Greenwashing, nuclear power, and you


When I’m interviewed on radio, I’m almost invariably asked about greenwashing, and about being able to tell the difference between real green actions and fake ones.

Usually, I respond by citing the nuclear power industry as an example of how not to do green messaging.

Nuclear power’s proponents claim it’s a green technology, because spinning the turbines creates less carbon dioxide than spinning turbines using oil, coal, or natural gas. But that argument doesn’t hold up to scrutiny; when you look at the entire cycle, from mining and milling the uranium through assembling it into nuclear fuel, transporting it across vast distances, loading it into the power plant, actually operating the plant, and then removing it afterwards, you find a significant carbon footprint (not to mention considerable consumption of energy).

And we don’t even know what the carbon impact of storing the waste long-term in complete isolation from the environment (we’re talking about a quarter of a million years)—because the technology to do that doesn’t even exist.

And then we’ve got the little matter of radiation. Dozens of isotopes are produced in the nuclear cycle, some of them not found in nature, and most of them highly toxic and carcinogenic.
This is all part of routine operation. When things go wrong, the negative environmental impact goes up by orders of magnitude. More than a quarter-century after the Chernobyl accident, vast areas of the Ukraine are still uninhabitable (including some parts that had been among the best farmland in Eastern Europe). And it’s still not clear if a comparable disaster will occur at Fukushima-Dai’ichi, where the fuel rods from the #4 reactor is still in grave danger of catastrophic failure, and where at least two reactors melted down during the accident.

And if you think nuclear accidents only happen once in a long while, consider this: We’ve heard about Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now, Fukushima-Dai’ichi. But those are only the most publicized in a long line of accidents at nuclear power plants and related facilities. From 1952 to 2009, there were at least 99 accidents causing loss of life or at least USD $50,000 in property damage, and that does not count the Fukushima accidents in 2010 and 2011.

Chernobyl alone, according to European reports, has caused a shocking 1 million deaths and $500,000,000,000 in property damage—and that’s before long-latency cancers start to show up.
I wouldn’t call that green!

So what does this mean for those of us in the green marketing world?

First, we have an obligation to protect our industry by confronting this falsehood. As some countries are drawing away from nuclear power, others (including the US) still embrace it. We need to use the full weight of our marketing skills to get the message out that nuclear is the most ungreen technology ever created, that it is not a solution. And that we have plenty of solutions that are appropriate, using renewable, nonpolluting, safe technologies such as human-scale solar, wind, hydro, tidal, and geothermal.

Second and even more importantly, we have an obligation to our planet to protect ourselves from this menace. Whenever new nuclear power (or renewal of existing nuclear power) is proposed, we need to be there opposing it, demonstrating not only the greenwashing lies but the cost to our health, safety, and even our freedom.

If you would like more information about nuclear power, I will be glad to send you the ten-page update I wrote last year when my 1980 book was reprinted in Japan, post-Fukushima (which includes citations for the facts I’ve cited here).
Please write to me, shel AT, with the subject line “Send 2011 Nuke Intro.”


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