Nuclear Industry PR in Schools

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In a business where new plants can take years to get approved and decades to make a profit, it is perhaps not surprising that the nuclear power industry has also taken a long-term approach to public relations – starting with America’s future voters.

The seventies

In the late seventies U.S. public schools were flooded with business-funded education materials which attempted to portray nuclear energy as both safe and green. (Toxic Sludge is Good for You, John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton). In one comic-book published by a Florida electricity company, characters promise that “nuclear plants are clean, odourless and generate electricity economically…and most important, help conserve fossil fuels!’’ Another comic book claimed that ‘nuclear generating stations are just about the cleanest and most desirable neighbour that any community can have.’ The book was called ‘The Battle for Survival – the War Against Environmental Pollution’, and was published by Virginia Electric and Power.

The eighties

Three separate industry-funded tax-deductible education organizations started up in the early 80s to connect energy and mining companies with the school system. The Energy Source Education Council for example, produced a million-dollar energy curriculum which is purchased by local energy companies who in turn donate it to schools. The Council claims that the curriculum has reached nearly 12 million students.

The present

Not content with mailing out brochures and comic books, a number of groups began taking a more hands-on approach. Westinghouse Nuclear and the American Nuclear Society both offer workshops for teachers - training teachers in ‘the benefits of nuclear energy’ and in how to use their own materials in the classroom.

Peak nuclear industry lobby group The Nuclear Energy Institute has a ‘Science Club’ website where kids can visit an animated ‘Nuclear World’ full of lowing cows and tweeting birds: “Nuclear power plants are good for the environment—and good to the environment. Nuclear plants don't pollute the air. They don't produce any carbon dioxide—the major greenhouse gas—or any sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides. The small amount of waste that a nuclear plant produces is carefully contained and safely stored. Radiation levels are checked 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Most nuclear plants have a nature park or wildlife sanctuary, too.”

Government watchdogs are also getting in on the act. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a ‘students corner’ on its website with a cartoon atom explaining the nuclear cycle, and even an atomic crossword puzzle. The Energy Information Administration website has a kids section with a nuclear riddles page:

“Q: What does the nuclear scientist do in his spare time? A: Goes fission.”

The U.S. Department of Energy is trialing a new nuclear science curriculum called “The Harnessed Atom” which promotes nuclear power as a green energy source. (Ecologist; Dec2004/Jan2005, Vol. 34 Issue 10, p11, 3/4p, 1c) And the government authority overseeing a controversial proposed nuclear waste site in Yucca Mountain has a youth zone for kids to learn about the problem of nuclear waste from Yucca Mountain Johnny: “Imagine what your house would be like if no one EVER took out the garbage…To stay healthy, we need to take our garbage out.” The Yucca Mountain site, which is opposed by local senators, is currently the subject of a congressional hearing into alleged paperwork fraud by the Energy Department.

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