In the new, critically acclaimed documentary Pandora’s Promise, former anti-nuclear activist turned pro-nuclear advocate Richard Rhodes makes the following keen observation about the mentality of anti-nuclear activists: “I avoided looking at the whole picture. I only looked at the questions that seemed to prove that nuclear power was dangerous.”
As Pandora’s Promise highlights, it’s a syndrome that has afflicted anti-nuclear activists for decades. For those familiar with the debate over uranium mining in Virginia, it should be quite familiar.
For years, the anti-uranium crowd has ignored any and all information that contradicts its prefabricated opinions and only pays attention to that which seems to reinforce their views.
They only ask questions that confirm what they already believe to be true, and have no desire to ask any other questions whatsoever.
Those familiar with psychology know that this actually has a name: it’s called “confirmation bias.” Look it up.
The phenomenon was on full display just this last week in Pittsylvania County.
For the better part of last week, Southside Virginia had a walking, talking uranium mining encyclopedia touring the region and answering any and all questions related to uranium mining.
Kevin Scissons is the former Director of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s Uranium Mines and Mills Division.
For more than 20 years, Scissons was the man responsible for bringing Canada into the modern era of uranium mining.
There isn’t an environmental, public health or worker safety question he isn’t capable of answering.
Scissons has written multiple Op-Eds in the Richmond Times-Dispatch about the safety of modern uranium mining and the proven effectiveness of modern regulations and best practices. Here are links to both Op-Eds:
Canada’s experience with uranium mining proves positive – January 31, 2013
Canada’s experience with uranium mining: Safe, environmentally sound – November 11, 2012
He has provided compelling data points about the environmental and safety track record the industry has maintained over the last several decades in Canada and the U.S. He has met with dozens of Virginia lawmakers and briefed top McDonnell administration officials.
His resume is extensive and impressive, and last week he came down to Pittsylvania County for four days to try to cut through the storm of misinformation that still swirls around the issue.
Scissons met with several civic groups and the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors and presented a simple and reassuring message: the concerns Virginians keep hearing about uranium mining have been settled for decades. The concerns about water contamination, radiation exposure and worker safety are all based on the industry’s track record in the 1950s and 60s, not how the industry operates today.
“Modern uranium mining is not about the 1950s or 1960s,” Scissons told the Chatham Star Tribune. “We learned from that. Modern uranium mining is about health and safety.”
Kevin Scissons can tell you from experience how safe uranium mining can be with modern regulations because he was in charge of making it safe in Canada. Were opponents even remotely interested in listening to what he has to say?
They didn’t want to hear about how the uranium mining industry operates today. Instead, they peppered him with questions about environmental problems from the 1950s, or outlandish worst-case scenarios based on 1950s technology.
None of their questions (or antics) was intended to inform anyone or address anyone’s legitimate concerns. Instead, they only ask questions that lead to predictable answers, answers that only confirm their calloused and unbending bias against uranium mining.
No, the anti-uranium crowd doesn’t want to hear what Kevin Scissons has to say, because he is reasonable, informed, and his experience proves them wrong.
Mr. Scissons has nothing to gain by lying about his experience with the uranium mining industry. He is a retired Canadian nuclear regulator.
But the sad truth is that professional anti-uranium groups do have a lot to gain by exaggerating risks and scaring the hell out of good people.
Anyone with a basic understanding of how special-interest fundraising works knows that fear brings in money like nothing else.
Bellicose, scary rhetoric about environmental devastation raises big money. Reassuring answers by a soft-spoken retired Canadian regulator does not.
My advice to Virginians: keep an open mind, especially if what you’re hearing is challenging your initial bias—or worse, your fears.
In an age when we are inundated by fear and predictions of catastrophe, be more open to good news, especially when it’s coming from someone who actually knows what he’s talking about.
Listen less to special interest environmentalist groups that depend on fear to raise money, and listen more to professional regulators and other experts whose only interest it is to protect the public.
If an unbiased expert assures you that something is safe, you’re not a dupe if you give them the benefit of the doubt.
And if special interest groups warn you that that very same thing will cause untold devastation and catastrophe of epic proportions, you’re not a traitor if you challenge them.
That’s how thoughtful people make informed decisions.