The Other Side of the Cookie: Anti-Nuclear People in Our Lives

By Meredith Angwin

The woman on the moral high ground

The woman in front of me was standing on the moral high ground; or at least, she thought she was standing there.

“I’m very disappointed in you,” she said.

Physically, we were in a hallway outside an interactive-TV room at a community college near my house. The Public Service Board meeting was in progress (November 19) and she had just finished making a statement against Vermont Yankee. I had left the room to find the ladies’ room, and she had left for the same purpose. But she found me first, and made sure to tell me that she was “disappointed” in me.

Then she added: “I suppose you might say you are disappointed in me, too.”

I answered: “Yes, the feeling is mutual.” That’s what I said, but it wasn’t really true. I wasn’t “disappointed” in her.

More about her and about me

“Disappointed” is an odd word, when you think about it.

She told me that we had met many years ago. I didn’t remember meeting her. However, I have become a bit of a public figure around here, and she remembered meeting me.

Apparently, we had met at a party, shortly after George and I moved to Vermont. We were invited to lots of gatherings in our first few months in this area. Our friends would say “I know someone who lives near Dartmouth” and arrange an introduction for us. I remember the party; it was at the home of a Dartmouth faculty member. It was a summer-time party, with the grill going. As I said, I don’t remember meeting her.

How could she be “disappointed” in someone she barely met?

Then I looked at the situation from her point of view. She had met me. I was an educated Jewish woman who had been invited to a party at the home of a Dartmouth faculty member. Therefore, she had expectations about my views on energy.

I disappointed her.

The other side of the cookie

In my blog, I often talk about the brownie gap, the need for nuclear supporters to hang out together, eat brownies, and support each other. But what do we do about all the anti-nuclear people in our lives? I have many friends who don’t like nuclear energy. I suspect that they secretly think of me as a fanatic.

In practice, these friends just avoid talking about “that.”  I have other interests, including music and gardening.  I read and write mysteries.  I try to be a good listener.  In other words, my friends and I  have many things to talk about without mentioning “that.”  (Speaking of “that”, you might like to read this guest post on How Did Nuclear Become a Four-Letter word.)

Eating brownies with pro-nuclear people is one side of the cookie. Anti-nuclear friends are the other side.

Being friends with all kinds of people

I have learned some things about friendship, ever since I became a pro-nuclear advocate:

First, I acknowledge that people who meet an older, well-educated Jewish woman have certain expectations about what her attitudes are going to be toward various subjects. When they find that they are wrong about my energy attitudes, they can be disappointed. It’s a real feeling, and there’s anger with it. “How can you say that?” Or as another woman said to me: “You are the first educated person I have ever met who is in favor of Vermont Yankee.”

Second, I try not to talk about “that” directly with friends who disagree with me about nuclear energy. Friends are more valuable to me than policy. Also, there is no person in the world with whom I agree about everything. Some people inexplicably prefer vanilla ice cream to chocolate, for example. People aren’t clones of each other, and it would be pretty terrible if we were. In practice, I often attempt to change the subject.

Third, if really pressed, I stick up for nuclear energy. I say it is better than anything else that is out there. This explanation gets complicated because, of course, they are also against fossil fuels, and plan to use only renewables. So instead of talking about the evils of fossil fuels (relatively straight-forward to explain) I end up talking about energy density (that’s harder). A commentator on one of my blog posts said that I was a “grief counselor” as people begin to understand what their energy choices really are. Maybe I am.

Fourth, I hold to my own values, which include seeing the world as it is, rather than as I would like it to be, or as others would like it to be.  The Zen of Be Here Now about energy.  This isn’t something I say to people, but it is important to me, and keeps me centered.

Finally, I don’t sweat the small stuff. The lady in the hallway… heavens, I met her and we didn’t hit it off, eight years ago, energy or no energy. She seems pretty judgmental, and I probably detected that attitude at the long-ago party. Her opinion about me is “small stuff” in my life. If a closer friend makes an occasional negative remark, I try to let it slide. As another friend put it: “You don’t have to join every fight you are invited to.”

The third side of the cookie: Hope for the future

Being true to my understanding of electricity sources and nuclear power has been hard, but sometimes it has surprising rewards. I meet people who are secretly pro-nuclear. Other people are puzzled and tell me that they would like to learn more. One woman, anti-nuclear when I met her, now tries to convince her friends of the importance of nuclear energy to combat global warming. Another woman, at my synagogue, told me that many people are “very proud of me.”

I don’t want to refine too much on this. Most people won’t change.

Most of my anti-nuclear friends are going to stay exactly that: both anti-nuclear and friends. I remind myself that we all want the same thing: a better world for our children.

Some people, a few, have re-evaluated nuclear energy, perhaps because of me. That is very gratifying.  That’s the third side of the cookie: the possibility of winning supporters to nuclear.

Have Happy Holidays, a Merry Christmas, and a New Year of friendship, health, and nuclear power!



Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters.  She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division.   She is an inventor on several patents.  Angwin formerly served as a commissioner in Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project.  She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

12 thoughts on “The Other Side of the Cookie: Anti-Nuclear People in Our Lives

  1. bill eaton

    In my travels far and wide as well as in my small University community home town I find anti-nukes to be very similar in attitude and background. Most of them believe they are better educated and informed than anyone who supports nuclear power. They are quick to dismiss statistical data about safety and risk, as well as other hard data about the technology, because it doesn’t suport the anti-argument. They are technically arrogant. On the other hand, in lieu of data they use fear and possibility as if these concepts were measurable in technical terms. Many of them have more than one “cause” and the causes are anti-establishment or anti-business as well. Nuclear is a big business enterprise in their eyes, and that can’t be as good or pure as distributed generation and renewable energy. They can’t grasp the dilemna we face in replacing baseload coal and large central power stations, and ignore the possibility that clean air and water may be more important than assuming a finite risk of nuclear accidents or events. Finally, they tend to focus on the problem without balancing the conversation with the solution.

  2. Meredith Angwin

    Hello C Katz,

    Thank you for the praise! I appreciate it very much!

    I agree with you that we have to be “out of the closet” about being pro-nuclear. Rod Adams is a fantastic role model. Personally, I am very out of the closet. People know my views on nuclear and some confront me about those views. There are people who think that I am a red flag, and they are the bull.

    I would hope that it can become safe to be pro-nuclear, without being considered some kind of horrible person who is trying to poison everyone’s grandchildren. Also, I know that the only way for pro-nuclear views to be accepted will be for pro-nuclear people to be out of the closet and visible. You gave excellent examples from other controversial subjects. You are completely correct.

    But all this visibility can be tiring. Sometimes I would rather change the subject. Sometimes the friendship is more important to me than the politics. We all have to just do what we can, as much as we can. Or at least, that is what I tell myself.

  3. C. Katz

    Hi Meredith,

    I think we’re speaking past each other and I’m pretty sure it’s because I wasn’t clear enough about what I was saying. Sorry!

    I think you are a fantastic advocate for nuclear energy. You are obviously in command of the facts and yet you also come off as someone who is level-headed and trustworthy. In my estimation, this makes you a first-class communicator which is an uncommon skill. (I’m sorry if it sounds like I am “kissing up.”)

    But I would like to encourage you to consider being slightly more confrontational rather than deferential. (I’m not saying you should start fights, but I do think you ought to join them; e.g. a “tit-for-tat” strategy.) After all, we don’t want our side being represented by less-skilled nuclear advocates, do we? (As someone with no science/engineering background and only a passionate citizen’s interest in arresting global warming, I adamantly include myself in the latter category.)

    Finally, let me tell an analogous true story. I was in favor of another issue that was unpopular with the public: cannabis law reform. Until recently, simply associating yourself with the issue earned you the disdain or even contempt of many right-thinking people. But within the last five years it has become acceptable to stand up for one’s true opinion on the issue and not automatically be labeled “a druggie.” Much like the movement for gay marriage (another opinion that was until recently “fringe”), the acceptance of the general public didn’t arrive until after persons “stepped out of the closet” about their true beliefs. I believe that for tactical reasons–and not just to make ourselves feel good–we all ought to be “out and proud.”

  4. Meredith Angwin

    Joseph Hertzlinger: I don’t agree with your explanation for the left-wing views of American Jews. I know several families that moved to Israel. One family came back to America after a few years. The families that made aliyah (went up to Israel) had pretty much the same political views as other Jewish people in America. They weren’t “dissenters” politically.

    C. Katz. I try to be strong and vocal in many venues, including op-eds, letters to the editor, presentations and debates. But in my personal life, I have decided that I don’t have to join every fight I am invited to. If I have to pander to someone’s position, their friendship is not worth much to me. But if we can “agree to disagree” I am glad and willing to be friends.

  5. C. Katz

    I agree with this post insofar as I take it to mean that you shouldn’t let your adversaries get either “under your skin” or, worse, “into your head.”

    But, I think that nuclear proponents should be a little bit more vocal and passionate (while retaining their admirably high adherence to evidence and logic); we need a little more “Rod Adams” in us. Adams is pro-nuclear because he wants to save the earth for his grandchildren. There is no realistic answer to imminent climate change that excludes nuclear energy.

    Anyone who proposes to produce baseload energy for the entire population of earth greatly increasing our CO2 output AND without relying on nuclear fission is simply deceiving themselves (or us).

  6. Meredith Angwin

    Tevagirl and Joseph Hertzlinger: Yes indeed. CV available and Citation needed! How can anyone say that? How can anyone say that educated pro-nuclear people are rare? I suspect that the issue may be the definition of “educated.” The woman who said that to me may think that engineers and scientists aren’t really “educated.” She and her husband both have degrees in the liberal arts. Actually, I don’t know how anyone could say that, but she did say it.

    Gene Preston: Most people who study energy realize that intermittent renewables will not support modern society. The problem is that many people believe renewables will do it all. This belief system doesn’t need much evidence, and a sunny afternoon in Germany means (to them) that renewables are about to take over the entire European grid. These are not people who study the subject: these are people seeking any possible evidence that will back up their belief system.

    John O’Neill: I have thought about this issue a great deal. Why don’t Jewish people like nuclear energy? From Lise Meitner to Albert Einstein to Hyman Rickover….many of the pioneers of nuclear energy were Jewish. Yet my Jewish friends are mostly anti-nuclear. This attitude is part of a more sweeping “liberal” worldview, but most things in that worldview have absolutely nothing to do with nuclear energy. In other words, a person could keep the traditional liberal worldview and still like nuclear energy. But it rarely happens.

    Thank you for your comments. Onwards to next year!

    Happy New Year to all! May it be a year of peace, health, and happiness for all.

  7. John ONeill

    Surprised that you were ‘expected’, as a Jew, to be anti nuclear, when so many of the people who developed nuclear science in the first place were of jewish descent. In New Zealand, jewish people seem much thinner on the ground than in the US ( our current Prime Minister is an exception), and claiming to be pro nuclear is widely seen as equivalent to bragging about being a cannibal. That’s largely a heritage of anti American feeling from the Vietnam war era, plus opposition to French bomb tests; being probably the country furthest from a nuclear power plant also engenders ignorance on the subject. We’ll still get some of the extra CO2 if Yankee closes, so good luck with the struggle anyway, and happy Hanukkah!

  8. Gene Preston

    I think being anti nuclear simply means that a person’s fear of nuclear accidents, cost, etc is greater than their fear of the consequences of being energy deficient. I am a power system planning engineer and am currently active doing wind studies. See my web site . I know enough about the electric system to know that wind and solar fall far short of being able to serve our energy needs. I see a non nuclear world as being one in which shortages cause economic failure, starvation, wars, and other bad things because there is simply not enough wind and solar energy to provide for our needs. Also, with wind and solar you must have conventional backup generation, usually natural gas, so wind and solar are still strongly dependent on green house gas producing generation. If nuclear is brought into the mix, there is a much greater chance we will have sufficient energy to live the lifestyles we have become accustomed to. The necessary CO2 reductions will be much better if nuclear power is retained as a power source. I have seen fast neutron designs that have goals of solving the waste problem. I think this is possible. We should continue R&D on these new nuclear sources because they hold great promise. If we just shut down all nuclear R&D we are probably dooming the world to a pathetic existence by the end of this century.

  9. Tevagirl

    ‘Or as another woman said to me: “You are the first educated person I have ever met who is in favor of Vermont Yankee.” ‘

    Have CV will travel. Introduce me to this woman. I will be happy to educate her, on all counts.

    You are much more gracious than I will ever be, regardless of the season. Happy Holidays!

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