Salvo Against Coal From 1972 – Just Before The First Gathering of the Critical Mass Energy Project
A friend shared a link to an EBay auction for a vintage advertisement from General Electric describing its efforts to help the world move past its dependence on burning coal. This ad appeared in 1972, just a couple of years before Ralph Nader successfully gathered a large group of organizations that had been individually fighting against nuclear energy projects. The gathering took place in Washington, DC in 1974 under the banner of the Critical Mass Energy Project. I have purchased the ad and am anxiously looking forward to adding it to my collection of smoking gun memorabilia. Normally, I tag posts with the smoking gun label when they provide evidence that a fossil fuel related entity has taken a shot at nuclear energy. In this case, the smoking gun shows that there was a time when the nuclear energy developers were taking shots at fossil fuel with some real success.
I have often been accused of being a conspiracy theorist when I point to the fact that the people with the greatest means, motive and opportunity for wounding, suppressing and attempting to kill nuclear technology are the people who sell fossil fuel. My response is that there is a difference between a conspiracy and a marketing strategy that takes aim at a competitor that might very well put you out of business if not addressed. A conspiracy is a criminal act done in secret; implementing a successful marketing strategy is often celebrated and rewarded, even when it involves some hidden messages and concealed alliances.
If you are a businessman or have ever been involved in selling a product, put yourself in the shoes of a coal merchant and try to transport yourself to 1972. What would you do if you read this ad declaring your product to be moving towards extinction? How would you feel if you were a politically powerful and active member of your community and realized that some of your tax money was supporting the Atomic Energy Commission and its efforts to develop the fast breeder reactor? What might you and your industrial friends do if you realized that the agency charged with promoting and developing the technology that might soon put you out of business was also the agency that was responsible for regulating that newer technology?
One of the parts of my theory about the coalition of varied interests who have worked hard to erect as many barriers as possible in front of nuclear energy development is that many established pressure groups with “environmental” credentials have been the frontline troops in the struggle, but their resources have often come from fossil fuel related enterprises. There was an interesting article in yesterday’s Washington Post about the magnitude of the cooperation between the pragmatic arm of the environmental movement and major international fossil fuel corporations.
Please go and read that article. I am looking forward to continuing the discussion, but now it is time to head off to my day job.
I was struck by this one line from the linked article: “On the other side are self-described pragmatists who, like the Conservancy, see partnering with global corporations as the best way to create large-scale change. “ which I think is a big part of the problem. Environmental groups that are trying to effect change by engaging in a dialog with large energy concerns, are doing so (or at least started out doing so) out of a real desire to work towards a consensus. Unfortunately they are way out of their league, and cannot hope for an equal partnership when their entire budget, is smaller than the large corporations rounding errors.
In other words, even when there is no outright collusion going on, the nature of any financial relationship an environmental group has with a big energy company, is bound to be unbalanced in the corporation’s favor.
I have volunteered with the Nature Conservancy and think they are a great organization doing fine work.
@Kit — I lived in Modesto at the time RC was built and vaguely recall the smear campaign waged against it by the enviros: the “radioactive smoke” emanating from the cooling towers, etc. Spoke to one of their engineers last year over coffee and he said the management team was too weak to explain the system’s value to the SMUD customer base (and the cost to them if RC was dismantled- which it was). Accurate?
It would be fair to say a strong management team could not have done a worse job of keeping the plant on line. It is hard to explain the value of a power plant that keeps tripping off line. It is hard to explain the stupid stuff we did to trip it off line.
The list of nuke power plants that run breaker to breaker and go years without an OSHA reportable accident gets longer every year. This list includes plants of the same design as Rancho Seco.
While I was at Rancho we did an excellent job of protecting the environment and had no serious personnel accidents. Credence is provided to smear campaigns when operational excellence is not maintained.
That is a stunning ad, almost a landmark, if you know what I mean. No wonder the fossils went after the breeder projects.
I live in an area where the Nature Conservancy has betrayed people who donated land in the belief that it would be preserved, only to find a developer cutting down forest and otherwise destroying habitat because the NC wanted to raise some money and so sold the land. So I am not surprised to learn the outfit partners with BP. Follow the money. EDF, Sierra Club, and the other environmental organizations may occasionally provide useful input to the fossil fuel moguls, but mainly these organizations provide cover, all the while misleading their memberships.
Meanwhile, the media is careful about offending the corporations that buy the advertising space that keeps faltering newspapers and magazines alive. When the Surgeon General declared that cigarette smoking was hazardous to health, only The New Yorker banned cigarette ads from then on.
Seeing that ad, I wonder if the head people at GE are still interested in selling any new nuclear power plants. Dominion recently announced it had abandoned its plans to build an ESBWR at North Anna, Virginia and will instead go with a plant from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. This comes after three other ESBWR projects were canceled or put on hold at River Bend, Louisiana, Grand Gulf, Mississippi and Victoria County, Texas. I like the ESBWR design with its passive safety features. The nuclear engineers at GE should be commended for its innovations. But something doesn’t seem right with all of these cancellations.
It would be sad if the BWR didn’t make up at least a quarter to a third of GenIII (+/++). The BWRs are (at least from my – highly unexpert – POV) easier to understand than the PWR is and they have fewer parts, fewer moving parts, are less vulnerable to “NLO Murphy” taking the controls, and cost less. The coolant chemistry might be “delicate” (compared to a borated environment) – the control rods might insert from below (they have to) – and the multiphase flow might be a little harder to work with in terms of neutronics, but these are minor issues. Multiple copies of the ABWR have been running in Japan for a decade or so and have been performing very well, from what I understand. KK 6 & 7 were the fastest of the reactors there to restart; that ought to count for something.
I would bet the ABWR (even a scaled up “ABWR+” – or maybe an ESBWR that uses internal recirculation pumps to avoid the special area on the flux-flow map, but keeps the passive safety systems which are very intuitive and elegantly engineered, IMHO) would be just as competitive as the EPR in markets where the EPR is favored, just for the fact that it’s been deployed before, and it likely costs much less.
I don’t get why GE hasn’t been as aggressive as Westinghouse and Areva at trying to capture mindshare and their share of orders. Perhaps they’re hoping for the PRISM? Or maybe it’s that GE has a gas turbine and wind turbine business as well?
I agree that there is no discreet conspiracy theory, rather it’s just business competition and lobby pushing to erect market barriers, which seems far more efficient than spending on advertising. As for contributing dollars to environmental groups, it doesn’t get much better than that in the art of guerrilla marketing, does it?
Oil companies have a long history, before nuclear reactors, of using their power and influence, as does coal. Nuclear energy was a poster child born of the military industrial complex so it made for an easy target rich environment to spread fear uncertainty and doubt from a loose network of organizations. If I was on the board of an oil company at the time, I probably would have done the same.
How much did you pay for the ad?
I ordered it from eBay and paid the “Buy it Now” price.
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