The campaign will stress four major aspects of nuclear energy that are not as well understood as they should be.
It will talk about the importance of nuclear energy in a diverse portfolio of electricity generation sources, the value of the high quality jobs associated with the industry, the environmental benefits it provides as a clean air source of power generation and the exciting technologies being developed that will enhance nuclear energy’s value in the future.
The campaign features four primary spokespeople, Leslie Dewan, Patrick Moore, Mark Verbeck, and Vicky Bailey. Each of these people approach their advocacy of nuclear energy from different perspectives.
Leslie Dewan recently earned her PhD in Nuclear Engineering from MIT. While there, she partnered with a fellow student to develop a conceptual design for a reactor that will run on the material that is discharged as “waste” from the current generation of power plants. Instead of seeing that valuable material placed into deep underground repositories, Leslie and her team at Transatomic Power would prefer to use the material to create vast quantities of emission free electricity that could help, as she mentioned at the press conference, save the polar bears. Here is what Leslie said about her excitement and future optimism.
There is so much new technology out there and so many new avenues to explore. The ones that are personally most exciting to me are reactors that can consume nuclear waste, achieve high burn-ups and produce lower amounts of waste in turn. Also reactors that are highly resistant to loss of off-site electrical power. I think those are the most compelling avenues for new nuclear technology.
(Starts at 19:15)
Patrick Moore earned his PhD in ecology from the University of British Columbia. He was one of the founders of Greenpeace when the organization had a laser focus on developing attention-getting protests designed to halt the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. After spending many years with the organization and getting involved in a number of additional campaigns, he decided that he wanted to start fighting for good things instead of fighting against everything. He became a proponent for nuclear energy because he believes it is a sustainable, zero emission replacement for fossil fuels.
As Moore described during the press conference, he believes society should be using as much nuclear and hydro power as possible to create electricity so that we conserve valuable hydrocarbon resources for future generations. He states there is no viable substitute for liquid hydrocarbon fuels for transportation and points out that nuclear energy can help make it possible to convert coal into a liquid fuel when it is needed in transportation. He called on his fellow environmentalists to pay attention to logic and intellectual consistency.
In order to remain logically consistent with being concerned about climate change and carbon emissions, you have to accept nuclear energy. They argue that it is too expensive, which is not correct. They argue that it’s dangerous, which, if you look at the statistics is also not correct. It’s one of the safest technologies we’ve ever invented in terms of damage per kilowatt hour produced. So in the final analysis, it’s just plain logical to support nuclear energy.
Even some environmentalists who are reluctant to support the status quo in terms of nuclear energy are now coming out in favor of the idea of new technologies for nuclear as a way of not being quite in favor of how it is now, but looking towards the future and admitting that there are good possibilities for this technology down the road.
(Starts at 17:36)
Mark Verbeck is the nuclear reactor training manager at Vogtle. He is a second generation nuclear energy professional with more than thirty years of experience, starting with a stint in the nuclear navy on submarines and then entering into commercial reactor operations. He is deeply committed to the process of helping to create hundreds of high paying, long term jobs.
Vicky Bailey is an energy entrepreneur and former commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. She will focus on the importance of a diverse energy generation portfolio to ensure grid stability at affordable and predictable prices.
The campaign will include TV ads on shows frequently watched by legislators, executive branch agencies and staffs, Washington DC drive time radio, print ads in publications like the Washington Post, Politico and the Hill and a strong reliance on social media. A major thrust of the campaign is to stimulate serious discussion among people who can influence energy policies. Here is how Scott Peterson, NEI’a senior vice president for communications, summarized the campaign strategy and goals during the introductory press conference.
It’s not really a national campaign as much as it is a national policy maker focused campaign. Most of what this campaign will touch will be inside the Beltway, really trying to continue the conversation with policy makers, whether that’s on The Hill, with the White House or even the Governor’s staff and the Governor’s offices that are staffed here.
So we really see this as touching the policy discussion so it is focused here in Washington DC. I think with our partners that have helped us with this that we have been able to leverage two million dollars pretty well in getting the exposure from this campaign that we want. A lot of this is digital in nature. A key to this is not just seeing the ad, it’s actually participating in the conversation.
(Starts at 31:58)
During the Q&A session, a reporter from the Las Vegas Review-Journal asked about nuclear waste policy. The response was worth repeating.
Q: It doesn’t seem like Congress is close to any new consensus on issues of nuclear waste management. I’m wondering if that’s a drag at this point or if you plan to incorporate nuclear waste issues into the campaign moving forward.
Peterson: I think Leslie has an answer for that for the long term.
Dewan: I think that this country needs to investigate new ways of dealing with nuclear waste because nuclear waste has a tremendous amount of energy left inside it. That is, in part, why it is so difficult to store and why it is so dangerous. I think we need to start viewing it, rather than as just a problem that needs to be disposed of, as a new source of energy that we can mine.
Moore: There’s no doubt about that, but it’s also not time sensitive. If it takes a decade or two for Leslie’s reactor to come into production, that’s not a problem. It just has to be kept in the steel and concrete containers that it’s traditionally stored in now. They are good for a hundred years out in the weather. If you put a roof over them they’d be fine for a thousand years.
So you could wait three hundred years to use it, but it looks like Leslie has designs on it sooner than than. (Audience chuckles)
In response to a follow-up question, Peterson indicated that NEI agrees with the findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission about establishing centralized storage and an eventual repository, but reminded the audience that past repository concepts have included retrievability, meaning that the material could be removed from the repository if new technologies can use it. Based on the content of the thought leader campaign, NEI believes that it’s worth discussing the idea that technologies that consume used fuel have already been invented and may be widely available in the foreseeable future.
This may represent a subtle shift in strategy for the NEI. The nuclear industry has not done much work until recently to help people understand that there is a different way of looking at high level nuclear waste. Instead of allowing nuclear energy opponents to characterize the material as a terrible burden that our generation must avoid leaving to future generations, the message that NEI is helping Leslie and Patrick to amplify is that the material is valuable fuel that should be carefully preserved — perhaps on centralized above ground storage sites — so that it is available to use as fuel for advanced reactors.
Used fuel is not a burden; it’s a resource. One of the many messages in NEI’s new campaign is that it’s time to help policy makers to more productively address the “waste issue” by introducing someone with a perspective that might break up the current political impasse.