|Speech on the Occasion of the Institute’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary|
It was in 1975 that the Uranium Institute came into existence, and met the press for the first time. As the first Secretary General of the Institute, I had been busy for several months making the necessary preparations.
My first task was to find a suitable office. That did not take long. I found one well-located in central London. It was perfect in every way — except for the address: Trafalgar House, Waterloo Place. It does not need a student of European history to know that this simply would not do. So I started again, and it was not long before I found something more politically neutral: New Zealand House, where the Institute lived happily for ten years.
It was while we were there that I received a death threat addressed to the Iranian Institute. Danger of death is one thing. Being in danger because someone could not spell is quite another. More happily, there was a charming letter addressed to the Geranium Institute from an old man who had produced the first blue-flowering geranium.
The sixteen founding members of the Institute met at Christmas in 1974 to try to decide how the new organisation should work. They did not get very far. The problem was how to reach sensible judgements about the market without contravening commercial law, either in Europe or more significantly in the USA. Many hours of discussion took place, without much progress. Curiously, it was an external event, an attack on the Institute in Forbes Magazine at about this time, that almost accidentally pointed the way forward.
The problem was to know how the market was likely to develop at a time when nuclear power had suddenly started to grow rapidly — but to do this without infringing commercial law. It soon became obvious that the best course would be to bring in the users of uranium as members. They should know what the market was likely to do, and if they could be persuaded to give their advice much of the guesswork would be eliminated.
Some uranium producers found the idea very odd indeed. They asked: "How can we possibly sit down and discuss the market openly with our commercial customers?" But legal pressures against producer-only meetings had become overwhelming. Widening the membership to take in consumers was the only possible course to take.
We had an elderly adviser, Bill Bentinck. He said that if we wanted the electricity producers to join as members we should first try to persuade the "Nuclear Duke" — then, he said, the nuclear marquesses, earls, viscounts and barons would soon want to join. I asked: "Who is the Duke?" "Heinrich Mandel of RWE", said Bill, who knew Germany well.
And so it was arranged. Mandel was persuaded to join, and before long became the Institute’s first consumer chairman. Electricity producers from all over the world became members. Bill knew what he was talking about, not least because he himself was later to become a real Duke, with a seat in the House of Lords. He had helped us to lay one of several very important building-blocks.
A second building-block came from a suggestion by Tony Grey of Pancontinental and Roy Wright of Rio Tinto that there should be an annual Symposium. We held the first Symposium in mid 1976, launching it in the short space of three months, all the time anxiously wondering whether anyone would come. In the event there was a respectable attendance, and we began to consider what might be built on this foundation.
If we wished to be the main forum for the world’s nuclear fuel industries — and there was little point in aiming for less — we faced fierce competition from older and larger organisations. At the start we did not have much to offer, apart from a Symposium which gave a chance to meet some of the leaders of the nuclear industry informally.
But we did have the advantage of being based in London, with its collection of treasures that not many other cities can match. So I shamelessly exploited London’s historic buildings, starting with the Banqueting House — that marvellous room in Whitehall with its Reubens ceiling, where the head of King Charles I was cut off. For our first reception I engaged four herald trumpeters to play fanfares. "Complete waste of money", said John Kostuik, the then chairman. But it was those trumpeters — and dare I say it, the style — that non-members remembered, and partly why they came again the following year.
On the second occasion that we used the Banqueting House we were attacked by protesters calling themselves the League of Invisible Radiators. A man whom I did not recognise asked the band to stop playing, and to my surprise started to make an unscheduled speech. I was still more surprised when it began to turn anti-nuclear. I ran to throw him out — he was not very large — but he ran down the stairs and escaped on a bicycle. He left behind several containers that were producing hydrogen sulphide gas — the smell of rotten eggs.
We faced a further protest a few years later. The success of the Symposium had forced us to leave the Banqueting House and we were now using the larger Middle Temple Hall. As we left at the end, a small group of people were waiting for us, each with a candle stuck in a little yellow cake. They were not violent, but they had posters attacking our members and myself.
The lawyers who own the Middle Temple were not amused. They said we were a controversial organisation creating a disturbance on private property, and refused to let us use their hall for the following year’s banquet. As we had already outgrown most of the suitable places in London, rather in desperation I wrote to the Lord Mayor of London asking if we could use the Guildhall.
In the normal course of events I would never have dared to do this. Fortunately luck was on my side; that year’s Lord Mayor happened to be chairman of a mining company, and he agreed. The only condition was that if the Queen needed to use the Guildhall we should have to give way. However, we were assured that the Royal Family was always on holiday in Scotland at the beginning of September. And that, thanks to the Middle Temple protesters, is why we continue to meet at this time of the year.
A further building-block was the sensible decision that right from the start our officers should be truly international. Another was the programme of visits to different countries for the mid-term meetings, hosted by local member companies. Marvellous events were arranged, including having our own special TGV (high speed train) in France.
On these visits, some members brought their wives, and in time the ladies pressed to be allowed to go down a mine. Eventually this was agreed. One elderly miner was clearly distressed. "All my life until now I have never seen a woman in a mine. It is bad luck, I tell you." But the women had their way — and no doubt, Madam Chairman, still do — in this as in so much else.
From early in the Institute’s life we had a policy of quick and open publication. Openness helped to confirm our aura of respectability. But it did not prevent the Tennessee Valley Authority from claiming in 1983 that the Institute was the organiser of a worldwide cartel, and that I was the spider in the centre of the web.
One look at my motor car would have dispelled any notion of personal wealth. However, unfortunately we had to spend a great deal of time and effort defending our good name. The stupidity of the allegation became clear when I was giving evidence. I had great pleasure in pointing out that the chairman of the Institute at the time happened to be the Inspecteur-Generale of Electricité de France, who most people would assume was unlikely to organise a cartel against the interests of his own organisation.
It is now thirteen years since I retired. By 1987 nuclear power had already been badly hit, first by Three Mile Island and then by Chernobyl. Since then things have not been easy for the industry. But for reasons that I gave some years ago in a paper in the scientific journal Nature, and which I still stand by, I believe that by 2010 — and possibly early as 2005 — there will be a resurgence of our industry.
The consequences of global warming and rising sea levels due to carbon dioxide pollution will alarm governments to a degree that is not yet apparent. Technically there will be the first moves towards a new hydrogen economy, to take over gradually from oil and gas. But as yet no-one seems to be asking how the hydrogen will be made. Clearly it will require major investment in new electrical power resources of a non-polluting nature — and the most prolific of such sources is nuclear power.
We in the Institute are in the business of forecasting. So, let me end with a remark made twenty years ago by an American professor of operational research, Russell Ackoff. He said: "If you have to predict the future, then be careful to predict the inevitable. You are more likely to be right!" Another Chernobyl would be a disaster for the industry, and we must make sure it does not happen. Barring that, it is inevitable that the world will soon be calling on nuclear power to supply more of its energy. In preparation for that day the Institute’s role will continue to be one of explanation, advice and advocacy. I wish you all every success.
© copyright The Uranium Institute 2000 SYM979899