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Posts Tagged ‘Rod Adams’

TOWNHALL Q&A: NUKE BLOGDOM CZAR ROD ADAMS

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Rod Adams is perhaps the original nuclear blogger. Along with Dan Yurman of the Idaho Samizdat, he has pioneered the field. A trained nuclear submarine officer and founder of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc, he began “Atomic Insights” as a web-based nuclear energy information effort in November 1995. In March 2005 he modernized it into an interactive blog and has been fielding responses ever since. With nothing to offer but his knowledge and opinions, Adams has gained a loyal following and become an influential voice in the nuclear industry. Rod will be retiring from active duty in September and seeking new employment.  He isn’t quite sure whether his new job will allow him to continue "Atomic Insights."  We’re hoping it does. Nuclear Townhall caught up with him this week to get his view of the current landscape.
 
NTH: How would you define the role of bloggers in the nuclear world right now?  Have you been able to establish yourself as an independent voice?
 
ADAMS: The pro-nuclear bloggers that I have met or talked to are passionate about sharing facts and opinions about nuclear energy. They are playing an important role by putting a face on the hundreds of thousands of highly trained and thoughtful people who have been quietly working in the field for the past five decades. The face the bloggers are showing is not that of Homer Simpson.
 
Most readers recognize that I am an independent thinker who sometimes takes positions in opposition to the established industry line. For example, I have been trying to encourage the industry to give up on Yucca Mountain for about ten years. I call Yucca "the right answer to the wrong question". It’s only the right solution if you are afraid of used nuclear fuel, never want to reuse it, and believe that it should be put in the most remote corner you can find in the United States of America. That would be Yucca Mountain.
 
NTH: How has the industry responded to bloggers?  Do you think they give you enough support?  Are you looking for support?  Do bloggers have a role in selling nuclear to the public or would you rather keep your distance?
 
ADAMS: The response has been mixed. I have been welcomed into dozens of industry gatherings, treated with respect as I ask questions, and had the opportunity to interview a number of recognized industry leaders. On the other hand, some industry leaders do not think that bloggers are worth their time or have any opinions or ideas worth reading.
 
I have been satisfied with the level of support received so far, but time will tell if the industry starts believing that blogs are a place where they can reach an important audience. I have not seen too many banner ads popping up on pro-nuclear blogs from major nuclear vendors. When that happens, we will know that the bloggers are here to stay because they might actually be making a bit of money to reward them for their effort.
 
I cannot speak for all of the bloggers, but most of us seem to agree that we want to sell the public on the idea of using nuclear technology to enhance human existence. That is completely different from selling the nuclear industry to the public or being an advocate of any particular project.
 
NTH: As far as you can tell, where do your readers come from?  Do you have a following within the industry?  Do you attract random readers?  Do bureaucrats within the NRC follow your posts?
 
ADAMS: “Atomic Insights" readers come from all over the globe. Some months the statistics show representation from more than 100 different countries. On average, about two-thirds of the visitors come from North America but 40 countries had more than 10 individual visitors last month. About one third of the visitors are new but 40 percent came back at least 25 times. Both the NRC and the DOE rank high and there are usually visitors from every major nuclear vendor, quite a few utilities, more than a dozen universities and both NEI and ANS.
 
NTH: When and how do you encounter anti-nuclear opponents?  Do you go looking for arguments?  Do they come looking for you?  On what matters do you usually end up disputing with them?
 
ADAMS: In five years of blogging with comments enabled for immediate posting, I think I have attracted fewer than two-dozen anti-nuclear comments. I have several frequent visitors who reliably disagree with nearly every position I take, but even those people still claim to be in favor of nuclear energy. I am pretty active in other people’s forums and on news sites that allow comments. I enjoy a good debate and have engaged in several running discussions over the years.
 
The topics where disputes arise include costs, life cycle emissions of carbon, the unsuitability of diffuse and weather-dependent renewable energy sources in a modern economy, and, perhaps most frequently, my theory that a major source of anti-nuclear opposition comes from people who are involved in discovery, extraction, financing, marketing and distributing hydrocarbons.
 
NTH: Without going into any personalities, how informed do you find anti-nuclear opponents to be?  Are they reasonable?  Do they make any attempt to understand the technology?  Or are they just plugging the fear element?
 
ADAMS: There are some anti-nuclear activists on the web who are apparently working from a list of talking points. They believe they have knowledge but can only recite rather than explain. Many have little technical background that would enable them to understand the technology in any real sense. Most of the more persistent anti-nuclear folks that I encounter these days are not all that fearful, however. They express concerns about cost, time requirements and generally believe there should be no government encouragement for nuclear energy, even if it does not cost any money. They classify programs like Price-Anderson, loan guarantees, and even payments to the ITR fusion program as unfair subsidies for nuclear power, although it is not unusual for the same people to support a myriad of renewable energy subsidies, mandates and set-asides.
 
NTH: Judging from your interactions with the general public, does the attitude toward nuclear seem to be getting better or worse?  What’s the source of this improvement, if there is any?
 
ADAMS: I have seen a lot of improvement over the years. When I first started working to share nuclear knowledge, the major topic at industry gatherings was D&D – decommissioning and decontamination. The discussion these days is not if but when the first handful of new plants in the United States will begin to operate. However, we are not just working on a few new plants. There are dozens of additional projects in open or quiet development.
 
There are many reasons for this improvement, including the work of a lot of independent thinkers who knew the truth about nuclear energy was far different from the public perception. It has also helped that more and more people are recognizing the limitations of competitive energy sources. Another big plus is that industry leaders have worked on operational excellence over the past 20 years and put up numbers that are making investors pay attention.
 
NTH:  Every journalist’s dream, of course, is to break that one story or offer that one opinion that changes history. Is there anyplace along the line where you feel you’ve really made a difference in the way things turned out over a particular event?
 
ADAMS: The closest I have come to that was my encounter with John Horgan, a writer who often contributes to Scientific American. He had been very critical of nuclear energy during a Bloggingheads web video discussion with George Johnson and that video captured some attention when The New York Times picked it up. After an email correspondence with Horgan, he invited me to join him for a Bloggingheads debate. By the end of our discussion, Horgan appeared to have changed his mind. He wrote about our debate later on his Scientific American blog. He is scheduled to tour Indian Point with Gwyneth Cravens soon and I believe that came as a result of our discussion.
 
NTH: Thanks very much for all the great work you’ve done, Rod. We hope that new job allows you to continue blogging at "Atomic Insights."