Image: Isabelle Boemeke
The TikTok video has scan lines like a VHS tape. A model on screen explains her morning routine and diet. It starts with black coffee, a workout, and a bag of gummy bears. Gummy bears, she says, are roughly the size of uranium pellets. “One uranium pellet, roughly the size of a gummy bear, has as much energy as 149 gallons of oil,” she says. She’s now in a white morph suit covered in the words “disco”. Her eyes look otherworldly. “This means we can create an insane amount of energy in smaller spaces. Which requires less land. Which is great news for the environment," she explains.
This is Isodope, an online persona created by Isabelle Boemeke, a 30-year-old model from Brazil. Boemeke wants to change the way the world thinks about nuclear energy by spreading facts about the controversial energy source via her platform on social media.The power of Boemeke’s videos is that they take something complicated and make it simple. In under a minute, and under the guise of a skin care routine video, she explains the importance of keeping nuclear power plants open. Dressed like a character from a cyberpunk story, she explains how a nuclear power plant works aliens wearing cowboy hats.
Last year, Boemeke was watching a video of Amazon wildfires online. “I was depressed,” she told Motherboard in a Zoom call. According to Boemeke, one video of Brazilian women weeping near the charred remnants of their home broke her heart. Already an avid reader of science, Boemeke began looking at solutions to climate change. A discussion of molten salt reactors—a kind of nuclear reactor—by NASA scientist Carolyn Porco caught her attention and she began to learn about nuclear energy and how it could help reduce carbon emissions. Boemeke read books, researched climate change and nuclear energy, and began reaching out to scientists to ask them questions. “It seemed that nuclear energy had to be part of the solution,” she said. “Behind closed doors, the experts agree on that. So where is the disconnect? Why is it that people hate this technology so much? What I figured out was that most people learn about nuclear energy through pop culture.”
Pop culture hasn’t been kind to nuclear energy, which tends to highlight the technology's dangers and worst missteps. One of the villains of Captain Planet thrives on nuclear waste. On The Simpsons, the threat of a nuclear meltdown looms over Springfield and mutants thrive in the town’s rivers. The Toxic Avenger gained his powers and gruesome appearance from toxic waste. Popular movies in the 1970s such as The China Syndrome, along with several high profile scandals such as the Three Mile Island accident have turned people against nuclear energy. And that’s before Chernobyl premiered on HBO to rave reviews.Despite its terrible reputation in movies and TV shows, nuclear power is one of the safest forms of energy production. Like plane crashes, a nuclear energy disaster is rare. Also like a plane crash, the few accidents associated with it—like Chernobyl and Fukushima—are overwhelmingly horrible. Despite nuclear's potential for disaster, carbon-based forms of energy production are far deadlier. A 2019 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that radically curbing carbon emissions could prevent around 4 million deaths a year.And that’s aside from the deaths caused by accidents and secondary health effects of coal mining or extracting natural gas.Boemeke asked herself, “How can I use pop culture to talk about the truth?" she said. "Pop culture nowadays looks different than The Simpsons. It’s TikTok videos, Twitter threads, and Instagram,” she said.
As a model, Boemeke felt she was uniquely positioned to leverage her skills on social media to start a conversation with young people about nuclear energy. And so Isodope was born, a glitchy vaporwave cyborg who spreads scientific knowledge of nuclear energy. “The aesthetic is very nuclear,” she said. “It’s retro-futuristic. I like the idea that people might [not] know if [the character] is real or an AI. It calls back to a technology born in the ‘50s and ‘60s that looked futuristic then, but now looks a little silly.”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ta1c4DkyBqQHer ambitions go beyond 60 second TikTok and Instagram videos. “I would like to move beyond nuclear energy,” she said. “I want to more broadly communicate science, that’s what I’m passionate about. Which is what got me into nuclear energy to begin with.”A video on her YouTube channel shows what an expanded format might look like. In it, Isodope interviews Zion Lights, a progressive environmental activist in the UK, about the importance of nuclear energy. Isodope floats in a black void, interviewing Lights while lo-fi words float in and out of frame. The conversation begins as a discussion of nuclear energy, but quickly grows into a wide ranging discussion of environmental issues and how to read science news with a critical eye. It’s a vaporwave Beakman’s World for adults. For now, she’s focused on the immediate future. “I think if we’re having an honest conversation about decarbonizing our economy, saving existing nuclear power plants is the most important thing we can do right now,” Boemeke told Motherboard. “We are in a climate emergency and have to phase out of fossil fuels immediately.”