By: Ryan Kinney and Randy Reames
The U.S. nuclear industry is in a tough spot right now. The closures of well-operated units, e.g. Vermont Yankee, and the potential closures of several more (e.g. Fort Calhoun, Clinton, Quad Cities) are neither motivating nor good press. While some people may despair that we are doomed because of market forces and government mandates, especially since there seems to be a large number of people against us, we believe there are still many reasons to hope. These include the on-going startup of Watts Bar 2, the progress of new construction at both V. C. Summer and Vogtle, the development of many advanced reactor designs by firms around the country, and the various legislative efforts currently in Congress trying to reform our industry and regulatory regime. Instead of symbolizing our eminent collapse, our current struggles are a sign that we must change, that we must do things differently than we have in the past, if our industry is going to survive.
In case you have not noticed, a growing number of individuals and groups who are deeply concerned about the environment have begun actively supporting nuclear energy in the past several years. The publication of An Ecomodernist Manifesto and the presentation of the documentary Pandora’s Promise on CNN are good examples of actions by environmentalists who have become pro-nuclear. They have recognized that nuclear fission produces clean, abundant, reliable, and affordable heat for power plants or other needs .
Unfortunately for us, because of a change in direction in the Environmental Movement many years ago, most groups that identify as Environmental still reject nuclear power and do everything in their power to stop its use. This includes everything from frivolous lawsuits and interventions to picketing, protests, and other highly visible forms of disparagement. As the anti-nuclear activists became better organized in their efforts against us, we either were not able to or chose simply not to effectively engage them. We believe this is an issue that must be corrected, and it is up to us to do it.
While there are many reasons why our industry is where it is today, we have focused on our industry’s relationship with the anti-nuclear movement because we believe that the anti-nuclear movement effectively controls the “nuclear power message” to the general public. One simply has to look at the media coverage of nuclear issues and the misrepresentation of nuclear power in the movies, on television, and in literature to see that our industry does not effectively help people understand the benefits of our technology.
It is critically important for our industry to regain its voice to the public at-large, because although explaining the benefits of nuclear power to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts; giving presentations in elementary, middle, and high school science classes; and participating in STEM events are beneficial outreach initiatives, these efforts are not enough to affect public opinion regarding nuclear power. We need pro-nuclear individuals to stage grass roots-level events such as marches, 5ks, and demonstrations. We also need – this may be a shocker – advertising. I cannot overstate the importance that an informative, yet approachable pro-nuclear advertising campaign would be to improving our public image. We need to copy from the playbook that has been used against us, and use it to our advantage. Whatever we do, we must do it consistently and persistently, as change will not happen quickly.
To all reading this call-to-action, we invite you to join the various efforts that already exist and to start your own. Think about what you would want to do to support nuclear power and tell that idea to your local American Nuclear Society (ANS) section or the national ANS leadership. You can also email us. You should review the Nuclear in the States Toolkit as it is a great starting point that details needed actions. However, we do not believe the toolkit is enough. If change is going to occur, we need to think about our situation differently.
Here are some ideas:
- If your area does not have an ANS Local Section, then start one. For us, Ryan restarted the Kansas Local Section.
- We are about to reach out to our local Sierra Club section in an attempt to communicate how our organizations are in alignment. You can do similar or just reach out to those you know who may not understand nuclear energy. Basically, get the positive word out!
- You can also join ANS, which has a wealth of information and tools you can use to let the public know about the benefits of nuclear power.
- Have you ever considered joining the ANS Speakers Bureau? It’s free, and ANS national members are encouraged to be a part of it
- How about a march in support of Indian Point or any of the other “at-risk” plants?
- Check out org, and let your school districts know about this awesome outreach effort to educate our youth, who are our future.
This article, and the impetus behind it, is not only about ensuring our own industry continues to survive and thrive, but is also about ensuring that humanity may continue to prosper—that the world we leave to our children will not be a bleaker place than the one in which we were born. The future of the nuclear industry is in our own hands and it can be as bright or dim as we want it to be.
A version of the above guest post originally appeared on ANS Nuclear Cafe at The Future of Nuclear Lies With Us. It has been reworded and reprinted here with permission.