This week I attended the Nuclear Energy Assembly, the US nuclear industry national conference organised by the Nuclear Energy Institute, in Miami, Florida.

I was invited to join a panel with fellow outsiders Rachel Pritzker of the Pritzker Innovation Fund and Matt Bennett of Washington D.C.-based think-tank Third Way, company I could not be more privileged to keep. We three have common foundations and perspectives. None of us were pro-nuclear 5-10 years ago, all of us have changed our position profoundly, all of us are supportive of the industry for what it offers in terms of clean energy and development and, critically, none of us are of the industry. We are the invited Shakespearean fools as it were, with the ability to speak truth to power or in more common parlance, to call matters as we see them. This week we were all more than willing to rise to the occasion.

There is a certain heavy malaise that seems to beset nuclear conferences which, as an outsider, perplexes me. I am in wonder of the potential of this technology which Matt remarked he considers to be “literally the technology which can save the world”. Yet come our session late on Tuesday afternoon you could say everyone was a little tired and certainly wearing “conference face”.

Thanks to the excellent moderation from Bill Mohr and the challenging and compelling introductions from Rachel, Matt and myself, the energy in the room rose quickly and built throughout the full hour session. We had some things to say to those people about the amazing work they do, the challenges they are facing, the mistakes they are making and the opportunities they are missing. This honesty seemed to do the job of fresh air, sunshine and a darn good cup of coffee. The room came alive.

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Before the session had ended there seemed a palpable sense of engagement and fun. After receiving some genuinely effusive feedback about the session from literally dozens of people, I was thrilled to find my Twitter notifications had exploded and the fun kept coming.

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I loved this from Areva US: the cheesy commercial tone is adorable.

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NEI themselves were not to be outdone. I corrected their tweet: I don’t want nuclear to be the “pop rock” of environmentalism, I want it to be the punk rock. Response?

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Boom!

I LOVE this. This is the sort of humanising nuclear really, badly needs. There seems to have almost been the progressive creep of a notion that “safety culture” means “have no fun and feel bad about yourselves”. That’s nonsense. As we three stressed, and it seems to have been the stand-out message from the session, safety is an expectation, it is assumed, it is not a product and it is not a useful external message. Right now, with the extreme and urgent challenges besetting the US nuclear industry we don’t need a nuclear industry that is safer, we need the safe industry we have to be popular, cool, dynamic and full of fight for the future. Like, serious screw-you we are saving the world over here and we are done being stepped on, trash-talked, discriminated against, ground down and ignored. What we do is awesome and you are going to be hearing about it, a lot.

So, time to make some noise and make it so darn loud, fun and awesome that there is a queue to get in the door. It’s in there. Time to let it out.

Post script: Are you in the US and in the mood to make noise? Then you are needed RIGHT NOW in Illinois. You may not be from Illinois but we need to show up to this fight wherever it is across the USA. Here is a message from my friends at Environmental Progress:

Folks, now is the time to ramp up your social media engines and help make a huge statement supporting Illinois SB 1585. Even if you’re out of state you can still comment on articles that are out there. SB 1585 is the bill that, if passed, will save the Exelon Clinton and Quad Cities nukes. If it does not pass they will be closed.

Do a google news search on “illinois nuclear” and maybe set up an as-it-happens alert for yourself, to find articles that you can respond to.

And if you’re in Illinois, call your rep and senator, and the Governor, and Cullerton and Madigan, and his daughter. Many voices will make a difference!

This bill could come to the Senate floor as early as tomorrow, so act now! It must pass this session, which ends next week. We will NOT get another chance to save these plants.

Thanks from all of us at EP Illinois!

18 comments

  1. Fully agree on the selling safety pitch the industry has defaulted to. It’s time to let it go, and I second that the industry can’t hold back anymore. That goes for all of us, we need to let it go. Essentially turning away from that pitch, slamming the door on it. Who cares what the anti’s say, let them rage on becasue honestly they really never bothered me anyway. It’s interesting that when we put some distance between us and them, they seem so small, and the fears that controlled the industry, can’t get to them anymore. So now it’s time to really see what we all can do, to test the limits of selling the industry and finally break through to the public. So we all need to let the pitch go.

    Had a bit of fun there with that 😉

  2. Hi Ben

    Actually it is not just nuclear – it is electricity supply in general. The ESI has been badly rattled by a motley group of reformers with varying degrees of legitimacy.

    Specifically, nuclear generators have always been given a hard time. They are increasingly not the only ones. Who would want to diversify into coal generation in this era? Or even gas?

    The end is nigh?

    Bob

    From: Ben Heard Reply-To: Ben Heard Date: Thursday, 26 May 2016 at 2:31 PM To: Robert Pritchard Subject: [New post] Nuclear was fun, just for one afternoon. Thanks for having me NEI

    WordPress.com Decarbonise SA posted: “This week I attended the Nuclear Energy Assembly, the US nuclear industry national conference organised by the Nuclear Energy Institute, in Miami, Florida. I was invited to join a panel with fellow outsiders Rachel Pritzker of the Pritzker Innovation Fun”

  3. “safety is an expectation, it is assumed, it is not a product and it is not a useful external message. ” is spot on.

    as is: “we don’t need a nuclear industry that is safer, we need the safe industry we have to be popular, cool, dynamic and full of fight for the future”

    of course safety culture is important, but internal.

  4. Well done Ben!

    If we do find a way to Go Viral with our hopeful message, it will make JFK’s Moonwalk look like child’s play. Here is a portion of a script I drafted for filmmaker Gordon McDowell a few years ago, which he seemed to like, but has yet to use:

    “Imagine billions of healthy, active people, working, living and recreating in sustainable, engaging cities, surrounded by productive agricultural lands and accessible open spaces, with clean air and crystal clear waters.

    It’s happening already in a few very special places…

    (Fade to film of exciting work places (Tech Companies, etc.), iconic cultural & historical sites in San Francisco, and breathtaking Open Spaces & Recreational Areas, beginning west of the Golden Gate Bridge).

    Unfortunately, it’s happening with fossil fuels, which take hundreds of millions of years to create, are essential for feeding billions, and should not be burned and inhaled to create energy!

    (Fade to pictures of excavation sites, smoke stacks, polluted waters, and images of Chinese pedestrians, wearing masks on crowded, smoggy streets).

    And Renewables, like Wind and Solar, are not as promising as we once hoped:

    (Fade to a few charts from attached file and http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/)

    So, let’s Go Viral demanding that all nations begin producing small, modular LFTRs in this decade! It will make the Moonwalk look like child’s play, and bring great joy to everyone who helps build a bright future for all our children.”

  5. This isn’t rocket science. Do what the fossils do to change their baddie image overnight like with massive oil spills and exploding rigs and gas pipelines taking out whole neighborhoods. and frying families. Don’t call Ghostbusters. Call Madison Ave Ad Men! They’re experts at mitigating industrial disasters in short order and giving the public a sparkling clean perception of you in no time if not outright amnesia! Anyone heard of Deepwater Horizon? Aliso Canyon leak? See? Quit reinventing the wheel of salvaging Nuclear’s bad image and pick up the phone ANS or NEI or Atomic Workers Union or anyone so involved! The industry and jobs you save might be your own!

  6. Sounds like it was a great session, Ben! I hope there will be a video released, because I would love to see this.

    I love the message of “Hey, we’re workin’ here! Saving the world and all that. Don’t like it? Bite me!” No other industry comes close to nuclear when it comes to safety standards and dedication to them. ‘Nuff said.

    1. Just spent a very enjoyable and inspiring hour watching the video, which has now turned up at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSQiLsnpzGQ&feature=youtu.be

      Real props to you Ben, and Rachel and Matt too, for your really inspiring blast-from-the-future. We have every right to hold up our heads as true environmentalists. We care about this precious earth, we care about the people on it, most especially our children and grandchildren, and *that’s* the reason we’re excited about nuclear. We have every reason to shout about it.

      Simon

  7. How come Sweeney is still on the ILW siting committee?
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-26/local-indigenous-owners-protest-hawker-nuclear-dump/7449124?section=sa
    It’s a bit like when NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko said all nuclear should be banned. Correct form is to resign if you disagree with the mission statement of a regulatory body and/or give a dissenting report. Sweeney should be at arms length from those protesting against Barndioota not actively joining them.

  8. When the natural disasters devastated Japan 5 years ago, we witnessed the expense and regional economic collapse resulting from an unprepared government, and insufficiently strong and independent national nuclear regulator, and Tepco’s deficient corporate safety culture as Fukushima Daiichi impacted not just the province and the country, but the global industry. Yet, we also witnessed the absolute triumph of responsible nuclear operations as Touhoku’s Onagawa plant shrugged off the worst test mother nature has ever put nuclear reactors through.

    I’ve not yet seen an anti-nuclear campaigner acknowledge what the Onagawa plant and personel accomplished. This says to me that an argument centered on safety is futile. Far better to point to the shining examples of safe operations to clearly show that the fear-mongering relies on misinformation, conflation, uncertainty and cherry-picking, then move on to concentrate on the service and benefits fission actually provides when put to the service of humankind.

  9. Crikey not one but two thermal power stations for Pt Augusta
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-04/solar-thermal-power-station-solastor-plan-port-augusta/7476968
    Both mirror fields pointing at towers one will be a graphite block the other molten salt. I think the Moomba gas pipe dips under the gulf near Pt A so no fears of cold mornings or overcast weeks. Note Adelaide combined cycle gas baseload is expected to nudge $100 per Mwh in 2018 compared to $35 for Vic brown coal. Solar thermal $200+ I suspect. And they wonder why heavy industry is leaving SA.

  10. I think a couple of developments will force the public to think what can realistically replace coal
    1) the solar thermal ‘war’ at Pt Augusta
    2) Victoria’s zero carbon by 2050
    A year ago former politician John Hewson was saying batteries would solve everything now he admits their shortcomings. However the graphite block solar thermal approach he now advocates seems to be plagued with problems. If his 1 MWe prototype is a dud that could be the kibosh for all forms of ST. If graphite is supposedly better than molten salt then maybe neither is worthwhile. By coincidence the Habanero 1 MWe dry rock geothermal plants sits forlornly in the SA outback with no customers.

    Vic premier Andrews must have some inkling how Victoria can replace the state’s 7330 MW of lignite baseload. Two interstate connectors Heywood and Basslink have recently been upgraded or repaired and both SA and Tas appear to need Vic brown coal for stability. Something has to replace it. Apart from occasional flights of fantasy I expect stunned silence as I see no way to replace brown coal without a lot of nuclear.

  11. Dear Ben, Thankyou for your updates. The continuing reports of record temperatures, Barrier Reef decline etc etc are a clarion call to action. As nuclear power is not a contributor to greenhouse gases its wrong to dismiss it, but this point, most crucial as it is, is rarely made on public or social media. Could you possibly write or refer us to a post of such so that we can “share” it, would be great to see common perceptions corrected

    Jude Anderson

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  12. The case for a new SA-Vic interconnector is being blamed on SA’s need to export surplus wind power
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-15/agl-customers-in-sa-electricity-prices-rise-by-10-per-cent/7513222?WT.ac=statenews_sa
    However with over 1000 MW Vic has plenty of wind power of its own. Australia as a whole will need to increase new renewables some 70% between now and 2020 to achieve the RET of 33 Twh. Some expect the LGC subsidy to jump from ~$80/Mwh to a cap of $90.

    Meanwhile Victoria says it will phase out 7300 MW of brown coal capacity by 2050 and is beefing up transmission to its northwest (Mildura way) by 200 MW to help renewables. Couple that with rising gas spot prices regularly hitting $8/GJ and south eastern Australia seems headed for unreliable or expensive electricity. Note emissions are still rising. Yet our politicians say if elected they will throw even more billions at renewables. It’s mental.

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