Ep 387: Marco Visscher - Author, "Why We Need Not Fear Nuclear Energy"
Anton Van Saase [00:00:48] Well, I almost feel obligated to start in Dutch. Welcome.
Marco Visscher [00:00:54] Thank you.
Anton Van Saase [00:00:55] And, yeah, it's interesting. This is your book, this is your book. Is this now in mirror image or not? I don't know. But anyway, I read your book, and I must admit a fascinating read. I was already talking to some of my colleagues. It would be great if it would actually be published in English as well, because there is definitely some interesting stuff in there which I didn't know.
Marco Visscher [00:01:21] Thanks for saying it. And actually, this is something that could turn into reality fairly soon. I hear there's interest from a publisher based in Canada, and I have a couple sample chapters available. I think there's also interest from Poland. Anyone interested, actually, in seeing these sample chapters and seeing if it's something for a publisher anywhere, I mean, that would be fantastic, of course. Because it is never intended to be a Dutch book. So, yeah, glad to hear.
Anton Van Saase [00:01:58] I thought it was an interesting read, especially you going back to, basically, the late 1800s, I guess, which is more than 100 years ago, which is not what most people would think on like, "Okay, this is when all this stuff already started." So, that was an interesting part of it, I thought. And then of course, the whole development going through the ages on ultimately where it ended up right now. So, how did you come about writing this book and on this particular topic? Because I also understand that you did not start out as somebody who was in favor of nuclear energy, if I may say so.
Marco Visscher [00:02:45] Growing up, or as a young adult, I was never interested in nuclear, really. The disaster in Chernobyl happened when I was 10, just before my 10th birthday. And I have no memories at all of news coverage or so. Oddly enough, I do have memories of Maradona beating England at the World Cup that summer. So, it's strange how these things go in memory.
Marco Visscher [00:03:14] But even though I was never interested in nuclear and didn't know much about it, I did have an opinion and I didn't like it at all. When I was a young journalist, I was working for an alternative magazine. And as I was researching my book, I stumbled upon an article I wrote and it was published in the year 2000. And so, there had been climate talks and the nuclear industry was present at that climate summit. And they were presenting nuclear as safe and clean and the solution to climate change. And I wrote about this. I was pretty upset with that, really. I wrote about the worrying return of nuclear. And I was writing that there was overwhelming evidence that nuclear has nothing good to offer to people and nature. My last sentence was, "Now is the time to kill the nuclear industry before it will ruin the planet," or something like that. To me, it was just very obvious that nuclear was not an answer.
Marco Visscher [00:04:31] Back then, I was part of the anti-globalization movement. This was the early 2000s, right? So, this was a movement around Naomi Klein and Adbusters. There was the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in Brazil, where I was. And I think nuclear only entered my thinking thanks to a book that had nothing to do with nuclear or energy or climate. This was a book by Peter Singer, and Peter Singer is a moral philosopher from Australia. He wrote a book, The Animal Liberation in the late 1970s, sparking the movement of vegetarians and vegans.
Marco Visscher [00:05:15] And around, I think, 2010 or so, he wrote a book called The Life You Can Save. And with that book, he sparked a new movement, a movement of effective altruism, which is sort of an evidence-based way of looking at doing good for the world, if you will. He was making a moral call on people to give more of their income to people in poor countries. And when doing so, have a good look at what you donate to and make sure that it has the most benefit to most people. There are organizations sort of calculating all this.
Marco Visscher [00:06:01] That had quite an impact on me, not just in donating to good causes, but also in looking at the world, I guess, looking at policy. But basically, it boils down to the question what works, right? As an environmental journalist, I would ask the question, "So on climate policy, what works?" Basically, a lot of climate policy is still based on the hope that expanding ever more wind and solar and using biomass and turning a blind eye to carbon emissions of biomass, that if we expand wind and solar far enough, then that's climate policy. That's the way to reduce carbon emissions. But if you look at what works, you look at countries where they have relatively low carbon emissions, those are mostly thanks to nuclear and hydro, of course.
Anton Van Saase [00:07:08] I think France is a prime example there. Actually too, I think it's quite interesting. I was talking to an English colleague of mine last week when I was in the Netherlands. And he's like, "Yeah, I was here in The Hague in 1997. There was a protest." And I looked it up and the Kyoto Protocol was actually already in 1997 when all this stuff was going on. Now we're what, 25 years past and you have to ask yourself, "Okay, what changed? What really changed over this 25 year period?" And I think the world has lost a lot of time with decarbonization, with looking into all these issues. You know, everything I think should be part of the solution. And upfront, excluding certain solutions, I think is a mistake.
Anton Van Saase [00:08:00] Now, I think your book kind of like goes in that direction a little bit as well. You know, it's solar; yes, of course, very important and it can play a major role. The same thing with wind. But the Netherlands, of course, has a big advantage when it comes to wind because it is on the North Sea. There's always a lot of wind. Believe me, I grew up there, and I've been there. But then you also have certain countries where that is not the case. And so, what do those countries do? And it's an interesting, complex problem to solve. And excluding certain things, I think, is definitely a bad decision.
Anton Van Saase [00:08:41] So in that respect, I think some of the items you lay out in your book, facts and fiction... I was still living in the Netherlands, for example, when Chernobyl happened. And I'm a little older, I'll have to admit this here on camera. So, I vividly remember a lot of this stuff. And you start digging into it a little bit more deeply, and now even with Fukushima, and I think you indicated that in the book as well, that the facts are not exactly in alliance with the way it's being portrayed in the media and what the facts really are. So, that was actually enlightening to to read.
Anton Van Saase [00:09:23] So, how did you go about the research? What sources did you go after? How did you find all this information? And what is your thinking of why the people who are anti-nuclear have such a relatively loud voice compared to the people who are more neutral and pro?
Marco Visscher [00:09:54] It wasn't only Peter Singer's book that put me on the path of nuclear, because I think around that time I also got familiar with the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank based in the Bay Area, where I used to work actually, and live at the time. Because the magazine I worked for, an independent magazine, we had English language editions and our editorial office was in San Francisco.
Marco Visscher [00:10:22] And at the Breakthrough Institute, I don't think at that time they had coined the term ecomodernism, but by now ecomodernism is a well-established school of thought within environmentalism. The idea being very simple, really. It's allowing for global prosperity and trying to have food production or production of energy on as little land as possible, basically, so we can create some more space for nature to thrive.
Marco Visscher [00:10:59] In the beginning, well, there wasn't much about nuclear, actually, at that time. I think that only came later on. But I was really inspired by by ecomodernism. And in the Netherlands, I coauthored a book on ecomodernism. I did not write the chapter on nuclear energy then. This was in 2017 or so. And in 2018 I wrote a book called The Energy Transition. And in that book, I had a closer look at renewables and where are we with climate policy. And in that book, I was trying to make sense of the debate because it was hotly debated back then. And so I was, in my book, trying to explain what do people mean when they say "It's very cheap," or, "It's very expensive? Or, what do they mean when they say, "It's totally doable," or, "It can be done with just wind and solar." So, I was sort of giving information. The readers could make up their own mind only all the way at the end.
Marco Visscher [00:12:04] In the afterword, I sort of wrote where my thinking was. And my thinking was that wind and solar well, it's not enough, and we need something else, something bigger. And that's where I am still very hesitant. I think I wrote something like, "Maybe it's time for us to reconsider nuclear." I think I even added, "It's not a magic bullet." I would say there are still many concerns about safety. And I remember my publisher wanting me to write more about nuclear, but I was not at all ready then. But can you imagine? I was already familiar with ecomodernism for, well, the better half of a decade, but I was still not so much prepared to look at nuclear as more than a necessary evil.
Marco Visscher [00:13:04] It's like, okay, nuclear is not great, but we probably need it, so let's accept it. I was not very positive at all. And I think that really changed when my book came out. And just the week following that book, the leader of the Liberal Party in the Netherlands in government was saying, "We might need nuclear after all." And then I thought, "Okay, well, now I really have to look into it." And then it's not really that difficult. I mean, look at all the pro-nuclear advocates. It's fairly simple, right? It's the lowest carbon emissions of all energy sources along with wind, of course. Very few resources needed and minerals. A long lifetime for nuclear power plants. The safety record is much better than many assume. So, it's fairly simple, but I think it was when I read the book The Rise of Nuclear Fear by Spencer Weart. I think that book really got me hooked. I think you guys have interviewed Spencer Weart.
Anton Van Saase [00:14:25] Yeah, I would have to check. Bret has done a lot of episodes.
Marco Visscher [00:14:31] It's a fantastic book. It's like a cultural history of nuclear. Writing about how nuclear or radiation was perceived in pop culture, in Hollywood movies, et cetera. And that really made me realize that we need to look into nuclear fear and the suspicion that many people have when it comes to nuclear. Whether it's the waste or accidents or just radiation, there are so many concerns. And there are many pro-nuclear folks who say it's irrational. But actually, is it irrational? So much has been written and we've seen so many movies that it kind of makes sense for many people to be scared of nuclear.
Anton Van Saase [00:15:24] I always find it interesting, especially to people who are against nuclear, always the first thing that comes up is the waste. Well, any form of of generating electricity has a certain level of waste. You can argue maybe hydro has hardly any but, you know, you build a dam, something is going to get ruined because you suddenly build a lake for water. And there are plenty of examples where villages disappeared, et cetera. I think in China, you have a lot of issues with some of the dams there. So, there are some issues there.
Anton Van Saase [00:15:59] If you burn gas or coal or anything else, well, you just have a chimney and it just disappears into the atmosphere and nobody sees it. And therefore, you get almost the feeling people just ignore it. While if you have nuclear waste, it's a relatively small amount, but you can see it. It's not something which just disappears in the air. And if you've got solar panels, well, after 15 or 20 years when they don't work anymore, they go into either a landfill or something has to happen with them. The same thing with windmills. So there is ultimately, no matter how you look at it, any way of forming or creating energy is going to create some waste. And it's just, I think with nuclear, it's actually very well managed in that it's just not being thrown away. It's actually being stored. You know exactly where it is. And therefore, you can almost argue it's less polluting than some of the other forms.
Anton Van Saase [00:17:01] But then again, that is obviously my view. A lot of people look at it from a different point of view. But there are a number of these elements where, almost, if you are in favor, maybe you're looking at very positive and if you're against it, then you come up with whatever argument you can find to say, "Okay, this is bad because." But I think in your book, it clearly identifies well with what are the facts and what is the fiction, right?
Marco Visscher [00:17:32] Yeah. And it's a bit selective. The concerns about nuclear energy are a bit selective. There are so many sources of industrial waste that should raise many more concerns, but still, the focus will be on nuclear waste, as if we don't have the perfect way to deal with this waste. Probably better maintained. And how do you say it? It has never harmed anyone or the natural environment because we keep it out of the environment. And this is probably not the case for the chemical industry, for instance, or obviously not other energy sources where a lot of pollution is just spewed into the atmosphere, of course. There is some selectiveness around nuclear.
Anton Van Saase [00:18:28] So, another question here. After you wrote this book, did you get any reaction from old friends, colleagues, et cetera? Because as you mentioned earlier, you came out of an environment where nuclear was not looked upon very favorably. I assume those people are still friends, colleagues, et cetera. What kind of responses did you get after you wrote this book?
Marco Visscher [00:18:57] Pretty friendly and good responses, I should say. Now, it's interesting. I mean, some of my friends aren't interested in or weren't interested in nuclear, and I may have sparked some enthusiasm over the past years, of course, as I was researching this book. I'm thinking now of a friend of mine who doesn't like nuclear and will never like nuclear. I think he represents a small portion of our society of people whose opinions you won't change from nuclear. We've kind of left the topic. We just don't talk about nuclear anymore. And that totally fine. I mean, he's a great guy and very knowledgeable in all sorts of ways. And let me also add, while I think he's being irrational, when we were discussing nuclear, I might be irrational on other topics. I find myself very rational when I think of nuclear. That's what we all think of ourselves, right? So, even the smartest person can be sort of vulnerable for, I guess, being blinded somewhat and just refusing to have an open mind when it comes to nuclear.
Marco Visscher [00:20:34] But overall responses have been great and reviews as well. I must say, I've been pretty blessed with the attention the book has been getting so far. So, that's great. I think this book is probably different from any other pro-nuclear books because there's so much story telling in here, right?
Anton Van Saase [00:20:57] Well, I thought it was interesting, as I mentioned earlier, the book actually goes back all the way to the late 1800s and how things developed and how we ultimately ended up where we are right now. So, it puts a number of things into, actually, I thought, a very interesting context.
Marco Visscher [00:21:19] My first chapter starts with the atomic bomb, which is probably not... Well, it's not the most likely beginning of a book that is pro-nuclear, ultimately. But thanks to Spencer Weart's book, The Rise of Nuclear Fear, I realized I needed to learn more about the atomic bomb because I didn't know much about it. Spencer Weart makes a very convincing case. What is the term he uses? Psychologists call it displacement. Nuclear war was such a frightening idea back in the 1950s and '60s, for instance, that it was too frightening to even consider and think about. So what we did when nuclear reactors were built, is that we sort of moved our concerns about nuclear warfare onto nuclear reactors and nuclear waste because it was easier to think about that and to protest against nuclear power plants rather than nuclear weapons.
Marco Visscher [00:22:27] So I read another fantastic book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. It was like 800, 900 pages or so. And it's such a fantastic book. And I realized the importance of storytelling and introducing characters and places. So in my book, I'm taking readers into the pilot seats of the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. But also to the deathbed of Leonid Toptunov, who was 25 when he was working at the reactor in Chernobyl. And he caused it to explode by following the orders of his grumpy superiors.
Anton Van Saase [00:23:13] Yes, yes.
Marco Visscher [00:23:14] And I'm writing about this place in Finland where highly radioactive waste will be enclosed. And so yeah, all this storytelling, it's fantastic to be able to write in a vivid, lively manner about this and not just focus so much on data and statistics and graphs. They will surely convince some people. I think they've convinced me, for instance. But I think if you take the concerns and the suspicion in our society, if you take it seriously, I think it helps to take readers on a journey, basically, and let them see where their concerns are coming from. And even for pro-nuclear folks, I think it kind of makes sense to be more interested in where these deep-rooted emotions are coming from, their own emotions as well, by the way. Because we've always dreamed of this eternal source of clean energy that can power the whole world, right?
Anton Van Saase [00:24:30] I was in the Netherlands last week just for a number of reasons. And there's a lot of talk shows, obviously, on the TV in the Netherlands. Have you gotten any invitations to talk about any of this? Are you expecting something? Do you think this is not really on people's mind? The government, at this point in time, is rolling out potentially building a number of nuclear power plants in the Netherlands.
Marco Visscher [00:24:57] There's been some. Mostly radio and podcast, not on TV. I guess I'm not in the Rolodex for journalists working for TV. But yeah, in the Netherlands, the Dutch government has decided to prepare the construction of two new nuclear power plants. And that's quite a breakthrough, really. If you consider that our neighboring countries, we have two neighboring countries, Germany and Belgium, and they both want to close down their nuclear fleet. And then there's us, the Dutch. We only have one nuclear power plant. It's from the early 1970s. It's a small one. I guess you could consider it small.
Anton Van Saase [00:25:47] Relatively small, yes.
Marco Visscher [00:25:48] Yeah, yeah, exactly. And now we're suddenly having these plants to roll out nuclear more. That was, well in a way surprising, because for a very, very long time nuclear was just not on the table here in the Netherlands. It's less surprising if you consider that a majority of people in the Netherlands are in favor of nuclear. Actually, I've seen opinion polls around Europe showing this over and over again. A majority of people support nuclear. It's a small, small part that opposes it. It's a small part that's very much in favor of nuclear. And there's a large part in between where people think, "Yeah, it's probably a good idea. Let's do this." And there's a smaller part saying, "I am not so sure. It's probably not a good idea." But those people in the middle, ultimately, they're the most interesting people to be talking to, right?
Marco Visscher [00:26:56] I'm not on Twitter, but there's so much talk between the antis and the pros. I think it's kind of pointless. I think as a pro-nuclear community, we should be speaking to the people in the middle. Because in Parliament as well, we have a majority of parliamentary seats in favor of nuclear. But I sometimes worry that support is kind of feeble. It's not that many political parties are banging on about nuclear being great. The pro-nuclear community in the Netherlands may already consider their work done. "Oh, we're going to build nuclear power plants. That's fantastic. Our job is done." But I think we can expect quite some protests still, and politics may actually change their minds.
Anton Van Saase [00:27:53] I have no particular issue if somebody wants to be against nuclear, but then the question also needs to be, "Well, what's your plan? How do you think that you want to do it?" And don't tell me, "Oh, we're going to build a battery with a windmill and a solar panel," because that is not realistic. Yes, it has its place, but like I said, I was in Netherlands last week. Monday, Tuesday, hardly any wind, fairly cloudy. I'm like, "I don't think there's going to be a lot of power generation at this point in time from windmills or solar panels." And then it has to come from somewhere, right? And I think if you see what's going on in Germany or in Belgium, I am still absolutely amazed that a green party is actually increasing their burning of coal and brown coal or something in order to generate electricity. That they can get away with that and think that is okay, to me, is absolutely amazing.
Marco Visscher [00:29:01] You're very right. And I just wanted to say that I heard you talk about wind and solar now a couple of times criticizing wind and solar. I see that a lot within the pro-nuclear community. And while I think I understand it, I think we should be well aware that the real fight is not against these renewables, it is against fossil fuels.
Anton Van Saase [00:29:23] I was not criticizing it, I absolutely believe it has a place. But to think that it's going to work for a hundred percent of the time, that is, I think, where the problem is. And if somebody can give me a solution, a realistic solution, which would make that all work, then yeah, okay, go for it. But I don't think that is there. The whole electricity production and how it's being used, et cetera, is still for a lot of people, probably a little bit of a mystery on how it all works and how you can make it all... Because it's basically supply and demand that need to be instantly set against each other. And that is not the way it works with gas or even if you've got water coming out your tap or a lot of other stuff, which is like you can put it in storage or in a water tower or whatever, and you get it when you need it. Well, electricity is a little bit more complicated. And that's where I think the the challenge is. And however we get there, it's fine.
Anton Van Saase [00:30:33] Again as I mentioned, I think all these elements have their place. And the Netherlands is blessed with being close to the North Sea, so they have a lot of space where they can put windmills in the North Sea. Great spot, great way of doing it. But not every country has that opportunity. And then it becomes a little bit more tricky on how they're going to do it. And of course also, in the Netherlands, at 7:30 in the morning or 7:00 in the morning in the winter, there's not going to be a lot of sunlight either. So, there have to be some some solutions.
Anton Van Saase [00:31:06] And maybe hydrogen is, and there's, of course, a lot of talk about hydrogen in the Netherlands. And I think hydrogen probably will have its place as well, but you still need to generate hydrogen. And then the whole discussion goes back to, "Okay, we need electricity." And how are you going to do all that? So, it's a complex story, and I think everything has to be part of the mix. And then I go back to what I said earlier. I think we should not exclude any of the solutions at this point in time, but should look at it from a realistic point of view and say, "Okay, can we use it? What are the benefits? What are the risks? And how are we going to go about it?" That's ultimately the way this works.
Anton Van Saase [00:31:48] So, what do you think of the way Belgium and Germany and some of the other countries are looking at that versus some of the other countries? What do you think is behind it or what is the cause of some of the total pro or total against? It always seems to be very hard to have like a neutral stance on it for whatever reason.
Marco Visscher [00:32:13] Yeah, it's a real shame that Germany and Belgium are closing down nuclear power plants. I guess you have to come from those countries in order to really understand it. What I see a lot when it comes to Germany is that people will say, "Oh, in Germany there is this whole tradition of naturalness and of Rudolf Steiner and his Waldorf schools and these philosophies." I guess that's true to some extent, but there's a whole other part of German culture that is very much a technology culture. There's heavy industry in Germany. It's been there for a long, long time. Artificial fertilizer is coming from Germany, you know? You would think Germans are proud of that part of their culture as well. But still, it seems like maybe the naturalness is sort of taking over.
Marco Visscher [00:33:14] Well, there is some contradiction within the German culture here, I think. And in Belgium, I don't know. I mean, this is a country where just two nuclear power plants, one with three reactors, the other with four, has been able to keep out fossil fuels for many, many decades. But now that they're finally closing them after a decision made 20 years ago or so, they're making plans to open new natural gas plants. I mean, this is crazy.
Anton Van Saase [00:33:53] By a green party. I think that kind of like the funny part. Funny part of it, almost like a sad part of it. I don't know how they explain that to their voters if you a green party and you to protect the environment. So, I guess the way that they look at that is different than maybe...
Marco Visscher [00:34:15] Well, what they say is, "Oh, these natural gas plants are only temporary." But you know, everything in life is temporary, right? Once you have them, how difficult will it be to get rid of them?
Anton Van Saase [00:34:29] It's probably not going to be easy. That's probably not going to be easy. So yeah, it's interesting. Of course, the discussion is now going on as well within the European Union about hydrogen production, whether hydro production is green or not. The Germans take the position if it's produced using power from a nuclear power plant it's not green. The French are obviously saying it's green electricity, so therefore if you use electricity from a nuclear power plant to make hydrogen, it's green hydrogen. To me, it's a bizarre debate, an absolutely bizarre debate. But I guess there is a philosophical background on all that.
Marco Visscher [00:35:07] Yeah, yeah. Well, I sometimes think it'll be inevitable that nuclear power will be on the rise again. If you look at the world, there is so much need for energy in poor and upcoming countries. I'm thinking of Asian and African countries, and it will be better for them to skip fossil fuels whenever they can. But then again, wind and solar will increase as well. Maybe hydro power as well. There's still quite some potential in Africa for big hydro contracts. Natural gas will increase as well. And I don't think... Well, it's very unlikely that coal will increase as well. There is just so much need for energy. So yes, nuclear will grow. But will grow enough to keep up with the growing demand? And I think we need to step up dramatically here.
Anton Van Saase [00:36:05] So, what is your view about the regulatory environment? Because you mentioned it in your book a little bit as well where I thought it was an interesting read about the fruit flies and how we got to ALARA. If you compare, for example, some of the regulatory requirements and environment around nuclear compared to other forms of industry, you mentioned earlier chemical, you've got, of course, coal, gas, et cetera, it seems to be almost out of balance. How do you feel about those kinds of thing or where do you see that go when it comes to is that realistic? Is the regulatory environment, do you think it has gone too far? Or do you say no, it needs to be where it needs to be?
Marco Visscher [00:37:03] Nuclear power has such a great track record of safety, but still, the whole industry is focused on being safer all the time, all the time. There's such a safety culture, and I think that has gone too far. Actually, Bret Kugelmass inspired me very much with his talk that I watched on YouTube. I think it's A Revisionist History of Nuclear, or so. I forget the title of the talk, but he is making a crucial point here that the nuclear industry is just making more money for selling safety updates for existing reactors than for building new ones. Basically, their whole business is around safety. If you would go to a website of any business in nuclear power, you will see safety. It's everywhere. It's everywhere. In my book, I think I write somewhere that with such an industry, you hardly need an anti movement, right? Because their language is sometimes even the same. It's ridiculous.
Marco Visscher [00:38:20] I'm very critical of the nuclear industry. I think my opponents really hate that because I don't have any involvement in the nuclear industry. And I'm a green one; I'm a progressive leaning guy. And I'm not even paid by the nuclear industry. The nuclear industry is also so poor at communication. I mean, how they communicate about their... It's a marvelous technology, but still it's just insane to see how they screw up.
Anton Van Saase [00:38:55] And in all honesty, actually, if you look at the process, it's actually relatively simple. I sometimes feel like, also, a lot of the nuclear plants were built in the in the '60s and early '70s. Computer technology in those days was rudimentary at best compared to what it is right now. That's why you always see these control rooms of a nuclear power plant and you're looking at all the older analog systems, et cetera. Nowadays, there's probably more computing power in your cell phone compared to a complete control room there. So, the technology has advanced so much and it seems to be... People who are against nuclear, they completely ignore that element as well.
Anton Van Saase [00:39:43] Because the technology itself is relatively simple. Nowadays, the computer powers, the models, the computer models and how they can simulate what's happening and how to control it, et cetera, is so advanced. They know exactly what's going on compared to the '50s and '60s where, sometimes like, "Oh you know, I'm not so sure." And Harrisburg, of course, is a prime example. When I spoke to one of the design engineers years ago who was actually involved in building the Three Mile Island facilities, they're telling me, at that in those days, having an IO, basically a control input, was a million dollars in your computer system, so they were trying to minimize them. Nowadays, it's what, ten cents to put something in?
Anton Van Saase [00:40:34] So, the level of control on these facilities is enormously increased. And people who are worried about safety, I sometimes feel like they are completely ignoring the technological advance which has been made over the years. But again, obviously, I'm not against nuclear. I think it's a marvelous technology which should definitely be used and not ignored. And it should be valued on its merits and not on myth, on perception.
Marco Visscher [00:41:09] It's funny to hear you say that nuclear technology is so simple. I mean, it is so complicated at the same time, I guess. And to many people it feels so unnatural. It's probably so different from any other way of producing energy we've known from the past. And the technology, it may be strange to say, but technology doesn't interest me so much. I'm not the kind of guy whom you would want to... I'm not going to drive a nuclear reactor or so. That's not my background; it's not where my interest is. My interest is in the social story, the cultural history.
Marco Visscher [00:41:53] There are so many aspects of nuclear energy that I find so much more fascinating than the technology, which may be why I'm... Well, you may have noticed this, Anton, in my book. I'm somewhat skeptical of all this innovation going on. Not in the sense that I am against innovation, but I just think that all this talk about innovation, and especially the talk within the small pro-nuclear community discussing what is the best accident tolerant fuel or which moderator to use, et cetera, I think it gives a message to a broader audience thinking, "Oh gosh, there must be something seriously wrong with our current nuclear reactors that these folks are discussing all these things that probably need improvement. Because why would they otherwise talk about this?"
Anton Van Saase [00:42:48] That was actually a very interesting element in your book, the way the industry deals with it, kind of like messaging that what we currently have is not safe. France has been running these plants forever, and there's never been anything serious going on there. And they've got a lot of them. Same thing in the United States other than Three Mile Island. At a time, there were more than 100 nuclear power plants producing a lot of power.
Anton Van Saase [00:43:18] I think sometimes the industry decided to... And that goes back to what Bret said as well. You reinvent the wheel. You come up with a new technology because we have to do research again. We have to come up with all kinds of... Ultimately, it's a proposition to make money by developing a new technology. You get subsidies from governments, et cetera. And in the end, the existing technology was actually simple and perfectly fine.
Marco Visscher [00:43:50] Or just look at how the nuclear industry deals with the nuclear waste. They're not saying, "Oh, we have this fantastic source of energy still sitting here on our site. And we can repurpose this in our reactors." No, they bury it underground, like 500 meters deep or so, and they stuff it with all things, you know, clay and whatever. How do you ever convince people that nuclear waste is not really dangerous if you bury it 500 meters deep? That's like a burial, what we're doing here.
Anton Van Saase [00:44:28] Yeah. And ultimately I think the reprocessing, because there's so much energy still left in the material, reprocessing is, ultimately, in my mind, something we should be doing. Of course, there are some concerns there about proliferation, et cetera, but I think those fears nowadays should be a lot less than they were like 20 or 30 years ago. But a lot of these decisions are also political. And that's where it becomes, of course, interesting where you've got this interaction between the technology and the people who are looking at it from a pure technical point of view and people who are looking at it more from a social-economical point of view. You've got very interesting viewpoints, and depending on where you are and how you look at it, having a different view on this. It's quite interesting.
Anton Van Saase [00:45:23] I think you have a nice balance of that in your book as well where you have, on one hand, some of the technical background to people who came up with the technology versus how it's being perceived by the population. And I still think, growing up in the Netherlands myself, you had the United States on one side, you had Russia on the other side. So, I think most of the Europeans always felt like, "Okay, if there's ever going to be a nuclear war, it's going to be happening here." That's an element, you of course, can not completely...
Marco Visscher [00:45:58] I do think these historical elements are essential to understanding our emotions. Like, radioactivity was discovered when doctors didn't even wash their hands. The atomic bomb was dropped in a war in which the army in Poland was trying to fight off the Germans on horseback wielding bayonets. The first nuclear reactors in the 1950s, they were heavily promoted by governments producing nuclear weapons. But they were built in a time when there was no color TV. And this is just to say that nuclear power was always sort of ahead of society, and perhaps we were never ready for something so different, so revolutionary. And that may be why we still don't really understand nuclear powers so well.
Marco Visscher [00:46:58] It's funny, you've probably heard this, right? That nuclear power comes too late. Well maybe, the problem is not that it comes too late, the problem may be that nuclear power came too early.
Anton Van Saase [00:47:13] Yes. I thought that was an interesting proposition you had in the book. And I actually kind of agreed with that. It was ahead of its time where people... The association with nuclear bombs, because that was the manifestation. And then you see the things they did in the '60s, that association is very hard to get rid of. It's just the way it is, so.
Anton Van Saase [00:47:38] Anyway, I think our time is actually coming to an end here. But I really want to thank you for this conversation. As I mentioned, I read your book with a lot of interest. I actually read it in one go, believe it or not. It was a good read. It definitely kept my attention, and I can definitely recommend it to people who have a chance. And I'll look forward that there is actually going to be an English version because then my colleagues here in the United States can read it as well.
Anton Van Saase [00:48:08] And especially the historical background, I thought was very interesting. And as I just mentioned as well, it's not all about the technology. It's also about the background and how people who are not technical are looking at this from a different viewpoint, and it's good to understand where it all comes about. So, I think you did a very nice job in the book in that respect.
Marco Visscher [00:48:34] Thanks. Thanks for seeing that. And thanks for having me.
Anton Van Saase [00:48:37] Yes, no problem. Thank you very much. Have a good one.