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James Bond Villains Harm Nuclear Power’s Public Image, Top UK Scientist Tells BBC. I say No, Dr. No.

By Joe Romm

"James Bond Villains Harm Nuclear Power’s Public Image, Top UK Scientist Tells BBC. I say No, Dr. No."


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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.

No, this isn’t a story in The Onion.  It’s actually from the BBC.  You can listen to the interview here.

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:

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.

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21 Responses to James Bond Villains Harm Nuclear Power’s Public Image, Top UK Scientist Tells BBC. I say No, Dr. No.

  1. Spike says:

    Probably part of the big move to detoxify the public image of nuclear in the UK before the expected 8 new reactors are ordered. The Energy and Climate Change Dept after all was recently caught trying to spin coverage of the Fukushima disaster:


  2. Don Lake says:

    “No, Mr Polar Bear, I expect you to die.

  3. john tucker says:

    That seems mostly silly. Nuclear power should undergo greater scrutiny and held to higher standards, from the mining of uranium up to the long term storage of wastes. It is after all the most concentrated and powerful means of energy production.

    That said there is a lot of irrational fear focusing on nuclear power when MUCH worse threats to health related to energy production are disregarded.

    I think nuclear power makes the argument for itself in the worsening climate disaster. And the cost is rather inexpensive compared to what it delivers. It doesn’t need propaganda or environmental breaks, and when a nuclear energy intrest pollutes knowingly, causes environmental degradation, or by gross incompetence in operation causes a disaster they need to be held to criminal prosecution at the fullest extent of the law, like any other player in the energy industry should.

    • john tucker says:

      “What the accidents have shown is that we can’t do nuclear power on the cheap” – quotable and agreed, and the rest of the world needs to be up to a post Fukushima consensus, and inspect-able standard.

      Probably, also specifically in the US, it needs to be accepted that the NRC does and should work closely with the industry to develop individual safety compliances. Environmental radiation monitoring, as well as increased consumer goods monitoring needs to be switched over to an empowered iron clad EPA. International organizations as well as organizations like homeland security do not have the reputation, motivation or the ability it seems to openly advocate for public safety.

  4. Chris Winter says:

    How come Professor Phillips doesn’t blame Tom Clancy’s thrillers and the movies derived from them? Oh, right — they deal with nuclear weapons. That’s all right then.

    Seriously, this is as bad as when, back in the 1980s, Senator whosis blamed Star Wars for the decline in American high-schoolers’ SAT scores.

  5. prokaryotes says:

    I would just say that Prof David Phillips is a bit out of reality..

    Flooding? Earthquakes? Fukushima? Uranium mining and enrichment? Climate disruption/weirding? But a 50 year old movie, uhm :)

  6. quokka says:

    I thought it was a bit of a silly point to try to make. If you want to find the historical roots of nuclear phobia look no further than the fear of nuclear weapons arising from the insane arms race in the 50s and 60s. This terrified a whole generation. The responsibility for this lies with the leaders of the major world powers, not with Bond films. As far as films go, I would think that “On the Beach” would have had a far bigger impact.

    In this context, it was inevitable that fear of low level radiation exposure, no matter how small the dose would develop into radiation phobia among some people. Instead of ionizing radiation being something to be treated with respect like any other potentially dangerous substance or activity, it became seen as intrinsically evil by some.

    History does have a long memory and ideologies grow to have a life of their own – especially those driven by blind fear fostered by some for their own political purposes. It is easy to understand these historical roots, especially when the many fine people in CND and the international peace movement did not have the benefit of the long term studies of the effects of radiation on the Japanese atomic bomb survivors. Knowledge was a lot more limited and they had to assume the worst.

    Today is a different matter, and I have no respect at all for those trying to whip up hysteria and doing their best to generate a lifetime of anxiety for those affected by the Fukushima accident. Anxiety over adverse health outcomes that in all likelihood will never occur.

    Case in point – the absurd recent paper claiming 14,000 Americans had died due to the Fukushima accident.

  7. quokka says:

    It should be noted that even with the time and cost overruns of the EPR under construction in Finland, at a little over $5 per watt of capacity, it will still generate electricity at a price competitive with on-shore wind in Europe and substantially lower than any other non-hydro renewables.

    • prokaryotes says:

      And then you start to factor in the other costs, like let’s say from the waste management.

      And then you look how much earthquake a nuclear power plant could possibly withstand (and what climate disruption means).

      And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of hidden cost and potentials dangers.

      And then you watch

      Jeremy Rifkin – a brighter perspective on nuclear industry

      • quokka says:

        These days, costs of spent fuel management and decommissioning are in general included in quoted costs of nuclear power. The IEA does this in it’s reports. In the US NPP operators pay $0.001/kWh into the waste management fund which now sits at something like $23 billion. Political procrastination is what has prevented that money being spent sensibly. In the UK operators of new nuclear power plants are required to meet the full cost of waste management and decommissioning and to demonstrate that secure financial arrangements are in place for the latter before a licence is issued.

        As for the Fukushima accident, I did a little calculation to test the assertion that it makes nuclear power too expensive. Assuming a cost of $100 billion, distributing that cost over the history of nuclear generated electricity and assuming that nuclear power has displaced black coal in electricity generation yields an incremental abatement cost of about $1.40 per tonne of CO2. Australia’s initial carbon tax is $23 per tonne and is generally held to be too low to force changes on the need scale.

        If you this this $1.40 number is way off, I invite you to show that it is so.

    • prokaryotes says:

      40% of FRANCE freshwater is used to cool down the plants… and due to climate disruption (to hot cooling water), france has periodically shut down plants during the summer month.

      FRANCE is about to opt-out from nuclear energy, because it is epic fail.

      • quokka says:

        France’s emissions of CO2 in the electricity sector are about 70g CO2/kWh in the electricity sector and per capita emissions much lower than most other western European countries and on a par with China. It also has electricity prices lower than most other western European countries.

        There is little chance of the German experiment achieving emissions in the electricity sector on a par with France before the 2040s – if all goes well.

        It is a strange Orwellian newspeak where this win for the climate has turned into an epic fail.

      • john tucker says:

        They are no where close to “opting out” and if they did it would probably be largely for gas – Like Germany.

        There is a childhood leukemia report of a link to French reactors running like wildfire through the US media – But even that is classic population mixing when the numbers are examined.

        The story (sounds terrible eh? ):

        Child leukaemia doubles near French nuclear plants-study

        The incidence of leukaemia is twice as high in children living close to French nuclear power plants as in those living elsewhere in the country, a study by French health and nuclear safety experts has found.
        ( http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/11/nuclear-leukaemia-france-idUSL6E8CB5QY20120111 )

        Wow right, sounds cut and dry, bad peoples still arguing for nuclear power and all that – except:

        “French scientists led by Jacqueline Clavel of France’s Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health found 14 cases of leukaemia in children living within five kilometres (three miles) of the nuclear power facilities during the shorter six-year span.

        “But when we looked at the period from 1990 to 2007, this excess risk did not persist,” Clavel said in an interview. “The link with the very weak ionising radiation emitted by these nuclear plants — when they are functioning normally — cannot be established.”

        “Nor was it specific to one nuclear plant or one type of plant.”

        The very low doses of radiation, combined with the fact that risk did not seem to diminish gradually over distance, “does not argue in favour of radiation as a causal factor for the excess cancer cases,” ( http://www.expatica.com/fr/news/french-news/mixed-data-on-child-cancer-rates-near-french-nuke-sites_200402.html )

        So the conclusion one would draw from the study as reported was incorrect at best, and didn’t even agree with the researcher’s conclusion! – furthermore whats known about leukemia now cannot be ignored (everyone commenting on the nuclear debate should be familiar with the following):

        Childhood leukaemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma near large rural construction sites, with a comparison with Sellafield nuclear site ( http://www.bmj.com/content/310/6982/763.short )

  8. Chris Winter says:

    Quokka wrote: “As far as films go, I would think that “On the Beach” would have had a far bigger impact.”

    It certainly had an impact on Helen Caldicott, then in her late teens. She has said as much.

  9. john tucker says:

    A frontline special appearing this week on PBS :

    Press Release
    January 6, 2012, 1:07 pm ET
    Has the world lost faith in nuclear power? Almost a year after a devastating earthquake and tsunami crippled Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, there’s an emerging consensus in Japan and Germany that the hazards of nuclear energy overshadow its benefits. In the United States and other countries, the question remains unresolved. ( http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/nuclear-aftershocks/ )

    Doesn’t look or sound like we are going to hear a comparative risk assessment here. Considering there hasn’t been a serious casualty event at a nuclear plant approaching conventional power casualties. Ill try to catch it but I dont expect much.

    In the end, for the most part, the anti nuclear movement will win again. In the short run. I have little doubt of that. What it will mean is a nearly comical response up till now to climate change will be continued in token instillations of intermittent renewables; supplemented by a huge new natural gas infrastructure. Its already come to pass.

    Importantly it will also be another instance of unreasonable belief trumping science and reason in the political arena. Most importantly, it will mean that “environmentalists” (not me) do not believe climate change/ocean acidification/pollution is even important enough an issue for serious reasoned discussion or even moderate sacrifice.

    Thats what will stand out.

  10. john tucker says:

    I stand totally corrected. The Frontline piece was very well done. A informative and pleasant surprise. The extra time they took in japan was appreciated. The coverage of climate issues and the reality of power generation was also appreciated. They were not easy on the nuclear power industry nor were they unfairly harsh to the best of my knowledge here.

  11. David B. Benson says:

    Yes, the cost of all large construction has risen remarkably since about 1985. So the cost of new NPPs continues to climb. Interestingly, wind turbines use so much materials (and the learning curve is about flattened) that the price has begun to increase with the price of steel and other materials required.

    Lets try to show some perspective here, rather than mere cherry-picking advocacy, hmmm?