Engaging Coal Communities in Decarbonization Through Nuclear Energy

The United States is committed to the ambitious goal of reaching net-zero emissions globally by 2050, requiring rapid deployment of clean energy domestically and across the world. Reducing emissions while meeting energy demand requires firm power sources that produce energy at any time and in adverse weather conditions, unlike solar or wind energy. Advanced nuclear reactors, the newest generation of nuclear power plants, are firm energy sources that offer potential increases in efficiency and safety compared to traditional nuclear plants. Adding more nuclear power plants will help the United States meet energy demand while reducing emissions. Further, building advanced nuclear plants on the sites of former coal plants could create benefits for struggling coal communities and result in significant cost savings for project developers. Realizing these benefits for our environment, coal communities, and utilities requires coordinating and expanding existing efforts. The Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation (FESI), the US Department of Energy (DOE), and Congress should each take actions to align and strengthen advanced nuclear initiatives and engagement with coal communities in the project development process.

Challenge and Opportunity

Reducing carbon emissions while meeting energy demand will require the continued use of firm power sources. Coal power, once a major source of firm energy for the United States, has declined since 2009, due to federal and state commitments to clean energy and competition with other clean energy sources. Power generated from coal plants is expected to drop to half of current levels by 2050 as upwards of 100 plants retire. The DOE found that sites of retiring coal plants are promising candidates for advanced nuclear plants, considering the similarities in site requirements, the ability to reuse existing infrastructure, and the overlap in workforce needs. Advanced nuclear reactors are the next generation of nuclear technology that includes both small modular reactors (SMRs), which function similar to traditional light-water reactors except on a smaller site, and non-light-water reactors, which are also physically smaller but use different methods to control reactor temperature. However, the DOE’s study and additional analysis from the Bipartisan Policy Center also identified significant challenges to constructing new nuclear power plants, including the risk of cost overrun, licensing timeline uncertainties, and opposition from communities around plant sites. Congress took steps to promote advanced nuclear power in the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act, but more coordination is needed. To commercialize advanced nuclear to support our decarbonization goals, the DOE estimates that utilities must commit to deploying at least five advanced nuclear reactors of the same design by 2025. There are currently no agreements to do so. 

The Case for Coal to Nuclear

Coal-dependent communities and the estimated 37,000 people working in coal power plants could benefit from the construction of advanced nuclear reactors. Benefits include the potential addition of more than 650 jobs, about 15% higher pay on average, and the ability for some of the existing workforce to transition without additional experience, training, or certification. Jobs in nuclear energy also experience fewer fatal accidents, minor injuries, and harmful exposures than jobs in coal plants. Advanced nuclear energy could revitalize coal communities, which have suffered labor shocks and population decline since the 1980s. By embracing advanced nuclear power, these communities can reap economic benefits and create a pathway toward a sustainable and prosperous future. For instance, in one case study by the DOE, replacing a 924 MWe coal plant with nuclear increased regional economic activity by $275 million. Before benefits are realized, project developers must partner with local communities and other stakeholders to align interests and gain public support so that they may secure agreements for coal-to-nuclear transition projects.

Communities living near existing nuclear plants tend to view nuclear power more favorably than those who do not, but gaining acceptance to construct new plants in communities less familiar with nuclear energy is challenging. Past efforts using a top-down approach were met with resistance and created a legacy of mistrust between communities and the nuclear industry. Stakeholders can slow or stop nuclear construction through lawsuits and lengthy studies under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and 12 states have restrictions or total bans on new nuclear construction. Absent changes to the licensing and regulatory process, project developers must mitigate this risk through a process of meaningful stakeholder and community engagement. A just transition from coal to nuclear energy production requires developers to listen and respond to local communities’ concerns and needs through the process of planning, siting, licensing, design, construction, and eventual decommissioning. Project developers need guidance and collective learning to update the siting process with more earnest practices of engagement with the public and stakeholders. Coal communities also need support in transitioning a workforce for nuclear reactor operations.

Strengthen and Align Existing Efforts

Nuclear energy companies, utilities, the DOE, and researchers are already exploring community engagement and considering labor transitions for advanced nuclear power plants. NuScale Power, TerraPower, and X-energy are leading in both the technical development of advanced nuclear and in considerations of community benefits and stakeholder management. The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), which is hosting NuScale’s demonstration SMR, spent decades engaging with communities across 49 utilities over seven states before signing an agreement with NuScale. Their carbon-free power project involved over 200 public meetings, resulting in several member utilities choosing to pursue SMRs. Universities are collaborating with the Idaho National Laboratory to analyze energy markets using a multidisciplinary framework that considers community values, resources, capabilities, and infrastructure. Coordinated efforts by researchers near the TerraPower Natrium demonstration site investigate how local communities view the cost, benefits, procedures, and justice elements of the project. 

The DOE also works to improve stakeholder and community engagement across multiple offices and initiatives. Most notably, the Office of Nuclear Energy is using a consent-based siting process, developed with extensive public input, to select sites for interim storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel. The office distributed $26 million to universities, nonprofits, and private partners to facilitate engagement with communities considering the costs and benefits of hosting a spent fuel site. DOE requires all recipients of funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, including companies hosting advanced nuclear demonstration projects, to submit community benefits plans outlining community and labor organization engagement. The DOE’s new Commercial Liftoff Reports for advanced nuclear and other clean energy technologies are detailed and actionable policy documents strengthened by the inclusion of critical societal considerations.

Through the CHIPS and Science Act, Congress established or expanded DOE programs that promote both the development of advanced nuclear on sites of former coal plants and the research of public engagement for nuclear energy. The Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) has funded technical nuclear energy research at universities since 2009. The CHIPS Act expanded the program to include research that supports community engagement, participation, and confidence in nuclear energy. The Act also established, but did not fund, a new advanced nuclear technology development program that prioritizes projects at sites of retiring coal plants and those that include elements of workforce development. An expansion of an existing nuclear energy training program was cut from the final CHIPS Act, but the expansion is proposed again in the Nuclear Fuel Security Act of 2023.

More coordination is required among DOE, the nuclear industry, and utilities. Congress should also take action to fund initiatives authorized by recent legislation that enable the coal-to-nuclear transition.

Plan of Action

Recommendations for Federal Agencies

Recommendation 1. A sizable coordinating body, such as the Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation (FESI) or the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), should support the project developer’s efforts to include community engagement in the siting, planning, design, and construction process of advanced nuclear power plants. 

FESI is a new foundation to help the DOE commercialize energy technology by supporting and coordinating stakeholder groups. ARC is a partnership between the federal government and Appalachian states that supports economic development through grantmaking and conducting research on issues related to the region’s challenges. FESI and ARC are coordinating bodies that can connect disparate efforts by developers, academic experts, and the DOE through various enabling and connecting initiatives. Efforts should leverage existing resources on consent-based siting processes developed by the DOE. While these processes are specific to siting spent nuclear fuel storage facilities, the roadmap and sequencing elements can be replicated for other goals. Stage 1 of the DOE’s planning and capacity-building process focuses on building relationships with communities and stakeholders and engaging in mutual learning about the topic. FESI or ARC can establish programs and activities to support planning and capacity building by utilities and the nuclear industry.

FESI could pursue activities such as: 

ARC could conduct studies such as stakeholder analysis and community interest surveys to determine community needs and concerns across Appalachian coal communities.

Recommendation 2. The DOE should continue expanding the Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) to fund programs that support nontechnical nuclear research in the social sciences or law that can support community engagement, participation, and confidence in nuclear energy systems, including the navigation of the licensing required for advanced reactor deployment.

Evolving processes to include effective community engagement will require new knowledge in the social sciences and shifting the culture of nuclear education and training. Since 2009, the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy has supported nuclear energy research and equipment upgrades at U.S. colleges and universities through the NEUP. Except for a few recent examples, including the University of Wyoming project cited above, most projects funded were scientific or technical. Congress recognized the importance of supporting research in nontechnical areas by authorizing the expansion of NEUP to include nontechnical nuclear research in the CHIPS and Science Act. DOE should not wait for additional appropriations to expand this program. Further, NEUP should encourage awardees to participate in communities of practice hosted by FESI or other bodies.

Recommendation 3. The DOE Office of Energy Jobs and the Department of Labor (DOL) should collaborate on the creation and dissemination of training standards focused on the nuclear plant jobs for which extensive training, licensing, or experience is required for former coal plant workers.

Sites of former coal plants are promising candidates for advanced nuclear reactors because most job roles are directly transferable. However, an estimated 23% of nuclear plant jobs—operators, senior managers, and some technicians—require extensive licensing from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and direct experience in nuclear roles. It is possible that an experienced coal plant operator and an entry-level nuclear hire would require the same training path to become an NRC-licensed nuclear plant operator. 

Supporting the clean energy workforce transition fits within existing priorities for the DOE’s Office of Energy Jobs and the DOL, as expressed in the memorandum of understanding signed on June 21, 2022. Section V.C. asserts the departments share joint responsibility for “supporting the creation and expansion of high-quality and equitable workforce development programs that connect new, incumbent, and displaced workers with quality energy infrastructure and supply chain jobs.” Job transition pathways and specific training needs will become apparent through additional studies by interested parties and lessons from programs such as the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program and the Clean Energy Demonstration Program on Current and Former Mine Land. The departments should capture and synthesize this knowledge into standards from which industry and utilities can design targeted job transition programs.

Recommendations for Congress

Recommendation 4. Congress should fully appropriate key provisions of the CHIPS and Science Act to support coal communities’ transition to nuclear energy.

Recommendation 5. Congress should expand the Nuclear Energy Graduate Traineeship Subprogram to include workforce development through community colleges, trade schools, apprenticeships, and pre-apprenticeships.

The current Traineeship Subprogram supports workforce development and advanced training through universities only. Expanding this direct funding for job training through community colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeships will support utilities’ and industries’ efforts to transition the coal workforce into advanced nuclear jobs.

Recommendation 6. Congress should amend Section 45U, the Nuclear Production Tax Credit for existing nuclear plants, to require apprenticeship requirements similar to those for future advanced nuclear plants covered under Section 45Y, the Clean Energy Production Tax Credit.

Starting in 2025, new nuclear power plant projects will be eligible for the New Clean Energy Production and Investment Tax Credits if they meet certain apprenticeship requirements. However, plants established before 2025 will not be eligible for these incentives. Congress should add apprenticeship requirements to the Nuclear Production Tax Credit so that activities at existing plants strengthen the total nuclear workforce. Credits should be awarded with priority to companies implementing apprenticeship programs designed for former coal industry workers.


The ambitious goal of reaching net-zero emissions globally requires the rapid deployment of clean energy technologies, in particular firm clean energy such as advanced nuclear power. Since the 1980s, communities around coal power plants have suffered from industry shifts and will continue to accumulate disadvantages without support. Coal-to-nuclear transition projects advance the nation’s decarbonization efforts while creating benefits for developers and revitalizing coal communities. Utilities, the nuclear industry, the DOE, and researchers are advancing community engagement practices and methods, but more effort is required to share best practices and ensure coordination in these emerging practices. FESI or other large coordinating bodies should fill this gap by hosting communities of practice, producing knowledge on community values and attitudes, or providing technical assistance. DOE should continue to promote community engagement research and help articulate workforce development needs. Congress should fully fund initiatives authorized by recent legislation to promote the coal to nuclear transition. Action now will ensure that our clean firm power needs are met and that coal communities benefit from the clean energy transition.

Frequently Asked Questions
What paths are open to coal miners in the coal-to-nuclear transition?

Transitioning coal miners directly into clean energy is challenging considering the difference in skills and labor demand between the sectors. Most attempts to transition coal miners should focus on training in fields with similar skill requirements, such as job training for manufacturing roles within the Appalachian Climate Technology Coalition. Congress could also provide funding for unemployed coal miners to pursue education for other employment.

What are other challenges in transitioning the coal power plant workforce to nuclear energy?

A significant challenge is aligning the construction of advanced nuclear plants with the decommissioning of coal plants. Advanced nuclear project timelines are subject to various delays and uncertainties. For example, the first commercial demonstration of small modular reactor technology in the United States, the TerraPower plant in Wyoming, is delayed due to the high-assay low-enriched uranium supply chain. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing process also creates uncertainty and extends project timelines.

How is radioactive spent fuel from existing nuclear power plants managed?

Methods exist to safely contain radioactive material as it decays to more stable isotopes. The waste is stored on site at the power plant in secure pools in the shorter term and in storage casks capable of containing the material for at least 100 years in the longer term. The DOE must continue pursuing interim consolidated storage solutions as well as a permanent geological repository, but the lack of these facilities should not pose a significant barrier to constructing advanced nuclear power plants. The United States should also continue to pursue recycling spent fuel.

How will the construction of new SMR plants impact spent fuel management?

More analysis is required to better understand these impacts. A study conducted by Argonne National Laboratory found that while the attributes of spent fuel vary by the exact design of reactor, overall there are no unique challenges to managing fuel from advanced reactors compared to fuel from traditional reactors. A separate study found that spent fuel from advanced reactors will contain more fissile nuclides, which makes waste management more challenging. As the DOE continues to identify interim and permanent storage sites through a consent-based process, utilities and public engagement efforts must interrogate the unique waste management challenges when evaluating particular advanced nuclear technology options.

How will the construction of new advanced nuclear plants affect nuclear proliferation?

Similar to waste output, the risk of proliferation from advanced reactors varies on the specific technologies and requires more interrogation. Some advanced reactor designs, such as the TerraPower Natrium reactor, require the use of fuel that is more enriched than the fuel used in traditional designs. However, the safeguards required between the two types of fuel are not significantly different. Other designs, such as the TerraPower TWR, are expected to be able to use depleted or natural uranium sources, and the NuScale VOYGR models use traditional fuel. All reactors have the capacity to produce fissile material, so as the United States expands its nuclear energy capabilities, efforts should be made to expand current safeguards limiting proliferation to fuel as it is prepared for plants and after it has been used.

Geothermal is having a moment. Here’s how the Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation can make sure it lasts.

Geothermal energy is having a moment. The Department of Energy has made it a cornerstone of their post-BIL/IRA work – announcing an Enhanced Geothermal Earthshot last year and funding for a new consortium this year, along with additional funding for the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE), Utah’s field lab. 

It’s not just government – companies hit major milestones in commercial applications of geothermal this year. Fervo Energy launched a first-of-its-kind next-generation geothermal plant, using technology it developed this year. Project Innerspace, a geothermal development organization, recently announced a partnership with Google to begin large-scale mapping and subsurface data collection, a project that would increase understanding of and access to geothermal resources. Geothermal Rising recently hosted their annual conference, which saw record numbers of attendees. 

But despite the excitement in these circles, the uptake of geothermal energy broadly is still relatively low, with only 0.4% of electricity generated in the U.S. coming from geothermal.

There are multiple reasons for this – that despite its appeal as a clean, firm, baseload energy source, geothermal has not exploded like its supporters believe it can and should. It has high upfront costs, is somewhat location dependent, and with the exception of former oil and gas professionals, lacks a dedicated workforce. But there are a range of actors in the public and private sector who are already trying to overcome these barriers and take geothermal to the next level with new and creative ideas.

One such idea is to use DOE’s newly authorized Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation (FESI) to convene philanthropy, industry, and government on these issues. At a recent FAS-hosted workshop, three major, viable use cases for how FESI can drive expansion of geothermal energy rose to the surface as the result of this cross-sector discussion. The foundation could potentially oversee: the development of an open-source database for data related to geothermal development; agreements for cost sharing geothermal pilot wells; or permitting support in the form of technical resource teams staffed with geothermal experts. 

Unlocking Geothermal Energy

DOE’s Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation (FESI) was authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act and is still in the process of being stood up. But once in action, FESI could provide an opportunity for collaboration between philanthropy, industry, and government that could accelerate geothermal. 

As part of our efforts to support DOE in standing up its new foundation with the Friends of FESI initiative, FAS is identifying potential use cases for FESI – structured projects that the foundation could take on as it begins work. The projects must forward DOE’s mission in some way, with particular focus on clean energy technology commercialization. We have already received a wide range of ideas for how FESI can act as a central hub for collaboration on specific clean energy technologies; how it can support innovative procurement and talent models for government; or how it can help ensure an equitable clean energy transition. 

In early October, FAS had the opportunity to host a workshop as part of the 2023 Geothermal Rising Conference. The workshop invited conference attendees from nonprofits, companies, and government agencies of all levels to come together to brainstorm potential projects that could forward geothermal development. The workshop centered on four major ideas, and then invited attendees to break out into small groups, rotating after a period of time to ensure attendees could discuss each idea. 

The workshop was successful, adding depth to existing ideas. The three main ideas that came out of the workshop – an open source geothermal database, cost sharing pilot wells, and permitting support – are explored in more detail below. 

Open-source database for subsurface characterization

One of the major barriers to expanded geothermal development is a lack of data for use in exploration. Given the high upfront costs of geothermal wells, developers need to have a detailed understanding of subsurface conditions of a particular area to assess the area’s suitability for development and reduce their risk of investing in a dead end. Useful data can include bottom hole temperatures, thermal gradient, rock type, and porosity, but can also include less obvious data – information on existing water wells or transmission capacity in a particular area. 

These data exist, but with caveats: they might be proprietary and available for a high cost, or they might be available at the state level and constrained by the available technical capacity in those offices. Data management standards and availability also vary by state. The Geothermal Data Repository and the US Geological Survey manage databases as well, but utility of and access to these data sources is limited. 

With backing from industry and philanthropic sources, and in collaboration with DOE, FESI could support collection, standardization, and management of these data sources. A great place to begin would be making accessible existing public datasets. Having access to this data would lower the barrier to entry for geothermal start-ups, expand the types of geothermal development that exist, and remove some of the pressure that state and federal agencies feel around data management. 

Cost sharing pilot wells

After exploration, the next stage in a geothermal energy source’s life is development of a well. This is a difficult stage to reach for companies: there’s high risk, high investment cost, and a lack of early equity financing. In short, it’s tough for companies to scale up, even if they have the expertise and technology. This is also true across different types of geothermal – just as much in traditional hydrothermal as in superhot or enhanced geothermal

One way FESI could decrease the upfront costs of pilot wells is by fostering and supporting cost-share agreements between DOE, companies, and philanthropy. There is a precedent for this at DOE – from loan programs in the 1970s to the Geothermal Resource Exploration and Definition (GRED) programs in the 2000s. Cost-share agreements are good candidates for any type of flexible financial mechanism, like the Other Transactions Authority, but FESI could provide a neutral arena for funding and operation of such an agreement. 

Cost share agreements could take different forms: FESI could oversee insurance schemes for drillers, offtake agreements, or centers of excellence for training workforces. The foundation would allow government and companies to pool resources in order to share the risk of increasing the number of active geothermal projects. 

Interagency talent support for permitting

Another barrier to geothermal development (as well as to other clean energy technologies) is the slow process of permitting, filled with pitfalls. While legislative permitting reform is desperately needed, there are barriers that can be addressed in other ways. One of these is by infusing new talent: clean energy permitting applications require staff to assess and adjudicate them. Those staff need encyclopedic knowledge of various state, local, tribal, and federal permitting laws and an understanding of the clean energy technology in question. The federal government doesn’t have enough people to process applications at the speed the clean energy transition needs. 

FESI could offer a solution. With philanthropic and private support, the foundation could enable fellowships or training programs to support increased geothermal (or other technological) expertise in government. This could take the form of ‘technical resource teams,’ or experts who can be deployed to agencies handling geothermal project permitting applications and use their subject matter knowledge to move applications more quickly through the pipeline. 

The Bottom Line

These ideas represent a sample in just one technology area of what’s possible for FESI. In the weeks to come, the Friends of FESI team will work to develop these ideas further and also start to gauge interest from philanthropies in supporting them in the future. If you’re interested in contributing to or potentially funding these ideas, please reach out to our team at fesifriends@fas.org. If you have other ideas for what FESI could work on or just want to keep up with FESI, sign up for our email newsletter here.

Mind the Empathy Gap

Here is some news from recent research in neuroscience that, I think, is relevant for FAS’s mission to prevent global catastrophes. Psychologists Dacher Keltner of the University of California, Berkeley, and Jonathan Haidt of New York University, have argued that feelings of awe can motivate people to work cooperatively to improve the collective good.1Awe can be induced through transcendent activities such as celebrations, dance, musical festivals, and religious gatherings. Prof. Keltner and Prof. Paul Piff of the University of California, Irvine, recently wrote in an opinion article for the New York Times that “awe might help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong.”2 They report that a forthcoming peer reviewed article of theirs in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “provides strong empirical evidence for this claim.”

Their research team did surveys and experiments to determine whether participants who said they experienced awe in their lives regularly would be more inclined to help others. For example, one study at UC, Berkeley, was conducted near a spectacular grove of beautiful, tall Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus trees. The researchers had participants either look at the trees or stare at the wall of the nearby science building for one minute. Then, the researchers arranged for “a minor accident” to occur in which someone walking by would drop a handful of pens. “Participants who had spent the minute looking up at the tall trees—not long, but long enough, we found, to be filled with awe—picked up more pens to help the other person.”

Piff and Keltner conclude their opinion piece by surmising that society is awe-deprived because people “have become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others.” My take away is that this observation has ramifications for whether people will band together to tackle the really tough problems confronting humanity including: countering and adapting to climate change, alleviating global poverty, and preventing the use of nuclear weapons. I find it interesting that Professors Piff and Keltner have mentioned shifting individuals’ interest to the group to which those people belong.

What about bringing together “in groups” with “out groups”? Can awe help or harm? Here’s where, I believe, the geopolitical and neuroscience news is mixed. First, let’s look at the bad news and then finish on a positive message of recent psychological research showing interventions that might alleviate the animosity between groups who are in conflict.

While awe can be inspiring, a negative connotation toward out groups is implicit in the phrase “shock and awe” in the context of massive demonstration of military force to try to influence the opponent to not resist the dominant group. Many readers will recall attempted use of this concept in the U.S.-led military campaign against Iraq in March and April 2003. U.S. and allied forces moved rapidly with a demonstration of impressive military might in order to demoralize Iraqi forces and thus result in a quick surrender. While Baghdad’s political power center crumbled quickly, many Iraqi troops dispersed and formed the nuclei of the insurgency that then opposed the occupation for many years to come.3 Thus, in effect, the frightening awe of the invasion induced numerous Iraqis to band together to resist U.S. forces rather than universally shower American troops with garlands.

Nuclear weapons are also meant to shock and awe an opponent. But the opponent does not have to be cowed into submission. To deter this coercive power, the leader of a nation under nuclear threat can either decide to acquire nuclear weapons or form an alliance with a friendly nation that already has these weapons. Other nations that do not feel directly threatened by another nation’s nuclear weapons can ignore these threats and tend to other priorities. This describes the world we live in today. Most of the world’s nations in Central Asia, Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia are in nuclear-weapon-free-zones and have opted out of nuclear confrontations. But in many countries in Europe, North America, East Asia, South Asia, and increasingly the Middle East, nuclear weapons have influenced decision makers to get their own weapons and increase reliance on them (for example, China, North Korea, Pakistan, and Russia), acquire a latent capability to make these weapons (for example, Iran), or request and receive protection from nuclear-armed allies (for example, non-nuclear countries of NATO, Japan and South Korea).

Is this part of the world destined to always figuratively sit on a powder keg with a short fuse? Perhaps if people in these countries can close the empathy gap, they might reduce the risk of nuclear war and eventually find cooperative security measures that do not require nuclear weapons. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Empathy is a natural human capacity especially when dealing with people who share many common bonds.

If we can truly understand someone we now perceive to be an enemy, would we be less likely to want to do harm to that person or other members of his or her group? Empathic understanding between groups is not a guarantee of conflict prevention, but it does appear to offer a promising method for conflict reduction. However, as psychological research has shown, failures of empathy often occur between groups that are socially or culturally different. People in one group can also feel pleasure in the suffering of those in the different group, especially if that other group is dominant. The German word schadenfreude captures this delight in others’ suffering. Competitive groups especially exhibit schadenfreude; for example, Boston Red Sox fans experience glee when the usually dominant New York Yankees lose to a weaker opponent.4

Are there interventions that can disrupt this negative behavior and feelings? Cognitive scientists Mina Cikara, Emile Bruneau and Rebecca Saxe point out that “historical asymmetries of status and power between groups” is a key variable.5 If the same intervention method such as asking participants to take the perspective of the other into account is used for both groups, different effects are observed. For example, the dominant group tends to respond most positively to perspective taking in which members of that group would listen attentively to the perspective or views of the other group. A positive response means that people’s attitude toward the other group becomes favorable. In contrast, the non-dominant group’s members often experience a deepening of negative attitudes toward the dominant group if they engage in perspective taking. Rather, members of the non-dominant group show a favorable change in attitude when they perform perspective giving toward the dominant group. Importantly, they have to know that members of the dominant group are being attentive and really listening to the non-dominant group’s perspective. In other words, the group with less or no political power needs to be heard for positive change to occur. While these results seem to be common sense, Bruneau and Saxe point out that almost always perspective taking is used in interventions intended to bring asymmetric groups together and often this conflict resolution method fails. Their research underscores the importance of perspective giving, especially for non-dominant groups.6

This research shows promising results that could have implications for bridging the divide between Americans and Iranians on the different views on nuclear power, for example, or the gap between Americans and Chinese on the implications of the U.S. pivot toward East Asia and the Chinese rise in economic, military, and political power. I conclude this president’s message with encouragement to cognitive scientists in the United States and other nations to apply these and other research techniques to the grand social challenges such as how to get people across the globe to work together to mitigate the effects of climate change and to achieve nuclear disarmament through cooperative security.