Suzanne Jaworowski recently asked for input on nuclear communications. Jaworowski is Chief of Staff, Senior Advisor, Office of Nuclear Energy at the Department of Energy. I read her questions on Dan Yurman's blog post , and I sent her my own Five Best ideas. Later, I published my ideas in a blog post that has a developed a wonderful comment stream of other people's input. Please read it, especially the comments!
Today, we have Howard Shaffer's essay on the five best things about Nuclear Energy. He sent this to the Department of Energy, and sent a copy to me. Shaffer was a start-up engineer at Vermont Yankee. He was an engineer at several other nuclear plants, in the United States and abroad, and an American Nuclear Society Congressional Fellow. Shaffer is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.
by Howard Shaffer
Communications Continuity Radiation is natural and man-made, and safe within limits. Limits are well known, based on sound science and over 100 years of experience. Like fire, radiation can be used safely and for great good; but can cause havoc if misused, or mistakes are made. People are not perfect, so mistakes will be made with all technologies. We still have fire departments, don’t we? Demanding perfection, or raising decades-old mistakes is unrealistic.
Communication about nuclear power has not prevailed in some areas of the country because of a “missing link” in the information presentation “chain.” That link is addressing concerns raised by citizens at public meetings. When these concerns, challenges, and charges are not addressed at the meetings, or immediately thereafter- 48 hours(?)-they become the story. Local media pick them up, and they get repeated many times. Local media go with "if it bleeds it leads,” and they also love a David and Goliath story.
Nuclear power plant management has just begun to recognize this is a political fight, and all the modern tools are being used by the opposition. There is an “Anti-Nuclear Industry” professionally staffed, with some of it headquartered in Washington. One of the common tools they use is repetition, which works for good or bad information. When bad information is repeated and not countered by good information, it becomes the story.
As in elective politics nuclear power is a “red state, blue state” issue. The political demographics where nuclear power plants have been forced to shut down, compared to where they continue to run with just a little opposition clearly illustrate this truth.
The Anti-Nuclear industry has been effective in selling “Any amount of Radiation is dangerous.”
Safety Nuclear power is safe. That does not mean perfect for any technology. When the total casualties and environmental effects for energy technologies are compared, nuclear power comes out way ahead of all fossil fuels and even hydro power. It has been observed by Prof Von Hippel that, “Some people don’t like this kind of arithmetic.” Those who don’t like the “spread sheet” type of comparison i.e. all effects and costs, seem to like to focus on the few large nuclear power accidents that have been media circuses.
Anti-nuclear information says that a large nuclear accident will make the surrounding area uninhabitable for thousands of years. How silly is this when anyone can go on-line and see before and after pictures of the city of Hiroshima. How much sillier that the plant spokespeople don’t use them.
The operational, health, and environmental records over more than half a century prove the personnel and environmental safety of nuclear power, and all uses of radiation.
Inexhaustible Energy The fuel for nuclear reactors of the present types, and proven types being developed for the market, can last for at least a thousand years. This is possible because the energy from splitting an atom is a million times more than from burning an atom. (Burning gives a thousand times more energy than a moving atom-wind or water)
Benign The environmental impact of the whole nuclear fuel and plant cycle is small compared to fossil fuels, because so much less fuel material is used. Used fuel is in solid form and is easy to handle; there are no liquids to leak if there is an accident.
Reliable Nuclear power plants, and fossil fuel plants, can and do run 24/7 to supply the electric grid. Coal and oil plants depend on fuel deliveries and usually keep a 60 day supply on hand. Natural gas plants depend on pipelines, so a pipeline accident will shut them down. Nuclear reactors have 1 ½ to 2 years fuel in them when refueled.
On Facebook, a friend wrote that Jaworowski had asked for the best things to communicate about nuclear. He is at least partially correct. However, for the sake of headline writing, I am going to continue to call this exercise "The Five Best Things about Nuclear."