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Nuclear Power Industry Puts Up a PR Fight in the Face of Growing Fears

A photo from inside Japan's Fukushima plant. Photo: AP

Good news amid Japan’s ongoing problems and fears about radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant – radioactive levels in the water have dropped to safe levels and the lights in the Number 1 reactor are back on, which may mean that the cooling system can soon be restored and nuclear catastrophe averted. Still, there’s plenty of work to be done.

The nuclear energy industry is looking for any positives in the barrage of negatives in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan a couple of weeks ago. Making sure that people are safe and restoring some sense of normalcy to life in quake-stricken parts of the country are of greatest importance right now. But the nuclear energy industry is also consumed with the damage that the tenuous situation could be doing to its future.

“Can the reputation of the nuclear power industry be saved?” reads a headline on Katie Paine‘s blog The Measurement Standard. Answer: “No; too many problems, too many protests.”

With the caveat that Paine has covered this industry and was married to a physicist, she continues to explain that “the nature of the Fukushima problem has highlighted the one argument nuclear advocates have never had a good answer for: Where do you put the waste?” That’s a question that a number of publications are asking, including the Times.

Still, the nuclear industry has launched a campaign that includes ads, online updates, and media appearances, Ad Age reports. Entergy is keeping those updates front and center on its homepage. (The company is also working with Burson.) John Rowe, chief executive of Exelon, the largest nuclear power company in the U.S., has come out with reassurances of the safety of the company’s plants and to discuss the regulatory measures that will likely result. The company is also contacting neighbors with reassurances. The Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade group, has a Twitter feed and a YouTube channel.

One nuclear engineer and former regulatory official, Lake Barrett, tells Ad Age that the industry spent more than two decades trying to get past the Three Mile Island disaster, and had made tremendous progress. Current fears could be stronger than anything the nuclear industry’s PR budget can overcome at the moment. And it’s not just fears over physical safety. The Wall Street Journal reports that investors are backing off of nuclear power company stocks. With news that equipment defects at nuclear plants are not being reported to regulators, nerves will not be quieted any time soon.

And some say that the PR effort may be too little too late.

“Nuclear power remains a mystery to most people. Despite its many advantages, poor PR has always blighted the nuclear power industry. Perhaps it always will,” writes Tim Probert on Power-GenWorldwide.com

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