Nuclear Energy as a Middle Way: In Canada, Global Warming Sparks a Renaissance for the Technology

In a column last year, I detailed the historical trajectory in the U.S. of frames on nuclear energy, with images moving from very positive interpretations centered on social progress and economic development during the 1950s and 1960s to a very negative focus on public accountability and a Pandora's Box of unknown disaster in the 1970s. These frames were locked in by the Three Mile Island accident in 1977, and reinforced in the 1980s by the Chernobyl disaster. Since TMI, no new nuclear reactors have been built in the U.S., and public support for nuclear energy has never moved above 50%.

Yet as I detailed in the column, the problem of climate change has helped reinvent to a degree the image of nuclear energy. Many proponents now frame the technology as a "middley way" compromise solution to energy independence and greenhouse gas emissions. While the interpretation struggles to gain public attention and acceptance here in the United States, as Reuters reports today, nuclear energy as a middle way solution to greenhouse gases has gained both a public and policy foothold in Canada.

The climate change driver is so compelling a case that the nuclear file becomes a critical part of the solution," Duncan Hawthorne, chairman of the Canadian Nuclear Association and chief executive of Bruce Power, told Reuters. Though atomic energy always raises the question of what to do with nuclear waste, its attraction in terms of the climate change debate is that it emits none of the greenhouse gases that are blamed for global warming. Officials said Canada's "nuclear renaissance" had created a challenge for companies and regulators to hire enough qualified workers, particularly as the workforce ages.

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Thanks for this paper. I missed it when it first appeared. However, it's worth noting that Bedard, et.al. didn't actually see the RMS.