Communicating Nuclear Energy Forward

By Lenka Kollar

The Focus on Communications Workshop held on June 19 at the 2014 American Nuclear Society Annual Meeting posed the question: “What will it take to move nuclear energy forward?” Mimi Limbach of the Potomac Communications Group covered some very interesting poll data and facilitated a conversation on how to move nuclear energy forward through effective communication.

According to a recent poll by Bisconti Research, Inc., the percentage of the U.S. public in favor of nuclear energy dropped from 69 percent to 63 percent in the past year. This drop may have occurred because nuclear energy has not been a part of the national conversation. In order to address this, Limbach urges outreach efforts that target those who are undecided about nuclear energy. About 56 percent of women and 41 percent of men are in this undecided category. The polls also show that people care about reliable electricity, affordable electricity, and clean air—these are messages that resonate when reaching out to the public.

Limbach says, “It’s time to get nuclear back in the conversation,” and the following are examples of good messages to do this:

  • Investments in new nuclear plants mean good-paying jobs.
  • Investments in nuclear science mean increased U.S. competitiveness.
  • Electricity from nuclear energy powers our economy and lives.
  • When gas lines and coal piles are frozen, nuclear energy reliably and efficiently produces electricity night and day.
  • Nuclear energy is clean air energy.

In addition to making outreach message-focused, Limbach also states that communications should be kept simple and to the point. Use plain English and don’t use jargon. For example, people do not understand radiation units. Even “passive safety” can be confusing because it implies that nothing happens to a reactor after an accident—rather, explain that safety systems are powered by natural forces, and consider replacing the term with “natural safety.”

Memes and infographics have become powerful tools for spreading information (good or bad) on the Internet. When illustrating technical topics, such as radiation and nuclear energy, simple and cool-colored graphics work best. They should be engaging, fun, and easy to read. PopAtomic Studios and the Nuclear Literacy Project have great graphics for anyone to use on social media and other communication platforms, such as:

Footprint 300x393

Meme1 300x300

meme2 300x148

The new Clean Power Plan rule proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gives us a chance to get nuclear energy back in the conversation on the state and federal levels. Our messages should be focused on how keeping current nuclear power plants running, and building new ones, can help states meet clean energy goals. Nuclear power plants create jobs and reliable electricity while keeping our air clean. Having a robust domestic nuclear energy program also helps the United States stay at the forefront of the growing international nuclear energy industry and the international nonproliferation regime.

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Lenka_Kollar_casual_small 125x125Lenka Kollar is the Owner & Editor of Nuclear Undone, a blog and consulting company focusing on educating the public about nuclear energy and nonproliferation issues. She is an active ANS member, serving as Secretary of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Technical Group and member of the Professional Women in ANS Committee. Connect with Lenka on LinkedIn and Twitter.

6 Responses to Communicating Nuclear Energy Forward

  1. This is NOT a reflection on the basically fine and informative article written by Lenka Kollar, rather on the two top third-party graphics which are supposedly meant to “humanize” the nuclear view but to outsiders come out as very unserious and unadult. Commodore Computers infamously tried to market its Amiga — a PC so advanced in the ’80s that had it been probably properly marketed we’d all likely be using AmigaDOS instead of Windows today — using the same cutsey touchie-feelie ad tactics and it failed royally because no one took the message seriously. (former Amy users will recall and weep over this). Steve Aplin at Canadian Energy Issues hits it on the head with examples of how the public perception of nuclear energy should be, and that’s talking to and informing the public as adults and not looking like one’s snowing over middle school students.

  2. Mitch, I understand your concern and I think that it is worth discussing how to conduct outreach to different generations. The sample infographics in this post might not be attractive to older generations or people that are well-educated in technical fields, but they are attractive to the social media savvy younger generations. People that use social media often are overloaded with information and anything simple and colorful is much more likely to be read and/or shared. I probably wouldn’t use these specific graphics in an educational outreach event but I would still use plenty of pictures and simple slides.

  3. Cory Stansbury

    Mitch,
    Last time I checked, the completely misleading and incomplete rhetoric of our competition seems to do just fine in garnering public support and demonizing us. Also, last time I checked the nuclear industry has a PR hype machine only slightly more effective than the “Macsween Haggis Appreciation Society.” Doing something else is unlikely to give us poorer results than what we are doing. If Steve Aplin (A guy who, BTW, I enjoy reading) had amazing market penetration numbers and was garnering a Ron Paul-style, cult-like following, he’d be a good guy to formulate a strategy of attack. But he’s not…like so many other insightful guys, he has a minutia of the population in his region of influence. I think your criticism of this approach is rather unfair. Unlike most of us, Lenka is trying to look at the problem differently

  4. Lenka,
    I agree that having a focused message is important to communicating ideas regarding nuclear energy. When communicating information concerning nuclear energy I have a hard time supporting both maintaining current nuclear power plants and building new ones at the same time. While promoting the advantages of new plants such as improvements in productivity, safety, and spent fuels issues it can become easy to make previous reactors seem obsolete. Do you have any suggestions on how to strike a balance between supporting two similar yet different objectives such as these?
    Thanks

  5. Tim, I agree that it’s difficult to promote new plants without discrediting existing ones. For example, saying newer plants are “safer” makes the existing ones sound unsafe. Instead, use words like “advanced” and “efficient” to describe new plants. I hope that helps!

  6. Dr. K S Parthasarathy

    Very interesting discussion. Two weeks ago, the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) Bangalore, India organised a national seminar on “Science and Society: Bridging the Gap”. An articulate former Union Minister Mr Jaim Ram Ramesh spoke at length. He also blamed scientists for not communicating facts to the society. The topics covered included nuclear power, genetically engineered foods, earth quakes and other natural hazards among others.

    A typical attitude of political activists is to demand scientists and technologists to argue, debate and convince the society on issues related to nuclear energy. Most scientists and technologists are not good orators or speakers compared to most anti nuclear activists.The very first time we participated in a public debate, few of us could stand the heckling by anti nuclear activists.The political parties which bring nuclear power on the national agenda must explain the advantages of nuclear power by collecting the right information from scientists and technologists.It nevr happens in any country.Politicians behave like umpires!

    The most important role of scientists and technologists is to convey accurate information to the fence-sitters. I have reasons to believe that in India they are about 25 % of the educated population.

    Recent example of the 1000 MW Kudankulam nuclear power plant was a serious topic of debate.Activists could delay the project by several months. In fact, in the latest Central Election, three anti nuclear activists contested from adjoining constituencies with the support of the newly formed Aam Admi Party (AAP). The final results show that all of them lost their deposits(considered to be the height of ignominy!).The leader of the anti nuclear group got just over 15000 votes when the total number of votes polled was over 9,50,000.

    In communicating ideas related to nuclear energy or for that matter any topic which has high societal impacts, we must not consider it as a majority-minority issue, every one must get the chance to understand the merits and demerits regardless of the fact that they are in a minority.