Alexander Rumyantsev, Russia's atomic energy minister, has won a national prize for public relations, the Silver Archer, in the PR Person of the Year category. He was given the award for his role in the ministry's information policy, support for public projects and co-operation with the media. "For me as a representative of one of the most 'closed' branches in the state, the prize has come as a surprise. I am well aware that openness is as essential an attribute of society's development as science, technology, industry and economics," he said, accepting the honour. Following the Chernobyl accident in April 1986, the worst man-made disaster of the 20th century, public fear of nuclear energy and hatred of scientists who supported it became so intense that the people seemed to be ready to tear down the Atomic Energy Ministry building in Moscow brick by brick. This "radiophobia" had engulfed the whole world and seemed to be incurable.
Scientists began looking for new powerful sources of energy. "But the reality is such that there is no economic or environmental alternative to the peaceful atom in the sustained development of human civilisation," believes Rumyantsev. "There is no other option than to eradicate 'radiophobia' and choose tolerance. A big role in this is no doubt played by information openness," he stressed.
The minister's words did not remain a declaration of intent. Academician Rumyantsev was appointed to his current position less than three years ago. Prior to that, he headed the Kurchatov Nuclear Energy Institute. But in this short period, the scientist, who has worked in the nuclear branch for forty years and is head of one of the most secretive ministries in the country, has become a public figure. His decision to go public was both a personal triumph and a boon for the industry. "People are always right, whether they are ignorant or aware of things," Rumyantsev is fond of repeating. "If the public does not understand something, and is adversely opposed to some of the energy projects, it means we did not explain them enough." In 2003 alone, Rumyantsev had more than 200 media and public meetings, and spoke at round tables, news conferences and in confidential chats. He would reply to any challenging question, explain the role of nuclear energy in life and describe the industry's plans. In 2003, on his initiative, the Public Environmental Council was set up to function under him. Working groups have been established with environmentalists on the most sensitive ecological issues. These regular information efforts have already produced results, as Russian society has recently turned a benign eye on nuclear energy. Interactive polls held by the ministry show that most of the respondents are in favour of the development of nuclear energy. More and more regions are coming round to allowing the construction of nuclear plants on their territories. Indeed, the applications outbid the ministry's investment capabilities.
The energy strategy for Russia provides for accelerating the development of nuclear energy. By 2020, its share in the nation's electricity generation is to grow from 16% to 23%.