Thought Leadership

NRC and Public Communications – Promoting the Benefits of Nuclear Power

Category: News & Events
Eric Gould • April 4, 2022

Last month, I commented on the remarks that U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm made at this year’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Regulatory Information Conference (RIC). She asked the industry leaders present at the conference to support the administration’s nuclear agenda by speaking up to promote the benefits of nuclear energy. In this post, I reflect on how this topic was covered at the conference.

This year’s RIC occurred in the wake of the attacks by Russia on Ukraine’s nuclear units. NRC Chairman Chris Hanson spoke to the current crisis in Ukraine and the impacts COVID-19 has had on the NRC as well as on society at large. He warned of the impact of “truth decay,” and he emphasized that NRC – and regulators in general – have an important role to play in parsing the available information and separating truth from mis- and disinformation.

The NRC’s approach, Chairman Hanson noted, is to be as transparent as possible. However, sometimes in the nuclear industry, that openness can be very difficult because the technical explanation is often beyond simple understanding and requires translation to the general public. There is also a tendency, as we just observed in Ukraine, for the reporting of nuclear risks to go the worst possible place imaginable without facts or reason.

He further noted that the pandemic has highlighted a “wide spectrum of risk awareness” and understanding among the public at-large. Combating disinformation has never been as difficult as it is now, with so many parties possessing loud, viral megaphones.

Here, Chairman Hanson spoke broadly of the nuclear industry’s most enduring challenge, one that Modus clients face every day – how to best communicate the risks and benefits of investing in nuclear power projects in a way that the public understands. The NRC focuses on the importance of communicating the safety of nuclear power – which is, of course, critical. But at the same time, if we are to meet the urgent challenge of climate change with clean energy solutions, it is important to combat another form of truth decay: the idea that nuclear projects can’t be built on time or on budget.

These were key themes of my presentation during the Success and Developments in Ontario Refurbishment Projects (YouTube) discussion at last fall’s Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) conference. I discussed the importance of establishing achievable budgets and schedules and setting up an accurate reporting system that key stakeholders can understand, which transparently reports the status and results as they occur. Doing so allows the nuclear industry to be forthcoming with the public to let them know the risks, but also give them the confidence that it is prudent in how it is managing those risks.

This also underscores how independent project oversight can and should be used to provide assurance to all nuclear project stakeholders. This oversight can take many forms, including the technical oversight IAEA is currently providing in the cleanup of Fukushima, or the oversight our team provided for the Darlington Refurbishment project.

Independent oversight is an effective and proven means of increasing the public confidence in the nuclear industry and the complex projects in which it engages.