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[ Read the preface to "Nukespeak" here on ]

Of all the energy sources we rely on, none has been the subject of such optimism—and fear—than nuclear power.

Reactor in Shippingport (Pennsylvania) Atomic Power Station, 1957.The biggest elephant in the nuclear room is, as always, the waste problem. Common sense would dictate that, before harnessing a major chunk of our economy to a new energy source, we should find a way for it to not leave heaps of deadly material around for more millennia than all of recorded human history so far.

But we've also trounced common sense on other aspects of nuclear energy. Any adult can identify the iconic mushroom cloud, but how many have ever seen a photo of a 16 million-ton uranium mill tailings pile? Every community near a nuclear plant was suddenly very interested in safety after Fukushima, but (outside Germany) how many local, state, or federal energy policies and regulations have truly changed in the last seven months?

The fact is, nuclear power is absolutely critical to maintaining today's affordable electricity prices—and by extension, the health of today's economy. Nuclear power now provides almost a fifth of U.S. electricity; and while some parts of the country are more dependent on nuclear (the Mid-Atlantic) than others (the Mountain West), just about all of us enjoy the benefits of reduced coal and natural gas demand that nuclear energy provides. It's no surprise that the more unsavory details of nuclear power just don't get talked about.

In 1982, Sierra Club released Nukespeak, a groundbreaking book on how nuclear power has been sold to the public through a quite deliberate reframing of those unsavory details. As the authors write in the book's introduction:

In the thirty-six years since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a new language has evolved. We call that language Nukespeak. Nukespeak is the language of nuclear development, a term we use to include the development of both nuclear weapons and nuclear power. In Nukespeak, atrocities are rendered invisible by sterile words like megadeaths; nuclear war is called a nuclear exchange... The accident at Three Mile Island was called an event, an incident, an abnormal evolution, a normal aberration, and a plant transient. India called its nuclear bomb a peaceful nuclear device. Nukespeak is the language of the nuclear mindset—the world view, or system of beliefs—of nuclear developers.

Authors Richard Bell and Rory O'Connor* have released an update to Nukespeak that looks at what's changed—and what's not changed—in the selling and general acceptance of the nuclear mindset since Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now Fukushima. Although no one's talked about electricity "too cheap to meter" for decades, sadly, little else has changed. Nukespeak remains a timely—and fascinating—critical history of the selling of nuclear power in the U.S.: from President Eisenhower's invocation of "Atoms for Peace" for a public whose first images of nuclear power were the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki; to the hopelessly futile efforts of scientists in the 1980s to design warning signs for radioactive dumps that would be intelligible ten millennia in the future; to the still-emerging lessons from of Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Sierra Club has allowed Post Carbon Institute to reprint the preface to the 30th anniversary edition here at You can also visit the Nukespeak website or order a copy (electronic only) from Amazon.


* The original edition also included Stephen Hilgartner as co-author.

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