“” Energy crisis “and nuclear revival: an air of déjà vu”

Chronic. Did the engineers of the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) invent the time machine? The “energy crisis” is making a big comeback in public debate, and President Macron is relaunching nuclear power. In small yesterday (the « Small Modular Reactors »), and probably on a large scale before Christmas (the EPR reactors). All this has an air of déjà vu, a very seventies style.

The energy crisis of the 1970s is generally associated with the “oil shock”, a combination of the “peak” of conventional American oil, the Arab embargo of 1973 and the monopoly of the “majors” – the big oil companies – which wish to increase their margins. However, this theme appeared in the American public space as early as 1969, before the oil shock therefore. And the “energy crisis” does not then concern oil but electricity production.

Supply difficulties

The 1960s were indeed marked by a series of giant blackouts, the most famous “blackout” being that of New York in November 1965. In the press, the Neo-Malthusian interpretation, that of the exhaustion of electricity. fossil resources, is naturally absent. Supply difficulties have clearly identified causes: mining companies prefer to export iron and steel coke, more profitable than steam coal, to Japan and Europe; the 1968 strikes in the mines reduced coal stocks; new environmental standards (on sulfur dioxide) oblige the abandonment of certain deposits; sanitary rules (on dust) impose investments that reduce the profitability of mining assets; finally, atomic power stations are behind schedule.

In 1969, the expression “energy crisis” is a piece of language against the environmentalist movement, opposed to nuclear power.

But the nuclear industry is cleverly exploiting the situation: power cuts are a sign of a deeper problem – the depletion of fossils – a symptom of an “energy crisis”. And this calls for a radical solution that only nuclear power can provide. During the summer of 1969, the expression “energy crisis” appeared in internal documents of l’Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) American. It was initially a piece of language against the environmentalist movement, then fiercely opposed to nuclear power.

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On October 15, 1969, James Ramey, a senior AEC official, gave a speech to the Federal Bar Association: multiple legal actions against the power plants slowed down the nuclear program and threatened the nation with an “energy crisis”. Lawyers must take their responsibilities. The newspaper Science takes up the argument again: environmentalists are responsible for the energy crisis but they will also be the first victims because “When the air conditioning and televisions stop, the public will say to themselves: to hell with the environment, give me plenty ».

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“” Energy crisis “and nuclear revival: an air of déjà vu”