Want to advocate for nuclear power? There's an app for that.
Generation Atomic, a nuclear power advocacy group, launched
earlier this month called Atomic Action. The mobile app is
door-to-door canvassing: When canvassers knock on doors,
they can open
the app and show people information about jobs in the
and its carbon-free generation.
But the app isn't without controversy. While Generation
itself as a grass-roots organization whose main goal is to
jobs, environmental watchdogs have accused it of being an
group aimed at shaping public opinion and influencing policy
around nuclear power.
To back up their claims, critics point to Generation
sources and its board of directors, which includes business
who work in the nuclear industry. Generation Atomic received
checks from three nuclear power companies, according to the
based NuScale Power LLC, French nuclear giant Areva Inc. and
salt reactor developer Terrestrial Energy.
Lenka Kollar, director of business strategy at NuScale, sits
Generation Atomic's board of directors. So does Canon Bryan,
financial officer at Terrestrial Energy.
"The nuclear industry has a track record of creating front
this sounds like it's another one," said Elliott Negin, a
at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has emerged as an
critic of Generation Atomic. "They're fake grass-roots
groups. I used to
call them AstroTurf groups because AstroTurf is fake grass."
Disputing the ethics
Generation Atomic's co-founders and business partners don't
wrong with its ties to the nuclear industry.
Taylor Stevenson, Generation Atomic's co-founder and
director, said the affiliation with three nuclear companies
against the message.
"One of the things that we thought a lot about in the
whether or not we wanted to take money from industry,"
"We certainly felt that if we were talking about the
importance of the
industry to the community, we needed to not exclude the
supporting our work. So the answer is that anyone who's
support our work, we'll take money from."
Bryan, from Terrestrial Energy, agreed with this sentiment.
"Certainly, anti-nuclear advocates have drawn a lot of
this idea that pro-nuclear advocates are somehow paid for by
interests," Bryan said. "I don't know how much of that is
"But even if it were true, who cares?" he said. "The
has advocates that are corporate in nature, that have
I don't see the harm in having aligned interests with an
organization, especially if it's a nonprofit."
But Negin believes Generation Atomic is acting unethically
disclosing in a more public way that some of its startup
from the industry. Taking their app door to door to advocate
jobs buries that information, he said.
"What bothers me most is that these people who are saying
Generation Atomic are not going to say, 'Oh, by the way,
we're funded by
the nuclear industry,'" Negin said. "They're presenting
themselves as a
neutral, fact-based public interest group when they're not."
The third time?
This wouldn't be the first time that the nuclear industry
has created an
organization to build public support for nuclear power. In
Nuclear Energy Institute created the Clean and Safe Energy
campaign aimed at encouraging members of Congress to support
new nuclear reactors.
NEI hired the public relations firm Hill + Knowlton
Strategies to launch
a multimillion-dollar campaign for the coalition. The firm
U.S. EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and Greenpeace
Patrick Moore as its spokespeople.
To a casual observer, the coalition may have seemed like a
grass-roots organization. On its website, Hill + Knowlton
the time to mention that the coalition was funded by the
that Whitman and Moore were paid spokespeople.
For their own part, several news outlets failed to catch on.
Organizations including The New York Times, the San
and CBS News "all referred to Moore as either a Greenpeace
founder or an
environmentalist, without mentioning that he is also a paid
for the nuclear industry," the Columbia Journalism Review
staff wrote in
a 2006 editorial.
The next time came in 2014, when nuclear giant Exelon Corp.
grass-roots organization Nuclear Matters. For spokespeople,
three former senators: Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat; Judd
Gregg, a New
Hampshire Republican; and Spencer Abraham, a Michigan
Republican and a
former secretary of the Department of Energy.
Nuclear Matters was seen by critics as one of Washington's
nuclear industry front groups," The New York Times reported
at the time.
'Fading into the sunset'
In the end, Generation Atomic may highlight the challenges
U.S. nuclear industry. Amid low natural gas prices and flat
electricity demand growth, many existing plants are seeking
subsidies to stay open.
A major pitfall for the industry came last month, when
Electric Co., which is building the nation's first new
reactors in 30
years, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection (Energywire,
29). The fate of Westinghouse's four reactors under
Earlier this year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) reached a
close the aging Indian Point nuclear plant less than 30
miles north of
New York City (Greenwire, January 9). The governor had
the plant as a potential safety risk for years, citing the
earthquake threats, faulty equipment and evacuation hazards.
On the jobs front, the U.S. nuclear industry employed 68,000
2016, according to a DOE report. In comparison, wind
employed more than
101,000 people, while solar employed nearly 374,000 people.
Despite these developments, Generation Atomic's co-founders
that nuclear power creates jobs and benefits the economy.
"If a nuclear
plant shuts down, you're looking at a massive exodus of tax
communities," said Eric Meyer, Generation Atomic's
executive director. "Communities are completely wrecked.
decline. Tax rates increase incredibly."
But M. V. Ramana, a nuclear energy expert at the University
Columbia, said Generation Atomic's claims about job creation
can be seen
as a last-ditch attempt to build support for nuclear at the
as the list of financial problems gets longer.
"I think the nuclear industry is very gradually fading into
Ramana said. "It's not going to go away without a fight.
"It's a very powerful industry, and they have a lot of
levers that they
can try to use to get them bailed out and subsidized," he
"But I think the writing on the wall is clear, that nuclear
proven to be a fairly expensive and risky way of creating