Nuclear Redux (FORTUNE)
President Bush's support of nuclear power has brought a noticeable increase in advertising and contributed articles by the nuclear industry. Today's FORTUNE carries a five-page special advertising section sponsored by two nuclear associations and Southern Company. Here's an analysis of the industry's advertising message.
August 08, 2005
Advertorials are an opportunity for companies to make their advertising message look like objective journalism -- in this case, part of a broader campaign of op-ed pieces and speeches about a nuclear revival. Let's look at a breakdown of this FORTUNE magazine advertorial sponsored by members of the nuclear industry:
The financial spin
The advertising message is clear: investors should get into nuclear industry stocks now, and opponents should get out of the way. The Energy Policy Act's subsidies for new nuclear power plants, billions in federal construction loan guarantees, a streamlined permitting process, the rising cost of natural gas, and environmental concerns over greenhouse gases, all help support the cause of the U.S. power industry's resource of last resort: building expensive new nuclear plants.
The security risk of proliferation is not mentioned. The shortage of uranium, and its rising prices, are dismissed with a quote from an expert: the CEO of the world's largest uranium producer says there's no shortage. The World Nuclear Association, a co-sponsor of the section, says we'll run out of uranium in 200 years at today's rate of consumption. (Domestic coal supplies are projected to last 250-300 years.)
The environmental spin
On the middle page is Southern Company's full-page ad depicting a nuclear power plant operating under clear skies in the midst of a natural wetland. The advertorial surrounding it spins a story about how nuclear power has made a "comeback" because of concerns over global warming.
The environmental opposition is clearly the nuclear industry's greatest fear. Believe it or not, nuclear is being promoted as environmentally clean and safe. The Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. has not ratified, placed emphasis on greenhouse gases, which nuclear power plants do not emit.
Nuclear waste, the absence of a viable approach to managing it, and the expense of indefinite temporary storage measures, are not mentioned anywhere in the FORTUNE special advertising section.
The everybody's-doing-it spin
The advertorial points to the rising interest in nuclear power in three EU countries, but omits any mention of the nuclear power ambitions of North Korea or Iran. Both countries are developing their own, against strong U.S. opposition.
No mention is made of the countries that have slowed or stopped the growth of their nuclear power programs, or have none, because of strong, prolonged public opposition. A few hundred nuclear power plants are left in operation around the globe, mostly in Europe. Of the two dozen or so new plants now under construction, a third are in India.
The energy shortage spin
Projected energy consumption means the U.S. needs nuclear power plants, the advertorial says. Energy Information Agency statistics are used to suggest that we will need 1,000 new power plants by 2025, if consumption continues to grow at today's rates.
The concepts of conservation, decentralized power, and renewable energy failed to make it into the discussion. Instead, the advertorial says of nuclear, "the only real alternatives are coal and natural gas," and "nuclear is the environmentally clean choice." It even suggests that electricity produced by nuclear plants is among the lowest cost in the nation.
With enough subsidies from the Bush administration, someday it might be. Especially if we can push off the cost of radioactive waste disposal on our grandchildren.