Public Outreach Is Needed to Gain Support for the Nuclear Power Industry

The nuclear power industry has been a tremendous asset to the world for decades. Yet, when the word “nuclear” is spoken, bombs are what first come to many peoples’ minds.

World governments and the industry as a whole could do well by rebranding President Eisenhower’s 1953 United Nations “Atoms for Peace” speech. Eisenhower spelled out the necessity of “re-purposing existing nuclear weapons technology to peaceful ends.”

Politicians and the Mainstream Media Limit Nuclear Progress

Clean nuclear energy has provided nearly 20% of the U.S.’s electrical power over the past 50 years. The industry has made remarkable improvements in the past decades, but these safety, efficiency, and technology advances have not been promoted through public education at the grassroots level. Nuclear proponents must spread the message of the energy source’s value: rebrand, redirect, recycle, and renew.

Politicians and the media have demonized nuclear technology for 50 years. They site safety concerns and security difficulties, but the benefits of nuclear power far outweigh the perceived problems. Engagement with the public is necessary in order to offset political obstruction. Educated grassroots constituents can raise their voices against political correctness, and point out the sound science and engineering behind nuclear technology.

Media distribution of information must provide equal time and print to inform both sides of complex issues. Dr. Bernard Cohen, the late-physicist who taught for many years at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote in 1990 that the world no longer had editorial writers educated in the science and engineering fields, therefore, he suggested, the public messaging of the sciences had faltered.

Yucca Mountain Project Stymied

One of the longest-running negative biases surrounds the Yucca Mountain project in Nevada. Politicians and the media continue to report that the people in the state of Nevada do not want the Yucca Mountain storage facility. Their basis comes from ill-founded opinion polls.

After 30 years why hasn’t the state of Nevada brought this complex issue to a public referendum? The answer is that they know—and the casinos know—that grassroots education would arm the public with the knowledge that Yucca Mountain would be the largest public works project ever offered to the state of Nevada. The public is filled with America’s worker bees. They are interested in jobs that upgrade their lifestyle. They have the common sense to discern between politics and safety once given the facts.

If more people were to learn that political defunding, rather than science and engineering determinations, terminated the Yucca application review process, they would be outraged and turn against the politicians. This is the type of engagement the industry needs. Washington lobbyists may have controlled the past, but progress tomorrow will come from the grassroots constituents.

Common sense would tell you that a $100 billion Yucca build could very well alter the industrial footprint of the state of Nevada. Few people realize that it would incorporate advanced robotic technology. It would also require advanced drone surveillance and monitoring. For nearly a decade, 4,000 scientists and engineers would build the largest “storage garage” in the country. Just by their presence, these scientists and engineers could transform the educational system in the state. This is a competitive threat to the “casino politics” Nevada has become accustomed to, and the fear of losing control has halted progress.

New Technology Could Transform the Future

Aside from the country’s need for a nuclear waste storage garage, new technologies are on the horizon too. Tomorrow’s nuclear players should be utilizing grassroots education to advance their causes. The public needs to be made more aware of small modular reactors (SMRs), lead-cooled fast reactors, and molten salt reactors. The best way to improve public knowledge of these new technologies is through outreach.

In recent years, the U.S. Nuclear Energy Foundation (USNEF) has been one of the loudest nuclear advocacy voices. The group is working to become the go-to source for nuclear technology information. A paradigm shift is necessary, and USNEF is involved in multiple programs to address this through grassroots education.

USNEF provides local presentations, industry presentations, American Nuclear Society workshops, Advanced Reactor Technical Summits, Yucca Educational Symposiums (YES), open invitation tours to the Idaho National Laboratory, print collaterals, and TV and YouTube videos available via website download. The foundation is promoting the same advanced reactor designs and SMRs that the industry is currently pitching to government legislatures, agencies, and others.

The bottom line is that rebranding, redirecting, recycling, and renewing “Atoms for Peace” involves understanding the value and importance of grassroots education, and engaging with the general public to promote the nuclear industry’s benefits.

Gary J. Duarte is director of the U.S. Nuclear Energy Foundation