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Pretty Energy

By Suzy Hobbs Baker

I recently joined the latest social media phenomenon—“Pinterest”—after some good old-fashioned peer pressure from my pals. Basically it is an online scrapbook, where you can collect images from all over the Internet and organize or “pin” them under categories like “recipes to try” or “ideas for the garden” on your personal page. There is very little text and not much user-to-user interaction. You just browse thousands of images of party dresses, wedding ideas, art, or whatever you or other users have uploaded to the site. Essentially it’s a whole lot of eye candy.

This new forum is largely dominated by women, and has an overwhelming number of users, to the extent that there is currently a waiting list to join. Upon recognizing that this website is basically the “visual-Google-for-women,” I decided to do a little experiment to find out what nuclear-related images were on the site. Since every image has to be “pinned” from the web, I figured that whatever images I found on this site would be a pretty good visual representation of how women feel about nuclear power at this exact moment in time.

Well, what I found wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright bad:  Earless bunnies of Fukushima, atomic bomb explosion after atomic bomb explosion, and not a single image of a nuclear power plant. Not one. The closest thing I found that was even remotely positive regarding nuclear energy was this image:

For those who can’t read Spanish it says, “Nuclear Today, Solar Tomorrow.”  But hey, at least they are smiling and shaking hands.

So my next step, which I thought was going to bring up thousands of results, was to search for wind power. Surprisingly, only two images of wind turbines resulted, and I thought to myself, “Okay, maybe this just isn’t a forum where energy is a topic that people are thinking about.” But before I could rest assured, I did a quick search for “solar power” and stumbled into the archetypal female brain for all things solar energy. Put simply, women like solar energy. A lot. In fact, “solar power” yellow is a very popular color right now. You might even say that solar is en vogue with the ladies.

The common thread among all of the “solar power” search results is that they are small consumer items that you can use in your everyday life. They are all relatively inexpensive, cute, and easy to use. I get the distinct feeling that women’s experiences with “solar” products inform their broader beliefs about solar power. But what else are women thinking about energy issues?

According to the 2009 “Woman’s Survey on Energy and the Environment” by Women in Public Policy, the single largest concern among women is moving toward clean energy sources, trumping cost, reliability, and jobs. Women are the primary decision makers about household energy use, which is good, but they collectively have a lot of misconceptions about energy, which is not so good. Fifty-four percent of women think that nuclear energy releases CO2 and is a primary cause of climate change. Only 12 percent of women surveyed know that coal is the largest source of electrical generation in the United States. Basically, a lot of the ladies making decisions about energy at home do not have all the facts.

So, what can we do to solve this problem? First of all, we need to focus our outreach efforts specifically toward women. When we present information, we should take the time to gear it toward the specific concerns of our audience that we know to be reducing environmental impact. And we must make it visually appealing. Basically, make it pretty. Make it fun. If we can learn anything from Pinterest.com, it’s that ladies really like resources that are pretty, user friendly, and interactive. The best way to increase public support and overall use of nuclear energy is to appeal to women.

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Hobbs Baker

Suzy Hobbs Baker is the executive director of PopAtomic Studios, a non-profit organization dedicated to using the power of visual and liberal arts to enrich the discussion on nuclear energy. Hobbs Baker is an ANS member and a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe

Rally for nuclear power and Vermont Yankee

By Meredith Angwin

At 9 a.m. on September 12, the Entergy v. State of Vermont lawsuit began hearings, regarding the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, at the federal courthouse in Brattleboro, Vt.  In June,  Howard Shaffer and I had gone to Brattleboro to stand outside the courthouse on the morning of the injunction hearing.  At that time, the two of us provided a small pro-nuclear presence at an anti-nuclear rally organized by the Safe and Green Campaign.

We knew that the Safe and Green Campaign would be back again in front of the courthouse for the September trial, and Howard and I resolved to be there too. We decided that this time we would be better organized.

Motive

Why did we decide to to hold our own rally? Basically, we wanted to be visible and to encourage people who are in favor of nuclear energy. The opponents fill the newspaper and TV headlines with their rallies, concerts, and vigils against nuclear power, but the public rarely hears the pro-nuclear side. Our rally was an experiment in changing that dynamic.

Also, Vermont Yankee employees often have to walk through gauntlets of opponents: people holding vigils outside the plant, bringing puppet shows to the plant gates, trying to get arrested at the plant.

We wanted the pro-nuclear legal team to see some friendly faces on their way into the courtroom. It’s called “encouraging your friends.”

Planning

The first step in planning was to recruit people and to find ways to be visible.

People: I have an extensive e-mail list through the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute, and the people on my list had their own e-mail lists, which included representatives of the union at Vermont Yankee (the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers).  I had hoped that about 20 people would attend our rally, but we had more, perhaps 25, because some people brought their friends.

Visibility: Cavan Stone and I designed t-shirts to increase our visibility. The American Nuclear Society provided some great posters by Suzy Hobbs of PopAtomic Studios.

Another person brought a large green Vermont Yankee lawn sign, and the IBEW (the union) representative brought a truck and some signs made by local students. In these photos, you can see Cavan wearing the t-shirt and holding the Suzy Hobbs poster.

Before the rally, we stressed that we weren’t there to have confrontations. We were there to be a presence, not to have arguments with the opponents of the plant.

Although some opponents were aggressive, in general, both sides avoided confrontation.

On the street

It is a truism that “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” No matter how you plan, when you are standing out on the street, things are different. Mostly, the rally worked the way we wanted it to work, but not completely.

I think we had discomfited the plant opponents a little, just by being there. I don’t know that they were happy to read this in the local paper:

Before proceedings began on Monday morning, there were dueling vigils in support of, as well as opposition to, keeping Vermont Yankee open another 20 years.

Representatives from the Ethan Allen Institute’s Energy Education Project, the American Nuclear Society Vermont Pilot Project, and the Coalition for Energy Solutions organized the pro-VY vigil, while the Safe and Green Campaign sponsored what they called “a vigil to support the state of Vermont” in its legal fight against Entergy.

While our group attempted to stand together, we cannot own the sidewalk. The Safe and Green campaign people had every right to break up our lines by standing between us. We expected that, but  we didn’t expect to see some Safe and Green people stepping into the street in front of us to hide us with their signs. Luckily, this incident was short-lived, because most of the Safe and Green people were polite. Our people, however, began stepping out into the street also, and eventually the police told everyone to get back on the sidewalk.  (A fuller description is at my post at Rally Retrospective.)

As we stood there, many people in passing cars honked and waved at us, which was very gratifying!

Afterward

We garnered some press interviews and one TV interview. The next day,  the pictures in the local papers showed pro- and anti-Vermont Yankee protestors. Right after the rally, our group had a good time having breakfast together in the savings and loan community room, arranged by a local supporter. All in all, our group wanted to rally again, and soon!

For  me, the biggest reward was reading comments like this on a post about the rally:

I very much appreciate all of those who took the time to be there at the courthouse that morning. As a spouse of a longtime VY employee I thought about joining you… I can’t tell you how much we appreciate what you all did. It means so much.

Further reading

Howard Shaffer on opponent tactics.

Press release for the rally.

A picture gallery.

Thoughts about the trial.

A rally retrospective.

Some photos from the rally:

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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 serves as a commissioner in the 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.

The future of nuclear energy is (hopefully) better dressed

By  Suzanne Hobbs

Nuclear energy is a little bit like an overly qualified job candidate in a bad suit. That is to say, despite being the best contender for the job of creating clean energy, no one wants to hire it because it needs a hair cut and a good tailor.

Luckily, some of the folks at the World Nuclear Association (WNA) have realized that appearance is important. The WNA put out a call in 2010 for new designs in its annual reactor design competition.

Improving the appearance of nuclear power plants is one of the founding tenets of PopAtomic Studios, so this competition was a dream come true for us. This was our chance to give a reactor a makeover and present it to a committee of highly regarded industry professionals. The vote is still out, but we wanted to go ahead and share our two designs that we entered into the competition, because we are just too excited to wait.

We approached the competition from two perspectives:

  • A creative design model that can be applied to the numerous existing power plants that have been, or will be, relicensed.
  • A design that shows how artistic touches and collaboration can be integrated into new power plants.

Our first design is something we have been advocating for since the formation of PopAtomic Studios: a colorful surface achieved using concrete stain. The result would have a tremendous visual impact, despite being low cost and low maintenance. This concept incorporates mass transportation and makes employment at a nuclear plant more convenient and appealing. These simple changes communicate respect for the community, and a commitment to clean energy.

Our second design focuses on collaborative relationships with several eco-friendly energy sources and strives for effective resource management. Energy parks are becoming increasingly popular and we wanted to create an example of how function and creative design can work together beautifully. The goal of this design is to affirm that nuclear energy is clean, modern, and a real team player; concurrently, it is rooted in a history of science and safety.

In our energy park (the illustration to the left is an overhead view of the illustration in the preceding paragraph), we have removed the cooling tower and replaced it with an onsite bio-fuels processing center (which is designed to look like a cooling tower). Using super-heated water from the fission reaction, we can create an ideal habitat for growing algae for fuel in the partial “moat” surrounding the plant. The moat doubles as a security measure. Recycled carpet “walls” in the moat allow for the algae to be easily harvested. Interface Flor, a company dedicated to using recycled synthetic flooring materials in eco-friendly ways, is currently developing a similar system as a part of a remediation project in the Chesapeake Bay.

Our goal is to promote the use 0f super-heated water as a resource rather than a byproduct, especially in contemporary energy parks. Super-heated water can be used in seawater desalination and production of hydrogen.

Once the water has cooled in the algae pond, it can be used to irrigate the land surrounding the plant to grow switch-grass for bio-fuels, which would not be in competition with crops for food. Double turbines offer electricity creation from fission, as well as a natural gas back-up/peak-generating turbine. The CO2 from the natural gas turbine can be pumped into the algae pond, creating a carbon-rich habitat for growing fuel, and keeping the plant carbon neutral.

Artistically, we wanted to honor the rich history of nuclear energy, while bringing plant design into the modern era. (The illustration to the left is yet another view of our second design.) The shape of the bio-fuels processing building is an artistic reference in that its cooling-tower look and the office building is inspired by the shape of the top of a nuclear submarine. The reactor buildings and turbines are updated with design elements that could be achieved through relatively minor exterior architectural changes to existing designs. The overall feel of the plant is a throwback to the Nuclear Era of the 1950s.

As artists, we realize that it will take more research and development to implement these ideas effectively, but we intend our designs to act as food for thought and inspiration for all of the great thinkers in the field. We support the idea of buying nuclear energy a really nice suit and introducing it to some new friends, like bio-fuels and natural gas.

Jeremy Gordon at the WNA was the competition organizer, as well as a patient guide to our team as we worked through the details of our designs. A very special thanks to Jeremy for bringing attention to this often-overlooked solution to the nuclear industry’s public relations problems.

We would also like to formally thank UxC for its generous sponsorship of our entries. Its support allowed us to put adequate time and energy into the development of our concepts, and to grow our outreach efforts at Chattahoochee Technical College, in Marietta, Ga. The illustration in this paragraph is a Chattahoochee student’s interpretation of the WNA design competition. Happy New Year!

Suzanne Hobbs is creative director and contributing artist at PopAtomic Studios. She was born in Tokyo, Japan, and raised in Atlanta, Ga., by her nuclear engineer father and social worker mother, along with an older brother who is now an accomplished chemist. Her interest in art, science, and humanitarian issues started very young, fueled by frequent family travel and a sharp focus on education and community involvement. She attended Appalachian State University to study Fine Arts and since graduating has worked with several public arts organizations, always with the goal of using art to create positive change. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

PopAtomic Studios holiday fundraiser

It’s not too late to go nuclear for the holidays. PopAtomic Studios, the non-profit organization that is dedicated to arts-integrated outreach in support of nuclear energy, is raising funds to help complete its 501c3 federal tax exemption application. Make a donation to PopAtomic’s cause and receive a nuclear-themed gift, for you or to give to a family member or friend.

Click here to make a donation to PopAtomic’s holiday fund-raising effort.

Check out the cool gifts that are offered for your donation, including signed Thorium posters. Get the perfect gift for your favorite nuke, along with the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with supporting a cause that you care about!

Every donation will be rewarded with original artwork created by PopAtomic:

  • Donations of $1-$49 receive a signed holiday post card from the PopAtomic team.
  • Donations of $50-$100 receive a hand screen-printed PopAtomic t-shirt.
  • Donations of $101-$500 receive a signed, framed “Uranium: Not Just Another Rock” or “Thorium: The Smart Rock” poster.
  • Donations of $501 and up receive an original Chicago Pile-1 graphite sculpture.

Please spread the word about PopAtomic’s holiday fundraiser to friends and colleagues who are looking for the perfect gift for their favorite nuclear worker or supporter. Thank you, and Happy holidays!

Follow the Nuclear Energy Summit via social media

Third Way and the Idaho National Lab are hosting the New Millennium Nuclear Energy Summit, a bipartisan forum on the future of nuclear energy in the United States. Today’s event features Energy Secretary Steven Chu, White House Advisor Carol Browner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, and more than two dozen industry CEOs, labor and Non-Governmental Organization representatives, and energy investors.

The Nuclear Energy Summit takes place 8:45 am– 11:30 am EDT at the Newseum in Washington, DC.  You can follow the Summit on Twitter using hashtag #nesummit.

12/8 Update:  For expanded social media coverage of the Nuclear Energy Summit, please see the following links:

Rod Adams’ Atomic Insights

Dan Yurman’s Idaho Samizdat: Nuke Notes

Idaho National Laboratory

Nuclear Townhall

Keep an eye out here at the ANS Nuclear Cafe for additional coverage in the coming days!