Friday, June 22, 2007

Should the Nuclear Energy Industry Be More Confrontational With Its Critics?

From time to time, readers of NEI Nuclear Notes have urged our industry to get more confrontational with our critics in the public space. Last night up in Peterborough, Ontario, one Greenpeace volunteer, Shawn-Patrick Stensil, ran straight into a number of industry advocates who had obviously had enough:

Early into Stensil's presentation Martyn Wash, general manager of the Organization of Candu Industries, asked Stensil if he was a scientist and questioned his credibility.

The two got into a heated conversation during the question and answer portion of the evening, each accusing the other of providing misinformation.

"They come here and tell half-truths," Wash said, referring to Stensil and Greenpeace.

Wash told The Examiner Greenpeace bases their argument from facts and figures dating back to the ’50s and ’60s.

"Greenpeace presents a story based on falsehoods," Wash said.

It is important to have a dialogue on the future of nuclear energy, Wash said, but there needs to be balance.
While something tells me the conversation was probably a bit more substantive, this is something I'd like to see more of -- much like the work my colleague Lisa Stiles-Shell did last year when Helen Caldicott embarked on her book tour.


Anonymous said...

Well, people interpret "confrontational" differently. To some, it means the kind of attack-mode indicated in this exchange. That's usually not necessary and can be counterproductive. To others it includes more direct interactions in providing and countering factual information.

In any event, "the industry" needs to (still, since the '70s) become more direct and substantive in both proactively providing information on nuclear power and radiation issues, including responding to "critics" and other misinformation. And we must keep in mind that we are directing our responses to the audience, not to the critic or other source of the error (e.g., a reporter or editor, or policy or political source). We can not feel "frustrated" or angry that the source does not acknowledge error or accept correction.

However, individuals speaking for themselves can credibly be more "confrontational," which helps to show some passion and conviction that is missing with "dry facts" responses. But that still generally means "the information is wrong/misleading" more than "the critic is being misleading/lying."

But the industry needs to provide more fully-developed substance in summary form. This needs to offer/point (e.g., a URL) to more factual specific information rather than trying to provide an education. (E.g., point to specific FAQ/Fact Sheet forms, not to general topic information, clearly based on well-established, readily accepted, sources explained in accessible terms - not necessarily "non-technical" info.) We need to avoid trying to do "a mini-course" in nuclear science or electric power generation, depending on the audience. :-)

In the final analysis, it remains critical that the industry consistently respond to erroneous information from sources that have credibility, especially media, and point to carefully developed substantive summary (technical) information rather than try to provide the full technical case in response.

At the same time, we have to avoid using the industry's superficial issue responses from the last decades that are appropriate to some commercial and political audiences as accepted summaries of the industry's conclusions. These materials work when the industry is an accepted credible source to the audience.

We aren't a "credible source" to most of our critics, and communications designed to present our "conclusions" (as within the business community, or even to a local government or Congressional committee) doesn't work.

Regards, Jim Muckerheide

Matthew66 said...

In a town of around 75,000 a "crowd" of 15 is a pretty poor turnout. Actually I have a hard time thinking of a gathering of fifteen as a "crowd" except maybe in somone's living room.

Brenden said...

"Stensil referred to European countries such as Denmark that have managed to decentralize their energy systems and create energy through solar and wind power."

I thought that Denmark's reliance on renewables gave it the highest energy rates in the EU. Not a model that Canada (or the US) should follow.

Robert Merkel said...

Brenden: not to mention that their per-capita greenhouse emissions are way higher than their Scandinavian neighbours, who get most of their electricity from nuclear.

Denmark, by contrast, gets most of its electricity from coal.

Randy Kirk said...

It seems to me the more discussion in the public eye the better -- don't know if "confrontational" is the right word. Greenpeace generally operates under a "civil disobedience" mode which means its ultimate audience is the public at large. The high road way is better to argue/deal with Greenpeace and the like, because really who nuclear is dealing with is the public.

Further, many at Greenpeace and other environmental groups believe in Global Warming and peak oil, so those are issues that have at least some common ground with nuclear. Also, many members in Greenpeace and the like will break off from Greenpeace if they view their organization has strayed too far from reality.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely believe that the time has come to be more confrontational with critics of nuclear power.

Nuclear energy has something it didn't really have back in the 1970's: A long history where the questions surrounding the technology were not experimentally tested. Unfortunately, the questions raised found their way into the public imagination in such a way as to be confused with reality.

The anti-nuclear movement is still repeating these suppositions and the public - running more or less on inertia - needs to see people confront the issues head on with pure facts in a way that matches the aggressiveness of the opponents.


Ohadi Langis said...

If the nuclear industry could tell its story the way this man sings its problems would be over. :-)