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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Aired November 7, 2013 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The nuclear industry is a death (ph) industry. It's a cancer industry. It's a bomb industry. It's killing people and will for the rest of time. But why doesn't President Obama know this? He's an intelligent man, he got two little girls he loves. What the hell does he think he's up to supporting the nuclear industry? It's wicked.
UNIDENTFIED MALE: Do you mind if I use the F word. (inaudible) We hear all these nuclear plants right away because we can switch to solar wind (inaudible) geothermal, ocean thermal, all that energy is available to do today. We can shut all the nuclear plants and all the coal, all the oil, all the gas plants, we can shut them down.
We have the technology, it's called Solartopia (ph).
STEWART BRAND, FOUNDER AND PUBLISHER WHOLE EARTH CATALOG: As a life- long environmentalist, I'm against nuclear. But what if what I've been thinking all this time and what my friends have been thinking all this time is wrong.
RICHARD RHODES, PULITZER PRIZE WINNER: It's been interesting to see how people respond to my pro-nuclear power position because they respect me for my books about nuclear weapons. They know that I'm a liberal Democrat. And they're puzzled.
GWYNETH CRAVENS, AUTHOR: I was against nuclear power. All I have to say was during Chernobyl, atomic bombs, atomic weapons. My mind was made up definitely. So I needed a lot of input, research I did, scientists I interviewed and so on. Going and visiting and saying for myself.
MARK LYNAS, ENVIRONMETNAL ACTIVIST: I was no doubt that my whole career, my whole reputation as an environmental activist, communicator was at risk if I talk publicly about having changed my mind about nuclear power. Other than much better by system. Keep my mouth shut. But I can't do that.
MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER, PRESIDENT AND CO-FOUNDER THE BREAKTHROUGH INSTITUTE: Whenever you change your mind so radically like there's a bus that have become for nuclear have changed our minds. You start to wonder what you were thinking and what exactly was going on.
Either the more you peel that onion, the more strange things you figured out. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are the radiation issue in Tokyo from the nuclear power plant at Fukushima Daichi. Now today, four to six reactors they remain in stage of danger.
LYNAS: A nuclear accident is one of the biggest media stories that's possible to have.
UNIDENTIFIEDFEMALE: Reactor number 3, and this is the one the fuel contains in plutonium.
LYNAS: And in my first blog entry within the first two or three days of happening. I don't know what the scale of radiation or this is going to be. I didn't know were the people are being injured.
The fact that this has happened live on TV, I know there were explosions. You know, this is was nuclear power station blowing up clearly the situation was out of control.
PAULA HANCOCKS, ANCHOR: The chief cabinet secretary has asked the residents of Tokyo not to hold the cold (ph) water.
MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER: So you have these awful images of total devastation from the tsunami. And the story was a nuclear power accident. It all got meddled together.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some people on the west coast in the United States worried that radiation could travel 5,000 miles.
SHELLENBERGER: I'm haven't been pro-nuclear all that long before the Fukushima plant started to melt down. It's hard to watch that happening and now I start to question, whether or not this is an energy source that is really safe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Radioactive isotopes will likely reach California, but experts say those levels are so low they certainly fall within safe limits. Now a large network of radio monitors is keeping close tabs on all of these. The environment ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... the long-term effect obviously still to be determined.
SHELLENBERGER: Well I thought I've got to keep my head, you know, I could completely loose it here and I could just panic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think Mark?
LYNAS: I feel like a bit of an idiot actually.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?
LYNAS: I don't know, because it's so - radiation (inaudible) it shouldn't be necessary.
It must be absolutely awful to, like a town wiped out by a tsunami and earthquake and then you can't even come back and rebuild because the whole place is contaminated by radiation. Even if it's not massively contaminated, it's contaminated enough that it scares the shit out of you and I think that's -- nobody can look you in the eye and say you shouldn't be worried.
You know, there's no other energy source that does this, that leaves huge areas contaminated by this -- this is strange and visible presence which you know is potentially deadly. You know, everything has its drawbacks, everything has its risk, but this is something which is unique to nuclear.
Yeah, I guess I can understand why people are scared of nuclear town now, you know. It's kind of eerie. So, I'm, yeah, I wish I'm having a wobble. I can see why where it was once (inaudible) without nuclear power, really now (ph).
Now this parking lot is the hottest spot in the whole exclusion zone. This place got some serious fallout I think.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you still (inaudible) nuclear?
LYNAS: I'm still pretty OK. Ask me in a few days when I've had the chance to get my head around this right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you still pro nuclear?
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To start the chain reaction, all we need is one neutron. I think you can see what is going to happen. Watch.
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CRAVENS: My first introduction to nuclear power was quite nice. It was Disney where we called our friend the Atom. The atom was going to bring about a wonderful revolution in the way we got our energy. And I was in a nuclear power submarine the Nautilus and went under the North Pole and as kids were really enthusiastic about that.
And then, when I was in my early teens, Admiral Rick Hover came to give a speech. And my dad knew I was interested in science, so he took me.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch the control rods come out. As the control rods come out, the reactor sparks and water starts and circulating through here...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CRAVENS: He was a wonderful speaker. And he was very inspiring about American technology, and about the future. And he talked about nuclear energy being used to light up cities not just run submarines.
So it was a generally positive notion.
LEN KOCH, PIONEERING NUCLEAR ENGINEER: I got into the nuclear business in early 1948. Prior to that, I was working on engines for the Tucker Automobile. Everything we have done up until that time to produce energy was by burning something. The enticement in the nuclear business is a fact that it was a new source of energy, a new way to generate heat.
But the equivalency is huge. One pound of Uranium which is a size of my finger tip if you could release all of the energy has the equivalent of about 5,000 barrels of oil. That to me is amazing.
I worked at Oregon national Laboratory in Idaho which really was the headquarters in the world for nuclear power today. We were building this first in the world experimental breeder reactor. EBR-1 was an experiment just to prove is that the concept made sense, scientifically. Every day happens just like we expected it to. The reactors run critical. Critical means you just -- you have enough Uranium so that it generates heat. All the reactor does is generates heat. The end product is steam and then once you have steam, it's the same whether you generate the electricity with oil or fuel or gas. This is only to have a source of heat.
So it generated electricity evidently. I hooked up four light bulbs and we lit the light bulbs for mechanic (ph) energy. Nobody else had done it before. It's affected the whole nuclear business, atomic energy was started for a bomb and used as a bomb and I think that put the negative side of it.
STEWART BRAND: I'm just old enough to have conscious memory of World War II. In the ending of World War II. Nuclear bombs were not just a weapon. They were a little window into some kind of Armageddon.
That photographs in the films and the stories that came out of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all these things cut pretty deep. See you had this very strong residue of -- this is not primarily an energy source, this is primarily a weapon that we feel very badly about.
And then the testing went on. We are hearing about the radiation from that strong and mighty. And then the Russians were doing test. The Chinese were doing test and so before it really slowed down, there are over 2,000 tests of nuclear weapons.
I grew up having nightmares that my hometown was bombed into again and I was the only survivor. As kids were in school during duck and cover routines under the desks and backyard fallout shelters and then all this stuff made it all pretty personal.
SHELLENBERGER: I grew up in an anti-nuclear family. You know my parents were children in the '60s. They were liberals and environmentalists to actually believe in nuclear power was by definition to be a dope. I actually visited the nuclear power plant with my buddies in high school and we knew enough to have a very sarcastic attitude towards the tour they gave us. They would say it's clean source of energy, it's really safe it doesn't have anything to do with nuclear weapons and we would just laugh. We just thought they're all tools, stooges of the nuclear industry and it's propaganda campaign.
Of course that gets reinforce for people in my generation with The Simpsons.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Warning. Problem in sector 7G.
MR. BURNS: 7G. Oh good, where's the safest (inaudible) there?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHELLENBERGER: Where the evil character is the CEO of the nuclear power companies.
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MR. BURNS: Simpson, good man intelligent.
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SHELLENBERGER: And Homer Simpson is bumbling while the whole thing is melting down.
(START VIDEO CLIP)
HOMER SIMPSON: Who would've thought a nuclear reactor would be so complicated.
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SHELLENBERGER: You just always have a sense that nuclear power was something sinister, something that was a lurk in danger.
LYNAS: I was against nuclear power because I was an environmentalist. I am an environmentalist. And the two things go together. Certainly that always seemed to be the case. Looking back, I suppose you could say I was a hard-core activist. It's almost nothing at battles zones. It's kind of experience that most people never where you're battling this (ph). There the forces of evil almost on the day to day basis. Evil being to the corporation as they're making profit out of this (inaudible). And (inaudible).
The slogan was no compromise in defense of mother earth. That was the vision of the first slogan. And I just wonder I still subscribe to a very deep level I think. Well I mean it was kind of was evil (inaudible) it.
RHODES: I was ragging for national magazines many years ago writing articles about the dangers of nuclear power. And I had this standard kind of year that I think many journalists still have that it must be bad. I came to realize that basically avoided looking at the whole picture and only looked at the questions that seemed to prove to them that nuclear power was dangerous as I had too. The only reason I changed my mind is that I talked to experts, physicist in particular who were the pioneers of nuclear energy and who carefully one by one explained to me again and again until that finally gone through my head why it wasn't what the anti-nuclear activist felt it was, believed it was.
CHARLES STILL, PIONEER NUCLEAR PHYSICIST: was right there at the beginning of this. It was my chance to do something for our human kind. This after all was an unlimited source of energy. I assumed that all electrical power if we were successful would be generated by nuclear means.
In the '50s there were essentially two kinds of reactors being developed the breeder reactor which EBR-1 was a prototype for and the light water reactor. The breeder reactor breeds plutonium and then recycled it over and over again. It's very good fuel. The light water reactor is a much simpler reactor. But it produces much more waste.
It was chosen by Admiral Rickover to be the reactor from the submarine. There are many things to be said for light water reactors and there are some to be said against. But with Rickover's influence, the light water reactor became the principle commercial reactor around the world.
KOCH: We developed water reactors but we looked upon that as sort of near-term short range, stepping stone to real nuclear power. The breeder reactor.
That's what we consider to be the most likely real long-range future for nuclear power. But the water reactor got marketed first.
RHODES: This was partly a commercial move on our part. In the early 1950's, we were concerned that the Soviet Union which had kept pace with us in the development of nuclear reactors for power would steal a march on us and get the commercial business in Europe.
So President Eisenhower decided to share the benefits of nuclear energy with other countries. It's called Atoms for Peace.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got 50 years now of water reactors, 400 of them roughly all over the world and they produce a hell of a lot of waste we didn't anticipate.
You know, you mentioned hundred thousand years of stuff that you got to keep isolated from the rest of the world. So it scare a lot of people.
That was -- That's the price we paid for commercialization, in the sense that we didn't look ahead.
Nuclear power was developed as a kind of boutique energy source by utility's executives who really didn't know very much about it. I talked to people who said "Well, I heard about on the golf course from the guy who runs the plant down the road." He's going to build one (ph) so I thought I should too.
The first commercial nuclear power plant that was built in the United States was built in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. It was the modified version of a large submarine reactor.
One of the major reasons the power company wanted it was because there was a lot of coal pollution in Pittsburgh. And nuclear energy looked to people to be as it is, a clean form of energy.
The first power reactors were fairly small. But the push by the power light companies of America was to scale the map as quickly as possible. Safety, instead of being inherent in the design of the reactor itself had to be engineered around it as it were. You have to have multiple core cooling systems that had be to be added on to anticipate possible breakdown to various kinds.
The odds of that happening over my company were very small. But unlike the smaller reactors they really couldn't say it was impossible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live today officials here in Washington summarized briefly what seems to have caused the problem.
First, the pump in the generator system broke down at 4 A.M. yesterday. The reactor immediately shut down. Reactor operators decided to open the valves and release radioactive water from the reactor. That apparently may have been the wrong thing to do.
When the emergency core cooling system came on automatically, an operator turned it off. That too, apparently was a mistake then, high levels of radiation were released inside the containment building and not until 3 hours later was that realized that radiation was being released and in fact was penetrating to the outside.
CRAVENS: Three Mile Island and the first thing I thought off is, are those rays coming out of Three Mile Island going to come to New York and harm my daughter. I remember standing in my apartment. I'm thinking what can, you know, what can we do?
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JACK LEMMON, (JACK GODELL), THE CHINA SYNDROME: This is Jack Godell we have a serious condition. You get everybody into safety areas and make sure that they stay there.
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CRAVENS: Of course, two weeks earlier, the China syndrome had come up. So I was already prepared to be terrorized by this event.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The China syndrome.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The what?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the core is exposed for whatever reason, the fuel heat here ...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHELLENBERGER: The idea behind the China Syndrome is that the nuclear power plant would melt down and would burrow a hole all the way to China. Never mind that China is not actually on the other side of the earth -- was United States but that was the idea that it would -- that the worse case scenario would be apocalyptic.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The number of people killed would depend on which where the wind is blowing. Rendering area the size of Pennsylvania is going to be uninhabitable. Not to mention the cancer that would show up later.
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CRAVENS: That's when I think I began to conflate nuclear power with nuclear weapons.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... from leaking nuclear plant.
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CRAVENS: We don't want a radioactive waste land whether it's from a bomb or nuclear plant that kind of -- that's probably the sort of thing I would have answered. It just seemed like, OK, nuclear or anything is a bad idea.
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JANE FONDA, AMERICAN ACTRESS: I want to just say a few words about the China Syndrome, my movie, the China syndrome, because if we continue to place our health and safety in the hands of utility executives whose main goal in life is to maximize profits, then we will see more Harrisburg's, we will see more leaks, and we will see an increase of the cancer epidemic that is already running rampant in this country.
RALPH NADER: Stopping atomic energy is practicing patriotism. Stopping atomic energy is fighting cancer. Stopping atomic energy is fighting inflation. Stopping atomic energy is saving this country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just give me the restless power of the wind. Give me the comforting glow of a wood fire. But please take all your atomic poison power away.
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CRAVENS: In the 1980's, my husband and I were living in east end of Long Island. And word gets out that this nuclear plant is going to start up. And this is of course right after Three Mile Island had very much in people's minds.
The local pro-environmental people and I would be one of those just said, "Yeah, we got this stop Shoreham however we can.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyday, this plant operates, radiation will be coming out of the plant, right? And will get into the food...
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CRAVENS: Women may be hardwired to protect their families and it's just a natural impulse. If something looks like its bad we're holding our hand in saying, "No. No. Please we can't have that."
I remember these big scare ads in the papers getting people to organize rallies against Shoreham. There were many things I didn't know at that time that I've learned since. For one thing that turns out, the ads replaced by the oil delivery industry, you know, the companies that deliver fuel to people in Long Island. And sure the oil companies can say, "Go, solar," because they know it's never going to replace oil heat.
You cannot turn on the sun in the winter and hope to warm up your house. Good luck. Solar, not nuclear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not nuclear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sponsored by the Will Gate Institute. Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
CRAVENS: No problem. Yes. You don't need a furnace, just have solar panels. They not -- I mean this is the cynicism of the fossil fuel industry.
RHODES: Shoreham was actually finished and started up. And then, immediately shut down by the governor of the state and basically moth (ph) pulled. It was this immense investment billions of dollars in a reactor which would have been a great use to New York City but people were so afraid of it that they simply said, "Shut it down." And today, it's a mausoleum.
Those of us who were worried about nuclear power perceived that nuclear power wasn't really needed. And this I think is one of the fundamental tragedies of the anti nuclear movement. To be anti nuclear, it's basically to be in favor of burning fossil fuels.
I had finally to change my mind and I have seen friends of mine changed their minds, one of them being Gwyneth Cravens who started out rather anti nuclear as I did and ended up writing a book about the benefits of nuclear power. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARGARET THATCHER, (FRM) PRIME MINISTER, GREAT BRITAIN: The difference now is in the scale of the damage we are doing. We're seeing a vast increase in the amount of Carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere. It is mankind and his activities which are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways.
Change to the sea around us, change to the atmosphere above. Leading in turn to changing the world's climate which could alter the way we live in the most fundamental way of all.
That prospect is a new factor in human affairs. It's comparable in its implications to the discovery of how to split the atom, indeed its results could be even more far reaching. We can't just do nothing.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the key arguments is that climate and ice -- climate is a huge thing, do you realize their reflecting the weather (inaudible) but we are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're beginning to see the kind of destabilization and chaos if you get, actually when you see this transition much more from the global temperatures. Now the process of change, very, very rapid climate change it's going to wreak havoc on human society.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having children has made me even more concerned about the future. So, it's a deep in my commitment to tackle in global warming. Loving your children is about loving your future and loving the world that they're going to inherit. And so you got to make sure that that's right.
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LYNAS: I have a sneaking suspicion that nuclear was going to have to be part of the solution, simply because it's -- it doesn't produce carbon dioxide but I didn't want to go there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?
LYNAS: I was too scared. I mean it's pathetic really but looking but, you know, yeah, you don't want to make enemies of your main allies in the environmental movement by attacking something which is difficult, controversial.
SHELLENBERGER,: Ted and I have spent basically the entirety of our professional careers for the big environmental groups, I mean you name it. CIRA (ph) club, NRDC, even worked with Earth First on a campaign to save the last ancient redwoods in California.
We were movement guys, I mean we were consultants to the big green groups. We really accepted most of the basic ideas of the environmental movement and I think overtime, we've, you know, became gradually disillusioned with the traditional environmental approaches to climate change.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's my assessment that we have no consensus hereto attend then we are going to delete (inaudible) for the protocol, it's all decided.
SHELLENBERGER: People will tell you that, oh everything is going to change, the world is going to implement the Kyoto Treaty on Global Warming, we're all going to start solar and wind power energy. It was a very seductive narrative.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then I see is a vote. They understand the disagreement on (inaudible) D, E, F and G.
SHELLENBERGER: The idea was that (inaudible) is going to sign Kyoto and then all of the countries in the world we're going to just retching their emissions year after year, just like they did in their excel spread sheets.
The problem is these were all proposals based on making fossil fuels more expensive and it is pretty safe to say that is not going to happen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The adoption of this protocol to the conference by unanimity.
SHELLENBERGER: There's not going to be a global treaty on climate change. The United Nation's treaty process is basically run aground. He just walked away being like, nobody has a clue as to how to do this.
So, we wrote this essay, Death of Environmentalism, that argued that environmentalism is that kind of small bore then we need something beyond environmentalism.
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TED NORDHAUS, CHAIRMAN, THE BREAKTHROUGH INSTITUTE: Modern environmentalism with all of its unexamined assumptions, outdated concepts and exhausted strategies must die so that something new can live
SHELLENBERGER: I would suggest that it would take more than dead penguins and melting icecaps to get Americans to fundamentally get involved in this political transformation of our energy economy.
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SHELLENBERGER: We still didn't think we need the nuclear power. It really took us getting clear about how big the gap was between fossil fuels and renewables for us to take a second look at nuclear. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Part of the problem is intermittently (ph) and that hasn't been solved. It's not always sunny and it's not always windy, and there are long periods of time when renewables -- there's no power at all into a grid. We have to have natural gas back up.
So what you end up getting through renewables is a pretty big expansion of natural gas. You know I'm sure people had told me that and I didn't believe them.
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BOBBY KENNEDY JR, AMERICAN RADIO HOST, ACTIVIST, ATTORNEY IN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW: We're building this all over the country and one of the questions that we ask, we need about 3,000 foot in altitude, we need flatland, we need 300 days of sunlight and we need to be near a gas pipe, because, you know, for all of these big utility scale power plants, whether it's wind or solar, everybody is looking at gas as the supplemental fuel.
The plants that we're building the wind plants and the solar plants are gas plants.
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SHELLENBERGER: I end up feeling like a sucker. I ended up feeling like I was a sucker. The idea that we're going to replace oil and coal and natural gas with solar and wind and nothing else is a hallucinatory delusion. You know, you find yourself feeling -- I found my self quite disappointed in myself and honestly quite angry at others who were propagating that myth.
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AMORY LOVINS, AMERICAN PHYSICIST: This light bulb when everybody's got them, the quadruple deficiency bulb that will displace two dozen power plants. This thing for fluorescent lights will displace 60 big power plants. This motor controller chip and about 10 other things you do to motors take 70 big power plants just these three things. There goes every nuclear plant we have.
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SHELLENBERGER: I had gotten the religion about energy efficiency and renewables in college when I first read of Amory Lovins. Amory Lovins is still clad in maybe every liberal arts, environmental states class in America. You know he has article after article explaining why solar and wind are cheaper than fossil fuels and why you don't need to build nuclear plants because we can use energy efficiency. It's a very appealing, seductive message.
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LOVINS: They're getting smaller, here's a little Osram 11 replacing a 50.
(END VIDEO CLIP) SHELLENBERGER: And I bought it, my parents, my family bought it, really everybody I know believed this.
LYNAS: The standards of green environmentalist narrative has been that we can all use less energy, so we can be renewable, we can go for energy efficiency. The idea that human kind is simply wasting and using too much. Now I have a lot of time for that argument but you can't keep using less energy forever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most people kind of think that somehow we're going to be reducing our energy consumption. Actually we just find more and more use for it. If you look at all the energy that is used by an iPhone, now just to make it into power but also to power all the servers, all of these stuff that you don't see that the iPhone is connected to, it uses as much energy as a refrigerator.
RHODES: There's a direct correlation between the amount of energy available to a civilization, and that civilization's quality of life. Unless you want to condemn more than half the population of the earth to poverty and sickness and short lives, we're going to have to produce more energy.
CRAVENS: In regions that don't have electricity or very little electricity, the life span is much shorter. Clinics, schools, refrigeration. All of these things rely on electricity, and just a few watts make a big difference. As soon as you get electricity you improve people's lives. So that human life, if the person we're talking about human, just quality of life and if you look at the countries with the best quality of life, they're the countries that consume the most electricity.
Rain or shine, 24 hours a day a steady stream of power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The global south is pretty warm they would like air conditioning, and up until now they've not been able to afford it but now they can. They're getting out of poverty and they need greater electricity to run their air conditioners. And of course various environmentalist freak out at that point. And on the other hand, if you could have vast quantities of really, really clean energy in the developing world in the next decade or so, that is such an improved world, it takes your breath away.
MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER, PRESIDENT AND CO-FOUNDER, THE BREAKTHROUGH INSTITUTE: Assuming that the world continues to develop, and that China and India and Brazil become rich countries over the next half- century or century, how much energy is the world going to use?
When you start running those numbers, it's a sobering exercise. And you may not be able to get that number exactly right, but you realize we're going to basically double the amount of energy we con seem by 2050. We're probably Going to triple it or quadruple it by the end of the century.
And, meanwhile, if you want to stabilize emissions at some reasonable level, almost all of that energy has to be clean energy. And you have got to not only create a clean energy infrastructure to replace the fossil fuel infrastructure we have, but we have to create yet another one or maybe two of them between now and 2050 or 2100 in order to reduce our emissions to stabilize the climate. And that is just nothing that anybody has really been talking about or dealing with over the last 20 years.
It comes as a shock to a lot of environmentalists to hear this, but coal is not only the most widely used source of energy in the world; it's also the fastest-growing source of energy. Its use is accelerating worldwide, faster than natural gas, faster than renewables, faster than anything else.
GWYNETH CRAVENS, AUTHOR, "POWER TO SAVE THE WORLD": When I have spoken to women's groups, none of them knew how bad coal was.
They didn't know it killed people. If you add up all fossil fuel combustion in the United States, just from power plants, the fine particulates alone kill 13,000 people a year. Worldwide, three million people die a year from air pollution from fossil fuel plants.
SHELLENBERGER: One of the big surprises for me when I started looking into the mortality data, the death rates associated with each energy technology per amount of energy they make is that nuclear is the second safest after wind.
And, in fact, to add to the irony of it, nuclear power is even safer than solar panels. Making solar panels is an incredibly toxic process. I thought people died at Three Mile Island. I thought that hundreds of thousands of people died at Chernobyl. I thought that there was nuclear waste scattered all around the country and it was seeping into our water systems.
I believed all that stuff. And I thought even if maybe it was getting a little bit better or maybe if the problems of it were exaggerated a little bit by my fellow environmentalists, that it was still a risk that we didn't need to take.
CRAVENS: There hasn't been a single death from the operation of commercial nuclear reactors in the United States, not one death in the history of nuclear power in this country.
And Vermont Yankee, which anti-nuclear people are trying shut down, protesters keep saying it's causing public health problems. It's not.
QUESTION: But it's leaking tritium.
CRAVENS: It's leaking tritium. That's true.
If you ate one banana, which have a potassium isotope that's a little hot, you would get more radiation exposure than you would if you drank all the water that comes out of the plant in one day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Banana break.
CRAVENS: Tritium is a naturally occurring hydrogen isotope. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to ask that all those people who are willing to risk arrest remain in this safety zone the rest of the people have moved.
CRAVENS: In New Mexico, where I grew up, there's Radium Springs. And I had a friend who went with his Geiger counter. And these hippies were there soaking in the baths. And he got out his Geiger counter and said, you know what? This is radioactive. And they said, yes, man, but it's natural.
MARK LYNAS, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: It's true to say that we're all bathed in natural radioactivity. It's affecting all of us all the time. It comes from the rocks, from the air, and even from space. It's in our food, in our water, in our teeth. So radiation isn't dangerous in an everyday sense. And there's enormous variation in different parts of the world.
QUESTION: Do you have any numbers just to put that into kind of a context?
LYNAS: Well, the numbers -- the units are difficult. It's rays and millirems and all this kind of stuff.
LYNAS: So, the numbers are not familiar to people in any way, shape or form. If I say to you, the radioactivity, oh, it's only another 400 microsieverts, are you going to feel better about that? Of course you're not, because you don't what on earth I'm talking about.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Iodine-132.
BRAND: Reporting of radiation levels are as confusing as they could possibly be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... has just about 0.7 rem. You have to get up to 50 to 75 rem.
BRAND: We hear about rems, and millirems, microrems, millirems, then -- oh, now there are sieverts. We hear a lot about sieverts, microsieverts, millisieverts.
And you're looking and squinting and, OK, that looks like a large number. Is that a number I should worry about? Compared to what? What's the background radiation level?
LYNAS: I didn't even know there was such a thing as natural radiation, actually.
I had assumed that radiation was something which humans had artificially introduced into the environment which was doing us harm. There's background radioactivity affecting all of us all the time which is many, many times more powerful than artificial radioactivity in terms of how we're affected.
So, zero tolerance of radiation doesn't make any sense. Radiation increases with altitude. So people who live at high altitude get a higher dose than people who live in low-lying areas. And if you're traveling on an airplane, say, you're going from New York to Tokyo, you will get 20 times the average background level during that flight.
For example, in Guarapari Beach in Brazil, the natural background radiation there is way above permitted levels in terms of what the public can be exposed to. And that's what's coming out of the soil that's on the beach.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you ask him why he does this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has body pains.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this helps?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it helps.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This helps.
LYNAS: And what's really striking is that there's no correlation between levels of background radioactivity, which vary by such enormous amounts, and high levels of cancer.
Cancer is something which is the greatest fear of most people in rich countries, because it kills 20 percent of people anyway. We all know people who have died of cancer. And so this idea that radioactivity is a cause of cancer is probably the number one reason why people are scared of it.
LYNAS: You can't go to Chernobyl and not reexamine your core beliefs about nuclear power. You would have to be really thickheaded not to look at that and look at the damage that was done and say, all right, when it goes wrong -- we know that we do everything we can to make it go right. But when it goes wrong, it can go really very wrong indeed.
Chernobyl was a real-world experiment of what happens when you irradiate a really very large population. But 1986 was a long time ago, to have got the perspective and the distance to be able to assess what the real impacts of that were.
And they're nothing, nothing like what was expected. The reactor that exploded in Chernobyl in April 1986 was actually number four, reactor number four of a whole set of them. No one really realizes it. The three other units which were in the same building carried on operating and generating electricity right up until the mid-'90s. And people just went to work there every day. Isn't that amazing?
CRAVENS: Outside of the old Soviet Union, we didn't use the reactor design that Chernobyl had. Among other things, the Chernobyl reactor had no containment building. It was in virtually a Quonset hut. So when there was a fire and an explosion, there was nothing to contain it.
LYNAS: Chernobyl was a different kind of reactor. It was inherently unsafe.
It was primarily designed to make plutonium for bombs. No Chernobyl- style reactors were ever built in the West. But if you could then point to other nuclear power stations and say each of those could be a Chernobyl, then you have got a pretty powerful argument against nuclear power.
The city nearby called Prypiat, the entire place was evacuated when Chernobyl blew up. It's just fascinating to see someplace which is frozen in time at the very end of the era of the Soviet Union. It's an extraordinary place. I really can't even describe it.
It's a bit like the Fukushima thing, in the sense that you're trampling around on this debris of broken glass and broken everything, and it's almost as if the explosion at Chernobyl had somehow caused this. Of course, it didn't. It's just the decay of time and things have been broken.
Obviously, what people are concerned about with Chernobyl is the radioactivity. I never knew until I went to Chernobyl that there were places full of people who have just decided to ignore the restrictions and just move back to their houses. And you can go to this old church, and you can meet them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's ask him when and why did he decide to come back and how many people came with him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Our native Chernobyl is where we have been living for centuries. Nobody wanted to leave this place. By the spring of 1987 (INAUDIBLE) Of course, nobody let us in. We walked through the woods. People came back to their own houses by one, by two, and settled down. I have been living here in Chernobyl for 25 years. And I'm sure safe and sound. And the people who came back (INAUDIBLE)
RICHARD RHODES, PULITZER PRIZE WINNER: The explosion of the reactor at Chernobyl had enormous consequences, but not the ones I think many people expect.
I followed the studies that have been done by international experts in radiation and oncology that followed the damage at Chernobyl for all the years since. The damage that was caused to people by the fallout from that worst of all nuclear power accidents has been remarkably limited.
You can look at the evidence. It's all been published. It's been certified by the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
SHELLENBERGER: What's so striking is just to go read the original World Health Organization documents, then read the public health reports.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was that a shock to you? SHELLENBERGER: It was complete shock to me. I mean, I -- there was a period where I'm reading all the Chernobyl stuff, and I -- I kind of am not believing it, because it was so out of sync with what I had come to believe.
LYNAS: Literally hundreds of thousands of people were involved in the clear-up operation. They're known as liquidators.
And they got some really significant doses of radiation. Their does are known and their health has been studied ever since. And even in that large number of people who were very heavily radiated, 40 or 50 people have died so far, and a few thousand may have shortened life spans due to cancer in future decades.
And there have never been any children born deformed from Chernobyl, according to the best authorities of science we have got from the United Nations. So people have substantially been fed an urban myth really about what the impacts of Chernobyl actually were.
HELEN CALDICOTT, ANTI-NUCLEAR ACTIVIST: I have got books fulls of it, a million people dying right now or have died because of Chernobyl, and that's only 25 years ago. How many millions more will Chernobyl kill? Forty percent of the European land mass is radioactive, will be for hundreds of years.
SHELLENBERGER: In order to believe that more than 56 people were killed at Chernobyl or more than the maybe 4,000 who would eventually die of cancer, in order to believe that a million people were killed by Chernobyl, which is what Greenpeace and Helen Caldicott and a number of other people claim, you have to believe there was a cover-up of just massive proportions by the World Health Organization, by the United Nations, by literally hundreds of the world's top public health experts.
It's so absurd of an idea. And it's exactly the same thing global warming deniers think.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think is the motivation for the United Nations to perpetuate such an appalling cover-up?
CALDICOTT: I don't know. I'm not privy to their motivations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the difference between 50 people and a million people is so extreme. I think people are confused about what to think.
CALDICOTT: Well, they should look at the literature. This is the most important study almost that's ever been done.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you explain it?
CALDICOTT: This is the biggest cover-up in the history of medicine.
LYNAS: Many of the tactics and the arguments that have been used by the environmental groups against nuclear power are exactly the same tactics and arguments that are used by climate skeptics.
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: The United Nations, that's where all this started. It was IPCC in the United Nations said that the world's going to come to an end because of the emissions of CO2.
LYNAS: So, the cherry-picking of scientific data, the nurturing of scientists who happen to believe your ideological position and the production of reports which apparently are authoritative and scientific actually are just ideological propaganda, basically.
INHOFE: Forty-one percent of the people believe that global warming claims are exaggerated.
CALDICOTT: Climate change deniers are idiots.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But they're saying the same thing.
CALDICOTT: I don't care about the -- they are denying science. We're going back into the Dark Ages.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But they're saying the same thing about the United Nations.
CALDICOTT: How dare -- how dare they deny science? Not to understand science and medicine in this day and age is more than irresponsible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you square these two conflicts?
CALDICOTT: I can't.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, we think of Japan, we think of Hiroshima, those pictures horrible after the event that happened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No radiation is safe. But, generally speaking, Americans don't have anything to worry about.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have on this map here, and we're showing obviously the path some 5,000 miles first to the Aleutian Islands.
LYNAS: You can't reassure people. People are so terrified, that anything you say, because they don't have that background context, that understanding of what radiation is and what it means, they can't actually decide for themselves what's safe and what risks they want to bear.
And I think that's one of the real problems of Fukushima. There's no way for the experts to actually communicate what is safe to the general public.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I don't let my kids play outside for long. Maybe for an hour or two. That's all.
LYNAS: If you were exposed to the fallout from Fukushima, then according to the World Health Organization, the U.N. generally, the increased risk of getting cancer is estimated to be so infinitesimally small, given the large population, that you will never be able to identify this impact epidemiologically.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just won the bet. This particular weed here is more radioactive than Guarapari Beach in Brazil. So, got -- what did we get, 44?
LYNAS: Now we have seen what the worst is that can happen with a 1960s-era Western-designed reactor, which does have a containment structure, which Chernobyl did. But this isn't just something you can brush away. This was not supposed to happen to a reactor.
CHARLES TILL, PIONEERING NUCLEAR PHYSICIST: Back in the 80s, it was clear to me that something had to be done, something better than present day, about safety. And it wasn't only in safety. It was in matters of waste as well and in proliferation matters and, over all of those things, the matter of economics. You can't make the plant impossibly expensive by making it too complicated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just go ahead and go up to the main parking lot.
TILL: All right. Thanks very much.
So, in 1980, I was given the job of directing the entire program of advanced reactor development at Argonne National Laboratory. Our goal was to design a new type of reactor where the very physics of it would be such that it could withstand almost any type of accident that nuclear plants can be subject to.
It was called the IFR, the Integral Fast Reactor. The budget was about $100 million a year, 1,500 people, scientists, engineers, supporting staff. This was a very big development program. But you have got to test it. Calculations don't tell you everything. You have got to have the big facilities that say, if we have an accident of this kind, what will happen?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will now start to set up for the test.
LEN KOCH, PIONEERING NUCLEAR ENGINEER: We did two experiments to demonstrate some unique safety features that reactor has that others don't have. We invited people from all over the world to come and witness it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Station blackout is up. The term that's used by NRC, the safety folks to describe the situation where one loses all 12 casing pods. We assume that you lose offsite power. We assume that you're getting no AC power in your own turbo generator. We assume that your first diesel started up and it failed to start up. The second one started to start up and it also failed. So you end up dead in the water with no AC power.
TILL: This experiment was almost a direct parallel to what happened at Fukushima. It was eerily similar.
KOCH: We ran the reactor at full power, disabled the shutdown system so the operators had no ability to shut the reactor down. And we shut off the cooling system, didn't extract the heat. So it just got -- things got hotter. In most reactors, you can't do it. No reactor I know of could survive that accident. You'd have a meltdown.
TILL: The international audience were watching the temperature going up like that, straight up. They turned around like some to see if I was or if the Argonne guys are running. And by the time they looked up again, the trace had turned like so, and it was on its way down and the reactor just quietly shut itself down. No action required of the operators. No action required of the safety systems. Nothing. You could just stand back like this, watch the dials if you wished, and the reactor shut itself down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirty seconds until test time.
KOCH: Well, in the afternoon, we started the reactor up again and carried out the conditions responsible for the accident at Three Mile Island.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five, 4, 3...
KOCH: We shut off the pumps. Just shut off the pumps.
TILL: All major reactor accidents happened because of one thing. Inadequate cooling. The IFR type reactor, which EBR 2 was a prototype for, if you cut it off from the steam system so it cannot reject its heat, it will just shut itself down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it can't melt down.
TILL: No, it can't melt down.
TILL: We're now in the facility that completes the circle, if you like, of the Integral Fast Reactor. We've come out of the reactor building. We're now in the fuel-cycled part.
The integral part of it was that every part of a complete nuclear reactor system, not the reactor itself but also the facilities for treating the spent fuel, for treating the waste, would all be an integral part of the same system.
What this enables you to do is you can take the spent fuel, chop it up and back it goes into the reactor again. You can recycle the fuel again and again until the end of plant life.
The other thing that needs to be said about all of this technology is that this is not a dream. This is not somebody's calculations on a piece of paper. This is real. We know how to do these things.
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE/FORMER SENATOR: Now, let me frame this debate, if I may, by reading a letter from the president of the United States sent to me yesterday. "Thank you for your letter supporting our decision to terminate the Department of Energy's advanced liquid metal reactor program, including the Integral Fast Reactor. I want to assure you that this administration does not support the IFR and will oppose any efforts to continue the funding for this reactor project."
RICHARD RHODES, PULITZER PRIZE WINNER, "THE MAKING OF THE ATOMIC BOMB": Democrats have gotten themselves on the wrong side, in my opinion, in this issue, being opposed to nuclear power, for I think no good reason other than that it's very high on the list of what Republicans like.
SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: We know that nuclear energy is clean. We know that it doesn't pollute the air. We know that it doesn't damage the ozone. We know that it is a tremendous producer of energy in a clean sense. And our only problem is that we cannot come to political terms on how to handle the waste stream.
SEN. DALE BUMPERS (D), ARKANSAS: We're talking about what it's going to cost if we go that far and continue our obsession with nuclear power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: IFR waste streams lose their radioactivity to background level in about 800 years. Light water reactor in nearly 10,000.
KERRY: I share with my colleagues some of the public opinion on this. "The Washington Post," "The Wrong Reactor." "The Oregonian," "Give Up Nuclear Breeder (ph) Dream." The "San Francisco Chronicle," "Saying No to Nuclear Park."
TILL: The IFR program was shut down. And the project went down the black hole of government politics.
STEWART BRAND, FOUNDER AND PUBLISHER, WHOLE EARTH CATALOG: It was by chance that in about the year 2000, I think, I wound up in the desert on a visit to Yucca Mountain, America's planned nuclear waste repository, 100 miles north of Las Vegas. A hole in the ground where ten-plus billion dollars were spent on vastly expensive experiments, trying to prove that this place is going to be absolutely safe, quote, "for the next 10,000 years."
So it just felt like, wait a minute. This is nuts! Among other things, have you even thought -- we are professional futurists many of us that are on this trip -- what exactly is this world 10,000 years from now that we're trying to protect? Science fiction is what we were playing out at vast expense at Yucca Mountain.
The kinds of experiments they were doing in that mountain -- it's not a mountain; it's just a ridge -- certainly didn't persuade anybody. For political reasons, Yucca Mountain was not opened and will probably never be opened.
Then I started to look at, well, what actually is the amount of hazard that comes from nuclear waste? The first thing I found out is what people who are actually doing with the nuclear waste which is being generated all this time by every nuclear power plant turns out to be pretty good. They put it in this pretty simple but very workable dry cask storage. And they park it out back of the parking lot. And you can go there and see it. There's the nation's nuclear waste. Is it causing any problems? No.
The other realization for me -- and it took a while to get through -- is that by not putting it in the ground you've got the option to use it as fuel in fourth-generation reactors. Wow, we can take this waste from the nuclear plant and recycle it into fuel by reprocessing or having a new kind of reactor that uses this fuel. That looks very much like a renewable resource.
GWYNETH CRAVENS, AUTHOR, "POWER TO SAVE THE WORLD": People are always talking about nuclear waste. The accumulation of nuclear waste. I think it's around 70,000 tons have accumulated of used fuel in the United States. I thought the quantity was staggering. In fact, all the spent nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear plants in the United States could fit in a single football field if you stacked the fuel rods to a height of about three meters. That's it.
But of that, only a very small fraction, mainly plutonium, was long- lived. By long-lived, I mean would still be hot thousands of years from now. Still be highly radioactive.
MARK LYNAS, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: Volumetrically, nuclear produces tiny amounts of waste. The entire waste production from France's 50 nuclear power stations, which produce 80 percent of the country's electricity, are under the floor in one room. Compare that with the billions of tons of waste produced by coal-fired power stations. It completely blows away most of the anti-nuclear arguments.
So it's not -- nuclear waste is not an environmental issue. It's not something which, as an environmentalist, I'm concerned about.
MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER, PRESIDENT/CO-FOUNDER, THE BREAKTHROUGH INSTITUTE: One of the most inspiring stories anywhere is the story of France. It was a country in the early '70s that was burning oil for electricity. Doesn't have coal reserves. And doesn't want to be dependent on gas from northern Europe and Russia. But when the oil shocks happened and the prices went up dramatically, the French realized they needed to get serious about a different source of energy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said, "This is serious. And it has to do with national security." So they focused on making sure that they had the best nuclear engineers and the standard design for the reactors and just roll it out.
SHELLENBERGER: What's so significant about what the French did is that they did it so quickly. They scaled up almost exactly at the pace that we need to scale up nuclear power globally.
BRAND: They now have 80 percent of their electricity coming from nuclear. Their trains are electric-powered. They have clean air. They have the cheapest energy in Europe. They're selling it to everybody else. And they are greener than green Denmark, greener than green Germany.
LYNAS: I didn't know what French per capita carbon dioxide emissions were, which is actually the most important question to ask. The answer is, they're about five tons per person per year. Germany is about ten tons a year. Germany has much, much higher per person emissions of carbon dioxide than neighboring France, because France is nuclear and Germany is trying to get out of nuclear.
SHELLENBERGER: When we look at nuclear, we have to understand that we're making a long-term investment. Now, it's a big upfront capital cost, but these are plants that are going to last 60, 80, maybe even 100 years. And much of the other infrastructure that's being built will last far longer than that. And when you really look at it that way, there's just really no question. It's a much more economical alternative to very expensive solar panels or very expensive wind turbines that require backup power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The current generation of reactors we're building now are third-generation reactors. This technology is much safer. But fourth-generation reactors, like the Integral Fast Reactors, can use the waste from the first three generations as fuel.
The great philanthropist Bill Gates has put money and time into a traveling wave reactor that you basically stick in the ground and it goes through its body of fuel over a period of 60 years. You don't need to refuel it. There's a thorium reactor the same group is working on. Other fourth-generation coming along with small module reactors. They look exactly like the kind of local power source that environmentalists have increasingly been saying we should have. So there's a renaissance in reactor design, that those are just the first glimpses of.
RHODES: For some people who perhaps accept most of these arguments in favor of nuclear power, the ultimate argument is "but knowledge of this technology is also the kind of knowledge you can use to make nuclear weapons." And that's quite true. It is.
There are, by the CIA's estimate, about 37 countries in the world today that, if they wanted to, could develop nuclear weapons. They have the technical and scientific infrastructure to be able to do that. How many countries actually have nuclear weapons? Nine. Which I think begins to point out the fundamental flaw in the concern.
We won't get rid of nuclear weapons by forgetting how to make them. We will get rid of nuclear weapons by deciding we don't want them around anymore.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turns out that the United States has been buying up nuclear warheads from the Russians for over ten years now: 16,000 nuclear warheads. And we're recycling all these nuclear warheads into energy, electricity, nuclear power. And so nuclear power is doing more to de-nuclear-weaponize the world than any other thing that we do. Poetically, it's rather beautiful. The very things that were designed to blow up our cities are now lighting up our cities.
And basically, 10 percent of American electricity, half of our nuclear power, comes from reprocessed Russian warheads. Well, ideally, every single nuclear weapon in the world eventually can get turned into electricity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that while much of the environmental movement that came of age in the '60s will never change, I feel very confident that the next generation will. They're going to understand the challenges they face in an energy-hungry world. And they're going to put nuclear in its proper context.
We can have a world of 7, 8, 9, even 10 billion people that are living high-energy, resource-intensive modern lives without killing the climate. And that's exciting!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a sense that this is the beginning of something really beautiful.
You actually -- you feel like this is the beginning of a movement.