New York Times writer Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics, the pop culture economics books that sold 3 million copies, caused a stir recently when he suggested that the person to blame for global warming was Jane Fonda. He was half joking, but his point was that anti-nuclear advocates helped force the United States to chose coal over nuclear power to produce electricity causing a sharp increase in the production of greenhouse gases.
Eventually Dubner gets to the real culprit, the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear accidents, which taught a generation of Americans as well as Europeans to fear nuclear power. He suggests that the tide is turning on nuclear power public opinion because people are now choosing the risks of nuclear energy over the uncertainty of global warming.
James Lovelock, is a pioneering environmental scientist from England, best known for his hypothesis that the Earth, which he calls Gaia, acts as a single giant organism. He was the first major environmentalist to suggest that the risk of global warming was far greater and more pressing than the risks of nuclear power.
Dubner is suggesting a new book could help spread the message, “Power to Save the World" by Gwyneth Cravens, a former anti-nuclear activist. The introduction is written by Pulitzer Prize winning author of the book “The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes.
He also wrote a history of the Argonne National Laboratory, which operated at the Idaho National Laboratory during its glory years of nuclear reactor research. His interview of Idaho Falls nuclear genius Charles Till for Frontline’s Nuclear Reaction broadcast was the first positive piece on nuclear power in two decades on national television in 1997.
Because of the INL, Idaho’s anti-nuclear sentiment has been weaker than other places. However, the Snake River Alliance has kept anti-nuclear feeling alive here, especially in Boise and Ketchum.
It’s effectiveness was best in the 1980s when it led the effort to stop the pumping of nuclear waste into the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer and helped keep the Department of Energy from building new nuclear weapons production facilities on the desert site. It has had recent victories, stopping a nuclear waste incinerator, and now has spread its mission to promote renewable energy and conservation.
It will face, like all anti-nuclear groups, the challenge of having to argue that climate change is a world crisis that requires immediate, far-reaching changes in society. Yet the long-term dangers of nuclear power are so great that these risks should outweigh the benefits of its low carbon power production.
Until the next Chernobyl, that argument is going to be harder to make.