Robert O. Anderson – banking heir, oil wildcatter, big oil exec, financier of antinuclear movement

By Rod Adams

In 1970, Robert O. Anderson gave David Brower $200,000 as seed money to form the virulent antinuclear group that calls itself Friends of the Earth. I learned that important piece of information while reading a book by F. William Engdahl titled A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order. Here is the passage that opened my eyes:

Anderson and his Atlantic Richfield Co. funneled millions of dollars through their Atlantic Richfield Foundation into select organizations to target nuclear energy. One of the prime beneficiaries of Anderson’s largess was a group called Friends of the Earth which was organized in this time with a $200,000 grant from Anderson. One of the earliest targets of Anderson’s Friends of the Earth was to finance an assault on German nuclear industry, through such anti-nuclear actions as the anti-Brockdorf demonstrations in 1976, led by Friends of the Earth leader Holger Strohm.

(pp. 173-174)

The discovery moved Anderson up to exhibit number one in my long-running effort to prove that the illogically tight linkage between “environmental groups” and “antinuclear groups” can be traced directly to the need for the oil and gas industry to discourage the use of nuclear energy.

Aside: I have always categorized opposition to nuclear energy from people who are concerned about humanity’s impact on the environment as “illogical.” The foundation for my unshakeable belief that nuclear fission energy systems are environmentally beneficial is my up-close and personal experience with operating a nuclear reactor inside a sealed submarine deep underwater.

Even at high power, fission energy produces nothing that needs to be dumped from an exhaust stack, unlike all of its competitors. It is possible to design reactors to operate for decades without new fuel; that means that the supply infrastructure has a tiny environmental impact in comparison with all other controllable power systems. Logically, environmentalists should be some of the strongest supporters of nuclear energy development; it has the proven ability to reduce the negative impacts known to be associated with burning fossil fuels. End Aside.

Without a strong effort to layer as many restrictions as possible on its development, the natural technical advantages of atomic fission would have long ago made oil and gas worth far less than they are today. Robert O. Anderson was fully aware of that fact, something that can be proven with a passage from Daniel Yergin’s The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power. In 1956, President Eisenhower sent Anderson on a secret mission to pressure the king of Saudi Arabia to help western interests resolve the Suez Crisis. Eisenhower gave Anderson a lever to use as a source of political pressure; he told him to tell the king that the United States had the ability to disrupt world oil markets using nuclear energy.

That same month (September 1956), with the Suez crisis still brewing, Robert Anderson, a wealthy Texas oil man who was much admired by Eisenhower, made a secret trip to Saudi Arabia as the President’s personal emissary. The objective was to get the Saudis to apply pressure on Nasser to compromise. In Riyadh, Anderson warned King Saud and Prince Faisal, the Foreign Minister, that the United States had made great technical advances that would lead to sources of energy much cheaper and more efficient than oil, potentially rendering Saudi and all Middle Eastern petroleum reserves worthless. The United States might feel constrained to make this technology available to the Europeans if the canal were to be a tool of blackmail.

And what might this substitute be, asked King Saud.

“Nuclear energy,” replied Anderson.

Neither King Saud nor Prince Faisal, who had done some reading on nuclear power, seemed impressed, nor did they show any worry about the ability of Saudi oil to compete in world energy markets. They dismissed Anderson’s warning.

(Emphasis added.)

As a man with extensive and growing investments in oil resources located all around the world, Anderson had no logical reason to help anyone, especially the Europeans, develop an energy source “much cheaper and more efficient than oil”.  He had about as much interest in rendering “petroleum reserves worthless” as King Saud or Prince Faisal.

The oil and gas industry is full of savvy people who understand how to market products to customers; I am sure that Anderson and his associates were aware that any effort to attack nuclear energy that was transparently led by the petroleum industry would fail. They needed to find proxies if they were going to have any success.

Industry decision makers must have been fully aware of the battles that had been fought in the late 1950s and early 1960s to stop above-ground nuclear weapons testing. I suspect that petroleum suppliers made a conscious decision to take advantage of the political strength of antinuclear weapons activism and pivot it into antinuclear energy opposition. The chances of success would be even higher if they could make the strategic decision to take the moral high ground and claim that opposition to nuclear energy arose out of “environmental” concerns.

David Brower’s fall out with the Sierra Club in 1969 provided a wonderful opportunity for Anderson. Brower had an established reputation as a leading environmentalist and he needed money to continue his efforts. He had already engaged in battles against nuclear energy, but was often opposed on the Sierra Club board of directors by more technically qualified people who recognized that nuclear energy was more environmentally friendly than either fossil fuel or hydroelectric dams. (Note: The Sierra Club’s political activism began with battles against dams that threatened to transform flowing rivers and scenic valleys into stagnant lakes.)

Some readers might think at this point that I am “going conspiratorial” and that there is no evidence that Anderson’s action to fund Friends of the Earth was part of a broader strategy. My defense is to remind doubters that oil industry leaders gather and talk in private on a regular basis; describing how they often cooperate to advance their common interests has nothing to do with wild conspiracy theories. Another bit of history to take into account is that Anderson served many years as chairman of the Aspen Institute, a group that has never made any secret of the fact that it organizes forums so that “leaders” can get together to develop action campaigns.

Other doubters may go to the trouble of digging deeper into Anderson’s biographical details to find evidence that he may have actually favored nuclear energy. In fact, there is such a statement in the obituary that the New York Times published on December 6, 2007.

He was also a Reagan Republican who held many top nonelected posts in the Republican Party and favored nuclear power and a smaller federal government.

Of course, it is very easy to say that you favor nuclear energy while working behind the scenes to erect barriers to its development. That statement should not need any links or evidence for anyone that has been paying attention to political statements during the past half-dozen years.

Part of my goal in sharing this history is to provide a counterpoint to an idea that seems to be almost conventional wisdom in the nuclear industry. As illustrated in a recent commentary on American Thinker titled Nuclear Power’s New Friends?, too many nuclear professionals think that environmentalists are natural enemies that cannot be trusted, even when they express support for our technology.

The notion of environmentalists suddenly embracing nuclear power remains personally unsettling. After 40 years of watching the movement damn all things nuclear, and ginning up one fallacious witch hunt after another, I can’t really trust the movement or their motives.

Some in the nuclear power business, especially on the public relations side, welcome a possible coalition of environmental groups arguing for climate change restrictions (but nominally pro-nuclear) and the nuclear power industry itself. When you have so few political friends, even a professional movement environmentalist can look like your new BFF (best friend forever).

As I mentioned in the aside near the beginning of this post, I believe that people who are concerned about the environment, and who believe that we should tread as lightly as possible on the Earth, are the natural allies of nuclear technology. This technology enables us to do a lot more with a lot less material (e.g., think of those cards that American Nuclear Society members pass around showing that a single pellet of nuclear fuel contains as much energy as 147 gallons of crude oil or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas).

I believe that environmentalists are correct to be worried about the unknown effects of continuing to dump in excess of 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere every year.  In my opinion, the tepid response by some nuclear professionals to the climate change issue can be traced to the fact that many people who seem to be in the nuclear industry are actually in the revolving door between nuclear energy and fossil fuel energy.

The vast majority of environmentalists are sincere, family-oriented people who love both nature and humanity.  I base that statement on my experience with professional environmentalists.  For more than 5 years I frequently socialized with them because my wife worked for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and often tapped me to help with their events. At the same time, I got to know some of the executives in the movement and learned that they were often people with inherited money linked to energy or banking who drove electric cars to the office—and high-powered sports cars or SUVs in their free time.

From my point of view, the people who have logical reasons to strongly oppose the use of nuclear energy are those who stand to lose wealth and power if it makes their products worth less. If it seems irrational to you when environmental groups promote natural gas and overlook refinery explosions, while fighting nuclear power stations and emphasizing tiny tritium leaks, remember that some of their money comes from people who sell oil and natural gas.

Endnote: Even in 1956, Anderson was obviously exaggerating when he told King Saud that nuclear energy would make oil “worthless”. Petroleum has far too many valuable properties to ever be worthless; however, it should be obvious to the most casual observer that oil does not have to be priced at $108 per barrel (Friday, August 2, price for Brent crude oil as reported by

Gulf_Offshore_Platform 201x268Oil would be worth a lot less than that if more of the world’s energy needs were provided by atomic fission. If oil was worth less, it would make no economic sense to press it out of shale rocks in North Dakota, drill for it deep under the Gulf of Mexico, or try to extract it from the challenging environment of the Arctic Ocean.

Our natural allies in the environmental community would be happy if none of those actions were necessary, but our rivals in the oil and gas industry might resist the notion with vigor.




Rod Adams is a nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is the host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005. He writes about nuclear technology at his own blog, Atomic Insights.


13 thoughts on “Robert O. Anderson – banking heir, oil wildcatter, big oil exec, financier of antinuclear movement

  1. Eric Schmitz


    Just a POI: The IFR project was canceled in 1994 by Congress and the Clinton Administration. Could not have been Carter, as he served before Reagan. :-)

    To my mind, the abandonment of both the thorium and the IFR projects were tragic mistakes, and I would love to see both of them revived and advanced.


  2. Alasdair Lumsden

    Hi All,

    I noticed people talking about building safer newer Nuclear plants, but I didn’t see anyone mention Molten Salt Reactors, such as the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. These have the potential to completely revolutionise the way we think about Nuclear power – it’s radically safer, cheaper and cleaner.

    The first 5 minutes of this video is the quickest way to get up to speed on it:

    I’m not sure if you’ve encountered this type of reactor before, but it’s radically different to all other designs as it uses liquid fuel (Uranium/Thorium in a Molten Salt) instead of solid fuel pellets. This has huge implications… the main benefits are:

    * Is a breeder reactor – can use Thorium as a fuel. Thorium is effectively free as it’s a waste product of mining and hugely abundant, unlike uranium. This means the reactor runs on free fuel.

    * The fuel circulates, allowing 99% fuel burnup vs <1% with traditional nuclear reactors – i.e. hugely hugely efficient

    * Fuel stays in the reactor for 30+ years, so no costly shutdowns and refueling every 18 months like existing reactors

    * Valuable fission products can be removed on-line and sold for use in the medical industry – medical isotopes are a multi-billion $ industry

    * Can burn existing nuclear "waste" (which is not really waste, it's still all 98% Uranium-238), solving the Nuclear Waste "problem"

    * Final fission waste at end of 30 year cycle is only dangerous for 300 years, not 100,000+ years, and is orders of magnitude smaller in volume. I've heard that a 100MW reactor after 30 years has a basket ball sized lump of fission products.

    * Is 100% walk away safe – if the reaction gets too hot, the salt expands slowing the reaction down, so it's self regulating

    * Operates at atmospheric pressure, so can't explode. Atmospheric pressure means the entire thing costs a fraction of the cost to make (existing nuclear operates at 100+ atmospheres so pipes and the reactor vessle have to be made of enormously expensive metals at incredible precision, plus the pumps/valves/etc are also all operating under huge pressure)

    * Doesn't use water as a coolant, so no explosive gasses like Hydrogen can be produced. The Salt boils at an insanely high temperature, so the possibility of an explosion sending a plume of gas like at Fukushima is pretty much zero

    * Can have a drain tank underneith the reactor. A pipe from the main reactor to the drain tank has a fan that blows over it, freezing the salt. If power to the building is lost, the fan stops blowing, the plug melts, and the fuel drains into the tank, stopping the reaction completely.

    * Because the salt melts at ~350C, if any leaks out it immediately solidifies into an easy to handle lump you can scoop up and put back in.

    * Costs a fraction of the cost of existing Nuclear for a whole host of reasons. There's a good book on this:

    If this all sounds too good to be true, it's not, they actually built one at Oak Ridge National Labs in the 60s and demonstrated it for 5 years. It worked perfectly. The project was cancelled because Ronald Reagan gave Nuclear R&D funding to a competing project in his home state of California (The Integral fast reactor project, which later got cancelled by Jimmy Carter after sucking up huge amounts of money going nowhere). This was possibly the biggest mistake in the history of Nuclear Power.

    The technology was recently rediscovered by Kirk Sorensen who was working for NASA on their Lunar Base project, and was so amazed by the tech that he quit to do it full time, starting a company Flibe energy. They're hoping to build one via the military route as doing Nuclear R&D in the US incurs the wrath of the American NRC who basically won't rubber stamp anything without delaying it for 15+ years.

    Kirk's evangalising did not go unnoticed by the Chinese:

    There are now some other startup businesses trying to get this off the ground, including: – US – Canada – Kirk Sorensen, US (mentioned above)

    Basically, without being dramatic, this is the solution to global warming and climate change. Everyone needs to know about this. Money needs to be put into it, immediately.

    There are challenges, and nay sayers. The main opposition you will hear is:

    1. It hasn't been proven

    It has, Oak Ridge run one for 5 years.

    2. Okay, it hasn't been proven on a commercial scale

    This is true of ANY new product and is such an infuriating argument it makes my blood boil.

    3. If it was so good, people would be building and making them already

    It never got off the ground and was effectively burried and forgotten about in the 60s due to a huge inertia around solid fuel designs. People are finally waking up, hence China and all these startups.

    3. The salt corrodes everything it comes into contact with, making this a huge unknown that could very well not work

    Entirely false, Oak Ridge developed Hastelloy-N, a nickel alloy which is resistent to FLiBe salt corrosion. Oak Ridge ran their reactor for 5 years without seeing corrosion. Anti-MSR/Anti-Nuclear folk keep trotting this one out like a broken record despite it being false.

    4. The FLiBe salt needs to use the rare Lithium-6 isotope to prevent neutron absorbion creating Tritium gas. Li-6 costs $1M per KG presently

    Hardly anyone uses Li-6 right now – the cost of it would dramatically drop if it was made on an industrial scale. Or the Tritium can just be removed on-line. It's a non-issue:

    There's an annual conference of the Thorium Energy Alliance which is working to raise awareness of the technology:

    I went this year and enjoyed it throughly. It's good to see knowledge spreading about this, I'm hopeful it'll start to gain traction soon. Certainly if the Chinese project is successful I imagine we'll be seeing a lot more of this in the coming 5-10 years.



  3. Martin Kral

    Robert O. Anderson lived in Roswell, NM, not Texas. I was his handyman from 2005-2007 when he died. I never talked to him about energy in those two years. I think I will share this article with Barb to she what she recalls.

  4. Rod Adams

    @Richard Wooten

    I wonder if ARCO’s involvement in the front end of the fuel cycle corresponds in time to this passage from John Simpson’s excellent ANS published book titled “Nuclear Power from Underseas to Outer Space”?

    “You thought the turnkey experience was bad, right? It was nothing compared to the uranium contracts episode. Here again we were victims of escalation that went sour. How were we to know that the tremendous surge in nuclear plant orders would enable the uranium cartel to push prices through the roof?

    In the period from 1970 to 1973, when we sold nuclear fuel, our customers sometimes asked us to supply the necessary uranium. We agreed to supply the uranium at a fixed price plus escalation according to a widely used index. So what happened? The price of uranium quickly jumped from around $8 per pound to more than $40 per pound.

    Even more importantly, it became nearly impossible to buy uranium at any price, especially at a fixed price.” (pg 200)

    That episode is important enough to rate a subheader “The Uranium Suits” and to go on for several pages. The section includes one other comment that intrigued me enough to underline when I read the book more than a dozen years ago, but it is even more interesting in light of the information that I have learned about Robert Anderson’s involvement with the founding of Friends of the Earth.

    “An additional chapter in the uranium story was our involvement in the mining business. We realized, of course, that we were going to need a lot of uranium and we did not want to be at the mercy of the mining companies. (Unfortunately, we were later anyway.) We didn’t have the expertise ourselves so a meeting was set up with Gulf Oil so I could explain the nuclear business to them, and get Gulf to join us as an exploration partner.

    I guess I made the nuclear business look too attractive. The CEO of Gulf, Del Brockett, was on our board, and the next thing I knew, Gulf had bought General Atomics and was entering the nuclear business itself. Don Burnham and I were discussing whether now was the time to call Brockett and ask him to resign, when the phone rang and Brockett resigned. However, buying General Atomics was not one of Gulf’s smartest moves — it proved to be quite a burden.” (pp 201-202)

    Unless, of course, Gulf’s primary goal for the purchase of General Atomics was to slow the growth of nuclear energy.

  5. Rod Adams

    @Thomas Eiden

    One more thing – by definition, a capitalist cares more about money than anything else.

    I consider myself a freedom loving humanist.

  6. Rod Adams

    @Thomas Eiden

    Establishment defenders often resort to dismissal of logical argument by accusation of conspiracy theory.

    Are you going to try to assert that businesses do NOT plan, do NOT cooperated to achieve mutually beneficial goals, and do NOT take action against competitive threats to their market share?

    That is a little unrealistic.

    You also resort to caricature of environmentalists. As I described in my post, I not only live with an environmentally concerned wife, but I have worked on a number of projects with professional environmentalists. The people I know are very family and human oriented; they want to make the world a better place for their children and grandchildren. Unlike most of the very wealthy people I have also met, they are just as concerned about the rest of the children and grandchildren in the world, not just their own.

  7. Jeff Walther

    Thomas Eiden at August 6, 2013 at 12:54 wrote:

    “This whole oil conspiracy stuff is nonsense (which you still haven’t proved in this article). Oil doesn’t even directly compete with nuclear power, since oil is primarily used for transportation, plastics, and myriad other items in our daily lives.”

    At the time of the start of the anti-nuclear movement, something like 15% – 20% of our electricity was generated with petroleum. Additionally, natural gas is a normal by-product of oil production, which has become intensely profitable for the oil companies. If you remove or reduce the market for natural gas, their profits on oil extraction fall, simply because they’ll get less for the by-product natural gas.

    Additionally, the amount of gas consumed for electricity production is huge. If that was eliminated, the remaining household and transportation use probably wouldn’t even be enough to consume the by-product gas production.

    So, even if not one drop of oil is used for electricity generation, the oil companies still have a huge incentive to keep natural gas use as high as possible.

    If the nuclear roll out that started in the 60s had continued through to today, we would now get 80% or more of our electricity from nuclear and the balance from hydro with a little gas generation left over for load balancing.

    100 older reactors supply 20% of our electricity. Ten reactors per year from 1980 to 2010 would be 300 additional reactors. Reactor capacity has increased with time, so a total of 400 reactors would supply at least 80% of our electricity.

  8. Richard Wooten

    It’s even stranger when you realize that the Anderson also owned Rancher’s Exploration in New Mexico which is a Uranium Mining company. Rancher’s acquired many properties in New Mexico and Colorado and was very active in the industry in 70’s and 80’s.

  9. Thomas Eiden

    “too many nuclear professionals think that environmentalists are natural enemies that cannot be trusted, even when they express support for our technology.”

    Which environmentalists express support for our technology? Last time I checked, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and many, many more, do NOT have entire sections dedicated to supporting nuclear power, but the contrary.

    By definition, an environmentalist cares about “nature” and upholds the untouched, pristine, natural environment over the well-being of humans. They don’t care whether or not people have cheap, abundant energy to live happy, healthy lives. That’s why enviro groups even try to stop solar plants and wind farms from going up once they realize the footprint they create.

    This whole oil conspiracy stuff is nonsense (which you still haven’t proved in this article). Oil doesn’t even directly compete with nuclear power, since oil is primarily used for transportation, plastics, and myriad other items in our daily lives.

  10. Donald E. Livingston

    I have previously posted the following on Energy from Thorium:

    Nuclear Power Reactors: A Study in Technological Lock-in

    Author(s): Robin Cowan

    The Journal of Economic History,
    Vol. 50, No. 3 (Sep., 1990), pp. 541-567

    I down loaded it at:

    This fits a lot with what Charles Barton has
    to say and some of what Rod Adams talks about.
    I find that the history of reactor design
    development is nearly as fascinating as that of
    nuclear weapons. There is no doubt in my mind
    of the influence, for better or worse, of cold
    war politics on nuclear power. Note the date of
    publication, some things just don’t change.

  11. Alex Kovnat

    As a participant on Facebook, I have “liked” the World Nuclear Association’s page. I have stated my view several times that, although I understand the concerns of those who advocate that we temporarily postpone new nuclear plant construction pending a thorough review of safety of present nuclear power plant designs in the wake of Fukushima, under no circumstances will I support or condone any proposal that we abandon nuclear power for all time. And I have been the target of almost rabid hate statements because of my view. Given a possible problem with buildup of carbon dioxide in our planet’s atmosphere, we cannot afford to abandon nuclear power forever, even in the wake of Chernobyl and Fukushima. It should be noted that the Fukushima nuclear power system was built in 1976 — over 35 years ago. A case can therefore be made to build new nuclear power plants, using the latest available technology and safety features, so we can shut down older nuclear reactors without having to burn more fossil fuels to make up for loss of older nuclear power plant generating capacity.

    Since we Americans are apparently too hung up about plutonium to build nuclear fuel reprocessing and recycling facilities, I suggest we ship our used nuclear fuel to China and let them reprocess it, and use the plutonium contained therein in their nuclear power systems. A big question that arises is this: Should we pay China for taking radwastes (fission products) off our hands, or should they pay us for the energy value of the plutonium we would be passing on to them?

  12. Jeff Walther

    “too many nuclear professionals think that environmentalists are natural enemies that cannot be trusted, even when they express support for our technology.”

    It depends on what one means by “trust” and what qualities are being considered. I do not really trust the opinions of any “environmentalist” who has ever opposed nuclear power.

    If they had a scientific bent (the tendency to draw conclusions based on real world evidence) they would never have opposed nuclear electricity generation in the first place. If they are that intellectually lazy, should we really trust anything they say? What’s likely to catch their eye and turn their heads tomorrow?

    For example, while I highly respect Mark Lynas’ willingness to publicly admit he was wrong and change his mind on the issues, I can never shake the knowledge that he jumped into two issues with both feet, took extremist positions and action, but had never actually bothered to research those issues before committing crimes in the furtherance of his ill-founded views.

    Perhaps such things are the follies of youth and people get older and smarter. I certainly wouldn’t want all of my youthful errors to follow me forever. Yet, when folks set out to affect public policy, which affects all of our lives, some measure of care and responsibility should be exercised.

    How can we ever trust these people who set out to write public policy, but never bothered to learn anything beyond media and green-rag hearsay about the issues? Anti-nuclear environmental activists are like a person who has never driven a car attempting to grab the steering wheel every time they get anywhere near an operating vehicle.

  13. Steve Aplin

    Here’s further proof of the unholy, financial link between professional “environmentalists” and Big Fossil. I offer it in the form of the lobbying registry entry for the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, a leading anti-nuclear group. (You can view this info yourself by visiting this link:,gibbons.)

    You will note the sources of funding. Where it’s not immediately obvious who these funders are, I have added extra info in square brackets.

    Here is the registry entry for Jack Gibbons, the OCAA’s chair:

    Lobbyist Registry—Mr. Gibbons

    Senior Officer Number:
    Registration Number:
    Document Type:
    Semi-annual Renewal
    Initial Filing Date:

    Last Amendment Date:
    Thu Aug 28, 2003

    Mon Mar 04, 2013

    G.1 Government Funding
    Is your organization funded in whole or in part by any government?
    G.2 Private Funding Related to Lobbying Activity
    In the fiscal year prior to your date of filing this return, did your organization receive funding of $750 or more from an entity or organization, or from an individual acting on behalf of an entity or organization, for the purpose of supporting this lobbying undertaking? If so, please list them. Note: This does not include private donations made by individuals acting in their personal capacity.
    Entities and/or Organizations:

    — Union Gas, 50 Keil Drive North, PO Box 2001, Chatham, Ontario, Canada, N7M 5M1;
    — Northland Power Inc., 30 St. Clair Avenue West, 17th floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M4V 3A1; [a generating company with significant gas-fired assets]
    — Enbridge Gas Distribution, P.O. Box 650, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, M1K 5E3;
    — Bullfrog Power, 119 Spadina Avenue, Suite 1000, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5V 2L1; [an electricity retailer that says it sells no gas, coal, or nuclear power but is strangely associated with every “environmental” event in Ontario]
    — Escarpment Telecom, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown; [a nature conservation fund apparently tied to the Sierra Club]

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