NEI effort aims to build support, nuclear plants

WASHINGTON: The nuclear energy industry is launching its largest national PR campaign in years next month in an effort to build support for nuclear power as a clean energy.

WASHINGTON: The nuclear energy industry is launching its largest national PR campaign in years next month in an effort to build support for nuclear power as a clean energy.

The push follows the Bush administration's January announcement of plans to launch a $250 million initiative to develop a new technology for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel and the President's State of the Union Address trumpeting nuclear power.

The campaign by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), a policy association founded 1994 that serves the industry, is an effort to build broad support among policy-makers and the public for building dozens of nuclear power plants. The US currently has 103 working reactors. NEI is proposing 66 new ones by 2030.

Scott Peterson, VP of the NEI, said the institute is also using the PR effort to pitch nuclear energy to a tough audience including environmental groups. Touting nuclear energy as a remedy for global warming, pollution, and reliance on foreign sources of oil, the institute will urge groups to become part of its nascent CASEnergy Coalition (for "Clean and Safe Energy"). The NEI hopes to use the banner to build consensus support for nuclear energy as part of a diverse portfolio of energy options.

"The [campaign's] goal is to develop a broader bipartisan base of support for nuclear energy as it serves consumers today and to set a positive environment for companies that want to pursue building new nuclear plants in the near future," Peterson said, adding that the Department of Energy projects that by the year 2030, the country will need 50% more electricity than it has today.

The campaign, handled by Hill & Knowlton, will target political leaders and a "vast array of organizations interested in energy and environmental issues," said Peterson, who added that the effort will include media outreach and tours to national and state-based organizations involved in environmental, energy, and health issues.

The educational program has three themes: Policy-makers' and media's belief that the public does not want nuclear power is incorrect; nuclear energy is consistent with environmentalism; and it should be part of a portfolio of sources to wean the US off foreign sources of energy.

It will also address the issue of nuclear waste. "We'll discuss the technical solution we have to handle that issue," Peterson said.

It might be a hard sell, according to Pete Connolly, program assistant with the Sierra Club's global warming and energy program, who argued that the NEI's campaign, regardless of its scope, will face a litany of immutable facts. "There are still a number of physical realities that no one has been able to talk their way out of. For instance, there is no way to store nuclear waste safely."

Connelly noted that the Sierra Club is mulling an effort this year critical of the administration's fuel reprocessing push, but Peterson said the NEI's campaign will promote the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada as a final destination for highly radioactive waste.

Peterson said parts of the campaign would be handled by the Institute's four-person media outreach group. It's also doing some Web-based communications via its NEI Nuclear Notes blog.

National media outlets will be the initial targets, but that will broaden as "we start to reach out to state-based organizations in states that have growing electricity needs, such as in the Southeast," he said.

Peterson said the effort was timed not only to take advantage of the President's State of the Union comments and nuclear-energy initiative, but also because of developments that took place last year.

"It dates back to a lot of progress on the policy and political front," he said. "You had passage of the energy policy act in Congress that is designed to stimulate construction not only of nuclear plants, but a lot of other energy sources, as well." He pointed out that Bush also visited a nuclear plant last year and in June gave a major speech on the need for nuclear energy.

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