Young voices lifting up the pro-nuclear movement

The audience was surprised.

The young man who came to talk to them about advocacy for nuclear energy was standing before them belting out an operatic version of “The Impossible Dream” from “Man from La Mancha.” As far as utility conferences go, one could call this a departure from the norm.

Eric Meyer

Eric Meyer of Generation Atomic speaking at the Northwest Public Power Association annual meeting.

But Eric Meyer is a man of many talents, opera being but one (B.A. in Vocal Music). Grassroots advocacy is another, hence his founding of Generation Atomic. His talk to the Northwest Public Power Association in Sunriver, Ore., this spring showed how direct outreach to people is helping build support for nuclear energy in the places it is needed most – currently Ohio. There, two nuclear energy plants are facing difficult times due to deregulated energy markets that don’t adequately value reliable and carbon-free electricity.

“We deregulated the energy markets thinking the only thing that mattered was price to consumers,” Meyer told me. “Then we realized that wasn’t the whole story. We care about clean energy. We care about reliable energy.”

Getting started

Meyer hadn’t thought much about nuclear energy growing up and admits he probably had a vague disrespect for it because of watching The Simpsons. But in 2009, a friend sent Meyer a video on molten salt reactors.

“(I)n that video they talked about other reactor designs and how with nuclear you can do things that you can’t do with other energy sources, like make carbon-neutral synthetic fuels, desalinate water and, just in general, have reliable electricity that doesn’t harm the environment.”

That opened his mind to the concept of nuclear energy being a good thing. So he changed his education focus to public policy and advocacy and a year ago jumped into nuclear advocacy with both feet.

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Courtesy: March for Environmental Hope

“(Pro-nuclear environmentalist) Michael Shellenberger invited me to come out to Berkeley and help organize a pro-nuclear climate march, the March for Environmental Hope. We had three big events and were able to build some momentum,” Meyer said.

Meyer felt more could be done on a grassroots level – and that more should be done to begin building the base of nuclear energy support. So Meyer started Generation Atomic with Tay Stevenson using campaign-style tactics that had worked for them before, such as in Minnesota building support for gay marriage legislation.

“There’s always been a small contingent of pro-nuclear people, people who work at the plants, or your enthusiasts, who haven’t had an opportunity to go into communities before,” Meyer explained. “There’s never been a door-to-door operation for nuclear. There’s been these efforts for clean water, renewables. You go back 30 years and the public wasn’t calling their legislators demanding renewables standards or subsidies. That took a grassroots effort.”

Generation Atomic is so grassroots that for the Ohio campaign, six people shared a Sandusky duplex and slept on air mattresses. “I don’t think we could have made it more clear how grassroots we were.”

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While the accommodations weren’t fancy, Generation Atomic is running a sophisticated operation. Volunteers go door-to-door with a smart phone app that allows potential supporters to find their own path to why favoring nuclear energy is a good thing. And it works. Nearly 60 percent of residents they speak with sign on to the cause, according to Generation Atomic, and nearly 54 percent will take action.

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Screen shots from the smartphone app Generation Atomic developed for volunteers.

“The plant workers get it. The enthusiasts get it. The climate scientists get it. But the public at-large is either not thinking about it or has their perception colored by the media in general,” Meyer said. “The general message (for canvassers) is, ‘nuclear is good for your community in these different ways.’ What’s most important to you?”

Those ways may be jobs, school funding or environmental benefits. “People don’t understand they like nuclear until they understand the implications of losing it.”

Generation Atomic is benefiting from, well, a generation of Americans who see nuclear through a different lens. It’s not about a missile crisis, fall-out shelters or doomsday clocks. They understand technology and how it can help society; it’s comfortable. The only doomsday clock they worry about relates to the climate. For them, nuclear energy is a solution. A good one.

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Good examples of that mindset can be found in Emma Redfoot and Kelley Verner, the University of Idaho graduate students behind Students For Nuclear, a group for students “who have decided that developing and supporting nuclear energy is an important and meaningful way to spend their lives.”

Each came to nuclear energy along different paths. We had a chance to speak to Emma and Kelley during a recent visit to Columbia Generating Station. Watch these short videos to learn more about how they decided to support nuclear energy.

 

 

Learn more about Students for Nuclear by visiting their website.

Unrelenting advocacy
After earning a bachelor’s in nuclear engineering at Texas A&M, Jean Lim found himself in Seattle, not exactly a hotbed of nuclear advocacy. Not yet.

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Jean Lim, Friends of Fission

“People outside the field of study don’t get many opportunities to be in positive conversations about nuclear,” Lim says. “They don’t get a chance to understand what nuclear energy can do for the environment, and really, themselves.”

Lim began his nuclear energy journey while still in high school, wondering what he would choose as a major. Nuclear’s carbon-free generation caught his attention and that’s the direction he ultimately chose. Now he’s working toward a Master’s degree and one day he hopes to work on Generation IV nuclear technology.

“The people I encountered within school and industry were driven and passionate individuals that believed in a science that can better mankind, and I still want to be a part of that. It may have been less romantic in their minds, but that was what I saw,” Lim said.

Lim’s passion for nuclear energy brought him closer to a fledgling group of nuclear energy advocates in the Seattle area, now known as the Friends of Fission.

“After moving here, I took some classes at a local community college to keep up with my technical skills and studies. I also started working with a work counselor and she urged me to continue creating nuclear Industry connections,” Lim said.

One of her suggestions was checking out Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe, as they were hosting a radiation talk that week. The talk happened to be organized by the founders of Friends of Fission, and affiliated with Cascadia Climate Action. Lim found out they wanted to do more talks focused on nuclear energy. “At that point I felt I had a way to continue advocating for nuclear power at a new place, so I started to work with them.”

Lim has helped the group with organizing events and designing graphics to promote them. The positive message of nuclear energy helping the planet with reliable electricity and clean air motivates him.

“We break away from the doom and gloom other environmentalists preach, and try to showcase a piece of the puzzle that can drastically improve our fight against climate change,” Lim told me.

With clear eyes

What I take away from these conversations is that this generation is more fact-based in its focus on solving the big issues, such as climate change, almost linear, in fact. If climate change is devastating to people and the planet, and low-carbon electricity helps reduce climate change, then nuclear energy is a good thing and we should have more of it. They look at arguments such as “what about the waste?” and see answers based in science and opportunities for new technology, not roadblocks or fear. In short, it’s hope shining through.

Yes, there’s something happening here. Make sure you take time to stop and look around.

Then join in. After all, this is the Summer of Nuclear.

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(Posted by John Dobken)

Make this the Summer of Nuclear

Fifty years ago what Wikipedia describes as a “social phenomenon” began spreading across the country, and in some respects around the world. The Summer of Love as it was known marked a deep cultural shift with its roots in an optimism that life could be better – all it took was a will to change the status quo.

Summer of LoveIn the United States, the Summer of Love had San Francisco (and Berkeley, Calif.) as its epicenter, followed by New York City. London provided a hub for European Summer of Love activities and feelings. Music played a key role (The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) as did literature, poetry and fashion, all in service of new ideas and new ways of looking at existing conditions and troubles and asking “why?”

While debates can ensue about the lasting impact of the Summer of Love (The Beatles broke up three years later after all), one point is certain: there would be no going back to the way things were before.

It’s time
Coincidence or not, I’m still not sure, but there is a personal feeling that something significant and positive is afoot with nuclear energy. Not a renaissance, per se, but a revelation. We have reached a time when the cultural and societal perspective of nuclear SoN-PPT1energy is changing for the better, and among new audiences. In this case driven not by music or poetry but science, of all things! Which is good and necessary because science has a way of separating out fact from fear-mongering, which nuclear energy desperately needs to escape an undeserved taint from weapons activity. Nuclear energy wins on the facts every time.

The change, this new momentum, also emanates from California, from Berkeley environmentalist Michael Shellenberger of Environmental Progress; from the Mothers for Nuclear based in San Luis Obispo; and from the many other grassroots pro-nuclear groups that have been building these past few years, including Generation Atomic and Atoms for California and Californians for Green Nuclear Power. The 2013 documentary Pandora’s Promise from filmmaker Robert Stone now seems like The Beatles’s Revolver album, giving a hint of the new and wonderful things to come in nuclear energy advocacy. There is even a handbook for young (and all) pro-nuclear activists written by Meredith Angwin.

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Nuclear energy supporters at last year’s Save the Nukes march.

In Seattle (Seattle!) earlier this year, a two-hour panel discussion on nuclear energy drew 130 people. One of the speakers came from a company, TerraPower, in which none other than Bill Gates is heavily invested. The effort was the work of a new grassroots group, Friends of Fission, which has staged talks and discussions throughout Seattle during the past year. New voices. Fresh voices. Smart voices. Speaking up for the climate and for nuclear energy.

Flowers and sunshine (and reality)
To be fair, the nuclear energy industry faces hurdles in unregulated markets and there’s much work to be done to reach larger and larger audiences with facts and truth. We don’t have a Monterey Pop Festival or Woodstock in our future to reach massive amounts of people (or the deep pockets of the fossil fuels industry). The voices in the media will continue to sound dire and dour notes about nuclear energy as reactors close for various reasons over time (just as all generation projects do). This truly is not unique to nuclear. Just look at the issues with solar energy in Oregon with both projects and manufacturing (and here). Los Angeles County banned wind turbines from its unincorporated areas.

Beginning of the end of wind power? Of solar? Of course not. But the issues are there just the same.

There’s little argument that the growth of renewables has been driven by state renewable portfolio standards and federal tax incentives. Why wind and solar? Because renewables are carbon-free and that’s the kind of electricity the U.S. wants to encourage for staving off the effects of climate change.

Well, nuclear energy is also carbon-free.

States such as New York and Illinois have recognized this with policies to encourage nuclear plants to continue providing reliable, low-cost, carbon-free electricity. Other states are contemplating similar legislation to protect their nuclear plants (and the hundreds of jobs that go with them). Those efforts (and others nicely compiled here by Forbes.com blogger Jim Conca) are being supported by grassroots groups, students and others, including, thankfully, editorial pages.

Our nuclear energy community includes 30 countries worldwide operating 449 nuclear reactors for electricity generation, with 60 new nuclear plants under construction in 15 countries, including four in the U.S. Can I get a “groovy?”

Make this the Summer of Nuclear
The Summer of Love didn’t wash away all the ills and struggles of 1967 or the years that followed. But it became the culmination of a focus on humanity that began years earlier that proclaimed we can do better for each other if we come together with a common purpose. Lowering  CO2 levels is a common purpose, too. Or should be. Continued resistance by some to the number one provider of carbon-free electricity (nuclear) seems more baffling than ever. But it’s out there. The table is set for change.

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Given the coalition that is building organically to save existing nuclear plants and promote the many new nuclear energy technologies in development, this summer seems the perfect time to capture the moment and spread the good word about nuclear energy (and the dedicated, smart, skilled people who help produce it).

Now, more than ever, nuclear energy is needed to power our clean energy economy. Now, more than ever, new voices are joining those who have been fighting the good fight for decades; they are joining the bloggers, scientists and advocates, both in and out of industry, who realized long ago we have something very good here and we can make it even better and more abundant. We can share this technology with the world and help other countries solve their problems of polluted air and poverty. That promotes peace. That’s powerful.

Celebrate the Summer of Nuclear by reaching out and sharing with your friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, that nuclear energy is vital to our future for better health, better jobs and a better engagement with the world. Be positive. Correct what isn’t factual. Join these groups. Make a difference.

The planet will thank you.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Site Studies Begin on Washington’s Largest Solar Project

Neoen, a French independent renewable energy project developer, on Saturday began site studies for what would be the largest utility scale photovoltaic power plant in Washington state.

Neoen plans to build a 20-megawatt photovoltaic solar project in Benton County on land adjacent to the Hanford site. Project completion is scheduled for 2019 and Neoen is actively seeking potential customers for the solar electricity.

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Neoen is planning to build the 20 megawatt solar project on land just north of Richland, Wash.

“Neoen is very proud to be investing in a utility-scale solar project in Washington state. The project will be a competitive source of renewable energy, especially given the downward trend in the cost of solar technology. It is also the first step in Neoen’s long-term strategy in the U.S.,” said Romain Desrousseaux, Neoen Deputy CEO.

Neoen and Energy Northwest signed a lease option agreement on April 18 to lease up to 150 acres of the 300 acre site.

The Tri-City Development Council has been working with Neoen since 2014. The Tri-Cities is well-suited for solar energy because it has the available land, the infrastructure to support power projects and abundant sunshine. TRIDEC recently transferred the property to Energy Northwest, which is supporting the project’s development.

“This is exactly the type of project we envisioned when we began our effort to transfer Department of Energy land to the community for economic development,” said Carl Adrian, President and CEO of TRIDEC.

“The project further solidifies the Tri-Cities’ position as the energy hub for Washington state and confirms that the decision to transfer the land from DOE was correct.

“A huge thank you to Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and former Congressman Doc Hastings, for recognizing the economic potential the transferred land presents to the Tri-Cities,” Adrian added.

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Robert Hurler of Boden und Wasser performs geotechnical studies on Saturday at the site.

Neoen hired Energy Northwest, a generator of more than 1,300 megawatts of carbon-free
electricity for the region, to provide consulting and marketing support.

The geotechnical work that began this weekend will help determine the most viable site for the project.

Background on Land Transfer
On Sept. 30, 2015, the Department of Energy’s Richland Operations Office transferred 1,641 acres of the Hanford site to TRIDEC and the Tri-Cities community for economic development. The date for transfer was established in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act

The TRIDEC-led land conveyance request began in 2010. The City of Richland, Port of Benton and Benton County worked closely with TRIDEC and DOE RL to meet all the requirements for transferring the property.

By the end of first quarter 2016, 1,341 acres had been further transferred at no cost (other than title transfer costs) to the City of Richland and Port of Benton for future economic development with a focus on growing the energy sector of the Tri-Cities’ economy.

TRIDEC transferred the remaining 300 acres to Energy Northwest with the understanding that approximately 100 of those acres would be made available for a solar energy project (view: Neoen Site Map). This project had been in negotiation for nearly two full years.

About Neoen
Founded in 2008, Neoen is an independent supplier of electricity from renewable energy (solar, wind and biomass) and is set to be the first French supplier to reach 1,000 MW of installed power. Neoen has a long term view development strategy and today Neoen operates in France, Australia, El Salvador, Mexico, Zambia, Mozambique, Jordan, Jamaica, Portugal and Ireland. Neoen’s main shareholders are Impala SAS (owned by Jacques Veyrat), the fund Capénergie II (managed by Omnes Capital) and BpiFrance.

Neoen aims to supply power in excess of 3,000MW by 2020, and is opening an office in Washington state to address the U.S. market.

Learn more at www.neoen.com

 

A real nuclear (energy) family

The noisy confines of the turbine building at Columbia Generating Station may not be every couple’s ideal location to celebrate a wedding anniversary, but it was just fine for Doris and James Raila of Louisiana.

The couple marked 37 years of marriage on June 1 doing what they love working for Siemens and supporting Columbia’s biennial refueling and maintenance outage.

On Turbine

Doris and James Raila on Columbia’s low pressure turbine 1-A.

“We’re happy with what we do and with the company we’re with and Columbia is a great place to work,” Doris said. “We enjoy working on turbines. So we were OK and happy with celebrating our anniversary here.”

Doris is a millwright for Siemens, earning journeyman status in 2015 after four years of apprenticeship. “It was intimidating for me at first, when I first started my apprenticeship. There were 30 or 40 guys and I was the only woman,” she said.

But she did it because it would allow the couple to spend more time together. James, a rigging supervisor, has been on the road with Siemens since 1993, working at nuclear plants across the country, including five refueling outages at Columbia. When the last of their three children graduated college, he told Doris he was tired of being on the road by himself. He wanted her to join him.

Directing

James Raila directs a suspended piece of equipment.

“We’ve known each other since we were 13 and 14. So we’ve known each other over 40 years but we’ve been married 37 years June 1,” James said. Then adds with a laugh, “That was a pop quiz, wasn’t it?”

So she did join him, but not as a millwright, not at first. “After a few years of just travelling together I thought, ‘I’m here, I might as well be working,’” she said.

And she is, on the low pressure turbine crew for this outage, making sure tools and equipment are staged so work moves efficiently. In fact, Doris and James are one of five husband-wife teams working for Siemens at Columbia. They credit Siemens with doing a good job keeping them together, not sending them to different locations.

Close Up“Running the roads takes many a marriage and breaks them up, you just got to stay focused and remember what you’re on the road for – it’s family,” said James. “And when we’re on the road the crew is the family.”

After the work at Columbia is finished, it’s back to Louisiana where their other family, including three grandchildren, is ready to wish them a happy anniversary. No hard hats nor safety glasses required.

(Posted by John Dobken; photos by Olivia Weakley)