Nuclear MythBusting: Using social media to set the record straight
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IDAHO FALLS — Given its high percentage of true believers, Idaho Falls is probably the last place on earth where the merits of nuclear energy need to be argued.
Still, there’s a big wide world out there and it pays to get out in front of any misconceptions that might exist. This is one reason why Idaho National Laboratory began a YouTube series of videos called “Nuclear MythBusting.” Plenty of things said about nuclear energy simply are not true. Some are calculated to create fear and mistrust, while others are born out of lack of understanding.
The segments are hosted by Don Miley, a longtime INL tour guide used to speaking to people in a relaxed yet informative way. (Speaking to a camera is a new experience, he admits.)
“We hear all these myths or old wives’ tales about the lab,” he said. “We decided social media offers us a chance to say, ‘Here’s the real story.’” The first three videos were posted in February and March on INL’s YouTube channel.
A submarine in the desert?
In his years as a tour guide, Miley said he’s heard plenty of strange ideas about what goes on at INL. “Everyone who’s done nuclear communications has their favorites, like ‘there’s a nuclear sub buried out there in the desert.’”
This was on the list of future “Nuclear MythBusting” segments to be produced when the schedule was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. For those who really, really need to know, the story is this:
The S1W reactor – S stood for “submarine,” 1 stood for “first generation,” and W stood for Westinghouse – was built inside a section of a submarine hull at the Naval Reactors Facility on the Arco Desert west of Idaho Falls and was the prototype for the first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, which was launched in 1954. By building the reactor and power plant inside a prototype hull section, engineers obtained valuable information supporting the Nautilus project. The Nuclear Navy was born. S1W was used for training sailors until it was shut down permanently in 1989.
“Our philosophy is, ‘Let’s answer these things as succinctly as we can,’” Miley said.
Paying homage to well-loved show
“Nuclear MythBusting” is an obvious reference to “MythBusters,” the Discovery Channel TV show that ran from 2003 to 2018. When the call went out for contributors, INL intern Steven Petersen’s hand shot straight up.
“I grew up watching MythBusters,” said Petersen, a communications major at Idaho State University. Growing up in Idaho Falls, he’d heard his share of far-fetched rumors, like one about a UFO underneath the Advanced Test Reactor. “It made me want to seek out what the truth is,” he said.
The process for coming up with story ideas is basic brainstorming. Take something you’ve heard from someone – serious or ludicrous – and investigate it. “Bottom line is, we’re trying to help people be more knowledgeable about the lab and its history, as well as the critical research it performs.”
INL looks to social media
Social media platforms represent new opportunities to reach people who might not have paid attention to the lab in the past. While INL’s YouTube channel offers plenty of serious segments about cutting-edge research, there’s great value in seasoning the menu with programming that offers more fun.
“More than anything, it starts a conversation,” Petersen said. “It’s a dialogue between us and the community to take what they think is true and help them get to a point where they’re truly educated on the topic.”