Counter-Frames in Action: Is Nuclear Power a Rip-Off or a Climate Solution?
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Perhaps the most effective frame used by opponents of nuclear energy is that it is simply not "cost effective." Not only is it wasteful, argue opponents, but government subsidies are a leading example of the big-money influence of industry lobbyists. As the Sierra Club's Carl Pope told Big Think in a 2008 video interview: "This is not an energy source, it's a way to hijack the treasury...This is a huge rip off."
Building public support for re-investment in nuclear energy, I wrote earlier this week, turns on a re-framing of the issue. As I described in a paper published last year, opponents of expansion have a powerful and resonant framing arsenal that they draw upon.
Yet several comments in response to my post I think point to the seeds of an effective counter frame. As does the view expressed by fmr. EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who places nuclear energy in the larger context of energy independence and climate change.
Watch Carl Pope discuss the issue in the video below. Following that, I have posted a comment from earlier this week along with video of a 2008 Big Think interview with Christine Todd Whitman. What do readers think? How do we move beyond the heat on the issue and open a space for substantive discussion and informed decision-making? Are statements like Pope's helpful or a hindrance to this goal? What do you think of the counter-arguments?
Comment from Rod Adams, founder of Adams Atomic Engines Inc and author of the Atomic Insights blog:
You mentioned a report about lobbying and campaign contributions by "nuclear" interests, but have you ever noticed just how much the fossil fuel industry spends on advertising, lobbying and campaign contributions specifically designed to shape opinions about the importance of their products? Part of that intensive and continuing effort is designed to make sure that we do not look too closely at their outsized profits, their fairly frequent accidents, and the environmental damage that comes from using their products in the manner prescribed. The people who have a deep and abiding interest in maintaining our fossil fuel addiction include not only the major oil&gas (and I put those two into one word on purpose) companies, but also the coal companies, the freight railroads, the pipeline builders, the drill rig operators, the tanker owners, the retailers, the military, and all of the layers of government that tax the industry.
The advertiser supported media is also quite interested - they receive hundreds of millions of dollars every year in ads from the industry. The fossil fuel industry was losing market share to nuclear energy at a scary rate until the focused actions of the 1970s began to take effect. If we had continued to buy and build nuclear plants as rapidly as we did for the period from 1963-1973 for just a few more years, we would have stopped burning coal by about 2000. We would now have as little fossil fuel in our electric power system as France does. Europe's power market would look the same as France's does, which would have had a huge negative impact on the German coal industry, the British/Scottish/Norwegian north sea oil&gas industry and the Russian gas industry.
Lest you think that fossil fuel interests could have easily reinvented themselves to profit by nuclear energy, you should think about just how little of the physical and intellectual capital associated with fossil fuel extraction, storage and transportation has any use in the nuclear world. According to the BP Statistical Review for 2009, the world's nuclear plants produce the energy equivalent of 600 million tons of petroleum.
That is roughly 12 million barrels of oil per day. Just imagine the market disruption that would have occurred if that industry had kept growing without a well funded opposition effort. I do not believe that a few hundred million from "nuclear" companies have made a big difference in the world's recent shift in opinion about nuclear energy. I think that reality is finally sinking in. You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people for some of the time, but you can never fool all of the people all of the time. Some of us have gotten wise to the effort and have recognized the technically superior alternative.
Watch the frame of reference that Christine Todd Whitman emphasizes:
What do readers think?
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