COP that: nuclear lobbyists on the offensive

Jim Green

From Chain Reaction #126, April 2016, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia

The nuclear industry and its supporters were busily promoting nuclear power − and attacking environmentalists − before and during the COP21 UN climate conference in Paris in December. All the usual suspects were promoting nuclear power as a climate-friendly energy source: the World Nuclear Association, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Energy Agency, the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, the U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute, and so on.1

The Breakthrough Institute has been promoting its pro-nuclear “paradigm-shifting advocacy for an ecomodernist future” and arguing against the “reactionary apocalyptic pastoralism” of anyone who disagrees with them.2 In reality the Breakthrough Institute is anything but ‘paradigm shifting’. A glowing endorsement in the right-wing National Review states: “Ecomodernists are pro-fracking. They advocate genetically engineered crops (GMOs) … Most distinctively, the ecomodernists are pro-growth and pro-free markets. “The Kardashians are not the reason Africans are starving,” chides Alex Trembath, a senior researcher at the Breakthrough Institute …”3

Bill Gates was in Paris to announce the formation of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. Gates was promoting ‘clean energy’ but it seems likely the capital the Coalition attracts will be directed disproportionately to nuclear R&D.4

Robert Stone, director of the Pandora’s Promise pro-nuclear propaganda film5, launched a ‘resource hub’ called Energy For Humanity, promoting “more advanced, mass-producible, passively safe, reactor designs”.6

Rauli Partanen and Janne Korhonen, members of the Finnish Ecomodernist Society, were attacking environmentalists for opposing nuclear power. Rebutting7 a rebuttal8 by Michael Mariotte from Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Partanen and Korhonen offer this gem: “even the much-maligned Olkiluoto 3 nuclear project [in Finland] turns out to be very fast way of adding low-carbon energy production when compared to any real-world combination of alternatives.” A single reactor that will take well over a decade to build (and is three times over budget) is a “very fast way” of adding low-carbon energy? Huh?

Partanen and Korhanan authored a booklet called Climate Gamble: Is Anti-Nuclear Activism Endangering Our Future?, and crowdfunded the printing of 5,000 copies which were distributed for free at the COP21 conference.9

James Hansen and three other climate scientists were in Paris to promote nuclear power. Hansen attacks the “intransigent network of anti-nukes” that has “grown to include ‘Big Green,’ huge groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund and World Wide Fund for Nature. They have trained lawyers, scientists, and media staff ready to denounce any positive news about nuclear power.”10

By way of sharp contrast to ‘Big Green’, the impoverished U.S. nuclear industry could only rustle up US$60 million to lobby Congress and federal agencies in 2013−14.11

So is there an undercurrent of grassroots pro-nuclear environmentalism waiting to burst forth if only their voice could cut through Big Green hegemony? Perhaps Nuclear for Climate12, promoted as a “grassroots organization”1, is the environmental network to take on Big Green? Well, no. Nuclear for Climate isn’t a network of grassroots environmentalists, it’s a network of more than 140 nuclear societies. It isn’t grassroots environmentalism, it’s corporate astroturf. And the list of 140 ‘societies’ includes 36 chapters of the ‘Women in Nuclear’ organisation and 43 chapters of the ‘Young Generation Network’.13 One wonders whether these organisations have any meaningful existence. Does Tanzania, for example, really have a pro-nuclear Young Generation Network?

Nuclear for Climate has a website, a hashtag, a twitter handle and all the modern social media sine qua non. But it has some work to do with its messaging. One of its COP21 memes was: ‘The radioactive waste are not good for the climate? Wrong!’ So radioactive waste is good for the climate?!

Has the nuclear lobby achieved anything?

The nuclear industry’s hopes for the COP21 conference were dashed. Michael Mariotte from the Nuclear Information & Resource Service wrote:14

“The international Don’t Nuke the Climate campaign had two major goals for COP 21: 1) to ensure that any agreement reached would not encourage use of nuclear power and, preferably, to keep any pro-nuclear statement out of the text entirely; and 2) along with the rest of the environmental community, to achieve the strongest possible agreement generally.

“The first goal was certainly met. The word “nuclear” does not appear in the text and there are no incentives whatsoever for use of nuclear power. That was a clear victory. But that is due not only to a global lack of consensus on nuclear power, but to the fact that the document does not specifically endorse or reject any technology (although it does implicitly reject continued sustained use of fossil fuels). Rather, each nation brought its own greenhouse gas reduction plan to the conference. “Details,” for example whether there should be incentives for any particular technology, will be addressed at follow-up meetings over the next few years. So it is imperative that the Don’t Nuke the Climate campaign continue, and grow, and be directly involved at every step of the way − both inside and outside the meetings.

“As for the strongest possible agreement, well, it may have been the “strongest possible” that could be agreed to by 195 nations in 2015. By at least recognizing that the real goal should be limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Centigrade rather than the 2 degrees previously considered by most nations to be the top limit, the final document was stronger than many believed possible going into the negotiations. That said, the environmental community agrees that the agreement doesn’t go far enough and, importantly, that the commitments made to date do not meet even this document’s aspirations.”

There is a strong push from the nuclear lobby for nuclear power to be included in the UN’s Green Climate Fund. This would enable subsidies for nuclear power − subsidies that would come at the expense of renewables and other climate change mitigation programs.

So the nuclear industry didn’t make any gains at COP21, but is it making any progress in its broader efforts to attract public support? It’s hard to say, but there’s no evidence of a shift in public opinion. A 2005 IAEA-commissioned survey of 18 countries found that there was majority opposition to new reactors in all but one of the 18 countries.15 A 2011 IPSOS survey of nearly 19,000 people in 24 countries found 69% opposition to new reactors, and majority opposition to new reactors in all but one of the 24 countries.16

Is the nuclear industry having any success winning over environmentalists? Around the margins, perhaps, but the ranks of ‘pro-nuclear environmentalists’ are very thin. As James Hansen complained in the lead-up to COP21, the Climate Action Network, representing all the major environmental groups, opposes nuclear power. ‘Big Green’ opposes nuclear power, and so does small green. Efforts by nuclear lobbyists to split the environment movement have failed.

And the nuclear lobby certainly isn’t winning where it matters. One of the recurring claims in the pro-nuclear propaganda surrounding COP21 is the claim that renewables can’t be deployed quickly enough whereas nuclear can. But nuclear power has been stagnant for the past 20 years and costs are rising, whereas the growth of renewables has been spectacular ‒ 783 gigawatts of new renewable power capacity were installed in the decade from 2005−201417 and costs are falling.

The nuclear lobby didn’t even win the battle of the celebrities at COP21. James Hansen, Bill Gates and other pro-nuclear celebrities put up a good fight against pro-renewable celebrities such as conservationist David Attenborough. But the pro-renewable celebrities raising their voice during COP21 included Pope Francis … and he’s infallible.


1. Nuclear Energy Institute, 3 Dec 2015, ‘Pro-Nuclear Voices Raised at Paris Climate Talks’,

2. Will Boisvert 18 Sept 2014, ‘The Left vs. the Climate’,

3. Julie Kelly, 2 Dec 2015, ‘A New Breed of American Environmentalists Challenges the Stale Dogma of the Left’,

4. Tina Casey, 3 Dec 2015, ‘COP21 Gets a Spark of Nuclear Energy from Breakthrough Energy Coalition’,

5. ‘Pandora’s Propaganda’, Nuclear Monitor #773, 21 Nov 2013,

‘Pandora’s Promise’ Propaganda, Nuclear Monitor #764, 28 June 2013,


7. Rauli Partanen and Janne M. Korhonen, 2 Dec 2015, ‘Don’t Nuke the Climate: A Response’,

8. Michael Mariotte, 30 Nov 2015, ‘When a campaign strikes a nerve’,


10. Jarret Adams, 26 Nov 2015, ‘No Climate Solution Without Nuclear, Experts Say’,

11. Daniel Stevens, 17 Feb 2015, ‘Platts’ Nuclear Conference Attended by Companies Spending Millions on Lobbying’,



14. Michael Mariotte, 12 Dec 2015, “The Paris Agreement on climate — a good start, but …”,

15. Globescan, 2005, ‘Global Public Opinion on Nuclear Issues and the IAEA: Final report from 18 countries’, prepared for the IAEA,

16. IPSOS, June 2011, ‘Global Citizen Reaction to the Fukushima Nuclear Plant Disaster’,

17. Greenpeace International, September 2015, ‘Energy [R]evolution: A sustainable world energy outlook 2015’,