A Japanese emergency responder checks a child for radiation (Image credit: Reuters)
Days after an earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, the world is rightly rushing to the aid of the Japanese people.
As the Japanese grapple with the economic and humanitarian toll of this tragedy, we keep them in our hearts and minds.
Yet, the government of Japan must also avert nuclear crisis after the natural disaster destabilized two nuclear reactors and prompted the evacuation of 200,000 citizens. The fallout is being compared to the Chernobyl disaster.
In the U.S., the press is already asking: “Could a similar nuclear crisis happen here?“
Thus, advocates for U.S. nuclear power face the daunting task of stabilizing nuclear’s reputation in America, even as we all download videos of buildings exploding at Japan’s nuclear facilities.
This crisis response task falls foremost on the shoulders of the Nuclear Energy Institute. Over the weekend, the public policy voice of U.S. nuclear power posted a Q and A on their website to help answer questions in the disaster’s immediate aftermath. NEI experts could also be found reassuring the public on TV and in print. Expect NEI to launch a far more comprehensive communications plan in the coming weeks as Congress and the Obama Administration ask tough questions about the safety of nuclear power.
Warren Buffett once said, “It takes twenty years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it.” Nuclear’s reputation is hardly “ruined” after Japan, but it is in severe jeopardy. New polls will emerge in the coming days and it’s a very safe bet they’ll show a dramatic drop in support for nuclear power in the United States. While such polls are temporary snapshots, NEI must now develop a communications strategy to rebuild trust in nuclear. The success of such an endeavor can only be measured in months, if not years.