Marine-Life Advocates

Another opposition group to nuclear power are marine-life advocates. But specifically, they are opposed to the open fuel cycle. This section has devoted to dissecting and analyzing the arguments made by nuclear power opposition groups. Open-cycle nuclear cooling systems draw into its reactor unit sea water and discharge the newly heated water back into the ocean, disrupting ecosystems. The Safe Energy Communication Council (SECC) and Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) penned the article, Licensed to Kill to show how the nuclear power industry’s profiteering incentives makes way for the destruction of marine life around nuclear reactors. The authors utilize three rhetorical strategies, appeal to ethos, pathos, and logos, to best characterize the nuclear power industry as exploitative of oceanic animals to raise their own industrial profits.

The SECC and NIRS examine the nuclear industry’s record of suppressing environmental data, and use of scare tactics on regulation groups, to beg the question of ethical behavior among nuclear power plants. The authors studied particularly the example of the California utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). In spring of 2000, PG&E were found to have withheld information from environmental regulators for two decades stating the true effect of the reactor’s hot water discharges into the coastal waters off Diablo Cove. PG&E suppressed data such as infrared images indicating “extensive thermal plume impact zones” and “time-series photographs of progressive deterioration of marine habitat in coastal waters” [1]. The utility’s underlying motive as the authors are trying to show is to dodge public skepticism. By suppressing data, PG&E is blanketing the dirty tracks of their environmental damage record to keep operations running smoothly. Moreover, the authors show that PG&E even muscles around the regulatory agencies. One of the agencies, the state water authorities fined PG&E for $14.04 million for “tampering with and withholding portions of studies that showed negative impacts on entrained marine life at Diablo Canyon” [1]. However, PG&E deployed delay tactics and even threatened water board to retract.

At the June hearing, the RWQCB [Regional Water Quality Control Board] instead succumbed to the utility when PG&E threatened protracted and costly law suits if faced with the issuance of a cease and desist order to mitigate fully for the damage it had caused. [1]

The authors again make clear PG&E’s motive: to protect nuclear plant operations and finances of even if doing so violates environmental safety. The result is a zero-sum game played by the industry and the interest group; industry has the money and will run their business as they like it, and the ecosystem will suffer from the damages and make up for industry’s externalities. The authors’ example of PG&E’s abuse of the legal systems exemplifies the complete disregard the nuclear power plants have for marine habitats. The authors expound on this misconduct by sharing the accounts of how nuclear reactors hurt individual species.

The SECC and NIRS describe vividly how different species respond to the stresses newly introduced by nuclear power plants, particularly the sea lions and sea turtles drowning within reactor units. Using this rhetorical approach, the authors try to show that the nuclear facilities are apathetic to animal suffering and are more concerned with protecting profit margins then animal welfare. But first the authors must convince the readers that the animals’ suffering is cruel to legitimize their argument. To start, the authors describe the process of entraining seals within the Seabrook reactor along the New Hampshire coast.

The seals were found to have slowly drowned during a deadly journey through Seabrook’s three-milelong intake pipe … found they could not escape, due to the current inside the pipe and their own disorientation. [1]

The focus here is specifically on the sea lions. The authors use overstating diction, “slowly drowned,” and “deadly journey” to adopt a dramatic tone. Such tone is meant to emphasize the stress sea lions face when trapped inside the reactors; the authors are eliciting head-shaking from readers to draw mutual understanding for the cause. The authors go on to magnify the rhetorical effect by reevaluating the sea turtles’ suffering on human terms: “For a sea turtle to drown would be the equivalent of being put in a room and having all the oxygen sucked out for a human” [1]. The authors draw the readers from passively reading to vicariously feeling the turtles’ asphyxiation. The reaction intended is revelation. The authors want readers to come to the conclusion that the turtles feel pain the same way humans do. Finally, to demonstrate the plant workers’ apathy to the animals’ pain, the authors use the example of Brunswick Steam Electric Plant:

Brunswick operators work with the North Carolina Sea Turtle Coordinator (NCSTC), but on occasion handle sea turtle captures or kills at the reactors without such supervision. In addition, plant personnel sometimes retain captured sea turtles for too short a period to assess with certainty the animals’ viability. [1]

The authors want the readers to see what they see: inattentiveness by plant workers to dying sea turtles. The authors are appealing to the readers’ emotions to not only characterize the nuclear power industry as unscrupulous but also cold-hearted. The authors’ last approach touches on the statistics that goes with declining marine life populations to capture the full frame of the industry’s destruction of the marine habitat.

The SECC and NIRS enumerate scores of utilities that have been responsible for declining sea animal populations. In each case, the authors draw up numbers to evidence this causation of population plummet. The effect is to show readers that there is a direct correlation between increasing nuclear plant activity and decreasing population rates. The SECC and NIRS examined nine cases of different utilities endangering marine species in securing their own financial interests. For the Crystal River Energy Complex operating in Florida’s west coast, the number of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles started dwindling. “The nuclear unit began to capture the severely endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle in abnormally large numbers in 1998—42 that year, 5 dead on capture. This compares with an average of 2 turtles a year between 1994 and 1997” [1]. The authors take a statistical approach because the statistics draws the trajectory of turtles dead to years passed. These numbers speak for themselves: there is a correlation between the increases of injured sea turtles since the building of the nuclear site. The authors then adopt a bullet-style structure to state the numbers for population-rate drops for other species. For San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente California, “the plant’s cooling system, which sucks in about 1.7 million gallons of water a minute, kills 4-5 billion fish eggs and larvae and at least 21 tons of fish a year—more than 100,000 fish a day” [1]. The statistics show that the San Onofre Plant is obliterating the local fish population; but these statistics are enumerated eight more times with eight more different utilities. The authors’ purpose for enumerating so many cases is to write down not just one particular nuclear power plant but all nuclear power plants. The authors are trying to show that the once-through nuclear plants are responsible for the environmental damage, and that institutional not just local change must be effected.

California’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station takes in 2.5 billion gallons of coastal water a day and discharges the same volume heated up by 23 degrees F. Infrared photographs (shown) reveal that thermal damage in Diablo Cove and beyond is far more extensive than originally predicted by PG&E. (Image provided by Linda Gunter)

License to Kill effectively demands for fairer treatment of marine habitats by calling for the elimination of nuclear power reactors from coastal waters. The authors, SECC and NIRS, put into question the nuclear industry’s ethical behavior, humane obligations, and responsibility for wiping out marine life populations. Because of the authors’ three-prong approach in deconstructing the industry’s incentives, the authors’ rhetorical strategies help build the study’s credibility, logic, and emotional appeal, making it a powerfully persuasive statement. 

[1] Gunter, Linda “License to Kill” W.W. Norton & Company 1999. Web. 20/11/2011 <;