It’s been a while since my last ‘smoking gun’ report so it might be worth a brief reminder of what that categorization means. For Atomic Insights, the tag ‘smoking gun’ means a story that includes evidence of fossil fuel related interests working to oppose nuclear energy development, usually at a specific project. Some of the stories require reading between the lines written in order to see the evidence, others are easier to recognize.
Yesterday, a friend posted a link to a Bloomberg story with a headline that made the link between nuclear opposition and fossil fuel profits pretty clear – Japan’s Nuclear Exit Extending Record Profit for Golar: Freight. The story includes several juicy quotes indicating just how important it is for the LNG shipbuilding industry and the bankers/investors who back it to do everything they can think of to encourage more people to turn away from beneficial use of nuclear energy.
Just two of Japan’s 50 nuclear plants restarted since the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, eliminating almost 30 percent of the country’s power supply. While global LNG output has never been higher, the tanker fleet has failed to keep pace, driving shipping rates to a record. With Japan now planning to phase out its reactors entirely, analysts anticipate rising profit for Golar, Monte Carlo-based GasLog Ltd. and Hoegh LNG Holdings Ltd. through at least 2015.
“This finalizes a long-term catalyst that we’ve already seen, but there was a question whether it would maintain itself,” said Michael Webber, an analyst at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in New York whose recommendations on the shares of shipping companies returned 18 percent in the past year. “A full-on shutdown makes it official that this is going to be additive to shipping demand.”
I took several courses in creative writing from one of my favorite professors at the US Naval Academy. He was an interesting character with a passion for good writing. I even did an independent study under his tutelage. One of things I remember most about Al Lefcowitz’s teaching, however, was his insistence that I work hard to avoid the passive voice. He explained that stories and novels where things “just happen” are not only boring, but they do not reflect real life. People take action and make decisions. He told me that people who believed things “just happen” had already taken a major step toward adopting the thinking pattern of a lazy bureaucrat seeking to avoid responsibility.
That training helps me to key into phrases like “a question whether it would sustain itself” when referring to actions governments decided to take in response to the natural disaster at Fukushima. Just in case there are any readers who have been sleeping for the past 18 months, ‘Fukushima’ is shorthand for an event where a powerful tsunami that killed 20,000 people and destroyed thousands of components of a settled infrastructure along more than 100 miles of coastal Japan also caused a loss of electrical power that resulted in melting the cores of three nuclear reactors.
The irrational response of Japan shutting down 50 undamaged reactors and Germany quickly announcing its plans to shut down its 17 large, safe, reliable, emission-free nuclear plants shows how a sustained campaign to market nuclear fear can cause people to either overlook or forget the fact that Fukushima did not cause a single radiation related injury more serious than a minor sunburn.
Here are a couple of other passages from the article that require just a small amount of filtering to arrange them in a way that more clearly supports my contention that fossil fuel promoters not only recognize the competitive threat that nuclear poses to their profits, but are also calling for others to take action to stoke the fires of excessive nuclear fear.
Global LNG production capacity will expand 2.8 percent to 255 million tons this year and another 4.7 percent in 2013, Morgan Stanley estimates. Output may reach 398 million tons in 2020, according to Fotis Giannakoulis, an analyst at the bank in New York. Japan will consume as much as 105 million tons in 2020, from 86 million tons now, Arctic Securities says. That’s as much as 15 million tons more than projected before the decision to phase out all nuclear power.
“The signal to the market is clear: ‘Prepare for Japan shifting to more fossil fuel in the near-term,”’ said Erik Nikolai Stavseth, an analyst at Arctic Securities in Oslo whose recommendations on shipping stocks returned 25 percent in the past year. “The increased volumes are clearly positive for LNG shipping and will require a significant amount of LNG vessels.”
Russia expanding gas exports eastwards
“We can find many customers first of all in Japan, especially considering the recent events at the Fukushima NPP. Currently, Japan is one of the main importers of LNG accounting for more than 1/3 of all LNG trade.
@Rod, the problem with this “smoking gun” and many others you flag as such is that while you clearly demonstrate recognized benefit (nuclear’s competitors will clearly benefit from Japan’s nuclear hiatus), that’s the only thing you’ve shown. Pointing out that Japan will be dramatically increasing fossil imports in the short term isn’t “stoking fears,” it’s stating a simple reality – that reality being that presently, Japan looks to be sharply cutting its nuclear fleet. As a result, fossil will fill the gap. That’s simply a statement of fact.
I gather your response will be to highlight the profit that the people making these statements anticipate to make on the basis of their statements. But here’s the thing – the reason they make these profits (and will likely do so) is because they are good at accurately reading the situation and responding accordingly.
To put it another way – for natural gas shipping to Japan to be profitable to Japan right now requires no external intervention by fossil lobbies – the Japanese are doing a perfectly adequate job of this themselves. Nor have you actually demonstrated that they are doing this. So how exactly does that make it a smoking gun, when we have no evidence of any actual activity other than someone has stated a rather obvious fact that these companies stand to benefit from the current situation? Again, for it to be a “smoking gun” as you claim, there would have to be proof that these entities are actually responsible for “stoking nuclear fear” as you claim. But nothing you have presented illustrated this – only motive.
(Yes, I already anticipate your next statement – that the NG companies have motive, means, and opportunity. But you have still presented NO evidence that they’ve actually done anything other than to take advantage of a situation already developing on its own.)
And bear in mind, I don’t hold some cuddly image of natural gas companies as simply honest joes trying to make a buck – clearly, I think their most sinister contribution to the energy debate has been in marginalizing nuclear by positioning themselves as the only “clean, abundant” energy source – namely through a process of repeated and deliberate omission. Thus we see as you have pointed out with the PBS special before – nuclear is completely left out of the debate. But that’s a far different issue than the one you’re claiming above.
Steve – did you read the paragraph about the passive voice? The media attention and government reactions are the result of human decisions and external pressure. Many nukes ascribe the fear to natural irrationality, but I have met thousands of people in my life. I rarely meet anyone that acts in opposition to their own best interests unless they have been fooled by marketing.
@Rod: I did in fact read that paragraph. What is missing is any actual concrete evidence linking said companies to your claim of “stoking nuclear fears” – i.e., the “smoking gun.” In fact what you have presented is the opposite of the metaphorical smoking gun – all you’ve established is that someone stands to gain at nuclear’s expense, and that they have identified that opportunity openly. That, in and of itself, is not a smoking gun, no matter how much Elements of Style you care to apply to it – it’s innuendo.
Again, you have not conclusively a) proven any causal link at all, much less a “smoking gun”, despite your claims, and b) Effectively ruled out alternative explanations, which in this case would seem to be that Japan’s government is doing a fine job shooting itself in the foot. Agitators and fear-mongers like Gundersen and his “however-many-millions-of-deaths predicted today” seem to be doing an effective job at adding fuel to that fire.
Nothing you have presented in the above outweighs the more likely explanation: natural gas companies are basically like vultures picking over an easy meal. Typically a vulture doesn’t have to make the kill – they let someone else do that for them. And in the absence of actual evidence to the fact, the vulture explanation seems far more convincing in this case.
Again, this is not to say that there is not the possibility of your explanation, but frankly you’ve presented no evidence for it. Innuendo is not evidence.
@Steve – I am not trying to win my case based on a single example. I’m also not actually trying to convince a judge, but to convince a jury of peers to recognize that they have misidentified the guilty party in the long running campaign against effective use of nuclear energy to displace fossil fuel.
The ‘smoking gun’ series is intended to be a build up of evidence akin to what good police detectives build to understand who the real ‘bosses’ are in a city that is heavily influenced by organized crime.
Hints, circumstantial evidence, means, motive, opportunity, snitches, and occasional mistakes all go into the eventually bulging files so that the cops really understand who they are battling, even if they cannot gather enough hard evidence to convince a judge that might, in fact, be on the payroll of the bosses anyway.
I’ve been associating with business, military and government leaders for many years. While most are pretty decent people on a personal level, the successful ones tend to be type A’s who would be quite offended to be compared to passive vultures who just wait for someone else to set the table. They spend countless hours in strategy meetings thinking of ways to give themselves and their organizations an advantage in the market.
They attend schools, seminars, and conferences that teach fundamentals like raising the barriers to entry, taking advantage of incumbency, achieving product lock-in, and buying out the competition before it poses a real threat.
I’ve also met a fair number of greenies and environmental activists. The vast majority of them are truly dedicated to their various causes, but are often poorly educated in science and math to the point of being easily influenced by people with “credentials” that tell them scary stories to get them motivated to action. They are really good at organizing social gatherings, but they are not very effective at overcoming focused, motivated corporate planning types.
The largest of the ‘Green’ or ‘Environmental’ organizations are led by the same kind of corporate, money-motivated types that lead large businesses. Many of the military and government decision makers I have met are actually in training for corporate jobs.
I am admittedly a bit of a cynic, but I am not a pessimist. I believe that we can overcome the artificially imposed barriers to developing nuclear energy, but the first step is to recognize the true opposition. Then we can start pulling off the strings erected by the self protective Lilliputians that are preventing the nuclear Gulliver from doing a lot of good work for a lot of very good human beings.
Interesting article. I was just curious who the “friend” was. He sounds like he is dedicated to the nuclear industry.
I’m pretty sure that the friend who posted the link is dedicated to nuclear. 🙂 Though I will often criticize people for being victims of groupthink, I have to admit that most of my online friends are pro nuclear. Maybe the guy who posted the link just started a blog that I keep meaning to visit more often. Unfortunately, I think I lost the link. Can you help?
Sure rod. He (I) just posted your smoking gun article on his (my) blog. Thanks for the information, as usual. Its…. http://nukeroadie-nuclearlife.blogspot.com/. Thanks for the promotion offer also. Go Nuclear.
I’m not pro nuclear, I’m pro data…and the data says nuclear is awesome.
I just watched Piers Morgan. He had the CGI (Clinton Global Initiative) panel on with former US General Wesley Clark, the guy in charge of energy and climate change.
Well Wesley is a true green democrat. Climate change exists, is caused by man and China and the US must find a way to supply energy in a way that will not hurt the environment. God forbid he would mention nuclear energy.
I was fuming.
I’ve spoken with General Clark about nuclear energy. An old friend of mine used to work for him when he was CINC Europe. He is well aware of its proven capabilities and supportive of its current use and a greatly expanded use in the future. I do not know why so many pro nuclear people are so reluctant to talk about it in public.
Antinuke sentiment is very deeply ingrained in many green professionals, I’ve noticed. Many of them are not even aware of it. I think it is helpful to realize this. For many of such green’s, making the mental movement of going from mostly sub-conscious and comfortable rejection of nuclear, to acceptance of this technology, is a very big one with serious psychological aspects similar perhaps to someone who contemplates switching religion or political affiliation, or even someone considering a divorce! It does not happen overnight, and people who are in the proces of making this movement are constantly at risk of quitting their effort. I had some succes in causing people at least to seriously (re)consider their anti-nuclear beliefs. People who are in charge of sustainability NGO’s that influence my sector of work, which is HVAC and energy installations consulting and engineering for the built environment.
But often, even after discussing and finally agreeing on many of the documented facts in support of new nuclear, sometimes they will after all send me a link to some new superficial news story about some presumed negative issue with nuclear in this place or that, and then declare again that they will remain anti-nuclear ‘until the problem X is solved’, where X is any particular perceived drawback or difficulty with nuclear that happens to have caught their attention.
In all of this this, the lack of such heightened scrutiny with regard to biomass, wind, solar or even fossil technology is very striking. Nuclear technology certainly has a very special place in people’s perception of risk and environmental impact. For example, the argument that nuclear energy is needed to combat global greenhouse gas emissions does not sway these people much. It is as if the risk to the climate (let alone energy security) is rated much lower by these people than the (percieved) risk of nuclear energy.
Mind you: I know there are people in the Green movement who are sympathetic to the concept that the economy needs to be destroyed. In that vision, the best (and perhaps the only) way to reduce global ecocide is the shrink the economy.
One young guy actually told me literally that one of his motives (for being anti-nuclear) was in fact to reduce or eliminate the industrial sector, which I’ve mentioned on the website some time ago and which was discussed by Rod. Such a vision may be inspired by some deep-seated anti-human, misantropic beliefs that I suspect may be one of the important hidden impediments to a broadly supported nuclear renaissance: the possibility that many ‘greens’ are actually (secretly) striving to destroy the economy, not just nuclear power or fossil fuel usage.
“Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.” — Paul Ehrlich
Sadly this is not unexpected or uncommon. Everyone trashes their competition somehow and some way. Doesn’t make it right or even acceptable. As an example, a good friend and strong nuclear advocate here in AK makes the environmental argument between coal and nuclear based on nuclear being clean generation. Unfortunately that simply opens up the nuke advocates up to the same sort of trashing by the real greens once coal is vanquished. Expect the trashing and figure out how to bypass or jujitsu it to your advantage. Cheers –
“the real greens once coal is vanquished.”
A lot of us here now consider ourselves the “real” greens or at least the practical ones. Especially after what has recently transpired in Europe.
Low intermittent energies and the colossal energy infrastructure expanse it would require are not so green or practical.
But beyond this argument, and my most favorite collective endeavor – the space program(s) will only benefit from advancing nuclear technology. That tipped the scales too for me; It is the only real collective, open ended future.
BTW – After Rod’s skepticism in supply post I did a bit more reading and I don’t get the math here for the export argument.
The US has just over 283.9 Tcf ( http://www.eia.gov/naturalgas/crudeoilreserves/ )
Proven recoverable gas reserves. We Use (2011) Tcf per year. ( http://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/ng_cons_sum_dcu_nus_a.htm ) Doesn’t that just give us around 12 years supply? Thats not even enough time to develop and implement new technologies in recovery or in better utilization of “renewables.”
The long term gas supply thing was theory and wishful thinking it appears. (?)
John – you’ve got it. Even if you use the very optimistic estimate from the 2011 Potential Gas Committee report, as of the end of 2010 the total US resource base (including proven, probable, possible and speculative resources) is just 2170 TCF. That means that even without any increase in consumption from the 24.3 TCF/yr reported for 2011, US natural gas would be totally depleted before my already extant granddaughter passes away. That is an incredibly scary scenario; natural gas is a valuable raw material input to so many useful products and processes. We should not burn it as fast as possible right now, simply because we have found efficient ways of extracting it.
It is extremely short sighted and selfish of our generation to plan to be leaving behind an earth that does not have any clean natural gas remaining; we’re already planning to use up all of the petroleum we can find and reach.
Well that is an admirable sentiment. and true. I am almost ashamed to admit I am more irritated I was so easily misled/mistaken, not that I blame anyone exclusively but myself for being so gullible, but the real uncertainty of availability in the gas sector and a lack of reasonable stability in prices changes the dynamic of possible mitigation of more than a few looming environmental, societal and economic problems.
All and all I like being corrected here as this perspective works better with what is actually occurring. Tks.
“Opinion is a fitting thing but truth outlasts the sun – if then we cannot own them both, possess the oldest one.” – Emily Dickinson
Looks like Rep. Markey is has found a creative way to to attempt to stop re-licensing and help his LNG friends, even though he doesn’t come right out and say it.
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