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Food for Thought: Belgian Publisher Says Nuclear Industry Should Engage Public on a More Emotional Level

From WNA's World Nuclear News:
A nuclear plant as the setting for a new hit TV series? Popular entertainment media could prove to be more effective at engaging public support and acceptance for nuclear energy than past industry attempts to convince the world of nuclear's merits.

In a special presentation to the World Nuclear Association's 34th Annual Symposium, Belgian publisher and former nuclear engineer Alain Michel exhorted the nuclear industry to make more efforts to engage public support on an emotional level - and popular entertainment media would be the perfect platform to achieve this.


After ten years of research on how public opinion of nuclear activities is affected by emotional influences such as television, film or books, Michel is convinced that nuclear communication should be more emotive. Pointing to the success of popular television series on a worldwide scale in raising the profile of certain professions - the CSI franchise and forensic medicine being but one example - Michel suggests that nuclear activities as the backdrop for a television series could simply help nuclear energy to become more familiar to everyone, not just those who happen to live near a nuclear power plant. The role of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors could be the potential subject for such a series, posits Michel...
He may be on to something. It could be entertaining yet informative to see a show where bad guys try to take over a nuclear plant and the plant's security team takes them down. Or maybe to see a show about the emotional public hearings on licensing new plants and re-licensing existing plants. Or maybe to see how nuclear plant operators react when an intense situation like an earthquake or a hurricane hits...


Matthew66 said…
I don't know that this is a great idea. Every drama show I've seen that was set in a hospital ends up having a catastrophic fire or explosion - usually a cover to revamp the sets. I've never actually heard of a major metropolitan hospital having an explosion or a fire that wasn't rapidly contained, but that's TV land.
Anonymous said…
Ah, hello...? 'The Simpsons'??

Anonymous said…
I think there's a season of the tv show 24 that had terrorists taking over nuclear power plants to force them to meltdown.
Joffan said…
That was similar to my concern Matthew - that the scriptwriters, seeking external drama, would start to invent a new imminently dangerous condition every episode. If the drama can focus on the people, against the backdrop of meticulous care in the plant, then I would support it. The idea of following an over-active IAEA inspector around the world might have merit too, especially as it would allow drama outside the plants more readily.
GRLCowan said…
I recall Rhett Butler's character in Grace Under Fire was supposed to work at an oil refinery. It was occasionally mentioned, but as far as I know never came on-stage. That was probably for the best, and if she had worked at a nuclear plant, it should have been treated similarly.

(Secrets for sale)
DocForesight said…
Matthew66 may be right. Consider "Gray's Anatomy" where, it seems like, everyone is cavorting with anyone else who happens to walk by. Quite unlike how medical staff behave in the real world - not that they couldn't be tempted, but they have more self-control than Hollywierd portrays.

On the other hand, a CSI-like program would be interesting to watch. What with the electron microscopic details of atomic fission revealed and rescuing the world from climate change catastrophe. Hi-ho Silver, away!
D. Kosloff said…
The key is to get the right scriptwriters. Like the guys who wrote the scripts for "Major Dad".
Rod Adams said…
I read the original article and share some of the same concerns as previous posters.

One of the phrases that I use in my passionate, mostly water cooler type, talks about nuclear energy is "the most boring watch on a submarine is the reactor operator". A well designed plant is sort of like the energizer bunny - it works fine, lasts a long time. It boringly puts out massive quantities of energy.

The real dramatic show that might be very useful at this particular time in the technological history would be one that focused on the process of building new plants, going through the competitive process of getting them sited, figuring out the best technology to solve certain issues, and teaching people how to be good contributors within the demanding industry.

The human interest part could focus on the back stories of the people, the sacrifices that they make and perhaps even the adjustments that they have to perform in order to fit into the safety culture.
Brian Mays said…
Well, Rod, of course the producers would have to make the reactor interesting to look at -- perhaps something like the engine on Enterprise of the nineties' Star Trek series: big blue pulsating lights. The lights pulsate faster when the reactor is dangerously close to warp core breach ... er ... meltdown, which if the show were like Star Trek, would happen every other week, to be invariably prevented each time by the unusually bright, but frustratingly annoying, high-school intern, who somehow managed to get the NRC's permission to hang out in the control room in the afternoons after school.
alain MICHEL said…
Thanks all of you and first of all to David for introducing the text and giving some good ideas of possible situations. I agree with Matthew66 and Joffran that there is a risk but already a number of films have been presented with catastrophic nuclear situations. We can't avoid that. But my basic idea is as D. Kosloff said, to get the right scriptwriters interested by giving them the adequate information. I do have already some contacts. I know like Rod that day to day life in a plant is rather boring and does not make a good show. But I am grateful for his other suggestions and I think that's the way we should go. So please continue to bring critics and ideas. And if you want to know more about my research and my previous presentations/papers on nuclear fiction, please send me a message at
Anonymous said…
The main point should be that indeed, nuclear energy is "boring" - i.e. NOT dangerous. The show should be a drama or a comedy where the nuclear power plant is simply the backdrop and it never really the focus. DON'T make it a big deal or else, as feared, suddenly there's a near meltdown every episode. Just like cop shows are shooting their weapons every episode, whereas in real life, a police officer can easily spend their entire career without ever firing thier pistol.
Education - yes...
Emotional appeals - no...
Leave "change we can believe in" and "yes we can" to those who need them.

We're not breaking legs with policy after offering free crutches on the campaign trail.
Anonymous said…
Well, you've all sort of hit on the key points of entertainment: drama, and how emotional responses play into that. The "best" entertainment (the kind that grips you and holds your interest) contains elements that elicit strong emotional responses, things like fear, danger, self-preservation, love, hate, jealousy, etc. The setting of the action usually lends some supporting background to that (hospital, firefighting, military, etc,). There have been settings in nuclear facilities that elicit such responses, but they generally involve negative, far-fetched scenarios, e.g., the "Atomic Twister", or the China Syndrome, and play to fear and loathing rather than cool and calm. Selling entertainment for the buck probably will not involve boring, mundane activities.
distantbody said…
"The show should be a drama or a comedy where the nuclear power plant is simply the backdrop and it never really the focus. DON'T make it a big deal"

Q: if the backdrop doesn't comes in to focus occasionally why permanently set it there in the first place?

A: a show about _realistic_ people going about their work at a _realistic_ low-trouble nuclear plant would be to condition/inform the viewers to be more accepting of them in general. But the drama still has to come from somewhere to make those not interested in documentaries watch it...

A show about a regulatory inspector would lend itself too easily to tales of cover-ups and bad dealings.

How about setting it in a _town_ with a NPP... The main character/s husband/wife/son/daughter works there, mention it once then leave it at that (like GRLCowan said) They're an average family. Maybe in the fourth or fifth episode the NPP is featured as the worker gets told-off for letting his child in to see the pump room or something.
Brian Mays said…
There already exists a show set in a town with a NPP. One of the main characters works there, although his job is mentioned more than just once. They're a very average, but rather dysfunctional, family -- designed to be comic representation of all of the "Joe Sixpack" underachievers out there.

This show has been on the air for two decades now.

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