NEW YORK—Hill & Knowlton has been selected to handle an $8 million assignment for the Nuclear Energy Institute, initially focused on bolstering “broad policymaker and decision-maker support for nuclear energy broadly and specifically for the Yucca Mountain project,” which would make the Nevada location a repository for much of the nation’s spent nuclear fuel.
Hill & Knowlton will work alongside WPP sister company Penn Schoen & Berland, which will handle research and polling for the NEI, which represents utilities and nuclear technology companies.
The NEI issued the RFP in July, but did not selected an agency until mid-December, when H&K beat out fellow-finalists Burson-Marsteller and Dittus Communications for the assignment, which is viewed as critical in earning broader support for nuclear energy at a time when even some environmentalists are coming to see nuclear as a preferable alternative to fossil fuels.
H&K declined to comment on the assignment or even confirm its selection, but the RFP—parts of which were published in this newsletter in early August—made it clear that the NEI sees the possibility of a resurgence for nuclear technology.
“Nuclear energy is our nation’s largest source of emission-free electricity and the second largest source of power after coal,” said the RFP, which was drawn up by Scott Peterson, the NEI’s vice president of communications. “As an integral part of the U.S. energy mix, nuclear energy is a secure energy source that is not subject to volatility of fuel price or supply.
“Nuclear plants do not emit greenhouse gases and are a leading clean air tool for meeting the Clean Air Act of emerging voluntary greenhouse gas reduction strategies. Nuclear energy is one of the most ‘eco-efficient’ energy sources because it produces the most electricity in relation to its minimal environmental impact.”
Perhaps the biggest obstacle the industry faces involves the disposal of nuclear waste. Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the site for the nation’s repository for used nuclear fuel in 2002 and the Department of Energy is developing a license application for the repository, which it expects to submit to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission soon. But there has been stubborn resistance to the development of the Yucca Mountain site, most notably from Nevada Senators Harry Reid and John Ensign and Governor Kenny Guinn.
Hence the need for a massive public relations effort, which according to the RFP will include bolstering policymaker and decision-maker support for the industry and the Yucca Mountain project; developing a national coalition that would “activate and expand on” existing nuclear energy supporters, engaging employees, shareholders, academics, health experts, and environmental organizations; “pre-empting and offsetting” criticism from opponents; and developing a structure for a national advocacy campaign, including the appointment of a national executive director.