Featured voices - May 01, 2019


Nuclear power plant supervisor and divulgator

"Nuclear power is useful to put a stop to global warming"

@OperadorNuclear (Nuclear operator) is the social media handle of the supervisor of a Spanish nuclear power plant and divulgator in his free time. To him, ignorance, which usually generates fear, and false myths are some of the reasons for the negative perception of nuclear power. In his opinion, we must continue to explain to citizens that “nuclear power is necessary to continue our economic and social development, and, along with renewables, it is also useful to put a stop to global warming”.

You work as supervisor at a Spanish nuclear power plant. How do you balance your work at the plant and as divulgator through social media, both of which require a lot of dedication?

One of the advantages of working a shift (morning, afternoon and night) is that you have a lot of free time, albeit at different times. I do most of my communication activities via Twitter, but I am also in Instagram and Facebook with the same handle. We recently set up the Facebook group “Auxiliares de Operador Nuclear” (Operador Nuclear’s helpers). I prepare a lot of material on a deferred basis and do most of my activity with my smartphone, which allows me to publish small divulgatory pills at almost any moment of the day. It certainly does take a lot of my time, but it is clearly worth my time because I find it satisfying, and I honestly believe my work is beginning to make an impact.

"The supervisor license entitles you to lead the safe operation of a nuclear power plant"

What is the job of supervisor in a nuclear power plant like?

The supervisor license, granted by the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) to persons with an operator license that underwent an additional two-year training program with very difficult exams, entitles you to lead the safe operation of a nuclear power plant, including the operators’ work, guaranteeing compliance with the Operating Technical Specifications, all the official documents and procedures. In practice, this translates to having an in-depth knowledge of the daily operation of the nuclear power plant. This includes supervising maintenance and tests on equipment, coordinating and supervising the operation shift regarding all the manoeuvres and work, ensure that the shift’s training is well applied, and managing said shift in coordination with the rest of departments in less common situations such as refueling outages, incidents and accidents.

Why did you choose this profession?

I must admit that I started almost by chance. I sent my resume to my plant and they called me a year later; I had been pre-selected as an Operator. After several tests I was selected, along with other colleagues. I underwent a very arduous three-year training process and weekly exams with a passing grade of 8/10. These tests covered all the topics related to my future occupation. During this training I began to love my profession, as operator this love grew. I have spent many years in this profession and lived difficult as well as fun moments, but it has always been exciting.

"Nuclear energy is fascinating"

Would you encourage young people to study and become specialized in nuclear energy?

I believe young people must dedicate themselves to the career that makes them happy, which is usually aligned with their own aptitudes. From that point of view, I encourage young people to keep an open mind and learn about many different fields, especially during their teens: read books, document themselves via the Internet, leave no questions or interests unanswered. That is how they will be able to find their way. Nuclear energy is fascinating, but no less than other branches of science, technology and the arts. We do not need more nuclear engineers; we need nuclear engineers who are passionate about their profession.

"What endorses my work is that I always quote official and prestigious sources"

In Twitter you define yourself as an independent communicator on nuclear science and technology. What would you say to those who believe there is no such independence?

It is difficult to fight against prejudices, and it is nearly impossible to prove something that does not really exist. The burden of proof must fall on the accuser, and no one has any proof that I am not independent. I have often discussed this issue privately with some of my most admired Twitter divulgators, and they always tell me the same thing: what endorses my work is that I always quote official and prestigious sources and my data can be perfectly verified, and that what really matters is not who I am or represent but the fact that what I say is true and verifiable. That said, I do not believe that getting paid for saying the truth can take away any veracity from the arguments. There are true professionals of communication and journalism and in the communication departments of companies and organizations that earn a much-deserved salary for doing their work with rigor.

What led you to launch this divulgation campaign?

Everything started by chance, just as the most exciting adventures happen. After the Fukushima accident in 2011 the commotion I felt for the human drama caused by the earthquake and tsunami that followed on the Japanese coast became impotence as I read and observed the way the mass media covered what was going on at the nuclear power plant. The terror felt by many people with family in Japan, as well as the huge amount of exaggerated and erroneous information moved me to act. By then, a new blog on scientific divulgation called Amazings (currently Naukas) gave me new hope thanks to its objective and scientific coverage of the accident. I felt encouraged to send them an e-mail congratulating them on their excellent work and offering myself as consultant for anything they might need, as long as I could stay anonymous. They loved my message and asked me to write it in the form of an article. That is how my first act of divulgation came through, in an article titled "Carta de un Jefe de Sala de una central nuclear española" (letter from a Spanish nuclear power plant manager). At the end of the article I offered to answer the readers’ questions. What happened next was as surprising as it was difficult: I spent three days answering hundreds of questions, almost nonstop. One of the readers called me “Operador” (Operator) and I decided to answer to that name. After several weeks of media attention, the accident became secondary (not so in our job at the nuclear power plants). Since 2016 I started my divulgation work more actively.

"I often speak to nuclear physicists, astrophysicists, theoretical physicists, engineers from all fields, geologists or doctors that give me advice and help me add credibility to my affirmations"

What type of tools did you embrace?

I needed a medium where I could inform on nuclear science and technology to try to dissipate unnecessary fears, and I chose Twitter. This network allows you to reach many people with short precise messages and post small knowledge pills, avoiding long and boring texts; you can also post images and link to documents. I adopted the @OperadorNuclear username. The fact that a large portion of the scientific dissemination community, politicians and the media used Twitter, made it even more suitable. Thanks to Twitter I achieved a large outreach as well as multiple contacts with diverse profiles such as politicians, journalists and scientists. Thanks to this I published articles in Xataka, Microsiervos and Naukas [other scientific blogs]. I often speak to nuclear physicists, astrophysicists, theoretical physicists, engineers from all fields, geologists or doctors that give me advice and help me add credibility to my affirmations with official documents supported by prestigious institutions. I like to say that I walk on the shoulders of giants.

Is this dedication to spreading knowledge on nuclear energy worthwhile?

I find it satisfying to see how things are gradually changing. I do not want to get too optimistic or come off as vain, but I have many private conversations with people that are relevant to the energy field that tell me that my work in influencing political parties, companies and public opinion. To fully believe this I need to see many more followers. I deal with a very specific topic, but for now I believe my outreach is very limited. My greatest satisfaction is my daily interaction with my followers and the rest of communicators. We share a mutual admiration and I learn from them every day.

"I really enjoy debunking myths, unveiling lies and informing"

Your nearly 20,000 Twitter followers (at the time of this interview) make you the nuclear expert of greatest interest in the web. What do you think is the key of this success?

I believe it was a combination of several factors. First of all there was an open niche in the nuclear sector, meaning that there was no nuclear professional who spread information with a certain methodology and regularity. Secondly, several coincidences supported my work: a passion for learning and explaining, technical knowledge of my job (just like all my colleagues), a certain capacity to summarize a clear and concise message in a few words (thanks to preparing shift changes at my job), knowledge of the way social media works… and why not say it: I really enjoy debunking myths, unveiling lies and informing.

"I have lost track of all the people who publicly acknowledged that they changed their mind regarding nuclear power after following me"

Have you changed the way any of your followers think about nuclear power? Could you give us an example?

I have lost track of all the people who publicly acknowledged, and this is not an easy thing to do, that they changed their mind regarding nuclear power after following me. They said things like “My vision on nuclear energy has totally changed. I still see the disadvantages but now I cannot ignore its virtues”, or “count me among those who learn from you every day and whose perception of nuclear power has radically changed”; “I was against it, but after reading your articles and tweets I have embraced nuclear power”; “thanks to your divulgation work you have turned me into a die-hard enthusiast of renewables”; “your divulgation turned me from antinuclear to pronuclear, as long as there is nothing better”. These messages are always welcome, because, as I always say, they are my “salary” as a divulgator, and because they represent a large responsibility that I respectfully assume.

What do you think is the greatest problem of nuclear power currently?

Definitely, the ignorance fed by other interests, fundamentally by renewable energy producers that see nuclear energy as a potential enemy to attract investors. The lack of knowledge in the population has multiple additional causes: the initial relationship of nuclear power with nuclear weapons and their deployment during the Cold War; popular culture feeding myths, especially in cinema, and logically nuclear accidents, especially Chernobyl. I have tried to prove that this accident cannot be an example against nuclear energy because of the insurmountable differences in design and methods of operation between our plants and the one that suffered the accident. In short, I still have a lot of work to do.

"We face a formidable challenge: to explain to citizens that nuclear energy is necessary"

What would you like to add?

I would like to give thanks for the opportunity to do this interview. It will no doubt help give more visibility to my work in the Spanish nuclear sector and perhaps to awaken new vocations to divulgate among my colleagues. We face a formidable challenge: to explain to citizens that nuclear energy is necessary to continue our economic and social development as well as, along with renewable energies, to put a stop to the global warming that is causing climate change.

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