Seattle Friends of Fission, a grass-roots nuclear energy advocacy group, is rooted in concern over climate change.

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Northern Florida is a world away from the Bay Area of California where Brian King grew up. Even far from the city of Chicago where he was born. But King knew northern Florida was where he needed to be.

The year was 1965. Brian’s mission that summer away from college was to register African-American residents to vote, many for the first time. It was the beginning of a lifetime of activism that would take him to the streets of San Francisco in protest of the Vietnam War (before serving two years in the army); and later to speak out against arms shipments to El Salvador. He organized a union local at the Seattle hospital where he began his career as respiratory therapist. And he has been a frequent visitor to city hall to fight for health care coverage for all.

Through all of these struggles, Brian’s wife, Paula, has been both by his side and out in front. They met at San Jose State University, brought together by the charged political issues of the time, and together have sought to raise awareness and find solutions to problems large and small. This has led them to confront what many consider the largest problem of all, climate change.

“As we’ve become more involved in the climate change movement, we see it as the most overarching problem of the world,” Paula says. “And I believe that. As a little person you can only do so much. If you’re the president you can do a lot, but for a little person you pick something and you work on it.”

Brian credits Dr. James Hansen, the renowned climatologist, for first bringing the issue of climate change to their attention, and they were further intrigued by one of Hansen’s proposed solutions: more nuclear energy.

“I was mildly anti-nuclear energy, just like everyone else,” Brian says with a chuckle. “If it hadn’t been for climate change and carbon dioxide, we might not have come to nuclear energy.”

“When we started out thinking about nuclear energy, we actually, literally, knew no one who would say anything positive about nuclear,” Paula adds.

That would soon change.

While attending a conference on thorium energy production in Palo Alto, California, Brian met a man from the Seattle area who also supported nuclear energy. From there, the circle began to grow – and a public event was planned to talk about the benefits of nuclear energy.

“We wondered, ‘will they bring pitchforks?’ ” Brian says.

But what they found, according to Brian and Paula, was something different.

“Everyday people are not like that,” Paula says. “Everyday people are like, ‘you want to speak to me about nuclear power? OK.’ But what has been lacking is somebody to start the conversation.”

Engaging the community

So Brian and Paula started Seattle Friends of Fission, a grass-roots nuclear energy advocacy group designed to begin the dialogue and keep it front and center. The group has been sponsoring and promoting Seattle-area talks that focus on nuclear energy as part of the solution for climate change. An event at Seattle’s Town Hall in April drew 130 people. They are hoping to get that number or more at a November event on the University of Washington campus.

A recent talk sponsored by the group at Ada’s Technical Books in Seattle addressed the events at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plants in Japan. Reid Tanaka, recently retired from the U.S. Navy, who lived through the 2011 earthquake and its aftermath, delivered the presentation.

“We’re not trying to be magical [about nuclear energy], or nonscientific, but this is a really good answer to climate change,” says Paula. “Wind and solar alone doesn’t work on a global scale when we’re talking about lifting billions of people out of poverty. France showed the way in the 1970s. Nuclear can be done on a large scale, very quickly. It’s doable. It’s political why we’re not doing it.”

It’s a different kind of activism for Brian and Paula. The large rallies in the street are behind them, though they did take part in Seattle’s March for Science with a group of pro-nuclear energy supporters.

There’s more of a digital element to their activism now, utilizing Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about events. They are slowly growing a following that seeks to preserve existing nuclear energy plants and encourage the development of new, advanced nuclear energy technologies, such as TerraPower, based in Bellevue, and Oregon’s NuScale Power.

“I look at my grandchildren and feel like I’m really doing something to make their lives better,” says Paula King.
“I look at my grandchildren and feel like I’m really doing something to make their lives better,” says Paula King.

“We need to preserve the nuclear power we have. When these plants shut down we get more CO2. When San Onofre [nuclear power plant] closed down in California it was like adding two million more cars to the road,” Brian says.

For Paula, it is now as it was all those years ago when her activism began – it’s about the future. “I look at my grandchildren and feel like I’m really doing something to make their lives better. I think that’s how I keep going.”

Energy Northwest develops, owns and operates a diverse mix of electricity generating resources, including hydro, solar and wind projects – and the Northwest’s only nuclear energy facility. These projects provide enough reliable, affordable and carbon-free energy to power more than a million homes.