Well, now we know; the reason for widespread public distrust of nuclear power is because way back in 1962, Dr No - the evil scientist in the James Bond film of the same name - built a nuclear reactor on a Jamaican island and used it to threaten the world.
At least that’s the reason given for the shadow cast over the image of nuclear power by Professor David Phillips, of the UK’s prestigious Royal Society of Chemistry. Fortunately for us all, British secret agent James Bond thwarted Dr No. But unfortunately for the nukes industry, the public has had a “remorselessly grim” (Professor Phillips’ words) view of nuclear power ever since it was exposed to Dr No’s nefarious plan.
There’s no doubt Professor Phillips is an eminent and respected scientist. Awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by the Queen in 1999 for services to science education and made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in January 2012 for services to chemistry, he is an author, broadcaster and a leader in his field.
However, his blaming the fact that nuclear power is distrusted, feared and otherwise shunned by many people on a 50-year-old spy movie has to be one of the worst pieces of pro-nuclear propaganda we’ve ever seen (and we thought we’d seen them all).
That said who isn’t easily swayed by movies? We’ve been terrified of diamonds ever since Blofeld made a satellite of out them to incinerate New York in Diamonds are Forever. We’ll never play poker again after the nail-biting tension of Casino Royale.
Actually, if Professor Phillips’ theory that popular culture has influenced the public’s attitudes towards nuclear power were right, surely we’d all say everything’s fine with it. Look at The Simpsons, easily as popular as James Bond (if not more). Despite the Springfield nuclear plant’s terrible safety record nobody has ever died, nobody has radiation sickness or leukaemia and, apart from a few three-eyed fish, the local environment is completely unspoiled. In one episode Homer is even made to eat nuclear waste as a punishment and suffers no adverse effects!
Professor Phillips’ odd reasoning on the deep trouble that nuclear power finds itself in, insults the intelligence of those of us who have the horrors of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, and countless other large and small nuclear accidents indelibly printed on our memories. How many of us even remember Dr No or its plot if we’ve even seen the movie? Thousands of anti-nuclear activists weren’t even born when it was made. Those that were around at the time would never forget the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki less than two decades earlier. Dr No’s plans were tame in comparison.
Today’s news story simply points to the desperation of the nuclear industry and its supporters. By harking back to an early-60s spy-movie caper, they’re asking us to forget the terrible history of nuclear power in the intervening 50 years – contamination from uranium mining, environmental damage caused by nuclear reactors, and the legacy of nuclear waste, plague on the human race for hundreds of thousands of years.
If anything, Professor Phillips should be claiming that Dr No is a fine advert for nuclear power. Everything was okey dokey at the Dr’s reactor – it was all clean, shiny, and efficient and everyone wore very cool overalls – until Bond showed up and pushed him into the cooling system and everything went KER-BLAMMO! There aren’t any other nuclear reactors around the world that can claim that kind of safety record (if we forget the KER-BLAMMO! business, obviously).
The nuclear industry should be building nuclear reactors to Dr No’s specifications and with his security measures. As long as the guards shoot any meddling secret agents before they can get to the cooling system, everything should be fine. In fact, what they should actually be doing is following the example set by that other Bond villain Scaramanga, the Man With The Golden Gun, and devoting their resources entirely to solar power. Now there was a forward-thinking supervillain.