A young nuclear engineer talks about "Generation Green"

I recently read the short presentation by Fabricia Piñeiro, a young Generation Z nuclear engineer about how her generation sees nuclear energy. It is an inspiring, insightful and enlightening view that many of us can learn from and deserves reproducing in full. I thank her for making it available to John's Musings. Please have a read! JB

[Fabricia Piñeiro is Director, CANDU Business Development, Westinghouse Electric Canada, and a member of the International Youth Nuclear Congress (IYNC).]


Statement by Fabricia Piñeiro for the IAEA Scientific Forum on Nuclear Power and the Clean Energy Transition, Vienna, 23 September 2020

It is my deep honour to join you today as we close this year’s Scientific Forum on Nuclear Power and the Clean Energy Transition.

Today, I will discuss the power that young generations have to more effectively communicate the benefits of nuclear energy in the fight against climate change, by leveraging diversity, social media and a general sense of purpose.

It is not a coincidence that Millennials and Generation Z are also called “Generation Green”. They are socially conscious consumers, more inclined to recycle, and seriously concerned about the environment.

Not only are we a powerful group from a consumption perspective, shaping markets with our continuously growing spending power; we also have the ability to influence others at a mass level. This is thanks to the enormous public platform that we have collectively mastered: the internet and social media. But why does that matter? Well, because change relies on people coming together in movements that are large and robust enough to successfully challenge the status quo.

When it comes to the nuclear industry, many of the young professionals, like me, who joined the workforce in the last 15 years have joined because of the industry’s remarkable scientific and technological advancements. But not just that. Many of us have joined AND remained within the industry because we know that our work has a direct positive impact on the world. This sense of pride and purpose is what keeps us going.  It is contagious and inspiring. It is what organizations like the International Youth Nuclear Congress (IYNC) aim to nurture, so that more young people are committed to making it a better, and stronger, industry. And everyone here today plays a vital role in achieving this goal through engaging with, mentoring and providing opportunities for the younger generation to continue to be effective in furthering this conversation.  

Given the far-reaching power of social media, it is not a surprise that public relations and communications have become one of the most important pillars of any company’s or even industry’s success. Talking to ourselves, dismissing public concerns, being defensive about open criticism – this is simply no longer viable.

 Although vital, communication professionals are not the only ones capable of effectively conveying the benefits of our industry. In fact, the scientists and engineers who work on these nuclear projects and have an undeniable sense of pride for what they do can have a much larger impact and a much stronger voice through their regular day-to-day interactions.

Out of these scientists and engineers, it is often young people – and, more specifically, women and minorities – who can have the biggest impact to offer. Why? Simply because they are more relatable to the public. Younger generations have an inherent questioning attitude.  So, when a young person endorses something, a sense of implicit trust is created.

Diversity is fundamental to effectively communicating and interacting with the public. It creates an inclusive environment where creativity and innovation flourish and perspectives are broadened. Not-for-profit organizations such as IYNC and Women in Nuclear have a tremendous role to play in fostering this diversity and creating unbiased links between the public and industry. Organizations like the IAEA are also doing their part through powerful campaigns – such as the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Program, which recognizes the importance of including women in STEM and the paramount role that diversity plays to drive global scientific and technological innovation.

So, what CAN we do? We can’t speak in platitudes without raising eyebrows, and we can’t quote scientific risk measures in the order of 10^-17. That gives ZERO comfort to the public.

Rather than using mutually exclusive language, or polarizing rhetoric, we should focus on how we can make all clean energy technologies, work TOGETHER.

We need to be valiant and say: we don’t have a perfect solution, but we have a safe one, and we are working on enhancing it further. The messaging should evolve to an all-encompassing view of how nuclear can be integrated with other sources of energy, like renewables. Forging partnerships with groups outside of our industry and at an international level is imperative. Initiatives like the flexible applications of small modular reactors that the CEM NICE Future program is leading is a perfect example of this.

I firmly believe that nuclear is key to a sustainable future and to preserve our environment. So here is my call for action.

To the young generations: know that our voice is strong. We care and we are impacted by climate change the most. Don’t be afraid to challenge, to question, to innovate. Listen to what others in and outside the industry have to say; encourage collaboration. You are our strongest link to the public. Use that link to strengthen our collective voice.

After all, we are all in this together.