Jobs and livelihoods destroyed, lives disrupted, increasing carbon emissions: an anti-nuke’s life’s work

A few years ago I was asked to provide advice to a labour union on the best way to oppose a government policy that would result in thousands of job losses for the union’s members. I took on the engagement with a very strong and personal sense of responsibility. The issue of employment and job security affects millions of people; you read about it all the time, though much of the media commentary focuses on the big numbers and percentages and trends; things that almost make it seem impersonal. But there are also people in my own life who have been touched by at least the prospect of job insecurity. Many people in my life, people close to me whom I care for deeply, talented, energetic, passionate people—family, friends, and significant others—still struggle with it. It affects you in profound ways. It can be frightening and demoralizing.

Unemployment: the most upsetting and existential peacetime issue of our age. If you know someone who is dealing with it, or worrying about dealing with it, be compassionate and cut them some slack. Because there but for the grace of God go you.

In my initial discussions with the new union clients I sensed a quiet, very restrained, but palpable anger about the policy they had asked for advice opposing. I understood what that was about. I know what it is like to worry about people who are colleagues, friends, and family. I put everything I had into that case, and my client succeeded in at least delaying the implementation of the policy. What struck me throughout—as I researched the public opinion environment in which the policy was formulated, and worked with my clients to develop an effective strategy for opposing it—was the callousness, on the part of those who supported and continue to support that policy, toward the thousands of people who will lose their jobs because of it. I am supposed to be a brass-balled consultant, providing objective advice. And I am one. But, though I believe I provided good advice unclouded by personal emotional investment, I found it difficult to be detached about people who would soon be dealing with unemployment.

I wrote yesterday about the coming closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon Vermont. The title of my article, “Vermont Yankee closure means one thing: more carbon in the atmosphere,” made it sound like carbon emissions are the only and most important thing. That is not correct. Yankee’s closure will certainly result in massive new amounts of carbon being dumped into the air. But that is not the only implication of its closure. It does not mean just that one thing. It means 600+ other things. Those 600+ things are jobs, and each one of them is represented by a talented, energetic, passionate human being who soon will be out of work.

This point was made brilliantly, by someone who knows what he is talking about. Jack Gamble, as you will read in a letter to the editor he wrote to the Valley News, which covers news in Vermont and New Hampshire, works at the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey. Though Oyster Creek is licensed to operate to 2029, its owner, Exelon Corporation, has decided to close the plant ten years early. At that point, Jack Gamble and his wife (who also works at the plant) will both lose their jobs. As trained nuclear professionals, they will likely have to move to another community to get employment, uprooting their young daughter in the process.

Like Vermont Yankee, Oyster Creek has its own coterie of anti-nuclear opponents. And like Vermont Yankee, opponents of Oyster Creek celebrated the news that Exelon will close the plant prematurely. They celebrated like it is party time, though six hundred people will soon be dealing with the deeply upsetting and unsettling experience of unemployment. Read Jack’s letter: it is frank and candid, and though it pulls no punches it is remarkably restrained considering it was penned by somebody who will soon be sharing with his entire family the experience of unemployment. Here’s the link again.

Reading Jack’s letter reminded me of my initial conversations with my union clients. Like Jack, my union clients were matter-of-fact, and had to keep their heads in the face of baffling and callous indifference to the impending plight of thousands of people whom they knew. But it was impossible to miss the anger underlying their concern. They had great difficulty accepting that people were celebrating their members’ impending unemployment. I did not blame them for that then, and I don’t blame them today. It is wrong to celebrate somebody’s loss of employment.

And it is impossible for me—still a brass-balled consultant—to not feel similar anger in the case of Vermont Yankee and Oyster Creek. As I said, there are important people in my life right now who are dealing, or have dealt, with actual or prospective unemployment.

The closure of a clean energy employer is a tragedy, on both the human and environmental level. Nobody should celebrate it.

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James Greenidge
10 years ago

No anti-nuker/media empathy at all. The mark of class is that pro-nuclear advocates don’t gloat or party after squeaking through legal challenges to keep plants opem. The bottom line is anti-nukers simply don’t give a wilt what damage they leave in their victory’s wake. They are noble honorable media-approved-and-endorsed shining St. George knights slaying corporate dragons and bogyman monsters. They managed to sway whole populations and crack the whip under politicans. What greater smug high is than that? Never mind if you take the green core of their public healthy/safety belief apart and find bald-faced hypocrites. That’s why I hope Canada doesn’t take a page from the U.S. nuclear handbook and simply keep mum about the merits of nuclear energy. Make sure your people are enlightened and appreciative and grateful for what they have!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Morgan Brown
10 years ago

Thanks Steve, for your thoughtful post. I appreciate the link to Jack’s succinct letter and will post it at work (AECL Chalk River Labs). I wonder what the people of Trois Rivieres think about the demise of Gentilly-2.

And yes, James, there are those of us who respond to comments in the media to try to correct misinformation about nuclear science and technology. It’s soooo easy to be anti-something, making catchy slogans to wind up people. It’s so easy, simplistic and narrow to write “No Nukes Now” with no thought as to a reasonable, practical and economic alternative. My problem, should I have the temerity to stage a pro-nuclear rally, would be to translate “Nuclear power: an energy source with a relatively small environmental footprint that should be part of the energy mix where reasonable and practical” into something a little catchier!


10 years ago

Hey Morgan. How’s this? The energy reality is that nuclear energy has been around 20 Billion years and on Earth 4.5 Billion Years and we discovered it a century ago. The universe has been holding out on us long enough.

10 years ago

If you’re looking for slogans, the simplest are often the best:

Anti-Nuclear Is Pro-Coal


Anti-Nuclear Is Pro-Fracking

You could also point out:

The Navajo Nation sits on $XXX Trillion of Uranium.
Their Great White Anti-Nuke Brothers want them to disown it.
Sound familiar, Kemosabe?

Or this:

(“$XX” means “check the current numbers”.)
– Shutting down all of Japan’s nuclear power stations made $50 billion for the coal industry.
– Shutting down Germany’s nuclear energy industry has made $130 for Chinese solar panel companies, $XX billion for European coal interests, and XX billion for GAZPROM.
– And you demand to know who’s paying MY salary?

Or simpler yet:

Nuclear Energy. Because poor people deserve carbon-free energy, too.

James Greenidge
10 years ago

Today during lunch I caught a program on cable TV called “Strip The City” which takes apart the technology that runs a city. Today Toronto was featured and when they got to what runs Toronto — er, Gee. I didn’t know Toronto runs thanks to Niagara Falls! They spent over a third of the show on it! A mention about nuclear? I must’ve been in the bathroom at the time. Maybe this “overlook” was best because they’d need all that ominious rumbling music and darkly shaded lenses while showing how supernaturally hazardous nukes are while showing nuclear workers trying to keep the dragon barely under control.

With media, nuclear just can’t win!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

David Davison
10 years ago

Good on you Steve. I’m out here in So Cal watching most of my co-workers at San Onofre “go down the road” of unemployment or scramble to find jobs–most of which are either out of state or many miles away. We didn’t think a permanent shut down was likely until it happened so my activity refuting the lies in the editorials was much belated. Accuracy is not a luxury anti-nukes can afford so the end justifies the means. In our case, the liars led the sheep and our disgraceful senator, madam boxer, stuck the knife in. Here at San Onofre we’ve learned quite a bit about the shut down process from Kewaunee, perhaps Vermont Yankee can do the same.
David Davison
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station