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24 Comments

  1. You have some good ideas, but more importantly this will be a gage of just how much support the antinuclear movement has left.

  2. Interesting ideas, but I’m not so sure that management would want workers to engage in much related to small protests. I work at a Plant near where the G20 occurred this year, and we had a memo that came out a week before the event that basically said “We don’t think there will be any protests, but if there are, avoid confrontation. Call security if necessary.”

    Another good quote – “[…] do not place yourself at risk or in a confrontational situation. Our goal, in situations such as a demonstration, is to de-escalate the activity. As members of this team, we expect to continue to safely operate the station for many years to come. We also recognize that politically inspired protests are typically short-lived.”

    I suspect any individual plant would want to avoid the spotlight as much as possible, even if it may be better for the industry as a whole to voice their professional opinion.

  3. I’m disturbed by the amount of online organization there seems to be at that site (although they still don’t seem to get the fact that a community is not an organization, and if you want a community effort it can’t have a command structure) as well as the proportion of young people.

    There was a major poll recently (don’t have a link or a copy; wish I did) that said that US young people are far less supportive of nuclear power than those in the 50-and-older range, indeed that they are the least supportive age demographic. That really frightens me; they appear to be holding on to their base. If they do that successfully, it’ll be another 40 years before we get another chance.

    Apparently I was very, very wrong about our demographic appeal. We always have done very well among upper middle class white males with technical educations, and we still do, but apparently we’re not broadening our base and computer use hasn’t done anything to change people’s thought processes.

    It would be nice to know whether the internet is the major source of information for young people with access to it; TV is still king in most contexts, but if we’re going to get anywhere we have to avoid situations where we have to ask them to allow us to speak. They are very good at controlling access to information, and do poorly in debates – that’s why we kick them around on the internet and they do the same to us in the mainstream media.

    Wikipedia is a great example: you can’t do a snowjob on Wikipedia, and you can’t prevent others from challenging your statements. If we keep watching and editing Wikipedia, and Wikipedia remains as important as it currently is or even becomes the #1 general reference for young people (and remains that way as they get older), Wikipedia’s demand for citations and fact-based articles helps us. Anti-nuclear activists who are used to being able to monopolize the discourse and shut up third-party advocates won’t get anywhere, no matter how much effort they expend. We can help ourselves over there by aggregating the edit feeds of nuclear-related articles and watching for anti-nuclear POV edits, finding original public-domain documents and uploading them with proof of their status, making helpful edits, and not introducing our own opinions. More people read the Wikipedia entry on nuclear power than anything we could ever write; let’s accept that and work with them to get reliable information out there. Again, that system works in our favor – we want the facts distributed; they want to stop it. And since we can’t get organized anyway, maybe this is something we can manage to do.

    Whether that information will get to the people we need to reach – well, that depends on societal factors beyond our control. Let’s put ourselves in a position where we might or might not get a lucky break.

  4. In recent weeks as a nuclear blogger. I’ve received several calls to respond to this or that anti-nuclear campaign. At first, I felt, well, that comes with the deal. However, it can’t turn into a case of “whack a mole.”

    Undoubtedly, the management at most nuclear plants will respond, if at all, to placards at the gate, by telling their workers not to get distracted and to remain focused on safe operations of the reactor. That’s exactly the right advice.

    The industry trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, is paid to respond to these types of issues. I am looking to the nuclear industry itself to provide high profile leadership at the climate conference in Copenhaggen.

  5. Dan,

    The operational definition of whack-a-mole is strategic defense without strategy. Not all response needs to be whack-a-mole.

    We can be on the tactical defensive while still retaining the strategic offensive. Not responding to these attacks in the manner that the nuclear industry usually does is a serious mistake, but even if it were a sound strategy, we can’t subordinate ourselves to or rely upon the nuclear industry. They don’t even share our goals most of the time anyway.

    Inducing the anti-nuclear activists to employ their tactics toward ends that don’t further their goals should be our approach, since we don’t have the resources to stop them from employing their tactics or the organization and/or numbers needed to confront them directly. The right response can make their signs and protests look foolish or be otherwise counterproductive for them.

    Crisis management is dependent on the culture of the stakeholders, which can change beneath your feet (and, I would argue, it has). Who those stakeholders are can change, too – a crisis management approach designed to appeal to investors or markets can backfire when dealing with regulators, or more importantly, with the public who demands a certain regulatory approach.

  6. Stewart,

    Part of my response is based on a question of internal priority setting. I’m an independent consultant these days. I have to balance blog advocacy and time spent on blog content with making a living. We all face this challenge.

    Dan

  7. Dan,

    I know there’s a priorities aspect of this type of decision, but advocating avoidance in general has strategic implications. Those strategic implications can’t be ignored, particularly when there’s no organization – everybody has to be informed of and discuss the drivers of their own advocacy priorities when there’s no organizational mechanism to take these factors into account.

    Do you disagree?

  8. Young people? Are you kidding? Have you looked at their photo page? It looks like an advertisement for Geritol.

    They’re not all old, but the general demographics of this group are pretty clear.

  9. One of the things that came out of the blogger and social media meet up at the ANS winter meeting in DC 11/17 is that each person has to set their own priorities for advocacy.

    For instance, over at the EnergyCollective, Jesse Jenkins, a well-known climate expert, who is also anti-nuclear, has posted a series of well-formulated questions about the future of the industry. However, almost everyone familar with the issues facing the industry can tick off on from the top of their head what the answers are to them.

    So here’s a question, do I just send the guy a bunch of links from my blog and move on or do I spent a couple of hours writing a detailed response. Bear in mind I’m dealing with bumblebee economics here in terms of the substitution cost of my time, e.g., time answering anti-nuke is time not spent on consulting business and main purpose of my nuclear blog.

    This is why it is up to advocates of the nuclear industry, e.g., NEI, to provide leadership at COP15 and elsewhere. After all, their members reap the benefits of their dues payments this way.

    If I sound a bit impatient about this issue, it is because there is only so much time I’m going to spend on “wack a mole” responses to green political correctness run amok. Some of it is noise and some of its is important because of how it reaches decision makers and thought and opinion leaders.

    It is up to each nuclear blogger to figure out where they think is the best path to intervention. That’s waht we talked about at ANS.

  10. To Jim Hansen and others experts on climate change, the “Don’t Nuke the Climate” campaign is absurd. So is the claim that nuclear can’t help global warming because it takes 10 years to build a new plant. This day of action may be inspired by good, if misguided, intentions, but any success obtained in terms of slowing nuclear power expansion will directly help increase greenhouse gas emissions.

    I can say with the confidence of a former protester that the organizers are hoping for videos that show well-meaning, environmentally-concerned placard-wavers being dragged off the premises by guards or cops. And the demonstrators will show that the nuclear plant operators do not care about the environment –when in fact the environmental impact of nuclear power is far smaller than from any other power source.

    At the 2008 ANS convention in Reno Nuke engineer Lisa Stiles talked about her experience organizing successful pro-nuclear rallies in Virginia. Those were covered by the media.

    More people need to learn that the only large-scale base-load power source that does not emit carbon dioxide while making electricity is nuclear. So where are the nuclear industry’s TV and print ads about this? Why do we see ads all the time for “clean” natural gas, which is environmentally terrible from extraction to leaks to combustion, and none for nuclear power? Are nuclear utilities feeling protective about their fossil-fuel divisions?

  11. Dan – all of us have to set our own priorities. No one can find fault with the efforts that volunteers make. My purpose in this post was to share some ideas. If people want to take them on – great. If making a living interfers that is the way things go.

    I understand your point about mole wacking. Sometimes they deserve it, sometimes you ignore them. With a certain type of mole it is often useful if the moles are not sure when/if they are going to meet resistance.

  12. As someone who attended those pro-nuclear rallies in Virginia, I can tell you that they were highly successful. As I recall, the pro-nuclear attendees received more press coverage than the anti-nuclear groups. Everyone expects the “anti-nukes” to show up to an NRC public meeting on new nuclear; however, nobody in the press expected to see people with signs reading that they support building a new reactor. That was the real news story.

    It caught the local anti-nuclear “enviro” group, PACE, off guard as well. They were surprised as everyone else to see us. While some of the people at the rally were utility employees (and local citizens), most were not, so PACE couldn’t even complain that we were paid to be there.

    The only people who could be accused of being paid to be there were the NRC employees, the local government officials, a couple of official representatives from the utility, a guy from the NEI, and the professional anti-nuclear activists from Public Citizen, etc., most of whom had driven down from their lobbying base in Washington DC area to speak at the meeting and the demonstrations beforehand.

  13. Dan –

    Jesse Jenkins also works with the Breakthrough Institute which is pro-nuclear. Some of these groups are probably worth approaching on a case by case basis.

  14. Why do people protest? They want to create a narrative, a story.

    The way to respond to protests isn’t by circling the wagons, because that creates the story THEY WANT TO CREATE.

    They want a confrontation. Either they want risk arrest to get dragged away by the cops, to show their commitment to the cause, and to anger the other protesters into risking arrest, thus amplifying the situation (“We the People Stormed The Gates Of The Evil Nuclear Power Plant And Got Arrested And Beaten By The Cops!”) or they want to create a narrative of “We caused the evildoers to retreat into the containment building! The evil corporate tycoons huddled in their Fortress of Doom counting their money and smoking cigars!”

    If I was the director of an NPP, I would avoid being suckered into playing a role in their narrative that you’ve already been cast for. Instead I would welcome the protesters, and let them use the bathroom, and if they want, the engineering staff (accompanied by a few security officers) can give them a tour to see anything they’re curious about that’s accessible. Health physics could show them the spent fuel casks so they can measure how much, exactly, they’re being “irradiated” by them. Perhaps the NRC resident inspector could be made available to tell them how he keeps the plant running safe. Think of them as a tour group with a lot of critical people, not as enemies.

    Don’t ignore. Be nice. Now I know this is easier said than done in the post-9/11 era, but if you can try it, then do so, and see what happens! Who knows, it might even work…

  15. Gweneth and I were both anti-nuclear activists and I’ve been, as recently as last week, out there ‘in the streets’ in defense of public education at UC Berkeley and the rise of the student movement there. Tomorrow I’m protesting the sending of yet more troops to Afghanistan. This is my own political compass telling me to do this. But the means should be the same in confronting the ants.

    Public displays of anger or support for this or that cause is largely what the U.S. is about. It’s why it in the US Bill of Rights. Not because it sounds good but because it’s how politics happens.

    Even the people who I disdain the most politically, the Teabaggers who showed up at the Town hall meetings *understand* (they learned from the Left) that loud, demonstrative ‘organization’ of public events works. Nixon understood this and why he sicked the FBI and his Plumbers on the anti-war movement. That movement drove LBJ from office.

    So…the NEI has it’s place. But not out in the streets. It’s effective at the level of *explaining* nuclear energy and as a K Street institution. But it’s up to us to organize those pro-nuclear events and to ‘confront’ the antis in a positive way, not to convince them…of course…but to convince those that listening.

    David

  16. We are rightly focused on the US, but we should keep in mind that India and China—which comprise 37.3% of world population are going to build nuclear reactors as fast as humanly possible. I think they are going to show the way and nothing is going to stop that—least of all Greenpeace.

  17. @katana

    I agree with your view about how the NPPs should handle demonstrators: offer them a tour and engage them in a discussion about their concerns.

    I have seen Rip Anderson, the scientist who led me to change my mind about nuclear, deal with someone ranting against nuclear power. The guy came up to us after a presentation in a rage, calling us names and accusing us of being in the pay of the nuclear industry, etc. Rip soothed the guy by first listening and then asking friendly, general questions and calmly replying to the charges the guy was making. Within about ten minutes the ranter was following Rip around like a puppy and asking him questions about energy and climate change. If we had been at a nuclear plant, the anti would have been curious to take the tour. Of course not every protester is going to behave this way, but hospitality on the part of the nuclear people is a good way to ameliorate the situation.

  18. David Walters —-

    I am glad to see someone standing up for public education in California. Too many ppl don’t know that fees used to be very affordable during the 1970s. Community colleges were once free.

    During the late 1970s, Prop. 13 and Gov. Reagan raised them to a few $thousand a year during the early 1980s, which was nevertheless still doable for many without the burden of student loans.

    During the years from 1990-2008, tuition (let’s call it what it really is instead of ‘a small fee’) rose from modest to mortgage-like and now to a positively unaffordable level that puts future teachers and other moderate-income people into almost a lifetime of debt servitude.

    The U of C has been starved of funding in the past few years while California has vastly expanded its prison system. It is now at such a breaking point with overpopulation and finances that marijuana decriminalization is no longer just a stupid Cheech & Chong joke.

    In other words, California has decided to stop investing in its intellectual future.

    I’m over 40 now, but I’m a graduate of one of the UC’s. I left California long ago because that state became completely unaffordable to those who couldn’t afford half-million-dollar shacks.

    I’m a supporter of science (including carbon-free nuclear energy) even though that support isn’t always overt or evident.

    I’m outraged at the defunding of what has been the nation’s best university system. I’m posting anonymously to keep the religious and political blowhards at bay.

  19. OPD – well said. Public education has been under attack, not just in California, but throughout the country. It is one of the foundations of America’s functional democracy and our long term prosperity, but there are some who do not recognize just how valuable the investment is.

    I will never forget the generosity of the taxpayers in a previous era who enabled my father and mother to gain solid educations. They made a conscious choice to keep my siblings and me in public schools and to work to keep improving those schools through participation and financial support. My wife and I did the same with our daughters – both of whom attended public schools through college.

    America is a land of opportunity, but like freedom we cannot take that for granted. We have to work hard to ensure the quality of public education. That effort entails active participation, “on the streets” action like what David described, and consistent voting for the necessary financial support that keeps the schools thriving. We cannot just focus on our local schools or selfishly take our children out of the system – though sometimes that is the only near term choice available.

    I recognize that there are many challenges and imperfections in the system, but they cannot be solved if no one tries.

  20. @David – I agree that protest is a vital part of being in a democracy – a very, very vital part. I was involved in some protests back in my college days about issues on my campus. Student fees and accessibility – public education being essential to democracy, civil liberties on campus, etc.

    When I protested, it was when dialogue had failed – when those with the power refused to dialogue.

    I’m arguing that if folks protest out in front of your plant, that you don’t treat them as the “enemy”, just as people who don’t know what goes on inside, are scared, shouldn’t be, and want to talk. Offer to join the conversation. Have some guys from the local union there (with hardhats with union stickers on there), from engineering, management, health physics, ensure there are some guys there who live in the EPZ, etc. Oftentimes dialogue is the best answer to protest – think of it as an education opportunity.

    I would agree with @Brian, too, that there aren’t many United States young people on that anti-nuclear website. It’s more of a European thing. French and German, with an Italian contingent. Most of the young people on there are foreign. This especially becomes clear when you get beyond the first page or two, which is very well mixed, and could provide you with an inaccurate impression.

  21. @Gwenyth – you have some great points there, too…hospitality, openness, and friendliness are the keys to dealing with protesters. They aren’t the enemy, just people who don’t understand you.

    Help them to understand you, see that you bleed too, that you live in the same neighborhood, and I think that the folks there will maybe change from opponents to neutrals (or even supporters).

  22. Dave (katana0182) – Speaking again from my experiences at the North Anna NRC meetings, I noticed that most of the people who showed up for the anti-nuclear rally before the meeting had gray hair (or no hair). There were very few young faces in their crowd. As I recall, there might have been one or two students from the nearby university, but it was clear that most of the young people in the protest were the grandchildren of other protesters.

    Meanwhile, the average age of those participating in the pro-nuclear rally was much lower. Most participants were in their twenties or thirties, although there were plenty of older people who attended the meeting (but not the rally) to show support for the utility’s plan to build a new reactor.

    We were not there to confront or argue with the anti-nuclear protesters. We were there to provide a positive presence for the press and the meeting attendees. There were quite a few people from the local population who had not formed an opinion either way and were attending the meeting because they were genuinely interested in what a new nuclear reactor would mean for the area. We were there to answer their questions.

    The contrast between the two groups (pro and anti) was not limited to age. Many in the anti camp acted … well … like clowns. Some showed up in silly costumes. Many did childish things to disrupt the meeting, such as holding up signs (labeled “lie meter”) whenever an NRC employee said something that they didn’t like. I can’t help but think that these types of tactics backfired, because those supporting nuclear were nothing but polite. They meekly waited for their turn to speak at the meeting and did nothing more disruptive than wearing a little sticker to show their support, which we handed out before the meeting began.

  23. Uncivil behavior at NRC hearings is becoming a problem. However, while anti-nuclear groups successfully shouted down a former Gov of Vermont, at Indian Point the NRC took a firmer hand ejecting an anti-nuclear activist from the hearing and telling another activist group its filings would be rejected until it conformed to the legal procedures in the agency’s regulations.

    More recently, Rod Adams and I posted comments at the Nation Mag web site crtiical of unsupported statements by one of the mag’s editors that the NRC had been “captured” by the industry.

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