Earlier this month, the crème of the nuclear industry spin doctors gathered in Edinburgh in Scotland at the posh Sheraton Hotel.
The event, known as PIME 2009, is where they outline their public relations techniques as to how to try and sell a dangerous, expensive and dirty fuel as green, clean and climate friendly.
The conference included a session with a senior executive from the leading British advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi. The executive stressed the need to “forcefully articulate key messages to an increasingly information-thirsty public”. This included “high impact advertising” to “effectively sensitise citizens to the irrefutable advantages of nuclear energy”.
For years this is what the nuclear spin-doctors have been trying to do. They have been undertaking one of the most sophisticated public relations campaigns ever launched by an industry in recent years to try to persuade people that nuclear is the answer to climate change.
The nuclear spin doctors could not have dreamed of better free advertising than four UK environmentalists publicly “coming out” in favour of nuclear in yesterday’s Independent newspaper.
The Independent said “Britain must embrace nuclear power if it is to meet its commitments on climate change, four of the country’s leading environmentalists – who spent much of their lives opposing atomic energy – warn today.”
It continued: “The four leading environmentalists who are now lobbying in favour of nuclear power are Stephen Tindale, former director of Greenpeace; Lord Chris Smith of Finsbury, the chairman of the Environment Agency; Mark Lynas, author of the Royal Society’s science book of the year, and Chris Goodall, a Green Party activist and prospective parliamentary candidate.”
“They all take the view that the building of nuclear power stations is now imperative and that to delay the process with time-consuming public inquiries and legal challenges would seriously undermine Britain’s promise to cut its carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.”
One of the four went even further this morning writing an article in the Sun, Britain’s best selling tabloid newspaper. Stephen Tindale, former director of Greenpeace UK said: “I have spent the best part of the last 20 years arguing and campaigning against nuclear power.”
But, he says, the “tipping point for me was in August 2005 when it was reported that large parts of the Siberian permafrost were melting, giving off large quantities of methane. That was when I came to the gradual conclusion that nuclear power needed to be reconsidered.”
Tindale added: “Of course, nuclear power stations are not zero-carbon, they are low-carbon, and by building more of them we will probably cut our emissions by ten to 15 per cent.”
But Tindale is wrong on this. There is a huge amount of evidence to suggest that over its life-cycle nuclear power is not as carbon neutral as peope think. So much so that nuclear’s contribution to reducing carbon emissions will only ever be quite small perhaps around 4% if existing reactors are replaced.
So it won’t reduce CO2 emissions that much. But a new nuclear programme would absorb huge amounts of money. This is not forgetting the lengthy lead in time for nuclear plants, the huge unresolved issues over waste, the cost overruns (in the case of Finland), the issue of nuclear proliferation, and the totally unresolved issue of nuclear waste. Each one of these issues make nuclear the wrong option. Spending billions on nuclear when the money could go on fuel efficiency and renewables would be a disaster.
As Tony Juniper, another leading British environmentalist responded yesterday: “Very careful analysis is still needed before going with the nuclear option. By making this choice we could inadvertently waste time and money and therefore not achieve what we could do by pursuing other options – for example, through energy efficiency, cleaner cars and renewable power.”
The trouble is the nuclear industry has got the environmental movement splitting down the middle. And that is another classic PR tactic: divide and conquer.