Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Principles on How the Nuclear Industry Can Communicate More Effectively

Baruch Fischhoff wrote an informative piece at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists explaining how the nuclear industry can communicate better with the public:

Working the crowd is essential for a technology such as nuclear energy, which depends on the public's acceptance to host plants, invest in industry firms, and support government subsidies and loan guarantees. Proponents want the world to believe that the public will increasingly be open to an energy source that directly produces no greenhouse gases, while opponents want the world to believe that the public will increasingly fear accidents, cost overruns, the uncertain future of nuclear waste, and the diversion of weapon-grade material to bomb making.

In truth, neither side really knows what the public fears or wants. Unless supported by sound empirical evidence, claims about public opinion are just speculation. In the case of nuclear energy, there's surprisingly little research describing the public's concerns about nuclear energy in any real depth. Moreover, predicting future public concerns requires predicting how nuclear energy will emerge as an issue through legislation, protests, hearings, accidents, terrorist diversions, oil embargos, climate change-linked disasters, or other currently unknowable events.

One can, however, predict how the industry will be judged by the public when it responds to events (or creates them). If the industry is seen as responsible and genuinely concerned with the public's welfare, as well as its own, then it will be judged fairly. The following principles, drawn from research and experience, specify what it takes to be seen as such a partner. Adhering to them doesn't guarantee public acceptance or an end to vigorous public debate over nuclear energy. But it does increase the chances of having fewer, but better conflicts, ones that focus on legitimate differences in the interests of the industry and the public, made up of diverse constituencies with their own distinct interests and views (e.g., plant neighbors, environmental justice communities, and elected officials).

Following these principles won't be easy for an industry that has often viewed communication as a one-way process. It will need to move beyond a "decide-announce-defend" communication strategy to an approach that begins by listening to the public and moving in a more acceptable direction. In fact, the industry's relationship with the public must be paramount. That means worrying at the highest levels of management about whether the industry actually has a story worth telling, in the sense of bringing genuine benefits and acceptable risks to society.
Baruch then went on to highlight the eight principles the nuclear industry should follow which could improve communications with the public. They're great principles and I plan to study these a bit. Anybody have any additional thoughts/criticisms on how the nuclear industry could improve its communications?

4 comments:

Marcel F. Williams said...

There is no energy producing technology that has helped to mitigate the effects of global warming and global sea rise more than nuclear energy! Additionally, nuclear power has a public safety record that is better than almost any energy producing technology.

The nuclear industry needs to say these things in television commercials and in interviews as frequently as possible.

The industry shouldn't be timid or afraid to boldly compare its environmental record with that of hydroelectric, wind, or solar. And the industry most certainly shouldn't be afraid to compare itself against the economic and environmental cost of oil, natural gas, and coal.

Marcel F. Williams
http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/2008/01/nuclear-energy.html

Pete said...

Back in the late 70's or 80's there was an attempt to do an in-depth psychological analysis of public feelings about nuclear power. I only know of it because some politician was incensed that anyone would even think of studying the question, and it was never clear to me what was proposed or if anything was done.

It would be interesting to see what was proposed and what became of the proposal.

Anonymous said...

A couple of staffers from the Union of Concerned Scientists, of all people, put out a book: A Scientist's Guide to Talking With The Media. It give pointers on effectively communicating to journalists and laymen. I'm sure UCS would just love it if the industry stole a few pages, so to speak.

Margaret said...

It appears to ME as a 27 year veteran of the nuclear industry that we spend WAY too much time talking to ourselves and not enough time talking to the rest of the world.

Every time I have engaged someone one-on-one and made the effort to make the case in simple terms that a layperson can understand, I have AT LEAST convinced that person to consider nuclear as an option.

We need to avoid dumping on other technologies. Acknowledging that all technologies have benefits, drawbacks and a place in the future mix is key to developing a credible role for nuclear in the public opinion.