How an Understanding of Science Can Change Beliefs on Nuclear Energy


“The Forum on Energy is featuring content from the recent 7th annual U.S.-Japan Roundtable conference. Check back soon for new entries in the series.”

earthlightGwyneth Cravens is a well-known political activist who’s traced her evolution from anti-nuclear activist to agitating for acceptance of nuclear power. The reason for her conversion is a greater understanding of nuclear science she gained as a result of writing her book, The Power to Save the World.

In a presentation to the Annual U.S.-Japan Roundtable Conference, Cravens showed that her strongly-held anti-nuclear beliefs turned out to be unsupported by science. Such beliefs, which are common in the general public, have profound effects on human life if they drive down rates of electrification or reliance on CO2-emitting fuels. For example, fully electrified lifestyles can double an average lifespan from about 43 years to about 80 years. The reasons include better refrigeration of vaccines, freeing women and children to receive education, a stronger economy and, in some cases, cleaner air and water. 

Fear of nuclear energy is essentially a fear of an invisible death — but the number of recorded deaths is the lowest among all sources of electricity. On average, nuclear energy production causes 0.04 deaths per trillion watts of energy produced per hour. While even a single death may seem like too many, compare that to the risk from natural gas (four deaths) or coal (1,780 deaths) at the same rate of production. Cravens also discovered that no nuclear reactors can spontaneously explode, as she once believed. Also, radiation exposure at low levels is not harmful. In fact, it is everywhere. A human would absorb more radiation by eating a banana than by standing next to a nuclear reactor. 

As a result of her comprehensive study of nuclear energy, Cravens concludes that it is time to stop fighting nuclear energy production and instead cooperate with it.

View Cravens’ full presentation below.

The Power to Save the World