The great debate about whether Japan’s nuclear meltdown is more of a Three Mile Island “incident” than a Chernobyl “disaster” is pretty moot.
Images of exploding nuclear reactors in one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world and talk about the irradiation of northern Japan represents a giant blow to America’s nuclear industry business, which had been on a roll of late. If the American nuclear industry PR machine gets its act together, Japan doesn't have to be a death blow to its business.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, which cleverly calls atomic energy “clean power,” reported last June that public support for nuclear energy was at a record high of 74 percent. That was a significant improvement from the 49 percent of those in favor of nuclear power in 1983, the initial year of NEI's polling.
Even hard-bitten environmentalists jumped on the nuke bandwagon, acknowledging it as an ally in the war against global warming. Nukes gained support from those eager to reduce America’s reliance on Arab oil and President Obama’s backing of loan guarantees to fund new reactors. That goodwill is threatened by the horror in Japan. U.S. public support for nukes will now sink like a stone in the aftermath of Japan.
Anti-nuclear activists, like Greenpeace, have seized on Japan’s stricken reactors to call for the shutdown of atomic energy plants. “Greenpeace is calling for the phase out of existing reactors, and no construction of new commercial nuclear reactors,” says Jan Beranek, head of its international nuclear campaign.
Emotional appeals are a powerful tool of anti-nuke people.
The NEI must respond to panic calls to shutter the industry with cool, calm pitches about the safety record of U.S. reactors and their climate change benefits.
The trade association has been closely monitoring the situation in Japan. Its website provides updates about Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s struggle to prevent meltdowns. NEI also should put TEPCO's plan to build a Texas facility, a blueprint that now seems to be a very long shot, under scrutiny. The future of the nuclear power industry depends on the future of NEI's PR and TEPCO's action on the ground.