I have written a lot about the technical advantages of peaceful, abundant, clean nuclear power. However, the facts I emphasize really do nothing to persuade people who are paralyzed by fear of all things nuclear, and the even more dreadful threat, RADIATION.
Steve Kidd has written an excellent op-ed addressing this subject, “Achieving progress in nuclear – throw out the establishment?” You can read the entire article here.
It has been consistently argued in these columns, however, that the industry is failing to address the key negative issue which dominates it, namely the fact that most people are fearful of nuclear technology. Unless the “paradigm of fear” is overcome, the industry essentially has no future, despite the space in the world energy market which is very much open to it, combined with the technical developments underway in the sector today.
What comes out, loud and clear, from these three examples is that the industry’s attempts to rebrand nuclear in over five years since the Fukushima accident have got essentially nowhere. Indeed, one may (politely) accuse it of engaging in a range of displacement activities (definition: an unnecessary activity that you undertake because you are trying to delay doing a more difficult or unpleasant activity).
Continuing to believe the public acceptance problem will be solved by more facts and figures from improved websites and news services is just burying one’s head in the sand. And, as has frequently been pointed out in these columns, relying on the climate change argument to advance nuclear’s prospects will almost certainly get nowhere. Industry bodies such as the World Nuclear Association (WNA) can point out that some of the countries with the best records on carbon emissions use a combination of nuclear and renewables (but mainly hydro, not wind or solar), while claiming that nuclear plants have avoided so many million tons of carbon since commissioning. But this is, at best and in my view, disingenuous. None of the 400 or so nuclear reactors around the world were built to abate carbon. They were built for other reasons, such as energy security and economics. Admittedly, it was believed that their environmental impact would mainly be benign, but investments are essentially made for what a technology does, rather than what it doesn’t.
A new campaign needs to focus more on images and feelings, rather than facts, and must be particularly addressed at the understanding of the nature of radiation, its sources and proven impacts. At the same time, the international radiological protection (RP) regime must be reformed, as its basis in the Linear No Threshold (LNT) theory effectively gives regulatory backing to public fears and has caused most of the problems stemming from Fukushima. All of this may take 20-30 years, but a proper start needs making today, rather than the continued recourse to easier options.
For those interested in a successful nuclear industry, the question has to be: “Is what we’re currently doing going to work?” My conclusion, based on the majority of what we’re seeing in the news today is: “No it won’t.” It is therefore necessary to try much harder, think a little outside the box, then come up with something new that will.