ANS COP26 delegates spread the message in Glasgow: Net zero needs nuclear

November 22, 2021, 11:59AMANS News
Volunteers staff the Nuclear for Climate booth in the COP26 conference center. (Photo: Raquel Heredia Silva)

ANS sponsored 10 young nuclear professionals from the Young Generation Network, a branch of the U.K.’s Nuclear Institute, to attend COP26, the 2021 United Nations climate change conference, held in Glasgow, Scotland, where they helped deliver what was “by all accounts nuclear’s best representation at the COP ever,” according to George Burnett, one of four U.K.-based attendees sponsored by ANS.

The ANS-sponsored delegates—who hailed from Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States—volunteered at the Nuclear for Climate booth to share the message #NetZeroNeedsNuclear, the premise of the Nuclear for Climate initiative’s COP26 Position Paper.

The booth was a hub for engagement with visitors from all over the world. The delegates also fanned out throughout the exhibits to attend events and panel sessions, ask questions, and engage in conversations about nuclear power.

“I firmly believe that having a booth at COP26 solely for nuclear was a game-changer,” said Paris Ortiz-Wines, one of ANS’s two American delegates. “Many people were curious, excited to see us represented, and wanted to know more about why we are not included in the debate.”

Ortiz-Wines described an encounter that she and her fellow American delegate, Mark Nelson, had with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.). “In our brief interaction, Mark and I explained that as millennials, we were excited about her work and that we were here representing the American Nuclear Society, to which she responded, ‘That’s great!’”

Nuclear for Climate campaigners pose after their flash mob dance in the streets outside the COP26 convention center. (Photo: Alys Gardner)

City streets: Nuclear for Climate and the ANS delegates were determined to draw attention to the benefits of nuclear energy. Their bright blue garb and the selfie-ready inflatable gummy bear mascot nicknamed “Bella the Bear” ensured success, as did a flash mob dancing to a pronuclear parody of a 1980s song in the center of Glasgow. Public buses drove down the streets of Glasgow bearing “Net Zero Needs Nuclear” advertisements as part of a Nuclear for Climate billboard campaign in Glasgow and nearby Edinburgh.

Volunteers were quick to explain to the curious that a typical nuclear fuel pellet is about the size of a gummy bear, but a volume of uranium equal to the volume of the giant inflatable gummy bear could power Glasgow for 16 months, while it would take 40 soccer fields filled with coal to the height of a two-story building to generate the same amount of electricity.

Encounters: Princess “Princy” Mthombeni, who attended COP26 as an ANS-sponsored delegate, works in communications in South Africa’s Department of Energy and is founder of Africa4Nuclear. Thanks to the work of Decouple Studios’ Jesse Freeston, one day of Mthombeni’s COP26 experience was memorably captured on video and edited into a must-see “mini-documentary.”

Check out “Inside COP26: Is African Poverty a Climate Solution? Western Hypocrisy Exposed” (below) to watch as Mthombeni questions Jochen Flasbarth, Germany's state secretary at the Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety, on his country’s decision to keep coal plants running while phasing out nuclear power plants, and at the same time encouraging African countries to phase out the coal that supports African industry. In conversation with delegates from African nations struggling with energy poverty, Mthombeni and fellow delegate Shirly Rodriguez noted considerable interest in the reliable baseload power that nuclear energy can provide.

Clear message, mixed reception: "We had a really positive reception to what we were doing inside the conference center,” said Alicia Dadlani, an ANS-sponsored delegate from the U.K. “The volunteers actively listened to people’s concerns and had adult, calm, well put together conversations. Of course, there were some antinuclear people, but everyone I spoke to inside the conference center were willing to have a conversation. Outside of the conference center, in the protests, there were stronger, more aggressive opinions.”

Raquel Heredia Silva, an ANS-sponsored delegate from Mexico, said, “People who had concerns were excited that someone was willing to address them and that they had a forum to ask questions.”

Wherever they went, the Nuclear for Climate volunteers emphasized that they were attending as “scientists, communicators, and engineers who have looked at the science and understand that nuclear is essential,” Dadlani said. “We were not there to lobby for a particular technology or commercial means.”

Alys Gardner, another ANS-sponsored delegate from the U.K, said, “I was encouraged to hear many positive conversations around nuclear with delegates from countries such as Uganda, Ghana, and Bangladesh. The incredible progress made by the United Arab Emirates, for example, going from no nuclear at all to four units, two of which are already connected to the grid, in just 15 years makes for a real success story. It was also encouraging to hear the pronuclear commitments made by countries such as the U.S., the U.K., and Canada.”

Gardner added, "Nuclear may have had a seat at the COP table this time, but there is still a long way to go in terms of challenging people’s perceptions and cementing our position in the fight against climate change.”

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