Firsthand in Fukushima: Fish, Evacuations, and the Real Dangers of Our Opinions

Ever since Heather and I launched Mothers for Nuclear on Earth Day, 2016, we have fielded a steady barrage of anti-nuclear sentiment from people who are not convinced about the merits of nuclear energy. One consistent taunt we hear is “go to Japan, go to Fukushima, then you’ll see that nuclear energy is not the clean energy solution you say it is.” So, on one chilly day in February of 2018, we accepted the challenge.

Getting on a bus in Tokyo, ready for the ride to Fukushima prefecture

Getting on a bus in Tokyo, ready for the ride to Fukushima prefecture

The timing could have been better. Besides the winter cold, I am six months pregnant and girding myself for the inevitable accusations that I am an irresponsible mother. Piles of research papers fill the backpack at my feet telling me that my choice is safe, but data alone does not explain the pull that I feel to see firsthand what happens when nuclear energy goes wrong.

The bus ride from Tokyo to Fukushima prefecture was a long and beautiful journey along the coast, across the expansive countryside, and through winding mountain tunnels. Along the way we saw villages built up in the low-lying expanses between mountains, and rice paddies fighting with the forest for territory. Joining in the battle for open space was a large number of solar installations, cutting into the hillsides where trees once stood. Most notable for us energy-minded moms were the many fossil fueled power stations, enough to lose count of, sending their particulate-filled emissions billowing high across the grey-blue morning sky.

Following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, all of Japan’s 50 nuclear power stations were shut down. To date, only five have resumed operations. Japan replaced the 47.5GWe of nuclear energy with fossil fuels -mostly imported natural gas, coal, and oil- causing high prices and a dramatic increase in carbon and particulate emissions (“Clean Energy in Crisis: Japan,” 2017). After the nuclear power shutdown, carbon emissions in the country rose to the highest levels ever recorded in their history (“Nuclear Power in Japan,” 2017).

Japan is eager to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, and they have received pressure to pursue an anti-nuclear, pro-renewable model similar to the German Energiewende. However, without the connectivity to power supplies from neighboring countries, any replacement generation must be deployed only in Japan (an understandable situation for an island nation). This puts Japan in the tricky yet uniquely honest position of needing to review their energy mix and future options based on the actual economic and environmental impacts, without the luxury of relying on neighbors to hide their fossil fuel pollution or to compensate for the unreliability of intermittent energy sources. Japan doesn’t have the easy-way-out option of phasing out nuclear without regard to consequences, making it even more important to give the pros and cons of every energy source a thorough review.

As we get closer to the Fukushima Dai-ichi site, mounds of black bags were stacked in neat piles along the sides of the road, containing contaminated soil that was removed from the affected zone following the accident. I cringe at the understandable use of these plastic coffins to store soil. The recycling imperative that has been impressed on me since childhood is to reduce, reuse, and recycle; however, regulations, public fears, and practical concerns prevent “closing the loop” in the cleanup of contaminated materials from a nuclear site. This soil will spend an untold amount of time in these bags, much like the fate of modern society’s neatly bagged dog poop or individually wrapped used baby diapers that we callously heap into landfills.

Briefing with TEPCO employees, prior to entry into the evacuation zone

Briefing with TEPCO employees, prior to entry into the evacuation zone

We park at a TEPCO building and meet with employees to receive a briefing on our visit, who relay the current status of the site cleanup. We are directed to leave our cameras and cell phones behind, and we board a bus that will take us into the evacuation zone.

The evacuation zone is surreal – buildings devastated by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake are frozen in time. Cars are abandoned in driveways, signs for commercial buildings teeter in the air and violent piles of broken glass lay across showroom floors. Vehicle traffic passes through, but turnoffs and driveways are gated to restrict anyone from lingering. Although my intellect is aware that the earthquake caused this damage, my emotion weaves the words “nuclear disaster” into the images passing by our icy windows.

Trees and grasses didn’t get the evacuation message, and they happily stayed behind to take over buildings, parking lots, and abandoned cars. Fields that were once rice paddies are now young forests - branches tangling together and reaching for the sun with no one there to restrict their growth.

As we arrive onsite, the first thing I see is a wide expanse of tanks. These aren’t just any tanks, they are huge, hulking, welded steel giants, a silent army standing before us. TEPCO has clear-cut a forest to create space for yet another tank farm, and we learn that the site has capacity for a whopping 300 more tanks. These tanks hold processed water that was removed from the basements of the reactor buildings. Although the water has been filtered and cleaned up, the presence of tritium, a mildly radioactive isotope of hydrogen, complicates the future of this water.

Although the level of tritium in the water is far below levels that would have an impact on human health, the scientific perspective is not the only lens through which to view this issue (Conca, 2017). Officials are wrestling with the complicated issues of public perspective and stakeholder involvement – while the science says it’s safe, what will release of this water do to public opinion? Will the fishing industry be affected? Will public trust be affected? Will discrimination towards people and agricultural products from the prefecture persist? The situation requires careful consideration, and it is not a decision I envy.

After arrival onsite we are ushered into a building to begin the entry process into the radiation-controlled area. We receive another briefing, this one related to radiation exposure. I am always cautious about my radiation exposure, and especially so when pregnant. I wrote earlier about the fear that radiation exposure causes – a fear that’s amplified by our inability to see radiation or perceive how much dose we are receiving. I am not immune from that fear, but the thing that many people don’t realize about nuclear sites is the high attention given to radiation detection and measurement. For people who like being informed, a nuclear site is a comfortable place to be in regards to radiation – you can find out the radiation levels in an area before you go there, and you can use precise measuring equipment to monitor your exposure. This knowledge enables you to make real-time adjustments and keep your exposure low.

Comparison of background radiation levels around the world. Graphic from the World Nuclear Association.

Comparison of background radiation levels around the world. Graphic from the World Nuclear Association.

On this journey we have the honor of traveling with delegates from many different countries. A representative from Finland shared her perspectives on radiation, relating the relatively high levels of naturally occurring background radiation in Finland and in other areas around the world. If our entire globe was being held to the same cleanup standard as the land around Fukushima Dai-ichi, whole countries would be on the cleanup list (“Nuclear Radiation and Health Effects,” 2016, and “First Returns and Intentions…,” 2016). In the same conversation, we also noted the long life expectancy that Fins enjoy, and the fact that she looks close to my age when in fact she is a grandmother. Perhaps a little extra radiation isn’t the worst thing.

As the bus winds through the surprisingly large site, we see that much of the rubble created by the hydrogen explosions at Units 1, 3 and 4 has been cleared away. An enclosure is being built around the Unit 4 fuel pool to prepare for the next steps of fuel removal and storage. Radiation levels around Unit 3 are the highest that we encounter onsite as our bus passes next to the crippled structure. Closer to the water we see huge tanks that were thrown around by the tsunami like children’s bath-toys. On the site it is especially difficult to differentiate tsunami and earthquake damage from the damage caused by the hydrogen explosions. After this experience it is easier to understand why the natural disasters are conflated with the nuclear accident in the hearts and minds of people around the world.

The cleanup at the Fukushima Dai-ichi site will take decades and cost billions of dollars, although it is hard to say that this is a direct result of the nuclear accident. Some of this is also a product of our fears. Because of our fear of radiation and lack of public support for nuclear, policies are created that impose arduous and costly cleanup measures. While some of these measures are essential for continued protection of public and worker safety, many are not, and the line between the two is very blurred and very gray.

Conflicting messages from government, academic, nuclear industry, environmental advocates, and anti-nuclear groups all play a role in low public opinion and widespread mistrust. Scientists tell us that low levels of radiation are not harmful, but the policies regarding radiation limits for the general public are inconsistent. For example – in Fukushima prefecture, an evacuation order can be lifted once the radiation levels are low enough to result in an annual dose to the public of 20mSv (“First Returns and Intentions…,” 2016). However, the government also set 1mSv annual dose as a long term goal (“For Accelerating the Reconstruction of Fukushima…,” 2013). So what is safe – is 20mSv per year safe, or is 1mSv per year safe? It is not difficult to see why the public is suspicious (“First Returns and Intentions…,” 2016).

In the project management profession it is said that you can prioritize quality, schedule, or cost, but not all three. In the case of nuclear cleanup at Fukushima Dai-ichi (and at other closed reactor sites), the quality of the cleanup is the clear priority, leaving cost and/or schedule to inflate accordingly. Unfortunately, it seems all of this focus on extensive cleanup does little to impact public opinion; rather, it reinforces public fear as the unspoken communication is that there must be something very dangerous about low levels of radiation since we spend so much time and money isolating it (“First Returns and Intentions…,” 2016).

Communication needs to improve, that is undeniable. The public needs to hear consistent and accurate information about why nuclear energy is important to them, the trade-offs inherent in every energy source, and the real risks involved in their choices. Most people want to know why something matters to them before they will spend time asking questions about how it works. We can’t expect the public to become discerning nuclear experts just because a policy paper has been distributed, someone handed out a leaflet on radiation, or some guy in a suit announced that nuclear is safe. The nuclear industry has gained expert status at scaring people.

Although decades of poor communication have crippled public acceptance of nuclear energy, perhaps the most egregious offenders in this space are those individuals and organizations who intentionally spread misinformation for the purpose of stoking public fears. There is no kind way to justify this behavior. Not everyone will accept nuclear energy even when given correct information, and it is their right to be able to make up their own minds. However, I think it is also the public's right to have access to accurate information upon which to base their decisions.  

Illustration by Jack Cook, courtesy of the Coastal Ocean Institute, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Illustration by Jack Cook, courtesy of the Coastal Ocean Institute, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Spreading fear of nuclear is not a victimless act. Have you ever said “Fukushima” to someone as a way of expressing an opinion about nuclear energy? Heather and I see this all the time on social media, as many commenters think that simply typing the word communicates enough for us to change our minds and start spewing vitriol about nuclear energy. However, did it occur to you that Fukushima is the name of an entire Japanese prefecture? Callous exaggerations of the dangers of low level radiation and the branding of the Fukushima prefecture as a toxic disaster zone is a shameful attack on the many beautiful citizens of this area, their livelihoods, their identities, and their futures.

The ocean is fine, the reopened areas are fine, and the people living here need your support (Buesseler, 2016; Conca, 2017; and “First Returns and Intentions…,” 2016). Many of these people are the same ones who saw 18,000 of their friends, family, and neighbors killed in an instant by a monstrous wave. These people deserve empathy and compassion as they rebuild their lives, not the scarlet letter that the world has pinned on them for their association with one troubled nuclear site.

Fukushima Fish

Fukushima Fish

Our freedom of thought is one of our most valuable treasures, but we should all understand the impact our beliefs and opinions have on others. I don’t fault those who make decisions they feel are “conservative” when lacking information, but the behavior I’d like to see us all adopt is a willingness to change our minds when presented with better information instead of digging in our heels and turning to fringe websites and discredited sources to confirm our original opinions. This is especially important when our opinions have a victim on the other end of them.

It will take weeks, months, or maybe longer to unpack and process everything I saw and learned on this visit, but for now I’ll close with these thoughts – nuclear accidents are scary, natural disasters are scarier, fear of radiation hurts people, and the fish from Fukushima are delicious.

--Kristin


References:

1.       Environmental Progress (2017). Clean Energy in Crisis: Japan. Retrieved from: http://environmentalprogress.org/japan/.

2.       Buesseler, Ken & Kostel, Ken (2016). Fukushima and Radiation in the Ocean. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.whoi.edu/visualWHOI/fukushima-and-radiation-in-the-ocean--how-much

3.       Buesseler, Ken (2016). FAQ’s: Radiation from Fukushima. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=127297

4.       Conca, James (2017). Why Japan Should Release Radioactive Fukushima Water Into The Ocean. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2017/11/29/japan-should-release-tritium-contaminated-water-to-the-ocean/#66d77fc6d8ce

5.       For Accelerating the Reconstruction of Fukushima From the Nuclear Disaster. Cabinet Decision on December 20, 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.meti.go.jp/english/earthquake/nuclear/roadmap/pdf/20140605_01.pdf

6.       Institute for Radiological Protection & Nuclear Safety, France (2016). First returns and intentions to return of residents evacuated following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Retrieved from: http://www.irsn.fr/EN/publications/thematic-safety/fukushima/fukushima-2016/Documents/43-IRSN_Fukushima-2016_Society-residents-return_201603.pdf

7.       Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, Finland. Natural Background Radiation. Retrieved from: https://www.stuk.fi/web/en/topics/environmental-radiation/natural-background-radiation

8.       World Nuclear Association (2017). Nuclear Power in Japan. Retrieved from: http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-g-n/japan-nuclear-power.aspx

9.       World Nuclear Association (2016). Nuclear Radiation and Health Effects. Retrieved from: http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/radiation-and-health/nuclear-radiation-and-health-effects.aspx

Mothers for Nuclear go to Japan - Facing Fears, Looking for Answers

Looking at the history of nuclear technology, there may be no more difficult place to be a nuclear energy advocate than Japan. The first atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, a city with strategic military importance and a population of approximately 350,000. The first bomb was followed by a second, only three days later, dropped on the city of Nagasaki. The debate about the ethics of the bombings continues to this day, but the horrors of the atomic weapon are indisputable.

It is easier for us now in the 21st century to think about the atomic bomb in a more philosophical way. For many alive today, the detonation of an atomic bomb is a thing we talk about and hypothesize about but not something we’ve lived through. It is more difficult to approach this topic with empathy if we do not make our best effort to understand what happened, to feel the impact, to let the emotion penetrate our souls.

I consider myself to be an empathetic person, but as such I can often find it emotionally unbearable to let myself constantly feel the wide range of emotions that comes with attempting to understand the experiences of others. We would all be emotional disasters if we didn’t put up some barriers. But as it goes with emotional barriers, it’s hard to know you’re using them until they are challenged and something that you didn’t realize was there at all cracks and lets emotion flood through.

Flight map showing Hiroshima.JPG

Heather and I were honored to receive and invitation to speak about nuclear advocacy at an event hosted by the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan. To prepare for this journey, we promptly began learning about Japanese culture and the history of nuclear energy advocacy in Japan. We quickly learned there may be no more difficult place to separate fear of nuclear weapons from fear of nuclear energy. As the date of the workshop approached, we grew more and more aware of our need to understand the roots of this fear.

To challenge our mental models, Heather and I watched a powerful Hiroshima documentary on the flight from California to Tokyo. As our plane flew somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, the screen in front of us recounted the horrors of the atomic bomb - mass devastation of families, men, women, children, young, old, all being ruthlessly incinerated by the initial blast, crushed by the rubble, burned in the subsequent fires, or sickened by radiation exposure. The narrator told a story of a mother who watched her young daughter burn to death before her eyes, trapped in the rubble of their collapsed home. Both of us turned into sobbing messes in the back row, and the weight of this humanitarian horror fell across my heart in a new way. Even now as I type this memory, I can’t stop the emotions from flooding in. My young children are safe at home with their father, and our unborn child travels with me – there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect them. The mothers and fathers of Hiroshima felt the same way, yet they were powerless to protect their children from the devastation of the bomb.

Headline of The Japan News on our first morning in Tokyo, "US plans to increase nuclear capabilities"

Headline of The Japan News on our first morning in Tokyo, "US plans to increase nuclear capabilities"

This technology that I advocate for has a dark relative that will never and should never leave the hearts and minds of any who walk this earth. It is no wonder that it is so difficult to emotionally separate nuclear weapons from peaceful uses of nuclear – when one has such a deadly and inhumane legacy, it is only natural that it would seep through to tarnish the reputation of any other technology bearing the name “nuclear.” This effect can easily be seen in every major nuclear energy accident.

Although the March, 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania did not hurt anyone, a deep and justifiable fear of atomic weapons surely contributed to the mass panic and hysteria that followed. With the April, 1986 accident at Chernobyl, the explosion and open-air graphite fire killed around 60 plant workers and first responders, and long-term effects of radiation exposure continue to be monitored (4). Back in Japan, the March, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami killed over 15,000 people. The horrors of this natural disaster were exacerbated by the reactor meltdown at Fukushima Daichi, forever conflating the devastation of a tsunami with a nuclear power accident. Although the reactor meltdown didn’t kill anyone, and long-term effects of radiation exposure are also not projected to have a human health impact, this doesn’t stop fear of radiation from spreading - with its deep roots in the horrendous human impacts caused by the atomic bomb (5, 6).

First night in Tokyo

First night in Tokyo

On our flight, we chat with our flight attendant about our trip. When she learns that we will be visiting Fukushima, she inquired about the safety of that choice since I am an expecting mother (interesting sidebar - this conversation came after multiple fight attendants offered me an alcoholic beverage). We discussed fear of radiation, and radiation dose on this flight than Heather and I will get while visiting Fukushima, which led to a discussion about fears of her occupational radiation exposure.

We live on a radioactive planet, but that doesn’t make radioactivity less scary. When I consider what makes nuclear more scary than other things that cause a far greater risk to human health and safety, I wonder how much of it has to do with our perceived level of control. I can choose to not smoke cigarettes or to wear my seatbelt every time I get in a motor vehicle, but the radiation all around us is not something that we can see, and without radiation detection equipment we cannot perceive when we are receiving more or less exposure. Additionally, dose due to a nuclear accident (no matter how small) is not the choice of those who are exposed.

Not to be let off so easily, we moved from the Hiroshima documentary to the 2016 South Korean disaster film, “Pandora.” The film centers around an earthquake and out-of-control nuclear meltdown at a Korean nuclear plant, killing people left and right, with radiation plumes chasing residents across the countryside while the government covers up the accident and locks evacuees in buildings, leaving them to die. The filmmaker clearly draws on recent emotion from the Fukushima Daichi accident, and then takes the human impact up to astronomical heights. The parallel with nuclear weapons is also clear as the reactor building in the film explodes and sends a shockwave reminiscent of an atomic bomb through the unsuspecting city.

Watching "Pandora" on the plane

Watching "Pandora" on the plane

The movie Pandora affects Heather and me in a different way – while the Hiroshima documentary brought our hearts into deep empathy with atomic bomb victims and survivors, Pandora reinforced the difficulty of separating atomic bomb-driven emotion from any peaceful uses of nuclear technology. For anyone who knows the basics of radiation science and nuclear power technology, the film’s technical accuracy was atrocious. It was intellectually painful to watch scenes where characters scream in agony, “the radiation is all over me!” or solemnly warn each other, “the radiation is deep in there.” However, they cleverly linked the environmental case for nuclear energy into the disaster by accurately citing many of the strongest reasons for its use, “nuclear is the only energy source that can replace fossil,” “nuclear does not emit carbon dioxide or particulates,” and “nuclear is the safest way of producing reliable electricity” (3). Of course, these environmental arguments precede the accident and the message becomes “don’t believe any pro-nuclear advocate, nuclear plant owner, or government official - nuclear plants can explode like bombs and the radiation will kill you.” The film wraps up with impassioned commitments to finding newer, safer technologies and using less electricity (sound familiar?). In short, if someone was trying to cement the conflation of nuclear weapons and natural disasters with nuclear power, while discrediting pro-nuclear environmentalists, Pandora nailed it.

Through muffled sobs and swollen eyes, I not-so-silently cursed Heather for her choice of in-flight movies, but also felt appreciative for the renewed empathy and reverent appreciation for the technology that we are flying to Japan to help save. As we approached Tokyo, I felt grateful for my many years of professional education on nuclear energy, without which I would have become a victim of the panic of “Pandora.” I know I received more radiation dose on this flight than I will receive all year living next to a nuclear power plant, and far more dose than we will receive on our upcoming trip to Fukushima (1, 2). I know the argument to use less energy applies to developed nations but is essentially a death sentence to those in developing nations who need energy to develop their economies and provide modern healthcare. I know the reasoning, “we will find another way to provide clean energy” sounds compelling but has not yet produced the results we wished for - leaving us in a world with global climate change and millions dying every year due to air pollution (7).

The case for nuclear energy is strong, but so are the forces against it. Can pro-nuclear environmentalists make a difference? Time will tell.

-- Kristin Zaitz


References:

1.       Aircrew Safety and Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/aircrew/cosmicionizingradiation.html

2.       Dose Scale. National Institute of Radiological Sciences. http://www.nirs.qst.go.jp/data/pdf/hayamizu/e/20160401.pdf

3.       Markandya, Anil et al. Electricity generation and health. The Lancet, Volume 370, Issue 9591, 979 - 990TMI

4.       UNSCEAR (2008). Sources and effects of Ionizing Radiation. UNSCEAR 2008 Report to the General Assembly with Scientific Annexes. http://www.unscear.org/docs/reports/2008/11-80076_Report_2008_Annex_D.pdf

5.       UNSCEAR (2013). Sources, Effects and Risks of Ionizing Radiation. Volume I Report to the General Assembly, Scientific Annex A. http://www.unscear.org/docs/publications/2013/UNSCEAR_2013_Report_Vol.I.pdf

6.       UNSCEAR (2016). Developments Since the 2013 UNSCEAR Report on the Levels and Effects of Radiation Exposure Due to the Nuclear Accident Following the Great East-Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. http://www.unscear.org/docs/publications/2016/UNSCEAR_WP_2016.pdf

7.       World Health Organization. 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution. (n.d.). Retrieved February 05, 2018, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/air-pollution/en/

Energy, What A Trip

On vacation with my family this summer, the questions from the backseat changed from "are we there yet?" to "mom, is that a dirty energy power plant, or a clean energy power plant?" It is amazing to observe how energy shapes our landscapes, and even more amazing to pair these observations with thoughts on human health, climate change, and the global energy outlook. Read more about one enlightening energy road trip in this story we posted on Medium

The answer is, "no, we're not there yet." 

-- Kristin Zaitz

Why We Are Mothers FOR Nuclear

Why We Are Mothers For Nuclear

By Kristin Zaitz

Should I buy organic or conventional produce? Is it my turn to drive the carpool? Did the kids brush their teeth this morning? Do I have time for coffee before my next meeting? Should I get solar panels on my house? And nuclear power -- that sounds scary. Didn’t I just see something about that on my news feed?

Moms are busy, I get it. Each day we must make hundreds of decisions that affect ourselves and our families. In our fast-paced and information-hungry world, we sometimes feel forced into making snap decisions. All too often these decisions are based on headlines, memes, or 30-second video clips. We have an overload of information, and a shortage of time to sort through it.

When it comes to nuclear energy, few topics are more likely to be misunderstood. When anything involving the word “nuclear” becomes newsworthy, conflicting stories fill our newsfeeds. It becomes nearly impossible to differentiate the facts from the fear. That is one of the reasons why Heather Matteson and I founded Mothers For Nuclear – because we saw a gaping divide between the facts about nuclear energy and the story that many people believe.

I have read plenty of these sensational anti-nuclear articles, and I have the same thought each time a new one pops up: STOP IT. Stop preying on us.

Kristin & kids, cuba.JPG

Women, specifically mothers, are the demographic least likely to support nuclear energy. This has a lot to do with headlines. We read fear-mongering stories light on facts and peppered with ideology from anti-nuclear groups, and we add another “nuclear energy sounds scary” headline to our snap-decision making arsenal. The conversation has become so polarized, we can’t expect most people, especially moms, to dig through all of the propaganda.

Support for nuclear energy didn’t come easily to me. As a lifelong lover of the natural environment, I felt nuclear energy was a risk not worth taking. I only started to change my mind about nuclear after doing my own research about the pro’s and con’s of different energy sources. I discovered no energy source is perfect, and most of what I thought I knew about nuclear energy was based on misleading headlines instead of facts.

My good friend Heather, a notorious question-asker, spent many years as a nuclear plant operator trying to find problems or issues that would validate her long-held fears. After years of digging and learning the facts, her fear has been replaced by knowledge and a strong support for nuclear.

The truth about nuclear energy? It is quietly and reliably producing nearly two-thirds of America’s emission-free electricity. If you care about air pollution or climate change, this is a big deal. And those who care about land conservation will be happy to know that nuclear has by far the smallest footprint of any clean energy technology. This leaves more room for people and nature, and it restores my hope that one day our world will be able to power our modern societies AND protect the environment.

Many nuclear plants are under threat of premature closure. This threat comes in the form of anti-nuclear policies and markets that do not value their clean, reliable electricity. The unfortunate result is that fossil fuels – not renewables – are filling the gap. It happened in California, Vermont, Germany, and there may be many more examples in coming years since operating nuclear plants are at risk around the world.

In our home state of California, anti-nuclear policies are behind the planned closure of the Diablo Canyon power plant, where Heather and I work. Today Diablo Canyon provides 22% of the state’s clean electricity, but Diablo’s shutdown plan calls for energy efficiency and an (optional) increase in renewable energy to replace the loss. We believe efficiency and renewables should replace fossil fuels, not clean energy such as nuclear.

We chose the name Mothers for Nuclear with care, and the smallest of those three words is the most important one: “for.” We are tired of the anti-everything mentality. The thing about being against something is that you are, by default, in support of something else. The reality of our current energy landscape is that to oppose nuclear energy is to support the expansion of fossil fuels.

“Emissions rise when nuclear plant shuts down” doesn’t make for a great headline, so anti-nuclear groups avoid details like that. “Three-eyed fish found near Fukushima” will get way more clicks, facts be damned. The truth is that the health and environmental consequences of closing nuclear plants are tragic.

I want to give my children a world with abundant power, but without rampant pollution and carbon emissions. With nuclear energy as part of the mix, we can achieve a 100% low-carbon energy portfolio. To accomplish this, we must protect all existing clean energy sources while we innovate new technologies for the future. Our chances of success are far less likely if we fall prey to anti-nuclear ideology.

Mothers for Nuclear aims to protect and expand emission-free power across the globe. Amid each day’s sensational stories, we want to help separate clean energy fact from fiction. This project is our labor of love and service to others, so we all can focus on things of real concern: parenting our children and protecting the planet for them.

(By Matt Groening)

(By Matt Groening)