The Voices at COP 26 – Part 3. International pro-nuclear events and activism
The previous chapters of this series were devoted to the organization, successes and failures of COP26, as well as the visit of the Voices to the green zone, illustrating the intentions of the private sector.
In this last section, we’ll talk about some of the activities in which the Voices participated during their time in Glasgow.
Given that nuclear energy was isolated and excluded from the debate at previous COPs, the Nuclear4Climate coalition joined forces and did all it could to ensure that nuclear energy be seriously considered, with data and scientific evidence, to defend an energy transition with minimal social and environmental impact.
Young Generation Network Nuclear Institute
On the evening of Tuesday November 2, the team took part in an event organized by the Nuclear Institute Young Generation Network (NI-YGN) called “Together is better: COP26 Climate NGO Networking event.” It was an aperitif for NI-YGN members and nuclear associations that had come to Glasgow, but it was also open to the curious (especially those from the renewables “camp”) wanting to learn a little more about the pro-nuclear ecosystem. The guests were greeted by Eric G. Meyer, founder and president of Generation Atomic, who played emcee and welcomed us with a very good song. Eric is known for his pro-nuclear songs on YouTube (see here and here), some of which were sung during Stand Ups for Nuclear in Lyon and Paris.
The welcome was followed by speeches by several members of various associations, including from our side Jadwiga, Myrto and Ana. On this occasion, Emilia Janisz, head of external relations at the European Nuclear Society with Jadwiga Najder, president of the ENS Young Generation Network and active member of Voices of Nuclear, made their demands heard. Being both Polish, their speeches were oriented towards a phase-out of coal generation in Poland thanks to development of nuclear energy. Ana, for her part, underlined that in choosing nuclear, she was choosing science and research, denouncing the fact that the fossil fuel industry takes advantage of the weakness of renewable energies (intermittency that requires backup dispatchable capacity) with the sole aim of making money instead of reducing emissions.
The YGN team this year had chosen as its symbol a large “gummi bär” (jelly bear, a well-loved treat in Germany), which alluded to the fact that a nuclear fuel pellet of this size is equivalent to 1 ton of coal, or 565 liters of gas – a comparison similar to the Voices’ lollypop.
The team also had the privilege of attending an event organized by Third Way, an American think tank calling itself “center-left” eco-modernist, which defends traditional American values of freedom and opportunity and which displays the clear objective of reinventing ideas and of political and social mobilization. This think tank also has the distinction of being pro-nuclear. It has opened a European branch of Carbon-Free Europe, a political initiative to promote the idea that the solution to climate change depends above all on technical and scientific progress.
The evening brought together people from the US Department of Energy, salespeople from TerraPower, communication companies, foundations such as Breakthrough Energy (founded by Bill Gates in 2015), representatives from the company X-Energy, which specializes in research on high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, and representatives of banks and green investment funds such as the Impact Investing Institute.
The objective of Carbon-Free Europe is to bring together renewable energies, nuclear energy and any technology likely to contribute to the fight against global warming while maintaining the current level of well-being of the most advanced societies. We cannot be elsewhere than on the same page.
New Nuclear Watch Institute
On the last evening in Glasgow, the Voices team attended an event organized by the New Nuclear Watch Institute, a nuclear industry think tank focused on the international development of nuclear energy as a way for countries to secure their long-term supply of sustainable energy. We were able to meet not only the young people from the YGN, but also several important personalities from the nuclear world, such as Sama Bilbao y Leon, director general of the World Nuclear Association (and new member of the Board of Directors of the Voices), Tom Samson, general manager of the SMR division of Rolls Royce, Valérie Faudon, vice-president of the European Nuclear Society, and the president of the Canadian Nuclear Association, John Macquarrie.
On Wednesday November 3, the team left in the morning to train for the afternoon flashmob on Buchanan Street, a real “Move your nuc” in the heart of Glasgow. NI-YGN had organized this activity in collaboration with a group of professional dancers who support nuclear – they are the ones who in the video on You Tube (see below) dance until minute 3:10, after which the other activists join the choreography. However, the young break-dancer is not a professional dancer, but a nuclear engineer from our team who works in the United Kingdom, Eduardo Cuoc!
At the end of the flashmob, quite a few onlookers approached the activists to show their support and applaud the spectacle. Surprisingly, we didn’t meet any detractors or tense situations. Retirees from the nuclear industry were moved to discover these new generations who are fighting for nuclear power as a low-carbon energy source.
The day continued with discussions about nuclear power with people in the street. Our activists carried the Gummi Bär with the banners; Myrto went to the blue zone with Jadwiga and the others. In George Square, two student journalists wanted to interview us to get the pro-nuclear point of view. But among the passers-by there were also some who were anti-nuclear. A German approached us and told us that what we were doing was “very bad,” but he left without wanting to discuss it. We could see that the nuclear issue is quite controversial and arouses strong feelings among citizens.
Friday, November 5 was THE DAY of the claim, with the “Fridays for Future” march of the COP26. The security measures were huge, and there were dozens of journalists and hundreds of police everywhere. The Nuclear4Climate group found itself at the front of the demonstration, well placed in front of the media. The polar bears with their panels were undoubtedly the stars of the march. Everyone wanted a picture with them.
During the march, we were able to speak with pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear people. There was a particularly tense moment during the event when a protester forcibly tore down the pink flag with Ana’s “nuclear saves lives” slogan and grabbed her Voices flyers. He turned around and got particularly aggressive with her, saying, “Do you want to fight? Nuclear kills many people in the mines of Africa”. She tried to reason with him, asking what his sources were and telling him that he would never convince anyone with such an aggressive attitude. A young Italian intervened to defend her and the individual wanted to fight with him; fortunately, there was no violence and the altercation ended there. Ana even ended up getting the flag and her flyers back.
We were surprised to find that several photos where our signs are legible have been taken up and broadcast by the media on social networks, in particular France Info and CNN in Spanish. During the demonstration, we had the opportunity to give a few interviews. Daniel spoke to Chinese media, Silviu spoke with an AFP journalist, Myrto also was interviewed by AFP and other news agencies, and Ana especially spoke with several protesters.
For the Voices, going to the COP allowed us to discover the functioning of international negotiations as well as their defects: first of all, a taboo on the real efforts necessary to be made by society to curb global warming, and obviously, taboos on the nuclear issue.
However, such an opportunity for coordination and cooperation between the different actors of change appears to be the minimum amount of ambition that we must have to guarantee that mankind can continue to live on this planet.
We have also noted the absence of a real culture of change. There is debate about the effort it will take to sustain our current living standards through future technologies that would completely replace fossil fuels. In the future, COPs must take the satirical comedy “Don’t Look Up” as an absolute counterexample of cynicism and denial. In Glasgow, the exclusion of nuclear from the green zone, among other elements, underlines this lack of vision.
Like Greta’s criticisms: the COP indeed appears too often as a festival of greenwashing. On the other hand, the nuclear sector seems to have realized the importance of activism emanating from civil society for the future of the nuclear industry in the world. As for the media, they are increasingly considering nuclear technology as one of the solutions to the challenge of climate change. The fashion is now in favor of SMR technology, at least in the West, due to its greater acceptance by the general public. An acceptance that still needs to be followed by demonstrations on an industrial scale.
One disappointment is that in Glasgow, there was no talk about Generation IV reactors which nevertheless constitute, in the same way as SMRs, the future of the sector. We must direct our educational efforts towards the general public, where lingering anti-nuclear ideas often still emanate from the reality of the nuclear industry of the 1960s-1980s.
In conclusion, our presence at the demonstrations gave us more visibility in the media: the curiosity of citizens is easily aroused in the face of people of all ages who are so “uninhibited” and educated about nuclear energy. The presence of the Voices and other associations such as NI-YGN made it possible to make ourselves known to the world and to consolidate links between us.
There is still a lot of workto do on information and cooperation within the sector. Strengthening relations with foreign pro-nuclear associations is also essential. The next COP will take place in Egypt, in Sharm El Sheikh, in 2022. Let’s get to work and start now to prepare for it!
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