Professor / Author
Imperial College of London
Aug 21, 2018
Q1 - Path to Nuclear (Pt. 1)
Bret Kugelmass: What drew your interest into the nuclear space?
Malcolm Grimston: Malcolm Grimston read Natural Sciences and specialized in Psychology and doubled in Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. He went on to teach chemistry for seven years; towards the end of his time teaching, nuclear power was just coming onto the chemistry syllabus and Grimston became interested in the topic. Grimston was especially interested in the environmental perspective of nuclear. In 1987, Grimston joined the Atomic Energy Authority and started out with many public presentations. He considers himself an expert in public perception, but literate in a wide range of topics and issues. Grimston spent eight years at the Atomic Energy Authority, three of them incumbent to the Nuclear Industry Association, and also achieved a degree in Philosophy and is an elected politician. Grimston is interested in psychological diversity, specifically the Myers-Briggs typology. It derives from Jung, who argued that our psychology is set down early in life and is somewhat independent of our experience. Myers-Briggs built onto Jung’s work, focusing on the spectra of introversion and extroversion, sensing and intuition, thinking and feeling, and perceiving and judging. Grimston considers himself a noisy extrovert, quite analytical, extremely big picture, and very flexible.
Q2 - Relationship Between Scientists and the Public (Pt. 2)
Bret Kugelmass: How long have you been publishing?
Malcolm Grimston: Malcolm Grimston’s first two books were published by Peter Beck, including “Double or Quits” in 2002. The book aimed to but the pro and anti nuclear cases side by side in six key areas affecting the industry, including economics, technology, and resources. The advisory panel was chaired by Gordon Mackerron, who is usually on the skeptic side of the argument, and included some individuals from Friends of the Earth, and representatives of industry. Writing “The Paralysis in Energy Decision-Making” in 2016 was Grimston’s attempt to pull together all the cross-disciplinary information into a single place. He explores the tripartite relationship between the public sphere, the scientific, technical sphere, and the political sphere. Nuclear has gone through two are three phases, including post-war, in which politicians and scientists trusted each other. Through the sixties or seventies, there was a break in those relationships and trust was lost, creating a period in which practically no decisions were made. Grimston hopes we have entered a third phase in which we arrive at a synthesis of the two previous phases. One chapter looks into the reintegration of expertise into its proper place, analyzing how to get over damage done during a time in which the political fashion was to find reasons for not making decisions. One of the ways for doing that was calling for more regulation and consultation. Grimston did a lot of media work around Fukushima, since he was able to provide context about the physics and nuclear science, but also can communicate to the public effectively.
Q3 - Public Perceptions of Nuclear (Pt. 3)
Bret Kugelmass: Where does your perspective on Fukushima come from?
Malcolm Grimston: Malcolm Grimston views Fukushima as a mid-range accident, but recognizes that it was treated as the worst disaster of mankind. Nuclear is the safest type of electricity that we have come up with, but it is the one most frequently associated with risk. Multiple countries have stopped developing nuclear energy. Fukushima was treated much worse than tragic dam collapses and mining accidents. There’s a broad fundamental arrogance in the physical science establishment that the world reflects our theories. There is a combination of ignorance and irrationality that is wrong with the public, and they need to be filled with the right facts. Each Myers-Briggs type sees the world in a different way and people have different weights of ways of interacting with the world. The nuclear industry had unlimited amount of funds throughout the sixties and seventies. The fatal combination was the budget, which brought on gold plating such as waste management, coupled with the psychological mistake of thinking the public should be told the technology has been made safer. The perception was that, if we tell people the technology has gotten safer, people will get more comfortable with it. However, the reality was that not many industries take this approach of communicating safety, so it constantly reminded the public that it was something to be worried about.
Q4 - Nuclear Waste and Radiophobia (Pt. 4)
Bret Kugelmass: How does nuclear waste compare, in terms of its danger to human health, to petrol or paint stripper?
Malcolm Grimston: Nirex, a body focused on nuclear in the U.K., compared nuclear waste to petrol or paint stripper in the sense that it could cause a problem if not dealt with properly. As a technical analogy, it may not be bad, but as a psychological property, it tells people it is much more dangerous than anything we’ve ever produced by taking drastically different measures. This causes mistrust in the public. If the industry goes to the public and tells the public that radiation is dramatically more dangerous than it actually is and it will be treated as more dangerous than it actually is, the public concludes that radiation is a lot more dangerous than it actually is. Grimston argues that the public is not irrational, but instead takes the information presented to them. After Fukushima, it took a week to calibrate the very sensitive radioactive module, which did detect activity, but found that it was 1/53,000 of the level at which they would get concerned. Due to the sensitivity of the equipment, Grimston hypothesizes that public perception either sees that money was spent on an instrument that can read levels of radiation that are not even a measurement of concern, or that a tool of that level of sensitivity was created because it is known those levels are unsafe and the public is being lied to. Both perceptions increase public mistrust. Radiophobia hardly exists in any other field, such as natural radiation, radon, air travel, and medical radiation. Radiation isn’t a big scare word in any other context except for nuclear energy. Grimston argues one reason for perception is that nobody spends time telling people how dangerous medical radiation is by telling people how safe it is. For the past 20 or 30 years, the nuclear industry has viewed innovation as about improving safety, leading to equipment like the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR). Not much has been done to bring down the cost of nuclear generation. Fukushima proved that, under the extreme circumstances of the earthquake and tsunami, even 1970’s technology was incapable of killing anybody.
Q5 - Nuclear Safety Systems & Economics (Pt. 5)
Bret Kugelmass: If all the safety systems at Fukushima failed and still no one got hurt, why not start removing safety systems to reduce cost in the plant?
Malcolm Grimston: Malcolm Grimston argues that the question, “How do we make sure Fukushima doesn’t happen again?” should be clearly restated, “How do we make sure, next there is a major release of activity from a nuclear power station, we don’t end up causing massive human misery unnecessarily?” We need to protect people from radiological protection, instead of from radiation itself. After spending decades telling people how safe it is, people make sense that if there were to be a major accident, it would be in a different league from anything else. If innovation is not aiming to bring costs down to become more efficient, but is instead about safety, nuclear becomes priced out of the market. When EDF, one of the bix six companies in the U.K. that distributes gas and electricity, bought British Energy, the nuclear stations were now in the electricity industry and marketed from an electricity business model. The most dangerous nuclear station is the one that you can’t afford to build. In nuclear regulation, there is a “do no harm” clause, but the focus is on radiation. There should not be a single radiological evacuation and exclusion set of criteria, independent of the types of lives of the people that will be affected, for example, farming families compared to more mobile families. The immediate evacuation during the accident of the people living nearby to Fukushima needed to happen, but beyond that, within three weeks to three months, the orders could be lifted. Sometimes, more harm than good can be done by forcing people out of their homes rather than educating people on the circumstances and giving them a choice of the outcome.
Q6 - Changing Nuclear Communication Culture (Pt. 6)
Bret Kugelmass: If the industry wanted to make a change in communication, how would it come about and what would need to happen?
Malcolm Grimston: The political establishments in the U.K. was enormously mature at Fukushima. The role is to not make things worse and, during Fukushima, the main U.K. broadcast media was very measure about what was happening. Fukushima persuaded many people that nuclear was the direction the world should be going for energy. Nuclear going wrong is better than coal going right. So much devastation at Fukushima was entirely unnecessary. Some experts preach that the nuclear industry should own that nothing is perfectly safe, but also that an event like Fukushima must never happen again. These contradictory statements are confusing to the public. Not everyone is emotionally driven, so information like linear non-threshold theory may help the concrete thinkers. But having the human anecdote, linked with concrete facts and observations, communicates a believable message to the public.
Q7 - International Nuclear Success (Pt. 7)
Bret Kugelmass: How do we change the technical strategy to be economically feasible and solve the problems in time?
Malcolm Grimston: The answer is not politically easy, but involves turning the world out to the countries that can do it, South Korea, China, and Russia, who build them at a reasonable cost and manage the projects okay. If you’re buying in projects that are licensed in other countries, you must work with the regulator to get that implemented. We should spend money in countries that have shown they can complete this work. There have been five Level 5 or above accidents in about 1.25 million reactor years. The ultimate position is that accidents happen in industry, but we can mitigate those effects quite effectively. When Grimston visited Fukushima, the only place where people were wearing facemasks was those working directly in the reactor buildings themselves. In Tokyo, one in five people wear facemasks because they correctly perceive that Tokyo is a much more dangerous place to live than Fukushima. Post-war, the physical scientists saw themselves taking over from organized religion and as the keepers of mystical truths. In contrast, science is actually about best guesses. Because of the way scientists set themselves up, trust in science began to decline in the 60’s and 70’s. For a long time, very large numbers of scientific theories were overturned. It is important to remember that scientists are people. Attitudes in the industry need to change and accepting and integrating social science marketing.
Q8 - Future of Nuclear (Pt. 8)
Bret Kugelmass: What is your outlook into the future of nuclear? What needs to happen to have a complete transformation where nuclear becomes the premier power source in the next twenty years?
Malcolm Grimston: Malcolm Grimston does not big reactors, as they are now, taking over as the premier source of energy. There are two possible outcomes. One is that we return world lead generation to recast the debate away from reducing emissions and towards reducing costs. The other big dream is small modular reactors (SMR’s), which there have been concepts for since the 1950’s. Renewables have been around since the 1800’s, since the beginning of electricity. If they were that simple, we would have been doing them decades ago. The current myth is that renewables have no inherent problems. If they do manage to get costs down, manufactured nuclear stations could be the way forward if they can transform the economics. The facts of nuclear are normalizing in the U.K. The nuclear industry has not noticed the disconnect in communication. Because the nuclear industry went bust around 2002, the amount it was spending on public education and information fell off quite rapidly. The correlation is that the less the industry spends on education, the fewer people oppose nuclear power. Perhaps when nuclear stops treating itself different than other industries, people become less worried about it.