A Response to E&E News and Maxine Joselow

Yesterday, E&E News published a story written by Maxine Joselow which said Generation Atomic is ‘Fake’ and ‘controversial’. It also quoted “critics” and “environmental watchdogs” who say Generation Atomic is “an industry front group”.


Headline from the E&E article

Full disclosure, I’m one of the Board Members of Generation Atomic, so this one is a little personal. I’m also a student, I’m not ‘Fake’, I have never been employed by the “nuclear industry”, and I don’t plan on working in the energy sector. I have a number of problems with the article, which I’ll get to in a minute, but I first wanted to start with why I’m involved in Generation Atomic.

When Eric Meyer approached me a few months ago to ask me to join the Board of Generation Atomic, I said yes because it aligned with so many of my goals and ideals. At its core, Generation Atomic is an organization based around grassroots community organizing – actually knocking on doors and talking to people and having conversations about nuclear energy. This is an approach that has worked for other organizations, and we would be using science based, verified techniques that have worked before. One other point – Eric did not come from the nuclear industry, his background was as a community organizer. This is a real organization that we’ve been trying to build, it wasn’t created by the nuclear industry.

I sincerely believe that climate change is the greatest long-term challenge facing the planet. Shutting down nuclear facilities will result in increased carbon emissions, and keeping those facilities open will let us get to a zero/low carbon future faster. There’s also great research out there that shows that it’s a lot easier to get to 80% or 100% low carbon electricity if nuclear is part of the mix. Even the IPCC agrees on that point (that excluding low carbon technologies increases mitigation costs). So keeping nuclear reactors open now is important, and making sure it’s part of the mix in the future is also important.

Back to the article – Joselow is arguing that what makes Generation Atomic “controversial” and ‘fake’ is that it received three $5000 donations from nuclear companies and a number of members of the Board are employees of nuclear companies. If this is the standard that Joselow wants to set, then there is a huge list of other organizations which are much more “controversial” and ‘fake’.

For example, the Sierra Club received tens of millions of dollars from natural gas companies to pay for the “Beyond Coal” campaign. They have a similar canvassing app. They also made advertisements for solar companies where the Executive Director of the Sierra Club was literally making a sales pitch for Sungevity. I didn’t see any outcry from Joselow about that, and Negin wasn’t calling the Sierra Club a “front group” for the natural gas industry.

Why? Why are Joselow and Negin okay with the Sierra Club working with the solar industry, accepting funding from the energy industry, and even running commercials for solar companies? Because they like solar, and the interests of the Sierra Club and the solar companies they are working with are aligned towards a common good.

But in our case, even though the interests of Generation Atomic and these few companies interests are aligned towards a common good (keeping and expanding low carbon electricity), they don’t like nuclear. And so Joselow wrote a story that painted Generation Atomic and nuclear more broadly in a negative light.

And to be perfectly clear – I support much of what the Sierra Club does. I think it’s right to close coal plants – they are among the worst emitters of greenhouse gases and also emit other dangerous toxins. I disagree with their position on nuclear energy, but most of what they do is good work.

There are also some other issues I have with the piece:

  1. It says that “environmental watchdogs” (plural) are saying bad things about it, but only quotes one environmental organization.
  2. It says that “Elliott Negin…has emerged as an outspoken critic of Generation Atomic”. A search of “Elliott Negin” and “Generation Atomic” on google yields only this story – this is the first time he’s ever talked about it. Even his first quote implies that he doesn’t know what Generation Atomic is, when he says, “The nuclear industry has a track record of creating front groups, and this sounds like it’s another one”. Hardly an “outspoken critic”. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first time he heard about Generation Atomic was when Joselow asked him for a quote.
  3. It says that the “nuclear industry” employed 68,000 people in 2016 – looking at the report that Joselow cited, 76,771 people were employed by the nuclear industry in the US. And that is if you are defining the nuclear industry as only people who make, work on, or fuel commercial nuclear power plants.
  4. It quotes Dr. M. V. Ramana as one of the two “critics” of Generation Atomic cited in the article, but he doesn’t actually say anything about Generation Atomic; all he says is that the nuclear industry “very powerful” and that nuclear power is expensive and risky – all points that I would disagree with him on.
  5. Negin said that we are presenting ourselves as a “neutral” organization; no, we are pretty clear that we support nuclear energy. Negin also directly said that we are not a “fact based” organization. I challenge him to find anything on our website that is not “fact based”. Otherwise, this statement is dangerously close to libel.

“Outspoken critic”?

To summarize, Joselow seems to have set out to write a negative story about nuclear energy and a four month old advocacy organization that supports it, and she succeeded.

The views in this article are mine and mine alone and do not represent any other organization.