Changing How We Communicate

Preface: Robert Rock, a Canadian professional who authored the post you’re about to read, is relatively new to the field of nuclear communications but isn’t new to communications overall. I believe it’s good to get outside perspectives once in a while—they make us think about and reflect upon our own actions. I hope that his piece, specifically written for us here at ANS Nuclear Cafe, can provoke some discussion and help us develop new perspective. Your Editor, Will Davis.

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Changing how we communicate.

by Robert Rock

Participating in a LinkedIn Group called Cool Hand Nuke got me to thinking of the movie that it wittily takes its name from—Cool Hand Luke. Specifically, one of the movie’s most famous quotes, “What we have here is … a failure to communicate”

I think that quote sums up the nuclear industry both at the moment and over the last few decades.

Right now, I see a large amount of people looking for safe, cheap, non-carbon emitting energy, which can produce a large amount of power reliably. Dear nuclear crowd, doesn’t that describe nuclear energy? How have we not been able to tap into this desire?

Why haven’t we?

By the very nature of the nuclear industry, we are heavily weighted toward scientists, engineers, and other technical professionals. This is exactly what the industry needs to continue its great track record of safety and reliability.

The flip side is that there are far too few people who are professional communicators. We need these professionals in our industry as well as to improve our ability to connect with our audience.

An analogy that I often hear in the nuclear industry is that we aren’t building 1970s reactors anymore. Why do we still want to communicate like it’s the 1970s?

Communications 101

First, we need to define our audience. In my personal opinion, we have two major audiences for our message, but they’re very closely linked—the general public and politicians. They’re linked because politicians can move forward on new nuclear build without public support, while the public won’t demand new nuclear from politicians without knowledge of the industry.

Next is our message. As an industry, the question is do we have a clear, concise message that we all believe in? If we do, then I’ve never heard it. We desperately need to develop that message, but we have to develop that message with our audience in mind. It has to connect to them and satisfy their “what’s in it for me” desire. We won’t get it right the first time out and that’s okay. We need to experiment, learn from other industries, and have some trial and error. This process will improve our connection to the audience.

Finally, after we know our audience and our message, we now need to define the ways that the audience wants us to relay that message to them. That could be social media, blogs, videos, infographics, radio, TV, a combination of some, or all of the above. Again we need to experiment and constantly review the impact that each method has had in reaching the audience.

Our current society has had an explosion in the amount and variety of ways that we are communicating with one another. We “talk” to one another over email, we text, we participate in online groups in Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn, we tweet each other, we watch videos on YouTube, and sometimes we use Skype to have a conversation “face to face”.

Changing how we communicate

Taking the 101 and mapping it out, we see the components of communication. The most common problem on the sender side of the message is that what they want to say and what they end up saying is often very complex and often not even totally clear to themselves. The message of the industry is filled with technical information, acronyms, and the science of nuclear. Will our desired audience understand the message? Are we delivering the message using words they understand and in a format that they want?

On the receiver side, if the message is complex, they don’t understand it. The reader, listener, viewer immediately wants to know “what’s in it for them.” If there isn’t that connection, then they shut down. This may even include the words the sender has chosen to use in their message (i.e., how many of you non-industry friends know what LFTR or LWR or IMSR stands for?). If they don’t understand the message or it’s too complex, they most often simply reject it. If we aren’t speaking their language, and presenting ourselves in a way that makes “sense and cents” to the audience, they simply aren’t interested.

How we can change

We have to connect our good news stories into the current zeitgeist, and that’s going to mean some strange bedfellows. The documentary Pandora’s Promise really kicked off one of those new strange partnerships linking environmentalists with the nuclear industry. Now before the comment field explodes, I’m not advocating the film, climate change, global warming, or anything else that seems to really upset people in the nuclear industry.

What I am saying though is, this film opened the eyes of a lot of people who have historically been against the nuclear industry. We’ve done nothing to follow up on that opportunity.

How can we be better?

  1. Acknowledge we have a problem—I think intuitively we all know that there are issues connecting all the positive aspects of nuclear with the general public. They believe the myths about the industry much more readily than the truth.
  2. Make a change—We don’t have to continue to communicate the way we always have. We need a new style, message, and method to make the impact that we all want to continue to move nuclear forward in the United States and Canada and not just something the rest of the world is doing.
  3. Review—When we do make a change, we are not going to get it perfect the first time. We’ll experiment and review how our messages have done informing, engaging, and entertaining the audience.

I welcome your comments and feedback and I hope we all work together to change how we communicate about the nuclear industry.

 

Robert RockRobert Rock is President of Nuclear Edge, a digital and communications company that specializes in the nuclear industry. He is also President of Environmentalists for Nuclear, Canada and is on the Board of Directors for Environmentalists for Nuclear US, US Nuclear Energy Foundation, and the Durham Strategic Energy Alliance. Robert has worked to get the positive message of nuclear energy out to the public in a variety of means, including strategy development, content creation, advertising, and more. Robert has been a radio host since the age of 18, and has appeared on or hosted many TV shows. His own TV show is “Social Media Learning,” and he’s the resident expert on Digital Media on Rogers Daytime.

About Will Davis

Will Davis is the Communications Director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian, newsletter editor and member of the board of directors. Davis has recently been engaged by the Global America Business Institute as a consultant. He is also a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013–2016. In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

16 thoughts on “Changing How We Communicate

  1. Brian Mays

    … but [car companies] won’t do that by saying or even suggesting that the current cars aren’t safe …

    That’s true, but you have to admit, it would be pretty funny if they did.

    Deep, rugged male voice: “The 2015 Ford F Series, the most powerful truck in the class, and five times less likely to kill someone than our 2014 models.”

  2. Twominds

    Robert,
    The difference between the talk of a car company about their current and coming models and that of the people who passionately talk about new nuclear, is that the car company will bring all the new developments under the attention of the public, but won’t do that by saying or even suggesting that the current cars aren’t safe or have a bad mileage. So the analogy stands.
    My take is that the current technology and the coming new reactors can complement each other nicely, and that the promotors of the next gen would do well to take that angle.

  3. Robert

    James,

    I’m a bit confused by your analogy.

    New car company’s focus on the future all the time and test out concepts. Have not ever been to a car show? It’s all about the future, new features, new safety, concept designs, etc.
    As I don’t really see how it applies.

    I think the nuclear industry needs PR on multiple levels, not the value of the current technology, the value where the industry is going in the future, its benefits of large scale power with no carbon dioxide or other GHGs.

    I think there should be many ways to talk about an industry not just one and I think that’s what a real PR firm would do.

  4. James Greenidge

    Robert | October 20, 2014 at 11:12 |
    “I still have no idea how you think Microsoft is a good example. You were speaking about marketing and advertising…” “…Why there won’t be a Gen IV reactor this year or next year is not that they’re vaporware but because of the long regulatory process necessary to get a reactor up a running.”

    Time and time again the engineering-minded nuclear community shoots itself in both feet in human relations at enlightening PR and self-promotion and de-smearing its name and field because hawkers of advanced “safer better” nuclear technology (salt/liquid metal/fusion, whatever) taint the public perception of nuclear reactors by making it sound like there’s something fatally flawed and hazardous with our current crop of nuclear plants. Why defile the public perception red carpet for future tech plants by denying and bashing the record of current plants like this? Ever hear burnt once twice shy? If the nuclear energy community wants to do itself a BIG favor, it should be aggressively PR-Ad stressing the comparative safety and mortality/damage industrial accident stats of our CURRENT plants to the public, NOT giving rosy promises of “better safer” nuclear plants which haven’t even broken out of the lab or would hit commercial use for decades at best (and doesn’t matter WHY to the public!). A REAL Ad firm just wouldn’t promote nuclear like that! Imagine a company trying to currently sell a new car by telling the public how much safer and better its future ones will be! Call not heeding this a big Duh! Unfortunately that seems the credo of the nuclear power PR campaign if you can find it since they have a harder time getting an educational Ad together than little Puppy Rescue.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  5. Brian Mays

    You’re opposition to it comes off like a buggy maker complaining that motorized carriages will never catch on.

    Robert – You are wrong on two counts. First of all, I’m not opposed to the technology; I am merely explaining the readiness level of the technology and pointing out that it does no good from a communications perspective to exaggerate or misrepresent this readiness level to the general public. Next, I’m not the “buggy maker,” I’m someone who is fortunate enough to work on advanced nuclear technology such as this from time to time, as opportunities permit. Heck, I even chaired a session on molten-salt-cooled reactors at a professional conference earlier this year. I think I know a little bit about these reactors and their current state of development and readiness. Regulation has nothing to do with it.

    If you’re going to successfully deliver a message such as the benefits of nuclear power, then honesty has to come first, and the first person you need to be honest with is yourself. Otherwise, the battle is lost before you begin.

    For someone who apparently wanted to stimulate a discussion and who claimed to “welcome” comments and feedback, you really don’t put much effort into listening, do you? In fact, here you have just emphasized to everyone in your latest comment that you are not willing to listen, so I fail to see the point of this exercise from your perspective. Nevertheless, it has been useful in a way that you apparently did not intend. It has been useful to demonstrate the counterproductive infighting and bickering that I originally referred to (and this bickering always seems to come from those with a fondness for molten-salt reactors … why?), so I can’t complain too much.

    For what it’s worth, the only person whom I attacked in my original two comments was Tom Clements, and for that I have no regrets. The man is a hard-core anti-nuke who drops by this blog every now and then to deposit a trollish comment and then leaves. The other parts were merely examples to help explain the points that I was trying to get across and were meant only as constructive criticism.

  6. Robert

    Brian,

    I wasn’t being defensive in my response to you, I was setting my position straight. You made a lot of points and accusations in it that I disagree with and aren’t my positions. Setting the record straight on my opinion and standing up for myself is important.

    I still have no idea how you think Microsoft is a good example. You were speaking about marketing and advertising. I clearly point out that if you follow them or highly placed people in the organization, they are often very open about one of their products short comings and why they’re working on a new version. That has nothing to do with technical support.

    Why there won’t be a Gen IV reactor this year or next year is not that they’re vaporware but because of the long regulatory process necessary to get a reactor up a running.

    You’re opposition to it comes off like a buggy maker complaining that motorized carriages will never catch on.

    The reason that someone like Bill Nye is used to discuss issues that he has not business talking about really gets back to very few individuals in North America that have any media profile that it makes it easy for a large major news organization to tap for information. It doesn’t make it right and I completely don’t agree with it, but that’s the way it is.

    You may be part of a small vocal minority, but that doesn’t mean that you’re doing the job well. Your two responses to me don’t exactly give me comfort that you have, seeing as though all you’ve done is to attempt to alienate me and made broad and completely false allegations.

    A peace of advice for the future, when someone agrees with your opinion and is looking to further the same goal that you’re going after, don’t tell them that they’ve flunked the first step. If you don’t MAYBE someone will actually listen to what you have to say.

  7. Brian Mays

    I’m sorry Robert, but I didn’t realize that you and Rod were both Republicans. (Of course, I’m kidding. I know Rod personally, and I know that he is not a registered Republican.)

    Seriously, however, I’m not insinuating anything. It’s simply a fact that today these molten salt designs are mere vaporware. Before I began my career in the nuclear industry, I spent a considerable amount of time in the Free Software world, so I know vaporware when I see it. For those who are not familiar with this term, there are just two questions that one must ask: (1) Is the product being sold today? (2) Will the product be sold next year? If the answer to both of these questions is “no,” then it’s vaporware. Note that vaporware often can turn into very good, real technology, just please do not oversell it.

    And regarding Microsoft, please try not to confuse technical support with advertising.

    But anyhow, you’re missing the point. The problem with advocates of paper reactors like the LFTR is that they unfairly criticize their own fundamental technology just to make their preferred design look good. They promise “solutions” to what honestly are non-problems and non-issues and thereby give more ammunition to the anti-nuclear side. That’s their sin.

    The other thing that they typically do is what you are doing now: they get defensive. That has been a communication problem for the nuclear industry for decades now, going back to the Three Mile Island accident, if not earlier. If you become defensive with a professional anti-nuclear activist, he’ll eat you alive. You must stay positive, focused, and on the offensive.

    And speaking of being on the offensive, yes it does matter what qualifications someone has. To see why this matters, all you have to do is look at what happened after the Fukushima accident, when Bill Nye, the “science guy,” was being interviewed on television about the accident. Was he a knowledgeable expert of nuclear technology, the health effects of exposure to radiation, or anything else that is relevant? No. The only reason that he was interviewed again and again is because he used to be the host a children’s TV show!! And he said some of the stupidest things that I’ve ever heard, making mistakes that are obvious to anyone with even a modest background in the underlying science. But because of his celebrity status and because all of his comments served to further sensationalize the story, he was allowed to go on and on by these journalists who were not doing their jobs.

    At some point, someone needs to ask why that fool, and not a real expert, was on the air. The first thing that the nuclear industry and nuclear proponents should be doing is demanding that the media rely on qualified individuals as experts when reporting on nuclear issues.

    I’m sorry to say it, but if you are going to become defensive so quickly, then perhaps nuclear communications is not for you. I’ve been commenting online about this issue for years in all sorts of venues. It’s not something for the thin-skinned or faint-hearted. There is a small, but very loud, minority out there that have made it their life’s mission, not only to oppose, but to destroy the nuclear industry and anything associated with the technology. This group includes some of the most obnoxious, vile, and disgusting people that you will ever encounter, and they are not afraid to make this issue personal. Thus, it’s hardly surprising that most people in the industry are not eager to go out of their way to share nuclear power’s good story.

    But it’s time to stop being milquetoast,and it’s time to stop being offended when someone points out something that is obvious about your favorite design. This crazy, unproductive bickering must end. The first step to effective communication is to know your audience and to know your adversary, and if you think that I’m your adversary, then you’ve already flunked the first step.

  8. Joffan

    @ Graham – I don’t really care how the anti-nukes are financed – the issue is that they are there and they are connected.

    I like the Roman fuel rods example, although the line “slightly irradiating visiting schoolchildren” is a shining example of why message countermeasures should be considered. In reality that is innocuous, but on the public stage it would be turned against you.

    @ Christopher – I am not “blaming” the anti-nukes, just acknowledging the reality of their current dominance of message. Yes, maybe this is due to leaving the playing field open to them, but that’s past history and now we need to deal with today’s reality.

  9. Robert

    Brian,

    I have to admit that I’m more than a little confused by your comments. You put forward the idea of Reagan’s 11th commandment and then proceed to break it by speaking ill of both myself and Rod Adams. That seems a bit off to me.

    On the Microsoft issue, you’re not exactly right. Microsoft responds very seriously to feedback on their product and makes continuous changes to the produce to make buyers happy. They have absolutely acknowledges multiple times that their latest version was a disappointment and have released new version to correct bugs and upgrades. When Windows 8 shipped there was no start menu, people were angry and Windows very quickly release 8.1 to restore the feature.

    You took my comment of “may be” out of context. New reactor designs absolutely may be a solution to reduce the footprint of spent fuel. The thing is we need to start using the technology.

    I think insinuating that molten salt reactors are “vaporware” is a complete disservice to continued development. They aren’t vaporware because they’ve had models working at Oak Ridges in the past, so we know technically that they work.

    You analogue that new development makes people think that there is something wrong with the current technology make utterly no sense to me. Ever go to a car show? Did that make you think your car wasn’t safe or terrible? Research and development and constantly striving for improvements should be the aim of all technology, that doesn’t invalidate what we have now.

    As to the issue with Tom, mea culpa. You’re right, I should have looked into who I was responding to, but at the end of the day, he and others like him will continue to bring up this issue with waste. It doesn’t matter what his qualifications are, what his background is, or his motivations are, at the end of the day, many people choice to believe the rhetoric that he puts out there. All we can do is continue to address the truth and reality. DGR’s are a solution to the problem, recycling spent fuel is a solution to reduce the amount of waste, new reactors could run on spent fuel, the current solution of safe onsite storage of spent fuel works.

    We also address the reality that many aspects of nuclear are a political football. All we can do on that end is continue to communicate and change public opinion. Changing peoples minds eventually changes political action.

  10. Brian Mays

    If you want to understand how good communication works, then it is wise to take notice of how good communicators do what they do. Consider President Reagan, a.k.a. “The Great Communicator,” who was known for his ability to connect with the American public. One instructive example from Reagan that the nuclear industry should heed is his “Eleventh Commandment”: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.

    Before they can successfully engage and counter the anti-nuclear rhetoric, proponents of nuclear technology need to learn that they must stop bickering among themselves, especially in public and in ways that end up being carried by and often distorted by the media.

    In recent years, those most guilty of this particular communications sin are the people who are promoting what in the software world would be called “vaporware” — i.e., paper reactors whose designs haven’t even been completed, much less commercialized. For some reason, these enthusiasts believe that they must point out how their gee-whiz designs fix all of the so-called “problems” with nuclear power. So they give a TED talk with a lot of pizazz and a lot of empty promises, and the audience goes away thinking, wow, we need one of those. Score one for nuclear, right? Not really, because unfortunately, the audience also leaves with an implicit message: there’s a lot of things wrong with the nuclear power that we have. For many in the audience, this is probably their first genuine exposure to nuclear technology, and the nuclear technology of today — the nuclear technology that actually exists and works — doesn’t make a good first impression.

    When Microsoft releases a new version of Windows, it doesn’t explicitly advertise that the new version fixes all of the bugs, features, and things that people hate about the previous version. (And let’s be honest, Windows 7 and Windows 10 were rushed to the market exactly for that reason. Everybody knows it; Microsoft hopes they’ll forget it.) The marketing people at Microsoft are smart and savvy enough to understand that criticizing one’s own product, even an obsolete product, is counterproductive, yet I see nuclear advocates doing this all of the time.

    What’s worse is that, when a new version of Windows is released, Microsoft actually has a new product to sell, whereas the promised solutions for the so-called “problems” with nuclear technology are not yet ready. So these TED talks merely result in producing people who come away thinking that the only acceptable nuclear technology is technology that doesn’t yet exist! Didn’t we learn anything from our courtship with fusion over half a century ago?!

    This blog also is guilty of this type of communications blunder. Take for example, Rod Adams’s recent article questioning the need for a geological repository. As long as the Yucca Mountain repository is endorsed by the American Nuclear Society and the nuclear industry’s trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, (and the last time I checked, it still is) then the message that is presented to the general public should be that Yucca Mountain is the answer. Otherwise, you’re just giving faux credibility to people like Mr. Clements above.

    While I applaud Rod for bringing up an interesting topic for discussion, this discussion is best reserved for conferences, cocktail parties, and private mailing lists. When it comes to communication, however, it is PR stupid and yet another mistake that nuclear proponents make when trying to explain something that is complicated to people who just want a simple, understandable message.

    So returning to Reagan, I think that, when it comes to public relations, the nuclear industry and nuclear proponents need their own eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of nuclear technology or nuclear policy.

    I believe that this would be a good first step toward fixing the nuclear industry’s “failure to communicate” that Mr. Rock fittingly highlights.

  11. Brian Mays

    Hi Robert. You should know that Tom here is one of the people putting those “pieces” on the anti-nuclear board. He provides a very illustrative example of what nuclear proponents are up against.

    Note that his entire comment is packed with nothing but bold assertions without any substance or evidence to back them up whatsoever. He talks about technical “challenges,” “problems,” and “dilemmas” without mentioning even one single technical point. If this is such a “problem” then why can’t he provide at least an explanation of what it is? What are these “risks”? What are these “unanswered” issues? What is it that the industry is supposed to “embrace”? It’s all left to the imagination.

    The truth is, however, that a guy with only a masters degree in forest resources is simply not qualified to discuss intelligently the technical aspects of this issue. Nevertheless, as Executive Director of the Nuclear Control Institute, an intermittent candidate for a fringe political party (the “Green” Party), and a lifelong anti-nuclear activist, this person feels, not only obliged, but obligated to lecture and chastise the genuine experts in the field about their scientific and technical “dilemma,” without even once mentioning a scientific or technical point.

    The challenge that the nuclear industry faces is that the media is composed of journalists with very poor backgrounds in science. That would be forgivable if they would just do their jobs as journalists and maintain a questioning attitude, as they do for almost every other topic. I don’t blame them for failing to understand the technical details, but time after time, they fail to challenge the credentials of people like Mr. Clements and they fail to demand that these people back up even one of their claims with some substance. Instead, they think that the anti-nuclear activists’ vacuous words simply make for too good of a story, so why ruin it with the hard work required for real in-depth reporting?

    Rather than responding to Mr. Clements’s vague complaints with a vague response (e.g., “Let’s find a solution, that may be” … may be? Seriously?), I prefer to take the direct route, keep the message simple and positive, and remain on the offensive in this “battle.” For example:

    Far from being in the “formative stages” of debate, all of these alleged technical “challenges” to the “nuclear waste problem” have been addressed in the license application for the Yucca Mountain Repository that has been prepared by the US Department of Energy and submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). I’m sure that Mr. Clements cannot put forward a single credible technical issue that has not already been addressed in that license application.

    The fact that this license application, which was submitted six years ago still has not been fully evaluated by the NRC (although federal law requires that it must be evaluated and either approved or rejected within four years) proves that the “nuclear waste problem” is a political issue, not a technical issue. The only thing that is standing between the resolution of these “technical” issues is one man, or rather one politician, Harry Reid.

    So, I must ask Mr. Clements one question: if he is so sure that these technical challenges have not been addressed, why are he and his fellow anti-nuclear ideologues so afraid to let the review of the Yucca Mountain license application go forward? If they are so sure that the technical “challenges” have not been overcome, then they should welcome such an independent review — in fact, they should be begging for it. After all, they will be able to submit their own concerns for consideration as third-party intervenors. They themselves will be an essential part of the process.

    If Mr. Clements’s claims are correct, then a technical review will quickly dismiss the license application, proving him right. So why isn’t Mr. Celements demanding such a technical review? Because he knows that it’s not technical, it’s entirely political.

    And that’s how you respond to Tom Clements.

  12. Robert

    Joffan, Thanks for your comment. I agree, there is a large “battle” to be waged with anti-nuclear groups. The main issue as I see it is that the nuclear industry took off 40 years of communicating with the media and general public. It place of that, anti nuclear groups, fueled (pun intended) by oil and gas filled that void. To take back our message from them won’t be easy and has to focus on the “what’s in it for me” of the reader, viewer, listener of the message.
    Part of what I see is that when something is developed about nuclear from the inside it focuses on what we think is cool and don’t think about if the audience thinks the same thing.

    Hi Tom, Thanks for you comment as well. I totally agree that spent fuel is something that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. I think there are multiple ways of doing that. The first major piece would be from the scientific and technical perspective. Let’s find a solution, that may be using newer reactor designs to reduce the amount of spent fuel and it’s long lived nature. We as an industry have to get behind whatever solution or solutions tackle the issue. From there, we then help politicians, and the public that this will work, why it will work, and how it’s a benefit to them. Hopefully that will take that “piece” off the anti nuclear board.

  13. Tom Clements

    The nuclear industry has a daunting nuclear waste problem that poses a host of technical challenges. Rather than admit and embrace the problem and agree that long-term “solutions” are at best in the formative stages, what we hear from some in the industry (at least in the US) is that spent fuel is a political problem and not a technical problem. Certainly there are political challenges (as there should be given the inherent risks involved), but such a simplistic response to a complex problem that holds real health and environmental risks leads to a dead end discussion while the technical challenges remain unanswered. Nuclear waste poses a scientific and technical dilemma and attempts to sweep it under a political rug only exacerbates the problem for the nuclear industry. In sum, the waste problem needs to be affirmed and not simplistically waved off as something merely political in nature.

  14. Christopher Willis

    With all due respect @Joffan, I think that diagnosis is exactly backwards. Those who speak against nuclear power have exploited a failure of ours to communicate with the public effectively. They have capitalized on our mistakes rather than exploited a failing in the public. They are exploiting the carrion of our communication strategy. The sooner we stop blaming “anti-nukes” and the public, and face up to the failing of our message the sooner we can have an effective communication strategy. I mean, to think you need to craft a message that can’t be attacked by anti-nukes is to completely misdiagnose the problem.

  15. G.R.L. Cowan

    Joffan, I don’t think “acknowledging the existence of the very capable communicators in opposition to nuclear power” is exactly right. What should be acknowledged is the economic interest group those communicators serve: governments that tax fossil fuels and private interests that privately profit from them.

    I like the advice of the debunking handbook (http://www.skepticalscience.com/docs/Debunking_Handbook.pdf) advice about not repeating opposition memes, even if there’s a chance the audience hasn’t heard them, and it seems like the helpful, fair-minded thing to do to invite them to go away, familiarize themselves with those memes, and then com’on back’n let us set you *straight*. Dr. Patrick L. Walden* knows that’s how you do it!

    It’s rather like trying to immunize, but forgetting the part about killing the pathogen before injecting it. Pathogens aren’t helpful or fair-minded.

    So, for instance, if we want to talk about the remote future of buried, unreprocessed spent fuel, there’s no reason to mention people who try to raise fear of it, nor to credit them with success. Just say something like “If imperial Rome had been powered by PWRs, and spent Roman fuel rods — the kind of nuclear waste that is most hazardous in theory, although no neighbor of any cache of it has ever been done any harm in practice — had been dug up by 19th-century archeologists, they would not have noticed any effects on their health, and some of these rods would now be on open display in museums, slightly irradiating visiting schoolchildren.”

    * https://www.triumf.info/wiki/pwalden/index.php/Fukushima_and_anti-nuclear_propaganda

  16. Joffan

    Some very useful perspective and guidance here.

    However I think you have missed out a major component of the communication picture here – perhaps because you were aiming for “101”. I don’t think the communication challenge can be properly framed without acknowledging the existence of the very capable communicators in opposition to nuclear power. They have learned and exploited the need of the media for drama and are not likely to readily surrender that position..

    Of course all we can directly control is our own message, but we need to understand and characterize the nature of the opposing response to any message from the nuclear industry. A countermeasures group, if you like, to play the scenario through and try to design a message that cannot easily be shot down by anti-nukes.