Granddaddies of the international Nuclear Barons profiled by Pringle and Spigelman are the members of Hertsgaard's Atomic...


NUCLEAR INC.: The Men and Money Behind Nuclear Energy

Granddaddies of the international Nuclear Barons profiled by Pringle and Spigelman are the members of Hertsgaard's Atomic Brotherhood, the American government and industry officials who have promoted and hoped to profit from nuclear energy. Hertsgaard's economic analysis goes beyond revelations of now-well-known government sweeteners and deception to examine why only the very few diversified giants can survive in nuclear energy, why even they require massive government subsidies, and why conflicts between the goals of industry and the public interest are inherent in nuclear power itself. Among the activities he chronicles are the hasty decision favoring the Navy's light water reactor, originally chosen for nuclear submarines without regard for economy; the disastrous results for Westinghouse of Nixon's globally-motivated manipulation of uranium prices; the collusion and conflicts between the government and industry arms of the Brotherhood in staking out foreign markets; the artificially low prices with which the corporations initially lured utility companies; the interlocking network that creates a unity of policy among the Brotherhood; and, on the other hand, the inflationary competitive behavior of the Big Two, GE and Westinghouse, which has contributed to their present woes. Now, with costs rising, the economy and energy demand slumping, greater energy efficiency foreseen, and public insistence on stricter government oversight, the industry is more than ever dependent on government help. Ironically, though, industry leaders fear that Reagan's blatant pro-nuclear policies--with the DOE and NRC resembling subsidiaries of the Bechtel Corporation--will prove unacceptable to the public, and thus counterproductive. Hertsgaard has spoken at length with these industry leaders and been impressed by their unshaken, religious faith in nuclear power as the embodiment of progress and the savior of American capitalism, technological society, and Western civilization. Anti-nuclear activists, they note, are also anti-coal, anti-offshore and Alaskan oil, and ""anti-progress."" ""The idea is if they can stop this society they can then move it in the direction they want,"" says Bertram Wolfe of General Electric. ""They're certainly against big business, against capitalism as we see it""--a connection, says Hertsgaard, that Wolfe and his colleagues grasp better than do the antinukers themselves. Hertsgaard believes the solar alternative to be economically feasible but not in the cards as it doesn't lend itself to large-scale, large-profit exploitation by the giants. Their best hope now for public acceptance and a stable investment climate, and thus survival, is for closer government involvement--both subsidies and regulation--and a patient, long-term research effort to develop a standardized, safer reactor. His cool, close reasoning surpasses previous exposes in its understanding of the dynamics behind the Brotherhood's behavior.

Pub Date: May 23, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983