The Pro-Nuclear Community goes Grassroots

By Suzy Hobbs Baker

In recent weeks I have been excited to witness several genuine grassroots efforts in support of nuclear energy emerging on the scene. Several have already been covered on this forum, like the Rally for Vermont Yankee and the Webinar collaboration by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the American Nuclear Society. Both of these efforts proved to be very successful in bringing together nuclear supporters and gaining attention from the mainstream media.

I’d like to share some information about another opportunity to actively show your support for nuclear.

The White House recently launched a petition program called “We the People.” Here is the description of how it works:

This tool provides you with a new way to petition the Obama administration to take action on a range of important issues facing our country. If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.

One of the first and most popular petitions on the website is a call to end subsidies and loan guarantees for nuclear energy by 2013. As I write this, it is only about a thousand signatures away from reaching the White House.

In response to this petition, Ray Wallman, a young nuclear supporter and filmmaker, wrote a counter petition called “Educate the Public Regarding Nuclear Power.” It needs 4,500 more signatures before October 23 in order to get a formal response, and reads as follows:

Due to the manufactured controversy that is the nuclear reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, perpetuated by a scientifically illiterate news media, the public is unnecessarily hostile to nuclear power as an energy source.

To date nobody has died from the accident and Fukushima, and nuclear power has the lowest per Terra-watt hour death toll of any energy source known to man:
http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html

The Obama administration should take better strides to educate the public regarding this important energy source.

In addition to the petition for education, Gary Kahanak, of Arkansas Home Energy Consultants, released another one in support of restarting the Integral Fast Reactor program. This petition was inspired by an open letter to the White House with the same goal, written by Steve Kirsch, of the Science Council for Global Initiatives. The petition states:

Without delay, the U.S. should build a commercial-scale demonstration reactor and adjacent recycling center. General Electric’s PRISM reactor, developed by a consortium of major American companies in partnership with the Argonne National Laboratory, is ready to build now. It is designed to consume existing nuclear waste as fuel, be passively safe and proliferation-resistant. It can provide clean, emissions-free power to counter climate change, and will create jobs as we manufacture and export a superior technology. Abundant homegrown nuclear power will also enhance our nation’s energy security. Our country dedicated some of its finest scientific and engineering talent to this program, with spectacular success. Let’s finish the job we started. It will benefit our nation, and the world.

The release of these petitions was just in time to beat an increased threshold for minimum signatures, from 5,000 to 25,000. That means that if half of ANS members take the time to sign these petitions, we will get a formal response from the White House about their plans for increasing public education on nuclear energy, and moving forward with an important Generation IV technology.

There has been some debate among my colleagues about the value of this approach. Some were concerned about the specific language or content of the petitions, while others did not feel comfortable signing something in support of a particular reactor that is not their preferred technology. Others have voiced that even if we get 5,000 signatures, the White House response will not have any impact on policy. While I understand and respect those points, I want to share why I decided to sign both petitions and to write about them here.

Those of us in the nuclear communications community ask ourselves constantly, “How do we inspire people to get involved and speak out in support of nuclear?” I see these petitions as a sign of success on the part of the nuclear community—we are reaching out and inspiring action from the ground up. Nuclear supporters who are not directly employed by the industry created both of these petitions. In my mind, that is a really wonderful thing. Members of the public are taking independent action to support the technology they believe in.

This brings me to my second reason for supporting these petitions: They represent a genuine change in approach for supporting nuclear energy. Throughout the history of commercial nuclear power generation, most of the decisions and support have come directly from government and corporate entities. This has resulted in a great deal of public mistrust and even disdain for nuclear technologies. A grassroots approach may not translate directly into research dollars or policy change, but it has the potential to win hearts and minds, which is also extremely important.

And finally, there is power in symbolic action. The act of doing something that supports a cause you care about feels good. It connects us all in our struggle to ensure that future generations have access to abundant, clean energy. Maybe getting a letter from the White House isn’t going to change the course of nuclear development or outreach in this country, but it very well may strengthen the efforts of those working to do just that.

In conclusion, I want to formally ask my fellow ANS members to take a few minutes to read these petitions, and if you choose, to sign them. Perhaps even take another minute, and send out a link to your local ANS section or colleagues. We will never know the full impact of a grassroots pro-nuclear effort unless we give it a try, and this is our chance.

To make things a little easier, here are some additional links for easy sharing through a variety of social media outlets:

Reddit

Stumbleupon

Ycombinator

[Disclaimer: The petitions mentioned in this post were not created and are not officially endorsed by ANS or PopAtomic Studios.]

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Hobbs Baker

Suzy Hobbs Baker is the executive director of PopAtomic Studios, a non-profit organization dedicated to using the power of visual and liberal arts to enrich the discussion on nuclear energy. Hobbs Baker is an ANS member and a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

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