We should rename nuclear energy

Nick Touran, Ph.D., 2022-04-16. Reading time: 3 minutes
A new name

The term nuclear as in nuclear energy, nuclear plants, etc. is problematic as a description of the peaceful low-carbon energy source.

The problem becomes abundantly clear when talk of nuclear weaponry ramps up, as it has during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We hear about nuclear issues, nuclear concerns nuclear threats, etc., and it all just spills over from the civilization-destroying weapons to the climate-saving power stations.

Institutions created to stop atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons seamlessly pivoted to include protests of nuclear reactors without even changing the slogans of “NO NUCLEAR”, etc.

Most energy sources are named after their fuel rather than their entire field of physics. As the field of nuclear physics has developed, it’s now time to graduate into being more specific. After all, debating about whether or not you like energy from the field of chemistry (chemical energy) would be effectively meaningless, as it covers batteries, fossil fuel, hydrogen, biofuels, etc. Imagine a NO CHEMISTRY campaign!

Similarly, nuclear physics covers a wide variety of technologies, including nuclear weapons, nuclear medicine, traditional uranium converter reactors, exotic uranium converter reactors, uranium breeder reactors, thorium breeder reactors, D-T fusion power, aneutronic fusion, etc.

So we need to update the lexicon. Here are some collected thoughts from various threads and discussions:

Options

NameAdvantagesDisadvantages
Nuclear energy Includes fission (both uranium and thorium) as well as fusion Overlaps with terminology used for terrifying weapons. Very broad.
Atomic energy Somehow sounds nicer these days. Still includes uranium/thorium/fusion Was the original term for weapons. Still used for weapons. Very broad.
Fission energy Clearly differentiated from thermonuclear weaponry Does not include fusion energy (feature rather than bug?). Still fairly broad.
Uranium energy Consistent with other energy sources, using the name of the specific fuel rather than the field of physics. For example, coal plants aren't called 'chemical plants'. Excludes thorium and fusion (feature rather than bug?).
Stardust energy Sounds super cool and modern. Accurate since fission fuel was formed in supernova and neutron star mergers Technically, everything else is made of stardust too
Quantum energy Sounds cool. Clearly separate from weapons Sounds kind of goofy and crazy. Technically, everything is quantum

Table 1 Various name options

Path Forward

So how will we go about moving forward with this? Simple! We’ll chat about it some and reach a consensus and then I’ll update this page with the choice. We can discuss it on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. I have created a GitHub issue to track the progress and I’ll close it once we’re all in agreement. We’ll add more options and analysis as they are proposed.

Final Conclusion

Stay tuned

Sidenotes

  • Q: Should we try to make it something really warm and fuzzy, analogous to natural gas? A: Maybe
  • Q: Will we have to change the name of this website? A: Nah.