As the debate about fossil-fuel energy continues to rage, a small but dedicated and growing chorus is calling for a renewal of nuclear energy. Once considered to be the fuel of the future, nuclear has ardent fans and equally dedicated opponents. And, after a recent tunnel collapse at a nuclear weapons complex, score a point for those worried about potential fallout of a more nuclear energy grid.
The tunnel collapse took place at the Hanford nuclear weapons complex in Washington State, a place where toxic waste created during the Manhattan Project has been stored. Critics have been complaining for years that the Cold War era facility was unsafe, that equipment and waste were being stored in problematic conditions. Now, those complaints have been realized.
Local residents and workers were warned to stay out of the area. Some kids didn’t go to school, and some people were told to stay home from jobs even miles away from the site. Cleanup and mitigation have begun, but crews are not even certain of the extent of the problem quite yet.
Potentially worse, some of the tanks are still leaking radioactive waste, and there doesn’t seem to be a permanent solution for the problem. Safe removal of the waste from the contaminated and compromised site is difficult and expensive, and problematic, in that there may not be anyplace currently available to transport the waste to. Currently, the country’s only underground nuclear waste storage facility, located in New Mexico, is not taking any new deposits, because a previous shipment ruptured, contaminating that site.
No one quite knows the current ramifications or even the timeline of the cleanup for this disaster, because some people are saying they’re not even sure how to complete the job … or if they have the equipment to do it. So, of course, anti-nuke groups are using this as a major Public Relations push to stop any move toward nuclear power really before it starts. These groups are saying this kind of “disaster” is not any kind of isolated incident, implying that this incident could happen again and again, especially if the US decides to bring other nuclear sites back online to produce energy.
On the flip side are nuclear apologists who say these kinds of incidents are abundantly rare, and that, comparatively, nuclear is safe, efficient, and cheap. Fear, they say, is misplaced, merely the result of overzealous news headlines and fear mongering by those who over-exaggerate the supposed dangers of nuclear power.
So, whom do consumers trust? That’s a good question, and it will likely be answered by another: “who put out the best, most compelling and stickiest narrative?”
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.