Nuclear power may have an important role to play in balancing the global energy mix, but to do so it needs to master the art of winning hearts.
Today, too much of its public relations approach is ineffectively focused on an intellectual battle. Chernobyl is a good example. In the wake of the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster last month, which brought grim reminders of the dangers of nuclear, the industry sought to address heightened public fears, by re-presenting data and scientific arguments to discredit people’s fear.
Data was used and reused, about the fact that the nuclear industry’s total recorded deaths stood at around 4,000 while nearly double that die annually from the coal industry. And that per kilowatt hour, hydro, coal and even some renewables are all more dangerous than nuclear. Valid facts – but they do little to allay nuclear anxieties. It’s an approach that ignores – or fails to recognize – the illogical nature of fear.
What fuels much of the fear is the knowledge gap. Nuclear technology may be one of the least understood things on the planet, and like flying or thunderstorms – human beings tend to fear the most what they understand the least. But while the ordinary man in the street may never truly understand the science behind nuclear power, he can learn to understand and trust the industry. Right now the scientific argument is simply making nuclear power more opaque, not more appealing.
What’s needed is a new approach focused on connecting with people on a more human level.
To do so it must join the mainstream. At the key energy events in the Middle East region for instance, the nuclear industry is rarely present – instead it adopts an insular approach focusing on nuclear only platforms to engage its audiences. In popular culture, such as sport, music and the arts the nuclear industry is equally absent but for some recent sponsorship activity from US based NRG. For the most part, unlike oil or renewables which have become more understood and accepted by virtue of their presence in everyday life, the nuclear industry is aloof.
Its distance, complexity and unyielding image are as much a barrier to acceptance as public concerns over safety. And as we enter a decade in which the world will make decisions that could alter the course of our existence – if not for this generation then the next – putting a mix of proven technologies into action today to reduce our carbon impact, will be critical. If nuclear is to play a role it must shed its evasive image.
Damian Brandy is a director at FleishmanHillard UAE and leads its energy, industrials and manufacturing and professional services practices
FleishmanHillard represents clients who operate across the energy spectrum, including nuclear