It is impressive how many of the smartest and most informed people thinking about our climate dilemma have expressed their support for nuclear energy. We know that it takes courage to even talk about nuclear, so we have compiled a listing of many of the brightest lights who have expressed such support—from Barack Obama and Joe Biden to Herbie Hancock and recently Zion Lights (formerly with Extinction Rebellion)—all of whom are convinced that humanity needs nuclear to generate sufficient energy and also solve for climate.

What makes it hard to speak in favor of nuclear energy?  This is the question we are exploring in an effort to understand where opposition to nuclear energy exists, since it does not prevail within the highest ranks of government or the energy industry in general. Still, there remains some amount of antinuclear sentiment in the minds of members of the public and rather strong taboos against consideration of nuclear swirling within the environmental movement. These seem to prevent nuclear energy—despite being GHG-free—from being embraced as an ally in the fight against CO2 emissions. We are taking some time to examine more closely where today’s antinuclear statements and actions are coming from, who is speaking out against nuclear and what motivates them.

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At the top of the list of sources of antinuclear rumblings is, not surprisingly, the fossil fuel industry itself.  There’s been a long and rather nefarious history of attacks from the fossil fuel industry against both supporters of nuclear power and the industry itself. We’ve seen documented instances of the funding of ads opposing nuclear power plants, such as this one by the Oil Heat Industry opposing the construction of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Station by LILCO, using the deceptive slogan “SOLAR, NOT NUCLEAR.” Claiming to have sponsored the ad in the “public interest,” nevertheless, the Oil Heating Oil Industry takes responsibility in the fine print. We hope to report on more of this history in further detail. But today, with time running out on our efforts to forestall the growing calamity that is fossil emissions, the fossil fuel industry is fighting back with well-funded, sophisticated but far more misleading campaigns targeting both nuclear energy and attitudes towards nuclear energy.

Lachlan Markay, a reporter with The Daily Beast, was able to obtain branded evidence that shed light on recent examples of the Fossil Fuel industry’s plan to create super-hyped campaigns that essentially fake the appearance of widespread grassroots antinuclear sentiments.  Through an elaborate campaign, operators for the fossil fuel industry create with dollars what appears to be local opposition by recruiting allies and respected “influencers” to serve as stealth spokespeople to oppose legislation that supports nuclear power while urging and organizing others to follow suit. Markay’s report, “Inside the Gas Industry’s Plan to Sink Nuclear Power,” details how the American Petroleum Institute (API) organized a well-orchestrated  strategy over the course of more than a year to oppose pro-nuclear legislation in Pennsylvania and Ohio through an initiative called No Nuclear Bailouts.

(Click to download the API presentation.)

Where did this detailed campaign information come from? It comes from the internal presentation created by Tara Smith Anderson, the then Director of External Mobilization for the American Petroleum Institute, laying out APIs scheme for manipulating messaging through partners and local influencers and others to generate opposition the bill. By “recruiting” (which likely means paying) respected community leaders to speak out against the bill, it becomes much easier to dupe others—credulous followers—into opposing a bill that is actually in their own best interest. This presentation covers how API organizes and works behind the scenes to sneakily oppose nuclear power without the public realizing that fossil fuel interests are manipulating the public conversation using many different means but also what are likely paid “non-traditional” influencers, including elected officials.

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While the cost of this campaign is not detailed in the presentation, we learn quite a lot more from Tara Smith Anderson’s LinkedIn profile (replicated in the side image), which specifies more of the kinds of grimy work she did for the API. She boasts that she “managed” an annual operating budget of $16 million for external mobilization—which immediately raises the question of who received pay for being “mobilized” by Tara. Unfortunately, we do not have the list of who received payments for speaking out on behalf of the oil and gas industry. Yet, with so much money spent on this campaign, we can see that it took a whole lot of dollars to sway high-profile influencers and to coordinate enough “partners” to corrupt the integrity of the public conversation, the result of which is an artificial appearance of public antinuclear opposition. 

It is very informative to know that not everyone speaking out against nuclear is doing so authentically.  The API felt it imperative to fund their side of the argument to the tune of tens of millions annually. From that, we can surmise that some portion of those doing so may have been motivated by personal gain, even when we think they are purely acting from a conscientious opposition. In fact, some are deliberately misleading the public legislative process as well as the impressions we are getting.

The results of API’s antinuclear campaigns—of which there have been many over the years—have yielded results and profits for them and their members.  Not only have these campaigns had impacts on the construction of new nuclear projects and the passage of specific pieces of legislation by states, like with Pennsylvania and Ohio trying to do the right thing for the climate, but they have also created and/or perpetuated the overall perception that there is strong public opposition to nuclear energy. This foments an atmosphere of hostility for those who work in nuclear energy who might want to speak out about how important it is.  It also makes it much harder for those outside the industry to show support for nuclear power as a GHG-free solution. And it makes it especially hard for environmentalists to break ranks to support nuclear, since they depend largely upon public donations. Which forces enough environmentalists to have to embrace dirty natural gas as back up energy for intermittent renewables, rather than clean nuclear power, which has directly enabled the fossil fuel industry not just to stay in business but to grow the market share for natural gas at the expense of the climate and our future.