The title for this year’s ANS Winter Meeting is “Making the Renaissance Real” appeals to me and is one of the main reasons that I have invested a valuable holiday weekend in attending the meeting.
One of the reasons that it appeals to me is that it uses the active voice and does not pose a question. There is a subtle but important difference between the title statement and asking “is the renaissance real?” Unfortunately, some of today’s speakers either did not get the word, or they do not “get” the difference.
One of the plenary session speakers today was Jeffery Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric a company that sells about $175 billion dollars worth of appliances, light bulbs, wind mills, solar panels, combustion gas turbines, steam turbines, locomotives, biofuels processing equipment, plastics, financial instruments, power plant services, and nuclear fuel for some of the plants that they built during the first nuclear age. Oh yeah, I almost forgot – they might want to sell some new nuclear plants.
Mr. Immelt opened his talk with a rather enlightening remark.
This conference I never thought I would be speaking to eh presenting to. In 2001, shortly after I became chairman of GE, one of the first proposals I looked at was a proposal from our energy team to actually sell our nuclear business. They said gas turbines are in, now is the time, this has been a difficult business for the last 20 years. 9/11 happened, I was too busy and never got to it and now it looks brilliant to be in the nuclear business.
Though he eventually said some nice words about nuclear power and GE’s long time involvement in the industry, Mr. Imelt told the audience that nuclear is just one of GE’s many energy businesses, and that the company is large enough to make a lot of bets in a number of different areas in the field. I think he was trying to tell us that GE wins no matter what energy choices people make. He also described how nuclear is the one industry where GE has no market share goals. That was quite a statement coming from a company whose most influential CEO in recent time was famous for his statement that GE will either be number one or number two in a market segment or it will get out of the industry.
It fascinated me to learn that the GE has just decided to add the Evolutionary Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) to the fifty or so technologies that qualify for its ecomagination(tm) marketing campaign. Almost exactly a year ago, I mentioned on a post titled Six Countries in the Middle East and North Africa Indicate Nuclear Power Interest how surprised I was when I visited the Ecomagination web site and found that neither the ABWR or the ESBWR was mentioned in the energy section. “Clean coal, windmills, combustion turbines, home energy efficiency, biogas, and industrial energy efficiency products all featured prominently at the time. The ESBWR is finally there, but the ABWR still does not qualify as equivalently important.
From my point of view, Mr. Imelt’s talk was an example of “damning with faint praise.” For those of you who are not familiar with this technique it is the way that some less courageous leaders deal with people whose job performance is lacking. Instead of telling them about their failings in a direct way, they fill out appraisal sheets or evaluations that use vague terms that would never support a promotion recommendation.
I will have more from the plenary sessions. Come back soon. For now, I have to get moving to be ready for my day job.