"James Bond Villains Harm Nuclear Power’s Public Image, Top UK Scientist Tells BBC. I say No, Dr. No."
James Bond villains blamed for nuclear’s bad image
The evil villains in James Bond movies are being blamed for casting a long-lasting shadow over the image of nuclear power, says the president of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Prof David Phillips says that Dr No, with his personal nuclear reactor, helped to create a “remorselessly grim” reputation for atomic energy.
Prof Phillips was speaking ahead of the 50th anniversary of the movie.
The chemistry organisation says it wants a “renaissance” in nuclear power.
Prof Phillips says the popularity of the Dr No movie from 1962 created an enduringly negative image of nuclear power – as something dangerous that could be wielded by megalomaniacs with aspirations to world domination.
The villain of the movie, planning mass destruction from his secret Caribbean hideout, eventually dies in the cooling pool of his nuclear reactor, having been foiled by James Bond, played by Sean Connery.
Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima — these aren’t to blame for nuclear’s bad image. It’s Ian Fleming and Hollywood. Well, actually not Ian Fleming, since the original book didn’t have the nuclear power stuff. In the book, Dr. No is buried under a chute of guano. Darn you, anti-nuke screenwriters!
To paraphrase the other interviewee, Prof. Tom Burke, blaming Bond villains for creating a bad image for nuclear power is like blaming the enduringly negative image of the Mafia on the Godfather movies and the Sopranos. And no, I’m not comparing power of the atom to the power of the mob, although they do have one thing in common — they charge more and more over time (see “Does nuclear power have a negative learning curve?“):
Average and min/max reactor construction costs per year of completion date for US and France versus cumulative capacity completed
Now that’s scary!
The cost of new nuclear power plants have continued to escalate in the United States, France, and other countries since 2000:
- French nuclear giant “Areva has acknowledged that the cost of a new reactor today would be as much as 6 billion euros, or $8 billion, double the price offered to the Finns.” (5/09)
- Toshiba tells San Antonio its new twin $13 billion nukes will cost $4 billion more. The city balks. (10/09)
- Stunner: New Nuclear Costs as Much as German Solar Power Today — and Up to $0.34/kWh in 2018 (6/11)
I suppose dealing with nuclear power has one more thing in common with dealing with the mob — when things go wrong, they go very wrong (see “Radiation Covers 8% of Japan” and Fukushima Surprise: Radioactive Rice “Far Exceeding” Safe Levels Found in Japan).
Returning to the absurdist BBC interview:
But the Royal Society of Chemistry, which promotes the work of chemical sciences, says that it also meant that millions of people who saw the film saw nuclear technology being presented as a “barely-controllable force for evil”.
Later Bond villains, as part of their cat-stroking, laser-pointing, world-destroying repertoire, also had nuclear ambitions.
When there are worries about nuclear safety – such as following the tsunami in Japan – the Royal Society of Chemistry fears that the public reaction is still shaped by such emotive, negative associations.
As such, Prof Phillips says that when nuclear power is discussed “it is not at all surprising that the public at home and abroad are sceptical”.
Of course, it couldn’t have anything to do with the actual nuclear accidents.
In any case, it isn’t the accidents per se — or even the media image of nukes — that have killed the much-hyped nuclear renaissance, it is in fact the exorbitant cost of nuclear power that has turned utility executives into modern day Dr. No’s when it comes to nukes — see Exelon’s Rowe: Low gas prices and no carbon price push back nuclear renaissance a “decade, maybe two.”
What the accidents have shown is that we can’t do nuclear power on the cheap: New reactors are intrinsically expensive because they must be able to withstand virtually any risk that we can imagine, including human error and major disasters (see “Japan and future of U.S. nuclear power“). Unlike James Bond, we only live once.