Let’s talk about the most dangerous energy source on earth. The World Health Organization blames it for 29 percent of all lung cancers, 24 percent of strokes, a quarter of all heart disease, and 43 percent of chronic lung infections — all of which could be prevented. Making electricity by burning fossil fuels produces invisible particles that fill up the sky like a bucket, trapping the sun’s heat and choking rivers, plants, and animals like us. Worst of all, the fossil fuel is coal, yet the companies who burn it are not required to take care of their waste. Meanwhile, what might be the safest power source we have, by many countable metrics, is forced to make highly detailed plans for its spent fuel. We are talking, of course, about nuclear energy.
“I think it’s the coolest form of energy,” says Brazilian model, digital fashion designer, and the world’s first nuclear influencer, Isabelle Boemeke, otherwise known as Isodope. “Everything else sucks in comparison. Fossil fuels are obviously bad. It’s just burning stuff like coal, oil, or gas. Solar and wind are fine, but they’re intermittent and very granola. Nuclear is like a technology from the future. We figured out how to harness the power inside an atom and create clean, emissions-free electricity in reactors that can be built pretty much anywhere — yet France, Japan, the US and others are decommissioning plants. What’s the logic behind that?”
Isodope is a body-suited, fission-charged deity whose sole purpose is to “hack the social media algorithm” and introduce an unsuspecting audience to “one of the most important messages of our generation.” Her origins can be traced to the heat-induced wildfires of 2019-2020, which ravaged forests, animals, and vegetation in Australia, the Amazon, California, and Siberia, turning the sky orange in Los Angeles, where Boemeke is based.
“I got super depressed and started learning about what it would take to call off climate change,” she tells me on an LA-Berlin Zoom call. “I remembered NASA scientist Carolyn Porco tweeting something about thorium reactors a few years ago, saying that nuclear energy was actually better than wind. I became curious, because here was a female scientist talking about a technology that most people, especially women, seem to hate.”
To some, just hearing the word “nuclear” provokes a gut reaction. It’s a little like the fear of flying. Despite estimates from the Harvard School of Public Health that put your chance of being killed in a plane crash at one in 11 million, many of us still experience sweaty palms until we reach the radically more dangerous car journey on the other side. Plane crashes are spectacular to observe and terrifying to imagine. So are meltdowns and nuclear waste — at least we think they are. The reality is far more mundane.
“When we talk about ‘waste’, we usually mean spent fuel,” says Boemeke. “We’re talking about the gummy-bear-sized uranium pellets that go into the reactor to create heat and make electricity. Ninety-four percent of this spent fuel is still uranium, so it can be recycled and used again to create electricity. If I were to get my whole life’s energy from nuclear, at the end of my life I would leave behind one soda can full of uranium pellets. That’s the waste everyone is concerned with, but compared to other forms of energy production, it’s very small and easy to handle.”
But where to store enough soda for seven billion humans? “We don’t know how to remove carbon at scale, but we do know how to stop radiation,” Boemeke says. “You can hold a Geiger Counter next to the dry casks — these big concrete and metal barrels where spent fuel is stored — and you won’t measure anything. The waste can stay in these casks for around 100 years, at least. For a more long-term solution, the scientific consensus is to bury it deep underground. One of those casks can store the lifetime energy of 3,000 people, and afterwards it can be buried in rock formations that have been stable for millions of years.”
The recent 10-year anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami, and core meltdown at Fukushima in Japan provoked an avalanche of misleading headlines that implied death was caused by the plant. (Just one plant worker has died to date, from lung cancer, a disease whose causation cannot technically be proven. Most deaths took place in the panicked evacuation caused by the perceived threat. Look it up!) Thankfully, there are better ways to tackle boomer pseudoscience than getting pissed off on the Internet (stress can be lethal, too). Instead of staring dead-eyed at the news, there are new channels open to a younger generation who don’t instinctively mix nuclear bombs (bad, should be abolished) with nuclear power (clean, sexy, fascinating).
Hijacking the free-floating eyeballs that lurk over Instagram’s Discover Feed or TikTok’s For You, Boemeke adapts familiar influencer tropes — the workout routine, makeup tutorial, or diet plan — redirecting attention to what should be commonly shared goals: clean energy and decarbonization. “It’s a bit of a rebellion on my end,” she says, “because it’s not what my agent or society expects a model who uses social media to make.”
Boemeke grew up in small-town Brazil where she was given a (suspect) guide to the facts of life at her Catholic high school. After moving to the US to become a model, she picked up a book her cousin had delivered to her apartment and fell under the spell of pop science classics such as The Greatest Show on Earth by the once-great Richard Dawkins, Our Inner Ape by primatologist Frans de Waal, and The Beginning of Infinity by British physicist David Deutsch. Increasingly she disappeared into sleep-eating Wikipedia vortexes, on subjects from consciousness to quantum physics and evolutionary psychology. “I remember getting goosebumps and being like, ‘What the fuck? How did I not know any of this?’”
With Isodope, Boemeke is injecting sass and glamour into a world that sorely needs it. “To decarbonize, we need to make sure all our electricity comes from clean energy,” she says in a video explainer on TikTok, before interjecting: “If you thought about biomass, I will come for you.” Boemeke is pioneering a new aesthetic for science communication that merges knowledge sharing with high fashion — avoiding the explosions and forced wonder of I fucking love science and the crowd it attracts as well. “Science communication is historically male and I want to appeal to females. I want to inspire the next generation to work on solving the world’s problems with optimism and critical thinking.”
Last week, the much-loved naturalist David Attenborough stirred controversy with comments that “the natural world, by and large, would do much better if we weren’t there at all.” Boemeke doesn’t quite concur with some people’s view that humans are inherently destructive, and that the best thing we could do is rewind the clock or disappear ourselves. “I think these people need therapy,” she says. “Seriously, they need friends. They need love. I think humans are the coolest thing, after nuclear energy. We can create art and life-saving technologies. We can love one another. We can create explanatory knowledge and technologies that transform everything around us. Preventing a climate disaster is doable. This idea that Earth was very soothing and like a mothership before humans came along — it’s utter bullshit. Nature is beautiful but also ruthless. 97 percent of all species had gone extinct before we even arrived.”
All energy creation comes with some degree of risk. So does energy failure. The recent freeze in Texas killed more people due to lack of electricity than the death toll at Chernobyl. When people say “I believe the science,” it tends to mean, “I believe in everyone agreeing with me.” A data model is an essay rather than an unimpeachable truth. Yet the slow, brutal devastation of fossil fuel emissions needs to be confronted. “I think we’re going to look back and ask ourselves how did we let at least five million people die from air pollution every year?” says Boemeke. “It’s totally obscene.”
There are some glimmers of optimism for Isodope and the nuclear community. Part of the Biden administration’s stimulus package includes $15bn for the development of nuclear reactors. New studies have shown how much cheaper it will be to build even expensive reactors than to secure the batteries needed to decarbonize the grid. The EU said it would label gas (not actually clean) and nuclear (actually very clean) as green energy for the purposes of investment — though that decision has now been deferred until later this year.
“China just helped Pakistan build a reactor in seven and a half years, which is pretty fast. If I had one PSA for Highsnobiety readers, it would be that we should stop shutting down nuclear plants, because when we do that, emissions always go up. And build more, so we can decarbonize our economy and move to a 100 percent clean energy future. To me, it’s a no brainer.”
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