Charles Oppenheimer, the grandson of the “father of the atomic bomb,” wants us to save the world with nuclear fission. In “Nuclear Energy’s Moment Has Come,” published in Time last week, Oppenheimer discusses why the public should embrace nuclear energy as a bipartisan solution to the climate crisis.
J. Robert Oppenheimer (or JRO, as Charles refers to him), served as the director of Los Alamos National Laboratory during World War II and the Manhattan Project, where he was responsible for the research and design of the atomic bomb.
Oppenheimer writes that JRO and other prominent scientists like Albert Einstein recognized the need for a unified effort toward using nuclear power for the public good. This message, first delivered more than 80 years ago, still rings true today. We need to move toward a shared understanding of the importance of nuclear power to address the current threat that affects all of us: our overuse of fossil fuels. The extreme energy density of uranium that made it useful in weapons is also what gives it vast potential for fueling clean, abundant nuclear energy.
Oppenheimer is calling for a “Manhattan Project” for carbon-free energy production. A clean energy future absolutely requires an “immediate expansion in fission energy,” he says, as well as other clean sources and advanced technology research. Such a large-scale endeavor as delivering industrial-scale nuclear energy will require great cooperation, but as he points out, “We’ve done it for defense, we can do it for energy.”
Embracing nuclear energy, according to Oppenheimer, will require overcoming “predetermined bias” that keeps the old narrative of nuclear fear alive—namely, safety concerns and association with weapons. “Nuclear energy is necessary and safe, and not the same as nuclear weapons,” Oppenheimer states. Fortunately, he notes, bipartisan support for nuclear energy has spiked across the country from 38 percent in 2018 to 59 percent today.
“As J. Robert Oppenheimer’s grandson, I believe that my grandfather would support the expansion of nuclear energy as an environmentally friendly solution to address both the world’s energy problems and, perhaps counterintuitively, as a catalyst for peace and unity,” Oppenheimer writes.