Making the best of the "new normal"

May 19, 2020, 12:58PMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

Dear ANS Members,

In the midst of a global pandemic, it feels insufficient somehow to begin a letter with the oft-used expression of hope that it “finds you well.” We are all affected by COVID-19 in some way that makes us less “well” in our lives, whether caused by the virus itself or the socioeconomic ramifications of our response to it. Perhaps it is more realistic for me to hope that you and your family are healthy, generally well-provisioned, and gainfully occupied as we all, collectively and individually, find a way to make the best of our “new normal.”

By that measure, I can say with confidence that ANS is doing well. Having approved the Change Plan in November and completed a reorganization effort in early February, we had already set a new strategic course for the Society by the time the virus hit.

The ANS staff has done a commendable job of battling the headwinds, whether through transitioning to remote operations in less than 72 hours or putting us in position to be one of the first organizations in the country to receive a Paycheck Protection Program loan.

Our student members and the Young Members Group have stepped up big-time to implement an aggressive schedule of ANS Webinars. We also went live with a new, mobile-friendly website in April, and introduced ANS Newswire, which features daily original reporting by Nuclear News staff, selected in-depth feature articles from the magazine, Society happenings, and news from around the nuclear web.

ANS is also getting more attention from the media and in the public eye, with features in major news outlets and even a shout-out by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from the floor of the U.S. Senate. For April, the engagement rates for our social media accounts—measures of follower interaction with content posted by us—were up across all platforms with monthly increases of 106 percent on Instagram, 35 percent on Facebook, 26 percent on LinkedIn, and 9 percent on Twitter. Our Twitter engagement rate for April was 1.5 percent, compared to 1.2 percent in March and 0.6 percent in April 2019. While those numbers may not sound very high, nonprofits on Twitter have an average engagement rate of just 0.063 percent, according to Rival IQ’s 2020 benchmark report.

Sadly, we were left with no choice but to cancel our Annual Meeting in Phoenix, but we are taking it “virtual” June 8–11, with three professionally produced plenary broadcasts, featuring luminaries like Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette and nonproliferation statesman Sig Hecker, as well as nearly 100 Zoom-based panel and technical sessions with over 200 papers from 17 of our professional divisions. Meeting registrants will be able to access all the content on-demand after the meeting concludes, so if you ever wondered what it would be like to attend every technical session, this is your chance! Register now.

Taken together, I think it’s fair to say the leadership and staff of ANS have enthusiastically taken to heart the advice of former Chicago mayor and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to “never let a serious crisis go to waste.”

I also think there is some broader truth in Emanuel’s statement for the nuclear professional. Yes, I am an optimist by nature, but I do believe the coronavirus crisis highlights the inherent strengths of nuclear technology.

First and foremost, the nuclear sectors in the United States and around the world have (once again) performed with admirable grace under immense pressure. Our plants are keeping the lights on at our hospitals and research facilities, and spring refueling outages are proceeding as planned, with some finishing in record time. Of course now is not the time for overconfidence, but the mere fact that utilities have had detailed pandemic response plans in the books for years should inspire confidence in anyone taking an objective look at the sector’s performance during the pandemic. Nuclear has the right stuff.

By contrast, COVID-19 has certainly taken some of the shine off of the fossil fuel industry. When you consider that the hemorrhaging job losses in the U.S. oil and gas sector are being caused by a historic collapse in oil prices, which in part was triggered and worsened by an economic spat between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the U.S. oil and gas industry’s recent arguments about their contributions to American economic and national security start to ring more than a bit hollow.

Finally, the COVID-19 crisis is giving the entire world an immersive primer on the science of epidemiology and risk-informed, performance-based behavior. Is it too much to hope that our public dialogue on low doses of radiation might improve when people realize there is no epidemiological “curve” to bend?

Ultimately, in days like these, it is the scientists and engineers to whom we turn for guidance and hope, not athletes or celebrities or even politicians. If this mentality sticks, the world will be a better place, and nuclear technology will be part of the reason.—Craig Piercy, Executive Director/CEO (

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