Why problem-solving is more than finding technical solutions

February 12, 2013, 7:00AMANS Nuclear CafeSuzy Baker

or: When nuclear supporters are their own worst enemies

There is an ever-growing online pronuclear movement brewing, which I see as a very promising and important part of moving nuclear technologies forward. I am, however, also seeing some trends within the online pronuclear community that have the potential to create new challenges.


I've only ever had to ban one person from the PopAtomic Studios facebook page. I am keeping a close eye on another person and have had to mark several offensive remarks as spam-in a post about the importance of the energy industry staying engaged in nonproliferation efforts.

The surprising thing is that the woman I had to ban and the gentleman who made the comment above both are pronuclear advocates. Interestingly, I have never had to ban an antinuclear activist from the page. In my opinion, the man's comment above is insensitive, but I let it stand. (The remark that he responded with had to be removed, however.)

Silver bullets

As movements form, there are always debates about the best way to move forward. Recently I've read quite a bit about how the nuclear issue divides leaders in the environmental movement, and the nuclear community will surely face similar struggles over time. One of the big issues that I see emerging that stands to divide the pronuclear movement is the potential for narrow focus on a single technology vs. broad support and cooperation in moving nuclear forward as a whole.

People who support nuclear tend to be technically-minded and can even be quite, um, unemotional. These are valuable qualities if you must stay completely calm in an emergency situation or remain as unbiased as possible in your research. However, when trying to connect with everyday people and get them engaged in the process of learning about energy issues, being blunt and unemotional can come across the wrong way. It can even do more harm than good in terms of advancing your message.

This effect can be amplified when nuclear supporters get focused on a single technology as a 'silver-bullet', and start to blame culprits like the government, the industry, the environmentalist movement, the public for not knowing enough about energy... the list goes on.

The reality is that moving nuclear technologies forward requires huge amounts of collaboration and cooperation. When things don't work out, it is very often due to communications breakdown between all of the parties involved. The more powerful parties have a bad habit of excluding less powerful parties, which has frequently resulted in very poor outcomes. Inclusivity is the word.

We're all in this together

My suggestion to the nuclear industry is the same one I gave to 'snarky internet man' who seems to think the Integral Fast Reactor is going to sprout the ability to negotiate with policy makers, the public, and other stake holders and save the world all on its own.

In the end, the nuclear industry is not an industry at all. It is just individuals positioned within different organizations trying to work together to safely make clean energy. We are unique in that cooperation is central to our success in a way that is quite different from other energy sources. We should treat each other with kindness and respect, even if we favor different technologies.


Suzy Baker is currently traveling through Europe and reporting on her experiences at Diary of a Nuclear Tourist-a new initiative of the Nuclear Literacy Project. Keep up with her nuclear adventures and be sure to check out the new photo stream. If you have questions for nuclear industry leaders, write them on an index card, then scan or photograph and email to Suzy@nuclearliteracy.org

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