The nuclear industry has a public relations issue. There is no denying that.
Google “nuclear”, “nuclear energy”, or any derivates of these and you will be met with cooling towers emitting steam, the yellow nuclear symbol, the Chernobyl exclusion zone, someone in a yellow radiation suit dropping a barrel, atomic bombs, and Homer Simpson reading a reactor safety manual.
Now search for “renewable energy”, “solar energy”, or “wind energy”, and you will find images of green countryside, landscapes, mountain ranges, blue skies, clean solar panels, and wind turbines in wide-open spaces.
In summary, you get plumes of radioactive dust (it is steam!) versus sparkling clean solar panels. You get radioactive waste cans oozing Luminus goo versus white windmills embedded in a beautiful mountain range.
Now, I’m not trying to be a nuclear activist here, although I firmly believe the technology and its application is essential in any clean energy mix. Nuclear does not need to create a spin as the facts speak for themselves. But the industry does require a more prominent, collective voice to change the perceptions of the technology.
Perception is everything
If you improve the image of a new SUV, you will make more sales. If you get a celebrity to be seen around town wearing a baseball cap, you will sell more baseball caps. Suppose you portray a particular Small Modular Reactor with a sleek design etched into the countryside. In that case, you improve the public perception of SMRs and increase the likelihood of regions deploying them - you make more sales. I’m confident that as SMRs become commercial products, they will increase their chances of being mass-deployed through their marketing.
If the industry does not do something to change the industry's perceptions at large, we run the risk of not having a workforce skilled enough in the future to manage, maintain and operate the nuclear power plants of the future. There is a risk that their perceptions of the industry will stop them from seeking work in the sector, and the industry could be left behind. Okay, maybe this is a little extreme, and recent applications for graduate and apprenticeship schemes in the nuclear sector are contrary to this. However, the industry's perceptions significantly impact the skills development of young people and sector jumpers looking to take their transferrable skills into the industry.
So what can be done?
I’d love for the big players in the industry to put their hands in their pocket, put it in a big pot and allow us to find some influencers who are interested in focusing on the nuclear industry to push out a load of content. Don’t underestimate how effective this would be. With some factual-based content presented in a fun, informative and innovative way, influencers with a suitable following would substantially impact the industry.
In the meantime, I believe and feedback from Get Into Nuclear is showing us that an effective way of getting people to consider a role in the nuclear industry is to tell the career stories of people currently working in the nuclear industry. As mentioned in a previous article, there is a precise demographic for each medium. People like visual (reading, watching) and audible (podcast, audiobooks, radio) content depending upon their preference or current situation (e.g. during a car journey). Those that like blogs reads blogs. People that like Videos watch YouTube. Those that like listening in the car download podcasts. However, what stands the career stories apart are the kinaesthetic (feelings) reactions that the stories bring, regardless of the medium. By moving the audience emotionally, there is a much more prominent call to action than just swiping the screen to the next blog or hitting next on your iPod.
On the back of such stories told as podcasts, youtube videos, articles with supporting social media snippets and moving content, we can help spread the word of the nuclear industry, dispel the myths and help to humanise the sector. Changed perceptions will have a tangible impact on the number of people looking to get into nuclear.
The nuclear industry has a demand for workers over the long term. The NSSG NWA has identified 15 fragile roles considered in danger of not being fulfilled to meet demand. The industry also has a poor public perception.
There are lots of efforts going on to change the perceptions of the industry. Any content from the Sizewell C Consortium provides the tangible benefits of a new nuclear power station. Andrew Sherry and his AWNTY podcast provide some fantastic career stories of people working in the nuclear industry. David Watson and his work with Atomic Trends aims to change the images you see, in google or your mind, when you think of nuclear energy. If any of the energy giants or new SMR consortia want to discuss running some influence marketing campaigns, I can help.
What we can all do, is tell our story of how we got into nuclear. At one of the workshops at the recent NSSG Skills Festival, the audience asked the panel if they shy away from the question, “what do you do for a living?” The answer was a resounding agreement that they all proudly proclaim that they work in the nuclear industry, provide a quick overview of how they got into nuclear and offer help to anyone interested in finding out more about how they can do the same.
Call to action
We are always looking for people to tell their career story as part of the Get Into Nuclear platform, but we understand that this is not for everyone. Suppose you believe in an industry that can make a difference, decarbonise the globe and reduce poverty in the process. In that case, advocate for nuclear, tell your story and offer help for others interested in finding out more. We do not all have 1 million Instagram followers, but we achieve greatness one good act at a time.
As the world is starting to re-open, use the opportunity to speak to people, tell your career story, how resilient the industry has been throughout the pandemic, and how your work creates wider benefits.