John Bennett, a Senior Policy Advisor to Friends of the Earth Canada and an ardent anti-nuclear campaigner responded to our letter in the Hill Times. I can reproduce his letter because it also appears on his facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000472557089
We have responded in the hope that we can correct the misinformation he is trying to spread and will be observing that he has inadvertently confirmed our original point that most anti nuclear sentiment is based on misinformation and we will give some examples of the clearly erroneous information he provides. Our letter says
John Bennett proves our point
By listing questions that he still has, and the reasons why he still has them, John Bennett clearly demonstrates our point that much anti-nuclear sentiment comes from the misinformation that has been circulating. There is almost nothing that Bennett bases his questions on that he gets right but the most obvious errors are:
Bennett’s questions should not give us pause when it comes to deploying nuclear power, they are very easily answered by relying on facts instead of the rumours circulated by disingenuous conspiracy theorists.
President, Canadian nuclear Society
But I would like to spend a bit of time observing how he uses devious propaganda techniques to try and manipulate his audience before providing a full fact check on the issues he raises. Most of the latter fact checks are so obvious that I am embarrassed to do it but feel we should have it on record somewhere.
He starts with a classic propaganda trick of trying to associate our response with something accepted to be unsavory. In this case mansplaining.
But were we mansplaining?
Mansplaining has a number of definitions but the Merriam Webster one is “to explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic” I guess his rather tentative justification is that we were responding to a letter written by Cran Cambell who I am now forced to assume could be a female, though we would have had no way of knowing that. But regardless of whether or not Cran is a female we were not explaining something to them we were correcting things that they had said and it wasn’t to them it was to the readership of the Hill Times. There was also no assumption that they had no knowledge about the subject as they had proved categorically what they knew about the subject was wrong. It wasn’t In anyway whatsoever mansplaining.
That said this trick will have diminished our response even though it is clearly undeserved. This is how manipulators operate.
He then goes on to use a classic propaganda trick that can be used when you know you are in the wrong but want to create dissent anyway…..raising questions. It’s a very simple technique, works every time and you can do it with relative impunity even if you know there is an answer and it is not the one you are trying to imply.
Propaganda and conspiracy theories walk had in hand and because they trigger emotional responses that are more powerful than our rational responses it is not enough to just respond with facts it is necessary to expose the tricks that are being played and the duplicity of the people playing them.
For those that cannot see the errors that John makes here is my initial list.
1. Used fuel does not need to be stored for tens of thousands of years it is just that the industry has chosen to do that as an almost unprecedented act of environmental responsibility. We should remember that the toxins in solar panels and wind turbines, that remain toxic forever, will just be left to slowly leach into the environment.
2. The costs of used fuel disposal are included in the electricity rates and so the people that use the electricity will pay. He must have known this!
3. The CNSC is not comprised of industry insiders. The commission itself is mostly independent of the industry. Some of the staff have held industry positions but that is because the staff have to understand the issues they are making recommendations about. Would we really want issues of nuclear safety to be judged by people that know nothing about the subject?
4. A deep geological repository is not the only solution to used fuel management, it is the solution the people of Canada have chosen. It is a solution that will mean that the environment will never be noticeably affected by these materials.
5. Landfilling of waste is a standard modern day practice, suggesting otherwise is just bizarre and suggests a lack of touch with reality. Building engineered mounds for wastes with a slightly elevated hazard is also standard practice.
6. Not that it would be a problem if the mound were built on the banks of the Ottawa River but the Chalk River Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) is not on the banks of the Ottawa River. That is just rhetoric based scaremongering.
7. It is necessary for Governments to fund nuclear power because they need it to get to net zero….its a bit like the funding that was used to support wind and solar…bt different in that it may achieve the objective.
8. The SMR program has not cost tax payers $1billion. The Government has confirmed that a loan of $1billion will be available to build a plant…but by then of course much more than a watt will be generated.
Much as John implies that he has more question I could point out more errors in those questions but I think that proving that there is one or more thing wrong in everything he says is likely enough to start with
I also prepared a letter for the Hill Times in response to the letter about NSDF…..it said.
Further demonstration of how misunderstandings lead to poor judgement and potential environmental harm.
Lynn Jones in her opinion piece “Deluge underlines importance of final hearing for nuclear waste dump” provides another demonstration of how adverse opinions on radioactive waste disposal are often based on fundamental misunderstandings about radioactivity.
The primary pillar of her argument is that there is no safe level of radioactivity. This is an obvious nonsense. Radioactivity is all around us. It is in us. It is in the food we eat. It is in the air we breath and the water we drink. It was ever thus. Its natural, existed long before mankind stumbled over it and it will still be around when we are long gone. In fact, for most of human history things were a lot more radioactive than they are today. We live with it safely.
She goes on to tell us that most people think it is wrong to dump radioactive materials into rivers. This may be true but it would only be because they do not realise that many hospitals do this all of the time and would not be able to operate effectively if they could not. People might think it is wrong but it does not necessarily do any harm, as evidenced by the fact that it has been going on for decades and no one appears to have noticed.
And once again we see the time honoured recycling of the half-life argument to try and scare people, but the fact is that many things mankind produces are toxic forever and that they just go in landfills and potassium-40, occurring naturally in our bodies, has a half life of more than a billion years. Half-life is not, per se, a measure of hazard no matter how hard people try to make out that it is.
The Canadian Nuclear Society was not present at the hearing that is referred to. We understand that it was a largely a procedural issue. We can however understand why professional scientists might pay little attention if the arguments being presented were as fundamentally flawed as those being raised in Lynn Jones’ rambling diatribe.
Much of the waste being discussed is the legacy of a weapons program that ended decades ago. This material needs to be dealt with because historic approaches to containing them were not designed to last forever and if not updated could create a threat to the environment. By spreading misinformation Lynn Jones is ironically putting at risk the very environment she seeks to protect and is potentially endangering the lives of the First Nations people that live nearby.
Science and Lynn Jones agree on one thing and that is that it is indeed time the Government woke up and did something about this issue. Fortunately it appears that the government has indeed woken up and that if people like Lynn Jones with their fundamental misunderstandings of the issues stopped interfering they would be doing something about it.
President, Canadian Nuclear Society