I never really thought much about nuclear power. As a contrarian teenager in Denmark, a country with a huge wind power manufacturing sector, I would enjoy trolling my fellow Danes with my pro-nuclear power stance. I enjoyed the thought-experiment nature of it. Weighing up the dangers of the waste and the risk of plant meltdown compared to the slow crawling horror of temperature rises.
I’m decidedly less of an edgy troll today. My views and beliefs have changed with information. I have developed a deeper understanding of the precariousness of the world and with the flavor of experience. For a long time nuclear power was not a topic on my mind. That was, until I was 6 months pregnant, reading the IPCC report in 2018. The big one, the one with the 12-years-left number.
In my hormonally and emotionally heightened state, it hit me differently. I had visions of heated sea algae pulling out all of the oxygen of the air, of every-man-for-himself type society run amok. Fishless oceans. The beautiful streets of New York under water. The loss of ancient historical artifacts to the tides.
I had always been a city girl, but now I felt more and more acutely the need for big wide open green spaces. For birds and natural light and worms in the ground. Forests for my child to explore. I set about finding out what I could do about it. To quell my anxiety, I tried all the home remedies for feeling more in control; I composted more diligently, I bought a wooden toothbrush, I ate a lot of vegan substitute foods. But I knew that my individual actions were not going to do much. I looked up more information on what could save us.
It was actually a Twitter user, @LindsayPB, that ignited my passion for nuclear power. Something about another woman, a decidedly leftist woman, telling us in these certain terms that we could decarbonize the grid in record time. I learned about modern safety measures and risk management of plants and felt much better. When the HBO show Chernobyl came out, I could actually enjoy it for the tale of safety culture that it is, without adding fears of nuclear explosions to my laundry list of worries.
I learned that nobody in the nuclear field had the feeling of “we don’t know what to do about all this waste!” There are differing opinions of what to do with the nuclear waste within the nuclear community, but there is not a sense of there being no solution. The discussion within the nuclear community surrounds whether to bury it, put in a mountain or keep it on site for the next generation of spent-fuel reactors. All are technically feasible solutions. To me, there’s something poetic about burying it in the ground. I like that we dig it up and borrow it for a bit to power our world and then put it back down in the ground with its buddies. I feel good about giving that answer to my child one day.
Fear is a strange thing. I understand feeling icky on nuclear power. It IS a strange thing, this invisible radiation, this great poisonous energy. But there is something so lopsided about our fears as parents. I worry about formula options and screen time and attachment styles as much as the next mom, but now that I have the little toddler, I feel frustrated about all the things we don’t worry about and take as a given. Air pollution from cars. A tripling of the amount of planes in the air. A world-wide booming coal industry.
Almost every book we have received for our baby was animal themed. We read to our son, what are the names of the animals, what their babies are called, what sounds they make. But there is no guarantee that these animals will still be around when he grows up. If we want the chance that those animals will still be here, we have to use every tool available to decarbonize.
Learning about nuclear power gave me hope. I now know what it is that we need to fight for, to save the world for our child. I just hope we can do it fast enough.