REBRANDING THE NUCLEAR FUEL CYCLE

No matter what people think about nuclear energy in America, one thing is certain: just about everyone has an opinion. From those with a “not in my backyard” attitude to those who embrace nuclear power as an integral part of the U.S. energy mix, the public’s perception of the nuclear fuel cycle is often misguided and misunderstood.

Under the direction of principal investigator Sama Bilbao y León, Ph.D., associate professor and director of nuclear engineering programs at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering, public opinion regarding the nuclear fuel cycle is about to be carefully studied.

Bilbao y León is leading a multidisciplinary research project to serve as the basis for a strategic communications plan. Designed to help rebrand the nuclear fuel cycle, the project is funded by a grant from the Nuclear Energy University Program of the U.S. Department of Energy. It is one of the DOE’s 48 nuclear energy research and development projects.

“We need to look at the nuclear fuel cycle with fresh eyes,” said Bilbao y León. “The project will attempt to better understand what people’s concerns and priorities really are when it comes to nuclear energy and to synthesize that information so that scientists and policymakers can redesign the nuclear fuel cycle in the U.S. in a way that addresses the public’s concerns. Knowing what is really important to most people will also help craft communication strategies and educational programs that will ensure the public has the facts in hand to make an informed decision.”

In addition to the VCU School of Engineering, the project involves the VCU da Vinci Center for Innovation, the VCU Brandcenter, and the Virginia State University Department of Mass Communications.

The three-year project involves a pilot study in two or three carefully selected sample areas of the country. “We’ll be gathering information about people’s perceptions,” Bilbao y León explains. “The ultimate deliverable will be a comprehensive process for the development of decision-making strategies and communications plans on the nuclear fuel cycle.”

When the research is complete, a fully-inclusive strategic decision making process will have been designed so that scientists and policy makers can implement a country-wide full scale study. Ultimately, the project will result in an effective nuclear fuel cycle program that addresses people’s concerns, and a public well informed about the reality of the nuclear fuel cycle as a low-risk concept that contributes positively to everyday life.

“Knowing what is really important to most people will help craft communication strategies and educational programs that will ensure the public has the facts in hand to make an informed decision about the nuclear fuel cycle.”

– Sama Bilbao y León, Ph.D.