There are some compelling reasons for the nuclear power industry to celebrate this significant milestone with a refreshing brand facelift on a global scale. The following highlights some of the most significant:
Losing the perceived association with nuclear weapons and focusing on the association with low carbon energy
The reality is that a large proportion of the general public are not well informed when it comes to the details of nuclear power, and are not inclined to invest their time to become informed. Instead, their perceptions come from the limited information they have and the word "nuclear" reminds them of radiation, nuclear weapons and the Cold War. The public do not associate having an X-ray or radiotherapy with nuclear weapons, so why should they associate making electricity with them? The public are interested in carbon free energy, so this association may encourage members of the public to invest the time to become informed. Those that understand how it works are more likely to support it.
Learn from SMRs to create a vibrant and innovative industry that attracts positive attention
The SMR (Small Modular Reactor) industry is an exciting place to be. There are no fewer than 42 SMR designs in the US alone, including highly developed organisations such as NuScale to tiny companies made up of 2 MIT graduates.
David Blee, CEO of the Nuclear Infrastructure Council, notes "it seems that nearly every top MIT graduate has an SMR project in their mind’".
Note that the word "nuclear" is not in the name of these reactors, and that they are inspiring the brightest of graduates. It would be interesting to canvass public perception on SMRs and Nuclear Power Plants side by side to see the differences in perception. Perhaps the wider nuclear industry can learn from its own bright new upstart.
A fresh focus on carbon free, proven and safe technology, efficiency and reliability rather than safety alone
By the time representatives of the nuclear industry have finished de3scribing in detail the safety measures of modern plants and lessons learned from Fukishima (where not one person died from radiation), the audience is suitably worried. The messages around carbon free electricity, proven technology and reliability are often either omitted or drowned out. Airlines do not advertise their safety features and neither do other consumer serving industries with complex engineering and high safety cultures. It is time for a universal shift in the message.
Attracting talent and investors will strengthen the industry and bring down costs
A rebranding of the nuclear power industry would attract talent, both in the form of bright graduates as well as experienced people from other industries. It would also send a positive message to investors, which in turn would increase competition between them to invest in nuclear power and bring down the cost and significant pain in securing investment.
Give politicians the material to loudly, rather than quietly, back nuclear power
Most politicians have taken the time to become informed about nuclear power and feel that the benefits outweigh the costs. With a few exceptions (such as Germany) the majority of countries quietly support nuclear power generation as part of the energy portfolio. However if some people who are uninformed are scared of ‘’nuclear’’ and the nuclear industry fans the flames, it is very difficult for politicians to speak loudly in favour of nuclear power to the public.
It is very common to see Energy Ministers delivering rousing speeches at nuclear industry events and then mention blandly that nuclear is a small part of the energy mix on the national news, before going on to mention words that the public want to hear such as "renewables". The truth is that nuclear power is not a good brand to be associated with at the moment and until such time that 4 his improves, politicians will be cautious.
There are some great examples of cohesive efforts to improve the perceptions people hold of the nuclear industry, notably the UK Nuclear Industry Council’s ‘’Concordat on Public Engagement’’ and the "Nuclear for Climate" initiative, which has been signed by 39 nations.
The work has already started and what better catalyst to increase those efforts than a significant birthday.
After 60 years of modesty, the nuclear power industry deserves this facelift, and the world would reap the benefits in the form of carbon free electricity.
Thomas Thor Associates