From the press release:
On October 4, 2011, Sierra Club Books will publish the 30th anniversary edition of Nukespeak: The Selling of Nuclear Technology from the Manhattan Project to Fukushima exclusively in e-book format. First published in 1982 in the wake of the first great nuclear plant accident at Three Mile Island, the original edition, written by Stephen Hilgartner, Richard C. Bell, and Rory O’Connor, examined the turbulent history of the nuclear industry, documenting the extraordinary public relations campaign that developers undertook to sell nuclear technology.
This new edition, updated by original authors Richard C. Bell and Rory O’Connor, brings the book fully up-to-date, exploring the critical events of the last three decades—including the disaster at Chernobyl, the campaign to re-brand nuclear energy as a “clean, green” solution to global warming, and the still unfolding disaster at Japan’s Fukushima power plant. In addition, the authors argue persuasively that a language of euphemism and distraction continues to dominate public debate about nuclear weapons and nuclear power around the world. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune adds an insightful foreword to the new edition.
Preface to the 30th Anniversary Edition
Published on Energy Bulletin with permission.
It has been nearly three decades since publication of the original edition of Nukespeak, which we co-wrote with Stephen Hilgartner. As activists and journalists, we had a long-standing interest in issues related to nuclear weapons and nuclear power. But our personal involvement with them stretched as far back as the fallout-shelter days of the 1950s. We very clearly remembered the “duck and cover” nuclear attack drills from elementary school, in which we cowered under our desks wondering if we would survive to become adults. We also shared memories of the dark days of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and came to appreciate the existential humor of Stanley Kubrick’s unforgettable film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
But the event that inspired us to write Nukespeak was the world’s first catastrophic accident at a large commercial nuclear plant, the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in March of 1979. Before that accident, nuclear proponents usually claimed that meltdowns were nearly impossible events, virtually unimaginable. The Three Mile Island accident, which began with a sticky valve, proved otherwise. In the end, the plant came within thirty minutes of a full meltdown, and even though the plant operators averted disaster, the reactor vessel was still destroyed and radiation was released into the atmosphere.
Did the nuclear power industry ever learn and act upon the “lessons” of Three Mile Island? While it’s true that much has changed in the nuclear field since 1979, it’s also true that the more things have changed, the more they have remained the same. Nuclear developers worldwide maintain the same culture and ways of thinking, and the same lack of transparency, as they did thirty years ago. The same sloppy mix of public relations and industry-dominated regulatory bodies is still a hallmark of the nuclear power industry.
Thus this 30th anniversary edition is inspired by yet another nuclear catastrophe, the partial meltdown of three reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in March of 2011—the third great nuclear plant accident, following Three Mile Island and the far-worse meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986. This new edition contains the entire text of the 1982 edition of Nukespeak, along with four chapters of fresh material written by two of the three original authors.
In preparing this new edition, we determined that the historical material in the original had more than withstood the test of time. No matter where we looked today, we found striking and alarming continuations of what we had earlier labeled the nuclear mindset. That term characterizes the way in which nuclear developers, whether of nuclear weapons or commercial power, see the world—a world where nothing can go wrong because we are protected by a nuclear priesthood of risk-managing engineers, nuclear deterrence strategists, disciplined military officers, classification specialists, nonproliferation inspectors, and regulatory officials.
In the case of nuclear weapons, the nuclear priesthood would come to place thousands of missiles on hair-trigger alert, leaving us just fifteen minutes away from a global nuclear exchange that could result in the extinction of the human species. These men (and they were almost all men in the early years of the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear power) also promised us power plants that would produce energy too cheap to meter, plants whose designers could foresee everything that could go wrong and then engineer redundant safety systems that would prevent any serious accident.
As we look back over the decades since the Manhattan Project in World War II, the facts tell a very different story. The accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima remind us again that, in spite of their allegedly redundant defense-in-depth design safety features, nuclear power plants can indeed fail, with extremely costly and deadly consequences. Attempts to correct past errors have led to huge increases in the price tags of new plants, making them so expensive that only massive government subsidies keep the nuclear industry afloat. Meanwhile, the cost of renewable sources of electricity continues to fall, and investments in energy efficiency provide far higher rates of return than those in nuclear plants.
Despite the industry’s dismal history, many leading Democrats, including President Obama, as well as the leaders of the Republican Party, are still pushing to build nuclear plants by the hundreds in the United States and overseas. Nuclear proponents had taken to calling the pre-Fukushima rush of state-subsidized orders for new plants a nuclear renaissance. They hailed nuclear power as a supposedly “clean and green” means of combating climate change by reducing the need to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity.
Yet amid this renaissance boosterism, the U.S. government and the country’s utilities are still grappling with whether, and for how long, to continue running the country’s 104 aging nuclear plants. And neither government nor industry has a solution to the equally intractable problem of what to do with the thousands of tons of radioactive waste these plants have generated thus far. This dangerous material is now stored on-site, turning every nuclear plant in the country into a de facto high-level radioactive waste dump, and a tempting target for terrorists.
The Fukushima accident has broken down the nuclear mindset in some parts of the world. Although U.S. regulators downplay the potential risks inherent in the 23 reactors of the same design as the plants at Fukushima, officials in other countries have already reacted with radical changes in their energy strategies. In Japan, government regulators shut down other troubled nuclear plants. In 2010, the government had adopted an energy policy that called for renewable energy sources to supply 50% of the country’s electricity by 2030. In late May 2011, Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan instead issued a new plan that calls for renewable sources to supply 20% of the country’s electric power by the early 2020s.
In Germany (the world’s fourth-largest economy), where the government had issued a controversial decision in the fall of 2010 to extend the licenses of the country’s aging nuclear plants, Prime Minister Angela Merkel reversed course after Fukushima. At the end of May 2011 she pledged to shut down all 17 of Germany’s nuclear reactors by 2022. Even the Chinese, who have the most reactors under construction of any country, suspended approval of new nuclear projects to conduct a safety assessment.
An equally striking reassessment of the role of nuclear weapons has also taken place. With the end of the Cold War nuclear face-off, the global public’s fear of a large-scale nuclear war dimmed and then almost disappeared. After the USSR ceased to exist, its successor, Russia, and the United States managed to negotiate substantial reductions in the total number of nuclear weapons in their respective stockpiles.
But as we write these words in 2011, the United States and Russia still maintain thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. Two decades after the end of the Cold War, this dangerous policy places the human species at risk from an accidental missile launch—or just the whim of a Strangelovian madman, somewhere in the command-and-control system, who might take it upon himself to start a thermonuclear war.
The single most powerful phrase in the catechism of the nuclear priesthood has turned out to be President Eisenhower’s immortal Atoms for Peace. In launching this phrase in a speech to the United Nations in late 1953, Eisenhower spoke to a world whose people had already seen pictures of the terrifying devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; who were afraid of the invisible dangers of radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere; and who were well aware that both the USSR and the United States were racing to build hydrogen bombs whose destructive power would dwarf those of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.
With just one phrase, Eisenhower insinuated into global consciousness the false idea that it was possible to make a meaningful distinction between atoms for war and atoms for peace. Eisenhower’s notion of a peaceful atom is embedded in the heart of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the international agreement that calls for nuclear weapons states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals while at the same time encouraging those same states to accelerate the spread of the peaceful atom to other nations.
The reality is that nations have been eager to acquire peaceful nuclear power reactors and research reactors, only to use those reactors, and the technical skills their scientists and engineers acquired, to build their own nuclear weapons. India used peaceful technology from Canada and the United States to create what its officials called a peaceful nuclear explosion in 1974. North Korea employed a similar plan in developing its nuclear weapons. Iran has been using the peaceful fig leaf for years to cover up what most other nations agree is a nuclear weapons program.
So in many ways nuclear developers are still following the same path they were on in 1982. But in the midst of this dispiriting and dangerous continuity, there has been one major and unanticipated shift: faced with their failure as policy makers to move the world beyond the hair-trigger-alert policies that have been in place for decades, a group of some of America’s most resolute Cold Warriors has issued a call for Zero—a world without nuclear weapons.
An experienced, bipartisan cadre of ex–government officials—including former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sam Nunn, and former secretary of defense William Perry—joined forces in 2007 to issue a manifesto in the Wall Street Journal calling for Zero. These self-styled foreign policy realists were explicit about their intent to complete a ban on all nuclear weapons that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev nearly agreed to during a summit meeting in Reykjavík, Iceland, in1986.
In a major foreign policy speech in Prague in 2009, President Obama endorsed eliminating nuclear weapons from the world. He later credited the authors of the Zero manifesto with inspiring his position. When the original edition of Nukespeak was published back in 1982, no one would ever have imagined that a leading group of American Cold Warriors would one day call for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. If such men can change their minds about nuclear weapons, anyone can.
We therefore remain hopeful that this revised edition will provide readers with the historic foundation they need to create the arguments and political movements necessary to overcome the nuclear mindset. To do so, we must change our language and adopt a more explicit and realistic way of speaking and thinking about nuclear issues—a process necessary to create a safer world free of nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants.
Richard C. Bell and Rory O’Connor
Preface to the 30th Anniversary Edition of Nukespeak: The Selling of Nuclear Technology from the Manhattan Project to Fukushima, copyright © 2011 by Richard C. Bell and Rory O’Connor. Reprinted by permission of Sierra Club Books.
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Read accompanying blogpost by Daniel Lerch at PCI