Nuc Eng

Reference Info

Nuclear Outreach
(on communicating with the public, the media and the anti-nukes)

Nuclear outreach is more than the technical facts; it is about placing the facts in the societal context and about engaging all stakeholders in a meaningful conversation. Herein you will find outreach material for your use and commentary on outreach activities. Your comments and contributions are invited. Contact me.

Note: On 2012.07.07, the contents of this page was copied to the NucEng wiki on a trial basis to encourage contributions from others.

  1. Presentation and resource material suitable for outreach activities
  2. The Societal context
    • Public perception is a central issue right now.  Something as big, complex, and important as nuclear power or medical isotopes needs to have provincial and federal backing just as education and  health care do.  That backing can take many forms and does not preclude that parts of the business cannot be given to the marketplace.  But it is important enough that its stability be guaranteed.  Politicians follow the almighty voter so if the public mood is sour on nuclear you can predict which way the federal and provincial governments are going to move, especially in times of fiscal deficits.  The issues are not technical in that we have proven that we can design, construct, operate and decommission plants safely, on budget and on schedule.  We also know how to take care of spent fuel technically.  Of course there are technical problems from time to time but we can deal, and have dealt, with that.  So public outreach is the key issue.  I am not in favour of sales pitches and sales tactics.  What we nuclear folks need to do is engage in conversations to help people think about the issues correctly.  If the public in the end chooses to reject nuclear then so be it.  If they are properly informed and have correctly weighed the pros and cons, then that is the right decision to make as a society.  The onus is now on us all to pull together through outreach activities to engage the public as they make decisions about how society is to proceed. So what does this mean for the Canadian Nuclear Enterprise which includes, industry, universities, societies, the regulator, governments, the public, etc.? What respective role does each stakeholder play? What challenges and opportunities?
    • See Societal Context for more.
  3. How to proceed in outreach activities:
    1. General Approach
      1. Collect our arguments and facts, presentations, and other resources in one place on an organized, open, arms-length web site for all to use. This should include addressing any misinformation (and sometimes downright lies) being promulgated by others.
      2. Engage people and get them to think through the issues.  Actually listen to what they have to say and address those issues with them, not at them. We have been like the teacher who stands apart and expounds - the 'sage on the stage', rather than the teacher who goes to where the student is and walks with the student on the journey. We might also give some thought to the notion that, from their point of view, we are the ones that need to be taught.
      3. Be open and transparent as an industry.  Build trust at every opportunity.  Never betray that trust.  Never.  All this comes naturally when one cares about others (preachy but true nonetheless).
      4. Have your message ready. Here's what is in my wallet on a slip of paper:
        1. We are professionals here to inform and to help others make informed decisions.
        2. We are held accountable for what we say and do. To whom are the anti-nuclear people accountable?
        3. Turn the conversation to what we are 'for' rather than what we are 'against'.
        4. There is risk in all we do.
        5. LNT should not be used for risk assessment.
      5. If a reporter calls, take a few moments to get your thoughts together and call him or her back. What message do you have?
    2. The Need
      1. It is clear that adequate access to clean, affordable energy is central to quality of life (see Facts) but it is not so clear sometimes which technology should be deployed for any given application. We need to quantify things in order to pick the best alternative. See Sustainable Energy - without the hot air for an excellent evaluation of the options. From this and other studies (see Progress and Sustainability by John McCarthy and Searching for a Sustainable Energy Future by Patrick Moore for instance), it is clear that with currently available technology, renewables are not enough. We'll need all types of energy sources and nuclear has a major role to play globally. And when the fit is right, nuclear has a major role to play locally. So in short:
        1. Wind and solar are low density, expensive and intermittent. They have niche applications.
        2. Conservation should be practiced and efficiency improvements should be sought but it has been shown that neither addresses societal needs. Energy is empowering. See The Bottomless Well by Peter Huber and Mark Mills.
        3. Coal, oil and gas are still relatively affordable and countries like China and India will expand their use of these substantially as they raise their average quality of life. Extensive nuclear expansion is needed to reduce the environmental impact and to preserve our finite fossil resources as much as possible.
    3. Radiation
      1. Show that radiation is common and help make it become a familiar thing.  It's all around us, etc.  Geiger counters in schools, etc.
      2. Discuss the misuse of LNT for risk assessment.  Discuss the threshold theory and hormesis and the implications on regulation.
      3. Recognize that people are disproportionately fearful of radiation (the outrage thing - see Sandman) and so have a different notion of risk than we do within the industry.
      4. See Radiation Information for facts and links you might find useful.
    4. Risk
      1. Actively compare the real and estimated risks to other forms of power generation.
      2. Use accidents as an opportunity to do the items above. Accidents do cause setbacks naturally but because the nuclear industry does treat the risks seriously and design for those risks, the actual body counts are commendably low.  That works in our favour as much if not more than it does against us.
      3. See The Risk of Energy Production for facts and links you might find useful.
    5. Cost
      1. Costs for nuclear power are quite competitive on a per kw-hr or kw installed basis. See The Economics of Nuclear Power by the World Nuclear Association for instance. But nuclear plants are capital intensive so that is indeed an issue that cannot be left solely to private enterprise.
      2. See Costs for more.
    6. Used fuel management / Legacy
      1. Storing used fuel has been shown to not be much of a technical issue. But it is an issue of social acceptance.
      2. Acknowledge that the legacy we leave our future generations is certainly important. But this must be balanced against the good we can do today by empowering the current generation in the developed and the developing worlds.
      3. Discuss the notion of discount rates for the future. If we don't discount the future (and hence future generations) then logically all of our efforts and resources should go towards the future, leaving nothing for now. It might help to recognize that we are our ancestors' future generation. What extra effort would we ask of them, if we could, to ease our burden today?
      4. See Safeguards and Waste Management for more.
  4. On the role of human nature. Facts are not enough.
    • Getting the facts right and communicating them are important and necessary. But that is not sufficient. If we are to get beyond the 'telling' and get into the 'listening', we need to consider the mind set of the listener. Consider Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, currently Chair and Chief Scientist of Greenspirit Strategies. He is wont to say "I'd been against at least three or four things every day for 15 years, and I decided I'd like to be in favor of something for a change." Thinking about what we need to do in order to get on with life forces us out of our inner mental world and into reality. The mindset one has makes a profound difference to how one thinks and acts.
    • See Human Nature for more about the roles that fear, uncertainty, cultural response to authority, etc. play in how people think and act regarding nuclear.
  5. Worth repeating: Lessons learned from debates with the anti nukes:
    1. Always keep a smile on your face. [Comment: I interpret this to be pleasant as a default. To be always smiling is just a tad artificial.]
    2. Never sit down (because it removes your psychological advantage). [Comment: Surely this is context dependent but I take the point.]
    3. When the anti-nuke comes at you spraying statements like a machine gun, respond by saying "I'll be happy to answer your questions but I need them one at a time."
    4. When the anti-nuke uses a word with several meanings, ask for a definition so you both will be talking about the same thing. 
    5. When the anti-nuke questions the truth of your statements, respond by saying, "I cannot afford to tell you anything but the truth because I am held accountable and my company is held accountable for what I say.  To whom are you held accountable?"
      [Source: Nuclear News, July, 2005, page 10, letter to the editor from Carolyn B. Meigs, Danville, Va., on pro-nuclear tips, partial quote.]