Things Change: Nuclear Energy

Issue 1 and Volume 4.


By John Herron, President, CEO and Chief Nuclear Officer of Entergy Nuclear

I wrote this column the first time prior to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami on March 11. Now I make a second attempt even as events are still unfolding in Japan on March 20. Here are the things I am sure of:

1. The nuclear energy industry is working internationally to support Japan and the nuclear industry as they work heroically through the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami.
2. We have a strong safety culture at Entergy and in the U.S. nuclear fleet and we set the highest standards for safety and public health. We are conducting reviews; we will incorporate lessons learned from the events; and we welcome new NRC reviews to assure the public of our safety preparedness.
3. Nuclear energy has been and will continue to be a key element in meeting America’s energy needs. Our country is relying on a diverse set of energy sources that includes nuclear power. Economically and environmentally, nuclear is an imperative in the mix to meet the American appetite for electricity.

We are working to re-build and maintain public support for nuclear power as a safe, clean and vital energy source important to the energy policy of the United States and worldwide. That means it is time to step up – again – to tell our nuclear energy story with clarity, conviction and confidence. What I wrote one month ago seems especially relevant now: Safety is our unending vow; clean air is our benefit.

Fears can be calmed with intelligent conversation that comes from knowing the facts. We are not afraid of the facts; we embrace them. From Three Mile Island to Japan, we are an industry that adopts new knowledge and improvements keeping our industry strong, secure and above all, safe.

One wish

Last November I testified before the Transportation and Storage Subcommittee of the Blue Ribbon Commission, which is working to decide the fate of nuclear fuel storage. One question I didn’t anticipate came from a commission member who asked if I thought that I, as the chief nuclear officer of Entergy, was responsible for better educating the public about nuclear energy. “Yes” was – and is – the answer to that question.

Only with greater public understanding of our industry can we open doors on license renewals, new nuclear construction and financing, small modular reactor implementation, regulatory certainty, trust in nuclear fuel cycle decisions and a host of other important issues. We must do a better job and build understanding beyond the choir of the energy industry itself.

In my first year as Entergy CNO, I found myself at the Harvard Business School Energy Symposium where eager, soon-to-be policy makers asked me my most intriguing question of the year: If you had one wish to make about nuclear energy, what would that be?

I gave my answer without hesitation. I wish that people in the United States knew what I know about nuclear.

I wish they knew about the dedicated plant employees that undergo the world’s toughest standards for operation, preparedness and training. In Japan I believe we will see, eventually, how the workers at the Japanese sites worked courageously to make a difference in an extremely difficult situation. Americans should know that we have our own brand of everyday heroes at nuclear power plants who work insistently to safeguard the public health of the communities where we live, for the neighbors we serve, and to see how this passion translates to everyday excellence and overall safety.

I wish Americans could be as assured as I am about the strength of our systems, the rigor of our oversight and the promise of clean, affordable and – above all – safe nuclear power.

Our charge is clearer than ever to regain trust and approval. Our voices must be heard now. At Entergy we’re listening and forging new understandings about nuclear energy across various public segments. We are working on my wish.

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