By Jim Walther, Executive Director of the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History; Chair of the Nuclear Science Week International Steering Committee
Most of you who are reading this work in the nuclear industry. It is a relatively tightly-knit group of professionals, even though it encompasses many fields in energy generation, medicine, research, industrial production, defense, and safety practices.
We all know the issues that confront our working world as well. We see a distrust of nuclear science information by the general public and a skeptical media and increasing pressures from competing but less clean energy sectors, as well as misinformation produced by groups actively trying to discredit the important role of nuclear science in the world. It is easy to lose heart in the face of this, especially when friends and even family members question why we are in this profession at all.
There really is, in my experience, only one way to combat the negative image of nuclear in some sectors of our community and that is to hold frank, accurate discussions and present high-quality information that non-technical people can understand. We all try to do this, whether at a school function, a cocktail party, or a community event, but we can appear defensive, look whiny, even become belligerent at times as we advocate for an energy source we all know can provide clean, carbon-free energy, diagnose and cure disease, or assist in making life safer and more convenient for millions.
That is where Nuclear Science Week (NSW, October 6-20, 2017) comes in. Only nine years ago, friends in the nuclear field who found the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History to be an unbiased source of information suggested that our nation, indeed the world, would benefit from a focused time each year when we could exchange information, talk in our communities, share experiences, and inform students about nuclear science. Nuclear Science Week, held every 3rd week of October, now is that time of focused dialogue.
As we all know, the story is not all or always a positive one – and that is ok. We have to cover the success and failures that have occurred in bring nuclear energy into our world. The good and bad is a matter of opinion, so it is crucial that sides in this are valued and respected. This is the time to invite a nuclear medicine physician or radiologist to speak to a school group, take a tour of a nuclear power generating station, and learn about the history of uranium mining. Much has been accomplished in the nearly 75 years that this science spans. And, people and the environment have gotten hurt at times as well. Acknowledging this is what Nuclear Science Week is about; talking about these things, asking and answering questions, sharing ideas.
Our field needs our commitment to this effort. We can’t just go to our jobs and close the door on the sometimes seemingly growing public misperceptions. We all must get engaged, even in small ways, to help the public reach factual conclusions. I invite you with a group or individually to become engaged in Nuclear Science Week. There is already a lot planned and more each day and each year. Any act of sharing of information is important and worth counting as progress. Please go to nuclearscienceweek.org and see what you can do in your office, plant, or town. There are a lot of awesome education links on the site that can assist you if you are a teacher or just making a presentation. Please be sure that your work for NSW is reported to me so we have a strong Impact Report this year. And, if you’d like to become more involved in Nuclear Science Week, even host the large North American event next year, we would love to hear from you. Please send your reports or let me know of your interest in hosting the Big Event next year by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Walther has been Executive Director for The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, NM, for 20 years. He previously was in the exhibition design field and served at four museums in his 39 year museum career. Walther started Nuclear Science Week, an international celebration and observance of the importance of the nuclear field to our world. The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History is chartered by Congress as America’s museum resource for all nuclear information. It is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution and is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.