The emerging artists of the nuclear renaissance

By  Suzanne Hobbs

The Renaissance (Italian: Rinascimento; French: Renaissance, from ri- “again” and nascere “be born”) is a cultural movement that spanned roughly from the 14th century to the 17th century, beginning in Florence, Italy, in the late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. As a cultural movement, it encompassed a resurgence of learning based on classical sources, the development of linear perspective in painting, and gradual but widespread educational reform. Although the Renaissance saw revolutions in many intellectual pursuits, as well as social and political upheaval, it is perhaps best known for its artistic developments and the contributions of such polymaths as Leonard daVinci and Michelangelo, who inspired the term Renaissance man.

During the Renaissance, art and science were not seen as separate fields of thought, but rather interconnecting tools for understanding the natural world. In studies like anatomy and architecture, the lines between art and science disappeared almost completely. Many of the artists of the Renaissance were essentially engineers, coming up with new inventions and using their broad skill base to implement their designs. The emergence of the polymath—an individual who is highly knowledgeable in multiple fields—is evidence that true innovation is born from the convergence of multiple perspectives.

In today’s culture, it sometimes seems that artists and engineers could not be more different. This doesn’t mean that we can’t share our perspectives and work together toward a common goal. Engineers are doing an excellent job in coming up with innovative new reactor technologies and solutions to responsible waste management, which will help provide clean, reliable energy for more and more people over time.

Unfortunately, many nuclear technologies are gravely misunderstood, or are largely missing from the pubic dialogue about energy in the United States. Even if an average citizen truly wants to find information about nuclear energy, it can be difficult to locate appropriate resources. The information that is available to the public usually falls into one of three categories: (1) it is too technical for the average person to interpret, (2) it is a good resource, but is being distributed only to people who are already in the know, (3) it is intentionally meant to mislead the person into fearing nuclear energy.

Bridging the gap between nuclear science and the public

In the historical Renaissance, artists played an integral role in popularizing science through the creation of paintings and sculptures that used linear perspective and accurate human anatomy. Today, we have several up-and-coming polymaths who are following in the footsteps of the Renaissance masters in providing contemporary arts-based resources for bridging the gap between nuclear science and the public. Their media are not paintbrushes and chisels, but rather computers and cameras. I’d like to introduce some of the artists who are bringing creative efforts to the table, in the shared effort to ignite the nuclear renaissance in the United States.

Kaplan

First, Jason Correia, an experienced Web developer and photographer, has been working behind the scene on several popular pro-nuclear blogs. He has also been creating original photography for PopAtomic’s “Face of the Nuclear Renaissance” art exhibit. His work is directly focused on changing the negative stereotypes associated with the nuclear industry, and as you can see from this portrait of Alexis Kaplan, nuclear engineering student at the University of California–Berkeley, he is doing a great job.

Jason also has a knack for comparative energy imagery like this mockup of the quantity of wind turbines it would take to generate the same amount of energy as a single nuclear reactor.

Click to Enlarge

Next up we have Tim Denton, who became interested in making artwork regarding nuclear energy while working in security at Nuclear Fuel Services. His ability to understand and visually communicate complex information in simple ways is unparalleled. He has amassed an impressive portfolio of three-dimensional videos that are used for training within the industry as well as outreach to the public. His work really speaks for itself. You can check out his full portfolio.

Finally, there is Raymond Wallman, who is in the process of concluding his full-length documentary film “Shoreham.”

“The movie touches on several very relevant themes,” said Wallman. “The first is the safety and efficiency of nuclear power. At a time when many politicians and advocacy groups are campaigning for the shutdown of many presently operating nuclear power plants, people need to know that nuclear is the only source of non-greenhouse gas-emitting energy that can properly satisfy future demand. The second and equally important theme of the film is scientific literacy in the news media. What was partially responsible for the shutdown of the Shoreham plant was a journalistic establishment that was ignorant of what constitutes reliable scientific information. Through the spread of sensationalistic misinformation, journalists were able to turn public opinion against the operation of the Shoreham, who in turn pressured politicians to close the plant.”

Woodman’s Web site has more information on the film.

Each of these artists has independently come to the conclusion that nuclear energy is the best solution to our energy problems, and is finding creative ways to share critical information with the public. They also have an in-depth understanding of the unique barriers facing the nuclear renaissance in the United States. We know that video, film, Web design, and photography have all been successfully used to scare people into opposing nuclear energy. We can also use these powerful tools to communicate accurate information, by appealing to the public with meaningful artwork.

For me, the historical Renaissance represents a time when artists were known as skilled, educated individuals who were treated with veneration and respect. These artists highlighted in this post are deserving of the same level of respect and support in their endeavors. Please take the time to learn about their work, and take note of some of the great resources they are providing to the nuclear industry.

Hobbs

Suzanne Hobbs is creative director and contributing artist at PopAtomic Studios. She was born in Tokyo, Japan, and raised in Atlanta, Ga., by her nuclear engineer father and social worker mother, along with an older brother who is now an accomplished chemist. Her interest in art, science, and humanitarian issues started very young, fueled by frequent family travel and a sharp focus on education and community involvement. She attended Appalachian State University to study Fine Arts and since graduating has worked with several public arts organizations, always with the goal of using art to create positive change. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

10 responses to “The emerging artists of the nuclear renaissance

  1. I often wonder if many of the public acceptance issues had stemmed from a lack of the artistic perspective. Glad to see these new artists helping spread nuclear knowledge.

  2. I think that art is the missing link in communication strategies when it comes to nuclear energy. After all, Art is the universal language. And when an industry adopts the word “Renaissance” into it’s terminology, it’s only a matter of time before the arts community takes notice!!

  3. Suzy – another very interesting post. In particular, that “Shoreham” documentary sounds intriguing. I really think Shoreham has the potential to be a great subject for a documentary, and I think the public at large needs to learn about Shoreham – I was basically unaware of the Shoreham fiasco until sometime last year (don’t remember when I first heard about it, but it hasn’t been that long, maybe 9 months).

    I think Shoreham might be the biggest reason that the nuclear industry hasn’t built new reactors in 30 years. There are multiple reasons, of course, all important, but one of the big problems for the nuclear industry is getting investors to put up the large amounts of money needed to build a plant. And why would they? Shoreham was built to the tune of 6 Billion dollars, then was torn down without ever operating for a single day, because of a bit of “genius” regulation which allowed the N.Y. governor to effectively veto the plant at the 11th hour, AFTER construction, AFTER all that money was spent.

    It’s just insane. Who wants to invest in an industry where something like that can happen?

    One last thing, a bit off-topic. In one of your previous posts (don’t remember if it was here at the cafe, or over at the popatomic blog), you had a 3 rendering of a nuclear plant, with the cooling towers painted up with bright, cheerful artwork. I just think that concept is truly inspired.

    Among my early childhood memories, growing up in Northeast Ohio, about 20 miles from the Perry Nuclear Power Plant, was frequently seeing the plant’s cooling towers off in the distance. From a distance, that’s really all you can see of the plants, because the rest of the plant is too low to the ground to show up above trees and the low, rolling hillsides in the area.

    Well, some people had the nickname, for those cooling towers, of “The Devil’s Horns”. Particularly in the evening, a bit before sunset, when the towers got somewhat dark, but were still visible, and the red FAA-mandated aviation safety lights rigged to the towers came on, the towers did, in the imagination of an 8 year old, look somewhat foreboding and evil. Even in daylight, when you looked at the two towers, they did look like they could be the horns of some *gigantic* demon.

    Anyhow, the reason I bring this up, is that when I had seen that rendering of the brightly decorated cooling towers in your previous post, I remembered the power of those early impressions I had of the Perry Plant, and how they contributed to my early impressions of nuclear power, and I’ve been meaning to followup with a comment that, if nobody has painted up any towers yet, I think it’s really a great, great idea. Those towers can be a bit unnerving, I think, even to adults.

  4. @Jeff,

    Shoreham certainly is a critical link in the history of the American Nuclear Industry, especially regarding the 30 year stall we have experienced. I’ve been able to preview parts of the film, and I think it will have a big impact. I’ll be sure to update when the film is released!

    And thanks for sharing your story about the presence of cooling towers during your childhood and how it affected your perceptions of the plant! It is amazing how strong an icon the towers are in our culture, and I think we can take that visual power and turn it into something positive, through the incorporation of public artwork. I’ve been trying to get TVA to consider painting the Bellefonte cooling towers, but they haven’t been very responsive….but persistence is key, and I haven’t given up yet!

  5. @Suzy, I wonder if you might have an easier time convincing a private utility, like Entergy, First Energy, Duke/Progress, etc? I just wonder – TVA is a government owned corporation, and anything they do that might be the slightest bit controversial might become the subject of national political theater, so they might, perhaps, be a little bit more averse to being the first to do something new like that?

  6. Couldn’t agree more. I’m writing a little nuclear renaissance manifesto that includes this (and also explains why you will get a tepid response from the plant managers):

    “Today most atomic energy facilities are brutally industrial-looking structures. Hulking concrete containments and razor-wire fences give an impression of solidity and security, but also extreme danger lurking within. If more attention were given to style, emphasizing the clean lines and high-tech aspect of the facility, it would start to subtly change the public perception. Security features could be camouflaged or hidden behind landscaped berms. Cooling towers and containments attract interest and provide giant billboards – use them! Although most hard-nosed nuclear plant managers would consider these ideas frivolous, in the public relations business perception is reality.”

  7. Suzy – Thank you for another thought provoking post about the natural melding of art and technology.

    With regard to Ray’s Shoreham project, let’s figure out a way to get him the resources needed to finish up and get that movie out. He has already done most of the heavy lifting; the last time I spoke with him all he needed was about $5k. That is truly a tiny amount of money considering the potential impact.

    Unfortunately, my ability to stimulate fundraising has not been so great. I tried to get Atomic Insights readers to help out, but I think we only managed about 1/3 of the goal and those pledges evaporated due to the rules of a Kickstarter project that does not reach its full goal.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights

    PS – yes, I will admit to some selfish reasons for wanting to help this particular project get completed and published.

  8. @Jeff, you bring up a good point about approaching private unties in the future. Bellefonte has some benefits as a potential site because it has two fully constructed cooling towers, but no nuclear materials on the grounds. The safety and security measures needed to implement a public artwork would be considerably less than trying to work at an active reactor. But, with new construction happening at several privately held sites we should have other options in the near future!

    @AtomikRabbit, I would love a to see a copy of your manifesto when it is finished!

    @ Rod, I agree, the community and industry needs to be pitching in to help Ray finish his film, as well as with other important projects like the Energy Education Project. The lack of funding for public outreach is the crux of the stall in the industry for the past 25 years. If the public fully understood nuclear energy, they would demand more of it, and the industry growth would take off.

    I would like to know the annual advertising/outreach budgets are for coal, oil and nuclear? I read that the coal industry spends $150 Million annually, while the nuclear industry spend 1.5 Million, but I can’t find a source for the info. I haven’t been able to get into the corporate records, but it would be great if someone more savvy than myself could confirm or deny those figures.

    I also wonder how much of the coal advertising budget is going to “green” anti-nuclear groups? I’ve been in a debate with the “Nuclear Information and Resource Service” here in Asheville and their budget last year was $400,000, while PopAtomic came in at just under $10,000. Again, I can’t seem to find sources on where that money is coming from, despite their non-profit status.

  9. “I can’t seem to find sources on where that money [to the Nuclear Information and Resource Service] is coming from, despite their non-profit status.”

    If the power plant operators who are being repeatedly defamed by outrageous and demonstrably false statements from these misinformation groups would haul the propagandists into court to either prove or cease their allegations, it could provide the additional benefit of discovering their funding sources under penalty of perjury.

    For the last thirty years that I have observed this industry, their main strategy has been “lie low and maybe they will forget we are here.” It’s high time to go on the offensive. A few multi-million dollar libel judgments (”the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, or nation a negative image”) will make these people think twice about slinging mud.

  10. Actually, PG&E tried that with Mothers for Peace. California has an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, i.e., suing someone to stop them from criticizing you). MFP prevailed (slander or libel have high barriers of proof, so it appeared that the utility was suing merely to stop MFP from protesting). We will likely have better fortune in the court of public opinion than the court of law.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s