Nuclear Power & Climate Change

Photo: Junnu Lusa

Environmentalist Ben Heard champions nuclear energy

How could an anti-nuclear believer have a change of heart? By educating himself on climate change and potential solutions.

Ben Heard says he is an observer, analyst and commentator on nuclear technologies, but first and foremost he is an environmentalist.

- I’ve always been passionate about saving the environment. Back when I was working on my Masters in Corporate Sustainability I was anti-nuclear and a member of Greenpeace. I believed nuclear power was dangerous and wouldn’t help stop climate change – I thought it was just the worst thing in the world, Heard say. 

After working professionally in the environmental sector for a couple of years he began to realise the scale of the problem.

- There was no possibility to deal with climate change using only those tools we were promoting, things like carbon taxes, renewables and energy efficiency. The numbers simply don’t add up, he says.

- Then I decided to look at nuclear power.

After several years of study, Heard re-emerged on the environmental scene with the presentation Nuclear Power: From Opponent to Proponent.

- I went from depressed about our situation to optimistic and excited, thanks to nuclear power, he says.

Alternative gives hope

Heard has created Bright New World, an Adelaide-based NGO, to promote a 21st Century environmentalism. In the autumn of 2017 Heard visited groups in Finland, such as Fennovoima and VTT, to talk about his conversion and why a passionate environmentalist like himself should champion nuclear energy.

- Frightening people about climate change doesn’t work. Hope is much more effective than fear. We need to show the benefits of nuclear power. Energy is the key to our modern life, Heard continues.

- But to substitute our addiction on fossil fuels, we need something which is as good or better. Nuclear is the only energy source we have that is clean, plentiful and reliable.

This is a point he hammers again and again. Alternatives to fossil fuels like renewable energy sources may tick two of those boxes, but not three.

- No one asks ‘why?’ if you want to build a solar farm. Everyone understands the ‘why’ behind it. But if you want to build a nuclear power station, the first thing everyone asks is ‘why do we need it?’. Well, here is why we need it. We need nuclear energy because it doesn’t produce greenhouse gases, can be used anywhere, and it provides power as we need it.

Great product, not a challenge

At times Heard seems almost flabbergasted that the benefits of nuclear power are not more widely accepted.

- It is interesting that so many climate, environmental and conservation scientists are pro-nuclear and activists are anti-nuclear, he says.

- In a way, nuclear power was invented too early. In its early years it was marketed as high-tech and complex, a challenge to be overcome instead. If it was invented today everyone would say it was the most amazing thing ever.

But what about safety? People are often most concerned about safety, but he hasn’t even mentioned it.

- Everyone within nuclear knows safety is core business. It needs to be understood internally, not marketed externally as a selling point.

Heard offers an example:

- When I flew to Finland from Australia I took Qantas, the safest airline in the world. I didn’t see any advertisements saying ‘Congratulations! You are least likely to die by flying with us!’ All passengers know that safety is paramount, and so should all nuclear energy consumers.

Protect and conserve

Heard stresses that the nuclear power industry needs to change its message to the public in order to explain its benefits.

- We have to insist that we are part of the environmental conversation, he says.

- Luckily that is starting to change. We have committed, advanced nuclear companies with a different culture, and they understand that they need a new message. Nuclear energy is wonderful and essential.

- I hope our future is restorative, not exploitive. My dream is that I live to see the end of fossil fuels. When my daughter is my age, I hope poverty is down, habitat is returning on earth and the oceans are restoring themselves. We can make it happen.

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