GE's nuclear role is contradicting to its green self

General Electric logo

Kai Ryssdal: All 30 of the stocks that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average were down today. So it would be unfair to single out just one company, were it not for that company's role in the nuclear crisis happening in Japan.

General Electric -- ticker symbol GE -- lost more than 3 percent today, capping a four-day tumble that's taken about $10 billion off its market value. GE designed one of the reactors that was damaged by last week's tsunami. And the company is now in somewhat of an uncomfortable position, given GE's efforts in recent years to re-brand itself as a green company. Anybody remember GE's Ecomagination campaign of a couple of years ago?

Marketplace's Sarah Gardner has more of our coverage of the economic effects of the disaster.


GE commercial: Ecomagination from GE. It's technology that makes the world work.

Sarah Gardner: That's a recent TV ad for GE's Ecomagination campaign. GE workers, including a few in what look like contamination suits, are happily line-dancing to an Alan Jackson song called "Good Time." GE told us today they've pulled that ad off the air.

But GE's latest nuclear tech is part of the Ecomagination mix, right with wind turbines and solar panels. Standard and Poor's analyst Richard Tortoriello says the Japan disaster "won't help" GE's green branding. But he says keep in mind the extreme nature of this event.

Richard Tortoriello: So I don't think you can make the extrapolation from that that therefore nuclear is just an unsafe, ecologically unfriendly technology.

GE's multi-billion dollar investments in things like wind power and hybrid locomotives have helped it soften a longtime image as an industrial polluter. That image was cemented after the company dragged its feet cleaning up PCBs it dumped in the Hudson River over three decades. Many Wall Street analysts insist GE is safe from legal liability in this disaster. And the company has strongly defended its reactor design.

But Michael Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, says GE still finds itself in a tough spot.

Michael Levi: What you do 40 years ago can come back to cause problems for your company today.

Right now nuclear energy delivers less than a percent of GE's revenues. But the company wants to grow the business by selling new reactors to developing countries like India and China. And global nuclear sales are now expected to slow.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...