Thursday, 2 December 2010

Public Perception - Scary Nuclear!!

This is NOT nuclear power!

 Nuclear! Radiation! Nuclear bombs! Nuclear war! Nuclear this, nuclear that....

There is no denying or escaping the reality that the civil nuclear power has benefited enormously from the funding and research into nuclear weapons programs, however nuclear power need not be scary!

The motivations for the first nuclear reactors were to produce fissile materials such as plutonium for military weapons needs.

Although civil nuclear power has long since moved away from military involvement the association between nuclear weapons and nuclear power still looms large in many peoples perception. This seems to promote the idea that civil nuclear power is somehow inherently 'bad' or 'evil'.

It appears that many nuclear power opponents are in fact simply indiscriminately  anti 'anything nuclear'. Many current day nuclear power opponents are the very same people who were protesting against nuclear weapons at the forefront of the "Ban the bomb" movement.

Any event involving nuclear power no matter how tenuous the link to nuclear matters is pounced on and cited (always in total factual error) as 'proof' of the 'dangers' and 'madness' of nuclear technology.

A recent example of this is the media treatment of the transformer fire at Indian Point nuclear power station in New York. Those not susceptible realise that a transformer fire is and never will be a nuclear issue. Any type of power generation facillity can fall to this kind of failure.

Despite the intense focus on minor events surrounding nuclear power plants, other extremely risky and dangerous methods of power generation are given an almost free pass by the same groups. Just think how many recent incidents there have been surrounding coal mining, gas pipe explosions and need i mention Deepwater Horizon. Deaths in the mining industry often number in the thousands worldwide anually.

Deepwater Horizon fire

This said, the nuclear industry historically has not done itself any favors when it comes to communications, dispelling misinformation/misunderstanding and generally portraying itself in a positive light.

Every common argument such as safety, economic viability and 'waste' presented against nuclear power as a fatal flaw in the concept can be countered by clear communication from the industry.

The key to future and continued success from a public perception point of view is communication and support from the industry and government.

Consider that nuclear power stations in France have a number of public open days every year. In contrast it's a near impossibility to get a visit to a British nuclear facility of any kind. The French approach helps to engage the public and put hearts and minds at ease.

I have been fortunate enough to visit a number of British nuclear facilities and I know that if more of the general public were able to experience the professionalism of the industry first hand any remaining fears would evaporate.