Why a leading environmentalist changed her mind on nuclear power


Nyunggai Warren Mundine

From the (Australian) Financial Review; 20 July 2021

Enlightened climate change activists have grasped that the solution is not living with less energy but embracing better technology, which must include nuclear power.

A funny thing happened in 2020. A leading green-left activist was persuaded to publicly change her views after being confronted by facts, science and reality.

Zion Lights was a spokesperson for the Extinction Rebellion movement. Remember them? Before COVID-19, they were best known for gluing themselves to roads and melodramatic street performances in red robes and white painted faces.

Andrew Neil interviews Jeremy Corbyn

The BBC’s Andrew Neill grills former UK Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn. It was an interview by Neill that convinced Zion Lights to change her position on nuclear power.

In late 2019, Lights was interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Neil, renowned for his relentless and forensic interview technique which disallows avoidance, spin and diversion.

After confronting Lights with the lack of scientific evidence for the ER movement’s apocalyptic claims of climate change killing billions in 20 years, Neil asked what would be required to achieve its demand for zero net emissions by 2025. Did she agree it would require confiscation of petrol cars, state rationing of meat and limiting families to one flight every five years?

Lights responded she wasn’t there to give solutions. Does aviation need to come to an end? A visibly uncomfortable Lights said, “Possibly”. All gas heating and cooking to go in six years? After an awkward pause, Lights simply said if that humans could put a man on the moon, we could tackle this.

That may have been the end of it. But it turns out Lights isn’t like other activists. She’s wasn’t out to draw attention to herself by gluing herself to a bus. She actually wants real change. And when confronted with the logical consequences of her movement’s demands, she realised it wouldn’t achieve any change at all because it had no workable solutions.

Not long afterwards she met Michael Shellenberger, another environmentalist with impeccable, Green-left credentials who was hit by the reality stick some decades ago as outlined in his recent book Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.

Shellenberger has long embraced nuclear power as the solution to climate change. Lights opposed nuclear power but realised she’d been duped into anti-science sentiment.

After reading scientific literature, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, she concluded wind and solar couldn’t address climate change alone and nuclear energy was the best option. She said “the facts didn’t really change, but once I understood them, I did change my mind”.

Lights quit Extinction Rebellion and is now an active campaigner for nuclear energy through her organisation Emergency Reactor.

It wants 50 per cent nuclear power and governments to address “extreme over-regulation and lack of financial commitment” that drives up nuclear energy costs. It also demands green groups either back nuclear or back down and believes “either you’re against climate change or you’re against nuclear power”.

One reason for Lights’ and Shellenberger’s conversion and advocacy for nuclear power is that both are pro-energy. Much of the green-left movement is anti-energy and anti-modernity. I’m fed up with activists hiding behind environmentalism when what they really want is to turn back the clock. They’re nothing more than Luddites.

That’s why the green-left is also anti-mining, a ridiculous position for anyone advocating for renewable energy, batteries and electric vehicles, as these require a huge amount of mining, including of aluminium, copper, nickel, zinc, iron, lithium, minerals sands and rare earth elements.

The solution to climate change is not living with less energy. The solution is embracing better technology, which must include nuclear energy.

Nuclear power was banned in Australia in 1998 under federal legislation. Bizarrely it was a Coalition government that banned it as part of a deal with the Greens and the Australian Democrats to get other legislation through the Senate.

At the time, anti-nuclear sentiment was strong and demand for nuclear energy was low in a country spoilt by energy from cheap, abundant fossil fuels. Times have changed. And it’s now time for this Coalition government to change the law.

Deleting four words from the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) is all that’s required for consideration of nuclear energy projects in Australia. And our stringent safety and environmental standards would be unaffected.

Nuclear energy is used all over the world. It’s safe, reliable, produces zero emissions and, importantly, an abundance of energy every hour of every day regardless of weather.

With nuclear energy, Australia could bring back domestic manufacturing and other high-energy industries, reduce dependency on foreign countries for essential goods and supplies, and stop outsourcing our emissions in an attempt to bring down our own.

With nuclear energy, Australia could convert to electric land transport without creating undue strain on electricity production and transmission.

With nuclear energy, Australia could develop a domestic world-leading nuclear technology sector with creation of high-skilled jobs for our best scientists at home.

And with nuclear energy, Australia could reach net zero emissions by 2050, without shutting down agriculture or banning meat or closing the aviation industry and without energy poverty.

Interviewed on Sky News Australia recently, Zion Lights said “If we had built nuclear reactors in the 1970s we wouldn’t have climate change.” To paraphrase the Chinese proverb: the best time to build nuclear power plants was 50 years ago. The second-best time is now.