By Donella Meadows
–January 7, 1993–
The U.S. Council for Energy Awareness has finally figured out how to sell nuclear power to women.
Women have always been a problem to the nuclear industry. Polls consistently show them to be more opposed to nuclear power than men. (“Because of their deeply held distrust of science and technology,” the Council for Energy Awareness assumes.) The Council, which, if it were honest would call itself the Council for Nuclear Propaganda, has never bothered to spend much of its $21 million annual budget advertising to women. It has sensed a better investment airing spots during football games and the World Series, telling men how nuclear power is going to free us from the domination of oil-rich Arabs.
That’s a lie, of course. Nuclear power generates electricity, which runs our lights and electric motors. It is not a substitute for oil, which runs our cars and planes. A flat-out program to build nuclear power plants could reduce our oil imports by a few percent at most. But then the CEA’s job is not to tell the truth, but to make us look kindly on nuclear power.
Which, when it came to women, was assumed impossible, until now. Through tireless polling, the CEA has finally found the key to female hearts and minds. Women, it has discovered, care about their children and about the environment and especially about the environment surrounding their children. And so the pages of Good Housekeeping, the Ladies’ Home Journal, and Better Homes and Gardens are soon to be graced with CEA ads showing kids playing happily in sylvan scenes with nuclear cooling towers rising in the background, and sweet pictures of a baby turtle crawling to the sea.
“The baby sea turtles hatching on nearby beaches are more evidence of the truth about nuclear energy; it peacefully coexists with the environment. Because nuclear plants don’t burn anything to make electricity, nuclear plants don’t pollute the air,” say the ads. “Nuclear plants produce no greenhouse gases.”
Nuclear plants produce radioactive wastes that no government on earth has figured out how to store safely, but those wastes are indeed not greenhouse gases. Under normal operating conditions nuclear wastes don’t pollute the air, though if anyone goofs and lets them loose, there is no more insidious pollutant of air, water, or soil. Nuclear wastes have to be sealed off in concrete tombs, kept under pools of water, and guarded closely for the several centuries; they have to be kept out of the hands of terrorists; the buildings that contain the reactors become hazardous waste when they are pulled down. But these matters would bother you only if you had some sort of irrational feminine distrust of science and technology.
Nuclear plants could, at best, reduce the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases by 12 percent, which is the amount generated by coal-burning power plants — the only greenhouse-gas-emitting activity for which nuclear power can substitute. To replace all existing coal plants with nuclear ones, would cost $5.3 trillion (and a multiplication of nuclear power reactors worldwide from the present 400 to 5,000). We could get the same amount of greenhouse gas reduction from energy efficiency at one-seventh the cost.
But let’s not bother the ladies’ heads with economics. Let’s help them, as the CEA kindly puts it, “sort out the facts from the conflicting messages they hear.”
“I want my kids to grow up in a healthy environment,” says the attractive young woman in the TV ad, as her kids play by a pristine lake. “I want them to breath clean air. I”m for nuclear energy because … it’s one of the cleanest sources of electricity we have. When I was in college, I was against nuclear energy. But I’ve reached a different conclusion. [Nuclear energy] means cleaner air for this planet.”
Her name is Karen Strauss, she is an environmental engineer, she travels around the country as a spokeswoman for CEA, and that college she was in when she was “against nuclear energy” was Dartmouth. She is the granddaughter-in-law of Dr. Lewis Strauss, once the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. He is the one who promised that nuclear power would be “too cheap to meter.” Now it is the most expensive way of generating electricity, even with major government subsidies.
Karen Strauss doesn’t mention the high cost of nuclear electricity, nor does she point out that the utilities funding the CEA run not only nuclear plants, but also coal-fired plants, sources of just about every air pollutant you can mention. They spend some of their tax-deductible public relations money telling us about nuclear power and clean air, and some fighting the Clean Air Act.
Nuclear power has dragged some utilities down to bankruptcy. Many others long ago reached the conclusion that they can meet their customer’s needs far more cheaply and with less environmental threat using technologies ranging from hydropower, wind, and solar thermal to smart conservation. The utilities that haven’t caught on yet are still trying to promote their dangerous, dinosaur technologies by lying to the public.
Maybe they would wise up if they hired more women.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1993