Kamen Kraev

Secretary General

NucNet

December 20, 2021

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Ep 345: Kamen Kraev - Secretary General, NucNet
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Olivia Columbus
We are here today with Kamen Kraev who is the Editor, Chief Writer-

Kamen Kraev
One of the Editors and Secretary General.

Olivia Columbus
Secretary General of NucNet, one of the world's leading nuclear publications. Welcome to the podcast.

Kamen Kraev
Well, thanks for the opportunity to speak. I see that probably many people have said important things in this podcast before me, but I think I will give some of my insights to the industry as well.

Olivia Columbus
We're very excited to get all those insights. But before we sort of dive into the industry, let's get a little bit about you. Can you tell us how you got into journalism, what sort of predated that experience, and how you got to nuclear?

Kamen Kraev
Well, it was really, it was not a designed career path that I set upon by thinking of where I should be going in my career development. This just kind of happened by chance, in a way. My education background is in business administration and then, actually, European politics. I have a degree from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium and I never thought I would end up in energy and less even in nuclear energy. It's just that, you know, I applied for this disposition as a junior first. It was now seven years ago, maybe a bit less than that.

Olivia Columbus
Before that though, how'd you get into journalism?

Kamen Kraev
I ended up being a journalist exactly when I entered NucNet. Before that, I was not really a journalist. I was just doing financial transfers for a couple of years. And then well, in a way, I did a bit of blogging in between changing jobs. I've always had a really, I would say strong interest in politics rather than energy so much, but the relationship between energy and politics, of course, has always been there. I always get this comment and I would say my intent, and I just started to - as a blogger will do nowadays or a few years ago - I just said, Okay, I know a few things I might want to speak about, maybe about my home region of Eastern Europe at the beginning. And I did a bit of blogging. This actually helped me to move into the NucNet position, because I was able to go and say, Guys, listen, I can write. I mean, I was- all my studies were in English. I did a couple of- a lot of papers in English, so I said, Okay, I think I have the sufficient capability to do this sort of job and I just landed in nuclear. And I never thought it's going to be really permanent. But now I look back at it, it's already quite some years have passed. And to be honest, I think if I didn't like it, I would have left. But yet I am still here. You say journalism, but for us, it's very specific, because in general journalistic mindset nowadays, it's probably a bit different than what we do, because we really focus on the mythology in the industry, on all these developments that the general public would probably not find interesting. So I am not always 100% sure how to refer to myself, when people say what I do, and I say journalist, but at the same time, we do a lot of communication in between industry stakeholders. And it's not really the journalists that you imagine are running with the microphone and speaking to people about various topics, really specific to us, you know?

Olivia Columbus
Yeah, so one thing at least I know when I sort of came to nuclear - because I also come from a non-nuclear, non-technical background - was that I felt like I really needed to get myself up to speed on a lot of these terms and concepts that maybe I didn't understand. What was that experience like for you, just trying to familiarize yourself with an industry you had not previously worked in?

Kamen Kraev
Well, to be honest, I never, for example, I never really had an issue with nuclear power. So for me nuclear power, there was always something that- I mean, in my own home country, I didn't mention it, but I come from Bulgaria - I lived a lot of years overseas already - but nuclear power was always there. And since I remember myself and since I was growing up as a teenager or as an adult later, it was always there. It was never something we questioned. It was never something I was opposed to and that's why I found this to be just a job as any other or just I thought in beginning it could be an entry point to energy in general, because I thought, okay, maybe there's more work to do with gas or some other more and more- I want to say, well, I will not say prominent industries, but probably easier to chew on for most people. But yet I find nuclear to be quite interesting and it's like a niche market for us. It's something that is in a way unique, because not many people do that. And not many people know stuff about it. And not many people have the compendium of knowledge about it, because we, over the years, collect a lot of knowledge about different aspect aspects of the industry that we help connect the dots in the end. So yeah, I mean, that's it, my motivation.

Olivia Columbus
Can you kind of walk us back a little bit and talk about how NucNet was founded? Sort of what the inspiration was and what the growth has been like over the years,

Kamen Kraev
Yeah, that's a good topic. Okay, well, NucNet was founded back in 1991 or 1990. So yeah, it's 30 years. But you know of course, you have to imagine that the world looked different back then and think- that's of course way before my time. But I know from-there are some colleagues with us that are still with us from those years. So actually, I listened to their background stories and whatever I say now are things that have been told to me by people who are with us still. The idea was at the beginning for the nuclear industry to have some sort of independent communication agency or organization which could separate the facts from mythology around nuclear power, because this was the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, of course. And then a lot of the European industry stakeholders at the time, they sat down and said, Okay, we have all this media noise and we need somebody to get out there and clean it up now and say, Okay, this is true, this is not. There was more engineering expertise at the time and things of course evolved. They were sending faxes back then. Now of course we're doing the work online and newsletters and all sorts of stuff. We don't have a print edition. I think they never had the print edition. But the idea was exactly to make sure that the anti-nuclear sentiment doesn't creep into journalism, creating some sort of paradigm of negativity about nuclear power. And of course things changed over the years, because we were first in Switzerland and then moved to Belgium. Then, of course, many times they change the other system stuff. And ultimately, we reached the point where NucNet at the moment is a typical, I would say, trade press agency where we follow the industry and the industry follows us in a way. I think most of our readership is among the nuclear stakeholders, not so much probably the general public. Yet we managed to find our way and still be around after so many years. We had the model when there were mostly large nuclear stakeholders that were technically providing our readership. But over the last couple of years already, under my helm, I see that we are moving into a direction where we also started to see individuals coming in the picture as filling in the readership. And then there are people who are probably a little bit already outside the nuclear industry. And it's really nascent, so I'm not gonna say that this is the game changer for us - we are still widely read by the industry - but I can see that the website, for example, is really visited probably by a wider public, while the newsletter still remains to be very specifically niche. But we had to adapt to the environment. We had to be fully online. We have to go, of course, on social media at one point. And we did everything that general, online media trends requires, so I think we are in a good position today. As you said, it's been one of the couple of leading organizations in the sector. If you have any more questions, of course.

Olivia Columbus
Yeah. Lots of questions kind of about all your processes. But one thing that kind of comes top of mind is especially, I think you probably have a really unique view of how the industry has evolved over the past seven years or so. And there has been so much movement, especially with these new SMR technologies constantly emerging. How do you keep your finger on the pulse of who the new and up and coming vendors or players in the space are and how that that has been changing? And how just sort of the nuclear industry has evolved so much so recently?

Kamen Kraev
I've seen things changing, because when we first- when I first entered the sector in the job, I think there was less social media work, for sure. There were less communicators involved in this and I saw this really expanding. There were a lot of industrial events and discussions about communication and how to do it and what to do better and how to use modern tools. I still think that, at that point, there was some sort of timidity, I think is the word. There was some sort of- because of the trauma of the past from the nuclear industry was probably afraid to speak about, to speak up in general, to speak up and find its place in the energy paradigm in the world. And, of course, Fukushima in 2011 didn't help either. They were a little bit- I think communication departments were always a bit shy to speak and to reach out to the general public. But I saw that changing and I still, I see now that the industry has become more confident to take its position. Companies are communicating clearly about the importance of nuclear which is- I think it's good. They found out that innovation is a buzzword they want to speak about. And they found out that they want to show the public that nuclear is not just stuck in the past and the new projects that are coming our way, as any other industry has also evolved and it is evolving. The reactors we will have today or in 10 years are not the same that we used to have back in the 70s. So more to the point, I will say that from our perspective as NucNet, as editors and people who are doing this daily, I can tell you that exactly the innovation topic and the SMR topic is something that people really like. The views of these stories and then when these stories go on social media, you have a few times more engagement or impressions or all sorts of positive stats than what you get on average. So we know that there is some sentiment around SMRs for sure, about innovation, about new build projects in general. If it's about new build, people also like to read- I guess they like to see that nuclear is going somewhere, that it's not stuck. Of course, when there are failures, also we report on that. We don't hide this. We have to- if there is an honest communication about something that has gone okay or has gone not okay, we have to say it, because that's our policy at NucNet. But I can see that the audience is hungry for progress. That's something that was not there five, six years ago. That's my impression. Of course, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's just a partial view.

Olivia Columbus
I think- I mean, at least in our sort of independent tracking of nuclear journalism, I've definitely noticed a major uptick in the last nine months or so of major global publications writing more and more about nuclear. I think the Wall Street Journal writes about nuclear pretty regularly now. We see it in Bloomberg quite a bit. And that's been pretty amazing. I think, we thought maybe some of that was spurred by Bill Gates really becoming a little bit more publicly supportive of nuclear and so that got it on people's minds and then people got more into it. But do you see that as a trend? And are there other things that you think are informing that?

Kamen Kraev
That's a good point I should have mentioned, perhaps. But yeah, I also- we also had the impression that since the summer, for example, maybe a little bit earlier to say nine months, nine to six months, we are definitely getting overwhelmed by the amount of developments that we have to report on. We never used to have a huge backlog of stories and now we do. So we reached the level where we have to decide what is going to go out, because we didn't want to- we never really want to spam people. But I think we need to change a little bit the policy as well, because we have to make choices between good developments. You have to say, This one is gonna be published tomorrow and this one is gonna be published today, but they're all good. When you imagine for us, it's not like one story a week. It's like daily and daily and daily, so we need to follow all that. And we need to be able to handle that. And then we were wondering in the team, What's going on? We were wondering whether this is exactly because some major figures were speaking about nuclear or maybe was it because of the energy price crisis in Europe…

Olivia Columbus
Or COP.

Kamen Kraev
Or COP that came and maybe the build up to COP and everybody wanted to communicate or they had deadlines for certain projects to come before that. Or maybe, I hope, it's going to be a trend that will remain with us. And also in the European scene, you see that the leading countries like France finally took a position in defense of nuclear power, which probably gave a boost to some to speak up, maybe. Maybe it's the fact that the European Union has been really discussing this green financing taxonomy for some time. And the decision- the time to make a decision has come and it's also pumping, heating up the discussion. I think it's too early to say whether this is going to be with us as a trend for the next year, but I have noticed that things have expanded.

Olivia Columbus
That's so great that you have so much, so much content to write about.

Kamen Kraev
One thing is, it's not- the worst is not to have? Yeah, so we are happy, we are happy Shouldn't be complaining of our work.

Olivia Columbus
Do you find that, from looking at it - just the communications challenges around nuclear - do you find that maybe the way issues are communicated or perceived differs based on geographic region or the populations that you're communicating to? Do you find that some regions maybe are more accepting of nuclear, but critical of the cost? And maybe some are more worried about safety?

Kamen Kraev
Sure, of course. I think it's one of the challenges for the industry advocates - and I mean advocates in an NGO sense and also in the government and maybe industrial sense as well - because different regions in the world and the different countries in those regions have different specificities on the ground. It's very difficult for a united communication message. Of course, there are several tiers and levels of communication. You can agree on the general message about the climate. But if you go down to the ground, you will see that the concerns of countries are different. Views on nuclear are- you don't have to go far to see what's going on in Europe, with Germany. And most of Eastern European countries in Central Europe - that's how it should be referred to now - want to stick to nuclear power, want to build more nuclear power. You can see differences in public opinion. I can tell you that, in my own country for example, nuclear was always an element of even sort of a national pride in a way that you have this sort of technology that is reserved to an elite club. And you can see that some of the developing countries in the world have the same attitude toward nuclear power today. They want to join this elite club of countries that harness this energy to produce electricity, while others have their doubts about it. Others have moved on and they have other visions on how this should develop. But this all requires different communication. That's why it's difficult to have one message. And sometimes also politically, there are difficulties to reach an agreement as well. Because you mentioned that the politicians have constituents and those constituents have expectations. Remote regions have different needs than the regions in the core of Europe or the United States or Canada. So, yeah, it's not an easy job. And I think it's- I still think it's a job for communications professionals. And this is not always maybe understood correctly. It cannot be done, it can't be done- don't just do half of it. You have to- if you want to do it, you have to do it fully and have a strategy about it. Because others do it, other industries. Other energy industries do that. And if you want to- we all say this, we are partners, but we are not always. There's competition within energy, too. So you want to play that game? You have to really put up the resources.

Olivia Columbus
Yeah, exactly. You really need to staff up at the same level as the other energy sources, right. And if you look at something like oil and gas, there is so much power behind the PR and the marketing, the branding in that industry, that it just- I mean, that really- they really push their own narrative. They create their own narrative. And it seems like the nuclear industry maybe lets other people create their narrative and just apologizes for it when they really shouldn't be.

Kamen Kraev
Well, yeah, as I said, there was some sort of uncertainty of whether they should really go so much at it and communicate about the place nuclear should be taking, because they were always afraid that they will be criticized about the past failures or the cost of upfront cost, because this is something that scares people. They go from cost capital, CapEx at the beginning that's high, but then, of course, it gets cheaper. After 30 years, technically it's only profitable. It operates for so many years. People don't think about it. Politicians probably have short term- you know how politics operates, in terms.

Olivia Columbus
I think also, I mean, that sort of misunderstanding, a lot of people maybe have a fundamental misunderstanding of the role nuclear plays as an energy source. And as a journalist, that can really hurt you, because it can sort of impact the way you're able to report on that. And that's something, if you fundamentally don't understand it- and maybe as more people start to look into these topics, and start to be able to read sources that, from a very sort of non-biased background, or are able to report on what's actually happening, other journalists will be able to inform themselves and say, Maybe I misunderstood this and maybe I should be approaching this from a more objective view.

Kamen Kraev
Well, one of the things- I don't want to speak for journalists in general - but I think we have a bit of an issue with modern journalism and that's time constraint, or maybe the amount of volume that people are faced with. I would say that also many publications who have remained- I'm not saying we're perfect, we're just very specific. First, it's just a small volume that is channeled in a very constrained environment, so we don't really stray out. But you can see that the general journalism, when they touch upon energy topics, especially nuclear energy, there is really lack of understanding, as you say. And it's not to blame the journalists, because it took me years to also get into this. And it's a complex thing. And you can see that. And we are - I myself, when I am still doing editorial work - I have issues to explain complex nuclear stuff in simple terms. And then sometimes you have to really- I mean, we try to- we're probably blessed because we know that the people who read us actually know a bit of the background or a lot of the background so you don't have to explain every single thing. But if you're writing about nuclear and you have to explain it to the general public, where do you- how do you decide what is important and what to leave out if you did talk about projects in their past? And it's- if you go out and say everything, then it's just-

Olivia Columbus
You can't write an essay. Exactly.

Kamen Kraev
So it's tough. And sadly, I think there is a lot of this type of hashtag mentality that people have and they want to pick up something that they can hashtag and they can throw it- you know, put some buzzwords in it and throw it out. And they also probably know what the audience expects and they just tailor the content to the audience. And if you know that you're read by anti-nuclear people, then maybe you want to put a bad light on nuclear. I mean, first of all, I don't believe in completely unbiased journalism in general. That's- I say that, that's my opinion. I don't think we are completely unbiased either being in the sector. And I myself, I don't have a problem with nuclear power. If it has- as I said, if there are problems, we will report them, but I still wish good to the industry, you see. So I'm not either. I'm biased, I would say, but the problem is, when you see that some journalists don't do the background check and they actually write stuff which is not true. And I'm not going into controversial topics about how many people died from Chernobyl, how many were impacted, and so on. Even more and more simple recent developments about projects, saying that something is more expensive compared to another thing, making a statement, but you don't explain, for example, that in the case of nuclear power, you have facilities that will be operated for 80 years, while in the case of wind, you have facilities that will be operated for 25 years now. So when you see that, you will see an important piece of information that people cannot- you're not the one to give a statement and say that's better, that is not right. But you have to say that this costs that much. This costs that much. This is going to be operated that much, and this is going to be operated that much. And then when people read that and get this information, they can judge and say, Okay, so maybe it's not such a good idea to do this, or Maybe, okay, after all we have to think about it. You have to strive to give the full picture as good as you can. Because if you omit, it's not a lie, but it's still skewing the picture. You need to be able to have all the information to make an informed judgment. And if the choice is against nuclear, fair enough. If the choice is pro-nuclear, fair enough. But you need to give people the info and not select it.

Olivia Columbus
Right, exactly, making the decision based on good journalism practices and not, you know, I feel this way about this issue. That very much makes sense. Do you think that maybe the answer somewhat lies in kinda what we were talking about before and in the sort of way as a society we learn about nuclear relative to other energy sources. And maybe if communications professionals were sort of taking on this challenge of trying to create more accurate conversations about energy in general and different sources of energy, maybe that could sort of permeate its way into journalism and other conversations around these issues.

Kamen Kraev
I hope so. You know, to be honest, in my experience, when I go to - I've been to press briefings about nuclear specifically, called by industry or other stakeholders - you still see that there are just a few of us from the trade press, my colleagues from other organizations that are sitting there, and a few general journalists. So I still think that there is a lack of general interest. And I think most journalists will not come to an event which is branded as nuclear, sadly. And I still think that should not be discouraging people and they should still talk about it and talk about it. Because nowadays, you need to establish your presence, digitally and everywhere. So you need to be present. The industry needs to go out and speak, maybe to all venues at all venues possible and make sure that when there are people from other industries, nuclear is also there. And maybe the idea is to get people used to the fact that nuclear is around. But you know, you have to imagine that it's difficult to find negative images, so once or twice stigmatized. You have to mount an enormous effort to technically take down that stigma and then move forward. There is a generational thing as well, because you see people back in the 90s after Chernobyl and there were people who were mounted on the- you know, they went on the path of this environmentalism. Environmentalism also developed over the decades, but people young, back then, made the removal of nuclear power an important life goal. And now they're in their later years and they are already maybe politicians and they have to spit back on what they're working. They say, Okay, now actually, nuclear power is good. It's not going to work. And so the stigma still lives with these- with a lot of these people who are back then yank. And they still carry these messages and very few of them have changed. They might have also reproduced this stigma to people who, theoretically, were, like most of them, born after Chernobyl. Or maybe they were very young when Fukushima happened. Maybe they were not even conscious when Fukushima happened, so now teenagers today. And this thing is somehow perpetually recreated. And I still don't completely see how good we have gone out of this. I still think that it's better to speak about it as much as we can and fight for the soul of people still. It's not going to be quick. It's not going to be quick, for sure.

Olivia Columbus
No, that makes total sense. As we're wrapping up here - we're here at the World Nuclear Exhibition today - how has your experience been? What have you been doing here? And what are you looking forward to?

Kamen Kraev
Well, I normally start by just walking out and mapping everybody who's here to see people. I have a friend who's also presented. I will have a couple of interviews. I had a couple of interesting meetings with people I normally contact beforehand. And such venues are interesting for us in the sense that we're also looking to expand as an organization, to expand our readership base. So if the industry reads us, here is the industry, so we see, okay, who potentially can be using our services in a way as well. There is a commercial element to this as well. But I always take the opportunity to have one or two interviews, at least, on the sidelines, or do some reporting from the keynote speeches and so on. We create some content for NucNet. But I think it's the third time I have come and I like this venue, because you have everything in one place. And you see guys I could meet. I will probably never otherwise meet you in person like this or it will take more organization to do so, you know? So I welcome this. And I think next time, which I think should be 2023, so it's two years from now, I think we will probably get our own booth, because I think it's good to establish this presence. As for nuclear in general, the more such events, the more talk about nuclear, the better it is. So I think it's, it's good we are here.

Olivia Columbus
Well, we will look forward to seeing you in 2023 at the next WNE. Thank you so much for joining us today on Titans of Nuclear. It's been a pleasure.

Kamen Kraev
It's been a pleasure as well. And thanks very much for your attention. Hope to see you soon. If you want to speak to me, you know how to find me.

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