If we all experience what Andy Warhol called our “fifteen minutes of fame,” I had mine in Bulgaria, a small Balkan nation I visited six times in the early 1990s. As a Westinghouse PR manager it was my job to inform the Bulgarian media of my company’s capabilities related to the country’s nuclear program. I knew nothing about Bulgaria when I first visited in 1991. And, I soon learned, Bulgarians knew nothing about Westinghouse, as well. It was my mission to inform them, but it wouldn’t be easy. I survived tricky press tactics, highway breakdowns, dreary hotel rooms and the evils of grape brandy – and ended up loving this ancient country, its culture, and people.
Westinghouse’s high-profile nuclear plant upgrade project in Bulgaria generated a lot of media attention and I was often thrust into the spotlight. My interviews and photos appeared in a dozen Bulgarian newspapers through the years. I even appeared on Bulgarian television nightly news! (See clip below.)
One of my tasks involved organizing the company’s participation in Bulgaria’s International Plovdiv Fair from 1991 through 1995. Our large exhibit space gave us a venue for meeting with customers, media and government officials. At left I’m talking to former Prime Minister Filip Dimitrov at the fair in 1992.
During that same year I visited the Soviet-designed Kozloduy nuclear plant. A May 1992 issue of Time magazine featured a cover story on the facility, titled “Europe’s Nuclear Nightmare.” The feature began with a series of quotes from a disgruntled nuclear plant worker who said the plant “could blow up at any minute.” Because Westinghouse was contracted by the Bulgarian utility company to upgrade the plant’s safety systems, Kozloduy management asked me to prepare a policies and procedures document that would help the utility improve its public information programs and prevent leaks to the press.
So, what does one wear when visiting a nuclear nightmare? How about a pin-striped, seer-sucker suit and four-inch heels. As usual, I was inappropriately dressed for walking through an industrial area. Later, I cracked open my forehead as I was getting in the car to leave the facility. This nuclear accident caused quite a stir, as plant workers poured out of the building to help me. Oh well, at least I can say my hot, home-style lunch in the plant cafeteria was the best meal I’ve ever eaten at a nuclear facility. Pictured in the photo with me is my friend Boyan Setchensky, the brilliant engineer from our office in Sofia, Bulgaria.
© Dana Spiardi