But its mansplainers know how to throw a good insult
By Linda Pentz Gunter
I suppose I should have taken pity on him really. After all, what job could possibly be more thankless right now than UK public relations representative for Électricité de France (EDF)?
A company that is so thoroughly bankrupt fiscally, and so beset by safety flaws and technical failures, would likely never survive in any other market. But in the nuclear sector there are forces willing to superglue failing companies like EDF to a safety net that simply won’t let it fall. Or fail. And so by the same miracle that its reactors remain standing, so does its PR team. Just.
EDF is way behind schedule and wildly over-budget at its so-called flagship reactor at Flamanville in France, at its Hinkley C project in the UK and at Olkiluoto in Finland. Its reactor projects have been beset by faulty welds and a defective containment cover at Flamanville that EDF balked at replacing due to cost but which, due to the delays, may end up being replaced before the reactor ever starts up. The forge EDF uses has been beset by scandal for falsifying quality control and producing defective safety parts now installed in numerous reactors. There are almost 400 cracks in its Scottish reactors at Hunterston, yet EDF claims they can still run safely. Its shares are tumbling. It is saved only by being owned by the French government. As an independent corporation it would have been long finished.
But the nuclear industry is seemingly unshameable. Accordingly, there was a fringe event at this year’s annual UK Labour Party Conference — Rediscover Nuclear: Why Net Zero Needs Nuclear. I went along, ready to be confronted with all the propaganda forces the nuclear lobby could muster.
I began by leafleting inside the room and was promptly ushered out. Word quickly got around and a young man dispatched himself to deal with me. He quickly launched his arsenal of chief weapons which consisted of…. what exactly? Not fear and surprise, but certainly an almost fanatical devotion to the nuclear priesthood.
Armed with a zillion facts swimming around in my brain, I was ready to take him on.
To my surprise, his preferred approach was insult and disrespect. To my every statement, he cried “that’s a lie!” Or “you’re lying!” “Or “that’s simply not true!” Among the things that were, in his view, not true, was that nuclear power plants release radioactive isotopes. The lowest blow, and one he clearly relished on delivery, was to compare me to Donald Trump. What? But then came that mother of all insults: “You’re fear-mongering!”
His strategy was so devoid of originality that finally, since he hadn’t actually introduced himself, I ventured to ask him if, perchance, he was the PR man for EDF?
He said he was. I said “wow” or incredulous words to that effect.
Quickly, reinforcements arrived in the person of another, much taller and seemingly even younger man, who, while actually wearing long trousers, did not behave as if he had yet graduated to them. Perhaps he had rushed into the fray to show off his own special tactic which was, yes, ridicule.
Claiming to be from Anglesey, but without the shadow of a Welsh accent, he set about the mockery of People Against Wylfa B (he used the Welsh name Pobl Atal Wylfa B, but pronounced it more like someone from a Cambridge quad than Cemaes.) “And they didn’t even change their name after Wylfa-B was canceled!” he cried, shaking with laughter at his undeniably witty insight.
I silently thanked him for his enthusiastic admission that a much vaunted nuclear project had indeed bitten the dust.
After this, they began enjoying their tandem act, which consisted mainly of constantly talking at me while telling me to be quiet and listen. Then they tried playing that eye-rolling old science card (“don’t you believe in science?”) which marked one of the not infrequent times I wish I could metamorphose into M.V. Ramana or Ed Lyman and blindside them with a little real physics.
Finally a third man appeared whom I welcomed to the wolf pack, and who wanted to know what was afoot. At that point, thoroughly exasperated with being treated like the dotty old lady they evidently took me for, I announced that he had chanced upon “a verbal gang rape.”
OK, I admit this was a step too far. Much more #MeToo than the occasion called for. But it was effective. All three, with a “that does it!” huffed with outrage back into the conference room.
I joined them. Because the emcee did not understand that the microphone in front of her was intended to be used, (I hope she doesn’t run a nuclear plant) I did not catch the names of all the presenters. However, three of the four were Tom Greatrex, CEO of the Nuclear Industry Association, Peter McIntosh of the union group, Unite, and Sue Hayman MP, who is unfortunately Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary and also co-chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Nuclear Energy.
McIntosh lamented the Labour Party’s failure to “use the N-word.” He meant “nuclear” of course, because the Labour Party buries any reference to nuclear power under the rhetoric of “low carbon energy sources.” It seemed like a brilliantly appropriate choice, given the “N-word” is generally associated with something utterly reprehensible. This was followed by the usual proclamations that nuclear power is “safe, reliable, and clean.”
An audience member complained that the pro-nuclear lobby are poor self-promoters (another useful admission) and that they should have been at CND’s anti-nuclear fringe event earlier in the conference where “the things they were saying were mad.” He urged the lobby to bird dog such events in the future to ensure a “contrary voice in the room.”
Sue Hayman piled right in. “You are right about the disinformation,” she said. “It’s done to deliberately confuse us.” As Hayman was my chief reason for venturing into the nuclear viper’s nest, and as, after extolling the virtues of the Chinese nuclear sector, she took an early exit, I intercepted her at the side door.
I told her immediately that I was that “contrary voice in the room”. We had just begun our walk and talk when I spied the young man from Anglesey hot-footing it toward us, her knight in shining armor to the rescue. He immediately began talking over me, saying a lot of nothing, anything to ensure I got no further word in. It was so blatant, I told Hayman, “he’s trying to get rid of me.” She thanked him and sent him on his way.
I have no idea if she will ever read the handouts I gave her although she said she would. But later, at a private event, I was afforded some one-on-one time with the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. I mentioned Hayman and her troubling pro-nuclear position.
His response is here paraphrased, as the conversation occurred at a hastily called reception before Corbyn raced back to London a day early, Parliament having been abruptly unprorogued by the UK Supreme Court. While not taking notes, I can safely say that Hayman’s view is not Corbyn’s. Accessible, down to earth and gracious, Corbyn is not wont to impatience, but dare I say I detected a touch of “not that nuclear dead horse again” flicker across his cordial expression.
In Corbyn’s opinion, nuclear power is already over. There will be nothing more of it after Hinkley, and even that may yet go down, (best not say “in flames” though,) along with EDF’s incompetence. The rest are already off the books. (There is a document to support this. I am still in pursuit of it). The Swansea Tidal Lagoon, canceled by the Conservative government, will go ahead under Labour. In his closing conference speech, Corbyn not only never mentioned nuclear, he never mentioned “low carbon energy sources”, the known code for nuclear. He spoke only of green energy.
Things were starting to look up. There’s nothing like a Corbyn conversation and three glasses of prosecco as the perfect antidote to pro-nuclear mansplaining by badly brought up boys. But I still wonder if they would dare talk to their mothers like that.