Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

The Nuclear What?

with 3 comments

 We often hear about “anti-nuclear” activists,  “pro-nuclear” activists,  “anti-nuclear” groups, “nuclear-free” groups…. but what exactly are the views of these groups? These terms don’t actually tell us anything!

You’ve got, for example, the Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia, Nuclear Free Australia, the Nuclear Free Great Lakes campaign in North America, the “Nuclear Free Future” Award, the “Nuclear-Free Zone” laws in place in Berkeley and Davis, California, as well as several other places around the world,

Lots of people identify themselves as anti-nuclear – but what does that even mean? They key point here is that nuclear is not a thing, it’s an adjective.

Does “anti-nuclear” mean Anti nuclear power? Anti nuclear weapons? Anti nuclear research reactors? Anti nuclear war? Anti nuclear medicine? anti-nuclei, or only radioactive nuclei?

Anti nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, perhaps? After all, the word nuclear is there, right? Anti smoke detectors? Anti nuclear magnetic resonance imaging? Or, perhaps, anti somatic cell nuclear transfer?

If you don’t specify “the nuclear what, then nobody has any kind of sensible, factual idea of what your views are. You haven’t told us anything at all about what you’re opposed to.

And what’s with those “nuclear-free zones”? Are all nuclei banned within the nuclear-free zone? I think there’s a little bit of a problem with that.

If you want to make a nuclear weapons free zone, then call it a nuclear weapons free zone. If you want to make a nuclear power and nuclear weapons free zone, then call it a nuclear power and nuclear weapons free zone.

Does your “nuclear-free zone” happen to ban nuclear medicine? Then call it a nuclear medicine (and nuclear power and whatever else, as appropriate) free zone.

Or, if your “nuclear free zone” bans somatic cell nuclear transfer, or nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy – which it might; after all, they’re nuclear technologies –  then specify it – specify the exact nuclear what that you’re talking about.

The idea that these people can get away with using “anti-nuclear” stems from the idea that they can just lump together any kind of technology or thing which has nuclear in its name, or somehow involves atomic nuclei, under the same heading.  Nuclear power has got the word nuclear in it, and nuclear weapons do as well, therefore they must be exactly the same thing, and our views on them must be exactly the same! This is how some people think. If you apply the same reasoning, then they must be opposed to nuclear medicine, nuclear magnetic resonance, and somatic cell nuclear transfer, too.

Next time you see an “anti-nuclear” person, ask them if they’re opposed to such things. If not, why aren’t they being more descriptive?

It’s this deliberate lack of descriptiveness that lets them lump nuclear energy in with nuclear weapons – nuclear weapons are bad, and nuclear power has got the word nuclear in it also, ergo nuclear power is bad.

Not everybody is stupid and blindly ignorant enough to fall for such reasoning.

Of course, the same thing goes for the pro-nuclear energy community, too.

I’m not “pro-nuclear” – what the hell does that even mean? I’m pro-nuclear energy, anti-nuclear weapons proliferation, anti-nuclear weapons but pro-nuclear pulse propulsion, and pro-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (To be honest, I’ll be amused when I can find someone who will admit to being anti nuclear magnetic resonance), and pro-nuclear medicine, and anti-nuclear war.

Get the picture? It’s pretty darn important to actually specify what you’re talking about.


Written by Luke Weston

March 22, 2008 at 6:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Keeping the difference between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons fuzzy has been the stock-in-trade of the (self named) antinuclear movement for years. Confounding the difference between these was the only way that the old Ban-the-Bomb activists could keep any relevance after SALT-II rendered their original message meaningless.

    You can see a similar effort on the part of the anti depleted uranium crowd who want to have DU recognized as a nuclear weapon, and its combustion products as fallout in the publics’ mind.

    Separating all of these in public discourse is going to take a very long time.


    March 23, 2008 at 3:54 am

  2. On that note, the difference between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons – that’s why I never use the word “nuke” when referring to nuclear power or nuclear engineering – I don’t like it, but, you know, everyone does it – “we need to build more nukes”, and things like that. It would be good if that sort of thing could be discouraged amongst those with an interest or connection to nuclear power discussion – everyone knows that the word “nuke” is firmly associated with the bomb in everybody’s mind.


    March 23, 2008 at 5:48 am

  3. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was a fifth-column organization serving the interests of the Eastern Bloc in the Cold War, and included Stasi spies among its highest profile members.

    Is it any accident that it was against (Western) nuclear power as well as nuclear weapons, since one of the few ways that the USSR could earn hard currency was by selling natural gas to the West?

    Gerhard Schroeder wasn’t the first opponent of nuclear power to be motivated by pro-Russian treason…

    George Carty

    July 25, 2008 at 11:58 am

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