Kristin recently was invited to speak at Seattle City Hall on why she supports nuclear energy. The event was an effort by the grassroots organization Seattle Friends of Fission, a group of Seattle-area residents, to ensure nuclear energy is part of the climate change discussion.
You can watch Energy Northwest's LIVE video of the event on Facebook.
What first got you interested in nuclear energy?
Kristin: I’m a civil engineer by training. I chose my profession when I was in my teens, flipping through college catalogs. The pictures of civil engineers were all outdoors, inspecting bridges, taking water samples. I didn’t want to be in an office. In my career I’ve rappelled down enormous concrete structures, swam amongst beautiful Pacific Ocean sea life, hiked along rivers, explored pristine coastland and tide pools, and I’ve done that all while working at a nuclear power plant.
I’m interested in conserving our precious land, cleaning up our air, and protecting our climate. When I connected nuclear energy with the things that I value, my interest in nuclear was born.
Why do you think there is not more widespread acceptance of nuclear energy?
Kristin: Because of people like me. Like many people, I am afraid of things that I don’t know a lot about, I am biased in ways that I don’t immediately realize, and I am not naturally good at assessing risk. We all tend to seek out data that confirms our beliefs. I have spent over fifteen years working at a nuclear power plant, learning, questioning, exploring, discovering. When I started my career, I thought that I was going to uncover a pile of dirty secrets that the mad scientists were hiding. My preconceptions were the product of the mainstream environmental anti-nuclear fear campaign that preys on the public’s lack of information about nuclear power coupled with fear of radiation and nuclear weapons. It took many years for me to shake that fear, but I ended up discovering nuclear energy to be one of the best kept secrets in land conservation and climate action.
If there was one thing you could tell someone to help them understand why nuclear energy is good, what would it be?
Kristin: I’d want them to understand how electricity is generated, how it is transmitted, and the magnitude of our consumption in the developed world. When you look at the abilities and limitations inherent in the technology of each available energy source, and pair that with the environmental pros and cons of each, you realize that there is a trade-off in every energy scenario. We need to understand those trade-offs and make wise choices. With nuclear as part of a clean energy mix, we can provide abundant energy to our growing world and minimize the impacts to people and nature.
What is the greatest myth about nuclear energy?
Kristin: The greatest myth about nuclear energy is that we don’t need it, and that we can decarbonize without it. Germany is a great practical example of this. Germany is succeeding at adding lots of wind and solar power to the electric grid, but still its carbon emissions are rising since this intermittent supply is backed up by fossil fuels. We simply cannot decarbonize our energy supply with renewables as long as they are backed up by fossil. Energy storage is something that we don’t do well at large scale, or for any appreciable length of time. In absence of an energy storage miracle, Germany and many others are doing the only technologically possible thing that they can do and locking in their dependence on fossil.
Looking to the future, what is your hope for nuclear energy, in the U.S. and the world?
Kristin: I want energy access for all of humanity, clean air, a livable climate, and room for nature. I see this happening through the protection of existing nuclear energy, and the expansion of new nuclear and other clean technologies across the world.
Our letter to the editor, published in the San Luis Obispo Tribune:
The proposal to close Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant has the attention of our entire community. The Coalition of Cities, county of San Luis Obispo and the San Luis Coastal Unified School District all realize the devastating economic impacts that a nuclear plant closure will have, and they have become interveners in the California Public Utilities Commission case. But instead of advocating for a few more bucks to slow the painful rip of the financial Band-Aid, our community leaders should use this platform to advocate for the best future for their constituents — continued operation of the plant.
PG&E is not a charity; they are a for-profit company. They are not obligated to become San Luis Obispo County’s benefactor after we’ve closed down their business. Their job is to provide electricity in accordance with the state’s mandates, and that is exactly what they’re doing.
The extra money that our community wants is proposed to come from PG&E ratepayers — not shareholders. This spreads the bill across PG&E’s service territory, which includes many areas of our state that are far less fortunate than us. They are rightly asking why they are being asked to pay for our decisions. The proposal to close Diablo Canyon will raise our electric bills even more, skyrocketing our already high rates — not what we will need after we lose 1,500 jobs and more than $1 billion per year to our local economy. The outrage has just begun, as ratepayers will see this proposal raise their rates in the near-term.
For a county that is seemingly so outraged by oil trains, our citizens and leaders are surprisingly demure about the proposal to close Diablo Canyon. When nuclear plants are closed, the majority of their power is replaced by fossil fuels — every single time. The best way to stop the expansion of fossil fuels is to not need them anymore. If we agree to close Diablo Canyon, we are agreeing to increase our reliance on environmentally harmful and economically volatile fossil fuels — a very sad state of affairs for our environment and our pocketbooks.
The closure of Diablo Canyon will be an environmental tragedy in the midst of a clean energy crisis. This is what our community should be complaining about. We will lose 22 percent of California’s emissions-free electricity, and then hope that we can make up the difference with intermittent technologies. And the ultimate irony? The Joint Proposal to replace Diablo Canyon “with a portfolio of greenhouse gas-free resources” doesn’t actually commit to replacing any of that power. The proposal relies on energy efficiency, i.e. not using as much power. Isn’t that something we should be doing anyway?
The proposal does include a commitment to 55 percent renewables by 2031, long after Diablo closes. However, this actually represents a step down in low-carbon generation — it was 58 percent in 2015, with Diablo Canyon operating. We will be paying more for almost no measurable action on air pollution and climate change.
Our decisions in California are pricing the young generation out of the area and cheating our children out of clean air and a livable climate. We need fresh thinking and bold action from elected officials. Our children and our communities are counting on our leaders to step up and do the right thing for our families — for our futures.
A few months ago, a journalist asked Heather and me about our ideas for the future of Mothers for Nuclear. How would we try to change the conversation on nuclear power? “Are you aiming high, or are you just planning on talking to your friends and neighbors?,” he asked. Something about the tone of his voice got under my skin. It was like if we answered this the wrong way, he would hang up the phone and write us off as nothing more than a glorified book club.
I remember feeling the enormity of our challenge weighing down on me in that one question. How can two moms expect to make a splash in the sea of public opinion? “We have big ideas,” we answered. Of course we will talk with our friends and neighbors, but we will reach beyond our own backyard. When we hung up the phone, I felt overwhelmed.
Last week we spent some time with our kids at a local park. No ulterior motives, just some good old-fashioned fun. But a chance encounter with another mom gave us some encouraging -- and surprising -- insights about connecting with people about issues such as nuclear energy’s critical role in fighting climate change.
That day in the park, we ran around with our kids – ripped jeans, barefoot, dirty faces, uncombed hair – looking for some adventure. After making myself nauseous on a playground feature, I took a break on a bench next to Heather and another mom. The conversation went from school to kid fashion to the latest kid illnesses, and then to nuclear power. It always comes around to nuclear power – we can’t help it.
It was a long conversation, interrupted by skinned knees and snacks. It went something like this, paraphrased of course:
Mom-on-the-park-bench: I’m antinuclear, always have been.
Because I’m an environmentalist, and a mom. Nuclear power is dangerous. Don’t try to change my mind (smiles).
Actually, nuclear power is the safest form of reliable energy, according to peer-reviewed medical studies.
OK, I’ll look at a reference if you send it to me.
You said you’re an environmentalist – do you care about climate change?
Did you know that nuclear power plants emit no greenhouse gases while producing electricity? In terms of life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear is one of the best forms of power that we have. Taking existing plants offline would be a step in the wrong direction for climate.
Oh… can you send me that too?
Well, regardless, I’m worried about earthquakes.
Yeah, we are too. We live in California, after all. But we’re not worried about the nuclear plant’s performance during an earthquake.
Because nuclear plants are designed for earthquakes. And nuclear plants all over the world have been through earthquakes – big ones – and they’ve been fine.
OK, well then I’m worried about the waste.
You mean used nuclear fuel? We think it’s the best kind of waste. It’s not emitted into the air like pollutants or greenhouse gases from fossil fuels. It’s completely contained and monitored, and it’s hurting no one.
We talked for a while longer, learning more about this mom and where she’s coming from. Then out of nowhere she blurted out, “I kind of hate you right now.”
You hate us? The dialogue thus far had been cordial. Plenty of smiles, understanding nods, listening, questioning. Hate was not where I thought this was going. “What do you mean?” I asked her.
She said something like this: “You’re making me rethink my long-held belief, and I can see that my position may be based on my ideology instead of facts. I have so many other demands on my time, I don’t really want to make the effort to look into this. But now that I see the gaps in my position, I owe it to myself to take another look. So I kind of hate you for that. But thank you.”
It was one of the most genuine self-reflections that I’d heard in a long while. And it transported me back in time, to that awkward interview with the journalist. We certainly want to participate in the global conversation on nuclear energy, and we’re making strides all the time. But those face-to-face, heart-to-heart conversations should not be trivialized. They matter just as much, or even more, than any meme or video or bit of media that we produce.
If we could, we would take the time to personally connect with people across the world. What we consistently find is that people everywhere care about the same things – protecting our loved ones and protecting the planet for them. When we make that connection, the discussion about nuclear power becomes an open exploration of facts instead of a battle of emotions.
There are some moments when we kind of hate Mothers for Nuclear too. It’s tempting to respond in kind to propaganda, without challenging our most basic assumptions and beliefs. What is behind those sensational headlines? What does the science say? What are experts in the field saying? Etc. It’s an uncomfortable process, but it’s making us into better people. If moms on school playgrounds across the world are willing to question long-held assumptions, we may still stand a chance in facing our enormous humanitarian and environmental challenges.
Have you had a conversation like this lately? Make a connection, challenge your long held beliefs and show compassion. Share what you know. Change the world.
Clean energy supporters,
Our planet and its people are facing many challenges. The climate is changing. Pollution is rising. People across the world are still without reliable power.
There is hope. Clean, reliable power can clear our skies, cool our planet, improve human health, bring people out of poverty, and protect our natural resources. Nuclear power is the safest, most environmentally friendly way to power and protect our planet. And there is still time to help the public and policymakers understand the facts.
While California is risking our future on unsound policy, New York is on the verge of passing a Clean Energy Standard (CES) that credits nuclear for its role as an emissions-free source of power (via Zero Emissions Credits, or ZECs). Pro-environment legislation like the New York CES will set good examples for other states and nations to follow.
We need your help. Please take a minute to comment on the New York CES, applauding the Public Service Commission’s environmental leadership by ending discrimination against nuclear. Our planet needs all clean energy sources, and we cannot afford to go backwards on emissions while we play favorites with one source over another.
Act now! The comment period ends TODAY, Friday, July 22.
For a comment template or suggestion from Environmental Progress please visit:
Read the proposal here:
Together for the planet,
Mothers for Nuclear co-founder Heather Matteson is interviewed by NPR in this thought-provoking podcast about what it means to be an environmentalist.
Dave Congalton hosted Mothers for Nuclear on San Luis Obispo's News Talk 920 KVEC to discuss the June 21, 2016 Diablo Canyon announcement.
We have a wonderful mentor and friend who often reminds us that "everything will be alright in the end. If it's not alright yet, it's not the end yet."
This morning's message from PG&E leadership on the future of Diablo Canyon was that they will not pursue the relicensing of Diablo Canyon, stating that "much of Diablo's baseload energy output will not be needed past 2025." It is hard for us to imagine a scenario where this is true, and perhaps it depends on the definition of what "need" means.