Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
On August 6, 1945, in one giant, blinding flash, humanity was introduced to a new kind of warfare.
The “Fat Boy” atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima killing over 120,000 people, many of them innocent civilians. Three days later the “Tall Boy” atomic bomb using plutonium instead of uranium was dropped on Nagasaki, killing 70,000 people. Once again the victims were mostly civilians guilty only of the crime of being born and living in Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun.
The great irony of these two cataclysmic events is that they ended World War II and made an invasion of Japan unnecessary. As a result, they actually saved millions of Japanese and Allied lives. A greater number of Japanese lived rather than died as a result of using the weapon that captured the ”power of the sun” to defeat the Axis powers. Tens of thousands of young Americans who thought they might die in the assault on Japan got to return home to become fathers and grandfathers. Many of them, brave as they were, broke down and cried when they learned that the nightmarish war was now over.
These appalling experiences, necessary as they may have been, left behind serious scars in our thinking and language. Simply put, the word “nuclear” scares people. Very few words have a more negative and bitterly poisonous connotation. It is an “N Word” that brings forth images of scorched earth and casualties inflicted upon innocent women and children. When the word nuclear is applied to any peaceful endeavor, that peaceful endeavor is instantly tainted by the word’s war-torn and toxic image.
To make a fraught situation even more sensitive, there have been three high-profile nuclear accidents over the last forty-five years that have further damaged the term’s reputation: Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979, Chernobyl in Russia in 1986, and Fukushima, Japan in 2011. There were no deaths in the United States or Japan but at least 28 people died at Chernobyl.
A series of tsunamis caused the accident in Fukushima. As a result of this incident, the German government made the impulsive decision to end all nuclear power projects in their country. This was a politically-motivated and ill-informed decision if ever there were one.
Nuclear energy is by far the safest, cleanest, and cheapest of all energy sources. It has 330 times fewer deaths than coal, 250 times fewer deaths than oil, and 38 times fewer deaths than natural gas. It is also safer than either wind or solar. Nuclear power has zero carbon emissions. We can even recycle its fuel. In other words, it is a near-perfect source of energy but it’s tagged with a sordid and disreputable name.
In the 1930s and ’40s, it was common for movie studios to change the name of their up-and-coming young actors. Cary Grant was really Archibald Leach and John Wayne was born Marion Morrison. Another prime example of this practice was a rising young starlet named Billie Le Suer. But one studio chief thought that the name sounded too much “like a latrine.” So a contest was organized with the fan magazines to have moviegoers themselves choose a better moniker. The winning name was Joan Crawford!
With her new name, “Billie” later won the Academy Award for Best Actress in the movie “Mildred Pierce.” Billie Le Seur has been forgotten, but Joan Crawford never will be.
Maybe something along the same line could be done for nuclear power. Perhaps the new name could be “thermal fusion?” Most people would agree that this label sounds innocent and harmless even to the German ear.
To protect themselves from blowback, German politicians might want to have a polling firm test the new name with the average German voter. The exchange might go as follows:
First polling question: What do you think of nuclear power?
Answer in German: Nein, es ist sehr getahrlich. (No! it is too dangerous.)
Second polling question: What do you think of thermal fusion? It is the safest, cleanest, and cheapest of all energy sources?
Answer in German: Jawohl! Es kling nach der perfekten Wahl. (Yes sir! It sounds like the perfect choice.)
What a difference a name makes!
I hope the reader realizes all of this is tongue-in-cheek. The media and federal regulators are very unlikely to allow any such creative solution to nuclear power’s image problems.
However, a more modest name adjustment would be to simply call the industry “New Technology Nuclear Power.” The use of the word “new” is well justified. There are a host of new developments and “game-changing technologies” in the nuclear field which show immediate and practical potential. They include fast neutron reactors, traveling wave reactors, natrium reactors, and small modular reactors that can be transported in pick-up trucks for use in smaller applications. Several of these new technologies will be in place and in production before the end of this decade.
Nuclear power is an essential part of any hope for substantially reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. None of the other clean alternatives will be able to provide enough power reliably to make a meaningful difference.
Germany in particular should take note and reverse its anti-nuclear stance. The Germans have chosen a road that dooms them to dependence on Russian oil and gas. It also locks them into the pollution of fossil fuels for generations to come. Mr. Putin with his menacing territorial ambitions is pleased that Germany has turned away from nuclear power. It plays right into his hands.
Currently, Tesla and the other electric cars are powered by electricity produced from coal and gas, the two dirtiest forms of energy. Electric cars cost $60,000 per copy. This is beyond the budgets of most families.
The pathway to a clean energy future is simple. Build efficient and dependable nuclear power plants using the new technologies as quickly and as carefully as possible. Higher volume will help to reduce the price of electric cars. The government should do everything it can to make this power transition and price reduction possible, using another powerful force at our disposal — the free market.
France currently produces seventy percent of its total energy through nuclear power. If the United States, Germany and the rest of the world were to follow suit we would all be breathing cleaner air in a world that is much safer from Russian aggression. Vive La France!
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