Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Nukes on ice

Washington Capitals NHL team gets unprecedented sponsorship deal

NEI sponsors hockey teamAmong the effects of global warming are signs of earlier than usual melting of ice on Canada’s ponds and lakes which support the nation’s obsession with hockey. It is winter rite of passage for the young men of each generation to step out on the ice with a hockey stick in hand to test their speed, agility, and competitive spirit at an outdoor rink. Hockey players, it seems, now have something in common with the polar bears much further north hunting for seals. The ice is coming later, and ending sooner, and no one is happy about it.

All this is prologue for an outburst of creative thinking from the normally staid suits of “K Street” lobbying fame at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). The nuclear industry trade group, which represents in the U.S. the 104 operating nuclear reactors, among others, has entered into a first-ever partnership with the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League (NHL) to promote nuclear energy to sports fans attending the games or watching it on TV. [press release]

capitalsGrunge_1024x768The unique public relations campaign will be promoted through multi-media channels including signs at the Verizon Center, where the home games are played, in print and radio ads, and on the Internet at the home pages of the Capitals and NEI. For instance, NEI will pay for 30-second ads on all 82 radio broadcasts of Capitals games. See NEI's blog for more details.

It took someone with a hockey player’s nerves of steel to get this campaign approved by the nominally button-down lobbying group. It’s a breath of fresh air in the NEI’s outreach efforts. It brings the images and excitement of a fast paced game to be shared with the message that nuclear energy is a carbon emission free source of power. Future generations of polar bears and hockey players may have reason to thank the current public relations initiative.

Will NEI’s support for Hockey score a goal in Congress?

The unusual relationship between the NHL and NEI in Washington, DC, comes as the nuclear industry ramps up its lobbying efforts to get an acceptable title and terms in the Senate version of the climate bill. Some political analysts think support for nuclear energy in the climate bill is the key to bringing in some Republican votes.

lamar_alexanderSen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) (right) has made a series of speeches calling for 100 new nuclear power plants. Both Democratic sponsors of the Senate climate bill (Kerry, D-MA, and Boxer, D-CA) support nuclear energy up to a point.

NEI said last week the political stance by the two Senate Democrats is “a start in the right direction,” but the trade group also said it is pushing for a “meaningful nuclear title.” This is “K Street” lobbyist talk. It gives a “laurel” to the senators from the two most stridently anti-nuclear states in the union for even mentioning nuclear energy. It also says their position is “hardly” enough progress to be useful.

The Boxer-Kerry bill does go further than the legislation that passed the house, but the legislative language at this time is just a framework with lots of details to be filled in. Energy Sec. Steven Chu chimed in saying the bill should double the level of loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors from $18.5 to $37 billion. The loan guarantees are a form of insurance for investors and are not direct subsidies for the new plants.

wayne-gretzky Chu has also taken to quoting NHL great Wayne Gretzy (right). Speaking to AAAS last May, Chu said the administration’s energy policies need to be forward looking, that is, “skating to where the puck will be.” Will Sec. Chu also put a sign on his desk that says, “the puck stops here.”

Unlike hockey, in which there is one winner and one loser in every game, getting legislation passed on Congress is based on the art of compromise. Senate Democrats will have to negotiate with Republicans not only over nuclear energy, but also over off-shore drilling for oil and expanded development of natural gas. Environmental groups will find that Al Gore’s tag line about the “inconvenient truth” of global warming also applies to the need for nuclear energy.

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