Exploring Who Opposes Nuclear Energy and Why

As anachronistic as it is, anti-nuclear forces still exert a lot of political power in the U.S. and around the world.  We shall take a look at some of the prominent people, organizations and underlying motives for opposing nuclear.  Although funding for antinuclear activity comes predominantly from fossil fuel sources, for the most part, it appears that those expressing public antinuclear sentiments fall into three main categories: 

  • Profiteers

    Individuals, companies and the organizations allied with the fossil fuel industry or the renewables industry which profit directly from the malignment of nuclear energy. Their goal is to keep from being able to compete on a level playing field, since they recognize that nuclear power, if widely accepted, would hurt their own market position or aspirations. Most of these profiteers are fossil fuel companies and their advocacy organizations. Others come from companies or advocacy groups seeking to expand the success of renewables, a technology now fully allied with natural gas. A final components are politicians, who receive direct donations or covert campaign support through independent, fossil fuel funded PACs in exchange for supporting industry (fossil or renewables) positions. As increasing scrutiny makes such direct donations a political liability, the industry has shifted from carrots to sticks, threatening those politicians who fail to toe the line with the prospect of facing a challenge from a candidate funded by industry PACs.

  • Self-Promoters

    Mostly consists of older generation, former hippy activists who largely came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, opposing the Vietnam war, the “military-industrial-complex,” nuclear bombs, racism and advocating for free love. As concerns about environmental destruction grew, most of these anti-war protestors shifted into environmental organizations that successfully raised money by protesting toxic chemicals, coal plants and nuclear power—which was a mysterious technology not well understood. Opposition to “nukes” became a galvanizing mantra for the nascent environmental movement, whose coffers grew exponentially as these groups spread messages of potential nuclear holocaust. In this context, not only did environmental organization grow huge but many vocal individuals gained prominence from their antinuclear activisim and levered that into prominance for themselves. Nowadays, mostly these individuals use their “firebrand” opposition to nuclear energy for self-promotion. They sell books, publish articles, earn money through speaking engagements and sometimes sit on top of well-funded organizations. They’ve benefitted for decades from keeping donors and supporters fearful of nuclear. Newer versions of the aging hippy are the self-promoting academics who gain visibiliy, grants, donations and faculty appointments making popular, if unrealistic claims about renewables, while expressing doubts about nuclear power.

  • Fearful Followers

    Many individuals and organization which privately acknowledge that nuclear power is clean and provides a critical component of firm, clean power, nevertheless refuse to express positive statements of support for nuclear because they seek to build support for themselves or their groups from a public that they assume would be anti-nuclear. These groups—often focused on trying to solve environmental issues—demur from statements of nuclear inclusion because they fear for their reputation. They commit errors of omission acknowledging the truth about nuclear in order to not risk losing supporters, volunteers, members or customers. These individuals or groups may even actually care to reduce emissions, they may even understand the scale of the energy problem, yet their fear of potential backlash from raising the issue, prevents them from expressing support for nuclear power.

Category I:  Profiteers

American Petroleum Institute

API Cover Image to Power Point plan

(Click here to download a PDF of the article.)

As part of reporting called “Pay Dirt,” The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay released some exclusive research entitled “Inside the Gas Industry’s Plan to Sink Nuclear Power,” about the corporate front groups that arose to do political battle over proposals by a number of states to prop up nuclear power plants struggling in the wake of dirt-cheap natural gas.  In particular, he delved deep into the American Petroleum Institute’s organization of opposition to Bill 11, Pennsylvania’s proposed legislation to stave off financial ruin for Pennsylvania’s  nuclear power plants through an initiative called No Nuclear Bailouts. Markay was able to access the API’s Power point plan detailing a host of activities, including “grassroots” activism, legislator “intercepts, and the engagement of third-party groups and “key influencers” in its attempt to sway policymakers.  This is just one example of how the API has sought to bolster its own market share by working to undermine nuclear energy.

ExxonMobil

API Cover Image to Power Point plan

MAJOR FOSSIL FUEL COMPANIES, but most prominently ExxonMobil, have known the truth for nearly 50 years: that their oil, gas, and coal products create greenhouse gas pollution that warms the planet and changes our climate. They’ve known for decades that the consequences could be catastrophic and that only a narrow window of time existed to take action before the damage might not be reversible. They have nevertheless engaged in a coordinated, multi-front effort to conceal and contradict their own knowledge of these threats, discredit the growing body of publicly available scientific evidence, and persistently create doubt in the minds of customers, consumers, regulators, the media, journalists, teachers, and the general public about the reality and consequences of climate change. The sole reason: to extend their ability to profit from the sales of dirty energy known to cause illness and climate change. We have posted a much longer exposition of the data showing knowledge by ExxonMobil as early as 1968 in our #KnowNukes portal: Oil Company Knowledge.

Sierra Club

This is a quote from an article posted at EcoCentric in 2012: “Now the biggest and oldest environmental group in the U.S. finds itself caught on the horns of that dilemma. TIME has learned that between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted over $25 million in donations from the gas industry, mostly from Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy—one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the U.S. and a firm heavily involved in fracking—to help fund the Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Though the group ended its relationship with Chesapeake in 2010—and the Club says it turned its back on an additional $30 million in promised donations—the news raises concerns about influence industry may have had on the Sierra Club’s independence and its support of natural gas in the past. It’s also sure to anger ordinary members who’ve been uneasy about the Club’s relationship with corporations. “The chapter groups and volunteers depend on the Club to have their back as they fight pollution from any industry, and we need to be unrestrained in our advocacy,” Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director since 2010, told me. “The first rule of advocacy is that you shouldn’t take money from industries and companies you’re trying to change.”

Category II:  Self-Promoters

1980s-era Activists

Most of the loudest antinuclear voices come from this category.  1980s activists wear their antinuclear sentiments with great pride, as if this outspokenness confirms their authoritative credentials. Many of these individuals, whose world views solidified in the early days of the environmental movement, currently lead well known environmental organizations and many are very widely respected.  Virtually none of them have a scientific background—rather their experience consists almost entirely of environmental activism.  Thus, they have honed the ability to oppose things that hurt the environment but they have never had to make decisions about what to say “yes” to.  Nevertheless, the degree of fear of nuclear that the early antinuclear movement was able to generate in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island accident by convincing people that nuclear power plants could explode like nuclear bombs (a message popularized by the movie “The China Syndrome” which portrayed a fictionalized nuclear accident and was conveniently released within two weeks of the TMI accident) brought enormous wealth and strength to the environmental movement, as people feared for their lives.  These environmental activists suddenly found themselves leading large and well-funded organizations.  Since then, they have been unwilling to soften their opposition to nuclear for fear that it would destroy the support and funding for their environmental groups.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org

Bill McKibben is a powerful writer, teacher and a committed environmental leader. He founded his organization, 350.org, back in 2007 with a group of students from Middlebury College in Vermont with the idea that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere should not exceed 350 parts per millions (ppm). This was because NASA climate scientist James Hansen contended that any atmospheric concentration of CO2 above 350 parts per million was unsafe. 350.org has built a “global movement for climate solutions” and yet, as urgent as McKibben argues the situation is, he is unwilling to stick his neck out and show support for nuclear power.  Why not?  Well according to William Tucker, in a piece entitled “How about suing Bill McKibben for racketing?” published in RealClear Energy in 2015, it is not because McKibben doesn’t recognize the role that nuclear could play in decarbonization. Rather, it is because he is fearful of “splitting the movement.”

Ed Lyman is the sole voice at Union of Concerned Scientists opposing nuclear, even though the group has officially recognized that we only hurt our chances of limiting carbon emissions if we close nuclear power plants. Lyman doesn’t care.  He has built his reputation and, most likely, his primary sources of revenue from opposing nuclear. Thus, like many of the aging anti-nuclear activists, Lyman persists in hyping risks that have never panned out, while steadfastly ignoring the fact that climate change is a tsunami of disaster barrelling down on humanity. The Union of Concerned Scientists may have recognized that there’s indeed new data to be factored in but Ed Lyman has too much at stake and refuses to acknowledge the prevailing wisdom regarding the importance of nuclear to our success decarbonizing our grids.  He has long ago staked his reputation and most of his professional speaking appearances on maintaining his staunch opposition to nuclear energy, he cannot admit how safe nuclear actually is and how threatening climate change is. So much for being a “concerned scientist.”

Lyman is an internationally recognized opponent and outspoken skeptic about nuclear power who widely exaggerates the risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism as a way to maintain his marketability as an “expert” on nuclear power safety and security. Since joining UCS in 2003, Lyman has published non-stop  in a wide range of anti-nuclear journals, including the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Science and Global Security, and Arms Control Today, and he has been a one-man wrecking ball for the truth about nuclear safety and reliability.  His exaggerations of the risk posed by nuclear energy and radiation have been cited in thousands of news stories, as he appears to know exactly what elicits clicks and eyeball for mass media consumption. Lyman’s book, Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster, published in February 2014 failed to recognize that, although an estimated 20,000 people were washed away by the tsunami, no one was killed by the Fukushima Daiichi melt-down that occurred more than a week later. The fact that there were no deaths is now widely understood to reflect just how safe nuclear power is, despite even the most horrific meltdowns which cause the destruction of the plant itself. Yet end up being almost an non-event for human safety.

Harvey Wasserman, founder of Solartopia, whatever that is.

Harvey Wasserman, now age 75, started life as an elementary school teacher and made it up the career ladder all the way to “adjunct instructor” at a community college in Ohio, where he also sold uniforms on the side. Despite this modest degree of professional success, Mr. Wasserman has not let that dim his enthusiastic self-promotion. He launched “Solartopia” as a revenue-generating activity and hopes to get consulting and speaking gigs. His website “Bios” page in fact hosts three bios for himself. These three distinct bios are not enough, however, so he supplements with an “Etc.” section, all in exceeding 200 lines. Mr. Wasserman personifies the worst of today’s self-proclaimed environmental spokesperson who find the prospect facts conflict with their world view too threatening to their self image.  Wasserman apparently received such positive feedback in 1962, as a junior in high school, when he participated in a protest at a segregated roller rink in Columbus, that it set his life’s course. There, he gleefully chanted “Don’t Skate, Integrate!” and got town-wide press. This so enchanted him, he has endeavored to replicate that success with virtually any issue whatsoever. Now, sixty years later, Wasserman’s primary claim to fame is his assertion (unconfirmed) that he coined the term “No Nukes.” Otherwise, most of what fills his bios consists of “I was there with so and so,” and then talking about it with any media outlets as he could possibly find, and then writing about having talked about having protested with so and so. Even the tweet that Wasserman has pinned to his Twitter feed attempts to cozy up to David Crosby and make completely non-sensical claims about nuclear power. Despite the fact that Wasserman’s long history as protestor, speaker and school instructor might have embued him with some semblance of responsibility to know the facts, Wasserman smugly clings to his 1960s vision of a “solartopia” in which we’ve banned waste and war, banned fossil fuels and nuclear, transformed the corporation, restored the matriarchy, raised organic food, achieved “total efficiency,” revived mass transit and achieve social justice and true democracy, having converted to renewables.  No update there for carbon emissions. In other words, like many of the aging environmental leaders who launched their protest careers in the 1960s and 1970s, Wasserman’s world view has calcified to the point that he has utterly failed to recognize that climate change is universally acknowledged by scientists as our #1 threat and that nuclear power is required to address it.

Academics seeking Attention

Mark Z Jacobson, Stanford Economics professor and founder of the Solutions Project

(Write up in process.)

Dan Kamen, UC Berkeley professor

(Write up in process.)

Category III:  Fearful Followers

Under the leadership and because of the direct anti-nuclear lobbying of board members by Jan Pepper, Peninsula Clean Energy, refused to accept an allocation of more than $5 million dollars of free clean nuclear power. This allocation could have allowed the organization to have an extra $5 million to use to lower rates for customers, run special energy savings programs or even educate their customers about clean energy. Despite knowing that nuclear power is carbon free, nevertheless, Ms. Pepper’s fear of possible anti-nuclear flak made her push individual board members to change their votes against getting $5 million for free, a move that was an enormous loss for them and their customers.

Margaret Klein Salamon, founder of The Climate Mobilization.org which seeks to declare a state of emergy and launch a “WWII-sclae effort to transform the U.S. economy on an emergency basis, and host of a blog called The Climate Psychologist, knows a thing or two about fear.  She wrote a book called Facing the Climate Emergency, which is a self-help guide for all who are afraid of the future and struggling with helplessness around the climate emergency to guide them in turning their pain into action. She claims to want to help her readers “become the most effective warrior for humanity and the living world that you can be!”  Yet, when pressed about showing support for nuclear power, she was appreciative of having learned more about the need for nuclear energy and acknowledged that “Its just not something I have given enough thought previously. For example, we have used the language of “100% renewables” at times without thinking about its implications.”  Yet, despite having heard the case for nuclear energy, she demurred in showing support, insisting that they were not advocating specific solutions and afraid that it might turn off some of those she hopes will support her organization.  Nevertheless, “100% renewables and reduced energy use” is one of their stated goals.

A Closer look at Antinuclear Organizations

According to Wikipedia, “more than 80 anti-nuclear groups are operating, or have operated, in the United States. These include Abalone Alliance, Clamshell Alliance, Greenpeace USA, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Musicians United for Safe Energy, Nevada Desert Experience, Nuclear Control Institute, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Public Citizen Energy Program, Shad Alliance, and the Sierra Club. These are direct action, environmental, health, and public interest organizations who oppose nuclear weapons and/or nuclear power.”  As part of our analysis, we shall explore who these groups are, how many real supporters they have, and whether or not they are still active.  The list provided in Wikipedia is reproduced below and the first thing to note is that there are 70, rather than 80 listed.  Of these, only 48 have a link to either an internal Wikipedia page or an external website of their own.

  1. Abalone Alliance
  2. Alliance for Nuclear Accountability
  3. Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility
  4. Arms Control Association
  5. Beyond Nuclear
  6. Cactus Alliance (Utah)
  7. Catfish Alliance (Alabama)
  8. Citizen’s Committee for Protection of the Environment
  9. Citizens Energy Council
  10. Clamshell Alliance
  11. Coalition Against Nukes
  12. Coalition for Nuclear Power Postponement
  13. Committee for a Nuclear Free Island
  14. Committee for a Nuclear Overkill Moratorium
  15. Committee for Nuclear Responsibility
  16. Concerned Citizens Against the Bailly Nuclear Site
  17. Corporate Accountability International
  18. Council for a Livable World
  19. Crabshell Alliance (Seattle)
  20. Critical Mass
  21. Don’t Make a Wave Committee
  22. Economists for Peace and Security
  23. Environmental Coalition on Nuclear Power
  24. Federation of American Scientists
  25. Friends of the Earth
  26. Greenpeace
  27. Heart of America Northwest
  28. Institute for Energy and Environmental Research
  29. Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy
  30. Maryland Public Interest Research Group
  31. Mothers for Peace
  32. Musicians United for Safe Energy
  33. Nevada Desert Experience
  34. New England Coalition
  35. North Anna Environmental Coalition
  36. Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
  37. Nuclear Control Institute
  38. Nuclear Disarmament Partnership
  39. Nuclear Energy Information Service
  40. Nuclear Energy Information Service of Chicago (NEIS)
  41. Nuclear Information and Resource Service
  42. Nuclear Policy Research Institute
  43. Nuclear Threat Initiative
  44. Nuclear Watch of New Mexico
  45. Nuclear Watch South
  46. Oystershell Alliance (New Orleans)
  47. Palmetto Alliance (South Carolina)
  48. Peace Actio
  49. People’s Alliance for Clean Energy
  50. Physicians for Social Responsibility
  51. Pilgrim Watch
  52. Plowshares Movement
  53. Proposition One Campaign for a Nuclear-Free Future
  54. Public Citizen
  55. Red Clover Alliance (Vermont)
  56. Riverkeeper
  57. Rocky Flats Truth Force
  58. Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice
  59. Shad Alliance
  60. Shundahai Network
  61. Sierra Club
  62. Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
  63. Tri-Valley CARE
  64. Trojan Decommissioning Alliance
  65. Two Futures Project
  66. Western States Legal Foundation
  67. White House Peace Vigil
  68. Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control
  69. Women Strike for Peace
  70. Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, US Section

Seeking further contributions to this page

There are many more examples of antinuclear individuals, profiteers and fearful followers.  Please use the comment box below to submit your suggestions for more to be added to this page, including links to articles or data about your selection.  We will selectively add recommendations as our editors deem appropriate (but will not post your comment so you remain anonymous).