As an avowed anti-nuclear activist in the 1970s, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore never dreamed he would become an advocate for the technology he once pledged to stop.
"The anti-nuke feelings of the '70s grew out of the peace movement," said Moore, who is now a co-chairman of the pro-nuclear Clean & Safe Energy Coalition. "In those days, nuclear energy was lumped in with nuclear weapons."
Today, however, America's commercial nuclear industry is re-emerging in a post-Cold War world vastly different from its turbulent past.
"Public support for nuclear energy has gone nowhere but up in the last 10 years," he said. "Many environmental groups are also moderating their opinion of nuclear."
Moore spoke Tuesday at Plant Vogtle, which is in line to become the site of the first new commercial reactors built in the U.S. in decades. Later, he held a roundtable discussion with local leaders in the office of Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver.
Climate change, linked by some to coal-fired energy production, is one of the reasons nuclear power has become more appealing, he said.
"Today's environmental movement is more opposed to coal than nuclear," he said. "In some circles, it comes down to a choice between the two."
Other nations -- France and Japan in particular -- are already far ahead of the U.S. in developing nuclear energy and devising technology to recycle spent fuel. Such reprocessing options exist in the U.S. but probably cannot proceed without funding and support from the government.
"Unless the government steps in, there's no way U.S. utilities would step up to invest in recycling," he said. "It's still much cheaper for them to just buy new uranium."
Moore also said nuclear energy can be a source of jobs and economic development, especially if small modular reactors -- such as those proposed for development at Savannah River Site -- can someday be deployed to provide power for mining and other programs.
Moore stayed with Greenpeace for 15 years in various leadership roles before leaving the organization, which now contends through a page on its Web site that he had only a peripheral affiliation with the environmental group.
"Looking back, we did a lot of cool things. We stopped bombs and saved whales," Moore said. "I left because I did not care for the direction of my fellow directors, who were involved more in social and political causes, and not so much science."