ANS Will Enter the Climate Change Dialogue

September 10, 2013, 6:00AMANS Nuclear CafeDonald R. Hoffman, ANS President


In August, the American Nuclear Society conducted a simple 4-question poll on climate change policy. I commissioned this short poll to establish a baseline understanding of our members' views on the general issue and possible policy actions that ANS should consider. The results are in and it is clear that members are ready for ANS to participate in this important policy discussion.

Taking the pulse of the membership

The public policy dialogue about the future of nuclear energy has become closely connected to the issue of climate change. In the past, ANS has not engaged in this debate for a variety of reasons. However, ANS's silence on the issue has limited our influence in discussing nuclear energy's role in these policy discussions. Although I found this limitation frustrating, it was important to take the pulse of the ANS membership on this issue before taking any action.

Approach to the poll

In consultation with ANS's Public Policy Committee chair and others, I decided on a simple poll, rather than an in-depth survey, because we simply wanted to capture a snapshot opinion. We did not want to rely on anecdotal conversations, and I wanted to ensure that every ANS member had the opportunity to be heard on the issue. Given the number of respondents, this is obviously a topic of interest to our members.

The poll was conducted online. Members received an email from me that included a link that allowed each member to submit their responses only once. A reminder was included in the August issue of ANS Notes & Deadlines and an email reminder from me was sent to encourage participation.

Some members questioned the need to address this issue, or if a substantial change was needed to the 2006 ANS Position Statement #44-Nuclear Power: The Leading Strategy for Reducing Carbon Emissions. Others raised concerns that ANS should refrain from engaging in what has generally become a polarizing political issue.

While it is often hard to find any topic in Washington that is not polarizing, the facts are that government agencies, the U.S. military, investment firms, and insurance companies are making infrastructure, economic, and actuarial decisions based on their own analyses of climate change impacts. Other nations are making similar efforts to assess their economic and national security programs in consideration of climate uncertainties.

ANS Position Paper #44 advocates the use of nuclear power as a means of reducing carbon emissions and these recommendations remain valid, but the subject has expanded and evolved from acting to reduce carbon emissions to adjusting our national economy.

Results of the poll

The poll yielded 2,530 responses, which represents 20 percent of the ANS membership. I believe the results are clear.

A majority (87 percent) of ANS members believe that the climate has changed over the past 50 years, and most (68 percent) believe that this change is caused by human interaction. Two thirds (67 percent) of ANS members believe that enacting policies to address the issue is warranted.

Opinions on specific policies to pursue are varied, but the vast majority (82 percent) don't believe that we should wait for international mandates, with nearly the same number (79 percent) saying that we must do something.

And so ANS shall.

What's next?

After the poll closed, the Public Policy Committee convened via conference call to discuss the results and next steps. The committee will be creating a talking paper and updating Position Statement #44 in short order. This will allow ANS to enter this policy discussion during the current legislative session. I and others believe that it is important for ANS to join this dialogue now, while the debates in Washington concerning future policy direction are ongoing, rather than wait to comment on entrenched positions.

ANS will continue to monitor the environment in which this dialogue is taking place. This includes an inventory of other scientific societies' positions in climate change policy. Interestingly, the leading international body on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will release its latest major assessment report in phases over the coming months, with the Physical Science Basis due out at the end of September. All of this information will guide our participation in this ongoing and critical discussion.

ANS Members: Poll Results on Climate Change Policy


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