In Perspective: Energy Poverty, Climate Change, and The Nuclear Challenge

Episode 18

Zion Lights

Science Communicator and Author of The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting and Only a Moment

In Perspective: Energy Poverty, Climate Change, and The Nuclear Challenge

In this episode, Zion Lights walks us through her journey into environmental and pro-nuclear activism and sheds light on the intersection of science advocacy and social justice in relation to climate change.

Note: This transcript is the raw transcript of this podcast. Minimal edits have been made only for clarity purposes.

Zion Lights (00:10):

It’s just that we need the solutions now. So I’m trying to engage those groups now to go beyond just believing in it and actually advocating for it and also just creating a space to say, we do get to do this as climate activists. We have climate science on our side. 

Narrator (00:26):

Did you know that there are half a million metric tons of nuclear waste temporarily stored at hundreds of sites worldwide? In the U.S. alone, one in three people live within 50 miles of a storage site. No country has yet successfully disposed of commercial spent nuclear fuel, but it’s not for lack of a solution. So what’s the delay? The answers are complex and controversial. In this series, we explore the nuclear waste issue with people representing various pieces of this complicated puzzle. We hope this podcast will give you a clearer picture of Nuclear Waste: The Whole Story

We believe that listening is an important element of a successful nuclear waste disposal program. A core company value is to seek and listen to different perspectives. Opinions expressed by the interviewers and their subjects are not necessarily representative of the company. If there’s a topic discussed in the podcast that is unfamiliar to you, or you’d like to more closely review what was said, please see the show notes at deepisolation.com/podcasts.

Kari Hulac (01:48):

Hello, I’m Kari Hulac, Deep Isolation Communications Manager. My guest today is Zion Lights, a British author and environmental activist. She’s the co-founder of Emergency Reactor, a new effort to raise awareness around the importance of nuclear energy and the fight against climate change. In 2020, she worked as UK director of the group Environmental Progress by Michael Shellenberger. Welcome Zion. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Zion Lights (02:18):

Thanks so much for having me on today. 

Kari Hulac (02:20):

Let’s start by you sharing your journey on the road to becoming an environmental activist. You’ve described yourself as caring deeply about the earth since you were a child and said you had eco anxiety, so maybe share what that is and why do you think you’ve always felt that way?

Zion Lights (02:39):

I was quite young when I first learned about global warming at school, which is what we called it at the time. And I did have a kind of eco anxiety. I used to have nightmares that everything was going to go under water and my parents didn’t really know what to do with me and they didn’t understand it. And actually generally then it wasn’t very well understood anyway, and people didn’t really seem concerned about it. So I started getting involved with the campaign and then trying to get my parents to recycle and going vegetarian. I was quite young you know, sort of 10, 11, and I think they just find it very annoying and they didn’t really understand what I was doing. So that was the beginning. It wasn’t until I left home at 18 for university work, sort of found a group of people who had similar concerns and we’d set up our first group. And then I, from there, I kind of got involved with a lot of different activism over the years.

Kari Hulac (03:26):

And what did you study at university? Did you follow that path for your education?

Zion Lights (03:31):

No, I actually studied English Literature. I come from an art background, but then later I went on to do a Master’s in Science Communication because I came more interested in science and that actually, that’s a big part of, you know, what we need to be talking about. And I was kind of a lucky in a way that I didn’t, you know people often ask me “are you really interested in science, are you really excited about this, why didn’t you study it?” As a kid who actually grew up in a very poor inner city area where we didn’t have very good education options and I really didn’t learn very much at school, so science was not really an option for someone of my background at that time.

Kari Hulac (04:07):

And then how did having children impact your environmentalism and lead you to write a book on green parenting? What were you hoping to convey to your readers with that book?

Zion Lights (04:16):

It’s interesting because I think a lot of people now are kind of thinking about not wanting to have children and how awful it is, how awful the world is. And you know, why would you want to bring kids into this world? And I feel like I got a lot of that of my system when I was younger and I was really worried. And then getting involved with the groups and taking action and having some gains. I know that there haven’t been enough gains over the years but things have been shifting. That’s actually made me more hopeful and more likely to bring children into the world, which I did. And what I found with that was that I had children and I wanted to do, you know, teach them about the environment and climate change and they would just know about at the time. 

Zion Lights (04:55):

My oldest daughter is 10 and there’s a lot more literature out there now for them, as you know, they’re learning about climate change at school and there’s so much now, but when I first had her, there was really nothing. And the kind of green parenting books I was reading didn’t really have a lot of useful information. So I authored the book on green parenting to help other parents like me who might want to help teach their kids about things and also live with a low carbon footprint as a family. That was, you know, kind of what everyone was talking about doing, but it’s much harder if you have children. But also I think, you know, people think what’s the point? If you have children, they’re bringing emissions into the world, but actually having three children is seen as kind of a sustainable number because we have this kind of aging population. So I don’t think it’s really about number of people anyway. I think we got a bit distracted talking about that. I think it’s about how we live and act something really.

Kari Hulac (05:52):

And so there’s, you know, obviously it’s a huge topic. The topic of environmentalists being supportive of nuclear energy as being key in the fight against climate change. So when did you first become passionate about that type of energy source? Was there a point where you were against it and you changed over, or tell us about your journey to being such a passionate supporter of clean energy?

Zion Lights (06:20):

So for the most part, most of my life, I was against it. When you join these kind of green groups, everybody’s against it and you’re all just against it. I noticed there was a difference between me and other people in some of these groups, because also for example, in the green parenting community, a lot of people were anti-vaccination and I never was. I always kind of understood the value and the need, but I was kind of different because there were things about my kids that they didn’t approve of. So I noticed quite early on, I had some different ideas and I thought maybe that’s, you know, from a very different background or immigrant, you know, a group that grew up very poor in the city of Birmingham. Maybe I have a different understanding of things and sort of then led to the energy revelation for me, which is that I was kind of against and I was writing a book on how to live with less energy.

Zion Lights (07:06):

I agree people should, we really should be less wasteful. It’s not to say that other countries shouldn’t have a lot of money and lots of energy like we have, right? We’re very energy rich. We’re very lucky, you switch the light switch on and you expect light to come on, you don’t have to have to live in darkness. You don’t have to wash your clothes by hand. And I have an understanding about this because that’s what my parents came from and that’s what they left behind. It’s very hard for them to be kind in their 60s because they left all their family and all their culture behind for a country that they knew nothing about. You know, they came to Britain because there was this big industrial boom in Birmingham at the time they were lots of jobs, these factory jobs.

Zion Lights (07:45):

You know, I always had this kind of understanding of why they left this behind with their home really. It’s quite a phenomenal thing to do and to come here and not have the support networks that are really important in their communities. They did it because they wanted high energy lifestyles, right? They wanted lifestyles where, you know, people have access to things you don’t have back in a little village in the Punjab in India and billions of people around the world live like that. When you talk about poverty, it’s energy poverty really. And so, although I’ve always cared about climate change, I was also involved in lots of other groups. When I was a teenager, I was in Amnesty International. I was in War on Want. I cared about these issues as well. But what I started noticing was that there wasn’t a lot of joining up between kind of the green group and the human rights groups.

Zion Lights (08:33):

And to me, these are actually really just the same issues. And if we care about the people and planet, you know, you can’t separate people out from nature. So when I started realizing I was wrong about nuclear, you know, people, it was a friend of mine who’s an engineer sent me something about, specifically about Fukushima, which I had been assumed killed lots of people. And he sent me this research very clearly said, no one died because of a nuclear melt down, they died because of the tsunami and earthquake. It was really really big thing for me because I believed completely the wrong thing for years. I’ve told people the wrong thing and I felt bad. And I was like, oh, maybe I’m a bit like the anti-vaxxers and I have the wrong view. So I started looking into it more. 

Zion Lights (09:12):

He was very helpful and he was very good at, you know, not pushing me, but if I asked for resources then you know, it was really getting into science anyway and thinking, oh, well everyone should know these facts. But what I noticed was when I’d go to my green friends and tell them, they simply don’t want to know that. They’d say, who’s gotten to? We don’t want to know that. And I kind of went, oh no, this is different. And then I would say to them, you know, I understand about saying people here should live with us, but what about people in developing countries? This is where the real point came for me. And I became passionate about energy because their arguments are “you don’t get to develop that to have what we have because we, we mess things up.”

Zion Lights (09:52):

And I don’t agree with that. I have all these relatives in India who want what we have, right? They want lighting that works. And it’s not just about lighting. When you think about energy, we’re so used to it. We don’t think about how we only have this infrastructure and a high quality of life because we had lots of energy, which was like, Hey, we had lots of consequences and lots of fossil fuels. What if we could have gone without consequences? And wouldn’t that still be a good thing? It means you get to live longer and healthier. You live longer, you have the air quality, you know, you have access to education, you have infrastructure that allows you access to hospitals which don’t have blackouts, which are really bad blackouts. But when I started realizing that nuclear was not as dangerous as I’ve been led to believe, fossil fuel are as dangerous as I’ve always known.

Zion Lights (10:37):

I realized, Hey, we should reach out. Before we’ve been kind of tricked against this thing that could actually displace fossil fuels. Which renewables can too, but then renewables still need that baseload power which is nuclear. So I became passionate about it really because of energy poverty, because I thought, someone needs to have these opinions out there because these countries now, you know, as you’ll have seen around Cop 26 saying India is so bad, not phasing out coal. Well can we really say that to them? I understand we need to phase out coal. Then they’re going to need lots of energy so that they can develop infrastructure the way we did when we did burning vast amounts of fossil fuels. And actually they do need that, they’re really important. Literally because these other countries in the global south are going to suffer the most because of climate change. And they can have infrastructure now to protect them. They can protect themselves. They cannot do that without vast amounts of energy. And then you’ve got even environmental NGO saying, we don’t want you to have fossil fuels or nuclear, a few wind farms and solar panels isn’t enough. Like you can have them great and in some places they work really well. It’s not enough. It’s not what we had. We had vast amounts of energy. So that’s really why I’m out there and why I’m passionate about it because I care about these people.

Kari Hulac (11:55):

Well, I love how you bring your history and your family background into this. I mean, do you remember that? How old were you when you came to the UK? Or was this more your parents experiencing this?

Zion Lights (12:07):

So I was born here, but my parents took me, my parents took me to India a few times. They took me when I was very young and I have very vague memories, but they took me when I was, I think I was 19 or 20, a really good age actually, to go to this village in the middle of nowhere. And I didn’t really understand what we came from until then.You fly into the nearest airport, this is before I gave up flying, and a four hour journey to get this village. And then you get to the village and you know, you have to understand about there not being any infrastructure. There’s no Google maps, right? There’s no internet, no wifi. There’s no hot spot points for your phone. You’re completely cut off. There’s no street signs. 

Zion Lights (12:50):

We’d have to keep stopping. I mean, we didn’t drive there because the roads are crazy. So we had a driver and he’d have to keep stopping and asking people, do you know where this family with the surname. That’s how we found it, a little village in the middle of nowhere. So people ask me, what’s the village called? I can tell you it’s in the Mandi. I can’t tell you where it is on a map. These places have not been mapped. These people live with nothing, they live in absolute poverty. And then you go past these shacks and sometimes you get some footings because some people have moved out and put some money into those area. But millions of people live like this and you really get a sense of it when you’re driving through. And it’s just millions and millions of people crammed in living very low carbon lifestyles, but under duress, you know, and they don’t want to live like that. They would take the first opportunity to not have to because they live with serious consequences of illnesses and the lack of treatment and lack of healthcare and vaccinations and all of the things that we’re really privileged to have.

Zion Lights (13:42):

Then we stayed there for three weeks. It was really hard for me, you know, I’d never experienced anything like that before. I was kind of like angry with my parents. You know, why have you put me here? There’s nothing to do. I mean, all right, people spend time together and they’re rice farmers and they do that. But I mean, it’s a really, really dire way of living. And I’m not saying that, people can really… I think the green movement has this thing with idolizing poverty, or they live on the land and they have communities. I even had someone say, I have mental health issues because they live in communities. Oh, they do have mental health issues. When your baby dies when it’s a year old, you have six babies and there’s a chance that most of them won’t make it.

Zion Lights (14:25):

You have mental health issues. Sure, they do not just write blogs about it that you read about because they don’t have access. They don’t have a voice on the stage. And that’s where I realized that, wow, someone should be getting this out there. I mean, everybody thinks they know about poverty, but do we really appreciate that? 2 billion people live in a state that is energy poverty. It’s that lack of infrastructure that we built with lots of energy and development and it’s economic development. And you can do that without increasing emissions. There have been countries that have shown that you can do that. There are a set of issues that get lumped together by this movement, which just thinks living back on the land is really lovely. And no, it’s not actually, no it’s not and I love nature, but when you live somewhere like that where there’s wild snakes everywhere, and there’s no protection from them, you know, I remember just hearing awful stories about people being bitten by snakes and having horrific deaths because the nearest hospital is four hours away. 

Zion Lights (15:21):

Then if you had a car, which most of them don’t, right. They don’t have cars, even if you had access, it’s just a very unhappy existence. It’s people are just surviving basically. And if they survive the day, then they’re happy. They’re grateful. And that’s it really and they don’t just want lighting and hospitals. They want laptops and mobile phones. They want everything that we are privy to and the easy part of having a high quality of life. We have to make peace with that in the green movement, instead of saying no, no, no, no, they can’t have more. Sure, we can live with less, but we also need to have more. So that was really eyeopening and I am glad now that my parents took me even thought I remember when I left, I said, I’m never coming back here, which is really sad because we have so much family there who really love and miss us.

Zion Lights (16:11):

And I just, I think I felt guilty coming back and looking at everything that I have that they don’t have and will never have access to. That they’ll never be able to enjoy not just that now, but you know, my family, they’re rice farmers as are many people in these countries in the global south, and now they suffer the consequences of frequent drought and that’s going to become more common and they have to migrate, where are they going to go? Are they going to come here? You need options in their countries. They need solutions. One of the solutions we talk about is desalination. It’s when you take seawater and you turn it into drinking water. It works, it’s proven, it’s been used before. It requires huge amounts of energy so even the solutions they couldn’t handle at this moment because they haven’t got resources and the infrastructure we’ve got to protect us.

Zion Lights (16:58):

So all of these things are really important to talk about because for a long time, we’ve heard the opposite in the green groups. And I was one of them. I was one of those voices. So I’m kind of trying to correct my wrongs, even, you know, having been made peace with, or I have a lot of different people in this movement. Actually we’ve been saying the same thing for a long time and it hasn’t really worked right? Just saying people need to live with less for a long time hasn’t actually worked. We need to find new novel ways to use more energy. So let’s instead focus on clean energy options because it actually benefits everyone. You get cleaner air, lower emissions and there’s no harm with wanting a good quality of life.

Kari Hulac (17:40):

So take us to your founding of your new website, Emergency Reactor. I was really struck by the emergency vibe of your campaign and your social media. The point of that is to push the public, to have a serious conversation about nuclear energy and the fight against climate change. So what was the transition tipping point for you to launch that?

Zion Lights (18:07):

I think it was what I was saying, which is that I realized we were banging on about the same thing. It’s okay to think the same thing, live with less, drive less, eat less, but you know what, I do all of these things, I never learned to drive. Since 2002, I have done all of the things and it hasn’t made a difference. Let’s be honest. We now have cryptocurrency. Now that’s not something that I am involved in, but I know that uses vast amounts of energy. And I actually, if we’re honest and we look across the history of humankind, we are always good at using more energy. This is actually just something that we do, look at the advent of the internet. This is just what happens. You get a better quality of life. You use more energy, even going right back when our ancestors discovered fire and fire became the technology and they used that for many different things to help develop human life and human progress. 

Zion Lights (19:01):

And I don’t think that’s a bad thing necessarily. It’s just that we kind of need a fire 2.0 now, we need to move away from the polluting things now we realize they’re bad. And that’s where nuclear is actually, we’re lucky that we have this option because if we don’t have it, I don’t know what I would tell people to do. Saying live with less hasn’t worked even if we all did that and most people are trying to, it’s just so insignificant on actual overall emission. If you look at the data, most of them come from energy because we live high energy lifestyles. We need a lot of energy for things like, you know, hospitals and just being able to have lights on so that you can not sit in the dark in winter.

Zion Lights (19:39):

These are things that we’ve really come to take for granted I think. So yeah, the solution is really simple, which is we replace the dirty elements. So let’s look at fossil fuels for a minute. Everybody says, they know fossil fuels are bad, but when you say fossil fuels are bad to people, they’re like, yeah, okay. And they continue to, you know, all the cowl, electricity is coming from coal. They don’t really care as long as they don’t have to live near the coal fired power station. If it’s coming from somewhere, right, someone’s having to live by it. And we import coal regularly from poor countries where people have to live with the consequences of living next to coal power plant station. We will never allow one here. We will import all the time, especially when you know, it’s not windy or sunny enough and that capacity of renewables drops.

Zion Lights (20:21):

That’s usually when we have to bring in the coal. So, and that’s because we don’t have a lot of nuclear. So I say to people, well fossil fuels, even if climate change wasn’t happening, the pollution from fossil fuels kills at least 8 million people a year, its very easy to look up. There’s lots of good research on it and that’s a conservative estimate. And again, these are mostly marginalized people, these are the people breathing the dirtiest air, you know, the women and children. This is who suffer the bulk of the impacts of the climate crisis. Then we talk about climate change. That’s how bad fossil fuels are. Before we talk about the fact that people knew these products were harming us, way before we knew, way before scientists had solid research to say it and they hid that data.

Zion Lights (21:03):

And in fact, they put billions into funding climate denial, these are all real things. You can look them up. You know, this really happened. If there’s a bad guy in the room, there it is, let’s get away from that. And then you say, “nuclear”. People have all the emotional reactions they should be having to fossil fuels. And it’s really interesting to me that this happens because what did nuclear do? Okay, there’s been a few accidents and numbers of fatalities about even from solar and wind. That’s it. People in all sorts of industries, huge industries, will sometimes have accidents and there will sometimes be deaths, but very, very low numbers. This is something that I’ve been misled on, completely misled on when I looked into the numbers, you know, I was shocked. I was shocked at how misled I’d been. And then you look at the fossil fuels there, I’ve just said, millions from air pollution alone every year.

Zion Lights (21:52):

Nuclear has never been anywhere near those numbers, not even the thousands really. And so, yeah, I started trying to unpick that with people and where those fears have come from and say, all things we should be afraid of, it’s climate change. Let’s be afraid of climate change. If you want to be afraid of anything, the impacts of that are terrible, it is going to hit the global south.  It’s going to be worse for them because regions will too hot for humans to live in. I mean, this is how serious things are. Approaching it with a humorous ideology where you just sort of say, oh, well, we’re all doomed and we should just go back to living these really basic lifestyles. That is not going to help them. Actually, we have this problem as well in these green groups in the west, again, it comes from having this privilege for so long where we then say, we’re going to live in an apocalyptic nightmare, our children are going to suffer in an apocalyptic way.

Zion Lights (22:44):

3 billion people already live in that apocalyptic nightmare. It’s called poverty. We already live with that instability. Look at what happened in Syria, it was driven by frequent drought, which has already been linked to climate change. Look at what’s just happening in Afghanistan. The instability is going to hit those countries hardest that haven’t been able to develop and have the stability that we have enjoyed for a long, long time. So it’s really important. People understand that for me, it’s not specifically about nuclear. If spinach was a solution I’d be advocating for spinach. It is a scientific solution. This is what the consensus says, which is that we need renewables and nuclear to decarbonize the planet. And I’ll say it. There’s no debate after that. You might not like it. You might have been against it for a long time. That is what the scientific consensus says.

Zion Lights (23:31):

And it’s the same scientific consensus that says that climate change is human driven and needs tackling. And that’s a very scary thing. But luckily the same scientists are saying there are mitigation options for decarbonization with a combination of renewables and nuclear. And it’s the only way we’re actually going to get away from fossil fuels. And the problem that I have with this is that for years I’ve been in these groups, they say we don’t need nuclear or fossil fuels. And I’ve come to realize that all we’ve done is given fossil fuels a seat at the table pushing nuclear away. And it’s actually very easy. As I said, with nuclear you can get very scared, very quickly, all these negative pop culture references in their heads, but we should have that about fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are literally choking us and our planet and we don’t seem to have a stronger response to it. So there’s a lot that needs unpicking with that. And the reason I started doing it, A: I felt guilty because I was on the wrong side, spreading misinformation and B: someone has to do it because otherwise in 10 years, we’ll be having the same discussion about how do we get off of coal. We cannot displace coal without nuclear. That’s why I’m advocating for it.

Kari Hulac (24:34):

You’ve touched on one of my questions, a few of the points about barriers to the adoption of nuclear energy, which I think is part of your campaign. You want to see, you know, it be 50% of the energy mix. You know, you mentioned personally that you had, you know, a vision or a perception of Fukushima. And then you also just mentioned accidents. Obviously with the podcast we’re interested in the waste issues, so maybe talk about the barriers to the adoption and your personal feelings about that and what do you see in the environmental community what people are talking about in terms of why they’re against it.

Zion Lights (25:19):

I used to think the waste was this like green acidic liquid, and this – let’s be honest, this came from the Simpsons.

Kari Hulac (25:28):

Yes! Join the club. 

Zion Lights (25:31):

That is what I thought. So again, when I was kind of in my Fukushima period, looking into things going, I believed all this wrong stuff about Fukushima. Was I wrong about everything? I got to waste eventually and I had the same questions. So I do understand that people have these worries because I had them, I’ve had these beliefs and I found out that it’s not liquid. It’s solid. It doesn’t leak if you put in water, it’s a tiny amount of, kind of, solid cylinders. And what they do is they take the uranium out of the ground and it already has power in it. They use that power so that there’s less right? And then case it again in concrete, though this is a really, really simple way of putting it.

Zion Lights (26:06):

It’s actually a natural element that exists. Naturally, we take it, use it, create clean energy, which is good, and then we bury it again. And the best example for me of, in terms of safety, because I know people worry about the safety. First of all, again, no one’s ever been harmed or killed by nuclear waste. So if happened, we would know about it, but it’s never happened. And that even is true for Fukushima where the nuclear power station, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station got hit by a tsunami and an earthquake. And we stored onsite in these big concrete canisters, and they were not damaged. You know, they are in such thick concrete, you know, it’s tested so that it can withstand anything, but that actually was a real life example. Again, if people were harmed, we would have known, I mean, some people are afraid of the idea, but it’s not what happened.

Zion Lights (26:56):

And again, to look at fossil fuels where people actually are harmed by fossil fuel waste all the time. You know what we do with fossil fuel waste, we store it in our atmosphere. How bad is that? That’s how it’s stored? Right? Well, nuclear waste is actually really well stored, really well managed. You know, actually probably better of all of the industries, because I’ve read a little bit about solar panel waste, where plants can’t be recycled and they’re just left in landfills and they can be quite toxic. So they need to be recycled. I don’t know if people are looking into that. Nobody worries about that. Nobody cares. And they do contain lithium, these are toxic chemicals. So again, it’s a case of really hyper-focusing on this one aspect. It isn’t that dangerous, isn’t that bad. It’s really well managed. And you know, you can’t have anything that zero risk, there’s always a risk.

Zion Lights (27:47):

We haven’t had anything happen. I’ve given you the worst case scenario Fukushima. So I think we need to be careful about risk, nothing has zero risks. Even vaccination, we know they’re safe for most people, the occasional person might have an adverse reaction. Let’s say we have any vaccinations. Cause actually the consequences are more people will vy against whatever it is you’re vaccinating against. And a couple of people that might have an adverse reaction, it’s the same thing with nuclear energy. There will be some accident, there will. You know what? Fossil fuel accidents, oil rigs catching on fire. How many animals were impacted by that? These are huge numbers that don’t even get calculated. We tend to look at human pets and not actually what’s happening to the living planet. So it’s just so, so safe compared to the alternatives. It’s almost ridiculous.

Kari Hulac (28:36):

So how have you tried to educate the public about this issue? Obviously you have your website you know, how have you seen, what methods have you seen be successful in overcoming these types of fears?

Zion Lights (28:51):

So the thing I actually find really positive that makes me really hopeful is having the conversations is enough for most people. So there is a small minority of people that are just very anti, it’s like a fundamental, almost like a religious belief. And you won’t get through to that. And it’s quite easy to spot that group and just think maybe its not worth it here. And that’s true actually in science communication, we learn that about vaccination as well. There’s always like a small group fundamentally just delete them. But most people are on the fence, they’re in different groups and the right information will help them to change their mind. So one thing that we have been doing is this change your mind forum where l we take volunteers and a bunch of free bananas and we fill Britain with stools in public areas and we just invite people to have a conversation and we have a banner about nuclear and it’s quite challenging for people.

Zion Lights (29:40):

And I know that because I used to be the sort of person who’d be challenged. And people go up to you and say, “who’s paying you to do this? Why are you doing this?” but they’re all just ordinary people that come along. It’s a really great community of kind of science led environmentalists, which is really a growing movement, I think. And we hand out free bananas and the reason we use these bananas is because they are above average radioactive, a lot of people don’t know this cause they don’t understand about radiation. A lot of their fears of nuclear about radiation. Whereas actually everything’s naturally radioactive. There’s good conversation that opens up and most people like bananas. And then, you know, we have all the information or whatever they think the issues are. It might be waste, it might be radiation, or it might be Fukushima, it comes up a lot, or it might be something else.

Zion Lights (30:23):

Then we just give them the information and we have leaflets and they can go away and look up themselves, which actually I find people are very good at doing now, especially younger generation. They’re very savvy about fact checking. So, you know, you can say what they need to say, and then they can go in and look out themselves. And most people I found have gone, “oh, actually I agree with you. I didn’t know any of this.” So the problem is a lack of information and a huge amount of misinformation. And the reason I started doing these stools was just because I walked past one in Bristol and that’s a big city here which was near an antique store. I went over to the store and there was so much misinformation.

Zion Lights (30:57):

And most of it was using energy with weapons, which is a totally different thing. It was very fear based, it had this huge creature, the atom bomb, like pretty huge and it’s scaring people. And I went over and I said, you know, shouldn’t you be more scared about climate change. It’s actually really, really scary thing. And they get very defensive and said, no, but we don’t mean you couldn’t combat it. You could do it with renewables. And I said, well, no one, nowhere in the world has managed to do it with renewables alone. In Germany, you know it’ not for lack of trying, Germany has tried. And actually Germany’s really struggled phasing out the nuclear power plants, putting lots of money to renewables, which is good. It made them cheaper and more efficient, but had to use more coal in the meantime, that’s what happens. So there’s a good example.

Zion Lights (31:36):

And they were kind of like, “ya you know, it can be done at the places. You know, what about Paraguay, they did it? We had to clean energy for a day with renewables.” A day is great example on a sunny windy day, but what about every day? I had these conversations, but I realized I was kind of wasting my time because we weren’t going to reach any kind of agreement. I noticed a lot of passerby’s kind of stopping and listening. They gave me this idea to go out and do what they would do but with actual scientific information. I’m with a lot of scientists who do come along to this event. We did one in Bristol then we did one in London and they’re so successful. So for the London event, we brought 500 bananas, each banana is a conversation because you hand it out and they were gone like halfway through the day. We had hours left on the store and we couldn’t believe like how many people wanted to come and talk first. And there were even people where I opened the conversation by saying, what’s your opinion on nuclear energy? Did you have one? And some would sort of say anti but I don’t know why. And then we’d talk about it and they’d go, yeah. Okay. Thanks for telling me that, you know, they just didn’t realize. So actually just having the conversations is enough.

Kari Hulac (32:36):

You touched on something about the waste. That’s very true is that you know, it is in these temporary storage containers, it is safe. But they were never intended to be a permanent solution. And you know, well know, that scientists you mentioned should be, it should be deep, underground. You know, so do you feel enough is being done for governments to uphold their responsibility there, to permanently dispose of it and actually get it underground. And do you feel that if this happens more quickly, this might help overcome some of these fears about the waste and hopefully hasten its adoption as a clean energy?

Zion Lights (33:17):

Well, actually there’s an amazing new thing now, which is that they can recycle the waste. So this just happened, it started happening in lots of countries where they’ve got big programs for nuclear basically. And you can just constantly put it back into reactors and use it up as power basically. I mean, it’s more complicated than that, but that’s what we should be doing with it. That’s what we should be doing with it. I don’t know if you know, but when the Soviet nuclear weapons program was dismantled back in the early nineties, they actually reused all of that in nuclear reactors for energy in the US which I would say to people is the best use of it like that’s what we should do at a climate emergency. We need clean energy, get rid of the weapons and recycle them into clean energy.

Zion Lights (34:00):

This is great. This is a really good cheap form of energy for everyone, but there are lots of other things we could be doing. Unfortunately we hardly even get to that point of the conversation, I think that’s why it doesn’t happen in a lot of countries. If I get past waste and radiation and everything else in a conversation with someone at one of these events or at a panel or any discussion eventually I might get to you can also recycle it. You also got these SMRs coming in, you’ve got advanced tech, which is even more efficient, all of this stuff. that one’s on. Even during that, if they’re still at this really basic point where they’re saying, well, do people want this or not, and really people have to show that they want it or they want climate change. That’s what it comes down to. So that’s kind of where I’m at with trying to push people in the direction, because then they can go away and they can find out themselves about actually we can recycle this stuff and that’s what we should be doing.

Zion Lights (34:51):

And that, you know some countries do do it, you know, countries with good programs. For example, France actually sells its waste to other countries who then recycle it, reuse it. And you know, France has had, you know, over 70% of its electricity from nuclear since the seventies, because they built lots of reactors up when the rest of us were being anti nuclear which made us more dependent on coal. Say to people, imagine if we’d all done what France did, we wouldn’t facing 1.5 warming world right now. But anyway, we made that mistake, but let’s not make that mistake for the next 20 years is basically my message. We do the stalls and we do a lot of outreach, you know public speaking had a presence at COP which was really good. And again, the same thing with people coming over saying, are you promoting this? It sounds bad, I thought nuclear is bad. And they’re really shocked to see climate activists who were actually supporting it. But then they’re very quick on board when they go into the government panel on climate change.

Kari Hulac (35:48):

You had a fun way of communicating your reviews. Like you mentioned COP 26, I wanted to ask, you were wearing a wedding dress to promote the union between renewables and nuclear energy. You know, that was fun. I mean, who’s your audience? Who are you trying to reach, who do you want to most inspire to take action?

Zion Lights (36:08):

So the dress thing, it was the famous AOC dress that became that viral meme. But it said build more nuclear and it’s quite kind of a recognizable eye-catcher. You see when someone recognized what it was because they were like, oh my goodness, taking pictures, what does the message say? And someone actually came up to me and said, “you mean that ironically right?” And I was like, no, no, no, we should do that and I started saying, de-carbonize it. He was like, “no, I completely agree. I’m just shocked to see someone actually promoting it. And also it was very brave.” And I said, it seems brave, but actually more people agree than you think. It’s just that for a long time, we’ve listened to these minority kind of angry shouty voices, but a lot of people are actually on the fence or pro-nuclear.

Zion Lights (36:47):

And that’s part of getting that message out, making sure it’s talked about. Originally the idea was just to do this wedding, which is between nuclear and renewables. Nuclear was given away by scientific consensus and coal ended up and tried to stop the wedding and take renewables away, cruise him away using science. And it was just a very fun theater and you did it several times at the entrance of COP, lots of people stopping and taking pictures and asking questions. It was really good kind of public engagement, you know, exactly what I’ve done in my activism years. I don’t even know if I’d say it’s a different message. It’s still climate action. It’s just not traditionally what people think of as climate action, because nuclear’s in there. That’s more, what it is. It’s interesting because we had a couple of hours, lots of people getting there’s a whole team of us and we need to get to the same site.

Zion Lights (37:37):

So I kinda got dressed inside COP in the blue zone and I was waiting in the blue zone and you know, for people to turn up so we could get into the action and standing there, not the, I mean, I could have just actually just gone in the dress and just stood all day. Everybody’s walking in and out, all the world leaders and the journalists that just run over and we’re like, everybody looks different. Everybody’s there in suits and I’m just wearing the dress. And also then saying, what is this message? That’s actually a really good way of getting that message out and really unusual. And just standing there for 20 minutes and lots of different press and lots of people coming over. And also people were just coming over and asking, why is that the message, you know?

Zion Lights (38:16):

And that wasn’t part of the convention actually. I think really I could have just stood all day, every day and had an impact just standing there. It was more, we did theater piece kind of public engagement and we recorded it and also just show people that it’s okay to go out with this message and be creative about it. And we also marched on the climate march because again, you know, a lot of the pro-nuclear people were like, oh, we won’t be welcome. And it’s, don’t be silly. We, of course we’re welcome. The IPCC report, you know, these are world’s top scientists saying we need nuclear. But that probably needs a presence at these marches, but you can get a lot of people coming up and saying, you know, something funny, someone from Extinction Rebellion came up to me and said, “who’s funding you?”

Zion Lights (38:55):

And I said, “who’s funding you? Cause I used to be a spokesperson and I used to meet the donors. So I know, do you know?” And instantly she was like deer in the headlights. I’ve kind of earned my duties. You know, I’ve got a right to be on these watches. I’ve been doing it for a long time, but it was quite a funny encounter. It’s challenging for people, you know, it was challenging for me when my friend was talking to me about nuclear, I’d been anti for a long time. And I’m so glad and grateful that he did it. Now, I’m just sort of out in the world and there’s no way I think to do it in a non challenging way because it’s a very polarized issue. Same thing with vaccine communication, all kinds of scientific things, GMOs. And that’s just reality of communication, but doing it in a fun way is a great way to make community, make it fun. And, you know, just a human face on something that people see as this kind of Mr. Burns evil industry. Now nuclear hasn’t done anything that bad actually.

Kari Hulac (39:50):

Tell us about some of the different opinions you’ve observed in different generations. You know, being at COP 26, you know, all sorts of, from activism to the country leaders. You know, is there hope that your generation and younger will finally be able to make change happen in the climate change fight?

Zion Lights (40:11):

I think so. I think my experience has been that younger people are so worried about first of all, they’re so worried about climate change. So that’s their first worry. Whereas the newer environmentalist generation, the first word was nuclear because the group in the cold war and it was scary and they do use weapon with energy. And I’m always saying people who bring this up that actually a lot of countries have a nuclear weapons program, no energy and other countries have energy program, no weapons. I mean, Britain has both. We have the bomb already, so it’s not like we’re going to get more weapons because we’re getting more energy. Actually, we should take resources from weapons and put them into energy. So you know, there’s a lot of those fears though in the group who grew up around it. So do understand that it’s really kind of deep, you know, the C and D groups, especially in the old school VPs, people WWF also very anti and it’s a shame at COP because there’s a blue zone where we were based. And there’s a green zone, which is specifically kind of the green solutions and all the new applications that applied, got rejected which happens every year.

Zion Lights (41:11):

But, you know, that’s got to change at some point because it is part of the scientific consensus. And yeah, so we were in the blue zone and, you know, there were lots of amazing people. They stand there all day and just talk to people. A lot of people came over to us to ask us about nuclear. And I found mostly people are positive. There were a few antis, they were from that generation and they’re not going to change their mind. They did have their own antinuclear stall actually, which I surprised was allowed in COP. I suppose they had fossil fuels involved as well. So anyway, generally positive, especially positive among young members that actually, if you look at the groups, the group that I’m part of it is mostly, I mean, not to say it’s never the old generation, cause we do have a few amazing older members.

Zion Lights (41:56):

It’s mostly young people cause they care more about climate change. So when they go and research solutions and they find nuclear is there, they’re just straight away like, yeah. Okay. Why wouldn’t we want that? What I’m trying to do is sway them, we need to advocate for that really strongly because there’s a strong against it, which has had a lot of impact over the years. Whereas, you know, for renewables, they don’t really have a problem. Renewables, people love these things. It’s great. I don’t need to be out promoting them really but nuclear is the bit that’s missing. And it’s actually one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle if you want to displace fossil fuels. But yeah, there’s definitely a difference in the generation that’s coming, I’m really hopeful for them. I’m really hopeful when they become the politicians and the CEOs they’re going to make really good evidence based decisions I think.

Zion Lights (42:40):

And a lot of the decisions that are being made now that are not very science-driven are from that older generation because they’re more ideology driven. So one thing that’s happening, we sort of cope with, it’s a real kind of divide between a lot of pro-nuclear advocates and politicians and a small minority of anti-nuclear ones who are actually very, I mean, I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but Australia’s, sorry, Austria’s energy minister just said she’s going to sue the EU if they approve nuclear as a green energy source, which is ridiculous when all the evidence shows it isn’t contributing to air pollution. Does it drive catastrophic climate change? I mean, come on, you know, you’re safe living next to them anyway, but that’s what’s happening.

Zion Lights (43:30):

So that is happening with these older school politicians, but even in countries like Austria and Germany, when they polled people, a lot of people didn’t want them to shut down the reactors. And a lot of young people, especially don’t. I think, especially in Finland where they are very pro-nuclear anyway when they polled people, they find young people were like really, really super pro-nuclear because they learned about it and they understand, and the older generation still very anti, but I think that will change over time. It’s just that we need the solutions now. So I’m trying to engage those groups now to go beyond just believing in it and actually advocating for it, also just creating a space to say, we do get to do this as climate activists. We have climate science on our side. That’s all we need really.

Kari Hulac (44:15):

Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to leave our listeners with today?

Zion Lights (44:20):

Only that you should get involved with Emergency Reactor. We’re really a fun group to be part of. And we’re always running lots of different campaigns that you can involved with. Just go to emergency reactor.org and sign up to the mailing list. I send out what we’re doing on the list in a newsletter to every now and again. And you can follow us on social media pages which is also a good place to direct people to that have questions about nuclear. We have this great team answers questions, and always give you resources as well. So you can go away and read them. The facts are really good on that. I think get past this kind of once you said something and you believe it, and I won’t say it, but we’ll also back it up with research. And if you’re still not sure we’ve got climate scientists on board, we’ve got engineers, we’ve got people that can actually speak to you and it’s worth it. I know it seems like a lot of work. That’s kind of one to one engagement, but it’s what we did actually with Extinction Rebellion when we started talking about climate change and no one was talking about it and everybody’s talking about it. We went out and we gave talks and we taught people and got the information out there. So you can underestimate the power of your voice and get involved. 

Kari Hulac (45:21):

Thank you so much for joining us today Zion.

Zion Lights (45:24):

Thanks for having me.

Nuclear Waste 101

Understand more about nuclear waste and its implications for you and your community.

About Nuclear Waste

FAQS

Deep Isolation answers frequently asked questions about our technology, our process, and safety.

Deep Isolation Answers

Subscribe to Receive Our Newsletter

* indicates required