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The Nuclear Lobby

by David Millar

The campaign by the international nuclear lobby (see the appendix) to promote nuclear power as "green" and "safe" can be traced back to the 1990s. Its success is due in part to the push for globalization and unregulated finance capital in that decade.

The first attempt was surreptitious. In 1998-2000 the Clinton administration’s attempts to gain Kyoto CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) financing for construction of nuclear power plants were denounced as "tricks" by environmentalists (Corpwatch 31 October 2000).

The opening gun of the overt international campaign was a keynote speech on "the need for nuclear power", by Don Johnson, a former Liberal cabinet minister who had become Secretary-General of OECD (which has its own nuclear agency), to a joint conference of the American and European Nuclear Societies in Washington, DC in November 2000. Johnson had also been an eager advocate of globalization, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, and free trade -- all of which suggests that he was acting as spokesman for the Washington Consensus, not an unusual role for Canadian politicians abroad. An OECD official document declared in 2001 that nuclear power had "unique potential as... sustainable energy". Johnson continued to urge new nuclear construction through 2005, when he gave another speech to the International Nuclear Energy Association, shortly before retiring from OECD.

In 2000, John B. Ritch III, after serving 7 years as US ambassador to IAEA, became director-General of the World Nuclear Association. A longtime adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in 1999 he had declared nuclear power was "the only answer to global warming". Playing a central role in the ensuing campaign, by 26 November 2007 he proclaimed a "nuclear renaissance" had been achieved by the worldwide lobby. Worldwide, 441 existing nuclear plants are close to the end of their operating life; the IAEA estimates 40 new ones by 2020; the WNA claims 64 will be added; financial speculators talk of 80.

For industry insiders and government officials, the WNA offers yearly symposia, frequent seminars and courses. In 2003, it founded the World Nuclear University, a well-funded body whose supporters include James Lovelock, the World Association of Nuclear Operators, the IAEA, and the Nuclear Energy Association of the OECD. It is highly likely that the WNA and WNU coordinated the international "nuclear green" campaign, providing data and strategy to national lobbyists. For instance, a 2002 Nuclear Renaissance conference in Washington DC included speeches by Richard A. Meserve, chairman of the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gail Marcus of DOE, and a Canadian AECL executive.

Part of the worldwide nuclear lobby’s success is its mixed nature, both public and state-owned, which has given it enormous influence in obtaining subsidies. Governments like to throw good money after bad, if only to prove that initial decisions were correct. And few politicians can say a flat “no” to a well-organized lobby with inside support from state bureaucrats as well as outside pressures from private industry.

In 2006, the Nuclear Energy Institute (ex-American Nuclear Energy Council) of Washington, DC, claiming 206 members in 60 countries, hired the PR firm Hill and Knowlton to conduct a million-dollar ad campaign, apparently connected with U.S. Congress' passing of an energy bill that opened the door to nuclear plant construction, with heavy support from the Bush administration. This campaign seems to have paid off handsomely. The current Lieberman-Warner bill offers the industry about $544b in subsidies, with more expected to be added by senatorial amendments.

The NEI formed a front group, the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition aka CASEnergy, led by former EPA chief Christine Whitman and ex-Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore, to disguise links between the campaign and the nuclear lobby.

Key to this campaign was the alliance between US political insiders of both parties, and the front group. One of the minor scandals of the 2008 Democratic primaries was the discovery that Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's strategist, was actively lobbying for the nuclear company Exelon. It had been a major contributor to Clinton, a lesser one to Obama via "employee contributions". Penn worked for Burson Marsteller, another PR firm notorious for its less-than-ethical lobbying practices. On the Republican side, McCain has promised “a comprehensive nuclear component” in energy policy (Time magazine 9 May 08).

The Bush Jr administration gave heavy support throughout. Its 2000 transition team included as energy advisors: Joseph Colvin of the NEI; Senator J. Bennett Johnston (Dem-LA 1972-97) a former Committee on Energy and Natural Resources member turned lobbyist; Thomas Kuhn, President of Edison Electric Institute and ex-head of the American Nuclear Energy Council; along with four other nuclear utilities. The woman appointed as deputy director of Bush's DOE, Gail H Marcus, was also president of the American Nuclear Society. The political fix was in from day one.

The Labour governments of Tony Blair and Anthony Brown were convinced to announce a major UK nuclear construction program by a campaign whose spearhead was a key insider, their science advisor Sir David King. A High Court judge ruled against their handpicked nuclear inquiry in 2007, ordering a less biased one to be held this year. Similarly, French president Sarkozy became a strong supporter shortly after Areva announced a joint nuclear plant project with China. Like Canada and the USA, both France and the UK faced lobbying from within by state-owned nuclear companies and export development agencies, adding their voices to those of private industry, financiers, and their flacks. In Germany, where the minority government depends on anti-nuke Greens who form part of the ruling coalition, lobbyists have not yet succeeded.

A wave of international mergers and alliances strengthened the industry’s appeal to governments and stock markets. Financial marketeers trumpeted the rebirth of the nuclear industry, claiming that uranium prices had risen 1600% in six years (note: largely due to shortage of high-grade ore). The City and Wall Street became even more interested when the UK passed laws to limit liability of nuclear operators and waste disposal companies, while guaranteeing profit. Similar protections against liability were being created by American and other countries' laws, covertly inserted into regulations, or achieved by company lawyers creating new corporate shells. In effect, the moral risk was now being passed to the state, and to taxpayers, while profits were guaranteed by "perverse subsidies". Security and safety risks, as always, would be borne by the public.

It was these risks that weakened the nuclear renaissance campaign. Old nuclear scandals kept cropping up: rediscovery of the 1966 Palamares N-bomb debris in Spain, accidents and radioactive pollution (often deliberate, and long kept as state secrets) -- at Semipalatinsk, Seversk, Mayak, Browns Ferry, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Sellafield, Dounreay, La Hague, Palo Verde AZ, Yellowknife, Port Colborne, Brunsbuttel, Tokaimura, Hamaoka, Kashiwazaki Kariwa, Sierra Blanca TX -- highlighted links between nuclear weaponry and the so-called “peaceful atom” – as well as alerting the public to continuing risks of nuclear power for which no reliable solution has been found. To refreshed memories of leaks and meltdowns, we must now add nuclear proliferation, smuggling and terrorism. In 2005 an Al Qaeda website published an 80-page manual for making a dirty bomb. The IAEA has reported 650 cases of nuclear smuggling since 1993, with rising incidence: 100 in 2004 and 103 in 2005. Though atomic waste production has reached 10,000 kg per year, there is still no permanent storage anywhere in the world. Safety and security threats, radwaste (particularly from MOX reprocessing), and proliferation remain the unsolved problems of nuclear advocacy.

Finally, though nukes are proclaimed as “carbon neutral”, the lobbyists’ accounting of carbon emissions during mining, processing, operation, decommissioning and radwaste disposal is unworthy of trust. They are paid to underestimate and conceal.

Citizens concerned about nuclear sprawl can learn from the lobbyists’ use of professional public relations. You too must learn how to play the game. Fortunately there are many handbooks available. Three main points:

1. Look out for stories “planted” by PR firms. That is what they are paid for. They develop contacts, know the deadlines for each medium, and provide stories in the style, length and format needed. Lazy reporters (or biased editors) often run these stories virtually unchanged.

2. Answer media stories with your own information, at the appropriate length and format for each medium. Rightwing bloggers deserve one comment referring readers back to an authoritative website, but do not let yourself be drawn into unending debate with closed minds.

3. Organize your answers. Create a looseleaf speakers’ book, share it with others, add to and improve the material. Know its contents well enough that you can give a brief memorable “sound bite” in your own words. Some of the most authoritative sources for in-depth fact-checking are NIRS, CCNR, IPPNW, Union of Concerned Scientists, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (, Pembina Institute’s Basics on Base Load (2007), Corpwatch and Sourcewatch. See also the forthcoming Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for US Energy Policy by Arjun Makinjani. You should always verify your facts in at least two reliable sources. Greenpeace, FOE, Suzuki, and Pembina have useful lists of nuclear “myths”. Wikipedia should not be relied on exclusively but is a good starting point for basic information – follow its links, and then Google keywords for additional sources. Update your fact-checking at least once a month. You will be astonished at what new facts you discover.


Note: I did not have time to provide detailed footnotes, but my sources can be checked at I am willing to provide footnotes for specific items later.