In the same way, anti-nuclear political organizations have succeeded in convincing people that nuclear energy is a threat to the environment. As we have discussed in earlier articles, nuclear energy has the best safety record and the best environmental record of any practical energy source. It also is essential to minimizing global warming. But anti-nuclear activists have cloaked themselves as Defenders of the Environment and by constantly hammering people with the same slogans they've made people so secure in their misconceptions that most never have looked at the issue plainly.
Eric Hoffer knew the value of anti-nuclearism before it even existed when he wrote about true believers:
"When Hitler was asked whether he thought the Jew must be destroyed, he answered: 'No. . . . We should have then to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an abstract one.'"
So nuclear energy has been enormously valuable to political organizations. They can command immediate obedience from their followers by continually fabricating misinformation.
Consider the pollution from coal. Thousands of Americans die every month from the air pollution generated by coal-burning power plants. Please see the Abt report, "The Particulate-Related Health Benefits of Reducing Power Plant Emissions." [http://www.abtassociates.com/reports/particulate-related.pdf]. It's a long report, very technical; if you like, you can just look at the results table Worldwide, the deaths certainly run in the tens of thousands every month. Coal pollution is the main source of lead in the ocean; fish now are so poisoned with lead that people are advised to limit their consumption. When whales beach themselves and die the carcasses have to be treated as hazardous waste because of the heavy metals they contain.
But environmental groups have offered only token opposition to coal pollution. When confronted directly, they'll answer, Oh, we're against coal too! Then they'll explain that nuclear versus coal is a false choice, that windmills will solve the world's energy needs. Here's an experiment: if you find one of these people, ask him where the energy will come from when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining. I guarantee he'll change the subject.
This debate has always been one-sided. The anti-nuclear political organizations have set up a straw man to fight against: the Nuclear Industry. In their presentation, the Nuclear Industry is directing a massive, well-financed campaign and only the stalwart Defenders of the Environment are standing between Good and Evil. Actually, the big players in nuclear energy always have been energy companies, not nuclear companies. Westinghouse, General Electric, Exxon, etc. are glad to provide whatever kind of energy utilities and their ratepayers are willing to take. There never have been powerful groups able to take on Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth or any of the anti-nuclear political organizers. In the US, an industry group called the Nuclear Energy Institute is struggling to get good information over the shouting of the nuclear opponents; it's like your high-school basketball team going up against the Lakers.
But the dishonesty goes deeper. Nuclear opponents don't just spread misinformation and exaggerate the strength of their opponents. Besides that, they shed themselves of all responsibility. The easiest position to take is the one that never will be tested. Despite their unwillingness to admit it, they know as well as you and I that the world never will depend on part-time energy sources. So no matter what happens they'll be able to say that the world should have done it their way.
This self-indulgent preening shouldn't be allowed to affect public policy.