Speaking out of turn at the NRC meeting

By Meredith Angwin

viewfromVermontA few days ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public meeting to discuss its yearly assessment of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The assessment results were excellent (all green).

Last year’s meeting and this year’s meeting

The plant also had excellent results last year, but the NRC meeting last year was a situation that moved close to mob rule. I wrote about it in The Politics of Intimidation at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

I didn’t know what to expect this year, and I said as much in a radio interview at WAMC. Well, let’s put it this way: I kind of expected that the meeting would be even more out of hand.

However, this year turned out to be quite different. On my own blog, I described the meeting as “mellow,” which I never would have expected. Comparatively few opponents came this year, despite organized attempts to run carpools to the meeting.

The meeting turned out to be fairly mellow. But… not completely.

An opponent tactic that did not work

At last year’s NRC meeting, a group of older women called the Shut It Down Affinity group showed up wearing costumes and masks (black clothes and white death masks) and walked single file around the room. They then took up a position behind the NRC table and refused to move. Eventually, a crowd swarmed up to support them.

This year, they tried it again—but it didn’t work. Once again, they had costumes (tied-dyed shirts) and masks (of former NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko). Once again, they started by walking single file, and then stood behind the NRC and spoke and chanted while the NRC personnel tried to begin the meeting. Once again, the NRC people left the room and then came back, with the plant opponents still standing at the front. But things were a little different this time—because the plant opponents did not overwhelmingly outnumber plant supporters.

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I speak out and speak out of turn

The women were quoting Jaczko that “all reactors should be shut down,” and the NRC was asking them to sit down, back and forth and back and forth. Then one man in the audience shouted, “It’s about democracy!” He of course meant that the women should stay in front of the room because of “democracy.”

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But I had had enough. There was a microphone on a stand in the room, and I just went up to it and interrupted the whole thing. I said something like:

“No, it’s about diversity! It’s about whether people with different opinions and different views and different backgrounds will be allowed to talk at this meeting! Apparently not!” Then I left the microphone.

This was very bold for me. I was shaking when I sat down, and I mean physically shaking, not “feeling shaken.” I still can’t believe I did this! But… you could have heard a pin drop in the room when I finished. And shortly thereafter, the Jaczko impersonators sat down and the meeting proceeded.

This time, the stand-behind-the-NRC-and-keep-talking tactic did not work.

Why didn’t the opponent tactic work?

I would like to take credit, but it was basically because the plant SUPPORTERS were showing up and the plant OPPONENTS were NOT showing up—so the supporters weren’t completely outnumbered. I would have been terrified to do something like this at last year’s meeting, in which we were completely outnumbered by opponents. But when it is more even, plant supporters can assert themselves, even when there are opponents who are trying to wreck the meeting.

I will take credit, though, for two things:

  • I didn’t attack anyone, but I made the clear statement that diversity means having various people testify, not just listening to one set of people repeat themselves.
  • I realized that the meeting was out of hand, which meant that taking action was okay. Yes, I went up to the microphone completely out of turn. In a meeting that was well run, such a tactic would have been horrible and divisive and rude and… well, you get it. But in this case, with a continuous and repetitive argument between those who ran the meeting and those who were trying to destroy it, I knew it was okay.

At least, I hope so. I also hope I never do anything like that again. The emotional strain afterwards was overwhelming. When I did it, I was mad and had energy. Afterwards, I was a mess.

I wish you all good meetings, run by Robert’s Rules of Order. I wish you peace.

___________________________

Angwin

Angwin

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.

14 Responses to Speaking out of turn at the NRC meeting

  1. Thank you for posting this.

    I realize that I want to make a clarification. The women didn’t sit down just because I spoke, but my words did help to get them to sit down.

    Until I spoke, the NRC was trying to use their microphones to speak over the women’s chanting, and the noise was getting louder and the situation was escalating. There were two policemen approaching the group at the front, but they clearly were hesitating for fear of adding to the problem. The noise level was high and basically increasing.

    In the brief quiet that followed my statement, the policemen came up to the group, spoke to them quietly (they had stopped chanting for a moment), and led them to their seats.

  2. Eric Schmitz

    I wish I could have been there to applaud. You are humble, and give yourself too little credit, but that in itself is all the more to your credit. Brava!

  3. Agreed with Eric. This is exactly what “democracy looks like!” as one of the chants from Occupy that I was active in used to use. Democracy is only so good as those that support it are willing to stand up and fight for it. Meredith is a great example for all of us.

  4. It is all too easy to mistakenly believe you are “speaking up” in the face of someone trying to silence you, when in reality you are “speaking over” them and actually are the one doing the silencing.

    These women are probably telling themselves that this method is the only way for them to be “taken seriously” or “really be heard.” I’m sure that they see the police officers and the panel members in their suits and view them as mechanisms designed to prevent them getting their message out. This also has to do with some cognition issues, because they believe that their position is so obviously right and righteous that the ONLY reason their views could not be the ones prevailing is that their voices are being silenced by nefarious actors. The possibility they could be incorrect never occurs to them.

    But their view is twisted. It is all too easy for the oppressed to become the oppressor, when you “making yourself heard” prevents others from exercising the same right.

    The reality is that allowing everyone’s voice to be heard requires an authority to put some restraints on the loudest voices. The order and method of these meetings is designed to restrain the loud so that the quiet can also be heard.

    THAT is what democracy looks like.

  5. John Earl

    Thank you Meredith— I would have been up there with you — wish I did not have a prior commitment. I applaud your defense of us who support Vermont Yankee. I wish we could decommission and build a newer plant.

  6. James Greenidge

    Great move Meredith, and don’t feel sorry or abashed — just being properly ANGRY that you pushed back a bunch of clowns out to hijack your serious reason for being there and expecting you to eat it smiling!! Good show for showing you’ve more brass spheres than many pols facing the public on the issue!

    Tho’, I don’t know about Vermont, but if a protest group pulled that same crap at a convention or general meeting here in Queens you wouldn’t even need the all too willing NYPD to move up and haul their ’60s throwback cans out the door for disturbing the peace of an assembly. Like Nazism and the KKK, there are things that SHOULDN’T be tolerated polluting your air, whether for PC politeness or to passively ignore or whatever. What would’ve been a nice prepared shot back at them would’ve been a little spot nuclear education in energy-environmental safety hypocrisy and real death rate comparisons and a few pics of razed mountains and kids laid up with coal-caused emphysema — but that’s another topic.

    Wish I could join you and Howard shredding these Bozos!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  7. Tracy Coyle

    I’m proud of you Meredith. You decided to stand up and not sit quietly. All voices should be heard.

  8. Well said, Meredith! I think the agitators exeplify the old adage, “If you have a case, pound the case. If you don’t have a case, pound the table.” They didn’t get away with that lame tactic this time. Respectful expression of opinions is ESSENTIAL to true democracy.

  9. Craig Schumacher

    Meredith, thank you for standing up to the thuggish tactics of those who tried to dominate and sabotage the meeting. That takes a lot of courage, and we should all be grateful that someone was willing to do that.

  10. Thank you all for your wonderful and supportive comments. I wasn’t sure if I should have written about thus, but I am glad I did.

  11. Ward Brunkow

    Meredith,
    You are a treasure and a beacon of light in the foggy environment of the media and news reporting. I was spit on by by protesters the second week I worked at Indian Point as I entered through the front gate, just after TMI. I didn’t let that stop me from working in the most viable power industry we have for our future. I believed that 35 years ago, and have kept the faith. You have done the same thing here.

  12. Meredith, a lot of evil happens when good people who know better keep silent and allow a vociferous mob to take control! History teaches us this.
    Best Regards,
    John. UVM class of ’72

  13. Luca Bertagnolio

    Kudos to you, Meredith. I can understand you were shaking, but you did the right thing, as it was something coming straight from your heart. And your action reshaped the meeting, so it was a decisive thing you did, and you had all the rights to do it, and people understood and respected you.

    I am only wondering what passed into the protesters heads when they heard you complain in such a firm yet non offensive way… priceless.

    You are a brave woman.

    Greetings from Switzerland,
    Luca

  14. Jim Rogers

    Thankyou Meredith. I work at VY and usually attend the meetings for the entertainment value only. I really appreciated what you said and felt the same way but feel a little constrained being personally involved with the plant. I wanted to thankyou that night but did not see you at the end of the meeting.