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.
Energy suppliers were warned as early as 1930 that their business was going to be disrupted by atomic energy when Sir Arthur Eddington gave a keynote address to what was then known as the World Power Conference. During that speech, Eddington told the crowd, representing the world’s largest fuel suppliers and customers, that “subatomic energy would provide the plain diet for engines previously pampered with delicacies like coal and oil.”
By 1939, suppliers who were paying attention learned that Fredric Joliot, Madame Curie’s son-in-law, was “trying to find a way to make a $2 pound of uranium give up as much heat or power as is obtained from burning $10,000 worth of coal.” (“URANIUM SOUGHT AS COAL SUBSTITUTE”, New York Times, June 18, 1939) That news would have been welcomed by most people, with the obvious exception of the people who were involved in extracting, transporting, and selling the $10,000 worth of coal.
By 1940, even suppliers that did not pay close attention to news articles about scientific developments had to recognize atomic energy as a potential threat to their market share when information about fission chain reactions was published on the front page of the New York Times, with a full page of supporting details.
As most of us know, the atomic scientists went quiet soon after that front page article was published. There were some complicating political events in progress that stimulated many of the scientists to do something they did not really want to do — build bombs — an activity that would saddle many of them with lifelong guilt and regrets.
However, those scientists were accompanied in their uncomfortable task by a large army of industrialists, including people who were keenly aware of the long term competitive implications of the discovery of an extremely energy dense source of heat. As just one example, the Dupont engineers who built the Hanford production reactors and concerned themselves about effective heat removal for safety reasons understood that heat is not a waste product. They knew that heat is a desirable input for producing motive power in a thermodynamic “heat engine.”
Though many scientists got together after the war to discourage the use of weapons, politicians who liked power decided that they should build lots of atomic weapons. Those politicians also determined that they needed to attempt to monopolize the technology if they wanted to retain their power. At least some industrialists saw the secrecy rules as highly desirable because they reduced the potential for competitors and because they helped to maintain constraints on overall supply of energy.
The public got excited about the possibilities of atomic ships, trains, and power stations. Some even believed that atomic automobiles and airplanes were just around the corner. Most people who purchased fuel on a regular basis thought that it would be terrific if there really was power that was “too cheap to meter” but anyone who sells anything has to recognize that the established fuel suppliers could not have been pleased with the possibility of such low prices. After all, many of the most wealthy and powerful entities in the world were in the business of selling fuel at a profitable price, not one that was too low to meter.
From the point of view of the time, atomic energy projects seemed awfully slow to develop, but by 1970, just 25 years after the end of World War II a large amount of momentum had developed. In the US, nuclear power plants dominated the new build market and the plants that started being built in the early 1960s were beginning to produce electricity and reduce sales of competitive fuels.
There is no coincidence in the fact that 1970 also marks a significant change in the stridency with which people started fighting against nuclear energy development. At that point, it was not just the fact that machinery suppliers that had been selling equipment designed for fossil fuel combustion had to figure out how to make equipment designed for actinide fission, it was also that the hydrocarbon fuel suppliers started losing sales.
A few months ago, I picked up a 2011 edition of a book titled A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order written by F. William Engdahl and first published in 1992. That book includes some incredibly damning tales about the ways that the established energy industry along with its friends in government, transportation and banking have worked hard to manipulate public opinion and use proxies in “the environmental movement” to effectively slow the development of nuclear energy.
I am well aware of the fact that anyone who uses the term “new world order” or talks about “The Trilateral Commission” or mentions how the “Bilderbergs” run the world leaves themselves open for dismissal as a crackpot conspiracy theorist. Since I honestly want to share information that gets believed, accepted and acted upon, I have spent quite a lot of free time in the past couple of months reading additional books and articles from a wide variety of sources to confirm what I found in Engdahl’s book. Here is just a sampling of the reading material I’ve consumed during that effort.
Chernow, Ron Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller
Rockefeller, David Memoirs
Heinberg, Richard Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils our Future
Zuckerman, Gregory The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters
Mitchell, Timothy Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil
Marriott, James and Mino-Paluello Mika The Oil Road: Journeys from the Caspian Sea to the City of London
Powers, Bill Cold, Hungry and in the Dark: Exploding the Natural Gas Supply Myth
Leibovich, Mark This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral
Lynas, Mark Nuclear 2.0: Why a Green Future Needs Nuclear Power
Levi, Michael The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America’s Future
I’ve also attended a conference titled OPEC +40 that featured talks by some of the same players featured in Engdahl’s book, including Henry Kissinger and James Schlesinger. Nothing I learned in those books or by listening to the speeches was inconsistent with the stories that Engdahl told, so I am pretty confident that he is at least as right as an historian can be who was not actually in the room at the time that strategies were discussed, plans made, and decisions implemented.
Therefore, I feel reasonably confident that I am sharing the truth, even if I am not totally comfortable with the possible results of making that decision. What I want people to understand however, is that my main goal is to recommend a course of action for the future, not to spend too much time trying to affix blame for events that have already happened. (Of course, there is some blame to be assigned.)
In a chapter titled “Running the World Economy in Reverse” Engdahl describes a period starting in about 1970 lasting through 1974 when the world’s multinational oil companies and their financial backers accepted and adjusted to the reality that about 70% of the world’s oil resources — the ones that were the easiest to get out of the ground — were located in countries that had determined that they wanted to control those resources. Those countries had also determined that they, not the multinational oil companies who had somehow obtained long-term “concessions”, should be obtaining the majority of the profits from selling those natural resources.
The subheadings in this chapter include:
Nixon pulls the plug (This describes Nixon’s decision to get off the gold standard.)
An Unusual Meeting In Saltsjoebaden (This section describes a Bilderberg group meeting that took place five months before the Arab Oil embargo of October 1973. During the meeting a strategy was discussed for responding to a 400% increase in revenue by oil producing nations.)
Kissinger’s Yom Kippur oil shock (This section describes how Henry Kissinger orchestrated both the attack and the response.)
The economic impact of the oil shock (The impact was bad for consumers and the overall economy, but it was a windfall for oil producers and banks that handled the petrodollar recycling strategy developed in Saltsjoebaden.)
Taking the bloom off the ‘nuclear rose’ (I will add some specific quotes from this section below.)
Developing the Anglo-American green agenda (This section is also pertinent to my smoking gun theory)
Population control becomes US ‘national security’ (This section discusses the growth in power of the self-proclaimed neo-Malthusians.)
Here are some of the quotes from Engdahl’s important work of history that qualify as smoking guns.
One principal concern of the authors of the 400 percent oil price increase was how to ensure their drastic action did not drive the world to accelerate an already strong trend towards construction of a far more efficient and ultimately less expensive alternative energy source — nuclear electricity generation.
Kissinger’s former dean at Harvard and his boss when Kissinger briefly served as a consultant to John Kennedy’s National Security Council was McGeorge Bundy. Bundy left the White House in 1966 in order to play a critical role in shaping domestic policy of the United States as president of the largest private foundation, the Ford Foundation. By December 1971 Bundy had established a major new project for the foundation, the Energy Policy Project under direction of S. David Freeman, with an impressive $4 million checkbook, and a three year time limit. Precisely in the midst of debate during the 1974 oil shock, Bundy’s Ford study titled ‘A Time to Choose: America’s Energy Future,’ was released, in order to shape the public debate in the critical time of the oil crisis.
The Ford study correctly noted that the principal competitor to the hegemony of petroleum in the future was nuclear energy, warning against the ‘very rapidity with which nuclear power is spreading in all parts of the world and by development of new nuclear technologies, notably the fast breeder reactors and the centrifuge method of enriching uranium.’ The framework of the U. S. financial establishment’s anti-nuclear’green’ assault had been defined by Bundy’s project.
As one prominent anti-nuclear American from the Aspen Institute put their problem, ‘We must take the bloom off the ‘nuclear rose” And take it off they did.
Later on, in the section under the subheading of “Developing the Anglo-American green agenda” Engdahl writes:
The Stockholm 1972 conference created the necessary international organizational and publicity infrastructure such that by the time of the Kissinger oil shock of 1973-74, a massive anti-nuclear propaganda offensive could be launched, with the added assistance of millions of dollars readily available from the oil-linked channels of the Atlantic Richfield Company, the Rockefeller Brothers’ Fund, and other such elite Anglo-American establishment circles. Among the groups which were funded by these people in this time were organizations including the ultra-elitist World Wildlife Fund whose chairman was the Bilderberg’s Prince Bernhard and later Royal Dutch Shell’s John Loudon.
Indicative of the financial establishment’s overwhelming influence in the American and British media, is the fact that during this period, no public outcry was launched to investigate the probable conflict of interest involved in Robert O. Anderson’s well-financed anti-nuclear offensive, and the fact that his Atlantic Richfield Oil Co. was one of the major beneficiaries from the 1974 price increase of oil. Anderson’s ARCO had invested tens of millions of dollars into high-risk oil infrastructure in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay and Britain’s North Sea, together with British Petroleum, Shell, and the other Seven Sisters.
Had the 1974 oil shock not raised the market price of oil to $11.65/barrel or thereabouts, Anderson’s, as well as British Petroleum’s and Exxon’s and the others’ investments in the North Sea and Alaska would have brought financial ruin. To ensure a friendly press voice in Britain, Anderson at this time purchased ownership of the London Observer. Virtually no one asked if Anderson and his influential friends might have known in advance that Kissinger would create the conditions for a 400 percent oil price rise.
I’m going to keep digging and sifting in an effort to tell a compelling, historically accurate story about how people interested in maintaining hydrocarbon hegemony have worked hard to fight nuclear energy – often using surrogates who wrap themselves in astroturf. The main reason I have for sharing this information is to help well meaning people to understand that the energy conversation is more about industrial competition than any real safety or security issues.
I believe that people who recognize that they have been used and lied to will be more open to changing their mind and recognizing that atomic fission is an incredibly valuable and capable tool for addressing many of humanity’s most pressing challenges, including global climate change, Peak Oil, and world hunger.
This story may very well end up being told in book (or series of books), but in the spirit of works of public information related to the energy industry, I plan to share sections of the story as they are developed in an serial format. It may sound a little paranoid, but I think it might be safer if I don’t try to hold on to this stuff too long without sharing it widely.