In 1993, after I had made a decision to resign my active duty commission and design a small atomic engine, a colleague warned me that “the oil companies will never let you succeed.”
At the time, I was pretty naive, so I didn’t heed his warning.
Over the years, I have gradually learned more about the nature of the world’s most important commodity business and realized that he was onto something important. The opposition to nuclear energy that really matters does not come from the vocal opponents that claim to be concerned about the potential for accidents, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the release of small amounts of radioactive material or even the high cost of building the plants. The opposition that really matters comes from individuals, companies, organizations and even whole countries that have a vested interest in selling competitive products.
Many of my nuclear industry colleagues dismiss my logic as “conspiracy theories” or make statements indicating that they do not understand how the law of supply and demand actually works. They might say something like, “we need all energy sources”, but they don’t recognize that the fuel business has always been more worried about oversupply and gluts than about finding enough fuel to supply the market.
Exploration and extraction companies — they often refer to themselves as “production” companies, but they don’t actually produce anything that does not already exist in nature — have long known that they could find and supply more fuel than the market could use, especially if they did not have adequate transportation. Though fuel suppliers sell something that people really need or want, they have always had to worry that they would lose sales if someone else offered the same or similar product at a lower price.
This concern has generally been addressed by producer cooperatives, trusts, cartels or outright monopolies that were able to impose production discipline and avoid profit-destroying price wars. One of the primary methods of imposing discipline and matching supply to demand has been through control of the logistics side of the business.
The structure of the energy industry, therefore, shook a little when a few scientists figured out a way to unlock the energy that has always been stored inside the atomic nuclei of certain heavy metals known collectively as actinides. Energy industry leaders started engaging in a series of distributed defensive tactics once engineers had completed some machines that turned large quantities of the densely concentrated heat released by fission into useful products like electricity and motive force.
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