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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


Published in the October 2001 issue of the Canadian Nuclear Society Bulletin, Vol.22, No.3.   Artwork by Lorne Whitlock.


by Jeremy Whitlock

The politics of Environmentalism – sometimes amusing, always self-contradictory – reached a new low in Bonn this summer. The machinations at the COP-6 Kyoto negotiations brought new meaning to the phrase "ulterior motive", and read like the plot of a bad Mafia movie:

Fade in...

The exit of kingpin America leaves a void exploited mercilessly by the Euro Greens. These are the power brokers of the new millennium. They have negligible popular support but control the European agenda through cunning and hard-won coalitions.

Now, with the Yanks gone, they control the Kyoto agenda as well. This is their time. Wiseguys at last, without the birthright.

The Euro Greens despise nuclear power. They don't understand it, but understanding is overrated. It's clean ... too clean. It works ... too well. It cannot be allowed to thrive.

The Canadians and the Japanese want nuclear power, and the Canadians and Japanese are carbon pigs, so they matter. But the Canadians and Japanese are not untouchable. They can be lured into the Fool's Paradigm, where a forest is not a temporary stop on the Carbon Cycle, but a permanent reservoir, a sink. It is not their fault – this stupid idea comes from elsewhere, from people with Degrees.

The EU Wannabees who favour nuclear power – the Slovaks, Bulgarians, Lithuanians, Czechs, Lithuanians, and Hungarians – are told to sit down and shut up. This is not their fight. They bring nothing to the table. If you want to be made, sit in the shade.

The oil sheiks in the G77 Group give their full support to a no-nukes clause. Their motive, at least, is clear and rational.

The meeting of the Dons ensues, presided over by COP-6 President and all-round Goodfella, Jan Pronk (of the anti-nuclear Netherlands Labour Party). The Canadians and Japanese play hard. The Euro Greens tell them to stick it. Don't even show us your stinkin' alternative proposal. We wipe our behinds with more meaningful paper.

The Canadians and Japanese fold. The Euro Greens grin. The EU Wannabees mop their brows. Russia looks confused.

Fade out...

Or perhaps that's according too much chic to this chicanery. What happened in Bonn was little more than lynch-mob mentality and Lilliputian delusion. Nuclear power is hardly down for the count. No puppet politician can stifle the fact that a tennis-ball-sized lump of uranium can power a home for three years with nary an ounce of air pollution.

Increasingly, decision-makers are shirking ideology and giving nuclear power top marks for sustainable development. The petty string-pullers at Bonn are not only behind the times; they're behind their own bureaucracies: the European Commission has itself endorsed numerous statements of late on the importance of nuclear technology.

More to the point, COP-6 does nothing to deserve the accolades heaped upon it by those who would dance on the nuclear grave. It does not, in fact, discourage the use of nuclear power to meet Kyoto targets, nor the continuing use of nuclear power. All that it does is hinder the developed world from helping the developing world (via the Clean Development Mechanism), or other less-viable developed economies (via the Joint Implementation mechanism).

This peculiar hypocrisy, where a country like France can hobble the proven technology from which it derives 80% of its electrical energy, is informative. Can we not, finally, let go of the notion that the public will be won over by rational argument and clean living? These are, no doubt, the main column and the supply train – but the vanguard of this noble crusade is surely something else, as subtle as the force which opposes it.

Anti-nuclearism, as put forth some time ago in this very humble space, is a meme. And memes are best fought with memes. This is the time to harness the main audio-visual pathways that inform the masses. Not aggressively. Not pedagogically. Not with any immediate expectations.

This is not the time to back down, as the industry has unfortunately just done, on ambitious plans to speak directly to the public. The tide is turning. Canadians deserve to learn about the world-leading, home-grown technology that can sustainably power economies at almost any level of sophistication.

COP-6 shows us, if nothing else, that "earned media" is a pipe dream where memes are concerned. The media mirrors society, and we have ample evidence that society does not turn easily from a meme (also by definition). It is a "trickle" process, demanding craftsmanship and patience.

That anti-nuclearism is unbeatable by traditional channels, and indeed, that nuclear power is a singularly peculiar beast in the first place, would – understandably – not be appreciated by somebody new to our scene. Part of the problem, therefore, has been the oft-changing hands in the front offices and PR departments of our leading organizations.

The sooner we shake this handicap, the better.

Discussion welcome.

©2011 Jeremy Whitlock

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