by Amanda Witherell

That's the only explanation I can come up with. They love me. They're fascinated by everything I write about them and they're dying to get to know me better. That must be it.

Or at least that's what it seemed like the other night at this little shindig I went to at the Monte Cristo Cafe down at the Embarcadero. It was the Spring Banquet for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which would be an otherwise snooze for someone like me who knows and cares little about the intricacies of engineering. But the entertainment for the evening was a discussion on the "renaissance of nuclear power," about which I just wrote a story. The pro-nukes speaker was Jasmina Vujic, a prof in UC Berkeley's Nuclear Engineering program, which totally gets money from PG&E. The anti-nuke voice was Dan Hirsch from Committee to Bridge the Gap, which wins the award for Best Non-Profit Name, "Intrigue" category.

Now, when I RSVPed for the event, I noticed the contact had a PG&E email address, but I was undaunted even though they just turned down my request for a tour of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant because I didn't have a "clear business need." (What business needs do qualify? I asked in several emails and phone calls. Response still pending.)

Anyway, the spokesperson from the Institute didn't seem bothered by the fact that I was from the Guardian, which has overtly criticized PG&E for what...three, four decades now? She comped me a veggie meal and was all nice about my media needs, which are minimal.

I showed up right before the meal and discovered that I was seated across the table from the pro-nukes professor and surrounded by PG&E engineers. Oooh, this will be fun, I was thinking, and it was. I had a lively Q&A with Professor Vujic while we dined, with me pointing out the ungoing and unsolved problems with nuclear power and she trying to quell them. It got a smidge nasty, so we moved on to other topics (So, what's the focus of your research at Berkeley? And who's funding you?) Then she gave her pro-nukes position to the crowd, which was thick with perfectly skewed charts and diagrams to prove her point, as well as quotes from the environmental sellout Patrick Moore, who we all know is a liar.

Dan Hirsch killed it, though. He skipped the fancy Powerpoint and just told one chilling anecdote after another about how the nuclear industry has spent 50 years lying, failing, and is now flailing for a new foothold now that global warming has finally captured our attention.

After the debate, as we were departing, a couple approached me and said they'd arrived early and noticed my place card on the table -- they'd just read my article in the Guardian. They moved their reserved seats, so they were next to me and we could talk during the meal, but when they returned from getting drinks they discovered they'd been moved back out to the end of the table and all the seats around me were occupied by PG&E people.

So I guess PG&E was just as excited about my attendance and were hoping to talk to me about my story...except none of them brought it up. I'm sure they hadn't been told to keep an eye on me. No way. They love me. At least their engineers do...not sure about their PR flacks, though. The press office never calls me back, and even though I signed up to receive their press releases they never actually come. Sadness.