Tag Archives: nuclear fear


What’s it like discussing nuclear energy with some climate activists?

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Imagine you’re a freshman math student, and you’re meeting the head of your university’s mathematics department.

You ask him to set a tough problem for you.

“Well,” he says, “we’re in great need of a number to put between twelve and fourteen. It has to be the sum of ten and three, and it also has to be half of twenty-six.”


You pause before replying, wondering where the trick is. “Um. Wouldn’t that be thirteen?”

“Don’t say that.”


“What you just said.”



“Why not?”

“It’s bad.”


“Always been. Inherently dangerous number. Killed thousands. Toxic legacy. That question’s settled. Now back to our problem.”

“Okay,” you say. “Where do we stand so far?”`

“I’d like you to take a look at four and a half. There’s a big constituency for four and a half around here. Always has been. We think it can be the solution… just needs a bit of work.”

“What kind of work?”

“We think some help from eight will be enough.”

“Four and a half with help from eight?  Isn’t that twelve and a half?”

“We don’t put it that way.”


“That would be almost you-know-what, and we’re just not going there. Anyway, now we’re getting a subsidy for eight, so we really want to keep eight in the picture.”

“Do you really think four and a half with help from eight is going to satisfy the specifications of the problem?”

“It’s between twelve and fourteen.”

“Well, yes, but it’s two numbers, not one. It’s not equal to ten plus three, and it’s not half of twenty-six.”

“I understand your point, but there are bound to be a few gaps. We think users of the number system are ready for change. With education, lots of them will accept four and a half.”

“What if they don’t? What if they only care whether it works? They’ll expect it to equal ten plus three. They’ll expect it to be half of twenty-six.”

“What would you suggest, then, smart guy?”

“I suggested thirteen a while ago.”

find x“SSSHHH!  You trying to get us both in trouble? Listen, maybe you have a point. But we need to keep this department working as a team. This you-know-what, it’s too divisive. We can’t shake them up like that.”

“How about you let me work on you-know-what, as long as I don’t say it?”

“No need. A bunch of us are already working on it.”


“SSSSHHHH! Yeah, that. We’ve got an action team. Anytime anyone mentions it, we tell them it’s bad.”

“Are they developing mathematical proofs that show it’s not between twelve and fourteen? Or that it’s not equal to ten plus three, or that it’s not half of twenty-six? You said something about it killing thousands, something about a toxic legacy – how about a straight-up factual comparison between you-know-what and four and a half?”

“We could, but we don’t need much of that.”

“Why not?”

“People have been hearing it’s bad all their lives. We’re mathematicians. They’ll take our word for it.”


Nuclear Fear is Unscientific

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

Nuclear energy is safer than most people think, yet a fear factor persists.

A great new talking point in the media and politics in recent years has been the use of the term “evidence-based” policy.

The concept of evidence-based policy is taken from the scientific and medical world and argues that all government, social and economic policy should be based on rigorous empirical study, not popular public opinion.

The hope or belief is that such a method will result in the best possible public policy outcomes.

Perhaps no technology has to deal with the lack of evidence-based policy like nuclear energy.

Nuclear is safe, yet it is feared and in some cases hated. The industry is well aware of this.

In a recent blog post on Brave New Climate, Australian environmental writer Martin Nicholson explained it perfectly.

“When people express their nuclear hatred, they usually argue about: the dangers from radiation leaks, the risk of weapons proliferation, the nuclear waste problem, that nuclear power is too expensive and in any case we just don’t need it!,” he wrote.

“None of these reasons have solid scientific backing. If they did, countries around the world (like USA, UK, France, Finland, Russia, China, India, South Korea, UAE) would not continue to build new nuclear power plants to supply their growing need for energy.”

Nicholson’s blog post examined the issue of risk perception and nuclear based on a 2010 book by risk consultant David Ropeik.

In short, Ropeik argues that often times fear overcomes the facts based on a number of psychological factors and internal individual questions, such as “Is the risk natural or manmade?” (Solar radiation vs. nuclear radiation) or “Can it happen to me?”

According to Nicholson, the book tells us that risk perception is “an intrinsic, biologically rooted, inescapable part of how the human animal behaves.”

This gives environmentalists opposed to nuclear energy an edge in the public and media debate.

Many would have you believe that nuclear energy is the most dangerous or deadly energy source, when the facts show otherwise.

In June, Forbes columnist James Conca wrote about an energy source’s “death print,” which he defined as “the number of people killed by one kind of energy or another per kWhr produce.”

Based on research done by Next Big Future, when you factor in direct deaths and epidemiological estimates based on pollutants released, coal has by far the worst death print and wind and nuclear have the best.

The data shows that for every person killed by nuclear power generation, 4,025 will die due to coal based on energy produced.

Evidence-based policy would favour nuclear because TWh for TWh it is one of the safest energy sources.

Deaths per TWh of power produced
Deaths per TWh of power produced
Nuclear Energy Nuclear Safety

A Little Fear is Healthy, Right? Wrong.

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

A couple of my neighbours work in public health policy. She researches disease epidemics; he studies addictions.

All three of us have good relationships with serious, informed, responsible media reporters. And we all share a common problem with the media when they aren’t so professional.

When some reporters call our offices, it’s clear what they’re after: The scary sound-bite. They want a few words, however out of context, that they can use to alarm readers about a fast-growing threat from that new virus, that new designer drug, or that remotely-possible accident or emission.


There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them. – Andre Gide

To him who is in fear, everything rustles. – Sophocles


We share the experience of  spending a quarter or half hour giving thoughtful, calibrated answers that don’t get taken up because they don’t ring alarm bells. Instead, our least guarded phrase or our least discreet word is what’s most likely to make it into the media.

The next day we read, hear or see “news” that’s little more than pure fear-mongering. We experience media “coverage” of epidemics that barely (or never) materialize, drug plagues that are exaggerated, and radiation dangers that don’t exist.

This doesn’t just affect us personally, through the frustration of seeing our knowledge dumbed down and distorted. It affects us as members of a society in which the information that reaches all of us is tilted toward fear.


To him who is in fear, everything rustles. – Sophocles

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. – Franklin Roosevelt

There is no passion so contagious as that of fear. – Michel de Montaigne


As a result, citizens demand solutions to fake threats. Those demands are put before governments and companies — often by the same reporters who trumped up the fake threats in the first place.

Governments and companies, even when they know better, have to placate people, so they devote resources to these “solutions” to fake threats. And every year, society throws attention and resources – flu shots, tests, treatments, dietary changes, and pills that do negligible good – at things that only matter because we were briefly made to fear them.

The trouble with this is that fewer precious resources are left for real threats. I, my neighbours, our colleagues and our organizations are left with lower capacity to reduce risks that might actually matter in a measurable and demonstrable way. Society ends up with fewer real solutions to real problems, and we are much worse off as a result.


Fear is static that prevents me from hearing myself. – Samuel Butler

The first duty of man is to conquer fear. – Thomas Carlyle


Fear is a lousy basis for making decisions. Fear-based decisions nearly always involve more sacrifice than benefit. Fear-based decisions are decisions against something, rather than decisions toward something, so we don’t pursue our real values. And they lead to inconsistency, because we’re likely to jump in a completely different direction next time we’re afraid.

This is why great leaders tell us over and over that we must not be governed by fear (or anger). Yet large parts of our society’s information-gathering media seek out, and thrive on, fear (and anger).

Because fear is based in ignorance, its defeat begins with the responsibility to inform ourselves. And that continues well after we’ve heard from the reporters.

Want to start? Next time a news item containing the word “nuclear” tries to push your panic buttons:

  • Resist fear.
  • Inquire. Look for the factual (as opposed to emotional or opinion-only) content in the news coverage. Some of it should be from independent and informed sources.
  • Read further. Take three to ten minutes to research the topic more deeply from credible experts. We can help you get started at www.cna.ca.
  • If you don’t think an item is delivering fair and informative content, demand better. Use the news organization’s website to ask for balanced, informative coverage.