OCI Conference was More Like a Workshop and Well Received

This past Wednesday Nov. 20th I was at the OCI (Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries) Annual General Meeting/Conference that took place in the Ajax Conference Centre in Ajax, Ontario near Toronto. The theme was titled “Speaking up for Nuclear Power. Advocacy and Politics in the Age of New Media” I have attended four events this year and saw OCI president, Ron Oberth, at three of them. He was always friendly and involved in the proceedings and I have come to learn is a valuable asset to Ontario’s nuclear industry.

The conference topic this time around was mostly getting industry people to help improve the nuclear industry’s image. I know as a blogger myself that I have two audiences: industry professionals and bloggers but also ultimately a growing public. I often preach to the choir about how outreach is sorely lacking. This conference hopefully will get more ideas to our own community on how to do just that.

The days proceedings began with the meeting, open to members only and then, later, to anyone who was willing to pay to attend the conference that followed. It started with the four invited speakers doing their ten to fifteen minute talks and a question/answer session afterwards.

I attended as a media person and very much enjoyed the talks and discussions. The speakers/panelists were Rod Adams of Atomic Insights, Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues, Andrea Jennetta of Fuel Cycle Week and Scott Luft of Cold Air Blogs and dinner speaker Sean Conway who spoke about “The Politics of Energy”

Rod Adams spoke about the role of Social media in context with general media but also how he learned some lessons early in his attempt to get his nuclear reactor business going back in 1993.

Rod was blogging before the word was even coined. Back in 1990 Rod became AtomicRod on a precursor of the internet called Usenet. His career began as a Navy submarine nuclear engineer. Rod spoke briefly of his later years and the challenges as a nuclear entrepreneur and that his early concepts were essentially his own atomic engines which are now called Small Modular Reactors. Rod pointed out that in the process of researching his own promotion ideas he discovered and met army and navy people involved in projects that demonstrated how times have changed and in some ways are worse now. What at one time took as few as 18 months for a complete cycle to build a reactor now takes ten years or more. He gave a 1963 Greenland research reactor as an example. It was sharing common interests and sharing story opportunities that attracted his first readers. But his readers were not only local but all over the world. He discovered at meetings and industry events people came to know him as Atomic Rod.

Rod also shared some simple easy to accomplish tasks that make his blogging experience smoother.One was to read other peoples blogs and participate in the comments. Not only did he get ideas for his own blogging but gained some followers in the process.

Rod also suggested audio and video as enhancements to the reader experience. Audio in his case became a regular feature including a podcast with his own theme song. It became possible for users to subscribe and download.

Joining an email list group can also help keep you up to date and find useful and essential information that can make your blogs and reports more timely and accurate.

New bloggers on Nuclear Energy can join a community of nuclear bloggers called the Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers that posts the best blogs of the week at one of the volunteer host bloggers.

Last but not least he comments on getting active on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus among other social media platforms.

He attributed some of his career success to his blogging. It served as a learning tool and his integrity as a blogger meant that he wanted accurate and reliable sources and often consulted with text books and industry reports which added to his knowledge but also how people viewed his credentials.

Finally Rod announced that after 20 years of mixing a day job and blogging he has become a dedicated full time communicator this past October. Rod always was prolific as a blogger but visit http://atomicinsights.com to see an even more active output.

Original thinkers like Rod continue to shape the fabric of what nuclear can become without an actual official communication infrastructure.

Next it was Canada’s own Steve Aplin who spoke about the unsung successes of Ontario’s energy mix. Steve mostly discussed how reducing CO2 as a platform for environmentalists often ignores the extraordinary role that nuclear energy has played in that specific task of providing clean energy. His recent post on Canadian Energy Issues titled “Public perception, global warming, and nuclear power: playing the trump card” comparing Germany to Ontario was the thrust of his talk.

    “Take Germany, for example. Up to a couple of years ago, nobody talked the climate talk louder than Germany. And nobody has a more embarrassing record to compare against all that talk. Germany, as I mentioned last week, gets most of its electricity by burning fuel that emits carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal man made greenhouse gas. In the course of generating electricity in 2011, Germany dumped more than 325 million tons of CO2 into the same global atmosphere that people all over the world, including in the Philippines, rely on. More than half a kilogram of CO2 came with every kilowatt-hour of electric power generated in Germany and sent into the grid. For comparison, less than 40 grams of CO2 came with every kWh of Ontario electricity”

Steve and I agree that Ontario’s success at providing nuclear energy needs to be praised and boasted about. This single important fact that Germany’s “green” image has just met with an embarrassing year with it’s high energy bills and increased “dirty green” that required “dirty” baseload power to replace the missing nuclear power they once had.

Several countries, including Germany, have responded to Fukushima by either shutting down or cancelling nuclear energy plans. The myth will be with us for a while that Fukushima can and likely will happen again. The myth is unfortunate and false and should be part of our duty to clarify how Ontario is a better energy model for preventing not just global warming and climate change but also improving the quality of life. It is hydro and nuclear that enable clean energy and keeping energy bills down can only be done by limiting how much wind and solar is part of the mix because they require the baseload that nuclear and hydro provide. Hydro growth is limited to land, water ways and topography so that leaves nuclear as the most logical clean energy source. Comparing nuclear to methane is the trump card. Yes methane is dirty. It’s not any more natural than nuclear but nuclear produces no greenhouse gases but burning natural gas produces 550 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.

If the conference had been just one day later I’m sure Steve would have commented on the credit that Katherine Wynne and Al Gore tried to take for the clean energy Ontario now has. Wynne announced the banning of coal in Ontario. Bringing in Al Gore was a clever strategy as if to say we can thank these progressive thinkers for our cleaner air. Did they mention nuclear energy? No. Al Gore is anti nuclear and it appears Wynne is too. It is our job to remind people that 60 to 80 percent of our electricity has been coming from nuclear energy.

Next up was Andrea Jennetta whose comedic style brought humour and maybe more importantly a rallying spirit to the reserved bunch that usually show up at these events. Her talk started off with a loaded question. “Is there anyone here that does not believe that politics is nuclear energy’s only problem? Raise your hand.” She wanted to interject two facts about politics that never change. First, that politics is local and second, that people are stupid. I think the crowd was a little shocked at first but she was right and as my previous paragraph shows politicians will use that to their advantage. Her comment that most people equate nuclear bombs with nuclear energy and that perception has to change. Also reporters don’t care about the difference.

She pointed out that it was “Cold War guilt” that created a bunch of apologists and the self-effacing nuclear industry. She also said the nuclear industry’s biggest crime over the last 75 years was “NOT SHOWING UP”. Another little shock as she raised her voice. But as a community the industry does not participate in town halls or rally’s that fail to defend or illuminate nuclear energy in the best light. Another information “byte” was “we don’t kill anybody.” This was one of the three or four catch phrases that she repeated in her talk.

Andrea’s first suggestion was to write or speak to your local politician. In the content she said don’t lead with facts. Since people are stupid facts don’t matter. But later acknowledged that facts matter sometimes as Steve’s talk clearly reveals. Then proceeded to share how our own community helps to perpetuate the myths such as nuclear is expensive. Then she compared wind to nuclear and how wind does not project the durability, maintenance, lifetime or decommissioning in their costs. A reactor can last 80 years and is burdened with regulatory costs while wind gets a free ride. Referred to Rod Adams (@atomicrod) and Canadian Nuclear Association (@TalkNUclear) as prolific tweeter people. Andrea appealed to senior executives who need to understand the role of advocacy and politics. She also recommended empowering the employees to speak out as Rod Adams also pointed out. Perhaps an atmosphere of secrecy and expecting employees to wear blinders metaphorically is an attitude that needs changing. Company secrets can remain secrets but industry facts that paint a good picture can be shared with all. In the end she reminded us we are allowed to show our human side where ever we might “show up”.

Scott Luft spoke next as a blogger but not specifically a pro-nuclear blogger. His content is fact and statistic based and wanted to point out how rate-payers don’t know hidden costs. That is one of his areas of focus. He is also a nuclear advocate in the sense that he responds to false or misleading reports that give inaccurate information for the wrong reasons. He mentioned some fundamental lessons such as encouraging visits through comments at different blogs to read your own blogs is an important step to increase ratings and readership and in some cases the media will pick up your posts as recently happened with Steve Aplin in the Financial Post.

The decades have passed without an integrated forward thinking community. Not for lack of trying. The traditional reactors have been maintained and the few new generation reactor designs have only started to be assembled in the last few years at great expense. We should continue to produce safe reactors but also recognize when too much safety is not needed and that we can recommend changes to our regulatory system.

We need to remember that even with so-called expensive reactors (they are economical over time) their output is clean, reliable and long lasting which is reason to be proud and boastful.

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