In September 2018, National Geographic will launch the documentary series, Wild Edens.1 It's all about wilderness areas and is also a soft sell for the nuclear industry. And there's an Australian connection, with the Global Ecology Lab of Flinders University, South Australia. Their energy researcher, Ben Heard2, was master of ceremonies at the premiere in Spain in April.
Gone are the days of "nuclear power too cheap to meter" and "Atoms for Peace". These were the 20th Century catch calls to promote the nuclear industry to business and to the public. Even late in the 20th Century, when things had come a bit unstuck with Windscale, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents, the propaganda was still straightforward and often simplistic.
By 2018, things have changed. The argument that nuclear power is cheap has fallen apart. As for the "peaceful atom" and "no connection with nuclear weapons", that one has fallen through, too. Recent research in UK3 and the USA4 make it clear that nuclear energy and developing new reactors are necessary for the continued development of nuclear weapons. Hans-Josef Fell, president of the global Energy Watch Group, states in the brief titled 'The disaster of the European nuclear industry': "The driving force behind the UK government's affinity to nuclear technology is the cross-subsidization of the military nuclear program."5
In the 20th Century, the industry was slow to come up with the new selling arguments ‒ the need for boundless energy, nuclear being "clean", combating climate change, the need for nuclear for space travel. Another factor was the type of nuclear reactor being developed. By the turn of the century, the "conventional" large nuclear reactors were looking expensive to build, fraught with safety problems (and hence, strict regulations) and lumbered with issues of radioactive waste disposal.
In the 21st Century came changes in technology and in the content of propaganda. Enter the "new nukes" ‒ modern designs, especially small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs ‒ they leave out that unpopular word "nuclear"). After much soul-searching – or, rather, much complex research on public opinion – the proponents of new nukes have now finally settled on environment, climate change and also a nod to space travel as the reasons why the world must embrace SMRs.
But it's not only the content of their propaganda which has changed. It's the style. It's the copious wrapping around this 21st Century nuclear birthday present.
And here's where National Geographic comes in ‒ their new documentary series Wild Edens will be gorgeous: 'filmed in the world's most stunning untouched places and their inhabitants ‒ wildlife and fauna alike, endangered by the effects of climate change.'6
The PR for nuclear power will be introduced so slightly and subtly you'd hardly notice. This is the strategy of the SMR propagandists. They also do lobby business and government with sophisticated technical arguments. But for the public – us, the great unwashed and especially the young – it is all beautiful touchy-feely stuff. A good example is "ecomodernism".7 The Ecomodernist Manifesto goes for 32 pages, glorifying nature and our duty to protect it.8 It's not until page 23 that there is one (approving) paragraph about nuclear power, and nuclear barely gets a mention in the rest of the document. However there is a fair bit of criticism of renewable energy scattered throughout the text.
Similarly, glossy documentaries like Pandora's Promise9,10, Twisting the Dragon's Tail11 and science and space travel episodes by pro-nuclear TV rock-star Brian Cox take a very pro-environment and positive theme, with a definite, but lightly stated, push for new nuclear power. The most recent glossy nuclear advertisement documentary is The New Fire: Could the Next Climate Heroes be Nuclear Engineers?12
Ben Heard's speech, on opening the premiere of Wild Edens, talked about climate change but then moved on to a longer tribute to nuclear power:13
... this beautiful and important film from National Geographic, brought to us with the help of Rosatom, represents ... recognition that nuclear technologies are crucial to the protection, restoration and expansion of our natural world.
... it is particularly nuclear technologies that will help us find energy at a global scale, without super-charging the climate change of tomorrow.
… And one of the greatest, most hopeful signs I have seen that this can happen, is to see a major corporation like Rosatom step boldly forward in this way and claim this issue on behalf of nuclear technologies.
Wild Edens will surely be beautiful, informative about wild places and worth watching. Just be aware of the underlying propaganda about nuclear power being the essential cure for climate change; nuclear power being clean and green; and the nuclear waste problem being solved.
9. Nuclear Monitor #764, 'Pandora's Promise' Propaganda, 28 June 2013, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/764/pandoras-promise-propaganda
10. Nuclear Monitor #773, 'Pandora's Propaganda', 21 Nov 2013, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/773/pandoras-propaganda