind of information makes you feel more connected to the team of people working on earthquake safety. It connects you with ways to act and be helpful in the event of an earthquake.
For nuclear energy - this kind of live information will ultimately show people just how boringly safe nuclear power is. And our fracktivist friends will be strong allies on our behalf, standing up to any fossil fuel community generated noise.
Bonus points: this sort of crowd-sourcing might speed up leakage detections, preventing debacles such as the THORP reprocessing facility which leaked 22 tons of Uranium. As described by MacKay:
the operators often didn’t bother taking these routine measurements, because they felt too busy; and when they did take measurements that detected the abnormal presence of uranium in the sump (on 28 August 2004, 26 November 2004, and 24 February 2005), no action was taken.
Ironically, the leak was discovered by accountants, because uranium is expensive, and the leak started affecting replacement and costs.
But I digress.
What else? Add your thoughts to the discussion below!