Politicians, scientists and activists offer a range of options for reducing greenhouse gases in an effort to mitigate climate change. One popular approach is to expand the use of nuclear power, the so-called “clean” energy source. The argument is that nuclear power plants, when operated correctly and efficiently, release very little carbon into the atmosphere and could replace carbon-emitting coal plants.

While I am not a big fan of coal power plants, I see big problems with supplementing our energy production by building more nuclear power plants. Call me crazy, but I’ll take manageable air pollution over toxic waste we will have with us for MILLIONS of years. And while I applaud the increased interest in reducing greenhouse gases, there has to be a better way to address these concerns than by building more nuclear power plants.

Apparently I am not alone in thinking such things. Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, in cooperation with the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, has produced a report titled “Carbon-Free and Nuclear Free: A Roadmap for US Energy Policy.”

According to the press release for the report, “The overarching finding of this study is that a zero-CO2 U.S. economy can be achieved within the next thirty to fifty years without the use of nuclear power and without acquiring carbon credits from other countries. In other words, actual physical emissions of CO2 from the energy sector can be eliminated with technologies that are now available or foreseeable. This can be done at reasonable cost while creating a much more secure energy supply than at present. Net U.S. oil imports can be eliminated in about 25 years. All three insecurities – severe climate disruption, oil supply and price insecurity, and nuclear proliferation via commercial nuclear energy – will thereby be addressed. In addition, there will be large ancillary health benefits from the elimination of most regional and local air pollution, such as high ozone and particulate levels in cities, which is due to fossil fuel combustion.”

I admit that I haven’t read the full report, but clearly there are ideas out there that offer the opportunity to achieve the same goals voiced by the pro-nuclear crowd. Perhaps these ideas are worth a second look before we commit ourselves and our grandchildren to lifetimes of nuclear waste.

When an organization is described as a “foundation,” most people imagine the large, well-established groups in this country like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations whose capital originally came from historically wealthy entrepreneurs and business leaders. And while this holds true for some of the newer large foundations (the Gates Foundation being the primary example), many foundations and funds do not come from such dramatic beginnings, nor are they sustained in such a manner. All the same, their philanthropic efforts have a profound effect on the individuals and organizations they support. I would argue that the impact is greater because the connection between the grantor and the grantee is that much more personal. For those working to rid the world of nuclear and chemical weapons, the Ploughshares Fund is a case in point.

While the Fund was started from the wealth and vision of Sally Lilienthal, its continuation is based on contributions from individuals and other foundations. According to its website, the Ploughshares Fund is a “venture funder…specializ[ing] in giving start-up funding to promising new endeavors, and then helping to leverage more substantial support from other sources.” This entrepreneurial spirit means that the Fund values the inspired vision of individual activists. I first became familiar with Ploughshares as the Russia Program Manager for ISAR. The Fund played an important role in supporting ISAR’s work with anti-nuclear and nuclear safety groups in Russia. In all of my discussions and correspondence with Ploughshares staff, they wanted to understand how the Fund’s grants were effecting change and who specifically was involved in that change. For Ploughshares, the individual impact is one the most important ways in which the Fund assesses its success.

I was reminded of this when I read the Fund’s 2006 Annual Report. It celebrates the 25 year history of the Ploughshares Fund by highlighting ten “Ploughshares Heroes.” Each person profiled has made a significant contribution to making the world a safer and better place to live. The fact that these stories serve as the framework for the annual report, demonstrates the Fund’s commitment to change through targeted actions.  The heroic examples also illustrate the success of the Fund’s “venture philanthropy.”

While I understand the important role that large, well-endowed foundations play, I think the individualized approach of foundations like the Ploughshares Fund is just as critical in addressing the world’s biggest challenges.   I applaud the Fund’s efforts and congratulate the ten Heroes.